"Mom, stay here with me for a little while longer."
Mum looks at him, it's bedtime and she knows her son is acting differently. He is four years old and today he has been a little more restless than usual. Now he is reluctant to be left alone, even though all the steps of the sleep ritual have been completed.
Mama watches him as he clasps his little hands together and plays with his fingers in a movement that looks like sign language.
"Uhmm, will you tell me another story, Mommy?"
"I can tell you another story ,Mathi, but not today. Tomorrow maybe, at goodnight story time."
Mummy motions to give him a kiss. He lifts his arms and clings to her neck. Mama smiles and puts a question in her eyes. Mathi understands.
"Mommy I'll tell you a secret."
Mummy thinks Mathi really wants to stop her, she smiles. She gently removes her son's hands from her neck and prepares to leave.
Mathi has no choice but to speak.
"I'm going to tell you a secret."
Mum is defeated. She sits back down on the edge of the bed.
"What kind of secret? Is it your secret or is it someone else's secret?"
"It's my secret and it's someone else's secret." Mathi says.
Mum thinks Mathi is buying a lot of time, but.... But what if it's true? She decides to speed things up.
"You know you can tell me anything, son. I'm going to look after you always, a little boy shouldn't have secrets. Tell me what the secret is.
"Mommy, you won't believe it, but I know it's true. Do you swear you'll believe me?"
"I swear, Mathi, now tell me."
"Mommy, on our roof lives an elephant!"
Mummy didn't expect this.
"An elephant, Mathi, an elephant?"
Mommy touches her son's forehead, Mommy lifts the covers and checks him. Mum looks towards the door, hoping perhaps to be accompanied at that moment. Mum sighs, Mathi hasn't answered the question and she repeats it.
"An elephant, Mathi, an elephant?"
Mathi nods. He was having a serious moment.
Mum catches Mathi's seriousness and then asks him.
"Please explain to me what that elephant looks like, is it maybe a toy elephant that someone threw on the ceiling, or maybe it's a paint smudge, or is it a dream..."
Mathi shakes his head as Mum lists.
"No. He is a real elephant, a big, real elephant, with his big trunk and his ears. He lives hidden on the roof during the day. Only I can see him."
Mum is an attentive mum, although she doesn't remember how she learned the technique of repeating aloud and in the form of a question her children's last sentence, Mum repeats.
Only you can see it? How many times have you seen it, Mathi?
Mathi has regained his loquacity and explains that he has seen him many times, that he is a friendly elephant, that he is not scary, that he tiptoes around because he doesn't want to spoil the ceiling, that sometimes the elephant asks him questions about the house and that sometimes he looks sad.
Mum lets him talk, she doesn't want to think anything, she just wants to listen to him, but now she is interested in the sadness of the elephant that lives on the roof. She asks him how he can tell the difference between a happy elephant and a sad elephant.
Mathi replies that it's very simple, he just has to look at it, because when the elephant is happy the elephant's skin is brightly coloured, green, purple, orange, blue, but when it is sad it turns only one colour, a dark colour that can be grey like the elephants in the jungle or it can turn brown.
Mum listens to him, listens to him. In the background she wonders if she is going to need help to get that elephant down from the ceiling. She might need a specialist.
Mathi is tired, now he yawns. Mum asks him if he is OK, if he is sleepy, she wants to make sure Mathi is not afraid of the elephant. Mum is so assertive!
"And what is the name of your elephant?" It occurs to her.
"His name is Martin, mummy. I call him Marti, he's my friend." Mathi says yawning.
Mummy looks surprised. She has begun to understand something.
She kisses her son again on the forehead, says goodnight, goes out slowly. Once she has closed the door she turns back. Mathi seems to be asleep. She touches him on the face, wakes him up.
"I'm sleepy, Mummy," says the boy.
Tell me something, Mathi, when does Marti come?
"He is my friend, but he doesn't seem to like things from the girls. If you see my sister crying, because her things appear broken, you just tell her that the culprit is Marti, the colourful elephant who lives on the roof."