Cold Expressions

Esther approached the bridge with her hands in her pockets and her head tucked into her scarf. Ahead of her she saw a man wearing a t-shirt and jeans clutching the top of the rail whilst watching the road below. Esther gasped as he lifted one leg and tried to climb over the parapet. He turned and looked in her direction then stopped. She dropped her stare to the pavement and when she reached him she looked up. “Are you okay?” she said.
The man mumbled something.
“What were you about to do?”
She heard him chuckle to himself. He shook his head. “To think I picked a time when no one would be here to see me.”
Esther gave a weak smile. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said. She noticed sweat patches around the armpits of his shirt.
The cold didn’t bother her now, and she took her hands out of her pockets and positioned herself so that she could see his face, but he turned away. “If you’re trying to do what I think you are then you shouldn’t.” She saw the man clench his fists as she spoke. “What’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
A gust appeared, making Esther turn her face as pellets of water blew against her. She thought she heard the man say something but couldn’t tell through the noise of the wind, and then the sound of voices made her turn around: three people on the other end of the bridge were walking towards them, laughing. She turned back to the man and saw that he was getting onto the other side of the parapet. She moved towards him, speaking calmly. “Okay. Don’t tell me.” She smiled, knowing he wasn’t looking but hoping it showed through her voice. She crossed her arms and looked over the rail. A car passed underneath, scattering the water on the road. “Whatever you can’t find here, I promise you that you won’t find it down there.”
“Maybe I will,” the man replied.
He held onto the parapet without moving. She stared at his back and was too scared to move closer.
“I think you should go,” he said. “I really don’t want anyone to see this.” He adjusted his feet slightly.
Esther turned around. A boy in a beanie stood in front of a girl and another boy with his hands shaped like a megaphone over his mouth.
“Are you really going to jump off?” the girl shouted. She was holding the drawstrings of her hood and pulled them tighter.
Esther looked at her and saw her grinning. “If you’re not going to help then please go.” She turned back around and the boy in the beanie shouted again for the man to jump.
“Don’t listen,” Esther said. She leaned over the edge watching him and thought he resembled a grief-stricken sculpture. She wanted him to move or say something, but he did neither.
“Are you going to jump or what?” the girl shouted.
Esther looked back. “Stop, please.”
“He’s not going to jump,” the boy furthest behind said, pulling his face warmer down.
“I don’t even want to see him do it.” The boy wearing the beanie laughed. “But at the same time, I don’t want to miss it if he does.” He glanced at Esther before looking past her. “Don’t be a pussy,” he shouted. “Jump.”
“Stop it,” Esther said. Her voice rose. “Leave, and let me to talk to him.”
The cold pierced Esther’s attention again, and she could feel it forcing its way over her skin. She watched the man’s shirt blow against him in the wind. He had turned around as much as he could from where he was standing and looked at all of them. The boy and girl stopped shouting, and Esther looked at him. His shoes were tattered and she wondered why he hadn’t worn another pair. His jeans were baggy, which she thought looked silly on his thin body, and she squinted at the faded graphic on his shirt and his unkempt beard. She felt a look of pity growing on her face as her stare reached his eyes. They were brown like hers. She locked her gaze with his and could feel him reading her expression. He looked away and jumped. Esther shielded her ears with her hands and stared at where the man was once standing, unable to hear the sound of him hitting the road.

Akeem Balogun


The story is stitched inside you;
unpicking it will not remove the thread
that has two strands entwined:

the one that goes from next to then,
from Monday to Tuesday and year to year;
the other goes from anger to fear,
(through panic and guilt) and back again.

one carries detail; a restaurant table,
a forlorn journey home, the hair on your back
the other doesn’t care for fact.
so when people and places and ages all change
it stays the same.

wherever the story enters in it pierces the skin;
inside are fine holes in every part including the heart
every word that you say, scene that you play
finds its own way in through an old opening
and joins the tale.

the task must be to split the thread;

the one strand has a certain ending

the other doesn't.

Mary Carr