He knew that cry, she had fallen again. He came into her room and she looked up at him, a helpless smile on her face.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “Can you help me?”
“Yes, Mother,” he replied.
Bracing against his small frame she struggled to rise, as she always did. He couldn’t lift her, but he could be her strength – a boy of nine, carrying her weight as if he carried the weight of the world.
She sighed as he helped her back into bed, and smiled at him apologetically. “Thank you,” she breathed to him.
He only nodded in return. “Have you taken your medicine?” Her expression turned sheepish, he knew what it meant. “You don’t have any medicine left,” he stated.
“It’s not so bad,” she muttered, her eyes downcast.
He didn’t respond, only turned away and left the room. He took money and the prescription from her purse and left the house. It
was a dry, hot day, and the sweat evaporated from him almost as soon as it had seeped from his pours, the streets dusty from lack of rain.
A bell rang as he opened the door to the chemist.
“Hello, Robert,” the pharmacist smiled at him as he entered. “You here for your Mum’s pills?”
“Yes. Please,” he said shortly, handing over the prescription.
Robert Gordon – Emmanuel to those who knew him – was a child of the Clan, as his father had been, but as his mother was not. That father had died three years before, his life lost in service to the Clan. He had no brothers, no sisters; only he and his mother, a sickly woman, constantly fatigued, constantly in pain.
When he returned home he made some soup from a tin, standing on a wooden crate to reach over the stove. He carefully poured some into a bowl and took it into her room with the newly purchased medication.
“Wake up,” he said to her quietly and passed her the bowl. “Eat this.”
She was so tired, always weak. Her head lolled towards him and she smiled.
“Thank you,” she sighed, her hands shaking as she took the offering.
He returned to the kitchen and poured water from the tap into a glass. He watched her while she ate – slowly, hesitantly – then passed her the glass and the medication.
She had been beautiful once, full of life and vital energy, laughing eyes. She hadn’t become ill until after his father’s death, and the life had begun to drain from her. He regarded her as her shaking hands lifted the glass to her lips. She was beautiful, still, but in a silent way. In a way that only he saw.
Her head lowered on to her chest and she breathed out heavily, her eyes drooping again.
“I’m going to sleep for a while,” she slurred. He nodded, collecting the bowl – barely empty – and the glass – barely full. He ate
soup directly from the pot until he was no longer hungry, then took his football and went out into the street.
There were other children outside, now that school had ended, and he offered his football for a game in the street. As the sun began
to set and the shadows lengthened the players dwindled until there were only two.
“Sammy! Come in for dinner!” a woman called. The boy kicked the ball back towards him and he picked it up. “Sammy!” the woman
called more insistently, coming out into the street.
“Oh, hello, Robert,” she said. She hesitated, as if suddenly uncomfortable. “How’s your Mum?” she asked.
He nodded, “Well,” he said.
The woman took her child by the shoulder, “Give her my best,” she said. She hesitated again, as if she were about to offer more, but apprehension overruled her.
“Don’t stay out too late,” she told him, leading her son away.
He nodded again, turning away into the deepening night.
He walked home, practicing dribbling the ball between his feet, often stopping to retrieve it as it skittled away. The sun had set, the air cooler than the day, but the breeze still warm. The ball rolled into a gutter and he bent to lift it, staring up at the sky.
The night was a dark indigo, littered with bright, coldly shining stars. The colour resonated within him and he could feel strength and power shimmer around him, pulsating as if in tune with the song he imagined the stars would sing – clear like a bell, angelic voices. His eyes settled on one particularly bright star, slightly yellowing in colour, seeming more solid than its companions, no twinkle. The power pulsed again.
He tore his eyes from the sky and continued home alone.