She saw him on the bus, from Queanbeyan to Canberra, one day in 2015. He was old, looked frail. The younger man sitting next to him looked to be his “carer”, but he left the old man alone on his seat to get off the bus well before it reached the capital. This worried her, as the old man looked perturbed at the younger man’s leaving. So she reached out to ask if he was okay.
Then followed a short telling of his story, as the bus made its way through further stops and starts. He told her how he had survived his role in World War 2 only because of a last minute swap of shifts. He survived, but those who had “put their lives on the line”, that day, that shift, had not.
He returned home to life and work, thinking he had put the war behind him. Half a century later he became very ill. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his pain, till one spent time listening to his story, and helped him realise how war trauma may have come back to “dog his last days” with ill health. This doctor’s advice was to find ways of bringing joy into his life, to do those things he had yearned to do but never done.
So the old man, at age 80, bought his first motorcycle and took himself off to find parts of the country he’d never allowed himself time to see. After that first road trip he wore out half a dozen motorcycles, with many more freedom rides over a dozen or more years to the likes of Broken Hill and beyond.
He then reached the end of his bus ride. She watched him slowly rise from his seat to get off the bus, shaking her head at what she had just heard. No broken, frail man here, just one with well-worn tyre treads framing his late-in-life rides.