He pushed back the flat cap from his forehead and rubbed his eyes. He must have dozed off, must have been out for hours, he felt very refreshed, best sleep he’d had in years in fact. Pulling the cap back down to shield his eyes from the bright light, he realised how remarkably well he felt.
In the distance, on the curve of the pebbled footpath, a man appeared wearing shorts and a brightly striped tee shirt. He was walking a small dog on a leash of the same red, green and yellow stripe and had a spring in his step as if he were listening to music. As he came closer, Harold noticed he was wearing headphones, but they made none of the annoying tsk, tsk, tsk noise that usually came with those contraptions. You rarely got real silence anymore.
When he approached the bench, the stranger took out the headphones from his ears, slipped them into his pocket and sat next to him. The terrier sniffed Harold’s trouser leg before sitting down at his master’s feet.
“Nice day for it, isn’t it?” asked the young man.
“Yes, indeed it is. I was just thinking how lovely the weather is today and how quiet the park is.”
“I suppose it is,” replied the stranger. “I’m here every day and sometimes it does get quite busy. Geoff likes it here, this is his favourite spot. He’s been with me for a while now, but he still enjoys a long walk every day. Sometimes, it’s like we never leave here. I always seem to find myself here with someone new and interesting.”
“My dog, sorry, I really should have introduced myself. This is Geoff, and I’m God.”
“I’m Harold, Harold Farley”.
The two men shook hands.
“So is it Mr God then, or is God your first name? I’m terribly sorry, but I’m not very good with foreign names and I don’t want to offend. A man’s name is a very important thing.”
The stranger chuckled and looked down at this brightly coloured top, baggy shorts and sandals.
“I expect I’m probably not what you expected,” he said still laughing. My name is God, just God. The God. This is my garden. What do you think, not bad eh? Although I have to tell you that some of my seedlings really haven’t taken well, the slugs have been at them something rotten but what can you do. They’re God’s creatures too.”
Harold’s jaw dropped. He was aghast. Surely this was a public park, although he couldn’t recall for the life of him if he had ever been there before, or what he was doing there now.
“Do you know how I got here?”
“The number 28 bus,” God replied, which was funny because he didn’t have any memory of getting at all. God read his mind.
“You didn’t,” God added. “It mounted the kerb and hit you, overtaken by a couple of joy riders. Nasty collision on all fronts really. There’s another two pedestrians on their way, but they’re putting up quite a fight at the moment.”
“What about the joy riders?” Harold asked. “Are they dead too? Will they be coming here?”
God leaned down and stroked the dog’s ears. “I don’t think you need to worry about them Harold. You won’t be seeing them. They’ll be doing to another place.”
“Sort of, it’s like a service station on the M25 on the summer bank holiday. They’ll have an eternity there, unless they do something pretty miraculous in the meantime, and trust me, not many of those things happen these days.”
“So I’m definitely dead, then?”
“Uh-huh. You came at the right time, we’re having a barbeque later, and your Marjorie will be there. She’s been waiting for you for a while.”
Harold’s face lit up. He took off his cap, patted down his untidy white hair with his hand and adjusted the collar on his shirt. The last ten years without Marjorie had been horrible; it was going to be lovely to see her again. He hoped he hadn’t aged too much.
“When will I get to see her?” he asked excitedly.
“Soon, very soon,” replied God. “First of all I do need to get some bureaucracy out of the way.” As if from nowhere, a clipboard and pen appeared in his hands. “I’m sure you understand – dot those ‘Is’ and cross those ‘Ts’ and all that jazz.”
“Yes of course, of course.” Harold sat up a little straighter, respectful of authority and its protocols.
“So, is your name Harold Farley, 72 years old, and do you live at 62 Station Road, Otley?”
“Yes, sir, I am and I do, I did, I mean.”
“Good.Tick!”, God looked up and smiled. “Husband to Marjorie Loretta Farley of the same address? Father of Paul and Julie?”
“Yes, sir, Mr God, sir, I am sir”. Another tick on the form.
“And am I right in thinking that you’ve won Garden of the Year in the West Otley Horticultural Society Annual Competition ten times in the last fifteen years?”
Harold proudly confirmed that he was. God put down his clipboard.
“Right then Harold, I think everything seems to be in order. That’s you done then.”
“Yes, you’re in,” said God as he put his arm around the pensioner’s shoulder and helped him up from the bench, “but first of all you are me are doing to have a long talk about my begonias.”