The river divided them, but their paths crossed each morning on the bridge linking north to south. Tramping to his office in the financial sector, it was her yellow scarf that first snagged his attention. Hurrying home from ironing sheets at the laundry, she noticed his mop of hair untamed by the comb peeking from the jacket pocket of his grey suit.
In a city choked with traffic, they both found it quicker, and more pleasant, to walk. In searing sun, in wind or rain, they pounded pavements on their separate journeys, cut through alleyways and parks. On the bridge, the breeze from below refreshed them. The open view unbound their thoughts.
They began to look out for each other, progressing through nods of acknowledgement to a crisp Good morning! and a jolly Fine day! when the weather deserved it. In her colourful outfits, he imagined her a fashion student; she envisaged him a boffin juggling concepts unfathomable to the ordinary mind.
One morning, he pointed out the sun gilding the weathervane atop the church on the quayside, while barely breaking his stride. On another, she showed him the peregrine perched on the window ledge of a derelict building, as if on a cliff. They shared a raised-eyebrow moment when a jogger barged past them, tinny music leaking from the cans on his ears. And they giggled when a sudden gust grabbed her skirt like Marilyn Monroe’s.
He could have told her his grandfather had designed the bridge. She could have mentioned her father had constructed aerial walkways from rope and bamboo. But they had more pressing matters to address. If they could summon the courage.
The morning he’d determined to ask her, she didn’t appear. He dawdled, strained his eyes for a glimpse of yellow, until, at risk of being late, he had to race the last few yards to work. He didn’t see her the next day either, or the next. Perhaps their friendship wasn’t meant to be.
All the previous week she’d tried to tell him. Her new job would entail a different commute. But although she’d rehearsed at her language class, and practised before the mirror in her one-room flat, the words had stalled in her throat. Why would a professor care about her promotion to barista in the city centre shopping mall? Would he notice she’d gone?
He kept hoping until the day of the party. But why would a fashionista care about a boring accountant getting engaged? Even if to a man with a smile like Tom Cruise.
Once, in a restaurant, he thought he recognised the waitress serving another table. Once, in the market square, she thought she saw him queueing with a child for ice cream.
Although both made homes in the city, they never spoke again. But whenever either of them happened to cross that bridge at rush hour, they felt a rush of well-being. His soft and yellow like her scarf; hers pink and toothy, like his pocket comb.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, appeared in 2017 and her short story collection, Becoming Someone, in 2018. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger specialising in fictional therapists.
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