Raymond and Bobo
I watch Raymond more closely than the other kids. Not because he misbehaves, that’s not the problem at all. He’s just a little too quiet and a little too strange. A gentle kid who wouldn’t hurt anything. He even holds books like he’s afraid he’ll smash them.
Some of the teachers call him an old soul. Just developed that way, they suppose. He used to be as talkative as ever, but then there was a shift. Happened maybe four years ago? They can’t remember. They only know it was unusual. But when you look back on it, the signs were always there. Everyone at the daycare says so.
I just started a couple months ago, so I think he’s bizarre. In a good way, though. He’s different. I can tell by his eyes. They watch more than they see. And I hope one day he’ll open up to me and I’ll finally get a good glimpse into all the calculations going on inside his young, speculative mind. I’m interested in him the same way anyone would be interested in a seven year-old who ditches a game of Twister to play Monopoly Junior by himself.
Well, with himself and Bobo.
Bobo is a picture from a coloring book of an orange cat hiding in a basket. Raymond carries him around constantly. I swear that someday Bobo will transform into a real cat just because Raymond so seriously believes in him. Bobo is his Santa Claus. And all the other teachers agree.
And why wouldn’t they? Raymond and Bobo do everything together – they’re best friends. Heck, they’re practically brothers. It’s adorable to watch them play together. Raymond never forgets Bobo’s turn: He’ll roll the dice, move Bobo’s piece, and then consult with him whether or not to purchase the property he’s landed on. Sometimes, Bobo even bankrupts him.
If the other kids ever ask Raymond who’s winning, he stays silent until he properly finishes the turn he’s in the middle of. Then he simply points in the direction of who has more money. Efficient and deliberate like a veteran painter making his first strokes. He carries a discipline that’s funny to see inside of a four-foot tall body wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt. Maybe he really is an old soul.
Soon, Raymond is shaking his head and patting the picture of Bobo. Then he starts putting the game away. I ask, “You lose to Bobo Trump again?”
He whips around and a smile oozes onto his lips. “He – uh. I…” he starts, but then shuts his mouth and waves for me to come over, his whole face turning bright red.
Such a nervous kid, I can’t help but chuckle. He might as well just always be red. Nonetheless, I walk pass the group playing with dolls on the floor and bend down to his level.
He gets really close to whisper, “Bobo is really good at this game.”
Smile and agree. Little whispers together have become our thing. Before me, nobody thought they’d ever get any kind of dialogue out of him. So it’s almost like everything Raymond tells me is a secret. I think some of the veteran teachers are jealous that he’s taken such a liking to me.
Raymond is halfway done putting away the game when I announce to the others that they should follow his lead. They groan. I tell them that if they put their toys away fast enough, we’ll go outside. We’re going outside regardless of their speed, but now they’re cleaning up like it’s their favorite thing to do – oldest trick in the book. But Raymond isn’t fooled. He continues to put away his game at his own pace, being absolutely sure everything goes back exactly where it belongs. Then he grabs Bobo off the table when he puts it back on the shelf. Everyone is lined up by the door when Raymond joins us.
As I wait for them to settle down, Cathy, the director of the place, walks by our room. All the kids shout hi to her and she pokes her head in.
“Hey, guys.” She smiles. “Tommy, your mom tells me you’re playing soccer this year?”
Tommy giggles and says, “Yeah!”
Cathy tells him that’s great and how much fun he’ll have. Then she notices Raymond and asks, “You still got Mr. Baba there, Ray?”
Raymond’s eyes dart to the ground. He quickly rolls Bobo up and puts him back in his pocket.
I say, “I think his name is Bobo, right, Raymond?”
“Oh, Bobo, Baba, Fluffy. It’ll probably be another name another day, huh?” She laughs.
Raymond looks away from everyone and crosses his arms, almost like he’s hugging himself.
Cathy says under her breath, “So sensitive. Cute kid, but strange as hell.” I nod because I feel like I have to. She goes on, “That’s what you get with a mom like his. Nothing we can do.” After this, she announces that she’ll see everyone later and continues down the hall.
Outside, I play Horse with some of the kids and survey the playground in between shots. Sometimes when I’m not watching, one of them will say she made a basket from way beyond the three-point line. Her cover is blown when all the others can’t keep from laughing.
Raymond plays tag with the other boys. It’s funny to watch him join the game silently. He sticks his foot right in the middle of Blue Shoe and the others accept it without question. Then, he begins running away from them. He smiles here and there, but never says a word. He’s like the happiest robot, completing his function of having fun outside, but not going beyond that. He won’t even reply if one of the boys asks him who’s it.
Eventually, one of the girls beats me at Horse. She hits an incredible backwards shot, and I was off my game to begin with. After her celebration, a boy runs up and tells me that Raymond is crying.
He’s sitting on the steps of the jungle gym, holding Bobo with one hand and wiping tears from his eyes with the other. A couple girls are standing near him. One is holding a clipboard. I ask them what happened.
“Nothing!” the girl says. “Seriously nothing.”
I make sure Raymond can’t hear me and ask her if she was making fun of him for Bobo.
She tells me she wasn’t. Her and her friends were just going around asking how old everyone’s parents were. They love taking random surveys of the playground. And when they asked Raymond, he started crying. A couple witnesses step forward and verify her story. So I go over to Raymond and ask him what’s wrong.
I give him my ear. He whispers, “My uh-uh parents – I don’t like it.” He’s upset and his voice is too shaky to understand.
All the kids look at me. I tell them that they should leave Raymond alone, at least for now. So they all go off to their own things while Raymond is left on the stairs by himself. I stay near him for a moment to see if he wants to talk anymore, but he just keeps clutching onto Bobo. He was probably just flustered, having no idea how old his mom and dad were.
I leave Raymond and go play catch with the others. The survey girl eventually makes her way to me and asks how old my parents are. I tell her. Then I ask if I can see her tally so far. Lots of kids said their parents were at least one-hundred years-old. A couple said they were around thirteen or fourteen. A bunch of goofballs.
Too bad for Raymond, though; he could’ve just said any age. It’s not like these girls are fact-checking.
I think about going to tell him that we can find out his parents’ ages when his mom comes to pick him up today. That is, if I can get her to stop and talk to me for long enough. But then I think there’s no point in doing this. He doesn’t really care how old they are. He only wanted some alone time with Bobo and I don’t mind giving it to him. Even if he needed to cry to get it. It’s not like he’s hurting anyone or misbehaving, so why not just let the boy have his buddy? He obviously needs him.
It’s reading time when we come back inside. All the kids gravitate towards their friends to look at Where’s Waldo and I Spy books together. A couple read Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the tables. Raymond always goes to the same nook. He puts a beanbag chair inside the bottom part of a shelf in the far corner of the room, making himself look like a book.
“Hey, Tommy,” I say, noticing him underneath a table. “Get out from under there.” He listens.
We tell the kids they’re not allowed to be under anything because we don’t want them to hurt themselves. But, ever since I’ve been here, no one’s ever said anything about Raymond doing it. They act like he isn’t there most of the time. And so do the kids. No one goes anywhere near his nook. It’s like it was sprayed with repellant.
“But – but, look at Raymond.” Tommy says, pointing at him.
A girl informs him that, “Raymond is allowed, though.”
I don’t say anything, but I give the girl a half-smile. Am I giving Raymond special treatment? A little. But he needs it.
Raymond doesn’t move during all this. He just goes on reading the same book he always reads. A story about a cat who’s sad so his friends throw him a surprise party and then he’s not sad anymore. It’s way below his reading level. I’ve always wondered why he likes it so much.
After the Tommy situation has died down, I go over to Raymond’s shelf. I say, “You like this book, huh?”
He nods, eyes still buried his page.
“Is this book about Bobo?” I smile.
He glances up at me and laughs. He whispers, “Bobo isn’t real, Mr. Adam.”
This confuses me. Out of anyone in the world, I assumed that Raymond would be the one to think Bobo was a real live cat trapped inside a piece of paper. “But I thought Bobo was your buddy?”
“Bobo can still be my friend. He doesn’t have to be real.”
“Oh. Well, I guess you’re right.”
He goes back to reading and I’m left there on all fours, halfway inside a shelf. Now I’m starting to feel like Raymond is the rational one and I’m the one that’s been carrying around a cat picture in my back pocket all day. Right as I’m about to go back to my chair, Raymond motions for me to come close so he can whisper again.
“The thing that’s good about Bobo,” he says, “is that Bobo will never leave.” Then his head goes right back into his book.
I stare at him for a moment. I feel like I’m in a horror movie, like some indie rendition of The Sixth Sense or something. But Raymond doesn’t seem to care – the fluorescent lights continue their background buzz and he keeps reading. Then, when he gets to the end of the book, he starts it over.
I want to say something to him, but there’s nothing I can say. What do you say to a weirdo like him? Nothing. Exactly. You just let them be. He doesn’t need anything except Bobo and his time alone to be strange.
We’re having free-play when Raymond’s mom comes. She’s constantly in a hurry and always stressed; how her hair still has color is beyond me. She tries to sneak her thin body through the kids playing board games and grab her son. Cathy calls moms like her “Grab’N’Go Moms” because by the time you even notice them to say goodbye, they’re already out the door. But, I’ve been watching her this whole time, so her little stealth charade is no use.
She taps Raymond on the shoulder, grabs his hand, but before she can turn to speed out of there, I’m behind her. “You taking Raymond now?” I smile.
Her face contorts, annoyed. “Yes. Thanks.” She tries pushing her way passed me.
“Can I actually talk to you for a second?”
She stops, looks up at the ceiling, and sighs. “What?”
I get a little closer to her, but not too close. She’s the type of person who might spit in my face if she feels my breath. “How long,” I ask, trying to ensure Raymond can’t hear, “how long has Raymond been carrying around Bobo?”
“What?” She blurts out. “Bobo?” She looks down at her son. “That cat thing? He’s been carrying it around too long if you ask me.” She yanks his arm.
Raymond looks at me. His eyes are glossy and hurt. He’s angry with me, but he’s too sad to show it. He looks like the other kids when I tell their parents how they misbehaved.
“Oh,” I say, “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Raymond never misbehaves.”
“Yeah, sure.” She grunts. “Anyway, this – this interview is over. Bye.” She turns Raymond around and they practically jog out of the daycare. Raymond stares back at me and stumbles over himself, his body is being pulled faster than his legs can move.
This encounter sticks with me for the rest of the day. Even when all the kids are gone and I’m done disinfecting the place, I still think about Raymond’s sad eyes. His sad, angry, watching eyes. And I can’t blame him for being upset with me. I prompted his mom’s bad mood, probably leading to a pretty terrible evening for him. I remember those nights with my mom: grounded in my room for an hour or so. It seemed horrible. Her and I laugh about it now.
As I make my way to my car, I think it’s too bad that his mom doesn’t like Bobo. At least for Raymond’s sake. But, hey, it’s her kid. Not mine. And, when I really think about it, I wouldn’t want my kid playing with such a ridiculous imaginary friend either. He’s just much too old and much too smart to be doing something like that.
He’ll grow out of it eventually, I’m sure.
About the Author: Doug Patrick is a student at Skidmore College. His fiction has also appeared on Drunk Monkeys.