“Mom, he won’t leave me alone,” 5-year-old Rudy squealed in exasperation, dashing towards his mother in the kitchen.
“Who?” his mother asked, without looking up from her current work of meticulously arranging an array of small packets in a jewellery box.
Rudy pointed at something adjacent to him.
“That’s your shadow, dummy. It’ll always be there. Tracy, why your son be tripping this young?” Moxie commented while entering the kitchen.
“God knows. His good-for-nothing father got himself incarcerated and now I’m stuck with him.”
“On for tonight?”
“Of course, I’ll put Rudy to bed.”
As she tucked him in, Rudy’s tiny hands held Tracy’s tightly.
“Mom, are your friends coming tonight as well? Can I stay with all of you?”
“NO! I told you many times, stop asking already.”
Rudy’s face fell as he watched his mother’s slightly bent, shrunken, retreating back.
“Mom, switch off the lights.”
“Are you sure? You used to be scared of dark.”
“I’m more scared of light now.”
Next morning, Rudy woke up to find his mother passed out on the couch in the living room alone. Pinching his nose hard to stop himself from gagging at the acrid, earthy aftertaste that the smoke was leaving on his tongue, he walked through the thick haze that had almost obliterated the space. Rolling the blinds up and pushing the windows open, he inhaled deeply the fresh morning air. This had turned into a routine for him.
“Tracy, ever shown him to a shrink?”
“They cost damn too much. I hardly make enough for my junk.”
“I know this guy, I met him in the rehabilitation centre that I ran away from. He does first consultation for free.”
“I’ll think about it. I don’t want to waste money on him.”
The two friends looked towards Rudy’s bedroom, which was pitch black, although Rudy was inside it, playing.
“You have to let me help. I can do anything.”
“Please leave me alone,” Rudy whimpered.
“Listen to me, I’m going to be your best friend. She doesn’t let you out of this house. She fears you will expose her and her junky friends. That doctor would stick syringes in you. Believe me, she doesn’t love you.”
Rudy wiped his tears and for the first time, looked straight at the speaker.
The next morning, as he went around letting the smoke out. The sky overcast with shadows of dark, tenebrous clouds mocked at him.
He picked up his mother’s mobile phone and dialled 911.
“My mom won’t get up.”
He recited their address to the emergency dispatcher.
“Wasn’t that easy? Now she won’t bother you. I told you, we don’t need her or anybody. I am your only friend, forever.”
Rudy turned slowly to his right to look at the speaker.
Uncharacteristic to its inherent submissive nature, his shadow stood tall and shoulder-to-shoulder with Rudy. Within all that dark mass, Rudy could almost sense it sporting an even darker smile.