It takes a village

by Jonathan

July 2011

It’s rare to find yourself, a man of middling age, lurking in dense vegetation ready to pounce on small boys. And I admit it felt ludicrous, but I forgave myself the feeling of playful glee, and the slight acceleration of my heartbeat, as I lurked in the lower shoots of the wisteria. It felt naughty, a throwback to boyhood mischief-making and daring-do. But damn it, it was a real struggle to peer through the narrow gaps in the weatherboards of the garden gate. Why oh why had I painted it so well? Didn’t I realise that the day would come when I needed to crouch down low and wait to see schoolboys approaching? Anyway, it was too late to consider other options now. I heard footsteps and the unmistakable muffled giggle of unbroken voices. They stopped. The doorbell let out its unmistakable holler. My heart leapt and I lunged for the gate.

 It took us a while to realise that our doorbell was ringing at roughly the same time each day. It had gone completely berserk a few weeks earlier, seemingly rejoicing in the torrential rain and playing an incessant ear-shattering ring. And when workmen discovered a nest of cozy ants hidden in the intercom we thought we had found an excuse for its erratic behaviour. Working in front of a screen for most of the day, you can lose track of time, so it was a few weeks before it dawned on me that someone was taking the piss, that is, ringing the doorbell and running away. How stupid were we! It was so obvious in retrospect. The time was key, invariably close to 3.30pm, just as school kids were walking home. So a confrontation was inevitable, even if it did mean making an ass of myself running down the steep hill that is Denham Street. But that is where the planning came in.

Patrick is not a big man but he is definitely broader and stronger than me. I suppose, with his freshly shaved head, he could, to a young schoolboy be just a wee bit frightening. This didn’t occur to us when as he lay in wait behind the wall that turns from Denham to Francis Streets. Once the chase was on, the run was pretty frenetic, but in desperation to see who this madman was chasing him, one boy was turning to look at me just as he hurled himself backwards with full force into Patrick’s considerable frame. Though I have never seen a seal pup bashed to death by Patrick’s fellow countrymen I imagine the sound they might would be not unlike the shocking whimper that escaped from that poor boy.

Then, the usual protests: ‘It wasn’t us! It’s a group of boys from our school.’ I remained calm. ‘Where do you live?’ A dumbstruck look from all three faces. ‘I just need to know where you live so I can speak to your parents. Then I’ll leave you alone.’ It was weird the things these boys couldn’t recall, but I wasn’t having any of it. ‘OK, if you are not going to tell me where you live, I’ll just have to follow you home. OK?’ After some baffled looks, we set off, with me keeping a 20 metre distance. But by the time we reached the next corner, all three were crying. The mobile phones came out. ‘Mum, there’s this man…..and he’s following us….and he said…but we didn’t….and…” Bloody ‘ell! This was getting nasty. Was this ‘stranger danger’? Was I the prowler? Crazy thoughts were jumping around in my mind. But hang on,  I thought, they know where I live, they rang our doorbell to get our attention for God’s sake. So I persevered. But soon things came to a halt again. They didn’t want to lead me to their homes, dreading (I hoped) the wrath of their parents, so a silent “we shall not be moved” protest ensued at a local roundabout. But this is where their phone calls caught them out as I soon caught sight of a distraught mother approaching me. A cascade of words erupted but it was my turn for silence. I did pick up some words and a look from the mother directed at the kids that could kill, ‘Did you do it?’. It was time to step in. I offered a card. ‘Hi, I’m Jonathan, and I live and work in Denham Street…..’

Walking back to the office I mused over events and felt I had explained myself quite well, but my phone rang when I got back to the office and the mother was on the line fiercely defending her boy. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘if it hasn’t always been them, let them tell me who it was and I’ll speak to their mothers.’ More silence. I suppose there is some secret motherly code you have to abide by, and one of the rules is you do not dob in another mother’s kids, because that didn’t work. ‘OK‘, I said, ‘I’ll speak to the school.’ ‘Oh no, please don’t speak to the school!!’.  Cue my speech about collective responsibility, about how I would be the first to care for their kids if they were in trouble in our street, and about my belief in Hillary Clinton’s dictum: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Rant over, I calmed down and we hung up our phones as friends.

Unfortunately the bell ringing didn’t stop so I got to know that mother quite well over the coming weeks, getting regular updates on her son’s nightmares featuring a bulky Canadian. I was made promises about school lectures (I offered to give them myself), I suggested the offending parties dropped by for a chat, I offered again to call the other parents – why couldn’t I have their numbers? And so it went on. My confusion was in the secrecy. Why couldn’t I confront these boys’ parents? Why couldn’t I approach the school? I suspected bullying. But the pranks eventually stopped so I left it at that.

 However, the story does not end there. Weeks later, the bell rang and I wandered to the door only realising when I was halfway down the front path that it was 3.40pm! My pace quickened and I opened the gate with a furious, violent tug. There, before me were the angelic faces of about a dozen boys. I took a step back in shock. ‘We heard you are the designers of the A-League logo and we were wondering if we could come in and have a look at what you do. Oh, and yeah….we are really sorry about ringing the bell.’  They all joined in with a chorus of sorrys. ‘Er, OK then….in you come.’ The youngest must have been no more six years old, and being accompanied home by the older boys, but they all stood and listened, and eagerly pointed out various balls with our logos. ‘Look! The Kangaroos!’, ‘Hey Jase, they did the Super 14 – over there!’ With the tour over, the line trudged back towards the garden gate. I held that gate open for just a little longer, looking at them as they wandered down the same hill I had sprinted a few weeks earlier, and pondered on my twelve new Bondi friends.

 

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