PERFECT DAY

Athena was here all day yesterday. She loves Jamrock, and comes to hang out as much as she can. I am so happy that I have found this place and that it’s something I can share with her, and her brother too. In turn, she helps make Jamrock what it is. It’s a space for her to be herself, where everybody knows and accepts her. That’s something she’s never had before in her life. She’s never had friends before — but she does now. For her, Jamrock is inclusion and belonging. She feels at home in the loose community here, enjoys the animals, the characters, the stories and all the crazy shit that happens.

She turned seventeen a month or two ago. She never went to school, not since kindergarten, and that gives her a fresh openness and makes her in some ways a page on which the good people with whom she is now surrounded can inscribe something beautiful — about what men can be, if nothing else. Athena is brave, and she is honest, and what more, really, can you ask of anyone? As I keep reminding her, she made all this happen. It was Athena who started the thaw after ten long frozen years, Athena who got desperate enough to set the cat among the pigeons. That was nearly two years ago now, and it was just the beginning, of course, and it hasn’t been easy, not for her or for Pete or their mother Atchara; but they’re all coming through it now, I think. Love is coming, in different ways for all of us.

Athena’s unusual background means she sometimes gets asked a lot of questions it’s a drag to answer. She doesn’t want to be constantly going over her backstory, and why should she? I encourage her, if strangers ask where she went to school, or why she doesn’t speak Thai,  or anything like that, to just make something up, a story.

She doesn’t yet have the confidence for such role-playing, but the other night there was a young Russian guy at the bar who started asking those questions, so I took the lead.

“Athena was raised in a forest by wolves.”

It had the desired effect. He went quiet, and we changed the subject. Then he wanted to know where the forest was.

“I don’t know,” said Athena.

“How would she?” I asked. “As far as she knew, the forest was all there was.”

“OK,” he said, “then what kind of forest was it?”

“Tropical,” said Athena.

“Really? Tropical forest with wolves in it? That is most unusual.”

“Google it,” I said.

“OK,” said the Russian. “I will.”

After he’d gone I said to Athena, “We may have to rethink the wolves part. It may have to be monkeys.”

“Shit,” she said. “Really?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Tigers, maybe? Leopards? Up to you. It’s your childhood.”

In the end we settled on orang utans. Regardless of the details of her fosterage, Jamrock — Jungle School and Capital of We — was made by and for beautiful misfits and feral humans like her. This story is as much about Athena as anyone else, that’s for sure.

I’d got up late, and had done just a little light work in my valley, because Hodgy and I had stayed up the night before, talking and playing pool. When I got hungry I went up to the clearing and took a shower, then revved my bike up the ragged trail to the road. Athena was in her usual place at the end of the bar, lying on her front and playing with her phone, with Chickadee, the possible chicken, sitting on her back. I drove into town to grab something to eat and do a few errands, and when I came back I asked Athena if she’d like to come down to the valley and set fire to things. Ooh yes, she said. She’s a bit of a closet pyromaniac, like me, and we had fun building a fire and getting it started and tending it, sitting on rocks and talking in that comfortable way that has developed between us.

Then we walked all of my paths, because they are still fresh and need the tramping of feet to tamp them down. Suddenly she exclaimed as a hole opened up under her bare foot and a centipede with bright orange-red legs and head came shooting out, heading at high speed down the slope, hotly pursued by one of my lizard friends with an iguana-like fringe around his jaw. We watched as he took his time crunching up the big insect.

Then the rain came in from the sea with thunder and lightning, so we sat on my verandah watching the illuminations. As the storm passed over us a vertical bolt came down like a hammer somewhere at the top of the hill, close enough to set our senses reeling.

We were trapped for an hour or two by the heavy rain, but we didn’t mind. I put some music on, and Athena sat sketching as we talked and laughed about people and wolves and orang utans, or whatever you want to call the arsehole who snatched her at five years old and kept her hidden from the world for ten whole years. She even called herself by her assumed name at one point: I showed her how to roll a joint, and she had a go, holding up the end-product, lumpy and saggy as a Christmas sock, laughing and saying, ‘Look! Kate’s first joint!’

It suddenly got dark, and even though the rain wasn’t letting up we climbed up to the clearing and had a game of pool at the Jigaro bar. There was no one around. That’s what happens when it rains — people get stuck where they are, whether in their huts or up at the main bar on the road. Rain hammers on roofs so loud you have to shout to talk. Bead-curtains of rain hang from every eave and doorway. We got bored with pool and braved the rain again, just a few yards to the big boxing ring where Nung and Ai had set up the music gear. I turned the power on, slightly nervous about electricity because everything was so wet. Athena sat down at the keyboard and started messing around, finding a big dramatic sound and playing the white notes, with unselfconscious enjoyment. I stood beside her and supplied bass notes and twiddled knobs, and together we created epic thunderstorm music, abstract and cinematic, with the rain hammering and the thunder rumbling.

After a while Johnnie appeared out of the darkness, bare-chested with a towel over his head. Athena was sitting on a stool, listening to me sing All Along the Watch Tower, looking happy with the way her Sunday was turning out. Today had turned into something special for her, despite her low mood. Fire, rain, lightning, weed and sketching and talk and music. So I asked Johnnie to look up the chords to Perfect Day, the Lou Reed song, on his phone, and we stumbled our way through it and belted it out the choruses together with gusto, a spontaneous serenade to the laughing Athena.

“It’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you…”

By this time it was already about nine thirty. It was still raining, and Johnnie pointed out that there were several empty huts where she could sleep if she wanted to stay over. It was a good idea — the hill road would be treacherous even if the rain stopped. So we hauled our asses up the trail to the roadside bar to find something to eat. We were in luck. There was fish curry and barbecued chicken, plenty left for the two of us. The rain stopped, and we went all the way back down to my valley to drink tea, eat Oreos and call her mum to let her know she wasn’t coming home. Around midnight I armed her with my head-lamp, a can of insect spray and a bottle of water, and she set off back up the path to her hut.

And it’s true. Days don’t come much better than this.

Sophia

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