HOW DO YOU SAY GOODBYE TO A CHILD?
Twenty months ago I arrived on a goat farm owned by a Dutch couple in the south west of France.
A friend and I had turned up to help do some renovations on the farm house which Chris, the father of the family had started, but perhaps did not realise how demanding his goat project was going to be.
Eleven months later saw the departure of my friend to start a career in graphic design.
At the same time my girlfriend returned to start her final year at university in economics in the Czech Republic.
I turned an old chicken shed into a workshop and set about making furniture for some local friends, all the while assisting on the farm and not only teaching the Dutch some British cuisine but also educating them in humour and Churchill quotes.
Often eating with the family which consisted of two small boys I ended up becoming one of them. Someone to confide in and vice versa, and with the 5 and 7 year old boys I became an older brother.
As well as collecting bales from the land I was also an honorary au-pair. A collection of funny runs and competing at everything with Lucas, the youngest son, I was the one he would show off to, or embarrassingly hide from if he wanted to cry.
Always smiling and wanting to be the strongest or quickest, I would see disappointment on his face if I had to turn him down when he wanted to play. I could say ‘plus tard’ or ‘demain’ and he would be happy knowing I would give him attention later.
But as I took him to school for my last time I hugged him and he hugged me back outside the school gates. I then walked him to his younger playground and where he would have normally run to play with his friends he just stood and looked up at me. No smile or tears just a face of understanding, a face I can’t pull of now as a 30 year old.
I bent down to hug him again but this time he didn’t hug back, he felt to me too weak to lift his arms, too sad.
I watched him walk into his playground not interacting with the others as he always does, just forlornly staring at the other children around him.
He knew there would be no later, no tomorrow, to play his games. I walked to his older brother who brushed me off in a cool embrace and joined in the games of others.
If I hadn’t turned the corner to see a friend approaching I would have surely burst into tears and ran from view.
Just like Lucas.