I often walk along the promenade, and slow down as I reach the War Memorial with the statue of an unknown soldier standing high on his granite pedestal. I will ponder if time allows, reading the names of those who gave their lives, who were you? All you young men, who never returned; was the statue modelled on one of you?
On this night it was late, my girlfriend had walked out of my life. The drizzling rain poured its melancholy tears onto the roadway. I looked out of the window and had the urge to walk. I picked up my favourite coat and wrapped and buttoned it tight around me, and then perched a lined, foul weather hat on my balding head.
The wind was fresh and I chose the promenade for my contemplations. Walking out of the side street a gust of wind almost stopped me in my tracks. I bowed my head to it and pushed onwards to the shore. I stood at the edge of the precipice, holding tight to the railings, my eyes squinted at the salt spray and observed the crashing waves below.
After breathing in the life force of the sea I ventured on, and soon found myself standing under the feet of my soldier lad.
The memorial sheltered me from the wind, I rested on the steps and lit a cigarette; fighting the moving air it took eight matches. I drew in the sharp smoke, filling my lungs and adding the mixture to the clean, salt laden atmosphere within. I felt the rush of nicotine to my brain.
The memory of Barbara, sad, bitter-sweet thoughts arose from the depths of me. It was over. What now? I was jolted out of my self pity by a tap on my shoulder, then my reaction turned to shock, for standing beside me was the soldier lad, he was smiling.
“What the hell…..!”
“Hello, he said.
“But….this can’t be!”
“You come here every day, I see you. You read our names.”
“Your names?” I said.
“Yes. A part of all those boys is in me, that’s what gives me life; this cold bronze is not what you think.”
“Am I?” his smile revealed snow white teeth. “I am here, aren’t I, talking to you?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand.”
“I watch, all the time, alone up there, so people do not forget. I get bored sometimes at night and go wandering. Tonight I will stay for a while, you are troubled.”
“How do you know?”
“I feel it. A woman troubles you, a love affair has ended, and you feel as though your life is over. Yes?”
“Yes.” I said. I must be dreaming, I thought.
“No you’re not. Now listen. Most of us loved, we had sweethearts. They, we, lost each other; we never got another chance. We never had the opportunity to have children, or grandchildren, or to grow old. You do, my friend.” He placed his hand on my shoulder, it was cold, yet warmth passed through me.
“Think about it, my friend. I must go now, but visit me again, I enjoy company.”
A shadow moved above me and he was gone.
I walked home deep in thought. His words echoed through me again and again. I slept soundly that night; Barbara came into my dreams but not sadness. I knew, in time, I would find love again.
I passed by the memorial on my way to work the next morning. There was the statue, solid, dull bronze with seagull droppings on the helmet. I pulled over and stared, it was surely a dream.
I could swear I saw him wink.