On the Sunday before uni began, I drove my eighteen year old son to Edinburgh to move into university halls. He was upbeat and excited but also a little apprehensive and quiet for him. He would never have admitted it at the time but mums know their boys. Once he'd checked in, he got his key and went to his third floor room. He dumped his stuff and sat down. Thomas and I asked if we could have a wee look in the kitchen too. That was the first time his mask dropped. The usually enthusiastic boy dragged his feet and took about ten minutes to pluck up the courage to walk to the other side of the flat and enter the kitchen. Of course, he was psyching himself up for a possible encounter with an unknown flatmate or two for the first time - a daunting prospect even without mum and stepdad in tow! I remember it well from my own student halls days in Germany and Italy. You dart into your room and sit silently trying to find the courage to visit the communal areas! But he did it. We walked into the kitchen and sitting there was one other boy, about the same age. He was motionless and reserved at the breakfast bar. His shoulder-length was hair tied back and he lifted his eyes but not his head as he nodded silently to us. We left the two shy and quiet boys behind without a chat.
That was four months ago.
On Saturday, not Sunday this time, Marcel decided it was time to go home. As we drove into his street in the dark, our tiny four seater bursting at the seams with food and washing, he jumped out and shouted into the darkness 'Tony, my bro!' I hadn't seen anyone in the street but he'd noticed a figure in the darkness. A young man came running towards Marcel, hand outstretched, before grabbing him in a bearhug. He talked ten to the dozen in a vaguely American-sounding accent about his holiday 'back home in Macau', his hair loose and wild as he gesticulated excitedly. He laughed about their new flatmate who'd moved in since he returned three days earlier and his OCD (and more than welcome) cleaning habits! He helped us empty my car and three trips up and down the stairs later, I felt it was time to leave as the boys discussed getting a pizza for dinner. I struggled to recognize the quiet motionless boy from the breakfast bar in September and my quiet son and they spoke warmly, sparkling with the exuberance of youth. Both Marcel and his flatmate Anton had visibly transformed and grown up since their first meeting. I suddenly wished I was that age again, just for a moment. They looked so full of life, and it was truly beautiful to see. I wish I could have caught that moment on film, rather than just in my head. It's a special time in life.
Suddenly Charles Aznavour sprang to mind - Il faut boire jusqu'à l'ivresse, sa jeunesse!