‘Not under our roof’, my grandmother would say, rolling her eyes. She often rolls her eyes in that fashion, especially when talking about our neighbours, the Darlings. She did this even in front of Mrs Darling, when she once came over to invite me to an afternoon play session with her three children.
All the fantastic stories Mrs Darling has told me suddenly flooded my mind. I could see them, shining and shimmering, dancing on the walls of my small room – flickering fairy flames bathed in moonlight. I recalled stories of mermaids, pirates, adventure, and pots of gold at the end of rainbow bridges, guarded by vicious, long-nosed trolls.
‘Those trolls are the most hideous creatures in Neverland’, Mrs Darling told us solemnly, as we crowded breathlessly around her. ‘They have poor eyesight, so they have to squint at small things close to them – like the little children whose dreams they feed upon for nourishment. They snatch the dreams up in their wicked claws, and grind it between their jagged teeth until there is nothing left but dust and pain.’
The next day, I ran downstairs to tell Father and Grandmother of what I saw last night. My father’s reply was swift and decisive.
‘You saw nothing, boy. Do you hear? Nothing.’
I saw my father’s stony face looming over my grandmother’s shoulder, his expression clearly supporting her every word.
‘Yes, grandmother’, I said, biting my lip.
Afterwards, I sat in the garden and looked at Mr and Mrs Darling’s house, thinking about what I saw. It was the Darling children, that I was certain – how could I not recognise them? Not that Father and Grandmother approved of Wendy, John and Michael. When I came back from the Darling’s house with stories of Neverland, Grandmother had cuffed me around the ears, and forbid me from ever playing with the Darling children again.
‘Mr Darling is a silly man, an impoverished accountant who can barely count, let alone keep his family fed’ she huffed. ‘Mrs Darling is no better – filling her children’s heads with hot air and nonsense. If you have any respect for your dear departed mother, boy, you would remember that she was an industrious woman who washed clothes, cooked meals, and most of all, never let a word of silliness slip past her lips.’
Grandmother was right, as she usually was.
Apart from the Darling children, there was one other boy I didn’t recognise. He flew ahead of the others with a cocky smile on his face, and was dressed in a most peculiar way – all in tattered green leaves. Who on earth dresses in tattered leaves? The more I thought about it, the more the whole thing seemed silly.
Grandmother was right, as was Father – it was all nonsense.
So I made up my mind …