There were once three men who used to sit on the bench shaded by the carob tree at the far corner of the square. They were much younger than the tree, albeit as wrinkly and bent by age as its bark.
Everyday their vigil began right after the seven-thirty mass. They sipped English tea in a tall glass at eight-thirty, then bread and cheese at ten. The bench under the carob tree would be empty between twelve and two; which was precisely the span of time it took the sun to graze the wooden bench before its rays were eclipsed by the second house on the left.
At two the men would return, refreshed. Tea at four and a cigar at six. By seven the bench would be empty again, its services redundant for the night.
Nothing changed, not for a long while; their routine set in stone. They would argue heatedly on debates that were on everyone’s tongues two decades past; they would gossip on friends and neighbours long dead and chew on their tobacco while pondering silently on memories that shaped their being.
Then three men became two.
You could see the change then, if you looked very closely; a leg just a tad stiffer; a back just a fraction more hunched. But the routine remained.
Then two men became one.
A lonely man sitting at his bench, abiding faithfully to a routine that was the only remaining phantom of friendship lost.
One man became none and the bench gathers leaves now and welcomes the sun.
For Trifecta. The word that kept me awake for two whole days in a row is PHANTOM: 3 : a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal <she was a phantom of delight — William Wordsworth>