Posts Tagged ‘humbling’

It’s always a bit disorienting when the bus people forget to change their advertisements for time-specific events. I know the WYD posters were still trundling around the city long after it was (finally) over.

Yesterday it was the ones for Missing Persons Week, on my way to the Fox and Raven. Actually I only saw one, and I didn’t see many when it actually was Missing Persons Week, about a month ago.

I’ve never actually known anyone who’s gone missing. I mean, it’s possible that someone I once knew has, in the interim, disappeared without a trace, but I’ve never experienced that. It sounds horrible, anyway – and look at the repercussions, especially when it’s a child that goes missing. It becomes this worldwide phenomenon, I mean the Azaria Chamberlain case became this integral icon of Australian identity, and the furore regarding Madeleine McCann’s disappearance continues to be heard, and loudly, to this day.

Anyway all of this was churning around in my head by the time I got to work yesterday afternoon. I was discussing the whole thing with Katie, a Sunday regular. Neither of us has kids, but Katie has a twelve year old niece, and of course I was thinking of Jamie.

Katie pointed out that age really changes the nature of the disappearance and how it’s treated. “I mean,” she said, “that with the Chamberlain case it’s not as though the baby could have just wandered off; with a ten week old baby, you know it’s an external influence causing the disappearance. But you get to that poor McCann girl, and, well, it’s not particularly likely that she would have left the babies alone, but it’s a possibility. And as for my niece Sammy, if a twelve year old goes missing you’re torn between the ideas of abduction and teenage rebellion, aren’t you?”

The idea of Jamie going missing was like a throbbing ache in my head. I couldn’t imagine what it would do to Lily, or to me. I pictured the police scouring the harbour and the beaches, questioning neighbours, compiling a list of suspects, at the top of which would probably be Lily. Or, more likely, Josh.

I picked up another polishing cloth, throwing the old one into the tub and choosing a new glass from the rack. “I don’t understand how anyone’s life could go on after something like that,” I mused, flicking suds off the glass. “There’s just absolutely no closure. It’d be enough to literally drive you insane.”

There was a crash from the end of the bar. James had fumbled a tray, smashing three glasses and slicing his finger open. I grabbed the first aid kit and went over.

“What happened?” I asked, as I examined his wound for any remaining shards of glass.

“Nothing,” he muttered, “Sorry. I slipped. And. Must’ve just, uh, lost it.”

I glanced up at his face. He was pale, and his hand shook just the tiniest bit as I fished out one remaining sliver with the tweezers. He’s pretty young, only just 18, and keeps mostly to himself. I thought about asking him again, but he wrapped the band-aid firmly around his finger and went to grab the dustpan and broom. I shrugged.

After work, though, when we were grabbing our stuff from the staffroom, he started to talk. It was almost as though he was thinking out loud, not really talking to me.

“My sister and I left. We didn’t tell them why, didn’t leave a note. Didn’t need to. Don’t think they ever looked for us.”

I felt almost like I was eavesdropping.

“Eventually though, we were picked up off the streets. Pretty young then, y’know. Went into foster homes. All the usual stuff. This one woman, she seemed so great at first, nice house, treated us well, but really all she wanted was company, and then help with the housework. Used to make my sister wash every bloody window in the house before breakfast. Didn’t let us join any of the clubs at school, we always had to come straight home. In the end…”

He paused, hefted his backpack onto one shoulder and turned to look at me. “In the end, she stopped us even going to school one day, locked the doors and windows, wouldn’t let us out. My sister barricaded her in the bathroom with the lounge furniture, and then broke the locks on the front door. She’s so clever, Hannah. Then we left, again. When they found us the next time, they got a home for Hannah straight away. Sweet little thing, fifteen, smart. Not so easy with me, but I was almost 18, so I could strike out on my own. Get a job.” He gestured vaguely at our surroundings.

Then he turned away. “But the next time Hannah disappeared, she didn’t come to me.”

“Why not?”

James shrugged. “Who knows. I don’t. I don’t know how to find her, either. I tried, for a long time. Either she can’t get to me, nor I to her, or she doesn’t want to be found.”

“I’m so sorry. I really am. It must have been hard to hear Katie and I talking tonight.”

Another shrug. “Yeah. I guess so.”

We walked out onto the street together. It seemed pointless to tell him that it was going to be okay, or that he’d find her eventually, when the words were so obviously hollow and meaningless. Tonight he wandered through the park with me, though he usually goes along King Street. The duck in the lake yelped sleepily at us. The trees rustled softly in the windless night.

We reached the road.

“‘Night Arthur. See you next week.”

“G’night James.” I watched him walk away up the street, cars streaking past in ribbons of light, just a shadow on the buildings. The duck squawked again, and I told it amiably to go stuff its beak in the pondweed, and headed in the other direction.


Read Full Post »