by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 21

Another Successful Week

'She cheated us, Irma!' Violet hissed into the phone at eight o'clock on Monday morning. 'I've just phoned the camp, pretending my husband asked me to phone and see if they were ready to pick up the boys this morning, and Jarek Schwartz answered! Nothing happened to him or the Paigann boy! Annie tricked us out of five hundred dollars! She's lucky she's left town!'

At nine o'clock a neatly track-suited Jarek and twelve excited fourteen year-olds in shorts, sandals and shirts drove out of the high school parking lot. This time Stephen gave his little pep talk in the car park in front of both parents and pupils, declaring his full confidence in Jarek's expertise and suitability to run the outdoor activities program.

Jarek had decided on a slightly different approach with these students. They were a class that did as they were told, never questioned orders, accepted what was told them as truth, and would become the backbone of society—hardworking, honest, reliable workers. This was their last chance to be stimulated and shaken out of their boring certitude that all they had to do was follow directions and their lives would be complete.

Instead of being in the car park to greet them, Zeno would be waiting at the swimming hole.

The boys piled out of the van, looked around in delight and turned to Jarek for instructions.

'The first thing to remember out here is that I'm not your teacher, I'm just another guy, so I insist you call me Jarek. Not Sir, not Mr. Schwartz, but Jarek, OK?'

'Yes, Sir,' in unison.

Silence. Then a timid, 'Yes Jarek,' followed by shy laughter.

'The second thing is that being equals we allow each other to think and say and do whatever we like as long as…'

Having established the ground rules Jarek suggested they go for a scout around before unpacking. Locking the van, he jogged off followed by his trusting flock down the sandy track to the swimming hole. The air filled with shouts of surprise and delight at the sight of Zeno swimming in a clear pool fringed by rainforest, with a large smooth rock on the far side, a small sandy beach, sun, shade, birds twittering.

'That's Zeno. You've probably seen him around the school. He's assisting me and is someone else to go to night or day with any questions, assistance, information, suggestions, help or a shoulder to cry on. We're both here for one reason only, to make this your most memorable and enjoyable week, and as unlike school as it can possibly get.

'Come on in!' Zeno called.

Consternation. 'We haven't got our togs.'

'Neither have I,' Zeno laughed, walking out of the water like a young Poseidon, sunlight glinting off water droplets, skin burnished bronze, face a friendly grin. 'Come on, don't be pikers. You too, Jarek.'

'Try to keep me out,' Jarek laughed, dropping his tracksuit. 'Come on, guys, last one in has to clean the minivan.'

He splashed into the pool and in the scramble to follow no one could be certain who was last. They splashed and swam, climbed and swung on the rope, dived, and after half an hour gathered on the large smooth rock in the shade awaiting instructions.

'What do you say we go back to the cabin a more interesting way, up stream and through the forest?'

Excited agreement.

Unnoticed, Zeno had crossed to the sandy beach, gathered all the sandals and was swimming back with them held above his head.

'Get your sandals from Zeno, then we'll head off.'

'What about our shorts?'

'They'll only get dirty. Skin washes a hell of a lot easier than clothes.'

'You've no sandals.'

Jarek leaned back on his elbows. 'Inspect the soles of my feet. Touch them and see if you can work out why. Go on, don't be shy.'

But they were shy. Apart from their fathers they'd never deliberately touched another man yet here was Jarek inviting them not only to touch, but also to take a close look! The feet were very clean and brown and healthy-looking, and their owner's head was turned away while he chatted to Zeno, taking no notice of them… so they dared.

Like timid birds they touched, felt, rubbed, manipulated and softly commented to each other on how thick and smooth and flexible the soles of his feet were, all the while surreptitiously admiring powerful legs, firm scrotum and a soft penis no larger than their own, that lay harmlessly on top.

As they touched and looked, opinions and ideas and beliefs that had seemed immutable began to soften. Without being conscious of it, they understood they had nothing to fear. This man was like them—just a human, and as the song said, everything they'd been told wasn't necessarily so. The possibility that there were more ways to be and think and live than they'd realised was already beginning to influence their thinking. Unwittingly, they were observing differently, looking at both Jarek and Zeno through less rigid lenses.

'The soles of your feet are like soft leather—how'd you do that?'

'I've been running around bare foot all my life. Although it doesn't just happen. Like every finely tuned instrument our bodies require careful, regular maintenance. Feet must be kept scrupulously clean; calluses have to be rasped smooth to prevent the skin from cracking and drying out. It's no different from cutting your nails, washing your face and hands, exercising to keep muscles fit and strong, eating well but not too much. All healthy animals spend a fair amount of time grooming and keeping themselves in top working order. I hope you'll do the same and not become unhealthy couch potatoes.'

'Yeah, our hens preen all the time—keeps them waterproof and bug free.'

'And our cats are always licking their coats.'

'Exactly. You're smart guys. OK, shall we go?'

With nervously excited glances back at their clothes, they followed this naked, exhilarating, touchable action-man into the forest.

After digging for yabbies, losing their sense of direction, seeing a large monitor, nests of bull ants, listening to birds, and climbing to a wild bee nest for a finger of honey, they arrived at the cabin with ravenous appetites.

'This is how the food system works,' Jarek began to explain.

'But what about our clothes?'

'They're safe enough down at the swimming hole, but you can shoot down and get them if you want.'

'Can we get our things out of the minibus?'

'Sure.' Jarek patted his naked thighs as if searching for keys. Shrugged and laughed, 'Sorry, my keys are down at the pool. Anyway, I'm more comfortable like this, but as I said at the beginning, it's entirely up to you. There is nothing you have to do, no way you have to behave, as long as you keep safe and healthy, so I don't get into trouble with your parents. But if you're going to get your clothes, be quick, we're making lunch.'

Three boys went and retrieved their shorts. After a sharp look from Jarek, the boy who was preparing to call them wimps, shut his mouth.

By the time lunch was prepared and eaten they appeared to have forgotten about clothes, so Zeno took them on a tour of the cabin, explained the toilet arrangements, the necessity for outside 'showers', and then let them choose bunks and bedrooms. After another swim and then unpacking, it hardly seemed worth getting clothes dirty for the rest of the afternoon's activities.

During the evening of the third day, Hank, a serious lad, solid, tall, with curly, light brown-hair, asked Jarek if he could speak to him alone.

'Jarek,' he stated bluntly. 'I'm gay. What should I do about it?'

'Be grateful you're healthy, decent and don't feel compelled to act like a dizzy queen.'

'That's all?'

'No. You must also make sure your studies are successful, you don't get into trouble with the law, you work well and are honest. It would also be a good idea to one day make one or two really good friends, and never feel sorry for yourself. Being gay isn't a punishment, you know. For most of us it's a reward—we live slightly outside mainstream society and can often see things in better perspective than guys embroiled in the search for wives, children and security.'

'So, you're gay too? I hoped you were but...'


'And Zeno?'

'I never discuss the private lives of others. That's gossip and one of the deadly sins.'

'Should I come out? Tell my parents and everyone?'

'What on earth for? What business is it of theirs? If it's becoming difficult for you to cope with the pressure to be like every other boy, and you think your parents won't kick you out, then tell them, but definitely not in a way that asks for their approval! Just state it as a fact they have to accept. It's not up to anyone to approve or disapprove of you. You're your own judge of yourself. Understood?'

'Um…I think so.'

'If someone has a problem with it, then they have the problem—not you! Remember that.'

'Yeah, makes sense when you say it. Have you got a boyfriend?'

'Unfortunately, no, but I fully intend to find someone to share my life with. Have you?

'No, and it's all I can think about. I feel so alone. The other guys are all going out with their girlfriends. I make excuses… but…'

You probably need a friend more than you need a boyfriend. Have you one?'

'There's no one I trust.'

'Do you know Leon?'

'Of course.'

'Ever spoken to him?'

'I didn't think he'd want me to. Aborigines mostly hate us and won't mix.'

'He's a good friend of mine. Next time you see him, tell him I sent you and invite him to do something together.'

'Like what?'

'Go to the flicks, for a walk, play video games…I don't know. Whatever guys your age get up to. Use your imagination.'

'Are you saying Leon's gay?'

'I'm trying to set up a friendship because I like you both and you have several things in common. Now it's up to you.'

The week was as interesting, challenging and exciting for this group of young men as for the previous, and just as stressful for Jarek and Zeno. Friday's departure elicited the same sadness and gratitude, but no scrotum-holding declarations of fidelity. That sort of wit tinged with seriousness was unlikely to be repeated. When the other boys had been forgotten, that first group would always be fondly remembered for their individuality, intelligence, daring and independence.

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