What’s wrong with your finger, mom?
Charlie asked, looking at the waving index finger of his angry mother, who promptly stopped after that question. That was Charlie again, her most peculiar son, as she always called him in her mind. The child was only four, so you might think it was ignorance when he asked something like that, but it gave the impression of a mixture between ignorance and knowledge. As if he understood very well that she meant something threatening, but asked an innocent sounding question to disarm her.
She sighed. She had no idea why one of her children had turned out so unusual. As a baby, he had already looked at her in a very mature and serious way, so she became completely confused. On the other hand, he was making jokes when he was only four months old! He was sweet and disturbing at the same time, that’s what made it so complicated. How could you get angry with a guy who said at the age of three:
I know you only get angry because you’re sad.
She looked at him lovingly. In fact, you could only love him, that serious little boy who at the same time had an original sense of humor. But he disturbed everything. You couldn’t live unconsciously with Charlie around. Once, for instance, she had a conversation with the neighbour and afterwards her son said:
I didn’t like what you said to the neighbour at all, Mom.
That sort of thing regularly forced her to look at her own behaviour and yet it wasn’t as if Charlie was correcting her. It was more like he was pointing her in the right direction. No, it was even more as if he made her aware of how she really wanted to be.
Now that she was alone with three children after the divorce, Charlie was even closer to her, it seemed. He supported her, but a four-year-old shouldn’t have to do that at all. Charlie could sometimes look at her for a full half an hour, without saying anything, while his brother and sister played around him. They were used to it and paid no attention to it.
Boris, her eldest son, was a true mud-wanderer, who only came in when he was called, and sometimes not even then. Claire, her two-year-old daughter, was a cute curly-headed child with a penchant for Charlie. When she woke up in the morning, she called him instead of her. He was also very sweet to her and cuddled her completely flat, but only when she came to him on her own. Otherwise he let her play.
Some people became very nervous about Charlie, just from his presence. He then looked at them encouragingly and asked them a personal question to put them at ease. It had the opposite effect on some people. The other day he had asked her sister if she had been to church on Sunday, because he knew that it was very important to her. Because she just happened to skip a service, she turned red from head to toe and stammered something unintelligible. Charlie didn’t care about that sort of thing at all and would have been very happy with the answer:
No, not this time,
but for some reason he always just hit a sensitive point with his questions.
Now that Charlie was four, he was allowed to go to elementary school and she had visited several schools with him beforehand. She wanted to enroll him in Boris’ school, but she didn’t succeed. Mr. Doolittle, the principal, had greeted Charlie by crouching down, putting one hand on his shoulder and saying the following:
So, boy. You’re so big, now we won’t call you Charlie anymore, will we? No, we say Charles!
Charlie, who had an outspoken sense of equality, had also crouched down and had looked at the man for a long time to finally answer with:
Then I shall say Mr. Doobig to you.
Later, when she had a talk with him about it, Charlie said that he had seen that Mr. Doolittle meant it very sweetly. He really thought you’d be big if you weren’t called Charlie anymore and that’s why he wanted to do the same for Mr. Doolittle. She looked at him. He meant it. Mr. Doolittle, on the other hand, had taken it as impertinence. Feeling pissed off he had said:
To you, SIR!
And, you could expect it: Charlie said that Mr. Doobig really didn’t have to say ‘sir’ to him… She thought it would be better to find another school and after a lot of wandering they actually came across a school where Charlie loved it. She didn’t understand why, but he immediately started playing with the children and didn’t look at her anymore.
Charlie came through elementary school reasonably unscathed. Some children teased him and called him ‘the professor’ because he knew so much and often sat thinking on a fence during the break. Other times he played wildly and laughed just as hard as the others. Charlie fought the teasing in his own way. At first he wondered why they did it. A boy had kicked him and he didn’t understand why. He didn’t understand curse words either, so his mother had to explain to him that they were words other people hoped you would find annoying. It was also weird, because there were body parts among the swear words, for example. Charlie decided to design swear words as well. A day later he walked around among the tease ghosts and gave each of them a title:
Shot down rotten apple,
Charlie’s arsenal knew no bounds. It had an extraordinary effect. The swearing stopped abruptly.
Sometimes a teacher got angry with him. Usually it was because Charlie had taken something from another child and handled it as if it was his. Nobody had managed to change Charlie in that respect yet. But just as easily, he left all his things for someone else. He didn’t seem to distinguish between mine and thine. She sometimes thought: if someone needed Charlie’s mother, he would give her away just like that. When someone spoke angrily to Charlie, he always went somewhere else. That was very frustrating for the person who was angry with him, but Charlie thought that as long as someone was that angry, it would be better to postpone the conversation. When it did come to a conversation after that, Charlie always acted as a fully-fledged conversation partner. That took some getting used to for people. There were teachers and classroom-helping parents who called her about it and vented their indignation. Some thought it was her fault and blamed her for Charlie not being a child. Well, what was she supposed to do about it? She knew that Charlie only did it because he was like that, and not to annoy them. She really couldn’t be angry about that, but the callers wanted her to punish Charlie.
I never punish,
she said firmly,
and if you’re angry with him, you’d better tell Charlie, because he’s perfectly capable of answering for himself. Just do what you think you should do, and then Charlie will do what Charlie does. I’m not going to change that.
While Boris always passed by the skin of his teeth, without any effort, she was regularly summoned because of Charlie. She then explained that Charlie was a very attentive, helpful boy but that he liked to decide when to do things himself. He was disobedient, but willing. If someone asked him for help, or just needed help, Charlie was immediately on the spot. If anyone wanted something done by Charlie, he would certainly do it as soon as he saw the point. All they had to do was show respect… That didn’t work out and she understood that the teachers didn’t know how to deal with Charlie. He never hurried, sometimes thought for a long time before he answered and never used words like Sir or Madam. If someone asked him a personal question, for example:
What do you want to be later?
and when they asked what his father did, Charlie said that was something else every moment.
Maybe he’s sitting now,
I can’t see that.
Charlie drew very nicely, but got confused when asked how he came to the drawing. He didn’t think of anything in advance, just started drawing. When Charlie had to give his first presentation, he had chosen the subject ‘war and peace’ and he gave an extensive talk, with examples, of wars that in the end had only led to new conflicts. Nobody believed that Charlie had written this himself and he got a big ‘fail’. There was quite a riot and Charlie became totally pale. He didn’t defend himself and only got a load of anger thrown at him. His mother gave up explaining how Charlie was made up. Charlie was old enough and above all wise enough to help himself. Wiser than she was…
One day the time had come: a letter from the compulsory education officer. In resignation, mother and son reported to the counter. Much to the surprise of both, a fresh young woman came to them and asked Charlie a few questions. She looked at his bowed head for a moment and then asked him:
Do you want to leave school?
Charlie looked up in surprise and said:
said the compulsory education officer and:
I’ll take care of it right away.
Charlie left school and educated himself to live an independent life. He never asked for help, learned all sorts of things to do with his hands, only studied what he found interesting and did nothing for a while. His mother let him be, convinced of his abilities and his fate. This caused a lot of resistance from other people, but her skin was thicker now and she shrugged her shoulders about it. Some people know best how to live themselves, she thought, even though they are so young. She looked at Charlie, who never wanted to become Charles, and loved him so much that she spontaneously pressed a kiss on his crown. That kiss went all over the house. Claire started laughing and Boris, who cleaned up the garden, looked around and was about to come in. She suddenly knew why it had to be her to have such an unusual child.