Tuesday, September 07, 2010


James’s mother corners me the moment I enter the room.

“James is in New York,” she says.

Apparently she thinks that no further introduction is required; nothing need be said to bridge the decade long gap since I had last seen James, or his mother.

James had been a thin, slightly anxious child. He was very different from the other, more rambunctious, boys his age. Consequently, James found it hard to make friends, which is where his mother stepped in.

James’s mother thought he should associate with popular kids. She would ring there mothers and arrange for James to go to their houses after school.

This didn’t go down well with the popular kids. Their frustration at James’s mother was probably the reason James copped such a tough dare: walk through the school’s swimming pool, fully clothed.

It was a sunny day in the middle of summer and a gentle breeze was playing music in the tree tops. James slowly lowered himself into the waist-high pool and stood on tip-toes by the edge. A group of onlookers sat nearby calling for James to get on with it. He began to walk, but soon realised that his shorts were in the water, and the water wasn’t getting any shallower. He stopped walking, clearly trying to decide whether he should continue, or return to dry land and forfeit the dare.

James forfeited the dare.

The rules of forfeit dictated that he must tell the group the name of the girl he loved. James squirmed for nearly quarter of an hour before divulging that he loved Fiona, the sun bronzed Australian-Diplomat’s daughter with the sparkling white smile. I think we all loved Fiona, we were just too young to realise it. So we teased James, running around chanting “James and Fiona up a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

That night, James’s mother phoned all the popular kids’ mothers: James was not to be teased.

There was a fair amount of grumbling in the playground the next day, but no one dared tease James: everyone was afraid of the repercussions when they got home.

“James is in New York,” James’s mother repeats.

James’s mother’s is an anxious woman; I hadn’t realised that when we were kids. There is an unnerving desperation, a deep sadness around her.

I reach out and touch her arm.

“I’m very sorry,” I say. I pause a moment before leaving the room.

It’s a warm sunny day in the middle of summer and a gentle breeze is playing music in the tree tops.

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