The man wouldn’t let him have a turn. He said it wasn’t “for kids”. But Kobe wasn’t a kid. He had just turned eight years old.
His Nan had said that he could ask the man and if he was allowed that he would have to follow the instructions he was given carefully. But he wasn’t allowed. So there were no instructions.
But how hard could it be? It went on. And made a roaring noise. And blasted at stuff. Maybe like an explosion or something.
The man wore special clothes – little skirt things around his ankles and sometimes gloves. And always a hat. But Kobe was pretty sure he could do it without those.
It was just sitting there. By itself.
He’d seen it from his Nan’s balcony and every time he visited, he’d check her letterbox for her. She’d give him the key and let him keep the pizza vouchers if there were any.
So Kobe had a good reason to go downstairs. But he didn’t take the letterbox key out of his pocket. He just kept walking until he was on the pathway. Beside the machine.
The man was nowhere around. The on/off switch looked like it would make a nice click when it was pressed. And what would happen then would be much better than a light switch.
The machine was heavy so Kobe decided to switch it on first and then lift it. He put one hand on the top handle and the other on the switch. And he pressed. It clicked. But nothing else happened. So he flicked the switch back and forth a few times. But the whole thing just lay silently on the path. Then he remembered that he’d seen the man pull something – the way his Dad did with their mower.
Just as he was reaching down to find something to pull, the voice came from behind him.
“Whaddya think you’re doin’?!”
The man was bigger than he looked from Kobe’s Nan’s balcony. And even though his face was in the shadow of his hat, it was ugly with anger. Kobe just looked. That’s all he could do.
“You can’t be touching stuff that like that. It don’t belong to you. And it could be dangerous. … You could get hurt. Bad.”
Kobe was thinking about how there no sharp parts and he wouldn’t have gone near it if there were sharp parts but his mouth didn’t say anything. He just looked back at the man.
But suddenly the man sighed and shook his head. And walked towards Kobe and the machine. “Look,” he said in a voice that wasn’t as angry, “tell you what … if I let you have one go, will you bugger off and not come near the thing again?”
“You have to wear the protection … “ The man left suddenly.
Kobe just stood.
He could hear the breath coming in and out of his nose. A dog barked somewhere down the street.
Then the man was back. He was holding big orange ear coverings like the ones around his neck. He put them over Kobe’s head and they hung off his ears and pressed against the sides of his neck. The man was talking but everything was muffled. Kobe pushed the protection off one ear.
“… and I’ll start it and take most of the weight. Put these on.” The man put his glasses on Kobe. Then he turned Kobe, slid the protection back over his ear and, pushing Kobe’s shoulders, steered him down towards the machine. Kobe watched the big gloves reach around to the switch. Then pull on the little handle that had a string on it. Then back to the switch.
And it started.
It was hot. And buzzy. Kobe could feel it before he touched it. But the noise was like it was far away. Or inside a box. Like the time he’d seen a tractor in a field when they were having a picnic at Uncle Neal’s place.
The gloves moved Kobe’s hands onto the machine and it was shaking and humming. Then Kobe and the man lifted it and stood up. They pointed it at the pathway. There was one leaf on the concrete and it jumped up and down. So they pointed the machine from the side and the leaf jumped onto the grass. They walked a bit along the path and a couple of leaves and a twig moved onto the grass. Then one leaf moved onto the road. The machine was hot and heavy. And Kobe felt as if he was in a box because all the noises were far away except his breathing rushing through his head.
He pulled his hands out from under the gloves. The man looked down at him and then reached his gloves to the switch. The buzzing stopped. And the heat faded a bit. The man put the machine on the grass, pulled off his orange ear coverings and said something far away. Kobe pulled the protection away from his ears and the man took that and the glasses from Kobe’s head.
“Bit much for you, hey?” he said, grinning.
“Is that what it does?” Kobe said.
“What, mate?” The man seemed surprised that Kobe could talk.
“Is that what it does … move the leaves from there to there?”
“It clears the pathway,” the man said, as if Kobe was a bit stupid.
“’Cos it needs to be clear,” the man said, frowning.
“’Cos people walk along it. Now bugger off – you’ve had your fun.” The man gave Kobe’s shoulder a gentle push and Kobe walked back towards the letterboxes.
“But,” he said, turning back to the man, “my Dad takes me bushwalking and we walk on leaves. And it doesn’t hurt or anything.”
“This the city, mate, not bushwalking.” The man’s face was starting to get cloudy again and not from the shade of his hat. “Leaves make a mess.”
“Then why do we grow trees and bushes if we don’t want leaves? … And why don’t you just pick them up. Or vacuum them. Why …”
“Get off with ya. I’ve got work to do.” The man was back to angry.
Kobe walked slowly back to his Nan’s.
And decided that lego was more fun.