The Green Man

It’s cold in London this week. I’ve been ducking under my woollen cap when I walk back from office, hands covered in gloves and tucked into my overcoat. Tonight, I noticed that the footpaths were covered with grains of that brown rock salt that they sprinkle when snow is expected. They crunched under my feet as I hurried back.

There’s a road that I cross every day. It’s one of those streets where the flow of traffic isn’t constant. Vehicles flow through in patches, half a minute of cars vrooming loudly past followed by twenty seconds of silence. A push-button traffic light stands erect on both sides. Those black and yellow pole structures seem rather unnecessary; even if you do push the button and wait, the flow of cars has usually stopped long before the light actually turns green. Most pedestrians just press the button and cross whenever there’s a break in the traffic. The light changes many moments after those waiting on the pavement have already disappeared, forcing the cars to wait for a group of people who have already passed.

When I reached that crossing today, a woman and a child had just walked up to the traffic light a few seconds before me. The woman had two large supermarket bags in one hand. The little one was probably around three years old – chubby and cute the way only little ones can be. He wore a grey cap and his over sized winter jacket covered most of his body. The hood was pulled over his forehead and his fingers were invisible under the long sleeves. I walked up next to him and stood facing the road. A couple of cars zipped past in front of us. The cold wind nipped at my uncovered face and I pulled my scarf on tighter.

The flow of vehicles was bound to ebb in a few moments; I waited patiently till the last car passed us. A traffic light had turned further down the road and there would be no more vehicles for some time now. I almost took a step forward when I felt a pair of eyes on me. The little one was staring up at my face. I smiled. He quickly turned to his mother. She stuck a hand around him and glanced at me. There was something in her eyes – a question perhaps – that I couldn’t quite understand.

The road on front of us was still clear. The cars had started moving at that traffic light to our right but I could still comfortably amble across if I wanted. However, I was in two minds now and I didn’t know why. The little one had turned to me again. It seemed like he opened his mouth to speak but then stopped himself. His round eyes were fixed on me and I waited next to him. I waited even though I could have crossed. I waited till the light finally turned green.

The woman held out her hand as soon as the light changed and the little one grabbed her finger. “The green man is here,” he said, “We can only cross when the green man comes!” The woman nodded and glanced at me, a satisfied smile on her face. She pulled at her son and they hurried across the road, the boy almost tumbling as his little feet to keep up with his mother. I nodded sheepishly and followed then across the street.

Behind us, the lights turned red again.

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