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Showcasing creative writing by university students around the world.

Published Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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I hadn’t had a whole weekend off in months, so I decided to treat myself. A day just to do what I liked: which left me wandering through the city wondering when the bars opened. Weekends were boring as hell. I passed the park and the slides looked exciting, but I didn’t try – it didn’t work out last time. Mothers can be mean. They didn’t even say hello, only, ‘Stay away from the strange man.’

I hadn’t had a whole weekend off in months, so I decided to treat myself. A day just to do what I liked: which left me wandering through the city wondering when the bars opened. Weekends were boring as hell. I passed the park and the slides looked exciting, but I didn’t try – it didn’t work out last time. Mothers can be mean. They didn’t even say hello, only, ‘Stay away from the strange man.’ I wasn’t strange, I went there every day – they had all seen me before.
So when I came across a small café with bright lights and plastic orange chairs I went in, hoping they had cake. That’s when I saw him. Just this miserable-looking little boy sitting in the corner with wet cheeks, but there was something about him that glowed, like he was a shiny penny in the gutter just waiting for someone to come along and see. So I went over and sat with him; he was so small and sad and beautiful, like those little chubby kids with wings you see sometimes on plates or in statues with the golden hair and the perfect lips. A cherub. He was exactly like a cherub and I just wanted to make him smile. This was how I met Arthur.
“Hi.” He rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his school jumper.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because I’m sad.”
“Don’t be sad,” I said.
“It’s not that easy, mister.”
“Can I help?”
“I want to run away,” he said his eyes were bright blue. I’d never seen eyes so blue before in real life.
I wouldn’t say I’m a man of many talents. When the computer has a virus, normally I can fix it, or when there’s a barbeque, I’m the one cooking it; but when it comes to real talent like painting, or dancing, or playing a musical instrument, I’m useless. The one thing I have, if I do say so myself, is empathy. I cry at the ads on TV that show children starving and

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turn out my pockets to the beggar-man on the street corner. It makes me happy. Some say it’s a bad thing and that I care too much; they scoff at me when I turn the news over because I can’t bear to see any more destruction, shake their heads when I bring home yet another stray dog. They say I’ll get myself into trouble. I say they should go poke their noses somewhere else and leave me alone.
So when Arthur told me he had nowhere to go and no one to love him, how could I resist? Just one more stray to add to the pack.
“All my toys were taken away,” said Arthur.
“By that bad woman.” He points angrily at a woman standing in the queue. “I don’t like her.”
“Who is she?”
“Not my mummy. I don’t have a mummy.” He says this like he’s trying really hard to make it true. I do that sometimes.
He trotted along beside me obediently as we walked out of the café together. The streets were gray and cold, but he brightened the place up just by existing. I held his hand as we crossed

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the road. He didn’t let go afterwards. Neither did I. He was quiet at first. Children are usually shy in the company of adults from my experience, but a few gentle questions brought him out of his shell. After that I couldn’t get him to stop. Words poured from his mouth in a torrent; words of sadness and torment and loneliness, and I could hardly bear to listen. They sounded wrong though. Like those ads on TV that try too hard to make you feel bad.
“Mummy gets angry sometimes.”
“I thought you didn’t have a mummy?”
“I like to pretend I don’t. She takes my toys away and shouts.” He pauses for the briefest moment, and it’s like he’s wondering if he should tell me the next bit. “She hits me.”
“That’s-” I was interrupted by a burble of words that fell out too fast.
“But it’s nowhere where anyone can see it. She doesn’t want anyone to know, I’m not supposed to tell you or she’ll be angry.” His face contorted as he spoke and tears fell. They were crocodile tears, anyone could see, but he looked so ethereal as he cried that I didn’t want to stop him.
He asked me where we were going when he had finished. I told him we were going somewhere safe, where he could be happy. It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t exactly the truth either.
“Mummy will be angry when I go back. She’s already taken all my things away, and now I have to sleep on the floor without a pillow or anything at all.” Arthur wiped his nose with the back of his hand and looked smug, confident that his lies were working. I didn’t care about his mother and what she had or hadn’t done, I just wanted to make him smile – I didn’t mean for the rest. I swear. Don’t look at me like that. I swear to you I didn’t mean it.
The dogs greeted us with their usual jumping and barking. Arthur was frightened so I picked him up. He clung to my neck tight and buried his face into my shoulder. It was nice. He chose sausages and chips for tea and then we watched a movie with popcorn and everything. But still he didn’t smile. He smirked, stuck his tongue out in the mirror, frowned when I told him it was bed time – but no smiles. When it was time to undress, I gave him one of my old tee shirts and watched him put it on; there were no marks anywhere on his body, from beatings or otherwise. I tucked him in and read him a story. He said he didn’t want one but I knew he did. I turned off the light and wished him a nice sleep.
And that’s when they came, wielding news crews and police cars, loud voices and lots of people. Men in uniform told me to get on my knees and put my hands behind my head. I just wanted to make him smile, that’s all. He was sad and beautiful and I wanted him to be happy. No one believes me. The jury condemned me with cold eyes and heavy voices, the crowd yelled and hurt my head, the judge passed the sentence and said that he’d never heard of a case like it. Child abduction. Sexual intent. Serious mental health issues. I’ve been branded like cattle and locked up here to die. His mother was at my trial, furious but calm; not at all like the monster Arthur had described her as. In fact she looked normal, more normal than me. Turned her back and then her son was gone – next thing, the police find him in the bed of a grown man, a predator: an animal. They took my dogs away, and my house and my job. My friends don’t come to see me and my parents continue to pretend I don’t exist. I have a therapist now. He’s nice, but everyone else hates me. They whisper things through the walls at night when the guards aren’t around to hear. They say they’ll kill me. I don’t want to die.
All I wanted was a smile from a cherub.

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