The old man shrugged away the memory which poisoned his mind. He rubbed his matted beard and then wiped his dewy eyes. He asked himself ‘why’ every minute of every day. Why could he not save her? Why did he remain there, every night since that day? He looked down at his weathered hands and clothes. They were grimy and worn from sleeping rough. This was his choice; his punishment.
He looked towards the child who now stood by the canal. He pushed himself out of his mould and walked towards the boy slowly. The dark head was so similar; there was no difference in age. He gruffly cleared his throat; he had forgotten how it felt to talk. The boy turned, but instead of recoiling, stared intently up into the old man’s face.
‘Who are you?’
‘I’ve just come to tell you not to get close too close to the water.’
‘It’s okay; I’ve got lots of swimming badges, lifesaver ones too.’
‘Well, that’s very good, but you need to be careful all the same.’
‘What’s your name? Mine is Charlie.’
‘Paul. My name is Paul.’
‘My best friend is called-‘
The boy was interrupted as a woman with blonde hair gave out a cry from the road above. She ran hastily down the steps and grabbed Charlie’s hand.
‘You stay away from my child, you freak! Look at you, you’re a disgrace! Preying on small children, I know what you are – don’t think I won’t report you!’
She then turned on her heel, causing her sheet of hair to twist. She pulled along the child, scolding him harshly. The boy said nothing; but at the top of the step, turned back to the old man and smiled.
Paul looked around and smelt the air. His eyes fell upon his spot and sparse pile of belongings. He walked quietly back towards them. He bent over and rummaged for a small bag hidden beneath his coat. He reached into the bag and plucked out a huge wad of limp bank notes. He then counted them for the first time in five years. Replacing them in the bag, he slung it over his shoulder. He then gathered the newspapers which had protected and warmed him. His creased eyes embraced the headline which had haunted him.
SMALL GIRL DIES AT HANDS OF LOCAL MAN
He looked at the water, which now glimmered in the red morning light. He scattered the paper into the canal, and watched as they absorbed the water and sunk. He then turned and walked away.