The Price of Freedom
Robert crested the rise, hurled himself onto the grass beneath the monument and lay gasping up
at the encircling palms. After a minute he stood, stretched, dragged off his T-shirt and scrambled
onto the narrow base of the sandstone column.
To the left, trunks of old eucalypts cut jagged lines across house and tree-sprinkled hills. Ahead,
Brisbane’s tower blocks shimmered under their dome of reddish air. As he shuffled around the
column, fragments of river wound into the sun's glare, reflecting myriads of tiny diamonds – a
lesson in subtlety for the mirror-glass office tower thrusting its bulk between a muddle of buildings.
A silvery train slid through the suburban jumble, and behind apartment blocks, houses and trees,
reared the steeply tiled roofs of his new school.
People were out there somewhere, tens of thousands of them, but none were aware of his
existence. No one knew anything about him. The thought triggered a subtle, almost guilty flush of
Arranged over a towel on the grass, a woman tried to read while her child ran amok. The young
man sprinting up the hill had not escaped her attention and she watched him sidle into view.
Longish black hair, determined jaw, large hooked nose and lips that suggested a smile. Sunlight
accented the sweaty muscles of chest and abdomen. Runner's legs burst from pale-green shorts. She
casually unbuttoned her blouse as her kid scurried up clutching a leaf. ‘Mummy, look what I've
Adonis glanced down.
The mother threw a friendly wave and sagged back on to her elbows – an enormous trout-fly cast
upon the stream. Her reward was a tersely nodded frown.
The fat bitch is flashing her tits... Jeeze! What a turn off! Robert shuffled back round the column,
jumped down, spread himself onto his shirt and let the warm winter sun set his mind adrift.
‘You’re crazy to change schools!’ he’d been told by almost everyone. ‘It’s too big a risk to take
in your final year. Think of your O P Score. You’re mad!’ Mad, he wasn't. There were so many no-
hopers at his old school that his marks would almost certainly have been downgraded, whereas the
new school had several Very High Achievers, so final scores were unlikely to be adjusted. He had
always shrugged resignedly and sighed, ‘I have to do what my old man says.’ This would have
intrigued his parents who believed humans learn best when free to make mistakes.
Memories of what he had escaped provoked a satisfied smile. There had been no spot as peaceful
and beautiful as this near their last house, and at school he had suffered over-crowded classes and
the all-mates-together crap of the rugby team. They’d come third in the secondary schools’
competition, but never again would he become entangled in such a world. He loved sport, but team-
spirit conformity made him nervous.
He tried to figure out why he felt so relieved - as though he had escaped something evil. Like
when he was a kid running back to the house from the gate at night, fear clawing at the base of his
spine. If he could just get back inside and slam the kitchen door before “it” grabbed him, he’d be
safe. He had always managed, but it was by no means a certainty. Even his present relief was
tempered by a flickering premonition, a menace fluttering at the edge of consciousness.
There was nothing he could put his finger on and say ‘that’s what I’m running away from,’ and
no single problem had been either over burdensome or even insoluble. If pushed to explain his
sense of suffocation he would have been lost for words. What he felt there were no words for. How
do you define anxiety? How do you explain the fear that your very existence depends on an
impossible-to-learn trick? Trapped between dread of disapproval and an inability to willingly
conform, he had been developing into a person he neither liked nor admired.