I’ve been on the way for two hours when I see her. A portly woman on the side of the road, kneeling by a simple white cross. Her arm supports a mass of blossoms in pearl, amber and gold and a glass jar sits at the foot of the cross. She looks up and for a second, our eyes lock. My heart stirs at this brief interchange, the touching of a fragment of someone’s life and I’m still pondering on the woman as the bus driver pulls into a tiny village. My mind is back on the roadside. I want to know what happened there. Who died and left a woman bereft? Left only with memories, a white cross and flowers.
Without thinking things through, I grab my back-pack and shout over my shoulder, “Don’t wait. I’ll get the next bus.”
The woman is still there, kneeling on the roadside before the cross. I see her from a distance and she sees me. Stands, looks to see who I am, what I am doing. As I draw closer, she takes in my black attire, the piercings in my brow and nose, and recognition, mixed with apprehension flutters across her face. “You’re the girl in the bus. The one who drove past a while back.”
I nod. “I hope you don’t mind. I had to come and ask you about the cross. About what happened here.”
She scans me again. Cautious, thoughtful, weighing me up before she responds.
“My daughter, Faye, is the one who died.” She starts. “It was a terrible affair. A truck driver slammed into her car. She’d just got her licence and we thought she’d be safe out here.”
She reaches into a pocket and draws out a photo. “Would you like to see her?” I gaze into the face of a smiling teenage girl. A beautiful girl with long chocolate hair and blue-sequin eyes.
“It’s nearly two years now. I place fresh flowers by the cross every week. I suppose I hope people will notice. Maybe drive a little more carefully. Then Faye’s death won’t be in vain.”
I nod as she turns the conversation to me. “So where’re you going.”
Such a simple question and yet a hard one to answer. “I had a huge fight with Mum last night, so I decided to strike out for the city.”
“Oh.” There’s no judgment in her voice. “I used to fight with Faye you know. We had huge arguments about clothes, makeup, boys.” I raise my eyebrows without meaning to and she smiles. A sad, tentative smile. “Even farm girls like to be up-to-date.” The smile fades. “We fought the day of the accident. About her hair of all things. She wanted to cut it into a short, fashionable style and I begged her not to. Faye loaded up her car and said she was leaving home. She pulled straight into the road and a truck hit her side on. She died instantly.”
We stand in silence as I think of how Mum will be panicking. She’s probably phoning all my friends, pleading for information, asking them if they know where I am. She cares about me. I know that. I think of her face, worn and creased from working too hard. From trying to raise me well and give me chances in life. I look down at Faye’s photo and then smile sadly at her mother.
“Teenagers can be really stupid can’t they?”
She reaches out a hand and squeezes mine. “Come inside and call your mum.”
Mum hits the roof but I hear tears in her voice. Tears that say I care. I love you. I’m glad you’re safe.
“I’m sorry.” I say, and hear tears in my voice as well. “I’m sorry for giving you a fright, for being such a brat. I’m coming home, Mum.”
Faye’s mother walks me out, and at the cross, I kneel and tuck a stray rose into the pearl, amber and gold blossoms. “Faye didn’t die in vain,” I tell her. “Keep putting the flowers out and Faye will keep on touching people’s lives.” She smiles and this one is straight from her heart.
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