Sitting around the duck pond at uni was one of my life’s great pleasures for those years. It was free, in nearly every way. It cost nothing, or paerhaps the cost of a carton of chips to eat while you sat. It was without limits or dictation to do something, or even anything. I would sit with my friends, or without, and marvel at the freeness of just sitting there. This, after five years of boarding school, where every hour of every day was laid out in a plan for you.
The duck pond did, in fact, have ducks. I recall the big white domestic ones that wandered about the place like lords, bothering who they liked but generally not bothering with much. They were remarkably greedy.
On one late afternoon I saw a tired, beleaguered student, a guy in office work clothes, complete with rigid black briefcase, sit down on one of the lowish wooden benches just off the path to the library. He was higher than me; I almost always laid on the ground or sat cross legged, sometimes stretching out a leg to relieve boredom. One of those tiny glorious moments was such a stretch, when a girl sitting with us asked: “are going to straighten that leg?” as I was holding on to one foot. I did, and she was impressed. Her name was Ruth; she had white-blond hair and a step-through scooter. Her boyfriend was Jeremy. So much better than boarding school.
But the duck. My poor working student colleague – I sympathised with him as only the year before I had been a part-timer, with no time to do not much – and I could see his tired body wanting to lie down, wear nothing but a t-shirt and old cotton pants, and stop. But this day his only comfort was a hot dog from the uni cafeteria, which he sat down to eat, oblivious to the trundling approach of the duck.
Even as he raised his hand, his right I think, with the hot dog in it, tilted his head back, and eased his eyes closed in anticipation of the feast, the duck rose on tip toes, extended its thick white neck, and neatly plucked the hot dog from his hand, whole and perfectly held.
The student was shocked, as was I. The duck even seemed taken aback. The guy rose, and was totally lacking a response. The duck stared at him. Suddenly he pulled his briefcase back a foot or so, and shoved it into the duck’s chest, making it do a complete backwards roll along the ground. When the duck stood up again, it had maybe a third of the hot dog roll in its beak; it strode of at pace into the brush on the other side of the path, and after a brief moment of agitation, the guy walked off in the direction of the library.
Luckily I had been too surprised to laugh, sitting there by myself late in the day. It would have only made him feel worse, and me a layabout student wearing the most casual and worn clothes imaginable. And no shoes.
I don’t know if the guy even remembers this. I don’t know who he was or where he was going. I’m sure I saw the duck on other days, but I don’t recall seeing it with a hot dog in its mouth. If others didn’t believe my story, they didn’t say so.