It was the sort of café one ends up in. A place that no one would choose, where time is wasted before something better happens. They were sitting at a table, four Europeans, with unloved luggage left carelessly on the forlorn terrace.
Smoking heavily, they must have been travellers on their way to the next awesome experience. Shorts that mismatched t shirts hinted at uniformly alternative new age leanings Long gaps in their millennial conversation were adequately plugged by the WiFi that comes free with the mediocre coffee.
It was fifteen minutes before I noticed her. A girl of no more than five years, who must have spent more moments than just these unwanted. She came from nowhere and talked to the group but no one seemed able to look up from the internet to respond. One or more of these slightly grubby people must have been her parent. A small blonde girl with blue eyes was bored in Asia and no one seemed concerned. So conspicuous and yet unacknowledged by those who have a duty of care.
Cigarettes were finished and butts were squashed underfoot. Backpacks were swung into position and the four travellers were ready to depart. The girl’s hand was taken wordlessly as if she were just excess baggage and off they set, towards the next adventure.
What untold want do you have, little voyager, whose parents have set sail to seek and find? What memories of childhood will you create? How must it feel to be incarcerated on the backpack trail of someone else’s escape?
I am a brother. It is something that does not take up much time, yet my brother is often in my thoughts. As children, our age shaped the roles we were given and seems to have shaped the men we have become.
He is older than me, and when I was young, he seemed so grown up. I looked to him for guidance and advice. Our home situation was somewhat less than conventional, so an unfair burden was placed on him that I never carried. He was expected to take care of me whereas I was just expected to be younger. He shouldered responsibility at an early age while I skipped through life, almost oblivious to the world around me.
My brother is fifty five years old now, and he has taken care of his wife and their sons. His family has grown up in a safe and loving environment that did not mirror our childhood existence. A stable home, where promises were kept and boundaries were maintained, has produced two happy confident young men. They have a home which is solid, built on love, respect and hard work.
I don't have a home and I have never really settled. I roam about the world, restlessly seeking things I'll probably never find. I would like to know how it feels to share my home and my life with someone. I am fifty and have never lived with a partner. I can only imagine the joys and woes of parenthood and have resigned myself to my solitary life. I have shirked life's responsibilities and I am still skipping. I never have everything I need and yet, thanks to the kindness of people around me, my scrapes are survived. I am still that boy who never has a clean tissue and always has untied laces.
On one level I have always wanted to be like my brother, but I am not. I am the younger son, and I was only ever expected to need looking after. He grew up to be a caretaker and I, perhaps not yet grown up, still take care when it is offered
We are all travellers. We are born but by the time we die we are in different times and different places. I was born into much unhappiness. My mother thought she had arrived as she had a home and a husband. She ended up barefoot and pregnant, deserted by my Catholic father for a woman who dripped a hard headed, icy sophistication. My mother, leaking milk, eventually admitted defeat and returned home to the helpful but rigidly, judgmental parents she had left on her ill advised wedding day. Her ensuing battles with her mental health and self esteem didn’t leave much stability or love to spare for two boys who had already lost a father. She left us out in the cold for a while but she had to put her own oxygen mask on before she could worry about our care supply. The return to a semblance of normality was a bumpy bohemian road along which I grew to love my shy mother. She was clever and funny and quietly loved her children though organisation and routine were scarce commodities. As an adult I can see my mother has bestowed both gifts and burdens on me. Having no children, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to parent a child while your own life veers off course.
My mother’s life was short but in her last few years I saw a woman of fifty something years coming into her own with a joy and a confidence I had only ever glimpsed as a child. I am fifty now and sense I am, like my mother, in a very good place. Looking forward, I don’t know where I am going but I am fairly confident it will be great when I get there. I can see where I have been and the path has been a tough one and I have no doubt the future will hold a few surprises yet. My mother taught me that demons can be battled and was an example of how we can change. I have travelled through time and space but it is the internal journey that has been my greatest adventure. It has taken me to places far from my childhood and will continue to do so as long I ask questions of myself and the world I see before me. The inquisitive mind travels far for what is a quest without question. The answers aren’t often found but if you stop asking your journey is over. This restless traveller hopes to live on the bumpy bohemian road and die having never quite arrived.