I started walking a little faster, I wanted to see where the guy was going.
The playground he entered was, to the best of my knowledge, a dead end. It was surrounded by houses in every single side and was used by the kids of the neighborhood only when the weather wasn’t as disgusting as this winter’s. I wanted to see if there was a way out I hadn’t noticed. It could shorten my time from home to the bus stop by a few minutes.
I haven’t been living in that house for long. Maybe a year or so, but that’s not enough to find out all the nooks and secret passages between houses in Dublin. There are alleys everywhere. Some have been gated by the house owners, some are still useful as shortcuts. In some you can see bikes rusting away and old toys scattered. People don’t see them as public passages, but as part of their own homes. My neighborhood is packed with one and two-story terraced houses, built by the dozen to house the workers from the docks, at the turn of the nineteenth century. I don’t know when the park was built, with the playground. It all looks clean and new, even though I haven’t been inside yet. I live in one of the one-story houses in Gordon Street, just one block away from there. It’s a nice enough house. I just wish we had better doors. Ours let the air in.
The day I saw him was dry, and even a bit sunny. But the kids were at school at that time, probably. I couldn’t see anyone in the playground. I was across the street from there, just minding my business, initially. When I saw he was going in, I went faster.
I’ve never entered the park. And I still didn’t enter at that time. I just don’t feel I have any business going into a playground. I’m no one’s mother yet and I’m not a kid anymore. Like that guy going into the park. He was probably a bit younger than me, but still, didn’t look like anyone’s father, and with a full beard, I wouldn’t say he was a kid. A very precocious one, maybe.
I’ve always had this problem with some places. I don’t feel entitled to them. Playgrounds are areas for parents and kids, not for thirty somethings with two cats. Sometimes I see a café that looks really nice, but then I look inside and everyone seems better dressed than me, so I don’t go inside. That place belongs to young stylish hipsters with iPhones, not to a thirty something wearing battered jeans and a t-shirt. Even some streets make me feel that way.
I was hoping they’d put the new bike station in front of the park with the playground, so that I had an excuse to go closer, take a look. I love playgrounds, I’m still just a kid deep down. I don’t even have a dog I could walk there, let alone go on the swings and slides. When I go see my nephews and nieces it’s always great. If the weather is nice, we can go to a park and have some fun on the playground, and no one looks at me like I’m insane. I have the right to be there. Anyway, the new bike station is not going to be in South Dock street.
The guy I was watching got into the playground area, and I was close enough that I could see that everywhere around it was just walls, back of houses. I was right. There was no way out of there. My flowchart of a mind told me he could only be there to sit down for lunch, then.
This is thing that doesn’t happen so much in Brazil. Well, in São Paulo, at least. You don’t see people walking out of buildings with sandwiches and sitting down on park benches to have lunch outside. I think it has to do with the fact that we eat full meals for lunch every day. So we go to a buffet restaurant, where you pay for the weight of your food, and sit down with the rest of our coworkers. It’s good for socializing as well. We don’t usually have lunch of just a sandwich or soup or something light. We eat as if we were going back to our jobs of loading containers with sacks of rice.
But here it’s different. The weather is usually unforgiving, but you always see people outside, sitting in benches by the waterside, in parks, or even on the grass, if the day is not too wet or too cold. And if you’re going to eat outside you can’t bring a dish with rice, beans and a steak. It just doesn’t work. Maybe a salad or something pre-cut, but not a whole meal. So when I saw the guy get into this place where he would have no way out, the only thing that crossed my mind is that he was there to eat his lunch.
I haven’t seen that many people eating lunch outside lately. There has been a wind fest over here. 110 km/h, rainy, whatever you can think of that’s unpleasant for being outdoors is happening. But he picked the spot well. Being completely enclosed, there should be a lot less wind in that park than you’d find in an open place, like say, by the Grand Canal.
I didn’t want to get into the park area, for reasons I’ve explained before. It feels wrong to do so. But well, you can see enough from outside, from across the road, where it’s safe for me to stay, where no one will judge me and think I’m out of place.
Then I looked inside, and the guy wasn’t sitting on one of the benches. He was all dressed up for work. Black trousers, white shirt, tie, a leather jacket. He didn’t have any food with him, from what I could see. Maybe it was on the jacket’s pocket. Men are lucky that designers give them real pockets deep enough to hold food and drinks. And inside pockets as well. Women, apparently, are not allowed to have a pocket were they could keep their flask. Or even their mobile.
It was a second. He wasn’t doing anything, and then, before I knew it, he was swinging away.
He was swinging. He was simply swinging. He was going up and down on the kid swings. Too small for him, but he didn’t care. He looked genuinely happy. He was smiling, even though it was freezing out. His face must have hurt from the wind. But he didn’t care, he just didn’t seem to care.
I envied him from the very beginning, but I shouldn’t. I could do the same, if I wanted to. I wanted to, so much. But I couldn’t. So, there, I could envy him as much as I wanted. I had myself holding me back from playing in a deserted playground, and no one else. How ridiculous.
I stood looking at him for maybe a few seconds, and then I realized he was looking at me. He smiled at me. I smiled at him. I gave him a thumbs up. He had more guts than I did.