It was the park warden who told me the pond was originally a Victorian roller skating rink. A hundred and twenty years ago there was a craze for it, apparently. The shallow concrete gradients of the rink would have resounded with the rumble of vulcanised rubber wheels and the shrieks of skaters holding on to their bonnets and dignity. But the fashion waned by the turn of the century, the rink was filled, a waterfall dropped out of the rockery at the northern end, and an island for geese and ducks set in the middle.
Now, the water is only ankle deep, thickly congested with duck weed, over there a litter bin lying half-sunk, as if it tore itself free from its mounting and threw itself in to chase the bottles and cans and crisp packets.
Jack is sitting on one of the benches that border the pond. His legs are crossed and his arms folded contemplatively across them. He smokes, poised and relaxed, and chats to a neater, younger guy standing near to him, who waves over to us. As we get closer we can see that Jack is covered from head to foot in duck weed, his old denim jacket and jeans plastered with the little green leaves.
‘So what’s the story, Jack? What happened to you?’
‘I’m fine. Honestly. I saw a duck in trouble. I went in to help it. That’s it. That’s all there is.’
The young man chips in.
‘He waded out there. I wondered what he was doing, so I called you guys. I hope that’s all right. I thought he was – you know.’
Jack smiles up at him.
‘You’re a good kid. Do you know?’
‘Did I do the right thing?’
‘Sure. So – Jack. Did you go under the water at any point?’
‘Did you hurt yourself at all?’
‘And you feel all right in yourself?’
‘Of course. Look – what would you have done? Would you have helped the duck?’
‘I don’t know. What was it doing?’
He makes a drunken mime, vaguely waving his cigarette around in front of him.
‘And how’s the duck now?’
‘It flew off.’
The kid points to the pond.
‘You can see the route he took.’
He’s right. There’s a clear, meandering track through the otherwise unbroken surface of green, right out as far as the island.
‘So what do you intend to do now, Jack?’
‘Finish this, then go home.’
‘Where do you live?’
He says his address, a homeless hostel in the middle of town. I can’t imagine what people will think when they pass him in the street, a shuffling figure covered in drying weed.
Jack taps the ash from his cigarette off to one side, and looks up at us.
‘One does what one can,’ he sniffs.