It feels exotic to be here relaxing on a bench in the Ormeau Park in the middle of the week, and I am savouring it. It is late July, and unseasonably warm and sunny in Belfast. The customary overcast skies and rain have briefly abated, and the temperature has reached the dizzying heights of the mid-20s. I am between jobs, and taking full advantage of the time off to enjoy the sunshine. The park is resplendent: the Horse-Chestnut trees are fully-leaved, casting welcome shadows for sun-averse pale skin, the beds are riotous with red, white, and yellow flowers. A low-lying patch of ground by a stand of elegant Silver Birches is still dark and soggy from the teeming rain of the past week; the sodden ground means that there are no blankets spread out for picnics, no lovers entwined on the grass. Today, sedentary life is confined to the black metal benches, the shelter and the bandstand. On one of the benches a crusty with long matted dreadlocks, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and boots, peacefully reads a book, oblivious to his surroundings. I cannot make out the title.
The population of the park is slightly different during the week; the pushchairs are guided by one parent rather than both, and there are fewer young people about. It is generally quieter at this time of year; July is holiday time in the North. Despite the schools being off there are not many kids in the park; they are away getting cooked on Mediterranean beaches or visiting Disneyworld. At the bandstand is an exception to this rule. A very large man is accompanied by three boys, aged about four, six and eight. The smallest child and his middle brother are running about, while the older one watches from his bike. He is stationary, holding onto the iron railings of the bandstand.
I am on the phone when it happens. The father is showing off and has obviously called the kids to watch as he attempts to jump his bike off the bandstand. I am torn from my conversation as he jolts irretrievably down the steps and cowps over the handlebars, landing awkwardly in a heap, while his bike falls down next to him on the asphalt. My friend on the other end of the phone is insistent for my attention and I laughingly explain what has just happened. While I am doing so, I notice the youngest boy running to get the attention of a middle-aged man who is walking close by on the path. Although it has only been a matter of seconds, it is at this point that I realise how serious the situation is. The father is on his back, unmoving. I end my call and rush over to where he lies groaning, and unable to get up. Coming up close to him, I can see that his face is pale and dotted with small beads of sweat. I reckon that he must be 17 stone, but he is tall with it. His youngest son is panicking, sobbing, and trying to talk to him incoherently through his tears. The middle child is quiet; looks a bit shocked. The eldest one seems less moved by it all, and tries to keep the other two occupied, walking them around and talking to them. He seems more mature than his years would suggest.
I call an ambulance. The controller asks me a series of questions, and gets me to quiz the dad about where it hurts, can he move his fingers and so on. I give the location as best I can, and tell him the nearest gate for the ambulance to come through. He asks if there is someone there to go and meet the ambulance, and the eldest kid agrees to do so. He pelts off on his bike towards the Ormeau Road. Me and the middle-aged bloke try to get the injured man to talk to us. We ask what he was trying to do, he just answers I was being stupid. Thought I could jump off the bandstand. So stupid. Lesson learned there. I ask him if this is the end of his stuntman career then, and he laughs, wincing in pain. The kids are visibly relieved to see him smiling. Slowly he fishes out his mobile from the depths of his shorts, and calls his missus. She will come to pick up the kids. They have come all the way from Glengormley and she doesn’t know where he is at all. We give him directions to pass on to her.
Moments later there is a siren, flashing blue lights, and a small paramedic ambulance appears, coming up past the Bowling Green; I wave it over. The driver thanks us and dismisses us, gets on with the job. Slightly miffed that our curiosity is unanswered, me and the other guy walk off, our good deed done for the day. We’d like to think someone would do the same for us if we ever had an accident. The eldest kid returns on his bike, and comes after us. For the quarter hour that the drama has taken, we three have become a team, united by a common purpose. We tell the boy his dad is going to be alright. It’s probably a dislocated shoulder. He’s not my da, he says, I never met him before. We agree he did a great job; and with that we part company, wearing our righteousness like halos, and head back into the everyday. Behind us the big ambulance arrives, and the crusty turns another page.