As best as I remember

I make no apologies for this piece – it’s been written more for me than for you.

I can make a few promises about it though – it will be hard to read. It won’t make you happy. And it will make you wonder what kind of people you’re sharing the world with.

I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but I do remember it was sunny. Warm and sunny, and I can still feel the radiating heat of the sun working on the muscles of my back as I pedalled my bicycle through the park, across the road from my house.

I was five years old.

I enjoyed playing in the park – I could venture a fair distance from my house, yet stay within easy sight of it, which were the rules at the time. The mid-1970s in the Australian suburbs were a reasonably carefree era – the only things I needed to worry about were spiders and cars – the rest of the world bore me no malice.

My bicycle was yellow – a ‘dragster’, we called it. Three speed gear change and a sloping black vinyl seat, with a ‘sissy bar’ at the back for good measure. I recently saw one, virtually identical in a shop window in Newtown, and considered buying it. However, the closer I got to it, the more it made me nervous, until I couldn’t look at the bike at all anymore, and had to leave the shop.

I had been pedalling hard, I remember, and my legs were tired. But the warmth of the sun was invigorating, and after stopping for a drink from the tap by the side of the park’s toilet block, I was off again. I sang to myself when I rode alone, usually songs that I had picked up from the radio in Mum’s big blue Mercedes. Each time I hit a bump, my voice would wobble with the impact – I liked to ride along the bumpy parts of the road and try to keep my voice as even as possible. I liked to sing as loud as I could – loud enough to scare the birds from the trees above, to draw attention from the passers-by, who would smile and wave at the musical boy.

I rode along beneath the trees, following the path of the road that ran through the park, which was used by the maintenance crews from the local Council – the asphalt made a neat humming noise beneath the tyres of the bike, a constant and steady, but distant roar which provided an interesting backdrop to my riding. I used it to navigate through the park when my mind was clearly elsewhere – when the roaring stopped, I had left the asphalt, and my attention was quickly returned to where I was headed.

The warmth. The sun. The sounds.

There was a sudden violence, and the first thing I realised was that the roar has stopped. I can remember an absence of sound. I was lying on the ground, and I had skinned my knees and my elbows on the asphalt. I knew that I was about to cry – the shock of the fall did it to me every time. I usually called for my mother, first off, and then lapsed into terrified sobs until she gathered me up in her arms, shooshing me to settle me down, before painting my sores with bright red Mercurochrome, fashioning the sore points into smiling sun faces, which soon matched my own as she made everything alright.

I was startled from my cries by a voice – a grown up. A man. Slightly older than my father, by the look of him, but he had a beard just like my dad, and kind, smiling eyes.

“Are you ok?” he asked, and I shook my head. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Come with me.”

He took my hand and wheeled my bike towards the toilet block. I hesitated slightly – my parents had warned me that I wasn’t supposed to go anywhere with people I didn’t know. But he looked so kind.

I think he guessed that I was hesitating.

“It’s ok, mate. I know your parents. They’ll thank me for helping you.”

He seemed ok.

The instant we entered the door of the toilet block, I realised that I could no longer see my house. I had broken a Golden Rule – always play where you can see the house. I would be in Big Trouble if Mum looked out from the front porch and couldn’t see me. And I had broken another Golden Rule by going there with a stranger.

And the instant I tensed because I’d broken the rules, the man changed. His grip on my wrist tightened until it hurt, and his other hand grabbed my shoulder.

“Stay quiet,” he hissed. That’s the phrase I’ll always remember. “Stay quiet.”

The next few minutes, I’m afraid, are hazy. It’s probably for the best.

But I remember the pain. I remember the searing hot pain that felt like I was coming apart from inside.

I remember looking down into a toilet bowl. I remember seeing my tears drop from the tip of my nose, making ripples in the water inside.

I remember him stopping every few seconds – I realise now that he was stopping to listen, in case anyone was coming.

I remember him hitting my head against the toilet bowl.

I remember the sound my face made as it connected hard with the porcelain.

And I remember him repeating, over and over ,“stay quiet.”

“Stay quiet.”

And suddenly, he was gone.

It hurt. A lot. My knees were grazed worse than before, and I tried to pull up my short pants carefully, so that I wouldn’t get blood on them – blood never washes out properly. I remember my Mum saying that once when I cut my finger and wiped it on a new T-Shirt.

I cried a lot. I cried as I walked outside, and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I cried as I picked up my bicycle and I cried the whole way home.

And I cried when I saw my Mum.

“What happened, little man?” she asked as she crossed the road to help me. I cried even harder than before. I had broken the Golden Rules – I had gone somewhere with a stranger, to a place where I couldn’t see my house. Mum would be furious.

“I fell off my bike.”

I can tell this story now – I take possession of it, so that it no longer possesses me.

It is now my own, and it’s my story to tell.

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