“Play with me?” I ask hopefully, an expression of expectation on my face.
“Play with me?” I ask hopefully, an expression of longing on my face, eyes wide.
“Play with me?” I ask, an expression of resignation on my face, eyes wide and lips trembling.
No. No. No. I’m busy, ask your father. I’m busy, ask your brother. Don’t disturb me, ask your mother.
I sit by myself. I sit alone. I empty out the blocks onto the floor. Red rectangle. Blue circle. Green triangle. I move them around for a while. A house. A tower. A castle.
Why does no one want to play with me?
I give up. I sit by myself. I sit alone. The blocks lie motionless. I put them back into the container. Maybe I’ll just dream. That can be fun too. I dream of being a baker, my mother helping me mix the cookie batter, the smell of chocolate chips, sugar and butter poignant in the air, making my mouth water.
Will she still be too busy to help me?
I bite my lip and stand up. I am still by myself. I am still alone. I wander to my room to get a book, remaining on the same page for ten minutes. I read one line three times, stuttering over the unfamiliar letters before giving it up as a lost cause, sadly closing it shut and closing my eyes.
Will my dad remember he was supposed to teach me to read?
With my eyes closed, I picture a paradise. My family sitting together, talking, laughing, enjoying our favourite show, Masterchef Australia. We haven’t done that in so long. Weeks. Possibly months. I wouldn’t be by myself any longer. I wouldn’t be alone. I wouldn’t be lonely.
Will my brother even come out of his room?
The world swirls and collapses. Or am I just getting bigger? I don’t know. My metal landscape disintegrates. I look around and-
-I am older now. I just finished my dinner. My mother beckons me to join her on the couch, to sit with the family and watch a show.
I shake my head. “Homework,” I mumble.
Her face falls. “Surely you can finish that another day. You never hang out with us anymore. Come on, it’s Masterchef Australia, your favourite.”
I just shrug and walk into my room, pretending not to notice her sniffles. I sit by myself. I sit alone. Fiddling with some of my old cooking toys, I find myself tossing them into their container.
My father comes to me a while later. He is disappointed. Angry. The lines on his face are wrinkled, his heavy brows furrowed. “Why do you want to do this to your mother?”
I just stare at him and mutter something. He sees how unapologetic and uncaring I appear and shakes his head, incredulous.
“After all we've done for you too,” I hear him say as he walks out of the room.
I sit by myself. I sit alone. Picking up a book from my bed, I begin to read. At least I can do that now. My Primary 1 teachers were horrified when they realised how bad I was at it and quickly remedied that. My father didn’t have the time to teach me in the end. He hired a subpar tutor who was snappish and only cared about earning some money.
Long story short, he taught me nothing, not that my father realised.
Before I can get engrossed in the story of Katniss and Peeta, of being in The Hunger Games and killing to survive, my brother stalks in. He glares at me. “What is wrong with you? Go apologise to Mama and Papa now!”
I blink. He grabs the book out of my hands and throws it to the other end of the room. Furious, I stand up, squaring up to his tall frame.
He stares at me, at his small thin sister who is 8 years younger than him pretending that she’ll be able to hold her own in a fight. He stares at me and slowly, tears run down his cheek. My big strong older brother has tears running down his cheeks. He doesn’t make much of a sound but he is clearly crying.
“You had more of a reaction to me throwing your book than to us. What did we do wrong? What’s wrong?” His voice, so plaintive and sad, breaks something in me. The gulf that never seemed reachable has a few shaky wooden planks extended from his side. From my family’s side. They have reached out to me and now it’s my turn to react.
It feels like a chasm has swallowed my stomach, forming it into black matter, engulfing me. I reach out my hand tentatively. A wooden plank forms from my end.
Suddenly, I feel my eyes welling up. I try to blink back my tears but one escapes. Then another and another. A torrent of them slides down and soon I’m sobbing and hiccuping, my nose watery and red.
Without knowing it, I find myself leaning onto my brother. My parents come into the room and they’re hugging us, letting my tears soak their shirts. They don’t say a word against how horrible I’ve been to them, ignoring every word they say, ignoring all the steps they’ve taken to breach the gap they unknowingly made.
They haven’t been perfect, but neither have I.
“Play with me,” I whisper, my voice breaking, bloodshot eyes not daring to look up. I feel my brother’s broad palm on my shoulder, my father’s strong arms around me and my mother’s gentle fingers stroking my hair.
They surround me, entangle me. We are a tightly strung knot, a tightly woven family. And I’m at the center of it instead of cast off at the side like what I originally thought. The bridge across the gulf is stable and strong. I’ve crossed it and I’m with them.
They whisper assurances. They bring me with them to sit on the couch. It’s paradise. My family sits together, talking, laughing, enjoying our favourite show, Masterchef Australia. We haven’t done that in so long. Months. Possibly years. I’m not by myself any longer. I’m not alone. I’m not lonely.