girl

A young girl, brushed blonde hair and neatly dressed in a woolly hat and scarf, was talking to three stall-holders, all nshaven, sturdy, probably hungover, jovial but ultimately unsympathetic. They stood around her in a clumsy triangle, physically friendly, almost listening, throwing in a word of advice here and there, which they would laugh at but she appeared not to hear. She kept talking, her hands held together a few inches beneath her chin, unconsciously mimicking the art of prayer. She looked up at one of the men, her gaze fixed on him, and kept talking, her voice slightly raised in competition against their bruising interruptions.

We passed through them, between the stalls, between the men, and walked on. But a few strides further, something made me stop and turn around and look again. An older man had the same feeling. He also stopped, and then walked back to the little group. Is she ok? he asked the men. I remember thinking that was odd, that he didn’t ask her. What if she wasn’t and what if the men were the reason why she wasn’t? So I walked back too. I bent down to her level – she was like one of the well-dressed children in Mary Poppins – and asked her if she was ok. But the four men responded, not her. Forest Road, they shouted, She needs to get to Forest Road. Go with her, they said to the girl, gesturing at me. Go with her! She clamped herself to my arm, like a bomb to a submarine, and we began walking to Forest Road.

I took her by the hand, which felt cold and limp in the grip of my glove. She was crying. She was lost. She needed to get home. Number 47 Forest Road, she said. New Year, she said. Lights in my window for my sister, she said. Forest Road, she said again.

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