There’s nothing like a bit of adventure. From an early age I had a bit of a grá (love) for anything that hinted of adventure. It came from my love of books and movies I guess, as well as the restrictions imposed on me by growing up in a working class suburb of Dublin all those years ago. We weren’t poor but poverty was never far away and we were all very familiar with it’s grasp. There was no guarantee that any of us would make it out of that life. I was fortunate but while I waited for the world to find me, I took every opportunity that came my way.
I came from a tough place in many ways, harsh and unforgiving to anyone who showed a sign of weakness, clawing and grasping, always trying to pull you in and keep you bound to where you were planted. There was nothing wrong with my roots, it was a fine upbringing in many ways but I knew there was more to the world and I desperately wanted to see it all. How could I find it if I didn’t take some chances.? I instinctively knew that I needed wings and chose to believe even as a little tot, that I had them.
Believing set me free. I tried to take off so many times but my wings didn’t seem to open. Perhaps they weren’t strong enough at first. It didn’t matter. I flutterflied around like a floaty little sprite completely unaware of my apparent affliction. All I knew was that if I kept trying, some day my wings would catch the wind and I would soar.
But wings are delicate things and spirits even flimsier. To run from atop a roof and jump full of belief is one thing, to do it a second time when you have hit the ground hard the first time, is a more onerous proposition. I had my fair share of falls but each time I would stand back up, a little tyke in short trousers, I’d shake my mop of blonde hair and brush the dirt from my bleeding knees, and look back up at the roof. There was always only one thing to do, try again tomorrow.
Sometimes I’d dawdle. Looking back I’m surprised I just didn’t give up sometimes, but there was adventure to be had and I knew instinctively that it couldn’t be had, crying over a cut knee. As I got older and grew gangly-headed into my teens, I still hadn’t managed to get my damned wings to fly. There were moments where I’d run and jump and it felt like the wind held me and my spirit would glide a little. It felt incredible. Little things, tiny victories over my adolescent insecurities made me believe again, but it was becoming harder to maintain the belief that had carried my littler self through childhood. I remember the story of the little train who thought he could, and I tried hard to use that as a thread of self-belief when all about me told me different.
My world told me that I couldn’t be or wouldn’t be. I grew bigger and bolder within myself, still wanting, still hoping, worrying that maybe I was foolish to belief my gossamer wings would ever hold my weight. I was still a boy not yet a man, when I got some work experience with a business at the airport. It was a glamorous world to a boy like me. My boss drove a fancy car and I mingled with the world as they came and went through that place, taking off to places with names that sounded so exotic, places I had only ever read about in books.
One day a customer was having coffee with my boss when he referred to where I lived. He said that he had driven through as fast as he could.
“Wouldn’t want to stop at the lights or they’d have the wheels off.” That’s what he said and I was standing right behind him. He had no idea he was speaking about my neighbours. But my boss did and I remember how he looked at me over his shoulder, embarrassed for not saying something, perhaps in truth agreeing with the man. I wasn’t sure. But I did something that day that changed me I think. I spoke up and I spoke plainly.
“That’s where I live.”
They were four of the most powerful words I had ever spoken. He turned and looked at me. I was still a flitterling, a wisp of a lad in a cheesecloth shirt and jeans, looking down the barrel of a man of substance. He was a big man, brash and opinionated, with all of the confidence that I only imagined possible. He came from a different world. His was a world of wealth and privilege. He was a confident man, my elder, my better and I had stepped across a line that surprised even me.
I didn’t know what to expect but I did not expect his response. For a second he glowered at me, but I stood there like I had come across a grizzly in the woods and had decided to challenge it. Incredibly I was fearless. There was something about the way he spoke that had really bothered me, and the fact that my boss had cowered and shied away from defending me, had made me feel angry.
I can’t remember the man’s name, but I’ll never forget the look on his face. His knotted brow dropped slack as his cheeks went red. I let the silence hang and the air between us putrefied with his discomfort.
“I…I…There… I mean…Of course… I didn’t…”
He was looking for a way to say he wasn’t referring to me of course but by default still insulting everyone I knew. I raised my hand palm forward and he stopped. I turned and walked away and left him to his discomfort.
It was a small thing in many ways, but it was bigger than you can imagine. Those four words gave me something I didn’t immediately recognise. I had stood up as a boy against man, a boy from a neighbourhood with a bad reputation to challenge a man of wealth and supposed class, and I had crossed a divide.
In that moment, I had levelled the playing pitch for the rest of my life. No one was better than me. No one could say it or think it or feel it in my presence ever again. Later that day my boss came to me and I half expected a rollicking. He told me instead that he admired how I had handled myself and said that he had been too embarrassed to challenge the man. He told me he had been incredibly impressed with my coolness and confidence in the situation. For my part, I was a little disappointed in him. Where I had stood up, he had let himself down.
It was a Friday afternoon and he told me to head off a little early. I went downstairs, unlocked my bicycle and swung my leg across onto the saddle. It was a glorious summer’s evening and I had a fifteen mile cycle ahead of me. But on a day like that it was easy, I simply spread my wings and took flight…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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