An Australian cousin once gave me a present of a boomerang. There were primitive paintings of snakes and platypuses on one smooth side of it, beautiful to run my hand over. It immediately became the most precious thing I owned.
The boomerang was a weapon, not a toy. That's what my cousin told me. The encyclopaedia confirmed it: Aboriginal people used boomerangs to knock out enemies. Mine seemed huge, wider than the span of my shoulders, and one end of it was pared to a bladed edge.
This felt like a rite of passage, a step closer to manhood. I wrote my address on the back of the boomerang and hung it on the wall above my bed.
One day my friend and I took it down to the green at the bottom of our road. It was a windy day – perfect conditions. The trick to getting the boomerang to come back to you, my friend said, was to stand so that the wind was blowing from the direction of your throwing hand. Not much use, I thought, if the enemy you wanted to knock out was behind you, or way off to the left, or beyond the point of return to your right.
"Let me have a go," came a voice from our blind spot. We turned around. A boy from up the road was approaching. He was older and stronger than us – a former Egyptian youth discus champion, his mother once told my mother.
He took the boomerang off me, stood side-on to the wind, and flung it. It flew, kept rising, and spun: far, far away, beyond the high bare trees that marked the border of the next housing estate. My friend and I ran after it – in vain, I knew. I searched despairingly. I checked the ground, looked up into the trees, thought about quizzing passers-by. No joy. My boomerang was not coming back.
There was a glowing, sickle-shaped absence on my wall that evening. I tried to accept my loss. When that proved futile, I tried to keep hope alive. My address was on the back of the boomerang, so, I thought, maybe somebody would eventually put it through the letterbox. And miracles did happen: I knew this. Yes: stuff that gets lost in the universe is sometimes returned to you.
Not long before, I had thrown a message-in-a-bottle from a car ferry just off Holyhead, Wales. About a fortnight later a postcard had arrived in my house in Dublin, Ireland, from a couple from Pudsey, England, who had found the bottle near Glenluce, Scotland. I had never replied to the couple, and I felt embarrassed by this. As time kept moving on, the more ridiculous it had seemed to reply to them, particularly given how promptly they had replied to the message-in-a-bottle in the first place.
Now I wondered if my failure to respond had had an effect on what I understood vaguely as 'karma'. Was this why my boomerang hadn't come back? I found the postcard again, tore a page out of my mother's Belvedere Bond notepad, and got to work.
Well, the process of karma is slow, I reckon. A whole seven years went by: seven cosmic years, after which, one evening, I was sitting in a local pub with the other members of the terrible band I was in. We'd just played a gig. I was tired, perhaps a little tipsy, and my eyes idled on some bric-a-brac behind the bar. And there I spotted… No, surely not. My boomerang? Couldn't be! I asked the barman for a closer look. He took it down. My home address was on the back.
I ran my hand over those snakes and platypuses, and the dark and din of the pub fell away from around me.
For a moment I was not the bass player who had been affecting beat-combo nonchalance half an hour earlier; I was my 11-year-old self again. I had once wept over this strip of wood. It was smaller than I remembered – but then of course it would be. I glared at the barman: would you not have thought of returning this to me, you so and so? He was at the other end of the bar now, distracted with another customer.
I shook my head, chuckled to myself. I thought, what do I care about a lost childhood toy? Then I looked back at my seat, at my bass-guitar case. Sure, what the hell, I thought. I'll take the boomerang back.
At home I said: this is never happening again. I got a pen and, in the spirit of my younger self – and with an eye on karma – I completed the address with: '…the EU, Europe, the Western Hemisphere, Earth, the Milky Way, the Universe'. I put the boomerang in a drawer, and I haven't thrown it or seen it since.
'This Is The Way' by Gavin Corbett is published by 4th Estate, £12.99