Prelude 81

“I told you we should have stopped at that pub,” I say.
We are walking along the Grand Union canal pathway in steadily declining daylight, hunting for a place to eat.  It is Saturday evening, and you would expect Milton Keynes to be buzzing, but it isn’t.  A solitary Beefeater restaurant turns us away, so we head along a main road further into the town in search of something.  Eventually we find a fish and chips shop that is just about to close but is happy to sell us the greasy and very unsatisfying dregs of the day.  We sit unhappily on a bench under a street lamp, eating.  A group of youths pass by noisily, causing both Joe and I to look at each other at the same time.
“I think we’ll head back after this,” says Joe.  “I don’t fancy a pub tonight.”
I nod, and soon we are done eating and trying to find our way back to the barge, amidst clouds of stinging midges, and relieved to find it still floating where we left it.
The barge is hot and stuffy, but we daren’t open the windows for fear of the insects.  Joe opens a bottle of red wine, and pours two glasses.  We sit at the little dining table, not speaking at first.  The wine is good, my first glass in ages, but I resolve not to return to former habits.
“I’ve enjoyed today, Joe.  Thanks for this.”
“That’s alright, mate,” he replies.  “I needed to get away too.”
I look at him curiously.
“Yeah,” he continues.  “Life gets pretty dull without any real sense of purpose.  But then, is there really any point to anything? We are here by some incredible, mindless fluke, somehow all hanging together in fine balance, but it is just that: mindless.  There is no why.”
He takes a long sip of wine, and then continues.  “I suppose our only purpose is to make life bearable for each other, but even then, why?  Perhaps the only purpose is that we survive, either as individuals, or as a community.  Existence is the only purpose.”
“Today was more than just existence, Joe,” I reply.  “As much as I agree with you, something in me senses beauty, artistry and intent in everything.”
He looks at me sharply. “Even the bad things?”
I nod.  “Yes, oddly enough, even in the bad things.  I think life would be one dimensional without the bad things, like light only makes sense in contrast with dark.”
Joe looks at me for a long time, not speaking, then downs his wine in one gulp and replies wryle.  “I’m glad we’ve existed today, Aaron.  I’m off to bed.”
I sit for a while longer listening to him clatter about the back of the barge, humming to himself, my old friend.  Soon he settles in his cot and all his quiet.
I swirl the remaining wine in my glass.  Even in the bad things.  Really?