I always had a deep affection for children. I’ll probably never know where it comes from. But as far as I remember, it was always, always there. The desire to care for someone who is not yet capable of understanding how much danger can lie in connecting little chubby fingers to the electric socket on the wall. The desire to comfort them once they learn for themselves that this (among many, many other things) causes them pain.
And it’s exactly this affection and desire to comfort which cause me to shoot out of bed when I hear a cry in the middle of the night.
I’m normally quite nonsensical when I get out of bed in the middle of the night, tripping over my own feet, but this time it’s different. I hurry with such precision I consider applying to work as a firefighter. Common sense, I hear myself say inside my head, will reign later on, after you’ve had some more sleep and a cup of coffee.
I move fast down the hallway as I put on a dressing gown that isn’t my own (although, I must admit, rather warm and a lovely colour), my bare feet hardly touching the soft, moss green carpet as I run past several open doors that give onto empty rooms. The crying becomes louder and louder, but also clearer.
This is a boy crying. A toddler, not a baby. Babies, I hear, cry for many reasons. But there aren’t very many reasons for a boy to cry this loudly, this eloquently, in the middle of the night.
The hallway is long and dark. I run for what seems like a long time, someone else’s dressing gown flying behind me like a cape. At the end of the hall to my right, there is a glossy, pure white door, with an old, wrought iron handle. The handle is polished and clean and glistens in the moonlight coming through a window that simply materialised on the wall next to the door. The night is pitch black, the sky is clear, not even the trees are moving outside. The crying is coming from behind the door. I turn the wrought iron handle and open the door, letting the condensed crying out of the room with so much force I almost regret opening the door.
Then I see him. A beautiful boy, who couldn’t be older than three or four years old, in dark blue silk pajamas with initials embroidered on his chest. He looks up at me, his face wet from tears, his little body shaking with uncontrollable sobs. I feel my own eyes water at the sight of him, and rush to his side. He lets go of his pillow and jumps on my lap, burrowing his face on my shoulder as he puts his little arms around me. Outside his window, the night looks completely different from the one I saw through the window in the hallway. A storm is raging outside. No moon, no stars, only lightning and the sound of thunder, so loud and close that the entire room seems to shake. The trees contort violently in the wind, random branches hit the window panes. Every time the thunder rolls, the boy cries harder into my shoulder.
“Please,” he says, “Please don’t go away.” I hold him tight and make soothing “shush” sounds, like I’ve seen in the movies. The storm continues to rage outside, unperturbed. I think of a quote I once read written on the wall of a British tea room in my home country – “God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform / He plants His footsteps on the sea / And rides upon the storm”. I look up, and notice this quote is written in the boy’s bedroom ceiling.
The boy continues to weep. I shush him for a very long time, rocking his little body back and forward. My shoulder is now soaked with his tears. “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,” I sing, “Momma’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…”
All of a sudden, I hear the rain beginning to subside. The storm, the thunder and the trees are not as scary as they were a moment ago.
I hear a cello playing, coming from the corner of the room. I have to blink and rub my eyes before realising Yo-Yo Ma is playing the cello, sitting on a baby-blue stool. Out of thin air, Bobby McFerrin appears, and start’s singing Hush Little Baby. I notice the boy stopped crying and is now scratching his head, wondering why there are suddenly so many grown-ups in his room. One of them sporting a cello.
I get up on his bed and start dancing in that particular way we do when no-one’s watching, as Bobby sings the lullaby. The boy starts laughing, and it’s music to my ears. The rain has now stopped. The little boy is jumping on his little bed, a laughing little munchkin holding my hands and dancing with me.
A tap on my shoulder. I turn around, and there he is – This Charming Man. Bobby exchanges a confused look with Yo-Yo Ma, who shrugs and keeps on playing. This Charming Man joins us in a goofy merry-go-round, dancing in the silliest possible manner, and the boy is trying to catch his breath from laughing so hard. This Charming Man looks at him and smiles widely, which (much like dancing) is very out of character for him. We keep on dancing, when suddenly the boy says, happily:
“Daddy, Daddy, look, they’re being silly!”
The boy runs to the door as This Charming Man and I follow him with our eyes. The boy is sitting on Nowhere Man’s knees, points at us and laughs. Nowhere Man is dead serious. This Charming Man has stopped dancing, as have I. I look to Bobby and Yo-Yo Ma for help in this awkward moment; they look at each other and dissipate like smoke at the snap of Bobby’s fingers. This Charming Man opens his mouth to say something, and then doesn’t. Nowhere Man is starring at him, square in the face. For the first time ever, I notice This Charming Man blushing scarlet with embarrassment.
“Why did the music stop?” asks the boy, looking at Nowhere Man. Accustomed as I am to awkward silences, I jump in and point out that the boy is no longer crying, so there’s no longer need for music. I look to This Charming Man for confirmation, and he nods, embarrassed for me. I take off Nowhere Man’s dressing gown and hand it to him.
“Well, then,” I say, faux-brightly, “We must be going now, no?”
I look again to This Charming Man, my accomplice in this show of lack of propriety. He faux-smiles, nods, and walks towards me.
“You take care now, ok?” I say to the little boy, who, to my surprise, gives me a military hand salute. I tussle his hair and This Charming Man touches his cheek. As we walk out of the room, Nowhere Man’s chilly gaze follows us all the way down the hallway. I hold This Charming Man’s hand in support, but he doesn’t look at me.
Far down the hallway, he hear a wrought iron handle click, and a boy’s bedroom door closes, shutting us both out.