I heard the birds chirp.
I heard a plane fly overhead.
I did not hear my son singing as he rode his bike.
Zacharie always sings as he rides his bike.
Usually it’s just a “Yaaaahoooo!” sort of thing that just underlines his excitement at doing laps of the cul-de-sac across from our house. This time, it was only ambient suburban noise pierced by Charlie asking “Where’s Zacharie?” as he sucked on his fudgsicle. “He’s riding his bike,” I answered, still listening for Z.
“But I don’t see him,” Charlie responded, underlining that his brother was gone. Really gone. Gone away, around the corner, to the street on the other side of those houses.
In a fit of ad-lib parenting, I had asked Zacharie if he wanted to go and do about a 1km loop around the neighbuorhood. It was 4 right turns, he’d have to cross 3 streets. “Ya!”, he quickly replied. I reminded him to walk his bike across the roads, and then he went off. By himself.
That was nearly 7 minutes ago.
As the silence surrounded me, my mind wandered. How was I going to explain this to my wife? Would I hear the squeal of tires braking to avoid hitting him? Would he miss the turn on the other block and end up lost?
When I was in a parking lot earlier in the afternoon, a minivan backed straight out of a parking stall and t-boned a sports car sitting behind her waiting for another spot. People back out of their driveways without looking all the time. I told Zacharie to watch for white lights on the cars as he passed them, but still …
Then I heard what I thought were screams. Was it kids on a trampoline? Was it just coming from an open window around the corner? Was it my imagination? I fumbled for the keys in my pocket. The experiment was over, I was going to go drive around the block and look for him, it was taking too long, my mind playing too many tricks.
And, just as I was about to give up my free range plan, he came around the corner; “Yaaaahoooooo!” I heard echoing between the houses, his smile as wide as the street. It was the longest, most irrational 7 minutes of my life.
“Were you scared on the other side by yourself?” I asked him after my heart dropped down from my throat. “No! It was fun!!” he exclaimed. Sensing my angst, my always empathetic kid added, “I love you, Daddy.”