Terri Lee Hackman

See her there.

It must be midnight in Manchester and there's a girl, about 9 years old, wearing bright pink flashing bunny-ears.  She's on the sidewalk with the bus stop at her right and a row of phoneboxes behind her, all lined up, waiting for someone, anyone, to use them.

The girl shifts her weight and seems to balance for tiny moments on one foot, then the other. She glances around, and suddenly looks very serious. She looks at you and you know something's not right. But what can you do? It's the city, it's midnight, you aren't supposed to mess with kids. You could get in trouble. But she looks scared.

The bunny-ears flash and nod as she turns her head. She takes a strand of her hair and twists it, pulls it, caresses it, drags it across her lips. And she turns around, all the way around, so you get the full view of her, her pink and white and silver trainers, her brown jersey jacket with sassy pink buttons, her brand new jeans with the brand new patches at the ass. This is no way to dress a kid in the city at midnight.

"Hey Little Lady, are you lost?"

Now you've done it. Now you've gone and done it. She looks away from you, turns her face away and doesn't say anything. You move closer and you can smell diesel exhaust, and expensive hair conditioner, and rot from your own mouth. You bend down to her, close enough so that if she turns toward you her smooth hair will brush your face. But she draws away, doesn't turn her head the way you'd hoped, doesn't swing her hair.

"Come here. Come here and I'll help you find your mama. I like your bunny-ears."

She looks up at you as she steps back. A big Asian guy passes by and looks at you but not as if he sees anyone. And then a slag of a woman, so skinny you cannot believe her legs can hold her up, they should buckle, in their black sheer stockings they should fold right under her, you would like to knee them, clip the ankles, see her drop and break. She's on her mobile and she's laughing and sways just a little as she tries to keep herself straight up and talking as she spikes along on her stiletto's.

There's movement beside you and you look down at Bunny-Ears and she's being hugged by a woman who keeps saying 'I thought I'd lost you! Oh, I thought...' and you feel a little nauseous and a little scared. You move away from them, as if you haven't noticed them, as if you're very interested in the phone booths, at the movie posters plastered to their sides of some romantic comedy that will be here soon - a young white woman looks over her shoulder at a grinning blond man - they're lined-up five in a row, looking and looking at each other.

Bunny-Ears holds her mother's hand and is crossing the street away from the bus stop, still flashing like a pink Christmas tree. You watch her until she goes around a corner somewhere where you'll never see her again, and feel a little sad because you know you would have helped her, in your own way.