Walk on By by Caroline Osborne

The children are playing, running around, throwing a ball, calling out to each other, skinny sun tanned limbs, tangled hair. I’ve seen them before and now it’s the summer holidays I’m always seeing and hearing them, their shrill voices piercing my concentration as I work. Sometimes they play in the stairwell or by the lifts until their parents drag them inside. I hear some of their names shouted out, Lauren, Tyrese, Sasha, Luke.

At night I can hear the couple in the flat above arguing, shouting at each other. I’ve seen them around a bit, a young couple, Luke’s parents. They always look miserable.

Next morning, I’m on my way out and see Luke sitting alone on the bench in the play area.

“Hello there. Are you OK?”

He looks up at me, through his blonde fringe, his dark brown eyes almost imploring. ”Yes, just waiting for my friends.”

“This doesn’t feel right.” I say out loud to myself as I walk on, guilt nibbling at my consciousness.

Midnight, in the dreamy phase between wakefulness and sleep I hear a commotion in the flat upstairs, yelling and screaming, a thud, then a child’s cry. My heart jumps, nausea rises in my throat. I want to go up there and confront them but fear wins the day. It goes quiet but I can’t sleep for the rest of the night.

Next morning the kids are outside again, Lauren, Tyrese, Sasha and friends but no Luke. I step outside my flat and look up the stairwell, not sure what to do. I can see their feet, Luke’s parents, and hear them talking, doesn’t sound too friendly. The dad gets into the lift.

Back at my window I see a man leaving the block carrying a holdall, a large rucksack on his back.

Published in Issue #26

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