Today on my walk home from school I saw a man sitting on the bridge railing with his legs dangling over the side. I thought he must have decided to get a better look at the view. In my opinion, this bridge has one of the best views in all of Worcester; on a sunny day you can see all the way to the Malvern Hills. Except, when I got nearer I noticed that the man was crying. He was hanging on to one of the big lampposts that stick up from the railing as if he was hugging it, and he looked scared and sad and confused all at the same time.
“Hello!” I said cheerfully, and smiled my biggest, friendliest smile at him. I know technically I’m not meant to talk to strangers, but I don’t like it when people are upset and I thought maybe I could cheer him up a bit. Most of my friends find it weird when grown-ups cry, but my Mum cries a lot since Dad left so I’m used to it by now. Mum said last week that I’m the only thing in her life that makes her happy and she didn’t know what she’d do without me. I like that I can cheer her up, but it’s a big responsibility.
“Are you ok?” I asked the man. He didn’t answer, and turned his head back to look out over the river.
Usually I bring Mum a cup of tea and a Penguin bar when she’s having a bad day, but I’d already eaten my Penguin at break-time (Q: what’s a penguin’s favourite type of transport? A: a b-icicle) so I couldn’t do that.
“Would you like a hug?” I tried instead. Sometimes Mum didn’t like to talk much when she was sad either, and she’d just stay in bed all day. Those were the worst days. I rooted around in my pockets. “Or a polo?” it wasn’t quite a cup of tea or a Penguin bar, but I offered him one anyway.
He drew his head away from the post it was leaning on and looked at me again.
“You’re a good kid,” he said. Did that mean yes or no to the polo? I continued holding out the packet just in case, “Your parents must be proud of you.” he tried to smile at me, but it didn’t really work because his eyes still looked sad.
“I think so. I haven’t seen my Dad in a while though. Why are you sitting on the railings?”
“Well, I was thinking about jumping into the river,” he replied, looking at the ground now rather than at me.
“That doesn’t seem like a very good idea,” I said, “It’s really cold and it’s much too fast to swim in, I saw someone try once. Plus it’s full of fish and plants and the water’s really mucky. You might get sick.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, but he didn’t move off the railing.
“What are you sad about?” I asked, hoping that wasn’t too nosy.
“My wife died from cancer. I miss her so much. And I was so busy being sad that I lost my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do now… ” tears started to stream down his cheeks as he said this.
“That sounds hard,” I said. That’s what Mum used to say to me when I’d had a bad day at school or someone was mean to me. That was before, though, when she was better. I try to only tell her the best bits of my day now.
“But my Gran says if you love someone, you want them to be happy. So I don’t think your wife would want you to be sad.”
“How did you get so wise, kid?”
“Well, it’s my Gran really, not me.”
There was a short silence, then he continued: “And I found out today that I’m going to lose my house because I couldn’t pay my bills. That house is all I have left. Where am I going to live? Jan would be so disappointed in me for letting everything fall apart…”
“Well,” I said, thinking out loud, “it’s not all you have left. You still have your brain and your shoes and your toothbrush and stuff.”
The man seemed to find this very funny, and laughed so hard that yet more tears started rolling down his cheeks – happy ones this time.
“Aye kid, you’re not wrong!” he had finally managed to stop laughing, but he was still smiling. I wasn’t sure what was so funny, but I was pleased I had managed to cheer him up.
My stomach rumbled. It was nearly dinner time, and I knew mum would be starting to wonder where I was.
“Would you like to come for dinner?” I asked the man, “It’s chicken nuggets tonight.”
“I’d better not. I need to get back and figure out how I’m going to save my house. But I would like to tell your mum what a great kid she’s got, so I’ll walk you home before I go.”
And with that, he swung round and hopped off the railing onto the pavement.
“Come on then!” he said, and strode off towards the end of the bridge.