As I walk along the path by the river I hear footsteps; a heavy pounding beat on the tarmac behind me, quickly coming closer and closer. I don't know if I should be afraid. I'm not usually here at this hour, I don't yet have an understanding of the patterns and habits of this part of town.
As he passes me, I can't help but smile. From the shins up he's just a boy, a skinny lad who got tall too quickly. In his grey tracksuit trousers, sweatshirt and baseball cap, with a sportsbag slung over one shoulder, he could be on his way to school. It's only the boots that suggest something different, their heavy reinforced toe-caps, beating out the rhythm of a working man.
Most days, I travel to work by car, from the lovely street where we live, to the multi-storey car park next to my office. When I was young I was intrigued by the idea of a transporter - the sort you'd see on Star Trek, where you'd step into a capsule and almost instantly end up in a different place on another planet. Now I'm all grown-up, I realise that my journey to work has become a bit like that, although admittedly not as instant.Once I enter the car, it's like I'm in my own bubble. My only interaction with anyone else is vicariously through the airwaves of the radio, or in mimed action through the exchanges with other drivers who surprise, irritate or enrage me. The only engagement with my surroundings is when I wipe a finger across the dusty dashboard, or scrabble about in the detritus I keep in the door-pocket, for a tissue, a tube of hand cream or the one CD I want to listen to most, though I can't remember where I put it.
A week or so ago, crumbling concrete brought a change to my routine, as the multi-storey was declared unsafe for use and we were all forced to make alternative arrangements. For the last week my journey has included a ten-minute walk to the office. The route takes me along a footpath, past the back of the cricket ground into the park, then along by the river, until I emerge from the underpass, just a few yards from my building.
I'm surprised how many people are around; dark-suited office workers march determinedly onwards, heads down as though they daren't risk the slightest distraction. Kids race past on scooters; while their mums try to keep up, propelling baby-buggies forward like miniature chariots. I feel sorry for the babies, pulled from the cosy comfort of their beds, breakfast hurriedly spooned into their still-yawning mouths, arms thrust into the un-cooperative sleeves of tiny coats, in a daily rush to the child-minder.
I pass the children's playground. There's a new climbing frame, resplendent in shades of purple, jade and yellow. Its colours make the old, faded-blue swings look shabby and unloved. I slow down for a while, imagining how my sons would have loved the frame; the chance to hurtle up ladders, fly across bridges and fling themselves down the slides and poles. I think of the times I stood by the side, pleased by their fearless adventures, terrified of impending injury.
I remember the holiday in Devon, when Gerard decided to climb the cliff. One minute he'd been sat by my side, playing in the sand; the next he was halfway up a precipice. The lure of reaching the top had obliterated any consideration of how he'd get down again. I shudder, even now, at the memory of the blind panic that gripped me as I imagined him plunging down into the sea. I know I stood there paralysed with fear, unable to think or move, while he loved every moment of the scramble up and relished every minute of the attention he got from the group of men who so generously climbed up to escort him back down.
But the playground is deserted; everyone is too busy heading somewhere else. There's no time to stop and play, no chance of screaming falls; or even grazed knees and bumped heads at this hour.
I carry on along the path. The walk is still a novelty, so I look around, noticing the clumps of sunny daffodils and the emerald green nettles building their traps by the side of the river. I hear the birds singing from their vantage points high above me. I look up.
The trees are in full blossom. Their flowers seem bolder and whiter than they ought to be, somehow they remind me of the winter snow that's not long gone. I'm glad that the fall of their flake-like petals will bring warmth and sunshine rather than shivery cold. And it's the thoughts of warmth and sunshine, the promise of future holidays that stays with me as I walk through the graffiti-ed underpass, past the locked empty car park and into my office.