I don’t know when it began – the awareness. The knowing, without knowing why, but just knowing. Nothing specific you can put your finger on, but then someone says something that triggers it. It’s like a memory of an event you didn't experience. Or those times when you think, “Yeah I remember that!” But do you really remember it?
No, you don’t remember, but you know.
That’s how it was with me. That’s how it always was since I was a child. I learnt very quickly from adults that you can’t just know.
“Someone must have told you.” Or “You overheard a conversation.” But that wasn’t it. I just knew stuff and it meant that I had to stop telling people that I just knew because they didn’t.
And that’s how it was the first time I met Bobby. He was the little kid I found in our back yard who used to come and play.
Actually, I refer to the first time I met Bobby, but in reality, I’m not sure that it was the first time. It’s like he was always there even though I was seeing him for the first time.
Yet, seeing him was no surprise because I always knew he was there.
As a kid, when you’re shy and you don’t make friends easily, to have a special friend, all to yourself, who is friends with no one but you, is the most precious type of friendship. It’s the one you treasure and the one that leaves an impression so deep that it shapes your life.
That’s how it was with Bobby. He was my special friend and no one else’s.
Because Bobby was also shy. I didn’t know where he came from or how he ended up in my back yard, but kids have an acceptance of things.
You never question. You never ask, “How come?” or “What’s going on?” You never think of tomorrow.
Bobby was there. That was all. And he was my friend.
My mother was always strict. I think that came from the fact that there was never enough money in our home. So when I asked if Bobby could stay for tea, it crossed my mind to wonder, only briefly, why she always said yes. She never asked what time Bobby was expected home in the evening, and she never suggested we phone Bobby’s parents to make sure it was OK with them that he stay for tea.
Looking back now I can still see her indulgent smile as she stirred the pan on the stove.
I didn’t question Mum’s apparent permissiveness, but rushed outside to tell Bobby the good news before Mum changed her mind.
Mum didn’t question either. She accepted that I had my friend, although no one could see Bobby but me. This invisibility trick of his, I put down to his shyness. I suppose Mum assumed I was just a lonely little girl who had created her own friend.
But Bobby was not my creation. Bobby had blonde hair, blue eyes and always wore a red and white striped T-shirt with navy blue shorts. He had leather sandals on his feet with no socks.
He liked the swings we had in our back yard, and we played chasey and hide and seek until the moon came out and Mum called me in.
We didn’t talk a lot. Little kids don’t need to talk. Little kids just know stuff and I knew all I needed to know about Bobby. I didn’t need to ask and he didn’t need to tell.
I don’t remember the last time I saw Bobby. I think one day I went outside to play and he wasn’t there. But just as I didn’t question his appearance, I didn’t question his disappearance either.
But over the years, I’ve never forgotten Bobby. As an adult, I think of him fondly, and with just a touch of sadness because Bobby had gone from my life and in my childishly selfish way, I hadn't cared.
I was a school kid now.
I was too gown up to muck around with him, and besides, I had proper friends: kids I’d met at school who didn't go invisible when other people came around.
But Bobby had been real. He had been my friend when I needed him, and then he was gone...
And just as I just knew about Bobby, I just know where he went. It's a special place, just beyond the moon where friendships never grow old.
One day I'll go there and we'll find each other again. And then we'll play chasey and hide and seek in the moonlight.