It’s a slow amble down the slope.
The railings on either side are a little wonky. One set appears to be held up by brambles and on the edge bordering the big green field with the sad horse tethered in his small brown circle, the railings slope idly as if no-one ever told them to stand up straight. They were painted black once, but now they’re dull rust colour. You can taste the iron just by looking at them. Right at the end, just before the bridge the bars have been bent apart so that someone small can squeeze through.
The start of the bridge is overhung with trees. Trees overhang the river on both sides. The railings of the bridge are still black, mostly, and the paint is smooth and lumpy under my hands as I look over.
Upstream, the river curves away but the depths still sparkle under the trees and little droplets of light and dust shine and spin and dart – appearing and disappearing. The water is darkest as it disappears around the bend but the spots of sunshine on the waves and in the air make it friendly and welcoming. I open my mouth to speak to the flashes of brightness but find I am dumb.
Turning, I look over the other side of the bridge. You can see further downstream and it is not so overhung. For a few metres, the water runs swiftly, weed straggling with the flow. Deceptively it plays over hidden deeps and stony shallows. It will speed up and deepen as it bends away, as it nears the waterfall at the other end, before it pours out into the bigger river and on to the sea.
The black bars of the bridge are hot under my hands, even under the trees and when I step on the bottom bar with my feet between the balusters so that I can lean over, the metal is hot on my toes as well.
Just out from under the bridge is a small sandbank, dry enough to stand on. A little girl is there alone, crouched down, intently staring at something. She is around nine and her feet in white sandals are planted firmly on the edge of the lapping water. Her cotton dress is short and floral and her brown hair is clipped back from a face which is turned from me. She is carefully picking out stones and examining them. A little pile has built up and I can see that some are smooth and pretty and some are like black glass, jagged and sparkly. After a while, she stops picking out stones and just hunches, elbows on her knees, chin on her hands, staring into the water. It is shallow enough here for her to make out all the little lives going about their business in the lee of the main flow. Sometimes, she looks upstream and downstream and then returns to her observations or her foraging.
If she has any doubts and fears, it seems they are forgotten. Now she appears totally content and safe and full of hope and peacefully alone.
In a while, she will go home, taking some of her finds; she will say goodbye to the river and the sparkling lights who listen to her secrets and her worries; she will take one last look at the nymph, busily marching round its underwater kingdom and hope that she will be there when it emerges and transforms.
I look at her and wish I could remember the words the river understands, wish I knew how to find the pretty stones, still feel sad that the next time she comes the nymph will be gone and a myriad dragonflies will fly around but none will recognise her.
If she looks up, she will not see me because I do not exist yet. She will see nothing but a bridge, going home in one direction and going away from home in another.
She will grow up and stop visiting the sand bank. Some of her worries will come true and others won’t. She will forget how to talk to the wild, but the wild will not forget how to speak to her.
The river will flow on, the waterfall will carry her away, the big river will swallow her up, the sea will engulf her, but she will be all right. In the end, she will be all right. The light sparkling under the trees will always be there. She will be all right.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission