There was a boy. His name was Bobby.
One of four brothers, he had a wide cheeky smile and was the apple of his mum and dad’s eye.
A football-loving, funny, fearless little boy.
Who will remain forever 6 years old.
Last October, on the last Friday of the half term, he took one step away from the safety of his mother’s hand and into the path of a passing van. He died that same day.
I seem to think about Bobby a lot.
I think of him when I do the half-hour journey to my youngest son’s specialist school. A journey that takes me through four busy shopping hubs – where the sheer lunacy of some of the junction gambling makes me feel like I should get a certificate for completing the wacky races.
I think of him when a car cuts me up and speeds along the road (only to have to stop at the lights like us all).
I think of him every time I go to my mum’s house and see his face on every lamp post on the road home.
I think of him as I see the tree blazoned all year around with beautiful flowers – a tribute to a boy who broke a city’s heart.
I think of him each time I see a driver pull up on the yellow zig zag lines outside my kids’ school – their offspring too precious to walk the extra yards from the safer parking spots further up the road.
I think of him as I see photos pour into the public Facebook group of the charity set up in his name. Photos of children in high viz jackets posing by the new fencing that lines the street where he once skipped with his siblings.
I think of him when his mum posts lovely status updates thanking everyone for their efforts or sharing messages from his little brothers beseeching everyone to stay safe on the roads.
I think of him mostly when I hold my own children’s hands – quite tight – as we cross the busy road at school. All too aware of how easy life can change in a second.
And today I thought of him again. Today I thought of him a lot.
You see there had been an incident at my children’s school this week that prompted the head teacher to send letters home. The junior school had arrived back late from a theatre trip due to rush hour traffic, and in the letter the head berated those parents who had parked both sides of the road causing a “great deal of congestion”.
A move that is shown in all its self-absorbed glory when I tell you that there is a pub car park that we have permission to use just three and a half minutes walk away; and yes I’ve timed it.
What happened next beggars belief though.
People started to drive along the pavement to pass the congestion. In the dark. Some at speed.
On the other side of the road my 3-year-old niece was playing with my friend’s waddling 1 year old. Where 10 minutes earlier I’d pushed my son in his heavy wheelchair (before his dad took him home for some tea).
I get that we all get frustrated waiting in traffic, that we panic we will be late and our child will be left standing alone; that none of us is infallible and all of us have made questionable decisions when driving out and about.
But I have nothing but contempt for the idiots (believe me I wanted to use stronger words) that mounted that pavement. What was so important in that moment? The lure of your spaghetti microwave meal for one, the fear that little Timmy should miss six minutes of Scouts. What?
What momentary loss of mind and social conscience made you put lives in such danger?
As I was raging both on the evening and as I read the school letter imploring parents to *think about child safety before one is seriously injured and killed,” I thought of little Bobby. I thought of him and blinked back tears.
I never had the pleasure of meeting this little boy who has left such a lasting legacy, nor am I quite sure why his tragic death has had such a rippling effect. Not just on me but across a large community. A community that although I no longer live among, I will always be part of.
Could it be that his uncle was a teenage friend; or that my sister-in-law taught him and speaks so warmly about him; could it be that this happened at the bottom of my childhood road; or because he is the exact same age as my own daughter?
Probably all of these things. But also more.
You see it wasn’t actually dangerous driving that killed little Bobby. The driver was not speeding. It was a tragic accident. Yet, that autumn afternoon will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Bobby will always remind me that one small mistake on the road can have huge consequences. Even the smallest lapse of concentration is a lapse too large.
His parents face another Christmas without their son. And this time they won’t have the anaesthetic of shock to help absorb the pain. Every second of raw emotion will be felt and the gaping hole that their boy should fill will never feel deeper.
So as you dash around between the carol concerts and the nativity plays. As you swear in supermarket car parks and dash into town for last-minute presents. When you get stuck in endless lines of traffic and get all stressed because you are running late for a mince pie with mates, take a pause and remember.
Please, please just remember.
That there was once a boy.
Further information on the The Bobby Colleran Trust can be found here.