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Fred's Gospel

by Trevor Danby

Tim crossed over to the old fellow, and, after a diplomatic cough, bent and gently tugged his sleeve. The old man did not twitch, and Tim bent down to see that his eyes were half open. The likelihood of an emergency impressed itself on him, and he looked after his companion, who by this time had gone some distance down the path. Tim hurried to catch him up. As he neared the old fellow, Tim was aware that, since he could not be taller than five foot five, his own six feet one could scare him if he suddenly accosted him. With this in mind he gave a wide berth to the old man before stopping in front of him and saying in a calm, rational tone,

“I say, look, I don’t want to alarm you...

“Wot’s up, then? Interrupted the old man.

….but I think your friend may have passed away”

“No ‘may’ abowt it”, was the reply. “’E’d snuffed it afore I got ‘ere.”

He started to circle round Tim, to continue on his way to the gate.

Thrown for a second by the old chap’s cool acceptance, he hesitated before saying,

“Right. So I take it you’re just off to tell the police?”

“Take it ‘ow you like. I’ll not be goin’ there.”

“You’re not just leaving him there on the bench?”

“I’m not leaving ‘im anywhere. E’s gone. Passed away, passed on”.

“Well, yes...of course. But, nevertheless, well, I mean, his remains are there.”

“Aye, ‘is remains remain. They’ll remind those as come upon ‘im ‘e were once ‘ere, an’ now ‘e’s gone.”

The realisation suddenly impressed itself on Tim that it would be down to him to inform the authorities It could only have been curiosity that prompted the next question, and a need to put the incident into some acceptable perspective. He bent down to the old man.

“I expect you were taking your last farewell of your friend on the bench.”

“Nay, lad, not at all.”

“Well, I couldn’t help noticing you were talking to,...um. .” He bent even lower. … his remains on the bench.”

“Oh, aye?. Well, ‘appen you noticed wrong. I’m not in the ‘abit of talking to them’s as gone. I were chattin’ up our good mate, Jesus, who were sittin’ t’other side o’ Tom.”

Oh, right.”Tim swallowed and straightened up, nodding as he tried to assimilate this last piece of information. “Yes... Jesus.”

“If you must sniff your way into other folk’s business, I were remindin’ our best friend, Jesus, ‘ow Tom had always checked in every day to get an update, so, seein’ as ‘ow e didn’t need to any more, it were time for Jesus to check ‘im in fer good.”

Tim nodded slightly, as if having some difficulty in ticking this off a list. “Right.”

“An’ what’s more, I said, seein’ as ‘ow Tom went so peaceful, I’d look on it as a great favour if he could do t’ same fer me when t’ time comes.”

He looked at Tim with an unanswerable challenge, but with a moist glaze over his eyes. He gave a sniff.

Tim, decidedly wrong-footed, managed another respectful, “Right.”

“So, I’ll be comin’ back regular ter see if Jesus ‘as a mind t’ oblige me,.. oh, aye, an’ termorrer, special, ter see if anyone’s noticed Tom’s remains.”

Tim thought it would sound indecent to say he was about to go to the nearest police station. A shaft of sunlight pierced the blanket of grey just then, and the old fellow looked up and said, affirmatively,

“There you go, then.”

And, with that, he took a handkerchief from his coat pocket, wiped his eye, blew his nose and shuffled out of the park. Unaccountably, the day seemed to have provided a very real purpose for itself and for Tim. He turned on his heel, and after a last look at the peacefully departed, left to sort things out with the authorities.