Night after night, I venture into Sophia’s room and observe her in her most magnificent and vulnerable state. How I wish to photograph the moment but unfortunately the risk of her hearing the snap of my camera is too likely. Instead, I try to mentally preserve even the simplest of movements. The flicker of her eyelids during the deepest of dreams, how she tosses and turns creating odd shapes that should feel incredibly uncomfortable, and the murmurs and groans I can’t quite decipher. All of it is magical. All of it is important. To me.
Why am I so obsessed? It is a question that plagues my thoughts. All I know is that it gives me a purpose, a reason to wake each day and continue living. If I had met someone like me along the way, if I had met someone period, then I might be different by now. I may have outgrown these inclinations, these curiosities. But no one has. Sure, people have tried, but that’s the thing – they came to me and they always turned out to be a disappointment. Don’t be mistaken, I am lonely, but it is a loneliness of my own making. However, I’d rather be lonely than fake. I’d rather live my life alone than appease someone else’s ideals.
This way, I get to spend time with Sophia without the burden of judgement. Between these four walls, we can simply enjoy one another’s company, without the bullshit. Something that has surprised me though, is how keen I am to not only spend my night savouring her slumber but also to see her at school. The night has become a time of reflection for me, a place I can mull over our conversations and consider my future encounters. Her room is filled with talking points, things to help me get closer to Sophia – the version of her when she is awake and aware. For instance, her stuffed teddies indicate her fondness for animals, in particular pandas. When the topic of reincarnation came up, I informed her how I’d love to come back as a panda. She proceeded to explain all the wonderful characteristics of such creatures. I was impressed by her knowledge of the animal and pleasantly surprised that her admiration for them went past their apparent cuteness.
On another occasion, I discovered that she has a thing for Titanic, I presume Leonardo DiCaprio specifically, as a film poster of him is stuck up against her lavender walls. I have no interest in the movie myself, but when I saw the poster in her room, I went to see it at the cinema on my own. It stuns me how many people were crying as the rolling credits aired. Nether-the-less, it gave me tons of conversation starters. I still worry though that Jack is the epitome of her desire and how I look nothing like him.
Like my parents, I have learnt so much about Sophia. This evening, her hair ribbons across her forward, thick with sweat. If I didn’t know her, I’d say she was sick with fever. Except, I do know her. I know that she’s obsessed with sherbet dips and how they fizz on her tongue. I know that she always wears a tank top under her t-shirt just in case she ever spills anything down herself. I know that she blinks a lot when she is feeling uncomfortable. I know that she secretly checks her teeth in a handheld mirror after she eats. I know her favourite pyjamas are lilac with a deep purple trim, and that most nights she fights against the scenes that flicker behind her eyes.
Sophia gargles nonsense and yearns for her dream to stop. Without thinking, I find myself shushing her, ever so quietly.
“It’s okay,” I murmur under my breath.
Slowly, her body relaxes and settles. I ache to stroke her hair but resist. Watching her peaceful face return, I take pleasure in knowing my presence brings her some comfort. Janice, Sophia’s mum, is on nights and I have recognised that it is on these occasions that Sophia’s nightmares are at their worst. As I sit, cross-legged on the wooden floor contemplating the enigma that is Sophia, I hear the scrape of a door. Suddenly, the gap under Sophia’s bedroom door illuminates. Fred is awake.
The groan of the landing quakes gently as he proceeds towards Sophia’s room, his footsteps blocking portions of the slivering light as he moves. Panic rises in my chest, and I frantically scan the room for an escape. With barely any time to think, I simply shuffle myself under Sophia’s bed and blend into the shadows. With my head tilted to the side, I see the bedroom door swing open and Fred’s bare feet stood still between the doorframe. Although I can’t see his face, I imagine him searching the room, looking for the intruder. For me. I had lulled Sophia so softly even she didn’t wake, but somehow Fred was aware. Visions of him clawing at me and dragging me from under the bed raced through my head. What would Sophia think of me?
Lost in my thoughts, I almost miss Fred walking forwards, towards me. Instinctively, I hold my breath tight and squeeze my eyes shut, waiting for Fred’s hand to descend on my arm. It does not come. My eyes open wide to the sound of the mattress squeaking and the bed pressing further onto my body. Fred is in Sophia’s bed. After a few seconds, Sophia’s lilac pyjamas land on the floor next to me. The realisation of what is happening dawns with rising dread. My limbs begin to shake uncontrollably as I squirm under the pressure and sounds of the creaking mattress. I cover my mouth with my hand to muffle the scream building in my throat. It feels like being trapped inside a coffin filled with all your worst fears. There is nothing I can do but yearn and will it to stop, without speaking, out of the stupendous fear of getting caught and what that might mean.
I don’t know how much time has passed, but the bed finally stops moving. Fred’s naked feet hit the floor with a thump. He walks back to the door he had previously stood at, prowling, and closes it behind him. My head turns and stares at the back of the mattress, knowing Sophia lays only inches away. Her cries sound like she’s holding back. Long pauses of silence break-up her gasping sobs, as she recoils from the pain. A single tear glides down my cheek. As much as I want to cry out and tell Sophia all I have witnessed, I know that I cannot. She would never forgive me. All I can do is press my hand against the base of her bed and weep alongside her, knowing that she is not alone. I am with her and somehow, I will protect her.