Protected by the impenetrable shield of self-absorption the dark-haired young boy strode around the garden dispensing justice with his thumb-cocked finger-gun. He paused to mutter warnings to his foes and comfort to his friends before dashing ten yards or so to the other end of the universe to repeat the process. Hands on hips, the pigeon-breast chest of his red and blue costume thrust proudly out, the boy manfully defended his domain from the evil that men do.
His domain was the garden of a semi-detached house in the suburbs of the city. The house was around fifty years old but sturdily built and in reasonably good repair, with a tiled roof and a central door accessed by a small set of concrete steps. Built just after the war, like most of the other houses on the street the house was somewhere to live rather than somewhere to love. It had been designed to shelter an average family in slightly cramped comfort but it wasn’t a pretty building; the porch was made of pre-cast blocks, the road out in front was made of badly laid and broken concrete, and the old metal-frame windows that failed years ago had recently been replaced with white uPVC. It stood on an outside corner plot, with a large garden to the front and side and a small rear yard that was littered with plant pots and toys and bicycle parts. It was a new domain to the boy. The family had only moved into the house a few weeks ago and before that time the garden had been tired and unkempt. Now it had startled new flowers around sawn-edged lawns to accompany the incumbent rose and forsythia bushes. The flowers had been placed in positions where they would not always be trampled by heroic feet, but occasional collateral damage had to be expected when trying to save the world.
The old woman sat and knitted while she watched the boy play. Her seat was a light metal fold-up chair of the kind people take on picnics. It was positioned beside a low wall at the front corner of the house so that she could see almost all of the garden area. The tic-tac of knitting paused for a moment as she sipped her tea. She smiled as she looked at the needles in her hand and wondered what her first, wild love would have made of her hobby. She noticed the veins and wrinkles and liver spots on the back of her hand. It was the hand of an old woman. She wondered what her last love would have made of these hands and wished again that he was still here to ask. The woman took another sip of her tea. She looked up at the sky and then resumed her hobby.
The sun was bright this afternoon and the brightness bloomed on her pure white hair and white blouse, which contrasted with her thin black cardigan and black cotton trousers. She got up occasionally to make cups of tea and her movement was easy and smooth, an easiness for which many of her contemporaries quietly envied her. It was one of the few things that they did envy about her life.
The woman was the grandmother of the young boy. A madman with a knife had also made her the boy’s guardian. A pensioner, she now had to worry about getting up every morning in order to make sure he got to school on time. She had to be there to pick him up from the school gates and to take him to the evening and weekend activities that were organised by the school or his friends. She had to try to help him with homework, had to do things she hadn’t even thought of for over forty years. She had only been doing this for nine months but she was already tired enough to be asleep before the news every night. Too tired to stay awake but too worried to stay asleep, she often lay in bed in the middle of the night thinking about what she needed to do for the boy in the day to come. Sometimes she wondered what she could do for the boy for the years to come.
Young children are innately clumsy. The rate at which their bodies are growing means that each day what could be jumped on or climbed up or leaped across on previous occasions is subsequently attempted with a body of slightly different dimensions to the one used before. The young boy now demonstrated this fact by jumping from the wall and not quite hitting the flat rock he aimed to land on and tumbling forward and skinning his knees on the asphalt path that ran from the pavement to the doors of the house. The super ego gave way to the alter ego and tears eased into the boy’s eyes.
The old woman didn’t jump to help. Rather, she raised herself quickly but calmly from her chair and walked up to the boy and lifted him to his feet. She didn’t chastise the boy, nor did she mollycoddle him. She spoke firmly but fairly while she examined the wounds, describing the bloodied knees to the boy in a matter-of-fact way, explaining what she was going to do about them, and telling him how this had happened and how to avoid it happening again in the future. The boy nodded and sniffled and sobbed a little but listened all the while. This small lesson was given with love and was acknowledged and registered and retained for future use by the boy. It was a gift from the old woman to her grandson and for that he wrapped his arms around her neck and hugged her and said nothing.
The old woman placed her hands protectively around the back of the boy’s head and drew him to her and stared up at the clear blue sky again so that he couldn’t see her shining blue eyes. She thought of her daughter and of her absence, of the too little time that the boy had with his mother, and of the too little that she herself could now do for him.
She thought too of the evil that men do.