Last cuddle

“I am not carrying you the whole way,” I say to the youngest as we make our way to the station. “I will give you one last cuddle and then you’re walking.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” says a woman sitting propped up, her lower half in a sleeping bag, against the wall of the viaduct. Strands of gry hair poke out from under a dirty woollen hat, her face is flushed livid red. “There’s no such thing as a last cuddle.”

Her voice is warm and affectionate as smiles up towards us. Her manner is a marked contrast to her circumstances. I find it hard to know how to respond. In the end I do so only indirectly by addressing C: “there’s always more cuddles to be had, but you are still walking the last bit.” He smiles and reaches up, standing on tiptoes. The complaining stops and the tears transform into smiles.

I feel bad for otherwise ignoring her. I glance back as we move off but she looks unconcerned.

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