“Funny how “question” contains the word “quest” inside it, as though any small question asked is a journey through briars.”
~ Catherynne M. Valente, Under in the Mere
“Say it, reader. Say the word ‘quest’ out loud. It is an extraordinary word, isn’t it? So small and yet so full of wonder, so full of hope.”
~ Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux
My Kimberley story, continued…
I would like to say that I was happy, out there in the wild vast spaces of the Kimberley.
But that would not be true.
Life settled into a routine of sorts. Waking early, I would go for a walk before the heat of the day, dog following at my heels. Breakfast and then over to the office and a mountain of paperwork and management tasks. Sometimes I ventured to other parts of the property, sometimes I met the planes or helicopters as they came in to the station, sometimes I travelled into town. But no matter where I was, I was lonely.
Worse than lonely.
Miserably yearning for something, although I couldn’t tell you what.
Each night I sat by the campfire and waited for the owls, or if the moon was bright I went for a walk to count shooting stars. Sometimes I felt an owl follow me as I walked.
One evening after dinner, as I was walking back to the campfire, the aboriginal stockman fell in beside me. He always carried a big torch when he went anywhere at night-time, even if it was between the lit buildings.
“You. Why you go walkin’ off in da night-time?”
“I like to see the stars,” I said. “And I talk to the owl that follows me.”
He stopped suddenly and shook his head, making a disapproving clucking noise with his tongue. “Don’t you goin’ walkabout in da night-time no more. No good, all alone. No good in dat darkness.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Dat owl talk back to you?” he asked seriously.
“Not yet,” I answered.
“Hmmmph,” he said, and walked off crankily.
The next morning there was a big old torch and a spare battery outside my door. I knew it was for me.
After that, the stockman became a little more friendly. One night as we were leaving the fire, he asked me how many owls I saw. I told him five. He rubbed his hand across his jaw as though he was thinking. “Okay,” he said, and then he just walked off.
Two days later he came to my office, and stood awkwardly at the door, balancing on first one skinny leg and then the other until I looked up from my work. “My brudda,” he said. “He gonna come visit tomorrow. You be here?”
I couldn’t understand how he would know that, unless he’d made a prior arrangement with his brother. The stockman never used the payphone, and he never got any mail.
“Are you sure?” I said stupidly.
“Mm humph,” he grunted, and then he tapped his long bony finger against his temple. “My brudda talk to me in here. He bring you tree (he held up three fingers) fine mudcrab. He gonna bring Auntie. You better be here.”
I didn’t understand, so I just smiled.
That night I didn’t go out to the campfire. I went for a short walk, and then retired early to bed. All night my dreams were crazy, but one in particular stood out. An old, fat aboriginal lady with a jolly face and wearing a faded pink dress, took me flying through the night sky. She held my hand and we effortlessly glided above the sleeping landscape. I could hear the thoughts and the dreams of the people and the animals below. The air around us was silvery and slippery somehow. And I don’t remember how I came home, but I woke up in my bed the next morning almost convinced it had been real.
That afternoon a rusty old truck rattled up though the riverbed and into the station. The aboriginal stockman stood in the middle of the road, just outside my office, waiting for them.
It was his brother, who had driven down from Wyndham to visit him. I was introduced to the brother, and then an old lady climbed down from the cab of the truck. She was barefoot, wearing a faded pink dress, and she was plump and jolly.
“Hey girlie,” she said to me in a raspy, strong voice. “I know you.”
I felt weak, like my legs would go from under me. It was the lady from my flying dream.
She came over and put her warm hand on my face, looking deep into my eyes. “I know you,” she said again.
“Hmmph,” said the stockman. “I told you. She dat ting.”
I felt like I was hollow, like I was being sucked into another time and space. I could hardly breathe. It was shocking, although I can’t tell you why. This bare-footed, jolly old woman had such authority.
“I need a cuppa tea,” she told me. “And my boy, he bring you three fine mud crab. In that esky,” she gestured to the stockman. “Betta cook him up while dem fellas still fresh.”
She patted my arm kindly. “Tea,” she repeated. “We need us some tea.”