Dadu, The Friendly Ghost

Rita fought back the tears as she left the school office clutching her six-year old’s hand.

‘This was the second time, Sammy,’ she chided gently. ‘We need this to stop you know. Even Mrs MacDougal is getting a little tired now.’

The little boy said nothing as they walked back to the car. She had to wait awhile after he got in and watched helplessly as he fiddled with the other seat belt next to him, chattering happily to the empty space between them.

This imaginary friend had appeared soon after his dad had left them. The raw pain of that evening hit her again, as their cosy little world had been turned upside down with a few short sentences.

‘I’m leaving you Reet,’ Amit had said. ‘I’ve been in love with Judy for a while now, and she is expecting our baby soon.

‘What about our child,’ she had cried wildly? ‘What about Sammy?’

Her tearful pleas had fallen on deaf ears, and like the coward he was, he fled into the cold dark November night. Leaving her to explain to a confused little boy over breakfast the next morning why his daddy would no longer be around all the time.

Amit’s timing could not have been worse. Rita’s own beloved father had died suddenly a few months ago in India, and she had yet to deal with this abrupt end to life as she had known it. Her mother had gone when she was still a child herself, and her father was the centre of her universe, till Amit and she moved to Glasgow. He was only 60, had never met his only grandchild except on Skype every Sunday. They had been saving for a trip to Calcutta next summer, but it was not meant to be.

She withdrew into her own dark grief, relying on friends, neighbours, and activity clubs to care for Sammy. And he withdrew as well, into his own little shell, unhappily lashing out at friends on the playground and getting into scrapes.

One day in early December, she heard a familiar sound from his room, the sound of his laughter. He seemed to be talking to someone, in his old, excited way. Entering his room, she found him on the floor alone, in a puddle of Lego pieces.

‘Were you talking to me, darling?’ she asked, racked with guilt about hiding in her cocoon of sorrow, and neglecting this precious boy, who she should have loved more fiercely.

‘May I help you build the plane, then?’ she said, crouching down, picking up some of the pieces.

‘No thanks, mum,’ he replied, ‘I’m fine.’

He stared at her, guilelessly, till she left the room, asking her to shut the door.

‘It serves me right,’ she thought, cooking his favourite dinner. She had shut him away for weeks and now he was doing the same.

‘I’m going to be a better mummy from now on,’ she swore to herself.

He came down for dinner, bringing the newly built Lego airplane with him.

‘How did you manage that yourself, Sammy?’ she exclaimed. The workmanship was beyond perfection, there was no way a six-year-old could craft something like that, in such a short time.

‘My friend helped me,’ he replied nonchalantly, tucking into his Mac ‘n Cheese with gusto. Gusto she had not seen in a while, so she did not pursue it further. Instead, she spent the rest of the evening enjoying her baby. Splashing noisily at bath time and reading an extra-long story at bedtime, complete with different voices.

‘I love you mummy,’ he said, snuggling happily into his teddy as she switched the lights off, leaving the door open just a crack.

That night, she slept well herself, without the tears, with a new-found resolve to let go of her sorrow.

The two men she loved the most had both abandoned her, but she still had her little man, and by god, she was going to make a good life for them.

The next few weeks were better. It didn’t help that Christmas was around the corner and there were happy families everywhere she looked. She even managed to identify and distinguish between her two losses. Rage for Billy and sorrow for Daddy. But Sammy and she were coping well together, albeit with this invisible ‘friend’ always around.

Now, as she drove them both to the shops, she decided she would finally talk to him about it. This was the second time that Sammy had refused to share the lunchroom bench with anybody else, saying there was no room on it.

Mrs MacDougal, the Head Teacher, had explained to Rita how little children often found security through this coping mechanism in times of trauma. And poor little Sammy had had more than his fair share.

At the Supermarket, he reached for a packet of marshmallows.

These were the same brand her father loved, she thought, fighting back the pain that punched her every time she thought of him.

‘Oh, but you don’t like ‘mallows, do you?’ she asked him.

‘No, but my friend does,’ he replied, smiling away at his pretend friend.

At home, she broached the topic as casually as she could while they put the shopping away. ‘So, Sam, what’s your friend’s name? The one who helps you with Lego and looks after you in school? Can I meet him sometime?’

Sammy burst into squeals of giggles, ‘Mum, he doesn’t have a name. He’s Dadu! Your daddy. And he’s going to look after me till you’re happy again.’

He skipped away up to his room, leaving her rooted to the ground. Speechless!

Her father? Babysitting her son while she coped with her life. How was it possible?

She didn’t believe in ghosts, oh no she did not, not with her master’s in physics, but suddenly she was aware of a benign aura in the room and a newfound calm in her heart.

‘Oh Daddy, I miss you so much. If Sammy can see you, why can’t I?’

There was no reply, of course there wasn’t. Just a faint little noise from the corner. She looked to see the bag of marshmallows caught in the bin. The empty bag of marshmallows!

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