But What If

I wore my coat like armour with my badge over my heart. My laces were tight, double knotted and secure. I let my hair down, ironed straight, because I thought I would feel powerful with it blowing in the wind. My boots crunched on the gravel, along with everyone else’s, and we walked. I was arm in arm with Kitty, her blonde hair flowing past her like a cape. Like always, she had a defiant smile on her face. Every time we left the house she would say,

“Chin up and have fun. This isn’t a funeral.”

The ground was soaked. It smelt the way the air smells when rain hits gravel and dirt; full and gritty. It was even stronger packed in between all the people. Every now and then a cloud would spit defeated little drops of water onto our heads, until we walked to the next rain cloud, the drier one. It was solemnly quiet that day. Sometimes a chant would rise up, or Kitty would point out someone she thought was cute—they always had a serious look on their face, and they’d be wearing the same badge. We would giggle at the way they stared back at us, trying to look important and never once breaking into a smile. She told me once that those types of boys only showed up to protests to seem smart and get girls. I didn’t believe her. They never approached one of us, not even Kitty.

We’d stolen the road from the cars. There were always ones that wanted to get through anyway, that forced their way past the crowd, more car than human. They didn’t need to, but they did, just to show us how moveable we were. I stumbled out of the way as a car tracked past us, knocking people over, hooting its horn. As the tires met the drenched ground the water splashed at my knees.

“Ruby,” Kitty said from behind me. I looked where she was looking, at an older woman on the opposite side of the crowd. She was being helped to her feet by the people around her—one of them was the last boy Kitty had pointed out. He had a nice face, kind eyes and lovely cheekbones, but he was one of the serious ones. The lady smiled at him in a communal way, as if waiting for him to join in and laugh at the same joke. He just looked concerned.

She wore a coat too, with a funny patterned sweater underneath and a dark scarf wrapped around her neck. Her long grey hair was toppled on her head but it streamed down in tendrils. Her smile made her look much younger.

Kitty pulled at my arm as the crowd started to move again. Her high voice joined the protestors as they started to chant. I couldn’t. That old lady—frail but still fighting—made me want to stop and stand in the rain, under the darkest cloud I could find. There was something there, a thought that I needed to straighten out. What if that old lady died before she got what she was fighting for? And when the thought came I couldn’t get the chant straight in my head, because that thought was all I could fit in there. What if she was fighting for nothing? Are we going to end up the same way? Me and Kitty, grey haired and angry until the end.

“What if nothing changes?” I asked Kitty when the chant was over.

“You mean, what happens if we don’t get what we want?” I nodded in reply, biting the inside of my mouth. “Oh Ruby, stop worrying!” she shook her head, “We just keep throwing the temper tantrum.”

“You think that’s what we’re doing?”

“It’s a well-organised temper tantrum. If we keep doing it, we might get what we want,” she said.

I looked over the crowd and spotted the lady’s grey hair swimming through the air. It had started to rain again. The drops felt cool against my cheek as I walked against the wind, watching her. She smiled like Kitty did, like she knew she was going to win.

“But what if it doesn’t happen for us?” I said, still watching the old woman’s hair fly in the wind.

“But what if it does,” Kitty finished.

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