A story I wrote for a contest about a girl in poverty who was helping her sick mother. Read on and let it transcend you to ancient Italy.
The odd car drove past now and then. The air was still. The river’s rushing water was soothing.
Suddenly, Josie remembered the bag. She frantically searched left and right. Tears were accumulating in her eyes just as she noticed it fluttering in the wind behind her, inches away from flying over that towering edge, deep into the grey river waters that was known for seizing people.
Behind the thick stone balustrade around the bridge was an armed concrete ledge. The bag had made its way to the very edge of it. She hugged the stone pillars onto her chest, struggling to reach it through one of the small gaps dotted after every stone pillar. But the gap was too small and the balustrade too thick.
Without another thought, Josie jumped and thrust herself up once. Twice. By the fifth time, she finally grabbed onto the cracks of the stone. She barely pulled herself up, her legs slipping and climbing until she found herself sitting on the balustrade’s edge. Her legs dangled warily on the outer side of the bridge. For a moment, it felt like sitting on the highest branch of a stone pine tree. Only the view below wasn’t of a vibrant and green countryside, but of a dark, ferocious river. It seemed so much louder on this side.
Josie stretched her feet down and tapped her way to the concrete surface below. She ever so slightly hopped onto the thin outer ledge of the balustrade.
Immediately, she lowered her whole body down to the floor then tucked her knees in. She grabbed onto the pillars behind her, glued her back onto them and held on until her fingers went white.
The bag was a few inches to her left. Slowly, she slithered her feet closer to it, rotating her heels an inch at a time. The wind had begun playing with the bag’s handles, so they danced. Again, she saw those disappointed eyes welcoming her home. She could already feel Mamma’s heavy palms landing on her thighs and the sharp squeeze on her ears. She then saw Mamma laying next to Riccardo.
Tears streamed down her face. She quickly snatched the bag and hugged it tightly into her stomach. Everything was still inside, the syrups, the pills, everything that would make Mamma better: that would help her forgive Josie for being so late. She tied its handles to her wrist.
After only a quick momentary breath of relief, she looked down. The mighty river with its hurried waves called out, fierce and hungry. She began to tremble. Her body deteriorated into a great shudder. Ears pumped. She hugged her knees in even more with eyes hypnotised by the vastness below. A deep voicelessness was the only answer to her echoing question of ‘what now?’
The desperate way she sat and how her hands held onto one another made her feel like she was praying, saying her goodbyes. Asking for mercy.
The air grew thinner. She began wheezing.
She sat on that outer ledge for what seemed like hours. The spray of water from below made her fingers numb in the crisp, bitter cold. Her body felt tired, like it was ready to fall—answering to the river’s calling. Panic settled in. Smelling her own jacket, she remembered Mamma kissing her goodbye this afternoon, barely struggling out of her bed.
Josie wanted to stand but her limbs wouldn’t move. She even tried squeezing her small bones through a stone gap and back onto the sidewalk, but only her forearms went through.
Suddenly, she stopped, aware that she was drinking stress by the gallon.
She didn’t want to fall asleep. Not here. Not now. Mamma would not know where she was. And she didn’t know how long she would sleep for. It always changed.
The brisk waves below were blaring across tall, stubborn rocks, drowning them over and over again. The sky was no longer that dark, dreary navy, but completely black. Perhaps it wanted to hide her, or hide what its friends—the water and the wind—were about to do. They all worked together.
A tingle of nausea built up. She swallowed dry spit. Her left knee only made it less than an inch forward when she attempted to move, she lost her energy altogether. Sitting up was no longer a choice. Her body gradually tilted sideways, her arms by her chest. She dropped onto the ledge and lay sideways, her legs pointing into the stone gaps of the balustrade.
She began to cry.
Both her arms let go and dangled free above the water.
Josie could feel the river’s breeze tickling her fingers. Caressing and playing with her skin, it whispered. Her shoulders tensed up: the shake was coming.
She shut her eyes.
Josie’s hands pulled back, they slowly began to beat the concrete like a drum. She tried to hold still, but it was here.
Suddenly, a voice blared: mild and kind, and familiar. It held a delicate sense of curiosity. Josie’s eyes blinked open. She saw her mother, standing on the water.
Mamma was wearing her blue pyjamas. She looked like she had just been awakened in the middle of the night by the shake. That’s when she’d call out: tesoro? tesoro? Only this time, there were no tears or grasping at Josie’s shoulders. She merely stood there, in total peace.
Josie sobbed. ‘I’m sorry, Mamma,’ she whispered.
Mamma remained still, the gaze of her glacial brown eyes her only answer.
Although her lips did not move, Josie heard the same voice, an echo, one inaudible word recited over and over. She couldn’t tell what it was but it was soothing. Relieving. There was someone here.
Her toes were now tensing up, the quiver aiming for her legs. A heat was building up in her cheeks, she could feel a fire blasting through her skin.
The wind continued talking in persuasion.
Just as her body trembled closer to the outer edge, closer to the water, to the wind devoid of limits or corners, and closer to Mamma, a moving shadow caught her eye.
One manly figure waved from above: a strong arm swinging as dramatically as a flag waving in the air. All she could make out was a long apron on him.
Her whole body was now shaking. Every jolt raised in volume.
Then, instantly, she was floating.
She was embraced.
You can listen to the whole story HERE