“Hey, kid, where’s your mama?”
“At work,” she says.
“What about your dad?”
I flinch for a moment, wondering what gone means.
“Shouldn’t you be at school?”
“I had dentists and then mummy had to go back to her job and she said I could get the bus by myself and go home,”
“I see. Did she buy you those sweets?”
She looks down at the packet in her hands and nods.
“Can I have one, please?”
She proffers the bag and I take a fizzy watermelon.
“Them ones are sour,” she says.
She’s right. I make a scrunched-up face and she giggles. She is so tiny.
“How old are you?” she asks me, in the way that kids do.
“I’m 26,” I reply, “how about you?”
“I’m 7 but soon I’m gonna be 8,”
“That’s cool,” I say, “I was 7 once. Wanna walk with me?”
She nods and drags her school bag along the pavement.
“What’s your favourite subject at school?” I ask her.
“Ummmmmm I like PE and Art the best,” she says chewing a milk bottle.
“I like art too. Do you do painting?”
“Yeah and drawing and collages and sometimes clay and this week we’re making masks but Lisa said mine wasn’t very good and she used a bad word,”
“She’s my best friend,”
“Is she? You know that best friends are supposed to be nice to each other, not mean…”
“That’s what mummy said,”
“Well maybe you should listen to your mama, she sounds like a wise woman. Although I’m not sure it’s smart for you to be walking around the streets on your own. It’s dangerous around here.”
When we cross the road she holds onto the hem of my coat.
“A man shouted at me,” she says, ripping apart a jelly snake with her teeth.
“Dunno,” she shrugged, “he was in a car and he stopped right next to me and put the window down and shouted RRRRRAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.”
She roars at me, baring her little teeth and putting her hands up like claws.
“It was scary,” she says.
“That does sound scary… You know what you have to do if a man tries to hurt you?”
“Okay, listen to me, cos this is important,”
We stop walking and I crouch down so we’re eye-level.
“Are you paying attention?” I ask.
She nods, ears open, wide-eyed.
“Good. What you have to do is kick him as hard as you can inbetween his legs,”
“In his private parts?”
“Yes. As hard as you can. Really kick him, and then run away,”
“I have to kick his willy?” she giggles.
“Yup,” I say, “pretend it’s a football and kick it with all your might!”
“Okay if a man comes to hurt me I will kick his willy!”
“And then run away,”
“And then run away,” she echoes.
We walk a little further on and then she stops and tells me this is her house.
“Well, it was nice to meet you, kid,”
“Are you my friend now?”
“Sure, I can be your friend,” I say with a smile.
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Of course. I’m reeeeally good at keeping secrets,”
“Okay,” she motions for me to come in close so I stoop down and she whispers in my ear, “mummy didn’t get me the sweeties. I got ’em for me.”
She shakes her head and says, “Naw, I took ’em,”
“The shop by the dentists,”
I gasp, overdramatic.
She looks worried.
“Are you going to tell the police?”
I pretend to think, stroking an imaginary beard.
“No. No, I won’t tell the police. Only if you promise me that you’ll be smart and safe when you’re walking out here on your own and don’t talk to any strange men, and you remember what I told you about what to do if a ma—…”
“KICK HIM IN THE WILLY!” she shouts.
“Promise,” she says. I believe her. “What about the sweets?”
“They’ll rot your teeth but it’s okay cos they’ll fall out and you’ll get new ones,”
Her mouth forms the biggest grin. She is so sweet. She reminds me of my niece. I miss my niece so much I could cry.
She hovers for a moment, then hugs my legs before quickly running down the side of the house, shouting BYE behind her.