by Rosia Beer
I would know your back anywhere. Ask me to pluck you from a crowd of a million and I could. I know your shoulders, your hairline, the auburn streak that darts through your untidy bun. I could also pick out your walk. In central London I could find you in the crowds. What it is that makes your walk recognisable only I know. You had a beautiful walk.
This is Edinburgh. Spring peeps its delicate head from the bitterness of winter. The birds sing early now, crocuses pepper the meadows in bold shades of purple, casting tiny shadows like little heads that seem to watch me as I walk. Dogs run panting with steaming breath and the sound of children makes tinkering melodies like metal upon metal in the wind. The sky is blue, carved in two only by the twisting white string moulded by an aeroplane above. And I walk.
I walk briskly. Like a pendulum we are, we who traverse the meadow day upon day; the traffic wardens, the joggers. I walk faster this day, with purpose somehow, though I am in no hurry. And then I see you. After three years I still recognise your back. You are walking fast too.
Now we are in Oxford again and I can see your back. I am your little shadow as we walk. Two girls, so small under the weight of our school bags, walking one hundred paces apart. There are blossoms this morning, pale pink explosions that illuminate the street. And there are cars and other children and I know because this is how it always was, year after year.
It’s amazing to see you. You look well- from the back. You look like you. But I am frightened to blink for fear that I should lose you again. But we are on a straight path and you, just fifty metres ahead. I am so scared to lose you. My body is begging me to run, to sweep you in my arms, to squeeze you, to never let you go. I keep walking.
Now we are racing to the bathroom and fighting over who bathes first and there is mascara everywhere and breadcrumbs. I am always ready first until the last second when I am suddenly not quite ready enough and the door slams and you are already halfway down the street and I am shouting WAIT. That is why we walk alone. Together, alone. And you, somehow always just far enough away for me to never quite catch you up.
You are nearing the end of the meadows. The volcanic peak of Arthur’s Seat seems close now. It is the velvet skin of a tiger, golden under the sun’s illumination. If I run I would catch you now. But I am so frightened. I would grab you from the back and you would turn and I would see, through a veil of tears, the face that is not yours. Then we would lose this moment. And so I walk.
And so on the long route to school made in partnership and somehow so solitary we reach our destination but a minute apart. Your head retreats behind the school gate and is lost.
And today I lose you on the path. Your profile moves, fragmented, through silver squares as I watch you pass the metal fence. And disappear. And I walk on.
Rosia Beer has had fiction and non-fiction published. She currently lives in Oxford where she looks after her two-year-old son and works as a biographer.