Boy on the Towpath

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 23

"Well? What happened Stu?"

"Fuck Tom? It might be nice to be greeted like 'Hi have you had a good day' first?"

"Sorry but I've been thinking about it all day and being around Mae some of the time just kept me wondering."

"Okay I guess I over reacted and so it's my turn to apologise. Anyway, how was he?"

"Okay I suppose. He was quieter than usual, you know the sort of thing, not chatty like normal and he kept looking at me like he needed something but couldn't find the words. A bit odd actually now I think about it."

"Well that comes as no big surprise given what I've been told today. I suggest you sit down and listen to me. Ask questions only after I've finished. Do we have a deal?"

"Deal. This is serious isn't it?"

"Yes it's more than serious Tom."

"He's not going to die or anything is he?"

"What did I say about questions?

I'll answer that one just to put your mind at rest. No he isn't, well not before his time at least whenever that may be but let's just hope that's many decades away. Alright? Now listen to me please Tom?"

I went through the conversation with Hiro in as much detail as I was able, adding some bits to make the situation clearer for him and once I'd finished I asked for his input and I was really taken aback by what he had to say!

"Poor guy. No wonder his Dad couldn't call him his son? I mean that must be awful to feel that way.

I wonder if maybe he knew his Dad was going to be talking to you this morning 'cos that would explain a lot what with his, how can I put this, his looking at me as if he needed something, reassurance maybe."

"Interesting point. You may well have hit on something there. I'll talk with Hiro later and find out if Mae knew about today but just one thing, - shit, actually there's loads we must talk about but the biggie, do you think we can do this? You know, be a part of his life, help him and guide him through this?"

Tom went very quiet and that bothered me. After a few long minutes he looked up at me with tears streaming down his face. I almost knew what he was thinking and I sat down beside him and cuddled him up in my arms to let him cry. A sniffle and a loud snort later and he was back with me.

"I'm sorry Stu? I just couldn't help myself you know?"

"Listen to me mate, it's okay to cry. I understand and you should never apologise for doing so. Alright now?"

"Yeah I'm okay, thanks.

Look, about Mae. First just look at what you've done already. Me? A kid on the towpath hell-raising on his bike. You took me under your wing and not just that, you resisted the offer of sex with me, an offer freely given. You did an unbelievable thing in marrying my Mum, taking the worry out about my future and you've been the most amazing step-dad any kid could possibly wish for and not only that, you're my mate as well and I seriously love you and don't say thanks please, this is about Mae."

"Alright so am I to understand that you think I've done enough then?"

"GOD I worry about you sometimes!

No I bloody don't!

What I was trying to say was who else could carry it off if not you? He would have a sensitive and caring guy there for him, I'm his best friend and I'm telling you this, any fucker takes the piss out of him and I'll kick the bastard into the long grass. No. I say we do it!

Poor Mae? I understand so much more now and Stu? Let's help him through this together?"

Almost my turn to open the tap but I resisted for Tom's sake.

"I was almost sure we could do it but now you've said what you said, I'll give Hiro a call and get us all together and finalise things.

Are you positive Tom? I mean this is mega stuff?"

"I'm very sure. You said to me once, you never turn your back on a true friend no matter what. Do you remember?"

"I do actually!"

"Right then, neither am I and it's not because it's the right thing to do either. I want to do it and for Mae's sake, not for mine."

"That's a beautiful thing to say and I so very proud of you for saying it!

I know it's mid-week but sod it. Let's go to the restaurant tonight for a meal. Later we can talk practicalities together."

We talked into the wee small hours and both woke feeling a little jaded as a consequence but so much had been thrashed out during the previous evening it seemed worth the trouble.

I was tempted to suggest to Tom that he reported in sick but he wasn't having a bit of it.

"I can't do that? I've got to see Mae, - make sure he's okay and stuff! I need to know if he knew his Dad was over here yesterday and if he did?

Well I'm going to have to talk with him aren't I?"

"Okay but just take it one step at a time."

"I know him better than you Stu. Leave it with me alright? I won't go bull at a gate, honest."

"Alright. I'll leave that up to you and in the mean time I'll talk with Hiro and tell him of our decision."

I walked with Tom to the bus stop. Not much was said between us, I think we were both deep in our own thoughts. Me very aware of the enormity of what we were taking on and as for Tom? Well I couldn't tell what was going through his head but as the bus approached he gave me a brief hug.

"We are doing the right thing Stu. I just know we are."

"I'm pretty sure we are as well but once we say yes then there's no going back, we in it for the duration so now's the time mate. Yes or no."

"Yes. Without doubt yes."

"Good stuff! See you tonight. Thank God it's Friday huh?"

Tom boarded the bus and as I started to make my way back, my phone rang.

"Good morning Hiro. You must be a mind reader, I was just about to call you."

"Ah well, I had to understand how your conversation went with Tom last evening and I was wondering if you had come to a decision yet or whether you needed more time. I apologise if I sound impatient but I have little time as I must return to Osaka in the next few days."

"I understand Hiro and yes we have come to a decision.

We talked for most of the night about Mae's situation and the short answer is yes, we will take this on but we all of us need to sit down and talk, not just you and me but also Mae and Tom."

"I am very happy to hear your answer Stuart and yes I absolutely agree that we talk some more. I guess the only thing to be decided now is when. I will leave this for you to tell me when is convenient."

"May I suggest that as tomorrow is Saturday and the kids won't be at school, you come to the boat? That way if there are things for us to talk about that don't directly involve them they can disappear off and play football or whatever."

"A very good suggestion. Would say ten-thirty be suitable?"

"That's good for us, we'll look forward to seeing you but just one other thing. Did Maeori know that you were coming to see me yesterday?"

"I told him that we were going to talk. Why do you ask?"

"It's just that it answers a question Tom had. Mae seemed a little distracted yesterday, that's all."

"I see. He did tell me that he wanted to tell your boy but he didn't feel it right to do so at school. Maybe that is why."

"More than likely but Tom will tell him that he knows about the situation sometime today and also that we have agreed to support him in every way we can."

"I am very pleased to hear this. I think Tom is a very kind boy and is very good for Maeori.

I must go now Stu. Business I still have to take care of but I will see you tomorrow with lifted spirits!"

So many questions still to be answered and for someone who operates with a totally logical mind, even I was getting confused. I decided to make a list, a completely random list of things I should ask.

At present Maeori part boards and part stays with his father but come the time his therapy kicks in that can no longer be an option. His Dad will be back in Japan and Mae will be starting to show the evidence of his reassignment, so where does he go?

What is the time frame for his treatment?

Hiro talked of private tuition come the time he had to leave Rugby. How long will Mae still have there and how is this tuition going to be organised?

At what point does he start dressing as a girl and how's that managed?

I was fast coming to the conclusion that perhaps we'd bitten off rather more than a decent mouthful but we were committed and okay we could change our minds, somehow the image of that pretty little boy, full of hope for the future but no doubt frightened at the same time just would not go away.

It was no good. We were signed and fully paid up members of the club and I knew that we were destined to follow it through despite my misgivings.

Time and time again I could see his face. He must be petrified! A strange environment, culture, language and with the prospect of facing life-changing drug treatment and then surgery, all of this without any family member around to support him, Christ Almighty! We'd better be good at this!

Time went by in a heartbeat and suddenly Tom was back from school, finished for the weekend.

"Did you speak to Mae's Dad?"

"Good afternoon to you as well.

Did you have a good day?"

"Sorry Stu. You know I've just one thing on my mind just now?"

"Yeah I understand! I'm just taking the piss. Yes I talked to him and they're coming here tomorrow at about ten-thirty. Did you get an opportunity to have a one-to-one with Mae?"

"Yep. He knew his Dad was going to talk with you yesterday and he didn't quite understand whether I knew anything hence the enquiring looks. I've told him I know now what's happening and that we're both here for him and more than that, we will take care of him and he's nothing to be worried about."

"Good man Tom! Proud of you! Otherwise everything was okay and by that I mean he didn't seem upset or anything?"

"I dunno exactly. He went very quiet then hugged me like for ages? I think he was crying but I'm not sure.

Are the Japs bad at showing their feelings do you think?"

"I've had limited dealings with them but my best guess is that emotional outbursts are seen as a sign of weakness and something not to be encouraged but I might be wrong. Maeori is going to have to receive a lot of our care and support and so given time we might just find the answer to that however at the moment that's not a priority. Let's get this shithouse of a boat cleaned up. We have very important visitors tomorrow, one of whom is about to turn our lives sideways."

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