Monday, 10 February 2014

Beneath the Arches by Lindsay Bamfield

Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2013
3rd PRIZE WINNER (1000 word category)

This will be the last time. If he’s not here tonight, I’ll not come any more. I leave my car and pull my collar up around my ears as I walk through the freezing, sleety drizzle to the arches. The hunched figures, rough blankets wrapped around them, sit with their backs against the damp wall, carefully avoiding the rivulets of rain trickling down. He is not among them. There are only four tonight; perhaps some have found a bed in a shelter and others have somehow managed to find the fare for a long bus ride back to their families.

Since I left hospital I have been looking for him. Every night I tour the rough sleepers’ haunts. It’s now a year since the night when my life was torn apart. A year since I watched her die here beneath the arches. A year since I watched helplessly as her life ebbed away. We were separated by mere inches, yet she was out of reach. Unable to move or speak - I could barely breathe - I was trapped beneath the crushing weight. But I could see everything as I looked on impotently.

Did she know why I did not save her? Did she die wondering why I failed her?

They have warned me not to come here - that my quest is useless, that he is long gone, an unnamed, unidentified and unidentifiable man. An illegal, they said, a vagrant. They are probably right. He spoke no English. At least, not that night, not to her. Did he know I was still alive? That I watched his every move? Did he know that his every feature, every minute detail, is seared into my memory? That I can recall the words, every incomprehensible word, he uttered. He was the only one here that night. No others witnessed her death. Just him and me.

It was a passing driver who called for help. The shrieking sirens and flashing lights couldn’t drown my silent scream for help that arrived too late. The driver of the car who smashed into ours, crushing us, was dead. Dead drunk, dead - perhaps a kind of justice. But the man I seek is the other man, the nameless, homeless man in an alien country, the man with no means to summon help, who comforted her in the only language they had in common, the touch of his hand on hers so she was not alone when she died.  

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