An old lady with a brown shopping-trolley is crossing at the lights. She turns and waddles towards the tram-stop where I am standing. Most commuters have already left, and the traffic has begun to thin. Warnings of high storms and damaging winds forecasted for the late afternoon took over the airwaves and every messaging medium since several hours ago. People are encouraged to go home and stay indoors.
It was my business today as rotating warden-on-duty to check that the office was empty and to lock up the premises. I saw a tram trundle past just as I was stepping out. The next and last service for the day is not due for another 10 minutes, I gauge, glance at my watch, holding down my skirt against an upward draft.
“Is it seven o’clock yet?” asks the old lady with the trolley.
“No, it’s ten to three,” I reply.
“They say they’ll be here at seven,” she explains.
“Oh,” I answer, not quite understanding.
“The people who took my baby,” she goes on, “you see, they told me when my baby was better they would return her to me here at seven.”
I look at her ashen hair and her ashen face and her brown trolley. She does not seem like a new mother nor a mother with a newborn. “When did they take her?” I ask.
“Many years ago,” she says, staring dully at the ground. “She must be a big girl now.”
The dark sky draws back suddenly in this moment, and I can see trees in front of us bending in a strange yellow light the colour of old photographs. Then we are wrapped again by the greyness, and leaves blow in furious flurries across the road, big public rubbish-bins next to us starting to rattle. I move closer inside the shelter, pulling gently the old lady with me.
“Who took her?” I ask.
“The state,” she says. “She fell sick, turned blue, the neighbours wanted to send her away, said there was no breath.”
“You didn’t let them?”
“No,” she replies, “because it wasn’t true, my baby was only asleep, she was ill.”
“You have no family?” I say, smelling thunder in the air, and watch the last cars hurry off the main street, as lightning drips through foliage.
“No,” she says, “only me and my daughter when she comes home. The state promised to make her well again, said they would bring her back here,” she points to the platform beneath us, “at seven o’clock in a week, I’ve been coming everyday.”
“Where do you live?” I ask.
“At the end of this tram-line,” she replies. “But I have to wait until seven.”
“That is not a good idea,” I say. “A huge storm is on the way. Take the next tram with me.”
“I will wait,” she insists. “What time is it now?”
“Two to three,” I told her, “you will have to come, there are no more trams for today.”
She looks at me, her eyes like lamps in which the oil is gone, and says, more to herself than to me, “She will know me still. There is no need to be unrestful about that. She will always know me, won’t she?”
“Yes, she will,” I reassure her, “wherever she is, she always will.” The tram rolls into view. “Now, you’ve got to come.” I try to take her hand.
“Thank you very much,” she says, slowly pulling away, “but I must wait.”
The tram stops before us. There is nothing that can be done about her.
The worst of the weather event does not arrive until eight o’clock in the evening. And police had been despatched to pick up stragglers before then. That, I think to myself, lying in bed, and the fact her daughter will know her still, should keep the old lady restful and safe tonight, I hope.