Here is the opening to a short story I wrote a while ago. Still figuring out where I’d like to go with it, but I think I managed to build the intrigue enough for it to go somewhere. It’s based on a rather unusual encounter I had some years ago…
It was a quiet day, overcast and gloomy. A little girl was walking alone down the street.
She couldn’t have been more than four or five years old, toddling along in her scuffed Alice shoes and her pink Hello Kitty coat that was just a little bit too big for her. There was no sign of a grown-up or anyone else that looked like they were taking care of her. But she didn’t seem scared, her lip didn’t tremble and she didn’t look around with wide, teary eyes like other little children who’ve lost their mummies and daddies. She just walked along at her own steady pace and actually looked quite bored as she stared at the floor. It was as though she had done this walk by herself many times.
Grown-ups passed her on the street and frowned at this peculiar sight. Sometimes they would stop and turn to look back at her, wondering silently if she was all right, if they should call the police. But then they decided that it wasn’t worth the bother. After all, they were busy and had important places to be and they didn’t have time to stand about talking to police about a little girl who looked just fine. No, not worth the bother at all. They would just watch her until she got to the corner. Perhaps that was where her parents were waiting for her to catch up, maybe wanting to let their daughter feel like a grown-up herself for a while. Just to the corner. That should be enough.
That should be enough, shouldn’t it?
All the same, it was still very unusual.
And then there was the little bag she was carrying, or rather dragging along. It was a little pink bag that would probably fit into the palm of a person’s hand, so small that only a few people noticed it trailing behind her. It was tied at the top with a piece of white ribbon that the girl clutched in her chubby little fist. The girl hardly seemed to notice it herself, until an old lady with a tartan trolley looked back at her and said:
‘Careful. You’re losing your lavender, look.’
The little girl stopped and tugged at the ribbon, pulling the bag up. As she did, a few grey flakes spilled out of a little hole in the bottom and onto the tarmac. Without looking at the old lady, she knelt down and began to pick up the loose lavender, poking it back through the hole in the bag. The lady watched her for a few moments and then carried on her way. Then the little girl gave up trying to gather up all the tiny bits back into her bag, so she got up and resumed her lonely walk.
She didn’t look up at all as she passed me.
I had been watching her as I waited at the bus stop. Watching as she made her way down the road, watching all the people who had stopped and turned and looked at her. A few of them were still watching her. Her bag was following behind her again, pulled along on its ribbon and I suddenly had the image of a puppy being pulled along. She reached the end of the road.
Then she was gone and her little lavender bag followed after.
All along the road, the people who had been staring after her looked away all at the same time, like a spell had been broken. They walked off to wherever they were going and likely soon forgot about her. Then my bus arrived and I forgot too.
That night, I suddenly remembered the little girl. I was lying in bed and as the rest of the day’s worries fell away, like sand in a sieve, she slowly reappeared in my mind. The more I remembered, the more I cared and the more I began to wonder what happened to her. Where was she going, with her little lavender bag? Did she get there? Was there someone waiting for her there? I started to have horrible thoughts, as you do when you’re worried and half-asleep. She was only very small and we didn’t exactly live in a nice area. What if something had happened to her? What if she’d been run over as she tried to cross the street, grabbed by a passing car, lured into a quiet alleyway by a man tempting her with sweeties….?
No. If something horrible like that had happened we would know. It would be on the news, the street would be full of police, missing posters, tearful pleas from worried parents, nosy journalists asking why they let their tiny daughter walk unaccompanied in town…
But that’s exactly what we did, those people on the street and I. Because we didn’t want to be bothered. Because we felt for sure that somebody must be looking after her. No one cared enough and she kept on walking. I was suddenly overcome by an urge to grab the phone and call the police. But it was too late. Whatever I should have done, I left it too late.
I turned over, pulling the covers over my head.
We’ll see in the morning.