Do you think I was happy to wake up this morning to a gentle drumming overhead? To peer through the curtains at a grey day, spitting raindrops onto the street outside? To pedal madly through the rain, my thin summer jacket moistening to match my shower-damp hair? To wheeze a little as I went, cursing the way my limbs and lungs had grown lazy in just a week of under-use?
Yesterday, I was ambling across the lawns over the road from the River Torrens, a notebook and dictaphone in my bag, a straw cowboy hat on my head. The grass was dry under my bare feet, so dry it crackled under me as I lowered myself to sit under a palm tree on the hill. The sun caressed my exposed arms and legs, stung my eyes as I lifted my sunglasses to peer into the white tent at the base of the hill and the sea of people that spread from it in licks and waves; a tide rising up the hill and across the lawns. After a while, sweat bred under the crevasses of my knees and trickled to my feet in languid rivulets. I basked in the warm glow: the dry, enveloping heat a memory of childhood summers, a feeling like home.
This morning, just 45 minutes away on a plane, eight hours by road; I covered my body to leave the house, sheltering it from the elements. The grey sky overhead seemed to stretch forever, promising an end to summer, not just this summer, but the season, at least as long as I live here – as I have for 12 years now. I felt exiled.
Panting my way up a hill (its slope invisible to the naked eye, only felt by unfit cyclists running late for the end of school assembly), I spotted a snake of red and navy children following a tall brown leader across the asphalt. The tall brown leader was headed for F’s classroom. It was him!
I parked my bike and began struggling with the lock, wrestling it through the loops of the chickenwire fence. A figure broke off from the back of the line and came running towards me.
‘Mum, mum! It’s mum! Can I help you, mum?’
‘Hi darling.’ I blew a kiss through the fence, in front of all these curious spectators, and he caught it in his palm, clutched it tight, and drew it to his chest.
‘Sure, you can help,’ I said, knowing he couldn’t at all, but wanting to say yes. He drew closer, and stretched his arm towards the wire.
The lock was stuck; it wasn’t budging. The class was drifting away, only F now, standing expectant under an incontinent sky. ‘I’ll leave it, it’ll be fine.’
I had an urge, a compulsion, to touch him, to hug him, as soon as I could. He moved towards the gate as I did, his movements mirroring mine on the other side of the fence.
‘I’ll help!’ he shouted as I moved to open the lock.
As the gate swung open, he threw himself into my arms with a look of pure joy, a smile that radiated from his eyes and lit up his being. We held each other tight, kissed, and hugged again. He took my hand and we walked into the classroom together.
‘I brought ALL my book club books mum, for your house,’ he said. ‘And the Pokemon book you let me take to dad’s.’
I sat on the miniature chair at the back of the classroom, towards the edge of his table – my chair. One of the girls from the reading group I work with, the ones who are still having trouble getting the hang of this reading thing, turned and beamed at me. F’s friend, L, waved a navy clipboard.
‘Hi Ariel! I’ve got a clipboard, too, now. See? For my petition.’
‘I did TWO lots of homework, mum.’ F came around the table and hugged me again. Reluctantly, he stood back, ready to return to his seat.
‘I do hope you had a nice time in Adelaide?’
‘Yes. I did.’
‘Good. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought was: Mum’s coming home! Mum’s coming home! And I got up and got dressed and ready for school STRAIGHT AWAY.’
He’s right. I’m home. Of course.