This week’s words were:
elastic :: rule of thumb :: spire :: conference :: wheel
The bus conked out with a shuddering cough as it passed the Gresham Hotel, and there was just no time to wait for the next one. It’d be a long walk from here, but judging by the traffic oozing its way down from Parnell Square like thick dark blood through a clogged artery, getting a taxi would be no quicker. Not that she had the money handy to pay for one, anyway.
‘Damn it,’ she muttered. ‘The one morning I can’t be late…’
She passed the Spire in a click-clacking hurry, trying not to feel her knicker elastic as it dug into the soft flesh of her hip. The warm morning was making her sweat through her light blouse, and her skirt was starting to ride up at the back, a teasing breeze trickling over her newly exposed skin. She tucked her paperwork into the crook of her elbow as she yanked her clothing straight, hoping nobody was watching, and then on she strode, through the blue and hazy morning, her mind full of photocopying and ringing telephones. As she walked, she adjusted her bundle of documents again, getting a grip on the handle of her satchel, full to bursting with conference handouts and copies of last month’s minutes.
She was crossing O’Connell Bridge when she noticed someone on the central median, all alone. No more than six or seven, and skinny with it, he looked small enough for a seagull to carry him away. Sitting on the edge of one of the large planters, nestled amid the scraggy, dying flowers, he was staring fixedly at something in midair, his small hands resting on his knees and his face completely at peace. She almost tripped over her own feet as she came to a halt, her eyes filling up with the sight of him. The crowd bumped and jolted around her, muttering as it went, but the boy was perfectly still. Only his hair, light and golden, stirred in the breeze.
He was a star in empty darkness, or a distant beacon. He was a lighthouse in a roaring storm.
‘Hey!’ she called, not knowing why. Rule of thumb, she told herself. You see a kid alone, you don’t just ignore it. ‘Son! Are you all right?’
Traffic roared all around him. Three lanes separated them, but she knew he’d heard.
‘Here! You! Where’s your mammy?’
The child made no response. She took a step, and then another, toward the pavement edge. A bus screamed past, blocking her view of the boy and making her close her eyes against the gust of foul, hot air it threw up in its wake. When she looked toward the child again, he’d moved from his perch on the planter, and for a few, panicked seconds she searched for him. Her gaze swung back and forth until it eventually came to rest once again. His hair gleamed in the dusty air as he stood, uncertain, on the pavement edge, gazing wide-eyed at the roaring traffic all around.
‘Don’t!’ She shouted, heaving her papers around to free one arm. She waved at him, desperate to attract his attention. ‘Little boy! Don’t cross there! It’s not safe!’
He didn’t hear. His eyes full of fear, he stepped out, and disappeared.
The documents spiralled around the bridge like a white, flickering wheel of fortune, some landing in the waters of the Liffey far below, and some coming to rest under the wheels of passing traffic, and some smacking into the legs and faces and bodies of other people, struggling and hurrying and running past, unseeing. They pulled the sheets of paper free and threw them into the wind, irritated at the interruption, closing their ears against the shriek of the ambulance and shuttering their eyes against the sight of a satchel, battered and scuffed, lying by the railings of a city bridge.