A Winter's Night
It is the image of him I am left with. The two sandy blond heads together, leaning forward, engrossed in the game on the phone. It is the image I wish I had thought to photograph, though I know by that point he abhorred having any images taken. It is the last night I saw Simon.
It is cold on the mountain, it is always so very cold in mid-winter. The fires burn on day and night, heating frozen rooms, warming the homes of all who reside in this rainforest paradise. Our mouths propel jet bursts of steam as we stomp up steep external stairs to the house of friends, which hovers on the edge of the hilltop drop. Tonight it will be a gourmet indulgence, rich, white sauce drenched crab lasagna with lots of tasty sides and extras, tonight it will be a meal fit for a king, for our king has returned at long last.
My children whine, hating leaving the cosy comfort of our residence. The oldest dreads social interaction with this bunch of boisterous boys, his brother included, and the one tomboy girl attending. For him, at age 9, this type of gathering is a living hell. As it is for one other, the one for whom this feast is in honour.
Laughter, hugs and garbled greetings meet us at the door. But eyes are drawn to the taut figure sitting in the large recliner. The chair swamps him, and if I hadn't had the chance to see him briefly on his journey home from hospital, I doubt I could have hidden my anguish. So frail, so thin, so tired. So sick of it all, and sick of being sick. He is 39, but looks decades older.
We sit, eat, talk. The noise level ramps up and conversation and games become rambunctuous. Five children laugh, giggle, joke. One child covers his ears and cowers from the noise. The man has returned to the large leather recliner, sitting quietly drinking it all in. He sees the boy, my oldest. From across the room he senses the distress wafting off the child in waves, smiles. Pulls from the pocket of his now too large jacket a shiny new gadget - his phone. Waggles it, smiles, and beckons. The others come too, jumping in, wanting to grab, investigate, intervene. Simon shushes and sends away, it is not a toy, he tells them.
The boy walks quietly over and gazes into Simon's eyes. They smile, understanding the importance of such technology, each relishing the abilities of this one little cold metallic item. The boy does not see the illness, he does not see the frailty, the shadows of pain. When he looks at the man he sees only a kindred spirit, another technological addict. And someone who understands. He moves to the chair, slides in beside Simon, shuffles his bottom to make room. Unselfconsciously he leans into the thin body, snuggles deep. They bow over the phone, engrossed, absorbed, happy.
Simon glances up, catches my eye, smiles, joy emanating unsuppressed. For right at this minute, this child has made him feel whole, just for a while. The two tousled heads lower again over the phone. The boy moves closer, looks up into Simon's eyes and beams. Simon beams right back.
It is the image I remember him by. My son, my different, quirky outsider completely content and calm, nestled as close as one human can be to another. The man, feeling special, wanted, strong. I just wish I had taken that photo.