I set off today on my Saturday eight mile walk, on what felt like the hottest day of the year (not that there have been too many of those to choose from this summer), my shorts, a light tee-shirt, and backpack. I forgot my hat. I forgot my water bottle. But no matter, there was the faintest light breeze to keep me from overheating, and the prospect ahead was agreeable and attractive, and not just because of the occasional pretty girl in light summerwear who crossed my path. I stopped at the usual place, Jean’s, to get my flowers, and set off once more, pleased to be distracted by the sunshine and blue sky, and only slightly feeling the heat. By the time I got to the cemetery, I was ready for a short rest, and sat on the bench under the tree, when I noticed Tony. Tony isn’t someone I know personally, I only ever see him at the cemetery, where he comes to tend his father’s grave, and sometimes our visits overlap, so we nod, and occasionally chat. Like everyone I see there visiting someone lost, he has a routine. His begins when he stands behind the cross at his father’s grave, kisses the palms of each hand, closes his eyes, puts the forefinger of each hand on top of the cross, then says a few prayers. The un-needed rule is never to interrupt the routine. Tony’s around mid-fifties, and a project manager of some kind, though he looks for all the world like an Italian restaurateur, with a suitably cheery demeanour. The bench I sit on was put there by Tony and his family as a dedication to his father, Frederick. I stood up to say hello. I must have looked as faint as I suddenly felt, for he said, “Hi Alex, you look like you’ve had the sun!” And I had. I felt light-headed, which is usually a sign of lowish blood pressure, and I nodded. “Hot isn’t it?” I said, sitting back down. He looked at me again, and said, “D’you want me to get you some water? I might have a bottle down in the car.” I shook my head, saying I’d be fine in a few minutes, and anyway, there was a mains tap at the entrance to the cemetery where I could get water on the way out. For all that, I felt almost dizzy and slightly palpitating, realising what a mistake it had been to forget to put my water bottle in my backpack. We chatted a little more, then he said he would be off, and leave me to my time ; and as always, a handshake on parting. He strolled off down the long central pathway, to the gates and his car.
I got my flowers ready, took the old ones out, and refilled the vase. It’s become a kind of routine, for me too, that when I’m on my own, I fix the flowers, then tell Frances how my week has been, what has gone right, what hasn’t. As I stood there, I heard a soft crunch on the gravel behind me, and looked round. It was Tony, strolling back up to the bench. “My wife’s been shopping,” he said, and he held up a bottle of lemonade, reaching down over the bench and planting it down beside my backpack. “Have this, maybe it’ll help take away your thirst!” And with that, he waved, and set back off down the long path. Gladder than I wanted to admit to, I opened the bottle, took a long slaking gurgle, and went back to tell Frances of this latest thing.
It has made my day. I have often thought that some of the smallest gestures have contained the greatest kindnesses. Tonight, my glass was raised to Tony.