house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Flying Backwards

Was it 1997? February for sure, a day that looked, felt and probably tasted too, of lead.  We trudged on, taking turns to push the pram through sticky-brown slush. We were lost in a park in Northern Bosnia, Tuzla to be precise - where you lived with your fiancee, where I was visiting from Sarajevo. I didn't know you very well. 

We didn't need to be in that abject park at all, we could have stayed at home and cooked bean stew and watched Pingu. But we went anyway, out of a misplaced sense of duty - to take the kid out, to have some exercise, get to know each other better, find the old zoo, make a memory. 

The pram got stuck in a gummy puddle and we sank to our ankles in mud, trying to get it going again. In the end, we lifted it out, carried it to a frosty bank. The kid sat like an emperor in his gilded litter, waving to a dog. Not just a dog, a huge dog, brown and shabby, half-asleep in a cage. 

Cage? Did this mean we'd found the zoo? Not that we dwelled too much on this detail, because the pushchair was still stuck. We prodded and puzzled, found something wedged around a wheel. It looked like a thick elastic band the colour of old chocolate. You pulled at it with all your might while I pulled the pram the other way. I pictured you flying backwards, if the gooey rope snapped. I never thought once that I - and the the pram - would be flying backwards too.

In the same instant, we realised that the snag in the wheel was an old pair of tights and the dog in the cage was a bear.  Your voice petered out. My face felt numb. We walked in silence through the icy sludge, to another wasteland in the distance - the same mud, a few rusty swings, some weeds that will endure, I swear, through blizzard or apocalypse.

Freed from the pushchair, the kid flew to the swing. Squeeeak - it swung twice, sluggish, and the kid was bored. He tottered to a slide - a toddler's slide, you remember, no taller than the bear. The kid climbed fast and stopped on the thin platform at the top. We chatted and waited for him to sit, slide down, repeat. 

Two things happened instead. You vanished from my side. And the kid fell. 

No. Neither of these statements is correct (nor is the picture).  The kid didn't just fall - he raised his arms and dived backwards, straight as a plank.  And you didn't just vanish - you sensed what the kid was about to do, and sprinted to the slide, to catch him. No one could have got there in time. He fell on his back - splat! - in the thick mud. I, the mother, hadn't even moved an inch. You got to his side and raised your face to me, stricken. My mouth was hanging open, one irrelevant word frozen half-in, half-out, half-said. 

In the dreadful silence, we both heard the kid chuckle. He was ecstatic, this was the Life! He got up and planted a muddy paw on your face, before trying to replay his new trick - climb the seven steps, stand with his arms to the side, fly backwards, splat. 

To this day I wonder how you got there so quickly. How you didn't even know us very well and still you sprung to save us; how you've been there to catch us ever since. Now it's my turn to fly backwards: to recapture this memory we made and send it to you - almost twenty years later, but with the same wonder and gratitude. Happy birthday, Alina. 


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