I prefer to travel on my own. It’s safer. I can respond to my own instincts and not have to try and explain what I am doing or why I am doing it. I know my limits. I see events unfolding and can either avoid or engage them, usually with plenty of time on my side. If there is an ornery taxi driver I only have to deal with him. If I take a wrong turn (it happens occasionally) I know it quickly, and can circle back without any grumbling. A gun in the face is something only I have to deal with (those stories will out one day). I only have to watch my own back. Every step is an adventure, not something to be endured. I can explore any time of the day, poke up any alley I please, engage anyone I care to, avoid those I deem prudent to steer around.
So what the heck am I doing travelling with you lot?
More then twenty of you. Some of you have never been overseas before. Not even in a plane. You walk without any concept of your own safety, oblivious to what is going on around you. How many of you knew you were being eyed off by the pimps on the edges of the stalls tonight? What was her shy “hello?” really communicating you lads? I bet you don’t even recall her approach, thinking , if you thought at all, that perhaps she owned a stall. Who was the stony faced guy watching you mill around at the end of the markets, and who vanished when “sprung?” Were you safe? Of course. But did you really see the world you drifted through? Not really.
But then I find myself caught by your naiveté. By your wonder at what you are seeing. By your innocence. It gets past my defences. Well some of them. The protective ones remain up and I am guarded on your behalf. I watch the watchers, conscious I am only seeing a small handful of them. I herd you towards the train station tonight and you laugh and josh around together and I find myself envying the levity. Actually I find it difficult to put my finger on exactly what I am feeling and test the protective instinct a little. Introspection is not something that has ever been a strength – though situational awareness has saved my life on a number of occasions. That is a very different thing. I look at you all piling down the escalator behind me tonight and watch others on the platform watching you. I chase you onto a bus whose driver is keen to get going. Watch you all get mellow with fatigue and adventure up the back and on the top deck, gazing at the Hong Kong lights drifting past with the quality of a silent movie. I find myself thinking of Joanna again and wondering at what might have been. The mellowness is infectious.
It is not just infectious but it fuels a dawning and startling realisation that you are all my own children. I straighten up in the back seat (sorry to you leaning on me with your ipod playing, drifting off to sleep) and try to shrug off the notion but it’s a thought that won’t go away. I have known you all for so many years and yet only now do I think in those terms. Michael suggested once that such might be the view held by a couple of you but I have not been comfortable with the idea. I know my foibles and weaknesses too well – don’t follow me too closely, you might get burned. Role modeling is one thing. Having this emotional connection with you is something else. Yet as I gaze out at the lights floating past it occurs to me that one of you gave me a pretty good clue two years ago when I sat with you in hospital (I was running through a mental checklist of what I had to do to manage a death overseas). You volunteered you appreciated waking up and discovering “father” sitting with you through that experience – it was what you would expect a father to do, poignant for that fact that your own is non existent in your life. But I am sorry to say that while I appreciated what you said I think I ignored the sentiment.
It is early in the morning, past one o’clock. We have been here a week now and I have become a slave to the blog. Not unpleasantly so – I am just aware that in a few hours there will be some waking up in Australia and looking for our update. I am glad they are enjoying the writing. The door squeaks open and one of you stands there, startled to discover I am at the computer. I suspect you have drifted down to the computer room to be distracted by whatever is on-line. But I can see you are upset. You come in anyway and I push back from the computer. I ask you what is wrong and the tears float around the eyes and the lip wobbles. Life at home is not the best and you share that with me and let your defences down, just a little. I wish I could tell you how much I appreciate that. I give you a hug and you lean into it and give up a bit. I want to wipe the tears away but am deterred by the thought that such might be going too far – we live in a crazy PC world after all. But for a moment you are one of my own and when you pull away you smile and forget that you were seeking solace in the computer and head back to your room. For the duration of the hug you were one of my own children. I was not looking for anything to reinforce the insight on the bus home tonight but there it is anyway.
None of you young folk would have gotten past me ten or twenty years ago. Now I want you to.
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