This really happened, I have spent years thinking about it and every time I recall it, it makes me feel creepy, scared and sad.
Back in 1985 I was pregnant and very ill. I developed some weird sickness that meant I could not hold down any food during the pregnancy and I almost had to consider terminating the baby. Luckily I didn’t and my daughter came through the foetal trauma and is wonderful.
Anyway, the night I want to talk about happened one early evening when I had such a big argument with my husband. I really wasn’t fit for fighting or walking out to the dusky streets in a strop – but I did it anyway. It was something I did quite a lot in those days. I just simply walked out.
My husband had pissed me off beyond belief and as it was such a hot summer night I decided to walk along by the River Clyde.
I didn’t really like the river as my mother had been thrown in its murky water years before and had died that spring night of 1982 at the hands of her violent boyfriend.
I always felt odd looking at the dirty water, as I often pictured her rotting corpse floating about amongst the reeds. I do have a very vivid imagination but what happened that summer night of 1985 will stay with me till I die.
I had walked right down to the dockside. It used to be a busy industrial place but, now that the shipyards had closed down, it was just a dirty broken place where old drunks hung out on the rusting decks and corroded pontoons that used to serve the giant ships.
It started to get dark and the summer sun had dipped beyond the massive metal bridges on the river and left a strange red striped pattern on the flat water near the old shipyard. Minutes later, the whole area went dark as the sun slipped of to the West. There were not many street lights down at the dockside. The local council had tried to make the place look presentable by planting loads of trees, hedges and thick bushes but that only served to hide rabbits and a few city foxes that would raid the bins.
I sat down feeling nauseous on a bench that had green crackled paint and deep gouges of graffiti cut into it, making the seat scratchy and uncomfortable, but I needed a rest.
I watched the water move slowly, my eyes trying to focus into the darkness. There were some pools of light from the orange street lamps that lit up various spots along the water side, but only sporadically as many of the lights were broken.
Empty beer cans and fag ends littered the pathways illuminated in the freakish-looking orange light, bushes rustled and I could hear moans coming from various points along the walkway from drunks who had taken refuge amongst the undergrowth.
I didn’t feel unsafe or scared. This was my city and drunks aren’t always dangerous. Most are just friendly and like a chat. We owned a bar at that time and drunks were my constant companions. I knew how to handle them.
Behind me, I heard the foliage move; twigs were being broken underfoot. I turned to see who was coming behind me but, in the darkness, it was hard to see what was there. I assumed it was a fox and dismissed it. I sat there fighting the need to vomit.
The noise stopped and I focussed back on the river, sitting there in my own thoughts again. Still feeling angry and sick at the same time, I went over the fight with my husband in my head. We never stopped fighting. We always argued. And, now that I was pregnant, I wondered what the hell I was going to do with my life. I got lost in my thoughts…and just then I felt someone brush past me from behind. It was a slight feeling, as if my hair was being touched and my neck was slowly getting warm.
I got startled and turned round.
There was no-one there, yet I could hear movement around me. I stood up and saw something… just out of the corner of my vision. It was like a very small person or a child crouching down and running into the deep bushes beside the bench.
I wondered who the hell would have a child out at this time of night and why the hell it was running into the thick hedges. I looked around for an adult who might have been with the toddler, but there was no-one around.
“Hello!” I shouted in the direction of the bushes, but no sound came back.
My stomach flipped at that point and I threw up on the path, just retched and watched as yellow bile splattered all over the gravelly ground. I was used to the burning yellow liquid that often came up from my throat without warning. I hated this pregnancy.
My eyes smarted and I sat back down. I forgot about the child in the bushes and held onto my tummy. My forehead was clammy and I really wanted to go to bed now. I decided to get up and head for home.
I walked a few steps and heard more movement amongst the greenery. This time I stopped and looked behind me along the darkened pathway. Nothing was there. I spun round and looked ahead… No-one was on the walkway that I could see. I looked towards the river and nothing moved. I stood on tiptoes and tried to peer over the bushes towards the deserted streets that lined the docks…. Nothing… No sound of cars or people… that I could hear anyway.
I stood for a few moments and I heard a child cry out. This alarmed me, so I leaned down to where I thought the noise was coming from and there, amongst the dense leaves, I could see a small dark-haired child crouched down on his haunches. I could only see the top of the child’s head.
“Hello, are you OK?” I spoke quietly.
It must be a lost kid… One of these drunks has brought a kid down here and it’s got lost, was all I could think.
The head moved, the face came up and there sat a dirty wee round faced boy.
His eyes looked very dark and his skin was dirty. I couldn’t quite see his features, it was so dark. He stood up and he was about three feet tall and with one filthy hand he beckoned me to follow him into the hedges.
I knew I couldn’t go in with him as the bushes were too thick and there was no way I could get my body in between the labyrinth of branches.
“Are you OK?” I repeated. He looked at me and put out both of his hands. He outstretched to me and I put out my arms to help him out of the tall, thick hedge. He stopped halfway, so I leaned forward to get him and encourage him to come out. Just then, I looked at his face and he was looking past me, as if there was someone behind me. I immediately looked round and there stood a tall man, watching us.
I suddenly got scared and stepped back onto the path to face him. He was drunk and holding a can of beer.
“Are you OK, missus?” he asked me.
His breath could have stripped paint.
The sheer smell of booze made me want to retch again.
“Is this your child?” I snapped at him and pointed into the bushes. How dare he stand there and watch me try to get this scared kid and not help, I thought to myself.
I never took my eyes off him, just in case he did turn nasty.
It was a dark, isolated place and I was there with a small child in the bushes. Not an ideal situation.
“No, I don’t have any kids, missus,” he answered and then added: “Are you OK? You were falling into the bushes.”
I turned to see if the child was OK and not scared of the drunken man, but there was no-one there. He must have disappeared under the branches, I thought to myself.
“Hello there! Are you OK?” I shouted out to the kid.
“There isn’t anyone there,” the man said.
“Yes there is: it was a wee boy and I was trying to help him out,” I answered angrily.
The drunk man stepped back and looked at me, then laughed: “You were standing there on your own; you had your arms out and you were falling into the bushes.”
“I wasn’t falling! I was helping out a wee boy,” I spat at him. “And you scared him!”
I started to think I was going mad. The man kept trying to assure me I had been standing there alone. He was drunk. What the hell did he know? My stomach heaved and I vomited again in front of the tall, smelly man.
He reached over and patted my back: “You don’t look well, take a seat.” He spoke with genuine concern.
I sat down and wiped my mouth. “Look, I am telling you there was child in those bushes and he was coming out and then you came along.” I spoke quietly as I clutched my stomach.
At that moment, the bushes rustled again and out stepped the wee boy. His dark hair and dirty clothes were now clearer to see. He had no shoes on and his skinny legs were all scraped and bloody looking. The boy simply looked at us both and walked away towards the docks. The man gasped and put his beer can down. We both got up to follow the boy but within seconds he was gone. He simply vanished into the darkness. He wasn’t on the pathway at all. We both turned on our heels and peered into the dimly-lit dockside in every direction.
We both called out into the dockside. We walked up and down a few yards in opposite directions, passing each other on the dense dark gravel path, both wildly looking about for the small boy.
He was nowhere to be seen. I sat down, exhausted, and put my head in my hands.
“You saw him, right?”
I needed reassurance that he, too, had watched a child disappear. It wasn’t just me. And I wasn’t pregnant and insane.
“Aye, I did see him. He was about five years old, eh? He didn’t have any shoes on, did he?” The man spoke with both arms outstretched, looking as bewildered as I felt.
Out of the dense darkness, two men started walking towards us. They were slightly stumbling and drunk-looking. One was carrying a plastic bag with clinking bottles of Buckfast wine. I could see the familiar gold bottle tops peep out of the carrier bag. This wine was popular with hardened drinkers in Glasgow; it was cheap and very potent. The other man had thick bushy unkempt hair and he was swigging beer from a can with every step he took.
“How you doing, Frank?” asked the taller of the two drunk men to the man who was standing with me.
“Bobby, did you see a wee boy in his bare feet run towards you?” Frank, my new friend, asked.
“No, why the fuck would a wee boy be out this late in bare feet, Frank?” Bobby asked. “It’s almost three in the morning.”
The bushy-haired man slumped onto the bench. He was more inebriated than I initially suspected.
The man on the bench spoke quietly: “It’s the wee black-faced boy, he is a ghost. He comes out in the night. A few of us have seen him in the bushes and he always tries to get you in there. Nobody believed me when I saw him. He just runs about in his bare feet then disappears.”
We all turned to stare at him.
“That’s crap!” I shouted. “We both saw him and he was a real boy!” I was annoyed at myself for standing on the dirty dockside arguing with drunk men about ghosts. What the hell was I doing here?
“I am off,” I said. “I have had enough. Thanks for helping me, Frank.”
I gathered up my bag and headed along towards the dimly-lit roadside where I could maybe catch a cab back to the East End.
I didn’t bother to look back. I no longer cared about some mysterious wee boy. I ignored the men who were debating ghosts and wee black boys. My head was spinning, I felt sick and I was physically exhausted now.
I spotted a taxi in the distance on the lonely road with its orange light breaking the darkness. Thank goodness, I thought, I spend enough time with drunk men in that bloody bar. What the hell am I doing out this late? My husband will be worried and I need my bed.
The cab stopped, let me in the comfy warm back seat and did a U-turn to take me back along the road. I sat down, enveloped in the heat, and looked out towards the River Clyde. I could see the silhouette of Frank, Bobby and the other drunk man standing beyond the hedges as the taxi prepared to head off.
Just then, at the bottom of the bushes, something caught my eye. I tried to focus as the taxi was moving off and there I saw a wee dirty-faced boy crouched down low and waving at me. He smiled, his teeth so bright against the grubby skin of his face. Then he just faded back amongst the leaves. Right in front of my eyes, he just disappeared.
I clambered on the taxi seat, turning around and kneeling, looking backwards in case he reappeared.
I never saw him again. I went home and dragged my sorry sick body into bed. Husband lay holding me tight. He had been walking the streets looking for me and had been frantic. We promised never to argue again.
But I wasn’t really listening. I was lying in the darkness of my bedroom still seeing in my mind’s eye the wee black-faced boy who lived in the bushes.
© Janey Godley, October 2007