It is a hot summers day, so hot that the blazing heat of the sun threatens to melt the street tarmac and peel it away like sticky back plastic. Heat shimmer bounces off shiny car bonnets distorting objects into strange dreamlike images and the sound of children playing punctuates the air, a shriek here and there, a squeal of delight, laughter.
A group of little girls congrgate on the road side chattering amongst themselves like little old women, they are nine and ten maybe but she stands out immediately. She is at least a full head higher than the other little girls and bigger.
Having outgrown the clothes she wears, her dirty jeans barely sit at her ankles and her muddy blonde hair hangs in limp, tousled waves around her face.
She stands disinterestedly, her back to the group, kicking at the kerb with her plimsolled foot, seemingly trying to aggravate an ants nest. Her mouth set in a firm line of concentration, her eyes squinted against the sun.
The house she knows is at the end of the street, the very last house on the block, tacked onto the end of the terrace like it has been forgotten. Makeshift curtains hang across the stretch of the windows, haphazardly, without care and attention, the garden overgrown so that she can stand knee deep in grass and dandelions.
She would very much like a bunny to feed dandelions to, a companion, some company, but she knows she won't get one. She had a dog once, a black and white collie puppy with upright ears and bright mischevious eyes. Her friend.
You could often catch her standing at the fence with her dog, whispering to it in hushed tones, her confidant, stroking his ears and burying her face in it's fur. Or chasing him up and down through the grass, giggling in great breathless gulps, scraping the kness of her trousers through the mud in childlike abandon.
One day she came home and the dog was gone, just like that, without a word. He gave him away, said her friend was too much trouble, that it cost too much. The stack of empty beer cans told her otherwise, he still had money for those.
The other girls are with her, but she is not with them she is somewhere else, daydreaming, kick, kick, kicking at the muddy mound, ants scurrying out in droves, this way and that, scrambling over each other, kick, kick , kick, her head cocked in facscination.
Her reverie is rudely interrupted by another childs mother calling her in for lunch, she jumps ever so slightly like she's been dragged back into the here and now. With the other kids, on the street, with her house at the end, in the heat that hurts her eyes and ants on her plimsolled feet.
A violent shake of her foot before her eyes follow the little girl in for lunch, surveying the girls mother with her nice neat hair and a baby at her hip. A shadow crosses her face as she watches them all in conversation, an oddity, she doesn't blink. Her nose is wrinkled in puzzlement.
There are no brothers and sisters in her house, only him. No triangle sandwiches with the crusts cut off, no washing line with neat little pegs in rows, no dog, no friends.
She seems to love her little scooter though, covered in rust and a little too big for her, she covets it like it's the most precious thing in the world. She rides it barefoot, always, and is mesmerizing as she goes. One foot planted firmly on the ground, pushing it away like she hates it, propelling herself forwards, up and down the street.
She stamps at the floor aggressively, pushing harder and harder each time, faster and faster she goes, her face scrunched in determination, her hair flying behind her. Her long limbs effortless in motion, strong and gangly gazelle like.
Fluid, almost gliding, like wild horses.
Free from the street
Free from her house
Free from him
Free from the other kids
Free from the other mothers and the strangeness of family
In a place where she is happy and belongs. Where she doesn't feel outside of things, where she fits
How a little girl should be seen, on a scooter, day dreaming. But the neighbours comment and tittle tattle when they see her dragging tesco carrier bags full of food up the street, him beside her, swaying and staggering, his face red from a life of booze.
They gossip and shake their heads but they don't help. They don't feed her sandwiches when her guts ache with hunger, they don't pass down jeans that would fit her perfectly and stop the kids at school calling her names. They don't give her a nice clean bed for the night with sheets that smell of lemons and pillows that are soft as marshmallows.
They just look and shake their heads and feel sorry for the poor little mite.
But I can see her on her scooter, strong and free and self assured. I can see the determintaion on her weary face. I can see her independance propelling her forwards.
Charlie, little charlie, old and wise beyond her years, who has seen things a child never should and who has never known a mother. What ever will become of little charlie? Who knows, but if you'd care to look hard enough, on her face you'd see her self, years down the line, free and wherever she is, surviving.