âOh, is this one of those lame twenty questions?â
âYeah. Why not.â
âOkay. Thatâs easy. Pizza.â
I think for a moment. âWell, you know what I find annoying? When youâre at the movies, gorging on popcorn and thereâs that one couple who arenât eating anything. Who does that?â
âExactly! Itâs just common courtesy to join in. Because when everybody else is shoving the popcorn in, I feel safe to munch on mine. But that couple sucks all the joy out of it because Iâm sitting there thinking, can they hear me? Are they annoyed? Have I just ruined that scene because they can hear me cracking a corn kernel?â
âWow. I was expecting maybe something along the lines of close talkers, or people who take a sip of their drink while thereâs still food in their mouth. But that was about as thorough and considered a reply as Iâve ever gotten.â
âI take my movie experiences seriously. So whatâs your pet hate then?â
âPeople on public transport clipping nails, or eating something smelly. Or worse, putting their bags on seats.â
âAnd then they give you a filthy look if you ask them to move their bag so you can sit down.â
âJust sit on the bag. Works every time. So, favourite movie?â
â The Lord of the Rings trilogy.â
âYouâre a Tolkien geek?â He grins.
âYep. Iâm holding out for a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movie marathon one day. Iâve got it all figured out too. Everybody dresses up â you know, just to increase the geek factor â and we hire out a community hall or some such place from the morning. Everyone brings a beanbag, cushions, junk food.â
âAnd you march people out and subject them to some form of public humiliation if their phone rings or they take selfies mid-movie.â
We keep on talking and when the bell rings it takes us by surprise. Michael leaves, and I pack my bag. As I stand up, I notice Zoe and Clara staring at me, slight smirks on their faces. It irks me and before I have a chance to even think twice I walk up to them, stop and say, âBetter luck next time on the essay, Zoe,â and saunter off, head high.
Mum is slipping into paranoid fantasies about Dad being killed by a suicide bomber, or else appearing in a scratchy YouTube video with an unruly beard and a gun pointed at his temple as heâs forced to read out demands for the withdrawal of infidels from Muslim lands.
Thereâs no contact allowed. When the phone rings, she panics, thinking weâre going to be sucked into a hostage crisis. We get daily calls from an SBS producer reassuring us that everyone is fine. But Mum ends up wondering if sheâs in fact been speaking to a terrorist putting on a good Aussie accent.
Sheâs convinced Dadâs politics might have landed him on some international terrorist hit list.
âHow could we have agreed?â she wails over dinner one night.
âMum, I hate to break it to you,â I joke, âbut itâs highly unlikely that Dad has a political profile thatâs actually extended beyond the lower North Shore of Sydney.â
âWell, thank God for that,â she says to herself.
âYou know, Mum,â Nathan says, taking a noisy slurp of his juice. âIf Dad is killed, the organisation will become even more popular.â
âDo you want Dad to die?â Mum suddenly snaps, but then her face is awash with guilt and she quickly apologises.
She sometimes has moments when she forgets to self-censor around Nathan. Theyâre usually entertaining (well, in hindsight anyway), but if they go too far the consequences can be disastrous (like the time Nathan was seven and sheâd had enough in the shops and told him to just get out of her way and so he did. For an hour. Westfield security was very