This boy

29 Sep

With a precision unexpected for someone his age, the little boy gently positions the bashed-about pink Cadillac into his line of traffic, placing it just close enough that it seems to nudge the green pick-up truck in front, but actually not quite. He squats back on his heels to assess his work, anxious to ensure that not one car, bus or ambulance has been knocked out of place by his final action. Even the various wobbly motorbikes, and the tractor missing one large tyre, have been put to use in creating a snake of vehicles which now curves around the legs of the glass topped dining table, along the skirting board behind the leather sofa, and back towards the French windows. The entire garage is used up – the boy stopped counting at twenty-one-forty and thinks there must be amazing millions of awesome cars now out on his road. He takes a chomp out of the Smartie cookie given to him by the growed-ups, along with the request to go and play nicely in the back room. It’s been hours,  and nobody’s been to check on him. Where is everyone?

“I dun it!” the boy calls out. “Come and see… look at this. Come on, oh come on…” He clambers to his feet, clumsy and rushed but still remembering to tread with caution so as not to disturb his work, and sets off to seek out his missing adult audience. They must be in the bedrooms as the kitchen is empty, and the living room, too.

Starting up the stairs, one hand trailing the wall to keep him on the wide part of the steps and avoid the narrow bit by the bannisters, he traces the fishy shapes carved into the wooden dado rail as he goes. Before reaching the midway turn and the first-floor landing, the ring of the doorbell diverts him. Urgently the boys twists round to head back to the front door – keen to be the first to get there. He has recently discovered he’s grown tall enough to reach up and turn the latch without using a chair. He’d always believed that being 5-years-old makes you important, and now he is. Ignoring all requests not to do so, he believes that opening the front door is something he must now be allowed to do.

“Are you here because my Dad’s dead?”

The man on the doorstep is not wearing a police uniform. No badge, no car with a flashing light. He’s not a postman either although he is in possession of a large box, which looks really interesting, and he’s got a beard which is squiggly, as if it’s been scribbled on his face. The boy likes the way the man’s eyebrows have shot up in response to his question, like a cartoon person. It’s funny. And the man’s mouth has dropped open as if the jaw suddenly became unhinged. He doesn’t answer the question though.

The boy tries another: “Is that for me, what is it?” He waves his chubby hand at the box.

“I’m so sorry.” A tall woman with tired shoulders comes up behind the boy and puts a restraining hand on his shoulder to draw him back into the hallway. “Can I help you?” She smiles in an oh-dear-I-can-see-that greeting-is-not-what-you-expected kind of way.

The boy shakes free, anxious to reaffirm his right to quiz the visitor: “Granny, I got here first.”

Now the man speaks, jump-started by the presence of the woman, and ready to deliver his much-rehearsed lines: “I’m sorry to bother you at this time. I’m sure you’re busy. It’s just my wife and I wanted to say, … well that we are thinking… well, hoping it might, sort of ….” The man tails off as he makes to transfer his cargo over to the older lady. Despite practicing, his prepared speech has evaporated leaving him dry and script-less.

“But Mister Person, what is it in the box?” persists the boy, not ready to be shushed. “Is it for me?”

“Food. Treats, nice things I hope.” For the first time the man addresses the boy directly. “For your mum. There’s a card inside.”

“I hope it’s chocolate. Is it chocolate? You should bring chocolate, and for me too.”

“Now darling, that’s enough. Let him go.” The grandmother accepts the box and moves backwards away from the door, and which her grandson is now starting to close. “And thank you, she’ll be very touched.”

As he retreats down the garden path to what now feels like the sanctuary of the pavement, the visitor is relieved to have run his errand. He can still hear the boy protesting loudly that the box should be for him.

“Nobody is being sad to me, I get nothing.” he shouts. “And it is my Dad what is dead.”



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