this (runaway) life
Even the happiest children have moments when they plot the idea of running away from home. In my formative years, when broken homes and true homelessness seemed less of an issue than today, running away was a popular fantasy, fuelled by children’s books and films of the time that made it seem entirely doable.
My best mate Gail and I, both having perfectly nice parents, made grand plans to escape the perceived misery of our homes. We always scheduled it for a Friday night, giving us two days on the lam before our school realised we were missing. (This didn’t account for the fact our families would notice our absence earlier.)
Each Friday, for the duration of our running-away phase, we’d say goodbye at the school gates and agree to wait “just one more week”. Deep down we knew it would never happen, but this didn’t stop us making plans.
Our running-away inventory included some practical items (raincoats, gumboots) but completely overlooked the need for cash. We’d reach our yet-to-be-determined destinations by bus, glossing over our inability to pay the fares. Lunch was perhaps the most solid part of the plan: meat pies and custard tarts, to be purchased from delicatessens that our little suburban minds imagined would exist on every street, riverside and mountaintop in Australia.
We’d raid our family fridges just before leaving, cramming piles of food into Tupperware containers — embarrassingly we believed Tupperware kept food fresh, even unrefrigerated, for weeks at a time.
Staring wistfully from the back bench of a Greyhound bus, we’d nibble on leftovers that would magically stretch — like the loaves and fishes — across our journey to … wherever it was. That’s not to say we totally lacked direction: we knew our confident attitude, cute freckles and affinity with animals would surely secure us work at farms, becoming perhaps the youngest jillaroos in Australia.
I was startled when Gail suddenly added two items to the inventory: “guns and ammo”. Not that I even knew what “ammo” was; neither did Gail, but she assured me we needed both in order to shoot animals for food.
What about accommodation? We imagined bunking down under the stars, but also believed that if we wandered up to any motel, the manager would be moved by our tender years and offer us free beds for the night.
Our plans were ridiculously ambitious for a couple of nine-year-old cashless girls from Adelaide. Then again, my own secret deviation from the plan (and I bet Gail had one too) saw us both back home again by Sunday night, having taught everyone a lesson, and without having missed a single day of school.
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