“I want to die!” the child sobbed, rivulets of tears streaming down his chubby cheeks.
It’s not often that children step into the path of an oncoming bike, holding out the palm of their hand as a traffic warden would. Had he had run away from home after a hiding?
This was not the time to offer platitudes. I got off the bike and hugged him, then rummaged in my backpack to get him a tissue. I also fished out a bottle of orange juice, which he gulped thirstily, licking his lips and then wiping them with the back of his hand when he’d finished.
“Thank you,” he said, unfathomable pain in his eyes. “Tell me about it?” “Lean your bike against the wall, and let’s sit down on the kerb, and I’ll tell you!” he said, with a quiet authority that bewildered me. I put it down to what I had assumed to be a tough life – maybe he had younger siblings, and he was obliged to care for them.
“I almost died three times, you know…” he said, and I swiveled round to look at him. “Yes, I did, too. The first time, I fell out of my cot. The second time, I was run over by a car. The third time, the neighbours’ pit-bulls mauled me so badly the parents decided to switch off the life-support system, after I’d spent a week in hospital.”
I noticed his quaint use of the word “the” with ‘parents’ – but I didn’t comment. This child would give Charles Dickens a run for his money any day, so precocious and eloquent was he. “So, I said, half perturbed, half amused, “why is it you want to die a fourth time?” “Third!” he exclaimed.
“It might not be that difficult for you to understand…” he said, his eyes delving deep into my soul. “As a writer, you must have heard of re-incarnation.” “How…?” I asked. “I don’t have time to explain. I just know. This time, I am finding it extremely difficult to walk towards the Light” (the way he said it gave the word an upper case initial). “I cannot seem to find the right Path” (ditto).
“So, what do you want from me?” I asked him. “Nothing, really. Nothing and everything. I want you to go to this address (and here he dug his tiny hand deep into the pocket of his jeans and drew out a crumpled sheet of paper, smoothing it on his thigh) and give this to the parents so they can share it with the neighbours. Only then will I be free. I cannot go myself. Don’t ask questions. Please.”
I took the paper from his hand, and glanced up as a shadow fell upon me. “Exercise whacked you out then?” sniggered my friend. “No, I was just…” but when I looked to my left, the boy was nowhere to be seen.