by Merri-Todd Webster
(2 May 1999)
"And they journeyed from Bethel: and there was but a little
way to come to Ephrath; and Rachel travailed, and she had hard
And it came to pass as her soul was in departing (for she died)
that she called his name Benoni; but his father called him Benjamin."
(Genesis 36:16, 18, AV. Benoni means "son of my sorrow";
Benjamin means "son of my right hand", that is, the
He had never seen the dark man before. That was how he thought
him--the dark man. Dark hair that moved in the wind like a crow's
feathers and a long dark coat with dark pants and dark shoes
underneath. And dark gloves covering his hands. He didn't look
like a nice man, with all those dark clothes and that frown on
face, pulling his dark eyebrows together. His leg throbbed
painfully, so that he had to bite his lip to keep from crying,
seeing this strange dark man hovering over him did not make him
The dark man stooped, his hands hanging loosely between his thighs.
Seen closer to, he didn't look quite so scary. He was younger
Daddy and had pretty green eyes, with long thick lashes kind of
Daddy's friend that you weren't supposed to talk about, especially
not to Mummy. His smile, though, made the little boy think of
way the big bad wolf must have smiled at Little Red Riding Hood
inside her grandmama's bonnet, ready to eat her up.
"What's your name, son?"
He hiccupped, trying to keep the tears back. "Benjamin, sir."
"Hi, Benjamin. You can call me Alex, and you don't have to
'sir', okay? Tomkins and I are going to take you to the hospital
they can fix that leg."
Benjamin looked distrustfully at the dark gloved hands that reached
out for him. "Where's Tomkins?" He knew Grandpapa's
knew old Tomkins was a Safe Person. He still wasn't sure about
Alex. He didn't look very Safe at all.
Alex dropped his hands and bit his lip. "He's waiting by
waiting to drive really fast to take you there. But you have to
me carry you to the car, Ben, you can't walk on that leg."
That was true. He was sure he couldn't walk, he'd tried. It hurt
and the grownups kept saying it was
broken. Benjamin nodded,
and the dark gloved hands
scooped him up easily. He was careful not touch the
broken place, and that made Benjamin feel a little better, but
He lay boneless against the chest of the stranger, Alex's chest,
trying not to cry but failing. It was bad enough that he'd broken
his leg and it hurt terribly and Daddy would be so disappointed
he cried, but now this strange man was stealing him away and he
couldn't do anything about it.
They came to the end of the long hallway, and Benjamin's heart
lightened. There was Grandpapa, his hands folded behind his back,
and he smiled as they came toward him. Benjamin wound his arms
around his grandfather's neck as the old man stooped and kissed
"There's a good boy. You'll be more careful the next time
the old yew, won't you, then? Alex will take care of you, and
will be all right. Won't it, Alex?" He looked sharply at
"Yes, sir," Alex replied. "Everything will be all
right." He was
not looking at Benjamin but at Grandpapa, though he smiled
Alex carried him out to the car and sure enough, Tomkins was waiting
there, standing still and straight as he always did until it was
time for him to do something. As they came up, he got into the
driver's seat, and then Alex put Benjamin carefully in the back
slid in beside him, and Tomkins took off very fast.
Benjamin was not worried about the fast driving because the big
was very safe, and Tomkins was a good driver. But it felt better
lean on a grown-up; it was hard, otherwise, to ignore the pain.
wished Grandmama were here so that she would hold him in her lap
and sing to him. Despite himself, he whimpered.
"You okay, Benjamin?"
Benjamin snuffled, nodded, then admitted shamefacedly, "It
Alex made a small noise in his throat. "I know it does, kiddo.
Tomkins is driving as fast as he can."
Cautiously, Benjamin leaned toward Alex, hoping he would not be
pushed away. He felt cold, and he remembered that he had felt
warmer when Alex was holding him, carrying him. "Daddy says
boys shouldn't cry, no matter how much it hurts."
Alex made another strange noise that was maybe a nasty laugh.
"Yeah, that's what daddies say, but I don't think you're
big boy, yet, do you, Benjamin? I won't tell if you want to cry
little bit, and Tomkins won't, either."
Greatly daring, Benjamin leaned over so that his head was almost
touching the man's arm. "It hurts a lot. I feel dizzy."
Even though he'd been hoping for it, he was surprised when Alex
a hand on his head. "Come on and lie down, Ben."
Benjamin put his head down on Alex's thigh, on top of the black
coat. He didn't think Alex could see him, since he was lying on
side facing the back of the front seat, so he slipped his thumb
his mouth, which he was strictly not supposed to do. That helped
the hurt a little, and he was able to think.
"Nobody calls me 'Ben'," he said after a moment.
Alex's hand slid lightly over the boy's hair. "Do you mind
call you that?"
Benjamin briefly considered the issue. "No."
"Good." The hand continued to stroke his hair, and the
along with sucking his thumb and lying down made the sick feeling
almost go away. He had to wake up, sort of, when Alex asked him
"What does your grandfather call you, Ben?"
"He calls me his dear boy. Sometimes his special boy. Or
Benjamin sucked his thumb a little more. "Are you Grandpapa's
friend?" he asked.
"I work for him," Alex said, after a pause.
Benjamin turned over, onto his back, hiding his wet thumb in his
pants pocket. "Sometimes Grandpapa has a friend like you."
"LIke me how?" Alex asked. He was frowning. Benjamin
hoped he hadn't
said The Wrong Thing.
"Like--like--" Benjamin struggled to convey concepts
which were not in
his vocabulary, like "handsome" or "beautiful"
or "attractive." "Like
they go places with him, and he buys them things. And sometimes
help him." His thumb strayed toward his mouth, and he wiped
it on his hip,
rubbing. "Some of them haven't been very nice to me."
Alex's mouth twisted up for a moment in that way grown-ups had.
"They were stupid not to be nice to a boy like you, Ben."
smoothed the bangs off of Benjamin's damp forehead.
"Can I tell you a secret?" Benjamin asked, scanning
"Yes, you *may*," said Alex, just as Grandpapa would
Benjamin pursed his lips, rolled his eyes toward Tomkins in the
driver's seat and then back toward Alex, and whispered solemnly,
"Daddy has a friend. A special friend. She lives far away
not supposed to ever talk about her in front of Mummy. It feels
funny to keep secrets from Mummy. Once she gave me a present,
though. Daddy's friend, I mean."
Alex smiled, reminding Benjamin of the big bad wolf again. "That
was smart of her, Ben. --How's the leg?"
"It still hurts, but not so bad."
Alex squeezed Ben's shoulder gently. "We're almost there."
Benjamin did not remember much, later, about the hospital.
Everything was white and moved very fast. Mostly he remembered
waking up and being offered some strawberry ice cream, which he
feeling the throbbing of his leg now contained and dulled, encased
in the stiff, heavy cast that was still damp inside. He watched
some "Sesame Street" episodes on the telly, only he
to call it the telly, and then Grandmama came in to see him. She
hugged him, smelling of roses.
"How's my good boy, then?"
"All right, Grandmama. It doesn't hurt so much any more.
not to cry too much."
She patted his cheek gently. "The doctors say you were very
and did everything they asked you to."
Drowsily, he nodded. "They let me have ice cream."
"Oh, that must have been lovely."
Benjamin drifted for a moment, giddy with medications he did not
remember receiving. He came to himself again and voiced his one
clear thought: "Where's Alex?"
"Right here, kiddo."
Grandmama turned, looking surprised, as Alex came into the room.
was carrying his long dark coat over one arm, showing a maroon
underneath, and had a bunch of balloons
in the other hand. Smiling, he
tied the balloons
to the foot of Benjamin's bed.
"You came through with flying colors, Ben."
Benjamin raised his hand toward the pretty balloons, pink and
and green and blue, the pink one in the shape of a heart. "Alex
carried me to the car and held my hand through all the bad stuff,
Grandmama, he helped me a lot."
"Did he now...." Grandmama sounded as if she didn't
this. Alex reached over and ruffled Benjamin's hair, something
Grandpapa often did.
"He was as good as gold, ma'am, really brave. Hospitals are
places, aren't they, Ben?"
Ben nodded, shuddering, and he saw that Alex kind of shuddered,
Grandmama was watching them with an odd expression on her face,
which bothered Benjamin, so to make it go away, he asked a question.
"When is Grandpapa coming to see me?"
Alex and Grandmama looked at one another in a very funny way.
Grandmama said, "Excuse me, boys, I must go speak to Tomkins,"
hurried out of the room. Ben looked up at Alex, who leaned his
elbows on the railing and bent low over the bed.
"I've got a secret to tell you, Ben, but you mustn't tell
"This is like the secret about Daddy's friend, only even
important. Don't tell *anyone*. Ever. Especially not your mommy
*Okay*...." Ben tried to sit up, but his head was woozy from
the medicine. Alex pushed him gently back onto the pillow and
"Your grandfather had to go away for a while. Probably a
while. And he has to make certain people think that he's, well,
Benjamin's eyes filled with hot tears. "Grandpapa's dead?"
Alex shook his head fiercely. "No! No, he just has to pretend.
Because of a very important game that he plays." Alex bit
"Like, you know, when you get 'out' in a game and you have
pretend you aren't there any longer."
Benjamin snuffled hard and wiped his eyes. "Oh. Oh, I get
think I get it."
"Good boy." Alex ruffled his hair. "Because he's
'out' in the game,
he won't be able to see you for a while. But he told me I could
tell you about this and that you could come visit him after a
Alex's mouth turned down at the corners. "Not for a while.
I'll see him, and your grandmother will see him, and we'll tell
how good you were for the doctors and how you're getting better."
Benjamin nodded. "Okay...."
He did not remember falling asleep at the hospital. His stay there
boring, although Alex visited him often and
told funny stories that made
Ben laugh even though he didn't really understand them. Tomkins
him home, a few days later, and then his mother flew with him
Grandmama's place in Scotland while his broken leg got better.
did not see Alex for more than two weeks, and he almost forgot
the dark man who had carried him to the car and brought him balloons
and told him it was all right to cry.
Then one day Grandmama brought in a tea tray with enough for two
people and said, "There's someone to see you, Ben my love."
At first Benjamin did not recognize the tall, smiling man with
gaily-wrapped package under his arm. Only when he thought that
Grandmama didn't use to call him 'Ben' did he look at the stranger
and cry, "Alex!"
Alex smiled at him, a very nice smile indeed, and sat down carefully
on the edge of the bed. "How's the leg, Ben?"
"I'll be on crutches, soon!"
"Would you sign my cast?"
"If you want." Alex pulled a pen out of his blazer pocket
leaned over Ben's leg. Ben sat up to see what Alex was writing.
"Best wishes," Alex said slowly, "from your...
"You're welcome. Want some tea?"
"Well, I do." Alex poured himself a cup of tea, added
and then stuffed a whole scone in his mouth. Ben giggled.
"Is that for me?" He pointed to the shiny package. Alex
it as if he'd forgotten it was under his arm.
"This? Oh, yeah. It's for you." Alex handed it over
another scone while Benjamin ripped into the shiny striped paper
tore at the tough brown cardboard box underneath.
"Here--let me help you with that."
A knife flicked out of Alex's hand. "Take your hands away,
Benny-boy." Ben raised his hands over his head as Alex ran
knife through the sticky brown packing tape. "There you go."
Ben dug through the straw-like stuff that filled the box until,
crowing with joy, he pulled out a large stuffed bear with glossy
that was almost black. "A teddy!"
"That's what it is." Alex grinned and Ben grinned back.
"Thank you, Alex!" Ben leaned forward and threw his
A moment later, Alex returned the hug, patting Ben lightly on
back. "Thank *you*, Ben, but it's not really *from* me."
back and put his hands on Ben's shoulders. "Remember our
The one not to talk about?"
Ben nodded, putting his finger over his lips.
"That's who it's from."
Benjamin squeezed the dark-furred bear tightly, grinning into
top of its head. Its fur was just about the color of Alex's hair,
and its eyes were green.