He loves the anonymity of Karnival, held every February around his birthday. It feels like the city is celebrating him.
Children dress up in costume. Adults too, play dress-ups, masked and hiding behind false faces that strike fear and laughter in equal measure. Millions of people in hiding, for a single day.
He loves dressing up, often in a mash-up of costumes left over from previous years – part cowboy, part Native American, part pirate, part lost child. Like the grown-ups, he hides inside those costumes and for one perfect day remains out of reach.
The night is different, his drunken father, quick to celebrate quicker still to anger. His mashed-up costume can’t save him now.
He fantasises about his father staggering in from the party, an air of menace shrouding behind a face veiled in revelry. He imagines pointing his toy gun loaded with explosive caps that pop and bang just like a real gun. In his mind, he raises the gun and aims it at his father’s face, pulls the trigger and watches as the smoke from the tiny explosion hides the anger.
In his mind, he runs then, the smoke, like a magic trick, hiding his movements. In his mind, he conjures his disappearance, his mother dressed as a masked Pippi Longstocking, her ginger pigtails and red-and-white striped socks dancing behind him in a blur of colour as she calls his name and reaches for his little hand that still holds the smoking gun. But there’s no magic here, amongst the fear.
There is safety in the streets, as the parade with its hundreds of floats looking like a catastrophe about to happen, roll by, their decks filled with adults and children, who hide behind colourful costumes, a palette of rich celebration. Everyone hides. Everyone is someone else for just one day.
He longs to be up there, looking down on the streets filled with all the known colours in the universe, his small hands waving and throwing sweets to the children.
But he’s not up there. Instead, he scrambles on the ground along with the other kids cramming as many colourful candies into his hands and his pockets and the folds of his pirate shirt as he can.
He joins the chorus of laughter, a sound of celebration rushing through him like a river filled with the melting snow of spring.
Later, he’ll run to the empty field behind his parents’ home and hide in the abandoned Fiat he and his friend Rolf use as a prop for their pretend games of cops and robbers. They’d found a real gun inside the glovebox once, loaded. Fearful, they told their parents, and the gun was never seen again. The Fiat remained, slowly swallowed up by the Earth.
Now, he sits behind the wheel and races through the streets of his imagination, chased by cops and by demons that look like his father. He makes car noises and sticks his gun hand out of the window firing behind him, little pops lost to the sound of a Karnival that is already well on the way to being forgotten for another year. He eats his harvested sweets with delight, cramming as many in his mouth as he can, their sticky juices a glorious reminder that not everything in this world is bitter.
Years later, his father is sitting on his mother, pinned her to the ground with his bulk. The are both screaming, for different reasons. His father’s knees skewer her shoulders and in his hand, his mum’s hair makes a tangle in his angry fist. He beats her head repeatedly on the hard stone floor, each hit playing to an accompaniment of bones cracking, of the tears and screams strangled in his mum’s throat.
He jumps on his father’s back and with his little hands smack his father’s face impotently, soft pops, the sound of hatred. It’s the soundtrack of future trauma, even if he doesn’t know it then.
As he hits his father’s face over and over and over again – pop pop pop – he wishes he’d kept the gun he and Rolf found inside the glovebox of the abandoned Fiat.