The small digital clock in on the dashboard of his father’s car reminded Tobias of his own digital clock, blinking at him as he squinted, blinking back the tears that accompanied his yawn. Every one or two minutes, another yawn would follow, and Tobias couldn’t help but feel that it was something to do with the sheer lack of sleep he had got the previous night.
Now the car was silent, and his father and mother were looking into the distance of the road, trying not to ask any awkward questions, but not yet revealing where they were going.
It had been obvious to Tobias since he had been told to put his shoes on, which he had done a little reluctantly, but nonetheless. This was the direction in which they travelled every time that the family visited Dr Andy at his clinic. It was a specific paediatrician’s clinic, and so Tobias had always felt very safe upon approach. But today, he couldn’t bury the butterflies that fluttered in his tummy.
Although Tobias was very sure that that was where they were going, he felt the need to ask, just so that the car would not be filled with such an aching silence.
‘Where are we going?’ He took the plunge.
His parents both remained silence for several seconds, which seemed to drag on for an eternity, but after a short while, they answered.
‘We’re just going to go and see Dr Andy, sweetheart,’ his mother said. The words seemed forced, especially the ‘sweetheart’, as though she didn’t really feel that way at all any more. Her son was a freak, and she couldn’t accept it. Tobias tried to banish these thoughts, but they lingered, even longer than the echoes of the Voices would have done, if they had not fallen silent the moment Tobias had left his bedroom this morning.
‘We just want to make sure you’re okay,’ his father said, as if explaining why such a trip would be necessary. Of course, all three of them knew, and Tobias was not one for beating around the bush.
‘Is this because of what I said last night?’
The silence seemed to stretch on even longer now. It was as if Tobias had asked if he could murder somebody, and the silence was not so much simply awkward as it was absolutely shocked. Neither Tobias’ mother nor father wanted to be the one to admit it. Neither wanted to be the one that said:
‘Yes son, we think you’re crazy.’
But of course, they were both thinking it. How many nine-year-olds were ravished with such terrible bad dreams, let alone wandered around claiming to be hearing Voices. None, as far as Tobias was concerned.
‘I’m sorry.’ Tobias said after a few minutes of dead quiet, which had made him think that he had not even asked a question.
Again, the car was silent, save for the constant humming of the engine, coupled with the buzz of the tyres on the tarmac below.
For the first time since the truth had been revealed, Tobias’ mother turned around from her seat, and looked her son in the eyes.
Tobias could tell that she was fighting back tears, as he had been doing – and doing unsuccessfully for the last three days – and as she looked into his eyes, she gave a small smile. Not one of genuine happiness, but one of confusion. As if she didn’t know what other face or expression to pull.
As the look that mother and son shared went on longer and longer, Tobias felt it become uncomfortable, and as he looked away, he saw his mother’s head turn back to the front of the car. Tobias’ sight was directed towards the same place his parents were looking at, and he recognised the small building in front of him, as his father parked the car overlooking a steep hill and sheep dotted on it, like clouds in the sky.
As the family exited the vehicle, mum and dad led on, as if they didn’t really care whether or not their son followed them. However, he did, and at a few opportunities, he tried to catch up to them, and walk next to them, instead of being ignored and appearing like a third wheel. However, he did not want to make the situation more uncomfortable, so he hung back, waiting until they were inside the building.
Dr Andy greeted his parents with a concerned smile, similar to the one Tobias had seen from his mother. He was waiting in the reception of the clinic, and he spoke softly to them.
‘I got your call.’
Blunt and to the point. Tobias would normally have liked that. He didn’t like people waffling on about nothing, which is partly the reason he hated the Voices so much, repeating everything they said, as if Tobias hadn’t heard.
Dr Andy led Tobias’ parents through a door to the right, which Tobias knew from experience was where the small rooms were in which the doctors did their examinations.
His parents went without even looking back, and Dr Andy glanced back over his shoulder, indicating for Tobias to wait in the room to the left – the waiting room.
Watching his parents walk down the hall, Tobias felt a cold ache inside himself, as if sadness was actually a physical condition, and it was inside him, like a tumour.
Pushing the door on the left, Tobias tried to fight back the single tear that threatened to fall down his face in front of all the other people waiting for their check-ups. All children, but all with parents.
Tobias felt well and truly alone. No Voices. No parents. Alone.