She didn’t want her Mummy to be cross. She didn’t like it. Her legs were running as fast as they could alongside but she couldn’t go at the same pace and her feet were barely touching the floor. If it wasn’t for the fact that Mummy was holding her wrist so firmly and her arm so high, she was sure she would fall to the grey pavement and her little body was twisting as if to do so. The straps of her black, patent shoes were fastened too tightly across the tops of her feet and were making them throb . The pain took precedence to the fear of falling down.
The exhaust belched out dense clouds of charcoal smoke as the bus prepared to leave from its stop. Her Mother’s American tan, clad calfs skipped quickly up the three steps of the bus, just in time. The swing doors closed behind, sucking them inside the coach as the driver pulled away. The bus smelled of hot bodies and litter bins along with a trail of the outside fumes.
“Sit here.” Her Mother put her at the side a teenage girl as she took her place opposite next to a middle aged lady. The woman moved her plastic shopping bag when her Mother’s high heels caught it as she sat down. The teenage girl was staring at her Mummy’s pretty shoes and picking at the black nail polish at her cuticles and making it look tatty. Her Mummy was pretty and she thought the girl was thinking that too. She rubbed her wrist where her Mummy had been holding it tightly. The skin was blotchy there and felt all tingly. Her own feet didn’t touch the floor like the big peoples and she began to swing them forwards and backwards under the seat, looking at how her skin was bulging between the strap and the shoe, underneath her patterned white socks; it was like it was trying to escape.
“My shoes hurt. They’re too tight.” She complained.
Her Mother slapped her on the knee when her swinging foot caught her fine denier stockings. “Stop swinging your legs! Your shoes are fine, they cant be any looser or they will come off.”
This was true, for there was a fingers width of gap at the back of her shoes. She knew this because she had been able to put her fingers in and out easily and despite her feet being strapped in tight, her heels moved up and down when she walked. She wished she could have shoes like her Mummy with no straps and big heels, like princesses wore. She stilled her legs, hands underneath her knees and looked up at the people on the bus. She was travelling backwards so it seemed like all the people were looking at her and it made her scared. Most of them looked annoyed and tired like they didn’t want to be going out. She wondered why they hadn’t just stayed at home instead. She noticed a boy and a girl kissing on the back seat. The girl had a big, swishy brown ponytail, like a horse. The boys hand was on her neck and something was written on his hand, like her Uncle had on his hands, except his were green and the boys had colours. The boy and girl stopped kissing and stood up to ring the bell for the next stop. She looked away from them in case they saw her watching them and got cross.
“Can I ring the bell when it’s time to get off?’ She asked her Mummy, hoping she’d say yes. She liked ringing the bell on the bus. It made a happy sound like the cartoons did on TV.
“Pull your socks up.” Her Mother stared at her knee length socks that were travelling down to her ankles.
She pulled them up and watched the little patterned holes get larger as she did so and stuck her fingers in some of them to see how wide they would stretch.
“Quickly, get up, push the bell.” Her Mother stood up, the curls she’d put in her hair earlier that morning, bouncing around her chin. Her Mummy looked like Goldilocks. She jumped up and reached for the red button on the long silver pole but it was too high. Her Mother sighed impatiently and pushed it herself, “Come on, we don’t have time.” She grabbed her wrist again, pulling her to the front, near the bus doors.
But she’d really wanted to press the bell. She had wanted to make it ping.
Outside the city was full of people coming in and out of shop doors with bags and smilier faces. The town made people happier. Maybe they were buying new toys and pretty dresses to take home and make them feel better.
They walked down the big street towards the Market Square. The sun was shining and glinting from the steel of the big wheel that had been stationed there for the Summer. As they approached she saw other children running in and out of the water fountains and laughing, getting all their clothes and hair wet. She looked up at her Mummy who had slowed down and was looking around for something. She seemed to find it as her face softened and a gentle smile formed.
“Go over there.” Her Mother pointed across the square to a huge paddling pool that had been assembled. There was a giant green plastic ball floating inside it. “ Stay there and play, but DON’T get wet or go anywhere else. I’ll come and get you in a little while.” Her Mummy put a hand on her back and pushed her forward to go. The fear welled up inside at having to go over there alone. She walked forward watching the green ball bobbing about as she got closer, never taking her eyes off it. The pool was edged with a metal frame covered in a dark blue plastic covering. It was hot from the sunshine as she leant on it to look over and it smelled like a new dolly. Some children were playing in the water in their swimsuits, splashing and jumping around which was making the big ball, jump about on the top. It was even bigger than a human being and fascinated her. The movement in the water made the ball edge towards her like it wanted to make friends. She smiled and reached forward to touch it, stretching her arm outright as far as she could, standing on her tiptoes. Just as the ball kissed the very tip of her index finger she felt the initial thud in her back and her outstretched arm being squeezed by weight onto the framework around the pool, causing it to pinch. More thuds came as the group of rowdy boys ran forward to the pool edge, knocking her over onto the bumpy concrete floor and sending her skidding on her knees. Initially she felt panic and then she felt the tears prick her eyes; a sob escaped from her mouth all on its own and she looked around for her Mummy. She spotted her, near the seating areas that were dotted around the perimeters. She had her arms around the neck of a man and was kissing him. Like the boy and girl were doing on the bus. She watched, biting her bottom lip and forcing the sobs to stay down. Swallowing them like croaky balls of air, back down her throat.
Her right knee was bleeding and little pieces of grit had embedded themselves into the cut like the wood chip in wallpaper. Blood trickled down her leg, spreading into a dull mauve at the top of her cotton sock. She pulled it up over the cut to hide it and felt it sting. Now that hurt more than the straps on her feet. One of her shoes was scuffed and wetting a finger in her mouth,she tried to rub it off but it wouldn’t go away. A gentle hand placed itself on her shoulder and the soothing voice of a lady, spoke behind her.
“Are you OK, sweetheart?” The lady bent down to her on the floor. She had a kind face.
“Yes….thank you.” She replied, shyly. The lady made the crying feeling come back and she had to breathe really hard to make it go away again.
“Where’s your Mummy?”
“She’s coming…in a minute.” She glanced over at her Mummy in the distance to make sure she hadn’t seen. She didn’t want to make her cross. The lady helped her stand up and brushed the dirt from her pinafore dress.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” The lady looked concerned like she didn’t believe her. She forced a smile and nodded her head. The lady smiled back and walked away. She looked over to her Mother once more and as she did, noticed that she was glancing back over. She kept the fake smile in place and waved, happily at her, with her little hand.