The holidays were ending; soon there would be fewer chances for us to gather all together in the woods by the park in the dusk among the midges and the brown grass near the river. Hanna hated the midges but we laughed at her so she would stick out her long pink tongue at us and then Ahmad would throw sand at her and we’d end up in a big fight and take up half the time we had there just mucking about. That was the way of the long summer days and the hot evenings and the time spent together, the last time before we all had to give up the childish games and innocence of youth and pretend we were big now just too big to play Pooh sticks on the old bridge over the river even though tradition stated whoever won the championship got to make a pass at Esmeralda Higgins of the emerald eyes and a free burger from the others each month when we went to the drive-thru movies.
So on that last evening we pretended it wasn’t happening and we traipsed up to the bridge and we chose our sticks and mine was a lovely smooth ash stick whilst Hanna chose a slender willow just like her but Ahmad had spent a week whittling his rowan into a canoe and though we said it was cheating we couldn’t stop him from playing because it was a beautiful canoe and it was the last time we would be there together probably. And though countless hours of practice had led to this moment it was still a competition no-one knew who would win because the river was a fickle bitch sometimes and she would toss and turn and eddy and swirl and push and twist so that no matter how quickly you threw it or carefully you placed it the river was the one in charge in the end and we loved her for it and sang out our praises and our prayers as we ducked beneath each others’ arms and yelled not to chuck our sticks in the wrong current stream and played the game of dodging and weaving and bluffing and waving as we counted down to the final throw and the moment we would let nature take its course with our hearts and our lives and our insignificant little wooden offerings.
We chased the river as she carried off the limbs we had chosen for this last send-off and we stumbled on the dry grass and the broken glass and Ahmad on the other side tripped on a rock and went down into the water like a lead balloon sinking into the current and becoming his own competitor logging on the surface as we screamed and tried to keep up and Hanna videoed it for her Insta account. Ahmad was laughing and spluttering and splashing and the water was so very cold and fast but it was slow round the bend and we forgot about the Pooh sticks and jumped in ourselves leaving clothes on the bank to keep warm and turning the competition into a sport made out of three kids who had grown up together and each won enough times that it didn’t matter in the end who reached the next bridge first. Eventually we had to admit defeat because the sun was going down and the water was too freezing and the midges were starting to land on Hanna’s face as she stared at the sky rushing by and there was no sand to throw only more river to splash so we cartwheeled in the water and swam for shore and climbed the banks and started the long walk back to our clothes and the bikes and then home and we argued about who had won the race and in a way I wish I knew and in a way I really didn’t care at all.
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