I can hear her crying, the girl who lives up the stairs.
She cries in the morning and she cries at night. She cries through T.V. time and she cries when I’m trying to sleep.
Mummy says that “it’s nothing for you to worry about, my love” and tells me to go play in my room.
But I can’t play when I know someone is upset.
“Does she not have any toys to play with?” I would ask my Mummy over breakfast.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” she would say, a mouth full of quassont, no krazunt, maybe gasong?
And then she would say no more, the flakes of pastry being licked up by Toby, my dog, from the floor.
She’s supposed to be in my school, the crying girl, two primaries higher than me but she rarely makes it.
I heard Mrs Kalinsky saying that she had came in with bruises from her shoulders to her buttocks! I didn’t know teachers were allowed to swear!
Once, a few nights before Christmas, I was woke up by the sound banging and flashing blue lights filled my room. My Mummy was at the front door and I could see her from my bed, I could sleep without a night light now but only when the hallway light was on and my bedroom door open – just a TINY bit though. The cold air from the landing gave me a shiver right down my spine.
I saw him, the crying girls dad, being marched down the stairs by two police men. I knew who they were as I had seen them at school assembly and even got to hold their badge. The crying girls dad had his hands in shiny cuffs and his face was droopy, like he was falling asleep. My Mummy closed the door tight as he passed and I ducked my head back under the covers and shut my eyes real tight, pretending I was asleep.
For a few nights I never heard her crying, until it was Christmas Eve and I was listening for Santa coming. Instead I heard the familiar wails from up stairs, more pained this time than I had ever heard before. Almost like the ‘Wolf’ from the ‘Three Little Pigs’ when Daddy would read to me before bed and put on the voices of the characters. My favourite was ‘The Chocolate Cake’ poem but the wolf howl wasn’t too bad either, I supposed.
However, I had had enough. If she was going to cry because she had no toys and keep me awake – when everyone knew that Santa didn’t come while you were awake, and he knew! – then I would give her some of my own toys.
I climbed down from the top bunk and paused quietly, listening for my Mummy and Daddy in the living room. I heard the rumble of laughter coming from the T.V. set and the clink of glasses holding ‘Parent Juice’. I picked up a red fire truck and my ‘Action Hero: Ninja Mission’ figure and made for the front door.
I saw my teddy Rover Boy lying beside the switched off night light and realized that all my toys were for boys – and she was a girl. I almost went straight back to bed and gave her nothing as Rover Boy was my absolute, ultimate favourite and I didn’t want to say goodbye to him and I didn’t have any other toys that would suit a girl.
BOOM, BOOOM, BOOOOM! came from upstairs and I almost made a poopy in my pants. The footsteps stopped and were replaced with four almighty slaps.
“A domestic on Christmas?” I heard Mummy complain.
“A slap for each cheek,” Daddy laughed, the ‘Parent Juice’ taking hold.
I don’t know what it was that changed in my head first that night all those Christmas’ ago. Whether it was the understanding that she wasn’t crying because she had no toys or whether it was my father’s cruel laugh but I picked up Rover Boy and quietly unlocked the door that night.
I still remember my bare feet on the cool concrete of the steps that lead up to the crying girls door. With the quietness, rarely permitted to anyone but a child, I left Rover Boy by the door for the girl and made my way back to bed. I have no idea if she ever got Rover Boy and I missed him dearly, but someone had to try.
Because no one else was.
From that day on, I made sure I smiled at her when I passed her in the hallway and I made sure I invited her to play with my friends and I in the playground. She never opened up and told me what happened in the flat above my own, but the crying didn’t happen so much after that.
And then one day it stopped altogether.
I don’t know if she was given to a better home or if she ran away. But I pray every night to God that she can read this today … the alternative is too terrible to bare.