Almost 70 years have gone by, but it’s still easy to find that lonely kid standing on a street corner waiting for his heart to be broken.
There he is on a wet Christmas morning, dressed in the best clothes the orphanage could find for him, eyes searching up and down the rain-lashed streets, insides swirling with hope and nervous excitement.
He fidgets. Stares again. Can’t be too much longer before they arrive.
He still can’t believe his luck.
Every year some of the town’s well-meaning citizens agree to give a few of the boys the opportunity to escape the austere stone walls of the orphanage and experience a real Christmas.
His name came up this year, which is why he’s now standing on this street corner exactly where he was told to wait, daydreaming about the day ahead and waiting for a family to take him home.
How easy it is to imagine.
Their car will pull over to the side and a door will open and a warm voice will cry out “Merry Christmas!” and the kid with the severe short back and sides haircut will climb in and, because he’s shy and a little anxious, he will stutter when he tries to thank them and they will say don’t even think about it because … well, it’s just an absolute pleasure to welcome a boy like you into our family.
That journey to their home will pass so quickly.
He won’t even hear the car’s windscreen wipers straining against the rain because this family – there are sure to be kids, he thinks – talk loudly, laugh loudly and make him feel so comfortable that already he is imagining he is one of them.
He can glimpse the day ahead so clearly. His first Christmas with a real family. His first with gifts and cards and songs. His first without the stern looks and threatening scowls of the priests who run the orphanage.
There is sure to be a big hearty lunch with roast lamb and gallons of rich gravy and the mother will make sure he has a second helping of dessert with extra cream and the house will be filled with so much laughter and love he’ll wish he could just stay there forever.
He glances down the street again. The rain continues to tumble. Surely they’ll be here soon.
But an hour passes. And another. The kid’s shoulders are slumping and even through the rain, even for a kid familiar with defeat, you can tell he’s fighting back tears and swallowing hard.
Finally he realises no one is coming. Perhaps they forgot. Or perhaps it was just too bloody wet to get in the car and drive into town and pick up some orphaned kid to entertain for the day.
So he turns. Begins walking. The orphanage is miles away and when he gets there one of the cooks will take pity on him and scrounge up some cold leftovers to fill his empty stomach and soften the hurt of another dashed dream.
It’s so long ago – television still hasn’t arrived in Australia – but all you want to do is reach down through those years and wrap that kid in your arms and give him the biggest hug he’s ever had.
You want to ruffle his short hair and tell him not to worry; that everything will eventually work out fine, that one day he’ll have that family he always dreams about.
But you can’t tell him that just yet.
There’s worse pain to come, worse than being left on a street corner at Christmas, worse even than when the bandmaster strikes him for playing the wrong note on his trumpet and perforates his eardrum.
One day the priest in charge of the orphanage will take a shine to him.
He’ll order the kid into his car and tell him they’re going for a nice little drive and when they find themselves on a lonely country road he will stop the car and run his hands all over the kid, even in places priests always say should never be touched.
After that he will usher the kid into his office once or twice a week and lock the door and do things that will hurt him and leave him feeling so confused and ashamed it will take him almost 50 years to tell anyone about it.
One day he’ll run away from the orphanage and all its abuse. He’ll lock away his secrets in a place where no one else can find them.
He’ll find a job and meet a woman who will love him and encourage him and together they will make sure their children have the Christmas days he’d always imagined.
And one day the pressure of keeping all those secrets sealed from the world will reach breaking point.
Out they will tumble, one after another.
But rather than feeling embarrassed or ashamed, the man discovers something new about himself.
He’s a fighter. He will stand up for himself. He will find lawyers who can say the things he can’t – or won’t – and he’ll make the bastards pay for what was done to him.
He’ll also learn something else.
After all these years he can finally wave goodbye to that little boy gazing down that rain-swept street, waiting for a car that will never come.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
You’ve come a long way.