She pulled her flowery handbag further up her loose-skinned arm, and fished out a squashed box of cigarettes. Her daughter, shaved head set defiantly forward just like her mum’s, looked at nothing. They were both dressed with nostalgia for the idyllic childhood they had never known: the mother in dyed pink hair and faded lilac culottes, the daughter in a patterned dress that finished at her broad upper thighs. At first glance you might have thought the mother was wearing pop socks with her clogs, but it was just a layer of dead, untended skin coating the soles and heels of her wide feet.
A few minutes later, she stepped down off the pavement and threw her cigarette butt on the road, not bothering with the broad red ‘do not cross’ line in front of her. Her daughter was hunched, oblivious. They never spoke, even when their bus pulled up. The mother pulled out a packet of Murray mints and held it for her daughter to fumble in to pick one out. Then, heads tucked in, they pulled themselves up the step and along the aisle.
The clothes, the hair, the hand-bag would have all looked fitting on teenage girls, or even younger still, but on these two the incongruity of it all shouted that life had been uglier, darker than they could begin to speak of. It was in the set of their heads that the truth pushed out. And yet, watching them both, you would never have dared begrudge them their light colours and pretty flowers. Sometimes, when the only good thing you’ve got is pink, you’ve got to flaunt it.