a bottle of still mineral water
As I turned the corner and climbed the pavement leading up to the bridge over the river, a figure caught my eye. Though my mind was on other matters, I instantly recognised the young waitress who only a couple of hours before had served my lunch in the hotel restaurant.
I could have sworn she was attempting to hoist herself onto the bridge wall but stopped when she saw me, dropped back to the pavement and just stared ahead along the river.
‘Hello – are you okay?’ I ventured unsure if I should intervene, worried I could be wrong and my approach rebuked.
‘I’m okay thanks – you startled me that’s all,’ she glanced briefly in my direction before turning back to the river. I think I caught a hint of an eastern European accent but I couldn’t be sure as she spoke so softly.
She was slight with blonde hair fashioned in a pony-tail just as she was in the restaurant. No longer wearing her uniform she was dressed in jeans and a faded red hoodie. The strangest thing was she did not have any shoes on, odd in mid-October.
‘Are you sure? It looked to me as though you were trying to climb on to the wall. Where on earth are your shoes? Aren’t your feet cold?
‘Really I’m okay – please leave me alone - please.’ She wasn’t rude just sad and pleading, I was tempted to acquiesce but something said I should persist.
‘Look I’m sorry if you think I’m being nosey but I think if we got off this bridge and had a chat I might be of some help.’
This last remark seemed as though it sliced through her control and she sank to a crouch position rather like a marionette would collapse when the puppeteer drops the strings. She clutched her face in her hands and muttered through them, ‘Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?’
‘I suppose I could but I’m sure you’ve noticed I am a priest and I apologise for interfering; you see I am obliged to offer help even when as it appears, it is not welcome. Come, I’m sure we can find some solution to your problems.’ By now I was beginning to worry how this might appear to a passer-by but thankfully the place was quite quiet.
As circumstances stood my thoughts were as much for myself as for this poor unfortunate young woman and in all honesty it might be better if we linked hands and jumped together. I quickly banished the thought.
I was on my way to an interview with the Bishop that could well spell the end of my career. The misinterpretation of this situation with a young girl crouched as if in fear of me could easily tip the balance of the scales of my future, already in serious jeopardy.
‘Get off her you bastard!’ I turned just in time to receive a painful blow to my left jaw that sent me sprawling over the crouching girl onto the pavement beyond her, catching my elbow against the stone wall and knocking off my glasses.
My assailant, as far as I could make out without my glasses, had a bushy beard and was wearing black and white check trousers the sort favoured by professional chefs.
‘Come on Alicia let’s get away from this pervert, as for you mate you ain’t ‘eard the last of this.’
Before I could say a word they were gone, I was abandoned on the pavement searching for my glasses.