on the bridge

‘No,’ said the woman, lying on the ground, her face flattened against the pavement, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ Seconds earlier I had watched her falling. I’d dropped my bike at the side of the road and was now at her side saying, ‘Are you OK? Let me help you. Are you OK?’ We were both a patter of politeness, but the child was screaming and crying and hanging on to whatever bit of his grandmother he could. Eventually she let me help her sit up. The child screamed even more, throwing himself dramatically on to her lap. ‘It’s alright, Rafi,’ she said softly. ‘It’s alright.’ ‘How are your knees?’ I asked. ‘Looked like you gave them a really hard bang.’ ‘They’re fine,’ she said, as if she was defending her age, possibly her entire generation. ‘It’s just the shock, isn’t it,’ I said, changing my tone, helping her in her cover-up. ‘But you might have a nasty bruise in the morning,’ I added, perhaps to score a point. Then Rafi scrambled up from the pavement and charged off, running away from his grandmother and me, screaming and screaming. ‘Rafi!’ she called, ‘Rafi!’ ‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘you have the accident but he has the tantrum.’ In that moment, I hated the child. His selfishness, his fear. And then I felt guilty and wondered if I should run after him. ‘Shall I go after him?’ I asked. ‘No,’ she said, still on the ground, ‘it’s fine, it’s fine. I’ll go.’ I helped her to her feet and at a certain moment, before she was completely upright, we were standing so close together, we were almost in an embrace, like mother and daughter I thought, or even lovers. I wondered if she was thinking the same thing; I wondered if anyone watching was thinking the same thing. She looked at me and I looked at her, and then at the wrinkles in the skin around her face and beneath her neck. She wore a gold chain with a small cross that was caught in her cleavage. Her hair was blonde. ‘You’ve lost a shoe,’ I said, noticing it in the gutter. I reached for it, knelt down again, and held it out for her. Her toes were covered in grit. ‘They look sore,’ I said, and brushed the grit off with my fingers, trying not to hurt her. ‘They’re too big,’ she replied, a little crossly, ‘they don’t fit. I shouldn’t wear shoes that don’t fit me.’ But they seemed to fit perfectly I thought as I held the heel out at the back so she could press down and in. She’s blaming the shoes because she’s unhappy about her age. She’s worrying to herself, ‘Is this the beginning of the end? Will my daughter stop me from looking after Rafi?’ I stood up and noticed now the grit and dirt on her face and a skid mark down her left cheek. ‘You might have a black eye in the morning, I’m afraid.’ But she wasn’t listening. She turned and began to walk and then run after her grandson. ‘Rafi, Rafi!’ she shouted, but he was nowhere to be seen.

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