“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” ~ William Shakespeare
The next installment of my Kimberley Story…
I cannot tell you how I knew that Little Aunty had passed away. I do not know how the Aboriginal stockman knew it either. But here we were, sitting in the front of his vehicle, driving back to the community Little Aunty had called home. Not a word passed between us. He did not look at me at all.
When we arrived in the dusty run-down town, the stockman pulled up out the front of a modest house. I could hear wailing. “You go inside,” he said over the rumble of the V8 engine, still not looking at me. I got out, and before I could say anything he drove off, leaving me no choice.
My heart was in my mouth. What had possessed me to come? I had little money, and no way home.
My feet seemed to walk themselves through the front gate and up onto the veranda. As I stood awkwardly at the door a young girl greeted me. “Aunty bin waitin’ for you,” she said shyly, and then she took my hand and led me into the lounge.
It was filled with women of all ages, most of them crying and some of them wailing. I didn’t belong there. All I wanted to do was turn around and run.
But then Aunty stepped forward and wrapped me in a big hug. I was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. She just held me and let me cry.
When I was done she took me into the kitchen where more women were gathered, making a mountain of food. It was noisy in there. People moved out of our way. Someone gave me a mug of sweet tea and a jam sandwich. Someone else pressed me into a chair. Aunty sat beside me.
“How you know?” Aunty finally said. She wasn’t looking at me either. Everyone was looking down, so that’s what I did too. Eye contact seemed wrong, somehow.
I felt so awkward. “There was this little bird,” I started. The room went quiet, and I stopped, embarrassed.
“Go on,” Aunty said.
“I came out of the dining room one day, a couple of weeks ago, and there it was, darting about and singing. When I walked back to my office it followed me.”
“What kind of bird?” another lady asked, the one who had given me the sandwich.
“I don’t know,” I murmured. I thought I had said something wrong. The energy in the room had changed, and intensified, as if they were waiting for something.
“It had a stand-up kind of tail,” I offered. Still the room was quiet. “About this big.” I indicated with my hands; a tiny bird, a bird I could cup between my palms. “It hopped, and darted and it made a click-click-clicking sound. It seemed happy to see me.” And then I remembered something else. “The tail was blue, and the body of the bird was the colour of my hair. It had a patch like the colour of the red dirt outside around its eyes.”
“It came every day. One day it flew right into my room and sat on the end of the bed. When it didn’t come yesterday I was worried about it, and then I was very sad.”
Aunty put her hand on my arm, and I knew I should stop talking. One by one the other Aboriginal ladies in the kitchen went back to what they were doing. In the front room they kept on wailing and crying, and more people seemed to be arriving.
When I finished my food, Aunty indicated that I should stand, and we went out into the back yard alone. The air was thick with humidity, and it smelled of the ocean.
“What else?” she said.
“I heard the crying in my head, and I became sadder and sadder but I didn’t know why. And then when I went to bed, I went flying in my dreams. I could hear the thoughts of the animals and the trees, and I could see all these little lights below me. I came here, to this place I think. But I don’t remember what happened after that. When I woke up this morning I just knew.”
Aunty nodded her head, and absently dragged one toe through the dirt, making a pattern of wavy lines and circles.
“Dat her spirit, come visit you,” she said finally. “I have to tell you these things. She get in her bird form. Dat her totem. Taboo for you to talk about, okay?”
“Okay,” I echoed.
“So she come visit and check on you. That little bird visit, make sure you come back here to this place. Make you welcome here.”
I was crying again. “Little…” But I couldn’t finish because Aunty shot out a hand and pinched my arm.
“Don’t say her name. No good to say that now she’s passed. Don’t say her name no more. And don’t lift your face to the family members til this Sorry Business all finished. We gonna go soon, leave this house all of our mob, and go to this other place. You come with us. Some important things for you to see. Just us women.”
“For the funeral?” I asked.
“No. Plenty people still gotta come here yet. Lots of people coming from far, far away before we can have that funeral. But still we have work to do. You join us now.” Aunty’s voice was firm. It didn’t sound like a request.
“Are you sure?”
“Humphh!” the old lady snorted. “Sure? Girlie, you don’t understand. You dat ting. We gotta make dat happen right.”
I had no idea what she meant. “Okay,” I said with more confidence that I felt. “Thank you.”
Aunty patted my back fondly. “Good girl. I knew you was gonna be true. Gotta learn you plenty now. Better get started. Welcome you to Country. Come on. Let’s get dem others.”
She led me back into the house.
To be continued…