I walk slowly through the park. A feeling of ineffable sadness overwhelms me. It is the most beautiful spring afternoon, but the park is deserted. The birds sing cheerfully, and the sunshine warms me, but the playground is locked and empty. I miss the sound of children’s voices. It is a time to be playing, running, shouting, laughing but there is no one. The feeling of grief gets stronger and I am close to tears.
I stand for some time leaning on the wooden five bar gate, gazing into the playground. An untrammelled carpet of daisies has flourished beneath the playground apparatus. The zip wire handlebar hangs down forlornly. I can almost hear my grandchildren arguing over whose turn it is and who should retrieve the pulley.
A squirrel dashes down from the tree and across the grass to the red and yellow painted roundabout, pauses momentarily on the seat to take stock, before rushing off. The seesaw rests in perfect equilibrium. Four swings sit motionless, side by side. The nursery rhymes which I used to sing when pushing the children go through my head.
“Hickory dickory dock. The mouse ran up the clock…”
“Higher Nana, push me higher!”
Three empty park benches silently survey the scene.
The stillness is abruptly broken by a ring-necked parakeet which shrieks piercingly overhead, then an optimistic pied wagtail joins the party, running beneath the brightly coloured picnic tables, pecking at invisible crumbs.
I turn to go and discover an ominous public notice pinned to the gate post:
‘This children’s play area is closed for the foreseeable future. Please observe the government guidelines for social distancing and self-isolation.’
It seems that I am unwittingly complying with both parts of these instructions.
I walk on along the path. The cherry trees are resplendent with vibrant pink blossom, a sight which should lift the most dejected person’s sprits, but there is no one to appreciate them. There is a blanket of fallen pink flowers beneath my feet which blow skittishly along the path like confetti in the breeze. A pair of small orange-tip butterflies flit past me.
I reach the wooded area, where I am greeted by banks of bluebells, punctuated by small clumps of white anemones. There is a sweet scent in the air. Bright yellow celandine peeps cheerfully from behind the nettles and the breeze gently rustles the new green leaves of the tall chestnut trees. An astonishingly beautiful sight.
A small, unassuming wren suddenly trills loudly, stating its territorial rights, while a song thrush serenades its mate. Two blackbirds fly low across the path.
I stop to watch a robin searching for insects as it hops about in the mud, which is all that is left from the dried-up pond. It flies up to sit on a branch of a tree, then returns to forage below the brown leaves in the dappled sunshine.
I can hear a warbler and its unending song is uplifting. A large bumblebee alights on a dandelion, lingering a few moments to gather pollen.
The sun is filtered by the trees forming bright shimmering pockets of light. There is a mysterious aura.
I find myself thinking of the biblical verses ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…
But what sort of time is it now?
It is a time of insecurity and anxiety. A time to recognise our own mortality. A time of personal loss and reflection. And a time to appreciate the courage of others.
But I seem to have lost my sense of time. It is as though Father Time has come to a standstill and each day has become undistinguishable from the next. Yet Mother Nature has not stood still. She has benefitted from the lightened human footprint. As our species is in temporary retreat, nature has opportunely grown to fill the space and following a winter of interminable rain, spring has produced one of her best displays of bluebells and blossom. Gardens are burgeoning with colour, fields are transformed. The air is cleaner and bursting with birdsong. The hedgerows are full of wildflowers. The sky is clear and blue, and the nights are star studded. Mankind should feel enriched and comforted.
Yet we are in despair. It is truly astonishing that a microscopic virus can bring our world, with all its advanced technology, to its knees.
I don’t know how long I have stood in silent reverie, but the feeling of uneasiness returns, and I want to go home.
I deftly negotiate the kissing gate, without touching the metal sides, and leave the park. The road is eerily empty. There is no sound of traffic and the rich plangent notes of a robin fill the air. I am tempted to cross the road without even glancing to check for the presence of any cars.
The strange feeling of pathos returns as I quicken my step. I sense an oppressive, invisible danger around me.
It is comforting to see that children have decorated the windows of their houses with rainbows. There are chalk drawn hopscotch markings on the pavement. Maybe we have travelled back in time to a bygone age.
As I round the corner a small girl in a red dress unexpectedly appears and immediately moves behind a tree to let me pass, raising her hands to her face. She is followed by a lady with a dog, which unbothered by the new laws of social distancing, strains on its lead towards me, wagging its tail. The lady abruptly apologizes, speaking through her face mask, and stands in the road to give me more space.
I thank her and hasten homewards.
A neighbour waves to me from behind her closed window. I raise my latex-gloved hand and wave back.
Kay Bagon is a retired analytical Chemist who lives in Radlett. She has 3 children and 8 grandchildren, 2 of whom were born last year. Her hobbies are gardening, playing tennis, singing in a choir, rambling and star gazing. She has written a semi autobiographical novel based on one day in a child’s life, called ‘The Homecoming’ and is trying to publish an illustrated poem for small children.