Let me paint a picture for you. It was the hottest day of the year so far. The grass in the park had gone to straw, the clouds were the colour of sky and it was virtually empty. The few others there rarely moved, were barely noticed. Occasionally a cyclist passed through. Some teenagers came and looked lively, then didn’t. An old man lay on his front and slowly went straw-coloured.
There was another old man sat on a bench, in black t-shirt and shorts with dark glasses. I couldn’t see what he was doing — something with his hands. Painting? He seemed very at ease. A younger man lay topless under a tree — he might have been moving a lot, or it might have been the limbs of someone lying behind him.
I sat under a tree, spread out the Observer and my lunch. The plastic around the sandwiches and strawberries crackled loudly. The strawberries were a bit mushed from when I’d used by backpack as a pillow but still good. They looked like fat wet lips colliding. I looked at the gold-blue sky again. Then the trees. The clouds. The plane flying without leaving a mark. The sunbather. The sky. My strawberries. I recalled an interview in which a man said that his greatest disappointment in life, upon returning to England after a childhood in the colonies, was strawberries. I don’t know why I remember this every time I eat them. Now I had juice on my fingers and two red circles on my white t-shirt. I looked on these with satisfaction, as evidence of my enjoyment. Things like foodstains are a reliable sign of happiness in my case. After I’d licked my fingers, they were still sticky and I thought of straw sticking to them like a scarecrow’s hands. Oftentimes I find it hard to say whether time was well spent. But when someone asked me later how was my Sunday, I knew I’d have these dots and sticky fingers as clues to the answer.
I searched the paper impatiently until a story caught my eye. The page half-lifted, the corner flickered like a tongue. The air was rising. I pinned it down with phone and strawberries and started the sandwich: cheese and pickle. Every time I eat cheese and pickle, I imagine a ploughman in the Middle Ages toiling for bread and cheese. Life is pain. This thought makes the sandwich taste better.
I was halfway through my sandwich when a low, muffled buzzing filled my left ear. My instinct with wasps is always to retreat. So I got up quickly and stepped forward, turning around to look for it, not really able to see clearly in the dappled shade, when it rose up directly in front of me, zooming in and out from the sandwich in my hand. I moved back and it followed. I moved quickly towards the tree, depositing the sandwich, which I felt had become a liability. I gathered my things and walked off, first to bin the remaining strawberries, then to walk halfway across the park to another shady tree.
I found my page in the paper again but couldn’t remember which of these stories I had thought was interesting. It bothered me that someone might have seen me panicking at a wasp and throwing away my lunch like that. Though I’m sure nobody was paying me the slightest attention, let alone could have seen a wasp, I felt it had changed my position in the park. That everything could be changed in an instant by something so small was what was bothering me. It made me feel part of the smaller things here, not the big things — the sun, the sky, these expanses of burnt grass.
I was thick with these thoughts when I heard the same sharp buzzing in the same ear. Then it hovered around my chest indecisively. I panicked as before but more intensely: evidently, it wouldn’t be so easy to be rid of. Then I remembered the juice stains. I took off my shirt and placed it at the base of the tree like an offering to the gods. I stepped away. It circled the shirt a few times then landed on the stains. While it did this I wondered at what I’d done. What if more came? Even if not, how was I going to get my shirt back? In the moment, the most important thing was to get it away from me but now I felt worse than before because not only had it made me feel that it owned this space, even time and memories spent within it — it now owned something that belonged to me. It spread its little yellow sugar-cane legs. It bobbed its shiny shell-shaped abdomen on it. If you look at a wasp closely but not too closely, it looks the same all over — seems to have eyes all over its body. Its hard to look at any part of a wasp and not feel watched. Not wishing to disturb it, I slowly put my other things away in my rucksack, staying close to the ground to keep it in view.
While I was trying to decide what to do next, it decided for me by rising into the air and sort of darting around between me and the shirt. With one decisive movement, I grabbed the shirt and started walking away, slowing to pull it overhead only once I was a good hundred yards gone. Oh well! I kept thinking to myself. Oh well! This was almost as irritating as the buzzing, was like a kind of softer buzzing inside my ear. But, after all, I really had no excuse to feel anything. A wasp is as much a part of a summer’s day as anything else. Where there are picnics, there are wasps. This is known. These are well-established facts. Only an idiot would go to a park and sit eating strawberries and expect anything else to happen.
The tube home simmered. I stood near the front of a carriage hoping to catch the breeze but it was all hot dry breath on my face.
I closed the front door, dropped my backpack on my bed, took a Coke from the fridge and held it against my forehead. Why had I thrown the sandwich away? Why hadn’t I just eaten it really fast? I opened the Coke, enjoying the sound it made. Took a sip. Too fizzy. That was my Sunday: gone. That was my Sunday and I ran away from it. I shouldn’t have panicked like that. They say if you stay still, it’ll leave you alone. I’d let myself be surprised: the first I heard of it, it was practically inside my ear like it has just crawled out of there. Because I’d gone to the park with the phrase ‘perfect day’ in mind and, sitting under a tree, I hadn’t known there could be car accidents and the like. I’d expected nature to give and give to me without asking for anything in return.
I unzipped my pack and took out the Observer. I spread it out on the desk. As I studied the spread, something moved in the corner of my eye. A little black-and-yellow animal crawled lazily out of the pages underneath and perched at the top of the open page. I shifted my stool back but remained seated. It was resting, mandibles twitching. I could have killed it. I certainly wanted to. But it was doing me no harm. If I’d gone for it and missed, then I’d have had a problem. Against this, a small voice in me said this was too much, that a line had to be drawn. Its mere presence in my home was a mockery of me. Obviously I couldn’t cohabit with a wasp permanently. I got up and opened the window wider. Still it didn’t move. Perhaps it was dying. It had been sweating inside my bag for some time. It must be weakened, at least. I could probably kill it quite easily if I wanted to. But it felt wrong to hit something that wasn’t even moving. Excessive. Yet I couldn’t sit there all day watching it either. In any case, I sat awhile and read both pages from corner to corner. It was a strange experience: I rarely read any stories from start to finish, let alone all of the stories. But I wasn’t really reading about litter clean-ups and capital flight: I was reading about the wasp, which littered the text like rogue punctuation.
A breeze through the window lifted the page. It re-animated, hovered into my face. I waved it away and then it really came to life, buzzing from one side of my head to the other, darting around my hands. I ran from the room and shut the door. An uneven droning came from inside. Drawing closer then withdrawing repeatedly, like the tide. I listened and caught my breath. I was still holding the handle. I felt partial relief: open warfare sometimes being preferable to an uneasy truce.
I let go of the handle and went to fetch the spare bedding.