This time last week I was driving with my father past the market gardens and plantations that line the river near my hometown. He points to a house hidden behind palms and Poinciana trees. There are rows of fruit trees and a For Sale sign against a wall. “That’s Kane Johnson’s house,” he says. “He died a few weeks ago.”
“Hell, Dad, he was younger than me. What did he die of?”
Dad slows down. “Cancer.” Then he adds, “He smoked like a chimney.” And he says it in that way that’s especially reserved for smokers now, that kind of detached sympathy that we save for the drowned or murdered of third world countries.
I have this one image of Kane Johnson. He is about 14 and dressed in the dark grey uniform of my state school. I am in the senior class and, while everyone in the school knows us, we make it clear that we know no one but each other. I never spoke to him. It is the only memory of him that I have other than his name.
And yet he has now lived out his whole life. Married twice, Dad tells me, and kids from both. So he fell in love at least twice, I think, and the thought makes me strangely glad. This was his sky and his earth and his river and his road. Unlike me, he never left the old town. Kane stayed and planted fruit trees.
“It’s sad really,” continues my father. “His wife is selling up everything and leaving.” And then, as an afterthought, he says, “And he grew excellent stone fruit.” This is something coming from my father, a mark of respect in a town that depends on fruit for its income and reputation.
A sense of loss surges unexpectedly through me and I suddenly miss this boy I never knew and then I miss all those kids whose lives I touched for a moment and then forgot. Or am I missing that boy I was who somehow died too?
The stone fruit are thriving where Kane planted them. Like a reminder that it is possible to sow more than you reap in this life.