SUBURBAN TOURS EXCERPT EIGHT
Playing with James, that uncanny, smart, unsmiling dark-haired kid from just around the corner. The game Ben had designed where you threw the dice, aiming for the next square of the footpath so you could move into that square. If the dice rolled out, you were out of the game, and had to start again. It was a painstaking game of patience.
James looks at the thousands of squares of Ben’s board game footpath, how many throws it would take to get to even the milk bar, and he throws the dice as far as he can, and sprints to where they land. That’s his move, he yells; that’s how he’s going to play.
Ben left with his old rules, and without dice, way behind.
James poised to throw again.
He’s picked up a rock. Use that instead of dice, it goes further.
Soon the exhilaration of hurling rocks as far as possible, and the running, and the discovery, following the erratic bounces of stones down driveways, across new streets, into backyards, past that other school, is enough for Ben to overcome his disappointment at his game being revolutionised.
Jamie’s game is better, by miles. Then James says ‘this is an ace game, thanks!’ And young Ben Kester feels guilty for getting credit, and proud, and he knows there is something he should be saying to James, but his strange friend is already moving on, trying to get his stone to bounce off a wall so he can turn a corner.
Does he think they should stick to footpaths, or could they just throw their rocks and see where that took them, even if it was in parkland, or that overgrown patch by the freeway?
Ben says ‘just throw them!’
But James is worried that the squares of the footpath were necessary for it to feel like a game, the way Ben started it off. The squares made everything like a board game.
The two boys stand at the edge of the park expanse, trying to choose the best rules.
It will be time to go home soon. Ben can feel momentum drying and shrivelling and solidifying, becoming historical with every silent second, a record of movement instead of movement itself. He doesn’t want it to be over, the exciting, scary challenging moments of evolution, his charismatic friend a force of innovation. He tries to encourage the free form expedition into the un-pathed footy oval. He poises to throw.
James is not sure, and that is enough. James is scared, suddenly. He’s gone quiet, he has no opinions. They walk back to familiar streets, heads down, Ben watching his friend, mystified, the footpaths no longer enchanted. James even steps on gaps between squares. Ben wants to be away from him now, he is relieved when James slinks away without word into his house.