The five year old was shouting to be heard over the noisy whir of the blender. One hand held the lid of the jar in place, and with the back of the other, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. I turned to the shouting, tiny human, tugging at the waistband of my jeans and looking up at me expectantly.
“I wanna go meet my friend!”
“It’s scorching outside,” I said calmly.
“No!” he wailed, “My friend is waiting for me in the park! I want to go meet him! Now, Ma, NOW!”
The tug on my waistband felt stronger, more determined, persistent. I sighed and opened the lid and looked at the half mashed bits of banana in the smoothie I was making.
“Fine. But you will finish this smoothie and only then we’ll go to the park. Your friend can wait.”
The boy was jumpy with impatience. He gulped the smoothie faster than I’d ever seen him gulp any food or drink. As he ran to get his pail and shovel for the sandbox, I asked him who this new friend was.
“I met him yesterday.”
“But what’s his name?”
“I didn’t ask.”
He bolted out the door just as I grabbed my keys from the bowl on the table close to the door. I saw him rush down the stairs and called out to slow down.
“You’ll fall down and hurt yourself! We could’ve taken the elevator.”
“It wasn’t working! I checked!” he replied without breaking his stride.
I smiled as I watched his enthusiasm. Barely three feet tall, and his whole being seemed so focused on meeting and building sand castles with his friend.
The sun was blazing down on the sandbox and the air was hot and humid. The playground was empty – predictably, given the heat. My son set down his little tools and got to work.
“Right, so where is this friend of yours?” I asked, a tad irritated.
“Right here,” he replied, without looking up from the sandbox.
“You dragged me down here to meet an imaginary friend?”
“I didn’t ask you to come. And he isn’t imaginary,” he replied, as coolly as before.
“You will not talk to me in that tone, young man! We’re going back home this instant. It is hot; this is no time to be out playing!”
He gave me a deaf ear. This infuriated me further. I forcefully picked up one of his moulds and began to walk away, announcing, “I am leaving. You can be here alone if you want.”
“No, Ma! Wait” he cried. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw him quickly pick up his sand toys. I walked back into the lobby, with him close at my heels. I stole a glance at him and noticed him smiling. That was odd.
The elevator was working now and I pushed the button. It was one of those old-fashioned elevators with cage-like doors that had to be manually opened. My son was still smiling. Once we stepped in, my son said, “Ma, turn off the light, I want to see my friend.”
“Enough with this friend!” I replied exasperated.
I gave in, because I was in no mood to argue. Heat gets to me like that. I flicked the light switch off and the elevator was plunged into darkness, being lit up briefly as we ascended the floors.
It was during one of those brief moments of light that I noticed – there were not two, but three shadows in the lift.