She knew in an instant that she was going down. And going down hard.
A foot snagged in the netting flung across a shopfront under renovation as she dashed along the over-furnished, over-populated pavement could have no other possible result. That much she knew – been there, done that, time and time again.
Inside her head it played out in tortuous slow motion allowing her time to observe every single detail of the scene. She was powerless to do anything to stop her inevitable slam into the grimy paving slabs dusted with dirt arrived at the bustling port from Syria, Afghanistan, and countless other war-torn and persecution-plagued lands.
Passing faces turned to watch the spectacle. People like her, rushing home at the end of another working day, tired, weary, eager to reach home and put their feet up. They watched, then they turned away. Somebody else’s problem, after all.
The backpack holding her laptop shot off her right arm and flew skywards, promising its own spectacular touch-down.
And then, impact. Pain exploded like a firework in her left shin – the one already permanently battered and slightly misshapen from last year's unfortunate encounter with a train and that gap you’re supposed to mind. The smash of her right knee was a mere coda to the main event, but it hit at an angle that promised a deeper bruise in the days to come. A heavy “oomph” pushed itself out of her mouth as the breath was knocked out of her, and an ominous tinkling sound rang in her ears from her laptop skidding across the concrete.
Embarrassment overcame possible injury as she dragged herself to her feet trying to brush the dust off her work trousers.
An anonymous hand reached out and touched her softly on the shoulder in a gesture of sympathy and concern, before handing her the backpack. No words were spoken, just a heartfelt glance from deep chocolate brown eyes beneath a dark headscarf. A look that crossed oceans of misery and misunderstanding and spoke a simple, human question: “Are you OK?”
A nod, a shaky grimace and a hand on her heart in gratitude was all she could manage, stunned by the simple act of kindness from a stranger who had probably seen more inhumanity and danger that she’d ever dreamed in her wildest imaginings. She was lost for words.
With a shy smile, the woman in the headscarf bobbed her head and returned to the crowd which quickly swallowed her up and carried her away.
Wage slaves continued putting one foot in front of the other, blindly, unseeing, eager to get home for their evening meal. None missed a beat or diverted from their path to check on their fallen colleague. The only note of kindness had come from a stranger, from an unknown country, who didn’t know where she’d be sleeping that night, or even if she’d be having an evening meal.