He’s on the wrong side of the barrier as I walk across the footbridge. On the slip road. A woman watching from the bottom of the steps. Floral frock. Sensible T-bar shoes. Like the ones I wore as a child. Ankle socks. A confusion of thoughts swirls in my head. Maybe the same thoughts that made her stop. He’s oblivious. Bends gracefully. Scoops up the errant football. Vaults the barrier in one fluid movement. Oh to be so young again. He exchanges a few words with the woman in the frock. The body language makes me think at first they know each other. Then they move apart and I can see they don’t. She turns right. Sets off at an anxious pace. Flat-footed-not-quite-run. On her way to church. I think.
He’s a few yards ahead of me now. Dancing behind the ball. Barefoot. A can in one hand. Didn’t see him pick that up. He’s skinny. Lithe. Grey T-shirt. Stringy brown hair. Shaved on one side. No sign of any shoes. The parent in me frets about glass on the pavement. He flicks a middle finger at a passing police car. Blue lights. Curving in ahead of a cavalcade of bikers on the motorway. More flashing lights bring up the rear. A police escort. By accident rather than design. The ball rolls into the gutter. The footballer hooks it out with his left foot. Dribbles it round the bend into the park.
I fish in my bag for the camera. Take a photo of the first ripe blackberry of the year. Ahead of its time. There’s a bumper crop on the way. The brambles are sagging out over the path already. Most of them have barely finished flowering. The generosity of nature makes me smile. Two pounds for a tiny punnet of blackberries in Tesco’s. Last year I picked a whole carrier bag full less than five minutes’ walk from home. So many I didn’t know what to do with them all. They tasted so much better than anything Tesco’s had to offer. Didn’t have to pay a penny for them. We don’t trust free though. There has to be a catch. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is, a friend once told me. The day before he went on a bender and locked me out of my house.
The Footballer’s under the bridge when I catch up with him. Chatting to the drinkers. I can never quite hear what they’re saying. The bridge wasn’t designed for its acoustics. He looks no more than a child. His face is painted. Carnival colours. All across one cheek. It could be a tattoo of course. There’s a fine line to observing without making eye contact. I can’t look for long enough to decide.
Lunch-with-friends later there’s some new street art on the wall under the bridge. All in white. Intricate. Spray painted. The bottom line stark on the blackened brickwork. F**k police. I can’t help thinking The Footballer’s responsible. How funny I assumed the can in his hand was beer. We weave our stories of the world. Tales that fit our view of how things ought to be. Maybe The Footballer was a woman. The woman in the frock a celebrity in disguise. The bikers en route to a police convention. The police cars on a getaway from a bank job. Who’s to say?
In the shadow of the screen fence on the far side of the motorway the line of vans and caravans has grown. It’s carnival weekend. Two men are sitting on the kerb as I re-cross the footbridge. Beer bottles. A football in the shadow of the van. Their lifestyle is so different from the one that’s sold to most of us. Sometimes we forget we have a choice. Get angry. Sanctimonious. Look down on those who choose a road less travelled. Who shun convention. Swim against the tide. Sometimes I think we collude in our own unhappiness. But as I said, maybe we don’t trust free.
I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at http://www.one25.org.uk/. You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.