Nobody in town saw the sun today, not in its inexpressible glory, just an ochre coloured orb slowly descending into the western sky. Colder too, with the smoke covered sky denying the sun its intent.
200 kilometres distant.
We could see their fires in the sky late last night. No Jerusalem in the light of that conflagration either.
This town has taken in visitors today, some expelled from their homes and businesses by drought and now fire. A Vietnamese family from Armidale is arguing in the carpark below my window. Their vegetable patch parched, their cafe tables empty, the town minding both its coins and water. Why did you bring us to a land that burns, she asks.
A bearded fellow walks through the carpark any hour of the night and day. Up and back. Around the cars. Up and back. Again and again. A fellow with a look of great resignation in his posture, sometimes he finds a place that is suitable for him to stand and shout.
Great bellows of a beseeching rage, appeals that flower from an unsolvable conflict.
A man sent to war who returned as another,
raging to be who he was
We passed each other today on a narrow footpath, he stepped back into a roadside lilliy-pilly hedge and said g’day mate, howyergoin?
There’s a short laneway opposite my window that leads to the main road; to the left a spare lot used as a carpark, a ten-room two-story motel then a hotel.
To the right another carpark, the one roamed by the beard, and a side-windowed shop-front at the top end. Reflective.
This is where the two lads weaved their way into sight, one holding a wine-skin, the other a couple of cans of Bourbon and Coke. They’re heading down the laneway, I’m heading up. Pizza night tonight. Quattro Formaggio.
And here we are.
Times like this you don’t look as you motor on by, experience teaches that. But experience doesn’t teach you the unexpected.
One of them called out,
The Bourbon and C was butting his head up against his image and the Hey Bro was holding out his wine sack – ‘wanna suck of the gooney-bag, mate?’
The old man stopped and looked over at the two likely lads, said, ‘what did you call it?’
They watched as the old man crossed the road and walked towards them; a squarish looking old lad, five-days unshaven, desert-dweller’s sandals on his feet and still wearing a three-day unchanged T-shirt. Face shaded by the ragged brim of a cheap Chinese made polyester hat.
‘They were called Goon-bags in my day … ‘ he said, now that he had their attention, ‘and I must commend you on maintaining the tradition.’
Then he pointed a magisterial finger at the totally unsteady Bourbon and C.
‘And you, mate, don’t get run over.’
They laughed again.