Written one bright, cold winter morning earlier this year when I too walked down the hill through the town I live in, between lamp-posts laden with strangely silent crows. Originally publish at OurPennilessWrite on 12/7/11.
The first time I saw her as an adult she was walking down the Old Town road. In her wake a dozen crows wheeled through the air or gathered on the arms of the streetlights. It was the crows I noticed first, they were silent, creating none of the usual cacophony that accompanies a large group of their kind. Crows did not gather in flocks I remembered, but in ‘murders’, I’d shuddered at the thought, though not unpleasantly. Then I spotted her, unchanged the twenty years since I’d last laid eyes on her, and shuddered in earnest. She hadn’t seen me yet so I followed her, along the road and past the crows like silent sentinels.
She still wore the guise of an eight-year-old girl. Logic would argue that she must be the daughter of the girl I’d met when I myself was that age but I read in the responses of the other townsfolk that my feeling was right. A few children straggling behind the way to school crossed the road to avoid her and when one looked back his friend dragged him away, muttering dire warnings. Most adults did not appear to see her, except a few who hurried past, gazes averted. Only once I saw someone meet her eyes – an old lady I later heard was seriously ill – she came away looking utterly serene; I wondered what comfort or certainty she saw there.
On the bridge over the railway I stopped and watched. Down on the platform the girl was walking towards the no entry sign, down the slope that led to the tracks. The station attendant called after her crossly, causing her to pause and turn to look at him. Even under his thick beard and the ruddiness of cold weather, he paled significantly before disappearing back into his office. He re-emerged in luminous jacket, with a shovel over his shoulder. As he reached the girl she offered him her hand, and together they walked away down the line. Ahead of them the signal changed from green to red with a gentle but carrying thunk.
I stood on the bridge watching for their return for most of an hour. However, when the attendant returned it was without his companion and he was carrying a large bundle. The drivers and conductors, who had gathered on the platform in his absence, crowded round him. Soon it became apparent that his burden was a body, frozen in the night. Whether some drunken reveller who had missed the last train and tried to follow the tracks home; or some benighted soul seeking an express train to permanently resolve their problems, I never discovered. The people of this town are vociferous in their ability for gossip and speculation about every subject except that of death.
Looking up I thought I saw the girl watching from far down the tracks but when I blinked there was no one there. She’ll be back though. One day I might even learn her name, or why she let me go.
Above the crows circled slowly in the air, making not a sound.