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Footsteps

Author: Alice McBride

I like to imagine you walking along these streets. My mother's hand in yours, skipping along to keep up with you. In my mind she won’t stop talking, too excited to see her grandfather again after many years. You arrive at his house, he's waiting for you both on the doorstep. You embrace your father and proudly reintroduce him to his granddaughter. She's 8 now but very bright and reads beyond her years. He says she “takes after her mother then”, but that she has “our wild hair, poor thing”. She smiles at you both adoringly.

In five years you’d be gone. I'll never know you beyond the stories my mother and grandmother share. And these idle imaginings every time I pass through Cardonald.

You had a Glaswegian accent but how strong? It must have been strong once. You were a Govan wean, who grew up running up and down tenement closes. You travelled and then settled with your own family far away, but would your accent come back when you walked these streets?

My grandmother tells me about the Hogmanay you both went partying with old pals in Govan. Walking back to Cardonald well after the bells, singing and stopping to celebrate with every other group you met.

My mother has shown me the cine film of her first visit as a toddler. She's pushing her favourite toy up and down the front garden. You’re behind the camera so she waves to you, to us, and it’s that silent, smiling wave that people always do in old family films. For those six seconds I’m standing next to you, watching her walk unsteadily up and down the path, before the film moves on.

When I first moved to Glasgow it felt familiar, even though it wouldn’t be familiar to you now.

Sometimes I imagine that you’re walking with me. Your arm in mine. We don’t skip because you’re not the young man from their stories. You’ve aged, as you should have. You point out how this street has changed, that so-and-so used to live there on that corner, and that this was the stop you used to get the tram from.

We never walked these streets together and yet they are filled with the echoes of your footsteps. They tap out the stories I’ve heard, seen, and imagined. Tapping out every detail. Sailing through the years that divide us, like morse code across the sea.