“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
The next installment of my Kimberley story…
Do you know what it’s like to sit in a bush kitchen with a barefoot old aboriginal lady in a faded pink dress – a lady you’ve never met, but who you’ve dreamed about in vivid detail?
It’s a spin out. It’s a crazy feeling that makes you feel tissue-paper thin, like if you breathe too deeply you’ll just bust yourself to pieces and drift away on the wind.
The day that Auntie turned up at the remote outback cattle station I called home, my life changed forever.
While the aboriginal stockman and his brother made a fire to cook the big fresh mudcrabs they had brought, Auntie and I sat down together and drank strong, sweet tea. Mug after mug, pot after pot. At first she didn’t say anything much, just drank her tea and ate the cake I had put out on a plate for her. Then she asked about my family, and where I had grown up. What about my parents? My grandparents? She wanted to know what my ‘country’ was like. And where had my people (family) come from when they all came to Australia in the boats, back in the old days?
We sat on chairs under a tree by the river, not far from the fire, and in view of the main staff dining room. The afternoon shadows drew long, and soon the stockmen and station-hands began to gather for their evening meal. My partner at the time came to see if I was coming in for dinner. Things were strained between us so he didn’t linger when I said I was staying outside to talk with Auntie.
I was almost beginning to think I had imagined the whole flying-through-the-night-sky-holding-Auntie’s-hand thing when she said, “So, girlie, you like our night-time trip?”
My cheeks flamed with embarrassment. What could I say? Would speaking about it make it more real, or less? What if some of the staff heard what we were talking about? Not sure what to do, I smiled.
“Your grandmother, your women-folk, they tell you about dis thing? They take you in the sky?”
“No.” My voice was small, hesitant. It didn’t sound like my own. It was as if I was brimful of tears and if I opened my mouth any wider or said anything else I would dissolve into a puddle of salt water.
Auntie sighed and patted my hand. “No one help you with dis thing? No one get you ready?” She seemed puzzled, perhaps even a little sad. She sighed again and shuffled her feet in the dirt.
The sky filled up with stars.
When the crab was ready we feasted together in companionable silence. The two men stayed by the fire, drinking beer and eating. Others joined them but Auntie and I stayed where we were, under the tree. My partner came out of the dining room, and called to me, “You coming, Nic?”
I shook my head and he trudged off. I felt guilty, and part of me wanted to run after him, but the rest of me was glued to the spot.
“Dat your fella?” Auntie asked, inclining her head.
She shook her head, her mouth a grim line. “Dat all finish. You be dat ting, it all finish.” She made a wiping motion with her hands and a clicking noise with her tongue. Her face became very serious. “Finish. Understand?”
In my heart I did.
If I kept sitting here, I was making a choice. She was giving me a choice.
I was so far from home, so far from everything that had shaped me or made my life make sense. Out here I was drowning in loneliness, so far from fitting in, so far from everything familiar. Out here I was someone else. I was something else. And I couldn’t seem to make it stop. I didn’t want to make it stop.
The stockman came over with his big yellow torch, In his other hand he held a flask of tea, and an unopened packet of sweet biscuits. He looked at Auntie, but didn’t say anything. It still seemed as if they were having a conversation, the air thick with their thoughts.
She wiped her hands on her dress and stood up. “You come up country, okay? Come sit with me at my place. We got plenty to talk about.”
I stayed sitting on the plastic chair, my hands gripping the sides tightly, as if I might fall off if I didn’t hang on. I made my choice. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll come visit you.” I had no idea what I was agreeing to. It felt bold and reckless and a little bit stupid. I felt drunk with the fullness of what I’d just done.
“Good,” said Auntie. “But I see you first. Take you flying some more. Show you some things.” She chuckled, and cradled my face in her hands. “You got the stories in you. Plenty stories. Old stories. Dat’s your magic.”
She pinched my cheek, hard enough that it stung. “Gonna make big-time magic, girlie. You dat ting.” Auntie said it happily, smiling so that her whole face lit up, and she tapped me hard on the breast bone as she said it, just above my heart.
All of a sudden my heart was racing. I felt a wild heat coursing through my body. It looked like the night was lit up with sparks. There was no way I could stand up.
“Don’t go walkin’ in the night-time alone with dem owls, okay?” Auntie said sternly as she left.
“Okay.” I didn’t know what else to say. Something big had just happened and I didn’t even know what it was, but I felt it, right down to my bones.
And those big old owls, they just kept watching…