The boy rides his bike onto the street without looking both ways. This is in front of my house, not thirty feet from where I sit on the porch reading a book. People still sit on front porches on my street. I do it too, but only because from my perch on the weathered loveseat beside the door, a fat spirea bush, spilling off-white blossoms this time of year, shields me from the eyes of passersby. I don’t like to be seen by neighbours because they’re apt to stop to chat. I know I’m supposed to like this, but mostly I don’t. I want to read my book or drink my wine in peace. But today, I don’t know why, I sit on the steps. It’s late afternoon and I should be working, but I’m not, and my tea has gone cold beside me. So I see the boy ride out onto the street from between parked cars and min-vans. I know the boy; he lives a few houses down, on the other side of the street. I recognize the red bike whose training wheels have recently been removed.
The driver of the silver SUV doesn’t see the boy, and the boy doesn’t see the car until he does, and instead of speeding up to get to the other side of the street, he stops halfway across, frozen in place like the baby raccoons whose eyes catch the headlights of cars at night. The driver of the SUV brakes hard when she sees the boy, and the car skids and screeches. I feel my own body stiffen and brace itself, as if it is the body about to be crushed by two tons of metal. I run down the steps, as the car comes to a halt six inches from the boy. The woman is getting out of the car, gesticulating.
“You could’ve been killed, she yells. ARE YOU STUPID? You don’t cross the street without looking! Do you know how close you came to being dead? If I didn’t have good brakes, you’d be DEAD.”
The woman’s face is pink and sweaty and familiar to me, though I’m sure I don’t know her. She runs one hand through her hair whose roots are the colour of the SUV. She turns to me. “Are you his mother?”
“ No,” I say. “Please stop yelling.” My voice is low and gravelly. I put my hand on the boy’s shoulder and feel a slight movement beneath his skin. He still sits astride his bike; mousey wisps of hair escape from his helmet; his face is a tight pale mask.
I see my neighbour from the house directly across from mine emerge from her front door and run down her porch steps, black ponytail flapping behind her. Her name is Samara and our daughters are in the same class at school.
The driver of the SUV swings around to greet her. “Are you his nanny?” she shouts.
Samara shakes her head. She shoots me a look—a barely perceptible eye roll that I meet with one of my own. I wait for her to answer the woman but she doesn’t, so I say, “We’re his neighbours.”
The driver turns back to the boy. She bellows, “Where’s your nanny? You’re lucky you’re not dead.”
“Stop yelling,” I say again, more loudly this time. “He’s a kid. He knows what he did. He’s just a kid.”
The kid stares straight ahead, looking at no one, mute against the force of this woman, this adult’s booming anger. From down the sidewalk I see his nanny running towards us. She’s the one the neighbours call the “manny” because she keeps her hair short and wears unfeminine clothes. Her name is Josie. When she reaches us she give the boy a little hug. It’s only then that his tears come.
“What’s going on?” Josie says, looking from me to Samara to the driver. But she knows what has happened. I see fear and relief and guilt in her eyes. She wasn’t there to see it happen, to stop the boy from crossing the street on his bike. But the boy’s sister is a toddler. Even nannies can’t be everywhere.
“No one’s hurt,” Samara says. “Let’s just be thankful for that.”
The driver’s expression softens slightly. “Yes,” she says, addressing the boy. “Let’s hope you learned your lesson. Drivers can’t see you when there are cars parked on the street, you know. But I’m sure you’ve learned your lesson. Have you learned your lesson?”
The boy says nothing and doesn’t meet her gaze. He wipes at his eyes with a dirty fist.
“I’m sure he’s learned a lesson,” Josie says. She puts a hand on his back and leads him, still on his bike, to the sidewalk and towards his house. The driver watches them leave, shaking her head. Then, with a brief, sheepish look at Samara and me, she gets back into her SUV and drives off.
“Oh. My. God,” Samara says.
“Yes,” I say.
As I walk back to my porch, Samara calls after me, “Did you get the street party flyer I dropped in your mailbox?”
“Yup.” I look over my shoulder. “And burnt it.” I see Samara pluck a weed from her interlocking brick. I’m too far away to tell whether she’s smiling or frowning.
At school pick up, as I wait for my daughter, I stand with the nannies. I like listening to their crisp Tagalog or their lilting West Indies English. Mostly, I like that they don’t speak to me much. I wait in silence, one hand shading my eyes against the North Toronto sun, while a few feet away the moms pace and check their phones and chatter amongst themselves. I catch snatches of the moms’ conversations—bad teachers, good teachers, gifted programs, soccer practice.
The heavy school doors make a scraping sound as they open, releasing a stream of kids of all ages. I look for my daughter but don’t see her. Glancing at the group of moms, I notice that Samara has joined them. She catches my eye and waves and I wave back; she is already making her way to me before I notice that she is not alone. I’m annoyed. Samara knows I don’t like to socialize during pickup, and she knows I have no interest in meeting new people.
The new woman, laughing loudly at Samara’s side, has mousy-brown hair and I don’t recognize her at first; and then, with a slight jolt, I do. Her roots have been touched up and she is wearing shiny black yoga pants with a pink logo in the shape of a U. She looks shorter, slighter and younger than I remember her. I’m irritated to see that she carries a leather purse identical to one that I own.
I start to move toward the school doors—still no sign of my daughter—but the woman has already caught sight of me.
“Hey,” she says. “We meet again. I’m Vicky, by the way.” She looks at me and when I don’t introduce myself, she continues: “I was just telling Samira that we moved here last week, today’s my son’s first day, and Jesus moving’s hell, but it’s a super school, isn’t it? Such amazing test scores.” She pauses for a second and takes an audible breath. “So . . . hey, about the other day, I was up to my eyeballs in stress and—”
She stops talking and glances at the school doors. I look at Samara and roll my eyes. Samara shakes her head.
“Hey buddy!” Vicky has spotted the boy she almost ran over with her car. He is bounding cub-like towards his nanny, who stands at the back of our group; he carries a worksheet in one hand and a camouflage-patterned knapsack on his back. When he sees Vicky he swerves out of her path and snakes around behind Josie’s legs.
Vicky nods at Josie and bends down, craning her neck to see the boy. “I bet you remember me; I’m the one with the wicked brakes. But we can be friends now, can’t we? She fumbles in her purse and pulls out a Tootsie Pop. “I have a son a bit older than you who goes to your school, and these are his favourite,” she says, holding out the lollipop.
The boy stares at his running shoes whose velcro straps trail on the ground. A pale stream of mucus flows from his nose into his mouth. Josie takes the lollipop. “Thank the lady, Jason.” The boy says nothing. “Thank you,” Josie says. “He likes them too.”
The boy grabs hold of Josie’s pant leg and wipes his nose on it. Then he takes her arm with two hands and yanks down. “Ow! Don’t do that,” Josie says. She pinches her lips into a frown, as the boy pulls her in the direction of the playground equipment.
Vicky straightens up and turns back to Samara and me. “Cute kid. I was so freaked out that I’d almost hit him— I kind of lost it but, hey, no hard feelings right?”
“Sure. No hard feelings,” Samara says.
Vicky looks from Samara to me and then, making a sun visor with one hand, she peers at the school doors. “Oh! I see my boy, gotta go. I’m sure I’ll see you guys around. Let’s do coffee sometime, Samira.”
“Sure. See ya,” Samara says.
When Vicky is out of earshot, I say, “Samira?”
“Yeah, she heard me wrong and I couldn’t be bothered to correct her.”
“And no hard feelings? Please.”
Samara turns towards the school doors. The stream of kids exiting has slowed to a sporadic trickle. “Where the fuck are the girls?” she says. She turns back to me. “Why should we have hard feelings? You heard what Vicky said, she was stressed, it could have happened to anyone.”
“Yeah, but Samara, she—”
“There are worse things she could think. You would’ve thought the same thing.”
Samara looks me straight in the eyes when she says this and doesn’t look away when I expect her to. A half-formed response, warm and bilious, rises in my throat, but as I look at her looking at me, I swallow it down. Still, I hold her gaze. I remember the blinking contests I used to have with my friends on a similar playground when I was a kid. The first one to blink was the loser.
Samara grabs my arm. “Hey, don’t be so serious,” she says. “Let’s go find the girls.” Still holding my arm, she leads me up the wheelchair ramp toward the doors. Just as we get to them, they open, and our daughters file out. I notice something different: they’ve switched sneakers.
Samara notices too and laughs. “What have you been up to?” she asks them. “We’ve been waiting forever.”