All that was left was me and the jar of biccies. In the space of silence, there is so much that a food-stained late primary-schooler could hear. After Dad’s assistant, who had entertained me by asking about the square roots and divisions that I had recently discovered, left to do some copying, all sense of movement drifted out the room with her. The tick-tock of the clock bearing from the wall rang through my chest like a dry church bell; always reaching the next tock a moment after I had expected it, yet always jolting. This was the year before I got my first phone. There was no easy distraction. I had already scoured Dad’s bookshelf of faceless leather-bound books so I decided to rest my head in my chubby hands and look out towards the blooming jacaranda tree. Years later, my incoming high-school principal would tell me that the jacaranda represents the time in the Sydney University semester when it is too late to start studying and still expect to pass final exams. I am grateful those trees didn’t follow me to Canberra.
Dad’s assistant had told me earlier that I could have as many biccies from the jar as I very well pleased. I don’t want to romanticise these biccies. It was a jar of ANZACs and shortbreads – a far cry from the velvety chocolate of Tim Tams and Mint Slices that my tweenage heart desired. I thanked her enthusiastically regardless, and ate my first ANZAC with the gusto of a drunken midnight kebab. Satisfied after my first biccie, I looked further into the room for any chance of entertainment. The computer on the mahogany desk was not to be touched. My primary school didn’t give out homework, so there was no work to be done. I didn’t know how long Dad would be in his meeting – any given meeting could be either a 15 minute coffee catch up with a thesis student or a great diplomacy match with an egotistical, self-interested, stubborn academic over a fruitless matter. Every boom from the clock was a reminder that I did not know which one it would be, and patience is not a virtue learned by many eleven-year-olds.
Patience is a skill like meditation; our digital attention spans are a barrier in our minds to accepting the exercise. Yet, with diligent practice, you begin to enjoy its splendours. At this stage my patience was as unpractised as the clarinet of a child forced into their school band. It didn’t take long at all for that second biccie to fall. It felt very mechanical: I saw the jar, I felt the desire to devour its contents, I tussled in my head for a respectable amount of time, and I ate my next biccie. Anyone who’s ever thought about not scratching an insatiable itch or ruminating on the difficulty of a workout will know that given any negative or positive attention, the itch will be scratched and the workout will end. And, I ate the biccie. Now I was faced with a choice. Indulge in the pretence of patience displayed in my effort, or take this game of temptation seriously. I watched the long flat arm orbit around the centre of the clock through the slowest minute I had ever bothered counting. Neither the laughs and chatter of the Uni students on the tennis courts outside the window nor the typical buzz and business of the office machinery impeached on the tick-tock of that clock during the minute. Neither shadow, shade or hue sparkled or danced across the bookshelf on this gloomy afternoon. I chose to stare at the jar.
That glass jar stood on the coffee table like a piece of iconography on an altar. The fatigue (temptation) would slowly build before collapsing into a state of alertness – a state of normal mind. Yet you know the damage is done. Those waves of temptation rolled over me as the office began to form its own physics of inertia. When I did finally eat my third biccie it was not out of involuntary compulsions like the previous ones, but rather out of a curiosity to see if I was able to resist a second time. The big hand made a few orbits and just when I had forgotten the original reason for my being in the office, my Dad gushed into the room with the vivaciousness of someone whose life was a windmill of moving parts. I bounced like I had been caught stealing from his wallet. Dad apologised for how long he had taken, popped on his jacket and gathered his belongings into an adult leather bag. He asked me what I had been up to considering his assistant was gone and the evident lack of any stimulation for a child’s mind in the room of a Professor’s office. I shrugged and mentioned something about the biccies. No, I wasn’t bored, I insisted, I lied. Would you like a biccie for the trip home, he asked me. I’m okay, I replied.
We had Tim Tams at home anyway.
Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 2 ‘To Be Confirmed’
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