There had been few moments in my life that had truly been a turning point. I didn’t think a jam sandwich would feature so prominently in one of them. Years later, I would look back at moments that had been branches, choices where life could have gone one way or another. But the day I ate a sandwich in the park was one of them.
I had gone to the park because my housemate forced me. Not quite physically, but it was close.
“Hannah! Go outside! Just for a short walk.” Jenni had instructed that morning, full of Scandinavian practicality. “It will make you feel better. You’re stuck in a rut.”
I think my moping was driving her up the wall, so I packed an inexpensive lunch of one jam sandwich and one apple and dragged myself out. I sat on a wooden bench and closed my eyes. Breathing exercises to relax. The spring air did smell sweet. There were gentle blossoms fluttering down, occasionally brushing my cheek. The slight contact made me flinch at first, but then felt soft and somehow soothing.
I could hear some giggles from children: “Look at me, Daddy, Look at meeeeee!” Honks from the geese, the ringing of a bike bell. I opened my eyes. The park was pretty in this fluttering May afternoon, children larked about, chasing geese. Cheeky squirrels boldly ventured to steal crumbs. People were enjoying the first picnics of the year. Magpies circled, one for sorrow….one for sorrow… I desperately looked about for a second one. Phew! Two! Two for joy!
I got the sandwich out of my lunchbox. Strawberry jam. I enjoyed the connection to childish days. Made necessary through lack of funds. A big splodge of jam fell from the sandwich, onto my jeans. I noticed it fall almost in slow motion like an action movie. Nooooooooooooooo!
I realised I had said it aloud.
The man on the bench next to me looked up. I had barely registered him there. The slight movement out of the corner of my eye made me involuntarily glance in his direction. There was a pack of baby wipes on the bench next to him. I looked at them then, looked up and realised he was fully staring at me and also laughing. He held out the packet and I was relieved. Just then, a little girl called out:
“Daddy, you’re not looking!”
I spotted her, further down the path. Yellow dungarees on a powder blue bike with white plastic daisies on the basket. Nice bike, I couldn’t help think. I was strangely jealous.
“I’m looking, Flora, I’m looking!” He replied, his full attention on her. “Try again, you’re doing great!”
I watched the little girl too. I have no experience of children, I had no idea how old she must be, she just looked short, and had long, dark hair with glasses. Just like me when I was little. She sat astride the bike, ringing the bell.
“That’s good, sweetheart. Try riding it again!”
She instantly looked grumpy. Then sad. Then with great concentration, she put her foot down hard on the pedal, the wheels turned slowly. But she was going too slowly and there was a wobble. Both feet went down to the path. She whimpered.
“That was good, darling. Pedal down, push forward! Give it another go!” cried the Dad.
A group of young teens swung down the path on skateboards. The little girl shrank back from their whoops and swagger. Then recovered herself, little lip stuck out. I found myself rooting for her.
“Flora, you can do this!”
Funny little name, like an old lady.
She was distracted by the May blossom petals; the wind was blowing them across her path like snowflakes. She observed them falling about her…
“Flora! Give it a go!” called her Dad, bringing her attention back to the task.
Flora frowned in concentration, with a heave that seemed to use the full force of her body she leant down on the pedal and pushed off. Her other foot connected to the pedal and she began to quiver down the path. Quivering, swaying, then soaring! Her face broke into a grin as she darted along, no wobbles, no trips. Nothing to stop her as she rushed straight past her Dad on the bench and flew through the park.
Without a word, the Dad grabbed his bag and the wet wipes, and rushed off after her, cheering “Well done!” She was off, around the corner and out of sight.
I sat back. With a deep breath, I opened my own backpack again, put my sandwich back in the lunchbox and removed my application form. It was a big scary world, out there. But I couldn’t stay still. Pedal down, push forward!
I picked up a pen…
After my recent redundancy, I am looking for a new position. I am a confident, friendly, team-player…”