Joey’s first vivid memories dated back to the age of two. It was a tender age. But he had already begun to understand the things that surround him. He refused toys, in favour of attention. Neither was he much interested in talking, for there was nothing that he needed to say.
For him, it was just the way he was. For his parents, it was cause for worry. They took him to a doctor, then another, but what did they know? All they received was a poor, false diagnosis of mild autism, because they simply could not understand how a boy his age could understand the inanity of the world that even adults could not.
This was the day that Joey celebrated his fifth birthday. His mother had wished on his behalf that he might speak a word someday. If only she knew that it was never going to come true, for he had made a wish before she did. She was never going to learn about his wish, or about him. That was all right. It was the way he wanted it to be.
He drew in the sand with a stick, and smelt the salt of the ocean. No one had noticed what he had written, before he evened the sand. Each so trapped in their own world, the only commonality they would have with himself.
From the corner of his eye, he could see his mother watching him. He allowed himself a smile. There was concern, and curiosity in her darting eyes. In the sand and the child, she could find nothing to decipher.
Then, Father’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “Would you look at that?”
The beach chair creaked as he sat up to point at the buoyant object in the distance. Following his words, Joey had too turned his attention away from the sand to the dark briefcase, drifting towards the beach.
“Just like the sort of place where crooks keep a wad of cash,” Father said, his laugh lines running along the lines of age.
Mother did not laugh. Instead, she turned to him and said quietly, “Someone could have died and left that floating in the ocean.”
“Always the optimistic one,” Father wrapped his arm around Mother, who smiled in return. It was a simple gesture that sparked warmth in the pair, who had been missing affection since the birth of a sick child.
For a while, they had forgotten the string of checks on their toddler who did not cry. They had put behind more sleepless nights, when he had wandered off. Memories of ceaseless anxiety faded, as the embrace made them feel safe. It was a rare, lasting moment that neither wanted to end.
Joey looked on with curiosity, unsure why this had stirred his little heart in the slightest. He shook his head, turned, and walked away. Small, unsteady steps led him towards the mysterious briefcase that gripped his full attention. A voice rang out. He kept walking.
“Joey!” Mother let go of her husband and shouted. Beachgoers turned to her frantic shouts, then the child stumbling towards the towering waves. Still the child’s tiny feet kept shuffling towards, as the parents chased after.
Father’s thoughts were frenzied. His heart paced with the gait of a prey. He was so close to his son, but the tiny body leaned away from the large hands. The child’s own small hands rested on the black case as he let out a little cry.
That brief touch sent him into darkness. Hands pushed him as he fell from a cliff. Blinded by the waters rushing fiercely against his eyelids, he felt arms carrying his body away. The waves that had been rushing against his feet had now swallowed him whole.
He could see a tall man in a suit by the edge of where he fell, watching him drown and suffocate as a smile crawled across his face. Darkness returned, and he knew this could only mean the end. It was all too soon…
As he drifted, his body felt light enough to disappear like it never existed. Waves weighed him down. He was going to die, so very young indeed… But a sudden bright light jolted him from the dim haze. Joey heard his Father say his name.
“He’s all right,” Father breathlessly gasped.
His eyes were fixed on his child, his words dispersing onlookers. His distant voice brought the little boy back to where he stood, not having moved an inch at all. The boy stared at his feet, inexplicably dry on the sands he had always been on.
“I’ve got him!” Father held the little boy up in sight, letting that heavy beating in his heart ease.
The boy coughed again. He let go of the case and tried to rid of the flashing images in his mind. But he remembered the face of the man on the cliff, as clear as though he had been there.
Discomfort pounded at his chest. But he was alive, and glad to be so. He was confused, that feeling so unfamiliar. There was overwhelming uncertainty of what he had just seen and felt for the first time. That was going to follow him closely for the rest of his life.