Sunday 29 March 2009

A Picture Of A Boy

She walked home from work, determined to get the last bits of anger and frustration that had been building up over the weekend out of her system.
Exercise, even if it was just an hour's walk in the surprisingly mild October sun, always proved to be helpful.
It did not do anything about the situation, of course, but it made coping with it easier.
When she reached the place where two paths crossed, one leading up to the small foot bridge across the railway and the other one leading into town, she saw that someone was sat on the chunk of yellow rock that had been put on the patch of grass to stop cars from parking there.

Countless times she had passed this rock, but as far as she could remember, nobody had ever sat on it, although it was actually a pretty place for a rest, with an old apple tree spreading its crooked branches over it and one of the former duke's stables converted into modern living quarters visible behind the tree.
Slightly curious as to who was sitting there, she slowed down without really stopping.
First, she saw the dog.
It was a medium-sized dog with shaggy fur of almost the same colour as the rock, and it sat on top of the flattest bit, facing the direction she was coming from. Its posture was attentive but relaxed at the same time, and it did not turn its head or even twitch an ear when she came closer.

Then she saw the boy.
For someone like her, who did not have children, it was difficult to guess the boy's age, but he couldn't have been much older than maybe ten.
He sat on the sloping bit of the rock, his back turned towards her and towards the dog, who had clearly taken this position to guard over his human and protect him.
The boy was wearing ordinary clothes, a beige pair of corduroy trousers and a red knitted jumper.
He had sandy brown hair and a clear face, pretty in the way many children are, but not remarkable.
What she found remarkable though was that he was sat there like a man much older than him would sit, bent forward, one hand on his knee, the other hand at his ear.
Yes, she could see it now, he was talking into a mobile phone.

Nothing remarkable about a kid using a mobile phone, now, is there?
And yet, something about the manner of the boy struck her as unusual.
He spoke in a serious and quiet tone; not like a kid who plays at being Police Man and assumes what he thinks must be the serious, even pompous, tone of an officer.
But he spoke like an adult. Like someone who has serious things to deal with, and whose daily worries are not "what's for homework" or "shall we watch The Simpsons later".

Long past the pair on the rock now, she could not stop thinking about them.
She didn't know whether she should be sad for the boy who was so un-childlike in his manner or have respect for him.
Her own childhood had, in retrospect, never been weighed down by adult problems like money, work or health issues.
All that came much later, and sometimes - like during the weekend that now lay behind her and was never to be repeated, just like her childhood could never be repeated - with such force she found it hard to struggle against.

The picture of the boy and the dog on their rock stuck with her.
She would conjure them up in her mind, and silently wonder what the conversation on the phone had been about.
Had she been an artist, she would have tried to turn her mind's picture into a tangible one.
But not being an artist, all she could do was think.

Again and again.

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