Dad had left us alone. He usually does. I’m the oldest, so I’m in charge, and I don’t mind, really. They’re pretty well-behaved, but we have to miss out on lunch sometimes, because Dad has forgotten to leave food out for us.
It’s okay, though. I’m good at keeping them distracted. We play games a lot, like Go Fish, and Chinese Whispers. What they like best is storytelling.
I tell stories about adventure, and courage, and excitement.
Sometimes, I’m a brave fighter, who lives in the jungle. I can kill snakes with one finger, and even the tigers flee at my sight. Other times, I’m a circus acrobat, who travels to exotic lands performing gravity-defying somersaults with elephants, and ostriches and bears. My favourite one is when I’m an evil villain, who is greedy and selfish and trying to take over the world (I try to end up with dying in a really gross way. That always makes them laugh).
When I tell the stories, I bring them alive. I jump around the room and wrestle with the pillow, using a stick to stab it to it’s cottony death, or fall to the floor in a heap, squeezing out my death wish on my final breath.
Sometimes, I even fool myself.
On a good day, the boys will have fallen asleep by the time Dad comes home. On a really good day, Dad comes home well before dark with dinner. I look forward to these days.
I looked at the boys, all huddled on the blankets that covered the floor. There was only one room, and the lantern gave off enough heat and warmth to heat the whole place for us.
Dad should be home by now. He has never been out this late.
I sit for a while, leaning against the wall. I rock my youngest brother back into sleep, letting my worries disappear into the peaceful dreams of the sleeping boys that surround me. I close my eyes. This is not a good day. This is not even a not-bad day. I know, that if Dad’s not back by sundown, he’s not back at all.
* * *
The room is dimly lit by the sunlight through the curtain. It has not woken the boys, but I can hear talking outside. It is not a familiar language. My jaw tightens. I’m shaking.
A shaft of light almost blinds me, and I see strange faces peering in on us. They shout. They argue. They wake up my sleeping brothers. I tell the boys not to be scared. We are brave, they will not hurt us.
This time, I do not fool myself.
There are a lot of them. They all want a personal look at us. I can tell they are talking about us. Some of them have bulky, strange-looking machines. They flash brightly, and my baby brother cries. I give the culprit an accusing look. She doesn’t look sorry, but takes more photos. They say something to us. I do not know what.
I stare at them, and they stare back.
It’s not long until they give up and go. One of them turns around, and gives me the rest of what he was eating. It’s in a bright, foil wrapper, and smells like honey. At least the boys will have breakfast. The strange people have gone. Our father has gone. We remain.
I look at the boys. They look back, eyes full of trust, and hope, and expectation. I am not Dad. I am not a grown up, I am not brave. But, to them, I have enough courage for all of us. I will keep them safe. What else can I do?
I tell stories.
* * *
This story was influenced by an article I read while waiting for at the tyre shop. It showed a picture of five young children sitting on a rug, in a cave in war-torn Syria. I flicked through the article to find out more about the photograph, but could not find much. The caption told me that these boys were found alone. Logic told me that nothing had been done about it. I thought they were brave.