In Belfast there is a park, a beautiful park. And although in this part of the world rain and grey cloud are more typical than sunshine and blue sky, palm trees thrive in this park. Trees native to the land - beach, oak, pine, and horse chestnut - compliment their tropical cousins, and form the stalwart of the park's refreshing atmosphere. A parade of rose bushes, with wooden benches set between them, add colour and fragrance. During the summer, groups of university students sprawl themselves across the open grassy spaces. Some play frisbee, others football. Some chat in groups, others find their own space to read a book and absorb the warm sunshine. A traditional ice cream van provides refreshments.
Now, though, it is winter. The rose bushes are dark and bare, the colour of their twiggy branches merging to the onlooker with the mud beneath them. In this cold and wet season, the park's paths are only used as through-ways. No lovers wander the paths hand-in-hand, giggling at their special secret, and pausing to share kisses. No families use the park for a bike-ride, with the little ones on their little bikes following mother like ducklings. The only cyclists in the winter park zoom to work, slicing through the ice-cold air. Men and women in suits, under umbrellas, trot quickly along the pathways, heads down.
Only there is one who has learnt to see the world differently. For him, the emptiness of the winter park as an opportunity. The park, with its winding paths up and down steep hills, becomes his space, the place where he can come, determined, with gritted teeth, to remember that he is alive. This man is an immigrant, Chinese. He is a short man, whose wrinkled face reveals deep inner scars. The English words he speaks are few. He wears a green rain-jacket, hood up, and black jeans.
Each day in the winter months, he waits for his carer to leave for her next client, then dresses himself up in his outdoor clothes - a feat that takes him until late morning. Once he has wheeled himself to the park, his arms are sore. Parking his wheelchair beside a wooden bench, he lifts himself out, then shuffles himself to make the bench comfortable. He closes his eyes and journeys deep into his inner world, finding the place within himself that restores strength to his arms and revives the tension in his legs until they feel stiff with life.
When he returns from this inner world, he stands, moving slowly, leaning on the arm of the bench, his body shaking. Once upright, he grips one hand onto the handle of the wheelchair, and begins his walk, a full circuit of the park. For the trotting business-people, if they cared to walk this circuit, they would be finished in fifteen minutes. The giggling summertime lovers take half an hour. By the time the Chinese man has finished his circuit, nearly two hours have passed. Once finished, he collapses in his wheelchair, closes his eyes, and gasps on the icy winter air like a marathon runner crossing the finishing line. No one congratulates him. He wheels himself home.
The afternoon hours he passes by taking off his coat and shoes, cleaning his wheelchair, and climbing back into bed ready for when his carer arrives to bring him dinner.
By the time she arrives, he's watching the evening news. "Was there anything good on telly today?" she always asks when she brings in his meal.
"Yes," he replies, nodding enthusiastically. It's the one thing she says that he understands, and he knows how to respond.
"Very good telly. Very good."