Elias and the King
Elias and the King
“Oh, what a beauty!” the woman said.
Stood over the pram she clasped her hands together at her chest and let fly with a cooing sound. “Even these days, it’s unusual to see a father so at ease pushing a pram around.”
The man, Elias, not technically a father in the biological sense, stood proudly beside the pram, one hand curled protectively around the handle and the other hanging empty at his side. He made no comment to the woman in the long, buttoned-up overcoat but smiled sheepishly, like only a man not technically a father in the biological sense can.
Within seconds of the woman moving on another took her place. She was similarly dressed in a bland overcoat, but had her hair tucked into a ruby red woollen hat. It was as though he had rested with the pram beside a conveyor belt of middle-aged women in bland overcoats, who passed the time of a day very briefly whilst peering into the pram, momentarily wide-eyed, before politeness drew a veil over their surprise.
“Well, you couldn’t have wrapped those blankets more snugly if you tried!” trilled the second woman. When she smiled it was like an old curtain in an empty theatre being raised by unseen hands. It hung there for too long, as though stuck.
“The pram is unsafe on its wheels,” Elias answered. He glanced involuntarily at the rusted wheels. “I worry so much about harm if the pram falls over, or if I bump the kerb too hard.”
Still smiling the woman looked the man in front of her up and down. He was short, plump and aged around forty. His clothes were differing shades of brown, all equally worn. His hair had begun to tire of his head and was retreating down the back towards his neck with the pace of a champion runner. His hairless face was sickly pale with wet blue eyes screwed deep into dark sockets like fairy lights seen through a window at dusk. The woman looked him up and down a final time and settled on the assumption that he was a Geography teacher. The man blinked at her as she struggled for a response to him.
“Well I hope this a day without the pram falling over, or too many kerbs,” she said with undisguised awkwardness. Elias shrugged at her and she walked away.
Having had enough of the conveyor belt of middle-aged women in bland overcoats, Elias turned the pram round and moved slowly on.
Although Elias may not have produce the bundle of joy carefully wrapped in blankets and settled into the pram, he felt a strong sense of love and his capacity to care was almost without limit and because of this the old, somewhat forlorn pram was never out of his sight. He had wanted a decent pram, but had begrudgingly settled on an old, rusty pram in a shop filled with items the original owners no longer wanted.
The wheels of the pram were rusted around the rim and the spokes and as he pushed the pram through the streets near his flat the wheels shrieked and squealed. He liked to take the pram to a park not far from the top of the hill he lived on. It took an effort pushing the pram uphill but it was worth it for the view from the park. It was high above the city and looked directly onto the dusty top shelf of the hillside where the sunset lived. There were many evenings when Elias sat on the simple wooden bench beside the entrance to the park watching the sunset as he rocked the pram back and forth. If the weather wasn’t too wet, or too cold, or too warm, or too changeable Elias liked to very carefully take the bundle of blankets out of the pram and settle into nursing it in his arms. It was a nervous responsibility.
There was no park tonight and Elias turned the pram for home, preparing himself for two-thirds of the steep hill. Stopping for a second he leaned into the pram and drew back the hood, which was held together with faded trails of sticky tape. “You’ve been a good boy today, haven’t you Rex?”
Elias wasn’t sure whether he immediately warmed to the name Rex, but the choice hadn’t been his. He took some comfort from the fact that in Latin ‘Rex’ meant king. He always tried so hard to feel special as he pushed a king around the city in a second-hand pram.
He was tired when he reached the door of his building. As he had battled with the hill the rusted wheels of the pram had sounded like the screams of a war documentary shown three mornings before around the time the sun was coming up. It was the sound of charging death and endless despair.
Once inside Elias always left the pram in the unlit lobby of the building. The bulb in the lobby had taken its own life in January. Now it was November and the broken bulb was still just hanging there. Elias lived up the first flight of stairs and was able to carry Rex just in blankets from there. He knew every step in the darkness. When he was carrying Rex he never fell. Through the dark climb the sounds of the other tenants were horribly magnified. Pipes rushed with the shouting of water, televisions pushed wailing fingers of light under doorways like rapid insects glimpsed from the corner of exhausted eyes and available twice-nightly was a series of violent arguments – with an additional matinée performance often offered at weekends.
Home was a series of rooms that might have fit inside each other were it not for Rex’s many brothers and sisters. Walking inside and laying the bundle of blankets carefully down on his faded sofa, Elias then sat down heavily. The thick, downy blankets were the colour of a summer sky and very soft and Elias unwrapped them patiently.
Rex Goliath was the largest bottle of cheap red wine Elias could afford. A plump, baby pillow supported the neck of the bottle and the body was swathed in the blankets. Elias took Rex out for much of the day, talking to him as he pushed the pram all over the city streets. It was only at night time, once the sunset had been switched off, once any hope of the day had soaked away like rain into summer pavements that he spent quality time with Rex.
It was the long, drag of the day that made him yearn for the night. And here he was, at home, at night. Just a man – not technically a father in the biological sense – with his not-so-little Rex Goliath. Sat upstairs on the sofa, the darkness closed away behind his one door, Elias found that the screaming of the rusted pram wheels never seemed to quite leave him alone.