My son Sam got his summer holidays from school last Thursday so I went to the school gates at exactly twelve noon to meet him and to take him home. He came down the steps, a little over-burdened with books and several of those pieces of artwork which always seem to deteriorate as soon as they get out of the school walls.
He looked happy but not overjoyed, just happy.
My boy’s school summer holidays are a big deal for me because I remember my own so well. As a person who has always relished being left to my own devices, that day when summer holiday arrived was, for me, a glorious moment of release and almost infinite potential. So Sam’s looking just happy was not good enough, I wanted to make it better.
But before I could even think about how to start, we were accosted, Sam and I, by a lady and her son, right there at the school gates. Apparently, Sam had agreed to sell her son his school books from last year and it had fallen to this last minute to sort it all out. Because some of the books were still in the school, we had to go back in and search around for a bit. We wandered up and down the suddenly-deserted corridors in search of the elusive books and eventually it all worked itself out.
“There,” I said to Sam, “all done. We can go now.”
But in my drive to resolve the book issue, I had missed how distraught Sam had become. The normally stoic little man was, I now saw, on the very edge of tears. Large wet pools loomed in his eyes.
“What is it, little-dude, what’s up?
“I don’t know, I’m sorry I don’t know.” He always says this before he gets around to knowing exactly what it is and telling me.
Sam had been out. He had done everything, got to the front gates of the school and marched out into his very own summer… and I had brought him back inside. When everyone else was free, he was still there, still trapped. He was right, it was almost too much to bear.
Something had to be done.
We got out of there, consoling each other on the terrible trial we had just endured, and we hit the local cake shop. We grabbed a little table by the window and pondered over our selection for a long while as the patient counter-lady looked on. Sam had a chocolate muffin and a Coke and I had a coffee and my ‘Bun of the Week’ pushed forward one day out of necessity.
Sam had been issued with his school report on this last day and, as we sat and feasted, I got it out of its envelope and had a read while he looked rather anxiously on. This was not a dangerous thing to do. Sam is a mild-mannered studious fellow and his report was never going to hold any major bombshells.
“There’s only one thing to do with a report like this,” I announced, “we shall have to go over to Gamestop and get that game you’ve been hinting about.”
The rest of our little snack was better. The hurt had been healed.
And, as I sat there, finishing up my suddenly-excellent coffee, the cake shop seemed to sharpen into an almost high definition focus. Everything, the condensation on the window pane, the uncleared table towards the door, the smiling man in the back booth, everything seemed to be more vivid than normal. I had one of those moments, a little like what Nicolas Cage experiences at the end of ‘Raising Arizona’ but more far-reaching. Because, where Nicolas only saw himself as an old man, I saw further. I saw Sam, as a grown man, many years down the line. I heard someone ask him, “Your dad, what was he like?” I saw him strain to remember.
“He went before his time, of course, and that was sad, but he was good. I remember he used to pick out good books for me in the library, he was nice to just sit on the couch with, under the quilt, and watch a DVD, he liked it when I did stuff myself instead of having always been asked to do it.
Oh and, once, on school-holidays day, when things were really going pretty badly, he brought me to the shop and bought me a bun and made me feel like things were all right again.
I remember that.”