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I was in bed because mother said I was sick. She thought I was sick but I wasn’t. I was just sad. And mother made me feel more sad whenever she told father I was in bed because she thought I was sick. But I wasn’t sick at all. I just felt down. It’s a normal thing though. Feeling down is normal for teenagers. Mother doesn’t think like that though. She thinks I’m ill because I look pale. But I look pale because I’m sad.
I kept falling asleep in bed because I was bored of being sick. I wasn’t really sick but everyone thought I was so I might as well have been. I kept having dreams of warm, fleshy hills with soft green grass where I could lie down in peace and be sure the hills would protect me. The hills were round too.
Whenever I woke up mother would always be standing above me and touching my forehead and saying I was sick. I liked that she watched over me as I slept and it made me smile but I didn’t like the way she kept telling me I was sick when I wasn’t.
Soon enough it got pretty serious. The sadness. Mother kept on telling me I was sick and it made me sadder every time. I didn’t think I’d ever be cured of what wasn’t wrong with me.
Sometimes I had nightmares too. Like scary ones where I was alone in the desert and every time I tried to sit down the sand would pull me under and I’d have to get up and run. And sometimes there were sandstorms and I couldn’t see in front of me but I had to keep running.
Then I’d wake up and mother would be there again. And she had a personality but she always tried to hide it. She never got into arguments and she cried sometimes. She thought nobody heard her but everyone did. All her friends did and father did to but they were too afraid to ask her why she was crying. Only I ever asked her but she would never answer me. Sometimes she would say “never mind” and other times she would ignore me completely. She would ignore me like everyone ignored her. She didn’t use to ignore me. Now she did. And that was part of the reason I was sad.
A week after everyone thought I was sick; people started to visit me to see how I was but every time an aunt or a cousin came to the house mother would always tell them I was too sick to be seen but they could come in anyway.
Two weeks after that it was Christmas. And at Christmas people came round to the house to visit. And all my cousins and uncles and aunts came to the same place And I sat on the stairs and listened to them come in. I had my head curled up between my knees like a foetus and I heard them come in. And they brought food and presents but I wasn’t allowed to join because I was sick. And sick people couldn’t enjoy Christmas like everyone else.
But I was bored so I listened to them all talk away downstairs. And I started to pick up on stuff. Like how they all talked to each other but didn’t know what they were saying. And how they never seemed to laugh really hard or cry really hard, it was like they couldn’t.
And they all asked about me and how I was and mother would always tell them I was fine but I was sick. But it was lies because I wasn’t fine and I wasn’t sick. And they all asked if they could see me but they never could.
Then it became clear to me. I knew why they couldn’t see me. It was because they thought I wasn’t there. And I knew why they ignored each other and never really listened. It was because nobody was really there. They were like shadows and people just ignore shadows and let them be. And that made me more sad.
So I took off. That very night I snuck out of the house and ran away. And I knew that no one would notice because they all thought I was a shadow now. But I wasn’t. And I never would be.
It was snowing and I’d forgotten my coat so I went to a clothes store but it was closed and I didn’t have any money anyway.
So I started crying out there in the middle of the street. And I sat down but the snow wasn’t like the hills. It was cold and hard. And maybe that was alright for shadows but not for me. I couldn’t cope so I kept crying.
Then I slept.
In the morning a man came and took me into his car and he had a rounded, red nose and big fat fingers. He let me sleep in the back while he took me to a building near a green field. The snow was melting. It was green.
There were children playing on the field and two big mothers looked after them all. I watched all the children and the man came out and talked to the mothers. They nodded. They looked warm.
“What age are you, son? Can you speak? What is your name?” The man was talking to me. But not roughly. He sounded worried about me. It was nice. I didn’t feel sad anymore.
“I’m 10,” I said. I was really 15 but I looked 10. I could pass for 10 cause I looked so young. I didn’t know why I said it.
The man nodded at the mothers and they understood what he meant. They understood because they listened because they were good shadows. Like different to other shadows.
So they took me out of the car and got me washed and cleaned. Then they took me to a bed to get some proper sleep.
Then the next day they let me play in the fields with the other kids who all smiled at me like I was one of them.
And soon I was one of them. It made me happy.