Jake leaned against the tree trunk and listened to the squeals and chatter of super-energised children. Veiled by the drooping branches of the Willow Tree, he struggled to fight off an unexpected onslaught of emotion. Adult voices joined the throng with feisty chit-chat and raucous laughter. Jake held his breath and remained still.
Back home in the dilapidated inner-city tenement block, Maggie was peeling potatoes, being sure to cut the peel thinly: “A growing lad needs sustenance!” She declared, to the wall.
The town clock chimed mid-day. ‘Explain this one!’ thought Jake, niftily shifting position. The long leaves of the Weeping Willow offered a safe vantage point to view the scene unfolding before him.
The grassy lakeside embankment was populous with colourful people; young and old; black and white; some bedecked with floppy hats and garish sun specs, others casting layers of ‘too warm’ garments down to bare essentials, sporting anaemic white flesh.
Like ants scurrying here and there, each knowing its specific task, much rustling and rummaging ensued. Wicker baskets stuffed with napkins, paper plates, goblets and wine. Foil parcels being unwrapped and hams and pickles set out. Jake waited.
The public park was of course just that – public! Some parts impeccably maintained and overseen daily by wardens. Sadly, others had become marginalised - Gang land, fallen prey to mindless vandalism and seedy, illegal night time activity.
Jake lived on the wrong side of town!
A chubby cheeked girl set about spreading a chequered blanket on the grass. Suddenly she stopped and stared hard into the shrubbery. She was distracted by a friend who came to help: “C’mon, let’s me ‘n’ you do the banner.” Unravelled and the ends secured between trees, it read
CHURCHES UNITED - PICNIC IN THE PARK - EVERYONE WELCOME!
A whiff of warm crusty bread teased Jake’s nostrils. His belly growled loudly as he watched jumbo sausage rolls and chicken drumsticks being heaped onto plates. A fleshy lady, impeded by the magnitude of her hindquarters, waddled back and forth like a duck, spooning fresh cream trifle into dishes. Jake felt a pang of remorse!
Back at the apartment Maggie was uneasy. Jake, a sensitive young man, always punctual was late! His father had strayed into temptation and was long gone. Penniless and homeless, Maggie resolved to trust the Lord for every provision and to sing His praises all day long. She cast an eye over the damp, dingy apartment and whispered: “Thank you Lord. We have a roof over our heads.” Mashed potato and beans were drying up on the stove. The rent arrears spared little for food. Softly she warbled a harvest song of thanks giving.
Suzy called by. Maggie scrutinised the dark circles under the youngster’s eyes. She’d never questioned her whereabouts late at night when she slipped quietly out: “Yer know what Mags?” Suzy paused to drag the life out of a tab end. “When life stinks, us lot around ‘ere looks out for one another!” She disappeared and returned later with home-made bully beef hash. “This stuff kept the soldiers strong in the war!” She declared, thumping it down on the table. Silently, in her heart, Maggie thanked the Lord for the good will and generosity of neighbours.
Back at the picnic, Jake was plotting his manoeuvre. When the men were occupied with kid’s games – he would strike. From his sleeve he pulled a carrier bag. The women and younger children gathered round to cheer the teams. NOW was the time!
A piercing scream stopped Jake in his tracks. The plump girl had returned, and with hands full of butterfly buns clasped to his chest, he shot into the Willow: “Daddy, Daddy, there’s a tramp hiding in the tree!” In three strides the girl’s father was up and baying for blood. A posse of men joined the pursuit as Jake swiftly legged it over a fence.
“Perv!” A woman hollered after him. “Smack-head!” Screeched another. “Keep out of our park. Get back to your slum!” The words sliced clean through Jake’s heart.
Maggie raised her hands and thanked God as a panting Jake burst through the door. She asked only one question: “Hungry son?” He nodded. “Good! Sit … You know Jake, Jesus never promised us an easy ride.” He avoided eye contact. She tilted his chin; “But one day - you and I - will be feasting at the marriage supper of The Lamb!”
Jake looked down at his baked beans and mash, and gave a wry smile!
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