My life has always been a busy one. I work at late-night hours everyday and I often burn the midnight oil. It came as a big relief that I had no wife and children. I could never be a caring father who could actually be there for his kids. I never really interacted with people, and I had to deal with several problems. Not that I didn't want a child of my own, of course. In fact, having a child was one of my dreams.
My mother was on her deathbed, and of course, I had to deal with my terrible, drug-addicted friends who were really bad influences. My friendships were all superficial -- I never quite had any real friends. In fact, I was ostracized by nearly everyone I met, except for a bunch of gangster-type folks who took me in. I have always been naive, so I accepted them as my friends. They promised a sense of brotherhood which I desperately yearned for. Well, at least they weren't like those successful people who hold their noses up high in the air by whom I was always shunned.
After a late night at work, I returned to my block of flats and was going up the elevator when I had this cold feeling. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself. When I reached my level, I walked out of the lift and there he stood, the little boy of around four years old.
My heart melted at the sight of him. I've always had a soft spot for cute kids, but this boy was just beyond cute. I squatted and looked him straight in the eye.
"Hey, buddy, where're your parents?" I asked, using a friendly singsong voice, the kind of voice which I thought a mother would use when she talks to her kid. I didn't know if I was speaking the right way or not, and I was nervous. I've never had children, so I wouldn't know much about them.
This kid didn't seem annoyed or put-off by the way I spoke. His electric-blue eyes sought mine, and he asked quietly, "Where's Dad?"
Anger filled my heart. What was this dude's parents doing, leaving him here like they didn't care? It was evident that they really couldn't give a rat's fart about this poor kid. The corridor was deafeningly quiet. My hair stood up all over my body. I shivered a little in the cold. The temperature had suddenly dropped again. I could tell the boy felt angry and abandoned, like he knew what his parents had done to him.
I felt like I did, too. But I had to make sure.
"Do you live 'round here?" I asked the little kid. He hesitated for a while before slowly shaking his head. A single tear welled up in his right eye and splashed on the pavement below. I fell to both knees and decided to tell him the truth.
"Well, then your parents must have, well, left you." I told him, not wanting use the word "abandoned" in fear that he couldn't take the shock.
To my utter surprise, he didn't react as I expected. Instead, he simply nodded slowly, like he already knew. Hesitating for a small moment, I then grabbed his pudgy, meaty hand with my own large ones and asked, "Do you want me to be your Dad? Huh? You'd like that, eh?"
The boy nodded silently, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Elation exploded within me. I had a son, at last.
He was always a quiet kid who kept to himself.
Sure, he went to school and all, but he always adamantly refused to participate in projects which involved teamwork. That didn't come as a big surprise, seeing that he was terribly anti-social, even with me. He barely talked to me, but I knew he liked me. Or, I hoped he did. I hadn't shown him to my mother, though I always mentioned him to her when we talked over the phone. She was, as expected, just as excited as I was, if not more. Hey, a kid! Finally! A grandchild!
And he insisted in sleeping in a separate room. His room was always pin-drop silent at night. He didn't snore at all. I couldn't hear him tossing and turning either.
Midnight one day, I woke up to check on my son. Sliding off the bed, I stumbled groggily into his room -- and saw a whole bunch of nothing on his bed.
OK, I admit I got a little hysterical. I screamed my throat raw and yelled the name which he wanted everyone to use.
"Bryce! BRYCE! Where are you? Where are you?!"
Another of those temperature-dropping incidents. But this time it was crazy. I literally felt like turning back into my bed and covering myself with my quilt. But instead, I searched the entire house, even in the small cupboards (because, like I said, I was overly worried and frantic). Eventually, I gave up and ran straight out into the corridor. I was about to wake everyone up and yell his name before I heard his voice.
I spun around and saw him standing in his too-small striped pajamas in the middle of the living room. I stepped back when I first saw him -- I could have sworn he wasn't in the house. I had looked everywhere. No way. I shook the feeling off, dismissing that thought. I just ran over and hugged him.
"Don't ever do that... again!" I said through my sobs.
His eyes were wild with elation and excitement and amusement. I think he even smiled.
The next day, I decided to show Bryce to my mother.
I brought him to her house, where some of my cousins were taking care of her. She lay on her bed. I wanted to make this a surprise to her. I walked up to the door slowly and pushed it open. Bryce held my hand. He always seemed to be smiling, but that was okay, since his smile lit up my day.
We walked in together.
"Here he is, Mom. Take a good look, even I wasn't as cute as this," I laughed merrily, picking Bryce up and offering him for my Mom to hold. I saw her expressions change from one to another: happiness, bewilderment, confusion and finally, comprehension.
"Oh, that's a nice joke, David," she laughed heartily. "Where's he hiding?"
What did she even mean?
"But... he's right here!" I exclaimed, my smile faltering.
"David. Come on."
"David, there's no one there! That's a nice joke. Where are you, Bryce? Come see your dear grandmother!" she chuckled, craning her neck to take a look behind me, as though Bryce was hiding behind me. I looked down at Bryce, who was smiling like a maniac.
I ran out without a word to my cousins or my mother, for that matter, returned to our block of apartments. I was about to race back into our apartment when I noticed that he was gripping my fingers tightly and smiling eerily at me.
"Don't leave me, Dad...don't leave me...don't leave me..." he repeated those words like a mantra as he glared at me with a mischievous smile on his face, the look in his eyes at complete odds with his gleeful expression.
I set him down and ran, ran as fast as I could. I didn't exactly know where I was running to. But I just ran and ran because my lovely child was not a child at all. A ghost, a zombie, I didn't know what he was. But it didn't matter who he was or what he was. Not anymore at least. All that mattered was that I existed only as an example to others.
An example of what a poor failure's life is like.
I decided for a fresh start. A new life. A successful one.
But that kid remained etched in my memory. The memories of several months of caring for my own dear son -- my only son -- never left me. They haunted me in my dreams, those painful memories.
I wanted to forget all about it. Wish granted. It left my mind. For a few years, I thought I knew what it was like to live a really happy life. Bryce had left my memory completely.
After a late night at work, I came back to my block of flats and was going up the elevator, when I had this cold feeling. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself. When I reached my level, I walked out of the lift and there he stood, the little boy of around four years old.
His electric-blue eyes sought mine, and he asked quietly, "Where's Dad?"