As the car blasted through the night, the road stretching long and empty, I could feel the heart pounding beneath my ribcage. Cold sweat trickling down my forehead, and beneath my headscarf my neck was drenched wet.
We had barely escaped.
"Mama, why are we running away like this?"
The small voice of Alexei, the little kid strapped with child-safety belts on my left broke the monotony of car engine and night winds.
"Because the bad people have found where we were hiding, and we must never let them catch us."
"Why are there always bad people chasing us?"
I gulped, racking my brain for an answer. Usually it is considerably fast in giving responses - I think the overload of adrenaline has slowed it down when it comes to wit and words. Before I could say something, Alexei added another question.
"Why is papa not around with us? Protecting us? I think papas are supposed to be protective."
At five years old, Alexei is nowhere near his peers. Something I should be proud of, but at times, it is heartbreakingly difficult to deal with.
"Papa is also on the run. He's doing something very, very important."
"More important than us? Why can't he do it with us? We're also running away, it would be the same thing, only we'd be together. You're also doing something important, isn't it mama? How many important things are there in the world? Can't you choose which one to do?"
"Yes, mama is also doing something important, which is why we need to keep ourselves safe from the bad people until everything is settled." I know I am deliberately answering only part of the question. My eyes are focused on the long stretch of wide road ahead, empty and dark, littered by square little lights to mark the traffic lines, with lamp posts perched every 100 yards or so. I looked on the rearview mirror every now and then, never forgetting to thank God every time I'm convinced we are not being followed. A glance to the left confirmed my suspicion that Alexei with his little dark eyes is looking contemplatively at the same road, head swirling with questions and contradictions.
"Why must we do important things? I'm sure if we don't do important things, we can live happily together at home - mama, papa, me, our cat - and we don't need to keep running away. " He paused. "Or we can do important things that does not make bad people want to catch us. I am sure there are many."
"Yes there are... but this is what mama and papa chose to do. Hence we had to be devoted to this choice we had made, and pursue it till we..." I carefully selected the words, "...have done our best, regardless whether we are successful or not."
"But mama, it is your choice and papa's. I did not make the choice. Why must I be dragged in as well?"
Of all questions Alexei had and could have had asked, I didn't expect this one.
"You're still a small child, darling. Mama and papa are still responsible for taking care of you, and we cannot leave you on your own to follow your own choices. We had to involve you in decisions we take, and make sure that you're as safe and happy as possible. When you grow up old enough to decide, you can make choices on your own. Would you be happy with that?"
Does responsibility of care mean that the carers must make the charge follow their decision-making, or follow the decisions of their charge, or make a joint-decision? Ah, I am being too technical about this. Alexei is just a child - however smart he is, he is not yet fit to decide matters himself, let alone to execute his decision independently. That is the excuse for me and his papa to "drag Alexei in our decision".
Alexei was quiet for a while. He's thinking. I thought of his papa with a twinge of melancholic reminiscence. I know why we chose to do this, dear, but sometimes, I need reminders... from you, while you're physically by my side.
"I don't know. I'm happier if you decide for me - if that means I can always be with you. I don't mind going places and running from bad guys, if I can be with mama. I just wish papa can be with us too. I hate it when you leave me with Aunties and Uncles, sometimes I don't even know who they are. If I get to make my own choices, I want to choose to follow mama. And papa."
People will squander their rights, their freedom to choose independently, because of love. Little Alexei knows that. The dynamics involved in the making of choices is not simply reduced to a discourse between dependence or autonomy.
"Mama, I want to pee."
The road stretches long and far, to our left and right are forests and hills. No building nowhere. I referred to the SatNav, and noted with relief that there should be an R&R in 10 minutes' time.
"Can you wait ten minutes?"
"If you love mama, do your best not to wet the sofa, pleaseee."
Alexei gave an evil grin, and we both laughed.