The Boy With The Dinner Plate
I was hosing the front garden of the home we had just moved into when he caught my eye. A boy, no more than eight, carrying what appeared to be a dinner plate across from one house to another. It was only when I saw the same boy on a different evening doing exactly the same walk that I observed with more attention. He was indeed carrying a dinner plate with food as he made his way down the driveway, across the street and up to the front door of what must be the opposite neighbour. Without trying to, I noticed this same ritual on a fairly regular basis.
He comes from a family of seven, yes seven – boys. The eldest has recently moved out but it has only been five weeks and his Mum got a text saying he missed home and was lonely. They own a generational boat business. The Dad is home by five o’clock and Mum runs the uniform shop at the primary school. The boys grew up with Dad down the street and Mum at school, until they moved on to high school.
They built the house when the surrounding blocks were empty. One by one they were bought up, tradies arrived and houses emerged. Families moved in. They were the originals. Those who built homes, they were and a few still are, the originals.
When there were two toddlers and a baby on the way in the family that would become seven boys, the block across from them sold. A barrister from the city bought the block for cash when his wife was visiting her family in Italy. He told her over an international phone call that he had sold their home and they would be building in a very nice new estate near the beach. She heard, ‘next to the beach’. She still tells the story.
The barrister built an impressive house with an even grander statue of a jumping dolphin in his front yard and asked the opposite neighbours, the family with boys, “Do you think this will increase the value of your property?” The Mum of those boys did not have time for the luxury of diplomacy so she told the barrister, “No. I don’t think so.” She still tells the story.
When the barrister’s wife returned she was not happy – but she moved, after all, their house was sold. She did not care for the new house which the builders were working on under relentless instruction from her husband. She was indifferent to the block which was across from the water. The sort of ‘across’ from the water which eventually meant houses sprouted up to put an end to their view.
Although, there was another ‘across’ the street and over there was the house that had the baby boys that would one day, number seven. One by one those little boys grew to know, to trust, to love the always ready Nona who lived just steps across the road. A home with quiet calmness, warm baking smells and the somewhat scary barrister in his big leather chair who read them chapters of novels in his deep, rich voice which made them sleepy.
It began on a summer night with a gentle knock on the door. The Mum had put dinner on the table for the littles and went to answer the door. Her neighbour was there, her personal angel Nona, there to tell her that car lights had been left on. Their chat was interrupted with the eldest holding his plate of spaghetti, asking if he could go and eat dinner with Nona. The women exchanged sweet glances and the Mum shrugged and the Nona smiled and told the boy,” Of course you can come and have your dinner with us,” reassuring the Mum that she will walk him home, all twenty steps.
That is how it began. A ritual that has spanned close to fifteen years of a boy taking his dinner over to Nona’s house. She walks them home but they always get ice cream before they go. As one boy’s visits began to slow, another was ready to carry on the unplanned but closely held little treat that carried on down to the current boy, the one I had seen. The last boy.
I met the lovely Nona. She has welcoming eyes, a sweet accent and personifies grace and elegance. She was the one to tell me the story of her husband selling her house whilst she was away. One by one the little boys appear to have saved the barrister with their mere presence.
I thought to ask her what would happen when the last boy feels too grown up to trot across to Nona’s with his dinner, but I realized, that was a question not to be asked. Once they moved into their new home, the house that began without her, she told me, “When we came, and I met my family across the street, my boys, well that was it. I could never leave the boys.”
The barrister had the good sense to keep quiet during the relaying of this family and neighborhood tale. After all, he must be fairly experienced at knowing full well when someone has got away with something.