‘Stowaway’

‘Stop! Stop the car!’ Bea’s anxious fingers scrunched her skirt up, then fumbled at the greasy handle.

Her father hit the brakes without even checking his mirror. ‘What is it Bea? What’s wrong?’ She had already launched herself out of the car, leaving the door wide open behind her. Not again. He would be late for the board meeting, and she would be late for school. Not that she cared about lessons. Why didn’t she understand the importance of punctuality? And why couldn’t she doze in the car, instead of holding these silly little vigils for roadkill?

Its tiny corpse was lying there, half-covered by pine needles. She slowed from a run to a measured creep, and knelt beside it. It was pale and almost hairless, or featherless, it was too early to tell. It was about the size of a kitten or a baby seagull. The nose was so long and bony, she couldn’t be sure if it was a snout or a beak. A trickle of blood ran from its nostril down its wrinkled neck. Bea squeezed her eyes shut and stretched out a finger to stroke its twisted side. Goodbye, creature, she murmured to herself. But instead of feeling waxy and cold, it felt warm. Perhaps wasn’t dead.

Her father stood behind her. ‘Come on,’ he said wearily, ‘we’re going to be late.’ ‘No!’ she hissed. ‘This one needs me.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Sometimes nature needs to take its course.’ Bea glared at him with glassy eyes. ‘I’ll go without you. Two minutes.’ She pulled off her cardigan and buttoned it up. Then, she tied the arms in a knot around the neck to create a large pocket. The creature attempted to open its eyes: thin red-rimmed slits just like her own in the morning. She placed a few small branches beside him, to make him feel at home.

When she arrived at school, she would take him straight to the disabled toilet, wipe him clean and let him drink. ‘I’ll look after you,’ she whispered as she slipped the scrumple of wool surreptitiously into the schoolbag between her feet, making sure there was a hole for him to breathe through.

‘What was it?’

‘Oh, nothing. We can go now.’

‘See. Hardly worth stopping is it?’ ‘Hmm,’ Bea replied, gazing out of the window.

stowaway