‘Have you ever seen white asparagus before?’ I asked my youngest son as I stood in front of an array of creamy white spears arranged on a shop counter. He didn’t answer. ‘Or purple? They look amazing, don’t you think?’
I know young men avoid idle chatter, and I didn’t expect much response, but even a grunt would’ve been kind.
I turned around to get his attention and saw he was staring at his phone. His eyes bulged and he’d gone white around his mouth and a sort of grey everywhere else. ‘Are you alright?’ I asked.
‘Oh my god,’ he said. There was a pause as he read his email, and then — ‘I’ve passed.’
And so, amidst the bustle of shoppers and trolleys, five years of study came to an end. The big brown envelope, which in my day, heralded the news had been replaced by a ‘ping.’ To me, a phone doesn’t have the same ceremonial effect, but it is what it is.
I gave him a brief hug whilst he was still in shock — obviously nothing that would draw attention, and we went to a bar where we could sit and take it in.
‘I start getting paid, now,’ he said, staring at his phone. And then, a bit later: ‘I owe $100,000.’
The next day I helped him pack the last of his things into a suitcase. It was most likely my imagination, but he seemed older already. He was heading off to work in St Lucia and then Verona. He needed smart clothes, a tie for heavens sake.
‘There’s too much in here,’ I said. ‘You’re going to break the zip.’
‘I have to take it all.’ He consulted his phone. ‘The temperature ranges from 30 degrees Celsius down to 0 degrees.’
‘Well it won’t close and something has to come out,’ I insisted. ‘What’s in here?’
‘No. I need that.’ He leapt forward and grabbed the tatty plastic bag out of my hands. He opened the top and showed me inside. ‘It’s my pirate suit.’
‘You can’t go to the Caribbean without a pirate suit.’
‘Sure,’ I said, watching him stuff it back. ‘I agree.’
I felt relieved and briefly happy again. I wasn’t obsolete and suddenly he wasn’t so grown up after all.