Part FourA Change Of Plans
Billy woke for the third time in as many days in a strange bed. He was relieved that at least one thing was consistent in all this. It was reassuring that it was still the same bed as the night before. He was beginning to feel like a nomad. It felt good. No responsibilities, no ties; just taking everything as it came; always on the move, goalless, yet not completely without direction. He began to think that he could get used to living this way. He didn’t want to give up his obligations and responsibilities altogether, but having the freedom to decide when to act upon them was certainly more relaxing. He was surprised how quickly he was adapting to this new, laid-back approach.
He felt content in this new bed and with the feeling of comfort it offered. It was soft and luxurious, and he felt incredibly secure ensconced in it and its covers. He didn’t feel like getting up; it was far too safe and warm. He was of the mindset that if anything were to break through the bedroom door then he would just pull the covers up over his head and ignore it. He lay there with his head enveloped by the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Splattered across it were what appeared to be countless streaks and spots of dried blood. Scattered between the splatters were the remnants of a number of insects, mainly mosquitoes. He squinted and imagined it was a star map. A picture of some far-off constellation. He stopped squinting. It was beginning to make his forehead throb. On further inspection it looked as if someone had fought a private battle with a swarm of insect invaders. Judging by the amount of blood it was clear that the victim had not escaped entirely unscathed. It was also apparent that the bugs had not faired at all well and had suffered enormous losses.
Very gradually, and with some regret, he forced himself to get up and take in his new surroundings. With some effort he flung back the covers and swung his legs out of bed. His head thumped harder, reminding him of the events of the previous evening. He sat for a moment on the edge of the bed with his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands. He gingerly ran his fingers over the contours of the bandages covering his forehead. He hoped that one morning, in the not-too-distant future, he would wake up and not have to deal with a headache, be it self-inflicted or not. He scanned the room for his clothes and saw them neatly folded on a chair in the corner. A strong smell permeated the room. Somewhere in the house something was frying. It smelt good and his stomach growled in anticipation of nourishment. He stood up and padded across the room in his socks. On the way he passed the dresser. He stopped and laid his hands on top of it. He waited, thinking that there may be a surge of some kind of spiritual energy. There was nothing. Whatever had sat there the night before had left no trace. He searched the dresser and floor for a clue. No feathers today. Nevertheless, he remained convinced that what he had seen the night before was real. Physical evidence was no longer necessary.
He pulled on his clothes and noted dried blood down the front of his shirt. One of his first goals should be finding a washing machine. His attire was showing distinct signs of overuse, and Billy toyed with the idea of ditching them altogether. Starting with a new set of clothes might be a better option. He quickly pushed the thought aside. One obligation he certainly had to deal with was to find a phone and call his girlfriend. Once he had dealt with that he could move on to more mundane things, like cleanliness and personal hygiene. He took one last look at the bed and bid it a silent and regretful farewell. It had been warm and comforting, not unlike the womb, he mused.
He stealthily cracked open the bedroom door and stuck his head out. A long corridor ran past his room, with a series of doors on either side. In one direction it led to and terminated at the front door of the house. In the other lay an aromatic pathway. The smell of freshly fried food. His nostrils twitched. The choice was simple and for once he didn’t need a moment to deliberate. He marched resolutely towards the smell. A small step at the end of the corridor led directly into a kitchen. Billy missed the step and set one foot down awkwardly, twisting his ankle and sending him stumbling into the room. He caught his balance on the kitchen table, causing it to slide across the floor, its legs screeching along the tiles. Doug, who was standing at the sink, whirled around in alarm.
‘It’s ok. Would have warned you about the step if I’d heard you coming.’ He paused, taking Billy in. ‘Fancy a bit o’ tucker?’
Billy nodded enthusiastically.
‘Take a seat then.’
Billy pulled out a metal-framed chair with no rubber feet. It also screeched across the floor, sending a shiver up his spine. Doug shot him another irritated glance but decided against reprimanding him again.
‘Did you have a good sleep?’
‘Yeah, great thanks. Head’s a bit worse for wear, though.’
‘I’m sure it’ll heal. You might be feeling it for a few days, though. Took the trouble of patching it up for you last night.’
‘I noticed.’ Billy reached self consciously up to his forehead. ‘Thanks.’
Doug turned to the stove, scooped two eggs out of a spitting frypan and slid them onto a chipped enamel plate. Without moving his feet, he leant over to the table and unceremoniously skidded the plate across to Billy.
‘You not having any?’
‘Nah, already eaten.’
Billy spied a clock hanging above the stove and saw to his surprise that it was three-thirty.
‘Wow! It’s late.’
‘You’re right about that. Thought I’d let you sleep it off, though. I was hoping the smell of eggs’d wake you up.’
Billy beamed. ‘Well, it worked.’
They sat in silence while Billy ate. It was his first decent meal in quite some time and he ravenously wolfed down the eggs. Doug studied him. He wondered if he should probe Doug about the significance of Pidgin, but as the food charged his body any lingering thoughts about the night before melted away. When he had finished, he leaned back in his chair with a satisfied grin.
‘Hit the spot?’
‘You bet,’ said Billy. ‘You don’t live at the community?’
‘No, too busy here. I do head out there once a week, though. I’m working on a dictionary of our language.’
‘For a long time I was pretty messed up. Alcohol was the big problem. Kind of took over my life and I totally forgot where I came from. I even forgot the traditional ways I’d been taught as a child. Thankfully, now that I’ve stopped wetting my brain, those memories are slowly coming back. The community helped me get off it. It’s a dry zone, you know. Once I came out of the haze and felt strong enough I moved back here. I’ve gotta tell you, though, one drop and I’d be back into that stuff. That’s why I decided to keep myself busy and do something useful. Keeps me clean.’
‘And that’s the dictionary?’
‘Well, yeah, that’s one of the things I do. I think it’s important to preserve some things while we still can. We need to educate our people so we can fend for ourselves. That’s my big hope, anyway. As long as one of us keeps it alive, the culture will survive. The English used to think we were a dying race. Maybe some things are no more, but we’re far from dead. We’re still here. Some of the languages are also no more, but a lot still survive. I felt it was important to keep ours going. That’s why I’m helping make a dictionary. Today our language group is becoming one of the strongest because of this. It wasn’t until I started to educate myself that I really began to learn things.’
He started chuckling to himself.
‘At school they taught me about Captain Cook and the Endeavour and other ships coming over the water. It didn’t make any sense to me. I grew up in the middle of the desert and they were teaching me about ships and the sea. Things I’d never seen. How was I supposed to relate to that? I hadn’t even seen the sea then, let alone a ship. What use are those things here? I was at school for five years and now really regret it. It’s time I lost when I should’ve been learning the traditional ways. Education and bureaucracy are destroying everything. European education is breaking down our cultural identity. Bureaucracy is limiting everything we do. Now at least I can choose what I want to learn. I can educate myself the right way. I have found out so many things. We’ve had so many heroes. People that fought for equal pay for us in the Pilbara in the nineteen forties. Tjandamurra, who waged a guerrilla war against police in the Kimberleys. There are so many stories. They give me the strength to do what I am doing.’
As Doug spoke Billy’s mind began to wander. It dawned on him how very little he knew about his own ancestry. It was a side of Australia he had never experienced. He had grown up near the coast and in urban surroundings. The man across the table had grown up in a completely different environment.
Doug sensed that he was losing his audience and cut his story short.
‘But that’s enough about me. What’s your story? Where are your people from?’
‘Yeah, your language group, your tribe. You’re a Nunga aren’t you?’
‘Huh?’ Billy was perplexed. There was that word again. Rob had used it as well: people.
‘You’ve got Aboriginal ancestry don’t you? That fella wouldn’t have shown up last night if you were white.’
‘Um, the fella in your room.’
‘He didn’t tell me his name, but yeah, that’s who I mean.’
‘My mum was Aboriginal. Don’t know much about her, though. She died when I was really young.’
‘Sorry to hear that.’
‘It’s ok. My dad took good care of me.’
They sat for a moment in silence. Billy’s demeanour changed as he thought about his parents. ‘He’s gone too.’
‘Yeah, they both got cancer.’
Again there was silence. Billy stared at his empty plate and studied the remnants of egg yolk drying on it.
Doug changed the subject. ‘What brings you up this way?’
Billy sighed and looked up from his plate. ‘Series of coincidences, I guess. To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure how I got here. I should be getting back home, though. I’m supposed to get married.’
Doug leant into the table and sucked air in quickly through his teeth. Billy noted that he was missing one of his front teeth and wondered if it was a battle scar from his drinking days. ‘Married?’
‘Yeah. If I’ve got the days right, I think I may have left someone standing at the altar.’
Doug leaned back again in his chair and exhaled through pursed lips. ‘That’s not good.’
‘No, not at all; but I’m sort of having doubts about the whole thing, to tell the truth.’
‘Well, you can’t just not do nothin’. Maybe you’d better give her a call?’
‘That was the plan. I suppose I’ve gotta face the music sometime. Just not sure what the hell I’m gonna say.’
Doug studied Billy’s face. ‘I suggest you tell her the truth. If she really cares about you she’ll give you the time to think. Too many people get married these days without thinking it through, and then it doesn’t last. You gotta be sure ’bout what you’re doing. I should know. I’ve messed up enough in the past.’
Billy was buoyed by Doug’s words. He stared down at his empty plate again for a moment before looking up at Doug. ‘Do you think I could use your phone?’
Doug shook his head. ‘Really like to help you there, but it’s been disconnected. Normally pretty good with those things but just plain forgot to pay the bill. There’s a phone box around the corner, though. I used it yesterday, so it should be working as long as no one’s trashed it again.’
‘Ok, then I’ll go make the call.’
Doug’s face was brightened by a broad grin. ‘Good, better get it over and done with, eh?’
Billy returned an insecure smile. ‘Yep.’
He made a move to slide back his chair but the look on Doug’s face reminded him not to inflict more scraping on the tiles. He twisted sideways in the chair and stood up using the table as leverage.
‘I’ll see you soon.’
‘You can use the back door,’ said Doug, indicating behind him with a flick of his thumb. ‘The front one’s a bit jammed so you better come back the same way.’
Billy’s body hung in mid stride for a moment. He nodded to Doug, took a deep breath and managed to coax himself into forward motion. Doug gave him a big smile of encouragement, and then Billy flung open the screen door and stepped outside.
Breaking The Engagement
Beth was ropable. She screamed down the receiver. ‘How the hell could you do this to me?’
Having finally summoned up the courage to ring his fiancée, Billy was now already regretting the decision. He knew beforehand that he was going to get a drubbing but still wasn’t entirely prepared for her ferocious reaction. At first she had been genuinely concerned about him but her frustration had got the better of her. She had called his friends and nobody had known his whereabouts. They had tried to reassure her that he would turn up. It was now clear that this was not going to happen.
‘Beth, I …’
‘I’m guessing you thought it was quite ok just to up sticks and leave me sitting here with all the arrangements. Do you have any idea how many people are crying for your blood here? Good thing we were doing this in my parents’ backyard and not in a church. We managed to postpone everything, but it’s costing them a fortune. I hope you’re satisfied.’
As she spoke her voice gradually rose further in pitch and volume. Billy moved the handset away from his ear to reduce the onslaught. It felt heavy in his hand. It was a solid piece of plastic and would have made a good weapon if it wasn’t securely attached to the box.
He was in a metal-framed, glass telephone box around the corner from Doug’s house. Thankfully it hadn’t taken very long to find it. After the cool interior of Doug’s house, it had been a shock to step out into a very hot day. The sun had beat down heavily on him as he made his way down the street. Upon spotting the box, he had rushed to it and jumped in, expecting it to provide welcome shelter from the onslaught from above.
The telephone box itself had seen better days. One pane of safety glass was shattered but had remained in place. It was split into thousands of small, neat squares and was no longer transparent but opaque and milky white. It had evidently received a substantially hard knock, possibly from another duped lover. The interior of the booth was coated in graffiti, including the phone itself, and it stank. It had apparently been used recently as a urinal. Billy equated the phone box to his present state: slightly battered and somewhat worse for wear. He couldn’t ascertain which of them smelt better. His need for a shower was dire. He looked around self-consciously, peering through the glass and hoping nobody outside could hear her yelling. Her voice filled the box and was further amplified as it reverberated off the glass walls. Through the gaps in the graffiti he scanned the street outside. It was deserted. The interior of the box didn’t offer as much shelter from the sun as he had envisaged. It was incredibly hot and he thought he would pass out any minute. It was an oversized, glass-sided oven. He tried propping the door open with his foot to let in some air, but only succeeded in getting his sneaker wedged in the gap between the door and its frame. All he wanted to do was to get out of the box as quickly as possible.
He gave up the fight to escape for a moment and reflected on why he was in the box. He had strong feelings for Beth but realised that the attraction didn’t run as deeply as he had thought. Before finding himself in his present predicament, he hadn’t seriously considered what it would mean to spend the rest of his life with her. He could understand her irritation, but now he felt his eyes had been opened. A new world had presented itself to him. After his experiences with Pidgin and the talk with Doug he realised there were important things about himself and his identity that he had to investigate. He had to find out more. Beth couldn’t help him with this, and he doubted she would even be interested in such a thing. They were going in different directions. Her goal and main preoccupation in life was to get hooked. She thought she would be over the hill and unmarriageable if she couldn’t find a spouse by the age of twenty-five. He didn’t want the life she had envisaged for them. Deep down he felt a responsibility to do more than just be a husband and a breadwinner. He let her words flow over him. They were no longer of any real importance. He did feel guilty and knew it wasn’t entirely fair on her. It wasn’t all her fault. She wasn’t the problem, he was.
‘So, what’s her name?’
‘The girl, the one that seems more important to you than me.’
‘There isn’t anyone else.’
‘You expect me to believe that? There must be a reason why you took off. I can kind of understand that you probably needed a last fling before you settled down.’
Billy was confused. What was her game? It surprised him. She really didn’t know him. He may be many things, but if he committed himself to someone he remained true to them. He wouldn’t be able to bring himself to be with another. If there was one thing his father had taught him, it was a moral responsibility to your partner. He decided to try a different tactic and explain his predicament.
‘It’s nothing like that, Beth. I’ve just found myself in a strange situation and I’m trying to deal with it. I need some time to myself. Time to think.’
‘Time? What do you mean time? Haven’t you had enough of that already?’
Trying to dress it all up wouldn’t work. She just wasn’t capable of understanding what he was going through. ‘Ok, to be perfectly honest, at the moment I don’t see this whole marriage thing working for me.’
There, he’d said it. This was something new for him. He wasn’t usually so outspoken about his feelings and had no idea what the reaction would be. He braced himself for another barrage of words. To his surprise there was silence at the other end of the line. He waited. The sweat on his forehead had built up and a drop ran down over his eyebrow and into his eye. The salty water stung and he squinted hard before wiping his face with the back of his sleeve. The squinting irritated the large bump on his forehead and his head started pounding again. He was finding it difficult to concentrate and began feeling faint from the heat in the box.
When Beth eventually replied she was surprisingly composed but still spat out her words venomously. ‘You call me reverse-charges and then break up with me. Who the fuck do you think you are?’
He heard ruffling and clattering in the earpiece and then an abrupt and conclusive click, followed by the dial tone. Billy stared at the telephone receiver before slowly holstering it in its cradle. Absentmindedly he pushed the change button and felt inside the change hole for coins. To his surprise there was a twenty-cent piece in it. He flipped the coin slowly over in the palm of his hand with his thumb. He stared nonplussed at it for a minute, feeling completely spent and empty. He began to contemplate what he had just done. Suddenly his legs went to jelly and he felt nauseous. Not only was he overcome by the heat in the box but also by the gravity of the situation. He desperately fought with the door, but his sneaker remained caught in it. He braced himself against the wall and used his other leg to push against the door. His foot miraculously released itself from his sneaker which was launched onto the street as the door flew open. He fell forward and stumbled outside before sinking to his knees and panting. There was a slight breeze. After the stifling environment of the glass box, it felt light and refreshing on his face, almost as if he was kneeling in front of an open refrigerator door. He sucked in the cooling air, closed his eyes and tilted his head to the sky. He spent a moment absorbing everything that had just happened. He felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He breathed out heavily, unintentionally blowing a raspberry in the process. He sat back on his ankles, opened his eyes and focussed on calming himself. He waited until his breathing had returned to normal. He then dragged himself to his feet and dusted off the knees of his jeans. He retrieved his sneaker, wiped some loose dirt off his sock and pulled it on.
He took a quick look around to get his bearings before striding back towards Doug’s house with as much haste as he could muster. Even though he felt mentally drained, new energy coursed through his body. With every step he felt some of his previous worries fall behind him. By the time he had rounded the corner into Doug’s street he felt like a new man, liberated from his responsibilities and released to continue on into whatever lay ahead.
Billy had just fought an extensive battle with Doug’s front door. He had tugged and pulled at it and become increasingly frustrated. After he had wrestled unsuccessfully with it for a time, and eventually exhausted himself, he remembered that Doug had told him not to bother even trying. The gravity of his conversation with Beth had flooded back and overcome him, diverting his attention. It had taken a fruitless struggle with the door before he could settle himself. The whole gamut of emotions had run through him, from rage to sorrow to despair. The door had become a useful foil on which to vent all of this. He took a step back and eyed it for a moment. He then let out a long sigh, straightened himself up and set off around the side of the house.
He rounded the rear corner of the house and into the backyard to see Doug, Rob and Tex sitting in a tight semi-circle under a wilting fruit tree. Doug was holding court and telling the other men a story. Upon seeing Billy he invited him to sit down. Rob stood with a concerned look on his face.
‘Are you ok?’
‘Yeah, I’ll live.’
Rob told him that he had heard about what happened the night before. ‘That fella is trouble. You want us to get him for you? You don’t deserve to be treated that way.’
Billy was taken aback. He hadn’t even considered retribution. Not only that, he had completely forgotten the previous evening’s events. He had initially assumed Rob was talking about his girlfriend. In any case, violence was the last thing on his mind. ‘No thanks. It’s not necessary.’
Rob shrugged. ‘Up to you I guess.’
He turned his attention to Doug, and Billy willingly followed his lead. He wasn’t yet in a state to discuss anything of consequence.
‘I was just telling the boys about how things were when I was growing up in the desert. Everything was about water. In the desert you don’t talk a lot. It’s a matter of survival. Talking drains you of moisture and scares off prey. When I was young we were taught to suck on stones to keep our mouths wet.’ He paused and chuckled to himself. ‘Of course, for my parents it had the added advantage of shutting me up.’
Doug stopped smiling and a stern look flashed across his face. ‘As a child I was expected to listen well to them. If I didn’t it could’ve cost me my life. Maybe I should give you fellas a stone to suck on once in a while.’
The two young men squirmed uncomfortably in their chairs.
‘Like I said, water was pretty hard to come by then. You wouldn’t think it looking around today.’
On his trip to and from the telephone box Billy had seen an enormous amount of standing water.
‘You’re not kidding, uncle,’ said Rob. ‘I heard they even cancelled the Henley-on-Todd today, those silly buggers can’t run their race, because for a change, there’s water in the river!’
Doug silenced him with a look and continued.
‘Paying attention and staying quiet were really important. Now you guys have guns so it makes it easier to hunt. Back then we only had spears. I’ve got a bit rusty at it but I’m still pretty good at throwing them.’ He turned to Rob and Tex. ‘Gonna have to take you fellas out and do it the old way one of these days.’
Rob and Tex nodded.
‘When we was hunting kangaroo you’d have to be completely silent. We used to do it in pairs and only use sign language to communicate. Kangaroos are pretty wary buggers so it would be a case of trying to get as close as possible without them noticing. If you watch their ears you can tell if they’ve noticed you or not. It’s pretty hard work and you have to be really accurate with your throwing. You only get one shot. You’ve gotta keep real still. You know, make like a tree. Takes a lot of practice. Reckon you fellas would have a bit of trouble doing it. You can’t sit still now.’
The three young men looked at each other and shuffled in their seats.
‘See what I mean? Always fidgeting.’
He leant back in his chair and smirked at them with his arms folded. The chair, a rusty garden stool, creaked under his weight. Billy thought it would collapse at any moment. Doug was a man of very generous proportions.
Doug looked over his shoulder and indicated the setting sun. ‘This was the most dangerous time of day. Your enemy could come out of the sunlight and you wouldn’t see him coming. As a kid my parents would tell me stories, to scare me I guess, but it worked. It kept me close to them and I didn’t wander off. One of the stories was about a caveman. You wanna hear it?’
The men nodded as one.
‘This story comes from a place thirty k’s south of here where the caveman is now represented by a rock. The rock appears to leave the cave as you approach the site. This story was told to children, to put ’em off leaving the camp alone.’
Doug took a deep breath, leant towards his audience and lowered his voice. ‘The caveman lived in a cave by a waterhole. He had children, little devil children, who lived with him in the cave. They all lived off human flesh. The caveman would wait for a weary traveller to come down to his waterhole. He would then invite the traveller to stay, offering him his fire and a windbreak. The traveller would settle by the fire, relenting to the caveman’s pleas of loneliness and need for company. The caveman’d then begin to sing a song in his own language. The words of the song when translated were the worst kind of swear words and abuse. All of this was directed at the unsuspecting traveller. After a while the traveller would slip into a deep sleep, listening to the caveman’s monotonous song. The caveman would check every now and then to see if his guest was still awake.’
Doug leant back in his stool and it groaned in protest. With his upper body he began to articulate the caveman’s movements.
‘When he was sure he was asleep he’d spring to his feet with his song getting louder and faster. He’d then run to the cave and return with his waddie. He’d strike his slumbering guest across the bridge of the nose, killing him.’
Doug swung an imaginary club in front of the faces of the men and instinctively they pulled their heads back to avoid it.
‘He would then dismember the body and feed it to his crying devil children. This went on for a long time and the people camped in the area couldn’t work out why so many of their people were disappearing. A man was selected to go and investigate the problem. One day he came across the caveman’s camp. The man was invited to stay. He was also sung to sleep. However, the man was smart, and only pretended to sleep. The caveman, believing that the man slept, sprang to his feet and went to the cave for his waddie. The man placed a log where he had been lying, took his spears and hid behind the windbreak. The caveman returned from the cave and with all his might he struck the log.’
Doug practically yelled the last half of the sentence, startling his audience.
‘Realising his mistake too late the caveman stood up. The man threw his spear, injuring the caveman. He then finished him off and burnt his body. The man then took fire with him and went into the cave. The little devil children were inside, crying for the best parts of the body: the eyes, the lips, the sexual organs. Enraged, the man killed the children and then set fire to the cave. He then returned to his camp and told his people that the danger was over.’
Doug stopped to catch his breath and scanned the faces of the three men. They sat in silence, waiting for him to speak.
‘It’s an old story, but when I was young it did its job. I always stayed close to our camp. But even old stories are important. They might change over time, though. You see, there are no hard and fast rules. Everything keeps moving. Nature doesn’t stand still, and nor do we. We have to adapt. We don’t have a Bible, we have guidelines. If an elder dies and doesn’t feel that there is someone responsible to take on his stories, he will take them with him to the grave. Every rock, every tree has significance. Over time what they represent might also change. If old stories are lost, someone who feels responsible will take what they know. They’ll write a new story. That cave is still dangerous. There’s lots of rock slides there, especially with rain like we’ve just had. So the story still has a purpose.’
Doug turned his focus to Billy.
‘Now, we are kinda lucky. We no longer have to live off the land exclusively. We have modern things to make life easier. That doesn’t mean we should ignore what we already know. In my own lifetime I have gone from living off the land to living in this house. My bed used to be on the ground between my brothers and sisters next to a campfire.’
He waved his hands over the ground in front him and rubbed them together as if warming them over a fire.
‘We used to sleep with our parents next to the fire and older kids on the outside. Us younger kids would sleep in the middle to keep us warm and safe, and prevent us from rolling into the fire. The older kids were warned that the spiritual man would come and get them if they slept next to the fire. Maybe I’ll tell you about him later. Now I sleep in sheets and out of the elements. It’s been a radical change but I don’t forget where I came from. I like it out there. If I don’t regularly spend time in the bush I feel lost. Like I have no mother. I pine for it. Having said that, I don’t want to go back to living fulltime out there. This is much better. I’ve found a middle ground. There always needs to be some kind of balance.’
Billy shifted in his chair, feeling a bit uncomfortable that he was now the centre of attention.
‘Only recently a tribe came out of the bush. They were oblivious to everything that had happened in this country. They hadn’t seen a car before or white men. They were shocked and scared when they were confronted with those things. They was even prepared to put up a fight to defend themselves. It took quite a bit to persuade ’em to go with those white fellas. They only went with them when they recognised one of their own tribesmen that they’d been separated from years before. Some of them stayed in this new society but some of them couldn’t cope. They went back out into the desert. I’m sure they weren’t the last. It’s a big country. Either way, everyone has to find his or her own balance.’
Billy stared off blankly into the distance. His mind had begun to wander and thoughts of his own search for balance were troubling him.
‘How’d it go with your girl?’
Billy turned his attention to the dirt on the ground between his feet. He studied it pensively for a moment and then raised his head and looked up at Doug. ‘She’s not my girl anymore. It’s over.’
There they were, the two words he had never thought he’d be using. He had been struggling on and off with his marital predicament since the moment he had woken up on the bus. The words seemed so final. However, in their finality they brought relief. He had faced up to something which he had known wasn’t right in the first place. He had tackled the situation head on. It had taken him a while to get it done. Making tough choices always seemed to take him a lot of time. Now that it was done, he felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted. He realised Doug had been in some way responsible for helping him to make the decision.
‘Thanks for giving me a bit of a push.’
‘It was nothing,’ said Doug.
Billy felt concerned that he was outstaying his welcome but was at loss about what to do next. He breathed deeply and looked out timidly at Doug from under his eyebrows. ‘Do you think it would be ok if I stayed here for a while?’
Doug shifted in his stool and looked Billy squarely in the eye. ‘Well, I’ve been hav’n a bit of a think about your situation. So I had a chat before with the boys,’ said Doug, flicking a thumb towards Rob and Tex. ‘I think it might be better if you go back out to the community with them for a while. You won’t have much, just a roof over your head, but it’ll give you some time to work out what you wanna do next. They can always use an extra set of hands out there. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something. What was it you said you did back in the city?’
‘I just finished studying to be an accountant.’
There was a moment of silence and then all three men burst into laughter. Rob nearly fell off his stool before managing to compose himself. ‘Hope you’re up ta gettin your hands dirty then.’
Billy ignored their response, still slightly taken aback by their generosity. ‘Are you sure it’s ok?’
Rob and Tex stopped smirking and chimed in unison. ‘Yeah, no worries.’
‘Then it’s settled,’ said Doug.
Rob took the comment as an indication that they should leave. He stood, interlocked his fingers and stretched his arms above his head. His back cracked under the strain. ‘Ok, let’s get a move on then.’
Halfway there !!