Treat Them Like Your Own by Siân Melangell Dafydd

The woman was antsy. A relatively new thing for her, and alien, but she identified it as a certain sort of worry which was like new skin, making her fidget.

Sometimes, she walks about her flat as though something was to be seen in one of the rooms, if she’d just keep searching for it. She’d lift something and put it back down: a post card, dictionary, mug. [private]It was sunny out there; with the windows wide open, heat and the sound of swallows like shuttlecocks blew in once in a while. But she was wearing her socks thin by pacing. So, she’d sit to read a good book but then got up to make tea after not finding what she wanted there on the same page three times, then she’d leave the tea to go cold while she stared at a felt-tip stain on the wall. Something needed baking, new pants were needed for her son, or she needed to go for a jog.

Yesterday, she was walking the underground corridors of the Metro on the way to work, nearing the last corner of her daily route in the rabbit warren and heard a voice.

‘Will you call mommy? Will you call mommy?’

Countless times, she’d rounded this corner, thinking of nothing but a shopping list and meeting agendas and how pretty those shoes are on the feet of the woman in front. But this day, no, she thought of her son. Him, sitting at his desk, putting bite marks on his felt-tip-top, and she listened to that voice shivering above the noise of feet. And there, in the tunnel’s mouth, right at the very end, there was a man. A man in his forties, she’d say, parting the crowd with his question, standing with his hand out in an island of white tiles. And people feared that, feared he’d sing at them, that strange could be dangerous.

‘Could you call mommy, please?’

The woman was the only one who didn’t suddenly develop a huge interest in film posters. She stopped, called that number on his scrap of paper even. There was something about him: his cleanliness. The comb marks in his hair. The fact that he said, ‘please’ and then looked to the ceiling. And the eyes in his head looking as though they’d fallen from their place and bruised. Not that this was unusual. That’s exactly how you are, too, first thing in the morning, but awake like this guy, and alert. The woman explained the clumsy situation to the person on the other side of the phone: the piece of paper and the man in a blue Ralph Lauren jumper, in case that meant something.

A voice replied, thinned by age. ‘My God,’ she said.

‘Thank you.’ This was her son.

‘Is he all right?’

‘As far as I can tell,’ replied the woman, and asked him,

‘All right?’

‘All right,’ he said. ‘All right?’

‘All right,’ she said back.

And like that, the woman agreed, being that she had someone else’s son on her hands, that she’d put him safely on Metro line 12, first carriage, seat by the door, so that his mother could fetch him out at the other end. What could she do but agree? She thought for a second: it’s surely what anyone would do. Then again, as someone clipped her shoulder, she thought that wasn’t strictly the case, even if that’s all that was required. No-face-to-face meeting with the voice, the mother. No real inconvenience or deviation from her day to make her late.

She lead him by his elbow to the right place. Sat with him on the plastic seats, an arm’s length apart. ‘Pink seats,’ he said. He closed his eyes while he waited, and after a a length of time that had just about reached awkward, then asked, ‘Where are we?’


‘And the seats in Montparnasse are green,’

‘No,’ she said, ‘Pink.’

He opened his eyes and said, ‘Shit.’ She closed his laces. When the Metro arrived, she placed him in it. He sat a little flimsy as if he needed a strap. He held his knees. A pudding body, she thought: a child’s limbs grown too large. But this man must have been her age. She kneeled to make sure he was on his seat and settled there. But she couldn’t ask him his age.

She waited to see him go and he went, backwards,waving, just as if it was aimed at a mother in an audience, shaking frantically, all the way into the tunnel. She was late to work that day anyway. She sat at a terrace drinking a coffee and gathering her wits again. She failed. She scrunched the scrap of paper with the mother’s phone number on it with the bits of sugar papers. Seeing a tramp with a box full of puppies doesn’t make her feel like this, nor does seeing the girl on line 6 who pole dances on the Metro bars. This was personal. The woman felt this often, now: petulant, lonely, needing to reach under her skin to smooth something over. She felt the strain in her eyes from staring too long at the felt-tip mark on the wall. And even if there’s a bundle of things that needed her attention today, she won’t do any of them.[/private]

Siân Melangell Dafydd is the author of the novella Y Trydydd Peth (The Third Thing), which won the Prose Medal at the National Eisteddfod 2009 and was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year 2010. She is also co-editor of the Academi’s literary magazine, Taliesin. She lives between Wales and France, researching her next novel, and this year spends time translating The Third Thing into English, as well as being a writer in residence on a HALMA scholarship in Sylt, Finland and Jyväskylä, Finland.

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