Anna took the same route to school every day. And almost every day they would leave her a message. It wasn't anything that stood out: sometimes just a few twigs scattered across the path between the yellowwood trees, or an unusually shaped patch of mown lawn in Mrs Dlamini's garden. But Anna always recognised the message for what it was. She'd wave at Mrs Dlamini's gardener, or gaze up at the nesting starlings and hug the secret knowledge to herself.
So when she saw the empty egg box under the bridge, dumped by the receding canal waters after the recent storm, she knew exactly what it meant. It was time.
She hadn't seen the walker for some weeks, and had assumed that he'd had business elsewhere. She'd kept an eye out for him, but his absence hadn't really worried her. Today she looked especially hard, hesitating on street corners and waiting for a few extra seconds; just in case he was round the corner, hurrying to meet her. But when she emerged from the subway, a little breathless (for she always ran under the subway), he was there, patiently waiting under the hydrangea tree that leant over the Wilsons' back fence.
"Did you get the message?" he asked.
Anna nodded, a hundred questions impatient on her tongue. It was no good rushing the walker. He kept his own pace.
"The lady will find you this afternoon. Listen to her carefully. She doesn't say things twice."
Neither do you, thought Anna. But she still smiled at the walker, to show that she hadn't been changed by the news.
He smiled back at her, and touched the brim of his sun visor in a sketched salute. Then he was gone, no longer more than a steadily shrinking back moving away from her.
She'd never met the lady before, though the others sometimes mentioned her. The walker seemed a bit frightened of her, and that frightened Anna too. But the little boy loved her.