Warmth. Light. That sweet, milky smell. Softness. His skin against her skin. Mama.
Playing in the garden. Sunshine on his bare bottom. Mama says,
“No one can see us here. Your Dada likes his privacy. I like my sunshine. It’s good for you, Terry.”
The phone shrills out in the garden where she lies in the hammock reading.
“Mrs Jones, you need to collect Terry from kindergarten. He can’t stay here today. He’s done it again! The other parents don’t like it so I have to exclude him for the rest of the week. I’m sure you understand.”
Agneta brings him home.
“Terry, I told you. Other people don’t do what we do. You can only do it when Mama says it’s OK. Now run along into the garden. We won’t tell your Dada!”
“Why’s that boy here today on my day off? I don’t pay his exorbitant kindergarten fees for you to keep him at home when you feel like company,” Francis remarks as he finishes his leisurely breakfast next day.
“Kindergarten’s closed for the week. It’s a rubella scare I think. Don’t worry, he’ll be happy playing in the garden while we are indoors,” Agneta winks at him. She’s always had the power to charm her man.
“Mr Jones? We need to talk about Terry! He won’t get changed for PE until all the other boys have left the changing rooms, and then he won’t go into the showers until they’ve all gone. We can’t run a school like that. There isn’t time. Is there some kind of a problem with him, or is he just shy?”
“I’ll talk to him, Mrs Hameed and get back to you. I’m sure there won’t be a problem next time he has PE.”
Terry slouches home from school. He knows his father won’t be happy with him. Sure enough, Francis is waiting for him in the kitchen.
“What is it with you, boy?” Francis says impatiently. “Why can’t you behave like a normal boy? I used to love my PE lessons – couldn’t wait to get there. Anything was better than yet another Maths lesson.”
“Yeah but you’re not me, are you Dad? They attacked me last time so I was trying to avoid a repeat.”
“What do you mean, attacked you? Haven’t I always told you to stand up for yourself and deal with the situation?”
“They were all against me, ‘cos I’m brown all over. No white bum, like the rest of them! I couldn’t thump them all, so this was my way of dealing.”
“I told you your mother’s weird habits would get you into trouble one day! Serves you right for not minding me! Next time, you do exactly what you’re supposed to and take whatever comes to you. I’m sure the teachers will step in before it gets too serious.”
Mowing the grass poses some challenges. In the end, Terry settles for boots and shorts, but the shorts feel scratchy and uncomfortable so he takes them off. He answers the door to Francis who’s forgotten his keys and gets a clip round the ear as his father hastily pushes him out of sight of the neighbours.
“I’ve told you before! You don’t answer the door in your birthday suit. What’ll the neighbours think? Besides it’s crazy to mow the lawn without your clothes on. Look, you’ve already come out in grass rash . At least you had the sense to keep your boots on, otherwise it would be downright dangerous!”
“Mama never cared what the neighbours thought!” Terry taunts his father. “Mama let me!”
“Your mother was a crazy Swede who worshipped the sun. Look where it got her! She’s been dead these five years and what killed her? Your precious sunshine. If she hadn’t spent all that time out in the garden with no clothes on, she’d have been here to look after you and make sure you didn’t do stupid stuff like you just did.”
“Mama was careful. She always put suntan lotion on, and so do I. Africans run around without clothes and their sun is much stronger than ours.”
“That’s enough!” Francis stomps off up upstairs, yelling back down,
“Mind you finish the lawn. And put your god-damned shorts back on!”
University suits Terry. He joins the Naturist society and spends every weekend naked with other folk who don’t want to wear clothes. He doesn’t go home; Francis has a new wife and baby, and doesn’t want him scaring his step-mother.
Soon weekends aren’t enough for him. He has a mission, a goal in life. He drops out of university to make sure he can complete it.
He’s walking the length of the country, top to bottom. For a few miles he’s joined by others from the society. When he gets up onto the moors he’s alone, just him, as nature intended. Well apart from the boots. The ground is too rough to do without them.
Elated at the end of his first week, he walks into the small village he’s spotted from up on the moor to get a few supplies and a beer. He soon has quite a following of small children, dogs and outraged womenfolk. The local constable explains the situation to him.
“You just can’t walk anywhere with no clothes on. The local by-laws prohibit it, even if common decency doesn’t. So what I’m going to do is caution you, since this is your first offence and drive you to the outskirts of the village. You can go back to your tent, get your clothes on and then you can come back and have your beer!”
“I can’t do that!”
“Do you mean you can’t, or you won’t?
“I haven’t got any clothes with me. I have to do this walk without clothes to prove that we humans don’t need clothes.”
“You might not need clothes, Mr Jones, but I think it would prove rather uncomfortable for most of us without ‘em. Well, you can’t come back into the village without, so you’d best move on. And one more thing – I’ll be alerting the rest of the region. We don’t need a repeat of this afternoon’s performance – waste of police time if you ask me, so I’d stay away from towns if I were you.”
Alone in his tent, Terry sighs. Somehow, he should have guessed that it wouldn’t be that easy.
Francis comes to visit him in prison, but won’t look directly at him.
“They’ve asked me to persuade you to stop this absurd hunger strike. There are more important things to worry about than whether you’re allowed to go around without clothes on or not. For god’s sake – it’s not worth dying for is it?”
“For you, no! I just can’t bear it anymore. If I can’t live the way I want to live, then I’m just not interested.”
Terry turns his face to the wall. If his father can’t bring himself to look at his son, then he won’t dignify their exchange by looking at his father.
“But it won’t change anything will it?” Francis asks bewildered. “If you die, I mean? It’s not like it’s a cause that needs a martyr.”
Terry sighs. “Just go, Dad. You tried, OK? Tell Julia and the pipsqueak goodbye from me.”