It was a dark, cold night. Which was kind of fitting for the beginning of any story. But in south east Asia, when you start feeling the cold, you know you've been there too long. And as a ginger kid from the north of England, he should have been in his element.
He was so far from the place he had once called home. And it had been years since he'd felt the long, scalding hug of the hallway radiator, on his return home from whatever trouble he'd been causing, beyond the icy front door.
He had never really, truly missed home, that was until now. He longed for that familiar smell of the old underlay carpet in the council flat he once had. The flat he received after he was crippled by a speeding police car, whilst trying to cross the road years before. There was no compensation. But, as a result, he became the king of his own castle. A place for him to lick his wounds. It was dark and dingy, and located in the back of beyond where the undesirables of town were kept, but he didn't care. He was happy, and it was his. The only place he's ever really been able to call his own. But now, those days, seemed like a lifetime away.
Today, he's found himself trapped in a different kind of paradise, one he thought he'd never want to leave. He had always believed humans to be of a semi-nomadic nature, but he had found happiness here, and at one time, for the first time since childhood, he had felt settled.
That was until, that 'thing' happened. He didn't like talking about it, and when he did, would get so frustrated. No one understood it like he did, not many people at least.
It had been 3 months since he last saw another foreigner, 3 months since he had seen anything of the world outside of their village. And he was an explorer at heart. Though he never strayed too far off the beaten track, and he'd never discovered anything new, he was always looking, it was just a matter of time... it was in his blood. His itch for exploration, grew stronger by the day.
His wife was the only one in their village who could speak any English, (although he sometimes felt he got a better conversation from their eight and a half month old son), she was the only one who had even half a chance of vaguely understanding him at a deeper level. They had met 3 years previous in the capital city. A place with a pace he was used to, and found comfort in. But now, thanks to certain 'things', and the changing world around them, he found himself in the place his wife found the most comforting, her parents cashew nut farm. Up a hill, in the middle of nowhere. He felt like an elephant, with sore thumbs, in a pond, full of fish. Sticking out... misunderstood.
It was the 21st of December, not only the day of the winter solstice, but in the year of the 'Great Conjunction', between Saturn and Jupiter. Tonight the world would see these astral giants, seemingly merge into one, forming what is known as the 'Christmas Star'. It had been 397 years since this alignment last took place, just 13 years before Galileo built his first telescope to marvel at the heavens above.
This event had to signify something, he knew it would, but he was far too apprehensive to look so deeply into it. He convinced himself it was a positive, auspicious event, but at the same time made a mental note to his brain's list of 'things to do', to see what the ancients made of it. After all, when the God of Thunder and his mighty Son do a high-five in the night sky, one should be prepared, or so he believed. But, that list in his head seemed to never end, it would only ever get longer. He knew, and readily admitted to himself, he would probably never get round to it. And in time, as soon as it was far too late, that entry like many before it would drop off the list, as just another faded memory.
The day before, he had tried to explain to his wife, the solstice, the tilt of the Earth, and the reason for it being so cold this time of year. But soon realising that the battle for her attention against her best friend - the phone, was a battle he always lost, he promptly gave up.
The previous week, her two youngest siblings (the brothers, aged 11 and 14), had asked him if they had shooting stars back in England. After 7 years of practice, his level of the local language was good enough to articulate most of the things he wanted to say (although this particular part of the country was the last of the true tribal areas, with 13 different clans each with their own dialect, making understanding them more of a challenge). He explained to the brothers, in as simple of terms as possible, the physics of the phenomenon. How more often than not, a shooting star was nothing more than a small pebble from outer space, travelling at unimaginable speed towards the Earth. And how it's magnificent trail was made as it burnt up in the atmosphere before it was able to reach us.
Seeing the mystery and magic in their faces fade before his very eyes, he quickly moved on to let them know how it was customary back home, after seeing a shooting star, to make a little wish to yourself. And that this, was not to be wasted. He imagined, how even the most hardened criminals themselves probably couldn't resist this, and even they would make one. Maybe it's quite likely that wish would be for guns, drugs or money. But you never know, the inner child in all of us, where that belief is instilled, only wants one of two things; love and happiness. And with that, comes security. The magic we're raised with as children, if at all, dies hard. And even with years of learning from science, logic and reason, some magic we just can't let go of. No matter how many times it's failed us.
After seeing at least some of the mystery return to their faces, he moved back - with faith, to cold, hard, facts. He explained how if these space pebbles were any bigger, and hadn't completely burnt up on their descent to Earth, even a rock the size of a toy car (available to hand at the time), could devastate the planet. At the very least, make a real mess around the site of impact. He used the 3000 year old crater lake, situated down the road as an example. This, would be the last thing he'd say on the matter. The brothers went on to let him know, how their hole in the Earth was different. Through the unique use of their local, hillbilly twang, they managed to get the point across that in fact, their crater was made by a great, angry, pig-like God from the skies... obviously, and he should have seen it coming.
The shattered pain that was once on the boy's faces, had transferred onto his own. He retreated back into his own mind, to his own thoughts. A place he understood, and needed no explanations. With no brick walls that he could waste his time with, by banging his head against.
The Sun had set, another day was done. The candy floss pink and tangerine orange that had painted the sky was gone, but the clouds remained, blanketing the Earth. Tonight was noticeably warmer, though he was still cold. And no matter how the clouds littered the sky, he still had hope that he would be able to see the events in the sky unfold. He'd poke his head out of their bedroom every twenty minutes or so and peer upwards. And around. Every direction, as he was a little unsure as to which way was west. The cloudy blanket persisted in its existence. All that was visible was a near half Moon and Polaris, the north star, slowly but surely running in circles, chasing its tail. He headed back inside, his hopes unscathed, there was still time.
'Just one more hour', he thought to himself, 'and the great high-five of the Gods would set sail over the horizon'. The anxiety got the better of him, he zipped his jacket back up, and ventured out again.
The Moon had become but a faint shimmer in a dirty pool, and Polaris was nowhere to be seen. In 5 brief minutes, the sky-scape had taken an unfortunate turn for the worse. The magic, once again, was passing him by. His wife came out with their Son in arm, to see what they'd been missing. She had been listening. It was a trade off that he was more than happy to make. 'I can wait sixty years for the next alignment', he thought to himself, 'I'll catch it in the next life'. His new little family meant the world to him, and nothing much else mattered.
It was 8am when he rose up out of bed. Not so early, but not too late either, in his opinion at least. He could have done with an extra hour, but the rooster that had been howling since 4am, couldn't be ignored any longer. He threw on his jacket and headed outside.
The Sun was glaring down on him, the clouds had dispersed.
"Thanks clouds", he grumbled under his breath. "Any other day this month, and last nights weather would've..." and then, that thought vanished. He'd caught a glimpse of his Son's peaceful face, sleeping, swinging in the cammo hammock. His mind instantly emptied itself with ease, and in the same moment, filled the vacuum with a calming peace. His Son's happiness was contagious to him, a contagious cure to all his frustrations.
His extended family had been up for a few hours already, as was normal. 6am usually, to start the day with the important things in life. Sewing tapestries, playing on phones, picking their faces, more sleep. They looked down on him for not being awake so early, but he was unsure of what they expected him to be doing at 6am. He never saw them doing anything important at that time of day, and very little changed as the day went on.
Another thing that didn't help, was their inability to grasp the concept of sleeping disorders. His diagnosis came far too late for him, at the age of 25, just a few years before leaving England. It had already shaped his life by then, and in some way or another, had made him who he was. He now knew, that what had forever plagued his sleep was a combination of apnea, delayed sleep phase disorder, and the slight hint towards a long standing, yet self-coping problem called narcolepsy. A diagnosis the doctor didn't want to make. He learnt to never go with a self diagnosis of a problem again. A well paid opinion, is obviously worth so much more than anyone else's. Even when blood tests showed he had the gene needed to predispose a person to this condition, they were reluctant to admit he might be right. He was prescribed with the search of a night job.
His father in-law was a good man. He'd worked hard all his life to provide for his wife and five children, and then their children too, of which little Finlay, was number four. He loved them all like they were his own.
The farm was around half a hectare in size, with around sixty large cashew trees, five mango trees, and banana and papaya also being dotted about. The land fairly rugged and unkempt, as cashew season didn't start for another month or so. Soon, the whirring of the weed-whacker would fill the air, making the search for nuts and the spotting of snakes much easier.
The family tractor was being rented by an owner of a sweet potato farm, 100km away, southwest of them. This way good news, it was old, and it stunk. And now, it was someone else's problem to fix every other day, and they were paying for that privilege. The last time Lawrie was here was when Finlay was born (sorry, I've never been good at introductions, but baby is Finlay, or Finn, and Dad is Lawrie. Well, Lawrie's his surname... Dan, Daniel, Danny never appealed to him, and even his parents stuck to calling him Lawrie). Ok, where was I..?
...yeah, so the last time he was at the in-laws farm, was when his beautiful baby boy was born. Early April, a healthy 3.6kg. And as sure as anything, without fail - every other night, Pa would be half submerged in the belly of this beast, covered in oil as it spluttered away. Not such a soothing sound to send your Son to sleep.
These days, Pa would spend his time making furniture at his sister's house just beyond the back of the farm. Each evening, a new chair, stool or table would appear, and the huge piles of illegally logged wood, dotted around the plot would slowly, bit by bit disappear. As did the jungle that surrounded them.
Their village was located 10km outside of the nearest town, and the closest city was another 30km beyond that. That was the city of Lombang, the province capital (though the spelling of this, as did many other place tended to vary, wildly). The city was big, whilst at the same time, all being nicely spaced out. Apart from the market area, nowhere seemed to get so busy. The city itself wasn't over commercialised, the way a western city would be, mainly made up of independent, family owned businesses, it had a very local feel to it. That's what Lawrie liked most of all about this country... the people, the locals. For all the differences in culture, and the difficulties they created (of which there'd been many over the years), only added another layer of excitement and adventure to his whole experience. No matter how different other people saw him as being, he seldom cared. He had spent his entire life back home as the ginger sheep, and that had prepared him well, for life out here.
He missed the city. He'd only managed to explore it for one day the last time they were here, when Finn was around two months old. He lost the plot one morning, waking to find his wife, Nib, sat feeding the baby, downwind of a roaring fire made entirely of plastic. He was sick of telling her, and she was tired of hearing it. He turned his back and walked away, away from the stench of burning straws, and the feeling of absolute futility. He gathered the essentials, made the small trip to the road at the top of the plot and flagged-down the first van he saw. Finally, it was adventure time. It all happened so fast. He loved being on the road, but all the way there, couldn't stop thinking about his new born bundle.
The driver and the passengers all seemed friendly enough. Very inquisitive, as once was normal, but on this occasion, a nice surprise. Especially with how the world was turning these days. He wore his face mask, no matter how useless he knew it was to him. It was unfortunately, an essential item.
Forty kilometers and two and a half bucks later, they arrived. He found the journey so refreshing, though Finn was constantly in the back of his mind, with not much to see along the way to steal his thoughts completely. Just miles upon miles of lush, jungle-covered hills, beyond the back to back farms that were broken up every so often by a roadside shack of a shop. So many farms.. cashew, pepper, mango, rubber, you name it, he saw it. And every so often, the odd little spot of deforestation in the distance, clearing space for a few more.
He spent the day exploring, and enjoying his first taste of freedom in what felt like years. You see, his wife's hometown is so rural, and that trapped in their tribal mentality, even they have a hard time getting out. And generally, unless they have to, they just don't bother. Nib had told him how a while back, one of her uncles had an infection in his leg, a drunken mishap from a motorbike fall, from which he burnt himself on the exhaust pipe. He had to do the three kilometer journey on foot, through the next village to the one beyond it where the nearest thing to a hospital was. About half way there in the next hometown, you pass by the the village chief's house, who on this particular occasion, for once was awake. He imagined him stumbling out of some grand, overly ornate, heavy wooden chair, on the orders from ten or so yelping, mangy dogs. One well worn flip-flop on, while failing miserably to secure the other, not giving it the slightest bit of thought, as he starred intently at the intruding stranger, hobbling by. The chief had demanded from him, one buffalo, in order to let him pass. You're welcome to go back and read over that line again, but you got it right first time. Yes, a buffalo. A few minutes of talking by the roadside, and they'd worked out a deal, two chickens would seal it. Her uncle shuffled back home, dragging his manky leg, and after snagging two of his most sickly looking birds, started the journey again. All in the hope, of paying someone to gouge out a huge chunk of his inner thigh.
The relative bustle of the city was a much welcomed change for Lawrie. He criss-crossed his way down the main roads and through side streets to reach the city limits, and then double-back on himself in a slightly different direction, stopping here and there at the sight of an esky cooler to pick up a fifty cent beer.
He arrived rather early by his standards, maybe 8.30. But with no watch, phone, or any idea of what time he woke up, he could only guess. Over the years, he had gotten pretty good at working out the time, between the Sun and the shadows. He was usually only off by about 15 minutes or so. But who cared what time it was? It's his day off. And this called for another fifty cent-er.
The day went on and his heart was glad. He knew that fresh emptiness he felt in the background wouldn't be there for long, and that soon enough he'd be back with his boy. He missed Nib too, but pushed that thought out, whenever she crossed his mind.
He wandered through the rest of the day. No plans, no direction, and not so much to worry about. He ate, drank, bought a dummy and a rabbit teddy bear which he called Barney and headed back to the edge of town that he'd arrived at, making his way home before sunset. Nib was waiting on the front, waiting with a hug.
It was Christmas Eve, and this year looked like it was set to be Lawrie's best and worst to date. But considering the problems that the people of Earth were facing, it was likely, this year was to be a historically bad one worldwide... with maybe only the 'black death', and world wars outdoing it. These were strange days to be living in.
His lack of cash, and no real friends or family to share what little he did have, made the whole occasion rather pointless. He'd been asking Nin for the last nine days to help him find a pair of wooden chopsticks. He'd tried, but with no luck. He also hadn't mastered the pronunciation of 'chopsticks', it was a tricky one. He wanted to fashion them into baby sized drumsticks, the first part of a home made drum kit he planned to make. As money was scarce, and Finn was too young to understand the concept of Christmas, he decided that this was ok. Especially, as no one for miles around, gave this holiday even a single thought.
Chop-drumsticks were kind of perfect as a Christmas present out here. Lawrie had been tapping away rhythms and singing to his Son, ever since he found out he was in Nib's belly. He'd play him songs too on his guitar, and old song recordings online. Classics from the golden era of the 60's, as his parents had done for him, when he was young.
Apart from being cheap and cheerful, chopsticks were also importantly, disposable, bio-degradable, and readily available everywhere in Asia (everywhere but, apparently, this village). He'd come to learn that while living on the farm, nothing here was actually his. Nothing belonged to anyone it seemed. At any moment, someone's grubby little mits could appear, and 'borrow', anything they wanted, not return it, and leave it half buried in the dirt to be found a week later. Just days before, the younger brother, Rutt, had taken Lawrie's lighter and Finn's favourite toy. A small, yellow, rubber pig. As Finn was teething, it was more of a chew-toy for him (the dummy by this point, had been savaged by dogs). He loved that little pig, and upon spotting it, would shuffle over, pop it in his mouth and gnaw away. Who knows where it ended up. Apparently, not even Rutt knew.
'Give it a week', he thought. 'It'll turn up.' Probably as a charred, molten puddle, next to a broken lighter, but he'd find it eventually.
The day was surprisingly calm and quiet. Pa had left early, sometime before sunrise, making the eighty kilometer journey to the city of Somtang. Life on the farm was always a little more relaxed when Pa was out of town. Lawrie couldn't work out why, as he was the most placid of the whole family, making him Lawrie's favourite. Even so, Pa's brief departures were always good news, a little more peace and quiet on the farm was much needed. He'd be back in a week or so, and he'd be bringing the rasping roar of the tractor with him.
Between the hours of midday and 3pm, were Lawrie's best time of day, as he usually had the house to himself. The screaming match that accompanied lunch, would cease around 12pm. Not completely or instantly, but it would get quieter and more distant, as they each skulked off in their various directions, with their own, distinct rackets.
Ma and Nib would go to one of three places. The shop over the road, the one around the corner, or Pa's sister's house out the back. Basically, wherever the card game is happening that day, where Ma can loose the money someone else has given her, and then spend the rest of the day spreading bitterness because of it. Lawrie didn't know where the rest of them went, and never cared to ask. But he knew where Pa was, Pa was always working.
He sat alone in the bedroom, enjoying the silence. His only disturbance coming from a faint yet piercing buzz in his ear, from a rouge mosquito that had managed to sneak in through the gaps between the concrete walls and wooden ceiling. A clap, or a self-slap to the side of his face would usually sort that out, or half of the time at least.
He had, ever since the age of nineteen and had he left home for the last time, been some sort of vegetarian. For as long as his memory went back, he had always hated the thought of things dying for his food. To him, it just seemed so unnecessary. But out here, with the snakes, spiders, scorpions and mosquitos, his long standing beliefs were set aside. Some things were asking to be killed. He'd always say sorry, and wish them better luck in their next life... all except the mosquitos, he took pleasure in wasting them.
He had been surprised upon first arriving in the country, by many things. During the three days it took him to get here, he felt excitement at the thought of visiting a Buddhist country for the first time. He imagined all the food and flavours he'd discover there, and how it must be much easier getting a decent meal that was death-free, and involved fewer funny looks, as the majority of people there were Buddhist.
But he was wrong. Totally, fucking wrong. It wasn't long after arriving, when he saw a sight he'd never forget, and that would help him on his way to understanding the madness of the place he found himself...
A monk, driving a car, drinking a coke, smoking a cigarette.
'Wow', he thought to himself, visibly gawping, his jaw on the floor, catching flies. 'Wow'.
With an almighty, thunderous CLAP!.. another pesky bloodsucker was eliminated from existence. Silence resumed. Only the static like sounds of the insects outside remained, and the faint background hum from the rare moto or truck, that was making use of the empty roads as the others ate, slept, and played cards.
He eventually managed to get a good enough data connection and logged into his messaging app. He'd always been terrible at keeping in touch, but at this time of year, there was no excuses. You can miss all the birthdays you want, and it's all forgotten by Christmas. And that's why you can't skip it.
He scrolled through the pictures that he and Nib took with Finn the week before. They were all dressed head to toe in various shades of red, the closest thing to being Christmassy, that they could manage. He selected three pictures, tagged his family and the extendeds, and wrote a short message which he cringed at within seconds of clicking 'post'.
He hated talking online. He hated talking on the phone as a kid, but these days preferred it to SMS and instant messages. It all felt so impersonal. To many people, he'd quite often come across as self-centered, and uncaring. But to him, his problem was he cared too much in other ways. He cared about wasted the moment he was in, and ignoring the people around him, whilst staring at screens. The past and future are pointless without a present, and the present, was drumsticks. He shot out of his chair, and with determination set off, on a final hunt.
He woke the next morning, and was glad to find that the visiting calm hadn't skipped town in the night. The only sounds to be heard were the distant chugging of heavy machinery, the here and there hum of the main road, and his wife rigorously brushing away at the laundry, by the stream that ran down the side of the farm.
She would always wait until everything was dirty, which usually took around a week, and then spend half a day literally attacking it. Lawrie's clothes were thin, frayed and full of holes because of this, and something would always come back worse off for the abuse, but he didn't complain. It wasn't a job he was fond of, and it would ruin the callouses he'd built over the years, making playing guitar a pain. And because he'd rush through it, she wouldn't let him wash any of her clothes, and he couldn't blame her.
He dusted the sleep off, and made his way outside. Ma was sat at the front on one of the two big, heavy, wooden bed frames facing the road, doing her sewing. He never got to the bottom of it, but most ot the houses out here had beds outside, while everyone would sleep on mats on the floor inside, but he never asked and it remained a mystery to him. Too many more important questions still had no answers.
Finn was asleep in the hammock. It was coming to the end of its swing. Lawrie kissed his forehead, and gave him a little push.
Suli, was the Son of Nib's youngest sister, and was the second of Finn's three cousins. For once, he was keeping himself to himself and being nice and quiet. It wasn't his fault he didn't know how to behave, and Lawrie knew that. And with Pa being away today, he probably hadn't drank half an energy drink, like he normally would have by 8am.
Lawrie took the string-bound, straw brush, and swept the tiled floor, as he did every morning.
His wife was the eldest of five. The two brothers, and the youngest of her sisters all living on the family farm. The middle sister (the most well-rounded of them all), had the right idea earlier in year, and got the hell out of there. The middle sister's two children, still spent a lot of their time at the family farm, and Suli had lived there all his life. His mum, had done what was expected of her, and left him there while she went back to work, leaving Ma to raise him. At three years old, he was understandably, a handful. But Lawrie couldn't help but worry about him, and feared he had a lifetime of problems ahead. Problems not only for Suli himself, but for the family doing the half a job of raising him. A half job they weren't doing so well.
His top row of front teeth were nothing but black stumps, half decayed, causing him great discomfort. He was almost always covered in dirt. And usually, by the end of the day, had the remains of every meal he'd eaten, still round his mouth. Flip-flops were uncommon, and he rarely wore pants, maybe 3 times in the past few months.
Unfortunately for him, for his first two years of life he was Ma's responsibility. And his problems, Lawrie saw as her fault. The middle sister being back to work, was expected to send money home, while it was Ma's job to play cards and sew whilst raising her grandchild. The same Ma who had done a shocking job with her own children, and it was time to do it again for theirs.
Suli, was toilet trained. But Larwie, expected this lesson was probably taught by the dogs. He would piss anywhere, whenever he needed to go. That was usually from the tiled floor outside the house, and onto the dirt a step below. But if he was upstairs, he'd do it from there. And no one had the slightest of problems with this.
Lawrie quite often, when going around the back of the house where there actually was a toilet, would find someone there. Usually Ma, but sometimes Nib, ten feet away from the toilet, squatting.
Ma was so lazy, in every aspect of life. And she'd passed that on to most of her children. And by the standards that Lawrie had been raised with, she was a truly terrible mother, and in general, a mean spirited person with very little compassion. Lawrie found her unbearable. But at the same time, he just had to deal with it, and knew she didn't know any better. She was never going to learn, and it wasn't really her that he could blame.
The civil war, decades before, that had torn this country apart, had given her parents generation a living hell to endure. An event so disastrous, it's effects still rippled through life to this day.
Her first three children, the sisters, were all left at Grandma's house as soon as they were able to eat mashed up rice soup. This was and is, pretty much 'the norm', for kids over here. Never really knowing their parents as the grow up. Children are seen as laborers, and in a way, sort of like a pension. Breaking your child's heart isn't really an issue, if it means you've been out working.
Now today, the third generation of children are making their way through life, and thanks to this practice, are doing so with their own broken hearts. With a level of distrust only their people know, and with the job one day, of passing this on to their own children.
At the age of fourteen, Nib and her sisters started living with their parents who had got together enough money to by their farm, which was five-hundred kilometers away, up north. Pa built a simple wooden hut, and they called it home. There they would spend the following years learning who their children were, and catching up on all they had missed. And Ma got bigger, as they waited on the birth of their first baby boy. It was time to learn how to be parents.
Soon after baby number four was born, Nib, with a modestly sized bag packed to the brim, was put on a plane bound for Malaysia to work in a factory making mobile phones. She did so with the help of her auntie's passport and was greeted at the airport by another aunt, who also worked there. Over the next two years, she managed to send enough money back to build the beautiful house they live in today.
It was the nicest house in all the village, and probably the neighboring ones too, and it stayed that way for years. Pa was so proud of it, he was so grateful to Nib, and she became his favourite, and he had no worries letting the others knowing it.
When she returned home with her final salary, the house was pretty much complete. Ma was pregnant with Son number two, and with the spare cash, Nib enrolled at school.
Lawrie had finished sweeping. The dog had been shooed off from laying on the dinner table, and he was now finishing the picking up and bagging of all the plastic crap his in-laws had tossed on the floor the day before. As he looked around searching for any last stragglers, he noticed that Finn needed another push. But his stealthy dash towards the hammock, turned out to be a mistake.
''Boo Ree!" (Uncle Lawrie) Suli screamed at the top of his highly pitched voice... he'd been spotted, and after doing so well. In the same instance, Finn's eyes pinged open, beaming, to find his father stood over him, startled as Suli's screech was still ringing in his ear. He smiled and raised his arms, and Lawrie followed suit. "Merry Christmas Son".
Suli loved Lawrie, and this was mutual. He hardly ever saw his father, who was even more useless than his mum. Lawrie saw it as his responsibility to look out for him, as no one else seemed to be a positive influence. This wasn't just for Suli's own good, but Finn's too. Raising a child here was a constant worry for him. These bad habits and behaviors, were not for his Son to learn. He desperately needed a plan to get his family out, safely away. And this would need to be a plan even Nib would be happy to go along with, and before he inevitably snapped again.
He placed his bundle into the 8 wheeled, brightly coloured walker thing, and gave him his tambourine, one of the few toys he still had. He didn't like the tambourine so much, but it kept him occupied for a few minutes. Just enough time to build a barricade around the edge of the floor using ten heavy, tree trunk stools. Suli was rolling round on the floor next to him, pant-less and screaming to himself. He made sure all the stools were placed in such a way that Finn couldn't kamikaze off the edge, and headed back to the bedroom to take stock of all he could consume that day. He loved his coffee, and cigarettes too, but was annoyed with himself. He'd practically quit before coming back here. He had promised himself that he would pack them in by the time Finn was born. He failed, and promised again by the time he was six months old. And not far off that time, had got them down to three a day... that was when they moved back, to the madness of the farm. Straight out the window.
$1.10, thirteen cigarettes and a dollars worth of data that yet to be put on the phone. 'It's going to be a good day', a sarcastic joke to himself. He didn't laugh. It wasn't funny. He took 50 cents, and made for the shop, to treat himself.
''Four 3in1 coffees please,'' it was Christmas after all.
Half way through his double strong coffee (it was actually 6 in 2), the clouds in his mind started to clear, and he was ready to take on another jam-packed day of next to nothing.
Finn, still in the walker, had now been let loose on the dusty, red dirt at the front of the house. Lawrie was uneasy with this as the walker was light and flimsy, and flaws in its design made it that going in a forward direction was practically impossible. Almost all the plastic products sold out here, were only ever things that hadn't passed the stringent watch of Chinese quality controls. Finn spent most of his time in that thing, going round in circles, or at very best, doing his famous crab impression, scooting sideways.
Suli was dragging around the frame of an old, crusty pram, that had seen much better days. It was full of rust, had no seat and only one of the three wheel it had left, actually turned. Suli had no toys, the ones he did have, had disintegrated in his hands shortly after being given them... their remains scattered in the dirt.
Outside the front of the house was a huge 30 by 30 meter steel roof, hanging around 20 feet above. Suli and his pram, had made their way beyond the roof's reach, and over to where the overgrown, straggly vegetation had been thriving since that year's rainy season.
Lawrie, had been the only one watching. He put down his coffee, and started walking over, seeing the potential for disaster as Finn chased after. He got as far as calling out Suli's name, with the hope of reeling them back in, when Finn hit a divot in the ground. The walker was sent over sideways, Finn's face smashing into the ground. Lawrie, with a heavy heart picked up speed, blurting out some frankly useless words of comfort as he made his way, to pick him up.
Fountains of tears rolled down little Finn's cheeks, his left one being covered in small stones and dirt, with a few grazes on his chin. His wailing cut through to Lawrie's core, and he felt responsible for not getting there sooner, as he saw it coming.
By this point Ma was screaming too. Lawrie tried to explain to Nib how it wasn't Suli's fault, in a vain attempt the message might get passed on, and Ma would shut her trap. Suli wasn't to blame, he was a child and didn't know any better, and Lawrie knew what was likely to happen next.
Ma, still shrieking had gotten down to Suli's level and was now yelling in his face, slapping his legs, his bare backside.
''Viscous mutt'', Lawrie said audibly, without a care who heard. 'Silly bitch', just wouldn't have cut it, and his choice of words went straight over Nib's head. With his years of being out there, Lawrie had learnt how to best disguise his words of anger and frustration. He sometimes surprised himself with the off-the-cuff, creative expressions his mind would muster up out of the ether.
Ma had now stood up, but was still barking. Suli was in tears and had been almost as long as Finn, who was now in Nib's arms, but still in distress as he watched the animalistic behavior unfold. Ma, taking a thin branch from the sapling of a fruit tree, was snapping off all that once grew from it. Because obviously, providing fruit for your grandchildren, and one day their children, isn't nearly half as important, as whipping a child that's done nothing wrong.
Suli cried in this way, at least four or five times a day. A few months before, Lawrie had counted eight times in one day. He'd seen enough, and headed back to the bedroom with his mixed feeling of anger and helplessness.
If he'd have still had his guitar, he would have been unzipping it's case as soon as he got inside. But he had no guitar these days, and upon spotting a pen on the desk, found a scrap piece of paper, sat down and started writing. And this would be the case over the coming months, a daily compulsion. He couldn't help it, he physically couldn't stop.
Maybe an hour had passed and Lawrie was still writing, when he heard the not so distant cry of his boy. Nothing like the sounds he had made earlier, but just him letting the world know he was still upset, in the only way he could. Lawrie looked out of the window to see Finn and Ma on their way back from over the road. 'No surprise he's upset', he thought to himself. He hated seeing Ma walk away with his Son, and was glad he hadn't seen this time, as it would only have played on his mind.
He sat back down to his writing, knowing that Nib was out there and Finn would soon be at ease, filling his not so little belly.
He could overhear a conversation between Nib and her mother. It wasn't difficult, as they only really have two levels of communicating out here, Nib's family especially. Those levels are shouting and screaming, making everything far too easy too hear, and whether you want to or not.
Apparently, Pa was already on his way back, and was four hours away by tractor. He tore open his fresh pack of cigarettes, and threw one in his mouth biting down on the end.
His cigs came in packs on thirteen, cost 12.5 cents, and had a very well know cartoon rabbit eating a carrot, printed on the cellophane bag they came in. ''Maybe it's this one that finally kills me'', he wondered out loud. He stepped outside, and just in time to see the younger sister making off on the moto, Finn under her arm. ''For fuck's sake...''
Lawrie was crouched down at the corner edge of the tilled floor, intensely staring down the road as far as he could, in the direction Finn had gone. He was on his second cigarette. As he rolled it between his fingers, the end fell to the dirt below. He put it out with a small piece of chipped concrete and placed the dimp in an empty discarded bottle that was laying next to him.
Looking up, he saw Finn and the sister, with a thick cloud of red dust following after them as they made their return. A huge sigh of relief spilled out from him, he thought it would never end. Any bigger or longer, it might have been worth contacting the people who compile the world record books.
Lawrie hated it. Too much of what they thought of as normal, he saw as an unnecessary risk. He'd had his concerns shouted down already, the first time he saw it happen, and this was just another thing he had to begrudgingly accept. But he promised himself, if she ever caused his Son any harm, he would slap her so silly, it would take them a week to find where she landed.
When the Sun had set, he'd gotten down three full pages of writing. Not a massive achievement, and you wouldn't have mistaken it for Hemmingway (who he knew nothing about, though quite sure he's the Maradonna of writing), but he was proud of the fact that he had achieved a little something.
He'd always enjoyed writing, mainly just songs, the first of which he wrote at the age of eleven after watching an Adam Sandler film. He'd also, always written down the strange thoughts, or scenarios that came into his head. He had no real use for them unless they were to be used in a song, but while growing up, had a few drawers full of scrappy bits of paper with random ramblings of madness scribbled down. He would sort through them one day, but they were all boxed up in his mum's garage back home.
His first song was terrible, and unfortunately, he had come across the only physical reminder of it's existence years later, the lyric sheet. He'd written it on the keyboard he had before he had a guitar. After finding the sheet, the melody came rushing back, regaining it's place and taking up space in his memory. He realised his interest in song writing early on in life, back in primary school when they would sing in assembly. He enjoyed singing, as it was usually better than the rest of their day, and after hearing some bright spark from a few years above, singing 'toilet painted green', during the chorus of Yellow Submarine, he spent his remaining years there trying to out do it.
The Sun was about an hour off setting, and he couldn't delay calling his family any longer. No one that he needed to call, had dependent children, and they were all likely sleeping-in. Their days of cursing Baby Jesus at 5am, covered in wrapping paper, had already been and gone.
He called his Dad who was stuck in Bali, his Mum stuck in the UK, his Grandma stuck in hospital, and his Uncle David who yes, was also stuck. Everyone, everywhere was, trapped wherever they were when the world stopped turning.
David, one of his Dad's half brothers, was in London. His business of delivering butchered meat was doing quiet well through all of the craziness. A good business to be in during times like these, apparently.
His Dad had let him know that his Uncle had sent some money electronically, and that it was waiting to be collected. His Uncle was a good man, as was most of his family, but Uncle David knew Lawrie's situation quite well, as he's come out to visit him not long before the troubles started in the world. Out of most of his family, David had a much better idea of the problems Lawrie was facing.
He knew just how lucky he was for having the family he did, but felt such guilt for not showing his appreciation as much he should. He rarely contacted them, and spent years wishing he had done so more often.
He went with the elder brother, Ren, to collect his lifeline Christmas gift.
Ren was only fourteen, but he rode the motorbike as he did every time, with Lawrie on the back. The in-laws, Pa in particular, were scared of what might happen whenever Lawrie left their hometown. Mainly of the police, who in all fairness were pretty corrupt. But Lawrie, who had left home the first time at the age of fifteen, was pretty savvy, and hadn't ever been in trouble with the law out here. There had been many times, after being stopped by traffic police, that he'd ride away with a new friend he'd just drank a beer with. One time, a police man gave him his fine money back, after seeing how little he had with him.
Even though this was, here was tribal land, and he just had to get on with it.
The Sun was half way over the hill when they got back to the farm. Lawrie dished the money out... a little to Ren for the trip, a little more to his wife, and way too much to Ma. She would probably be playing cards tomorrow, but as Pa was still out of town he had no choice. Choices weren't such a big thing here.
It was around eight-thirty when Pa arrived home. Dinner had been sat there a couple of hours, waiting on the roar of the tractor, and on his arrival, the younger ones erupted with screams of happiness. Everyone loved Pa, not just the family, but those outside as well.
Lawrie skipped to the shop and bought four cans. They all ate rice, him and Pa drank, and then everyone went to bed. Everyone that was, except for Lawrie. He stayed up researching online, looking at maps of Lombang City. There was a few places that last time, he hadn't managed to get to. He had more than a few things to pick up, and there was a couple of people he was hoping to meet. This time, knowing how long it might be till the next, he had to get as much done as possible. Most importantly, was getting an ID photo... the next step of the only half-decent, long-shot of a plan he had. And thanks to Uncle David, all this was possible, and Finn's first Christmas was back on. And although being a day late, Lawrie couldn't be happier.
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