This was Toby's bench, the one that is empty now. It wasn't every
day that he sat on it, but often enough for people like me to know not
to use it. Maybe he liked the reassuring sound of the traffic, or the
pattern that the tips of the trees made against the background of the
sky. Maybe it was the occasional ripple of childhood laughter he could
hear from the playground nearby that was close enough to look at but
not so close that he'd get hit by a stray ball. He always had a big pad
of paper. I think he wrote letters to his girlfriend, she was always
travelling abroad. I don't think he ever went with her. He doesn't sit
on his bench anymore. I don't know where he goes instead. To the people
who sit there nowadays, playing on their Gameboys or talking to
friends, reading a book or eating chips, it is just a normal bench. But
to him it was so much more.
Mr Johnson always had a smile on his face when he was pushing his
trolley around the supermarket. He knew everybody and everybody knew
him, because his daughter sometimes worked there. When she wasn't
working there she was travelling abroad. You could tell when she was
home visiting because the smile would broaden and the trolley would
become full of carefully chosen treats, specially picked out for her.
'She won't be happy if she doesn't get her bacon and eggs on a Saturday
morning' he used to tell the till girl. 'Kit Kats have always been her
favourites' he'd tell the lad who was stacking the shelves. Now that
smile has turned into a weary frown, the Kit Kats have been replaced by
painkillers and the bacon and eggs by whisky. No-one knows whether to
say hello to him or not. When people see him they remember why he
doesn't smile and suddenly the people stacking the shelves or the
customers smacking their children stop and their eyes turn towards the
ground. Mr Johnson doesn't come to the supermarket much anymore and
when he does it doesn't take him long to get round the aisles and to
the checkout. Not like it used to.
Her name was Abigail and to all that went to school with her, all that
saw her, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Officially
though, she was only the second best. And rather than being the second
best looking girl in the world, she was elected the runner up in the
Miss Scunthorpe 2000 awards.
At primary school she was the girl the teachers asked to hand out the
paint brushes and ask to ring the bell at break-time. She was the girl
that everybody wanted to be friends with, the girl all mums wanted at
the birthday parties. At sixth form she was the head girl of the
school, equally happy in the class room and the common room. No matter
whether they were her friends, her teachers or her classmates, everyone
felt special and happy when Abigail said hello to them. It was not just
the way her face lit up, her smile shone, her eyes widened and her
cheekbones softened, it was the fact that they had been recognised and
acknowledged by her.
After Sixth Form, she surprised everybody by choosing not to go to
university. Instead, she started on an inspiring journey. She travelled
abroad with a charity wanting to help people. Underprivileged,
unfortunate children had nothing in their life until one day they had
Abigail. Her beauty was of no consequence to them.
She stayed for a year, devoting all of her time to children in a little
school in Nairobi. The smile, laughter, rosy cheeks and healthy glow of
Abigail could soon be seen replicated in the children. The children's
happiness at the simple things in life, their complete lack of greed
and malice could be seen in return in Abigail.
But soon money ran out and so Abigail had to return home. She was happy
to be back, she missed her boyfriend, mum and dad, little brother and
friends and they had missed her equally, as had the whole town. Abigail
decided to work at the local supermarket for a few months until she had
enough money to return to Nairobi to help more people and meet the
friends that she had made there. She couldn't wait.
One night while at home she went out with some friends and she stumbled
across a beauty contest where the accolade of Miss Scunthorpe 2000
Runner Up was awarded to her, surprising everybody that she was not the
winner. She had not entered the competition to win it though, it was
just for fun and she had that. And then another night she went out with
her friends again but never returned home. She died in the club after
somebody put something in her drink from which she never recovered. And
in the newspaper a couple of days later it said,
'A local till girl and runner up in a Scunthorpe beauty contest
recently died in a club.'
But she was so much more than that.