“And what does this one do?”
His question carried a surprising sturdiness the second time. I sat, stunned, staring sorely at the six year old that had knocked at my front door a few minutes before. The flicker from the candle in the room cast a long shadow of his long head against the wall, just below the cracked wall clock that now softly announced the new day with the coming of midnight. My silence to his questions did not seem to deter him as he pranced around my entire flat, the size of which matched his bathroom; his ensuite bathroom. He hummed. His humming was disharmonious and the innocence of his voice did little to rid me of the irritation his presence was starting to fester. Irritation had become for me the all too familiar disguise for fear, unsurety, and love. Love, the most recent source of my irritation and my current state of loneliness and darkness. Here I was, buried in night’s cloak at the hour when I allowed myself to enjoy the freedom that comes with having a single source of light. It is the sort of freedom that is short-lived, thus cherished. The sort of freedom that allows my thoughts to stand before me with the help of a bottle of cheap liquor. He busied himself, humming continuously, and avoiding to look in my direction. He knew I had questions. He did not want to hear them; he did not want to answer them either.
“Do you like my house?” I asked as he flicked the light switch on the wall on and off, without getting the illumination he hoped for. He turned sharply in my direction and I was unsure if he could see my face properly in the dimness of a single candle light.
“Why don’t you have any lights? I can’t see.” I saw his eyes and they were dim. It was not the dimness that comes with sleep. This was the type of dimness usually caused by anvils; weights so crushing that they kill off lights. He walked towards me, still humming and he climbed into my laps without any assistance. When he looked up at me, his little almond eyes now big, I began to feel more irritated.
“Are you my daddy?” he asked and I chuckled nervously without meaning to. His expression remained unchanged. He continued to stare at me as I struggled to compose a fathomable sentence, amid chuckles. Soon, he was humming again. This time, in tune. Lights will guide you home and I will try to fix you. He had come up to me at the playground months before and asked me to teach it to him. It was the song I sang to the children I babysat. It was the one song that made me good at what I was doing to pay the bills in a country where I was illegal. Every time one of the kids (as I now referred to them) was cranky or heading towards tears, this was the song that got them smiling and back on the swings, laughing hard. I had taught it to him when he asked and since then, he spent all his playground time walking or sitting next to me. He was a good kid. A strange one, but a good one. I could not say the same for his parents. It was widely known amongst the other parents and babysitters that his parents were bad parents. They were never at school functions and the boy was the only one that had over three babysitters. I had dropped him off at home one evening, as a favour for one of his babysitters. That was when I realised that the rumours of his parents’ wealth were underestimated.
“Why would you think I’m your daddy?” I finally asked. He lowered his eyes.
“They were fighting again. And then she told him. She said it like this. She said, ‘you’re not his father!’ She shouted like that. I wasn’t sleeping. But she thought I was sleeping.”
He lifted his eyes again and they glistened with the brave tears of a toddler. I cringed. It was one thing to care for children who cried when they could not have their way or when they were hurt, but it was another to see a child succumb to the darkness that was slowly engulfing him. I hid his head in my chest.
“But you have to be my daddy,” he muttered. “You’re nicer to only me. And you buy me everything. And you sing me that song. And you even showed me your house.”
My heart sank and in that moment, I wished I was the boy’s father; I wished that I was a boy’s father. I wanted right then to call the woman who had my baby growing inside of her; the woman I had deserted and sworn off. I wanted to be the father of that boy that was growing inside of her. I stayed silent and he finally allowed himself to cry into the hairs of my naked chest. His strong, baby shoulders heaved and he made incoherent sentences and spat out indecipherable words. I let him. And then he shivered and sighed. The tears were over. He looked up at me and he managed a smile.
“Why do you always sing about lights when you have no light?” his voice trembled but his voice were firm and unapologetic. I chuckled again and allowed myself to embrace him while he sat in my laps.
“Because I believe in lights,” was the reply I came up with. He frowned.
“Then get some light.”
“Can I tell you a secret?” he perked up at the sound of this. “I’m poor.” He did not look impressed by my declaration. He continued to stare at me, waiting for the secret to spill over. “I am very poor,” I continued. “That’s why I have no lights. But some people are lights. They help you see better and like in that song you like so much, they can guide you to your home.”
He looked impressed by this secret, yet he did not understand it. “Why don’t you have any people lights?” At this, I felt a knot form in my throat.
“I had but I switched them off.”
The boy looked away from me and to the naked flame adjacent to me on the worn wooden table.
“So switch them on again.”
I scoffed. Switch them on again. I looked at his face again and I nodded and chuckled at the reality of what was happening in my near dark flat in the dead of night. I was taking advice from a six year old boy who thought I was his father.
“So how can I be a light?” he asked, concerned.
“You just became one.” He furrowed his eyebrows, befuddled, yet amused at the prospect of him being a light. He smiled and I knew that I was ready to grovel and beg to be a prominent part of my unborn son’s life and even his mother’s.
“I know you’re not my daddy,” he sighed, disappointed. I began to speak but he pursed his lips together with his fingers, urging me to be silent. “But can I sleep here today?” I sighed and nodded reluctantly. The situation would not sound as peaceful as our surreal scene, when morning comes. As I lay him down to sleep on the couch that doubled as my bed, he yawned and asked before finally drifting off into what I knew would be a dream-filled sleep, “will you be my people light?” I grunted a reply and watched him breathe peacefully, as I hummed the song which will forever have a meaning I never saw until a six year old light let me see it.
Lights will guide you home…
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