59. 9.30am. Top deck, about halfway down on the left.

‘Over there, look. The way the roots are coming up through the pavement. And there, in that garden, that’s a banana tree. Did you know bananas grow on trees?’

A tanned and broad-shouldered man was talking to his tiny son in the row in front of me. The son looked around five, and was so small I could barely see him over the seat. He had tousled brown hair, and he was curling his body towards the window, glancing listlessly at the things his father was pointing out in the world outside the bus.

‘The bananas are like the flowers of the trees.’

The boy piped up: ‘Bananas are lellow.’

‘Yes,’ the father confirmed, ‘bananas are yellow.’

The boy squirmed a little. ‘Like lellow signs.’

‘What? Uh, yes, that’s right.’

After a short pause: ‘Daddy I want to build things.’

‘Hmm, that’s interesting. Like houses?’

Curling up even smaller: ‘I want to build walls.’

This kid was deep.

The father bent his face down to gaze lovingly at his son. ‘So you don’t want to be a fireman any more then?’

‘A fire fighter.’

This got me in my gut. I love that children are now learning gender-neutral profession titles as a matter of course. Anyway, it soon became apparent why the boy was being so floppy and unenthusiastic.

‘I think I want to go home.’

‘Hmm? But what about your friends at the nursery? Who are your friends, tell me.’

‘Daniel…’ and then in a whisper, ‘but he doesn’t want to play with me.’

The father, to my great admiration, didn’t miss a beat. With absolutely no hint of talking down to his son, he said, ‘Hmm. Well, he probably just wants his space. You know, everyone does once in a while. Don’t worry about it. Sometimes that happens to me too – people ask me to play and I’m busy because I might be seeing you, or someone else, and sometimes I ask people to play with me and they’re tired or have other things on. It’ll be OK, he’ll come and play when he’s ready to.’

The boy uncurled a little, but still looked anxious about going to nursery. When the bus arrived at their stop, father and son held hands and made their way to the stairs. As they descended, I heard the father say, still in a level, man-to-man voice, ‘It’ll be OK. But if you want me to stay a little while at the start I can, I have time.’


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