The first day of the vacation with my son I told him that, sometimes, on the outskirts of town you could see deer. Like so many children, he loves animals and awakening this small purpose in him was a way of trying to cushion the mess that for a few years now has meant that his summer has been divided in two. When he is at his peak in one part, he has to leave that state, get in a car and relocate to the other part, with me or his mother. And it is known that no one likes to have their music turned off when the bar is in full swing. Nor to a child when he is in the middle of summer with his cousins.
He arrived somewhat angry and sad. Rather, it arrived quite sad. And the sadness of one child is always managed with the weight of two. That day, I convinced him to take the bicycles and go in search of the deer, on the outskirts of town, along the path of the municipal swimming pool. Before convincing him, he expressed his sadness, not without missing a few tears: “Why do I always have to leave when I’m having the best time?” I imagined this phrase repeated by hundreds of children on roads that still connect once-prosperous towns.
We got on the bikes and pedaled to that open field, next to the mountainside, where once, I assured him, I saw the deer. We didn’t see them and my son complained, “There are no deer.” With regret, we returned home when the sun had not yet completely disappeared because, the next day, we had to get up early as a kind of camp began in the town’s sports center called Summer Schools. I was going to spend every morning with kids I didn’t know doing sports activities. In principle, it was a good plan. Only, many times, we are the adults who decide which ones are good. And it is known that no one likes to be told what to do in their free time when they have spent the whole year working. Nor to a child when he is in the middle of summer after a year at school.
The Summer Schools were another reason for some discomfort. Not anger, but another reason to think that being in this part of the summer seemed like a hassle and he had been forced to abandon the other, better, less demanding and more comfortable side. He blurted out again: “Why is it my turn?” I didn’t know what to answer and I reminded him that, in the afternoon, when the sun went down, we would go look for the deer. To tell the truth, it didn’t do much to lessen the unpleasantness.
Another afternoon, the deer were not seen. As we pedaled along the sandy path, my son told me that on that first day at Summer Schools he had met a certain Rafa who he liked and who liked soccer like him. On the second day of that kind of morning camp, they met in the afternoon to play on the school’s soccer field, next to the level, where you can see the mountains as if time never passed through them. This Rafa knew other children in the town and my son didn’t know anyone. He was ashamed. He didn’t know what could happen. He came to think that perhaps that hurriedly discussed meeting that morning wasn’t even true. Without cell phones yet in their lives, they had met as they had before: at 6:00 p.m. at the fronton. He asked me to accompany him. Near the fronton, when he saw the children from afar, he told me something that he had never told me: “Stay here, I’ll go alone.” I agreed, gave him three euros to buy some fries and told him that, as we had agreed, I would be back at 8:00 p.m. to pick him up.
I left feeling like something was moving somewhere and worried that movement might be another darkening of his summer at my side. When I returned at the appointed time, I received the best response I could hope for: “Can I stay until nine?” I told him of course and I didn’t say anything about going to look for the deer because I saw a good smile on his face. Then, he reminded me: “When you come at nine, bring your bike and let’s go look for the deer.” So I did. That afternoon we pedaled talking about things about him. About Rafa, the soccer game he had just played, the Summer Schools and even the price of bags of chips after he proudly told me that he had only spent 80 cents on a small one because “everything was so expensive.” Things, I thought, were moving in a good direction. However, the deer still did not appear.
Without announcing it, a routine was established: every afternoon, around 9:00 p.m., I would pick him up at the fronton and we would go look for the deer. There was a strange feeling of freedom and fulfillment in that moment. Maybe because I had forgotten what it was like to stay somewhere at an hour without my cell phone, like when I was a child too. And maybe also because I saw my son more loose, his ball. On each of those trips to the open countryside along the sandy road, I anticipated his plans for the next day with his friends: going to the ice cream parlor, going to the hamburger restaurant, going to the pond, going to the summer movie, playing a game. championship, repeat at the hamburger restaurant… Everything happened for his new gang, except looking for the deer. When I told his mother, she said: “The boy is learning to pedal hard.”
Those afternoons, while I was waiting at home for 9:00 p.m. to arrive, I picked up a habit: listening to Days Like This, by Van Morrison, in the garden. Shortly before leaving on my bike, I played this light song, whose winds sway peacefully. I guess I chose this song because the verse that Van Morrison sings with his particular voice of a newly awakened lion came to mind: “My mom told me there would be days like this.” Days ago, I had listened to the interview that Javier del Pino did with Ramón Lobo in A vivir before dying. In that talk, Ramón said, regarding the death of his mother, that the loss of a mother is something irreparable because it is the loss of childhood. That is, the last great spokesperson of your childhood. And, therefore, this loss is to begin to die a little. With Days Like This I couldn’t help but remember the person who was the great spokesperson for my childhood, who had left this world years ago, before my son was born. But I didn’t leave any more time because, as soon as the song finished, I got on the bike and went to pick up my son at the fronton.
The deer were never seen. Every afternoon, with the bikes stopped on the slope, my son would say: “It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow we will see them.” It didn’t happen and, as he said, it didn’t matter. We cycled together on those days that, under a pink sky, it seems like it will never get dark.
The other day, I took the bike alone. I cycled to the outskirts of town, where I told my son that I once saw deer. The afternoon was receding and a timid autumn air had risen. When he was about to return home, two deer appeared from some bushes. A father and his son. Or maybe a mother and her son. Who knows. They jumped up and left. I felt like the luckiest man on the planet, but not because he had seen them but because my son believed me to the point of going looking for them every afternoon of an unforgettable summer.
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