Hands on her hips, in her little fishing dungarees, with her naked toes splaying into the wet, sucking sand, she looks up from me to her mam. It is a fleeting pose she holds – suddenly a small, wet fisherman Peter Pan – only to burst from it into a slapping run, careening a bouncing curve against the tide as she screams happy screams; her footprints disappearing the instant she leaves the ground.
Pebbles and children I love. One smoothed by a ceaseless grind; the other yet to be so.
These days, it’s such a heavy tread that I leave in the sand. My every move leaves its record deep – a constant reminder of the potential for regret and the nagging desire to walk backwards along the beach to the point where I turned in error.
As my taxi meanders through battered traffic on my journey to school, even the advertising hoardings seem to hang about my neck. Meanings, double-meanings, associations continually ricocheting off the ceiling of my Nissan Sentra as it weaves a stoccato path between combis, chuk-chuks and newspaper vendors.
I avoid my phone and its greed for my opinion. My mind already its own junk folder, I switch off all notifications and will all of my devices to become stupid again. I stare at the passing cars and let my eyes rest on buildings, balconies, balustrades, the skyline – anything wordless.
My classroom unlocked, I set up for the day. Switching board pens, writing and rewriting the date until I get the cursive right; cursing myself for having written ‘2016’ and wiping it all clean to start it from scratch. I settle to my laptop (such a welcoming laptop) and wait for it to stop welcoming me. After a few minutes, it finally creaks into life and I think about checking the news, remembering that I don’t do that anymore. Maybe I’ll have a coffee.
I get up to go to the staffroom and remember that I’ve a flask of coffee here, so’s I don’t need to go to the staffroom (I’d only find out something about the world if I went there). I pour myself a coffee and let a few morning emails wash over me – news of morning assemblies, charity collections, the odd jpeg of a sick note.
And then, a burble of voices rising from outside, the children begin to roll in, wiping feet, stamping feet, everyone’s all feet this morning. They’re checking the calendar and the noticeboard; they’re handing me completed slips, homework sheets; they’re telling me about a concert last night, a new computer game; they’re asking me about a football match; they’re asking me if I’m growing a beard. One of them asks me if I’m okay.
Hands on her hips, in her little fishing dungarees, with her naked toes splaying into the wet, sucking sand, she looks up from me to her mam.
It feels that I’ve returned from the surf, spilling the ballast of a pocketful of pebbles back onto a grateful beach.
I look down and back at my heavy tread in the sand. And I see that each print is made of hundreds of tiny footprints, as my children carry me through the sand.