The girl had blonde hair in a pony tail and was wearing a cardigan over a school summer dress. She walked with that sweet solemnity of kids that age. Mother was burdened with her own stuff plus the child's. Standard stuff. As I got closer I could hear the conversation:
Mother: So why did the teacher get cross?
Mother: And did Robert get into trouble too?
Child: (even less audible)
Mother: And what about Kirsty? Was she told off as well?
Child: (not even a bat could have heard what she said but she was clearly saying something and breathing quite hard)
Mother: So why didn't you explain? She would have understood.
By this time I had drawn level and was overtaking. I looked across at this little girl's face and saw a look I've seen occasionally in the past on the faces of my own children when they were little. It indicates that something had snapped that day in the child's fragile ecosystem, somebody had spoken sharply to someone who wasn't used to being spoken sharply to, it was all a terrible misunderstanding and all of a sudden black uncertainty had darkened the normally sunny, carefree disposition of a small child
I found that looking at that girl's expression upset me far more now than it ever used to do at the time. I wanted to put my arm round her and give her a squeeze. Knowing how the smallest things loom large for young kids it wouldn't have done any good at all. It would have made me feel better. Are these the first pangs of a potential grandfather?