White streaks roar across the sky, a choking grey smoke fills the air. A machine gun rattles, a kilometre away maybe. Andy leaps out of bed, pulls on his fatigues and shoes, grabs the rifle concealed under the mattress, races outside, looking for the enemy. It’s dark, but the three quarters moon shines on the road and picks out the bushes twenty-five metres away, shaking slightly. Must be ready, finger on the trigger. Andy lies on his stomach, moving stealthily on the damp grass, towards the target, gun at the ready.
‘Andy, what the fuck are you doing? Put the gun down.’
‘The Taliban the Taliban’ yells Andy, his eye to the rifle sights. ‘Got him.’ He fires. There’s the thump of a body falling.
‘Jesus! Bloody! Christ! I think you shot someone. Andy, mate.’ The voice is louder, almost pleading, but firm. ‘PUT IT DOWN.’
Andy glances up, wild eyed. Then a look of recognition. His brother Dan is standing over him, shivering in his pyjamas. Andy places the gun carefully on the grass.
Dan quickly takes it and tips the bullets out into his hand. ‘Mate, you must have had a nightmare. We’re 11,000 kms from Kabul, for fuck’s sake. Not a chance of any Taliban. Just go inside, NOW.’
Then holding the rifle firmly he jogs towards the bushes that Andy has fired into, the grass cold under his bare feet. ‘Please, not someone dead.’ he prays to a God he doesn’t believe in.
‘No!’ yells Andy after him. I have to protect the guys.’
‘Go back inside,’ Dan yells back.
Dan’s chest constricts with fear. He can hardly breathe. The chances of anyone walking along the main road at 2 o’clock in the morning in a small country town is slight, he tells himself. Except for old Mrs Quail. Sometimes they have to walk her back home in the middle of the night. Not the old dear. Please not the old dear. He rounds the bushes at the end of the drive.
It’s a kangaroo, its brain blown to bits by the bullet. He turns away with a grimace, breathing out in relief. A big grey, female, slumped on the ground. Dan, used to the roadkill that litters the main road to Melbourne, feels in the animal’s pouch, trying not to look at the kangaroos’ brains spread on the bitumen, shining silver in the light of the moon. He pulls out a joey, who wriggles and struggles, not too small to survive, his huge ears swiveling on the top of his head, his liquid brown eyes gleaming in fear in the dark.
‘Sorry little fellow,’ mutters Dan. He puts down the rifle and shrugs off his pyjama jacket, juggling the joey from one hand to the other, wraps the animal up, picks up the gun again and carries animal and rifle to the house.
Andy is still prone on the grass.
‘Get up’ says Dan. ‘You fucking prick, you’ve just orphaned a kangaroo, and it could have been so much worse. What if you’d killed someone? This isn’t Afghan.You’re not a soldier anymore. You’d be going to prison.’
Dan doesn’t often let his anger get the better of him. Andy’s counsellor in faraway Geelong has advised him, ‘Don’t engage with the witch’ the witch being Andy’s anger, his PTSD, his post-traumatic stress. Seven years as a soldier has almost destroyed the brother he once had.
Andy stands up, a tall strong man going to fat, his wavy brown hair wild on his head. His clothes are damp with dew. ‘I bloody heard something. What do you know? You’ve only ever lived in this godforsaken place. Had to protect the boys.’
Dan shakes his head. ‘There are no boys anymore Andy. And yeah, I don’t know a lot. I just fix fences and breed and train kelpies. But I do know there are no Taliban, nor ever have been, in downtown Mannington, population 1429. And now you’ve shot a kangaroo, and that’s illegal without a licence. You’re a bloody liability. Let’s hope no one heard the shot. Lucky we’re a bit out of town.’
The two men walk shoulder to shoulder into the weatherboard house.
‘Did you stop taking those pills?’
‘You know I hate them, ‘Andy mumbles.
‘Idiot. I’m going to have to watch you. Here hold the joey.’
Andy cradles the animal in his arms. The joey pokes his head out of Dan’s pyjama jacket and licks Andy’s nose, not unlike a dog.
‘Lucky I’ve got some Wambaroo formula,’ says Dan. ‘He’s hungry. I keep it for the roadkill joeys.’
He gets the keys to the metal gun cabinet and locks the gun away, putting the keys in his pyjama pocket, then grabs a jumper off the back of the door, pulls it over his head so his thinning hair sticks up at all angles and rifles through the pantry to find powdered milk and a bottle. He mixes powder and water together.
‘Here, least you can do is feed the critter.’
He boils the kettle. ‘Cuppa?’
Calmer now, Andy sits down at the table, holds the bottle to the joey’s mouth. After a little difficulty, it sucks on the rubber teat, its eyes half closed.
Dan pulls up a chair, takes a sip of tea. It’s warming. He thinks of his mother, their mother, a strong sweet cup of tea her solution to all ills. He is so glad she doesn’t have to see her boy Andy like this.
‘Andy mate, this can’t go on. You can’t go waving a gun around. And shooting at bushes. We’ve got a kid here. We’re 6 hours drive from Adelaide, four from Melbourne, stuck out in the middle of the bloody bush! You’re not going to find a terrorist here. No way they can find us. If it happens again you’re leaving, right? Have to find your own place to live. And you have to use those pills.’ Dan runs his hand through his hair in desperation.
‘I hate them. They make me feel heavy.’
‘Heavy is better than murdering. Promise?’
A high voice interrupts them. ‘Daddy I heard lots of noise.’ A small figure clad in a pink dressing gown covered in images of teddy bears appears at the kitchen door.
‘Sweetie, I’m so sorry we woke you.’ Dan picks up his daughter and hugs her tight. She smells warmly of soap. He buries his face in her dark curls. ‘Come on I’ll take you back to bed. ‘
‘No! Look it’s a joey. Has Uncle Andy got a joey? Did its Mummy die like the other ones? Let me see.’ She wriggles out of Dan’s arms and runs across to Andy. ‘Gently,’ he says. ‘It’s almost asleep.’ Is it a boy or a girl?’ she asks leaning on his knee and breathing on the little animal. ‘We don’t know,’ Andy whispers.’ Dan shakes his head, the contrasts of the man! ‘I think it’s a girl,’ Jac says firmly.
‘You can’t tell by looking at her face,’ says Andy.
‘Can we keep her Daddy?’
‘No, she has to go the wildlife refuge tomorrow.’
‘No, No, I want to look after her. PLEASE Daddy. I want to call her Rooby.’
Andy looks up, interested in the conversation for once. ‘Let her Dan, I’ll help.’
Miranda appears at the door, rubbing her eyes. ‘For God’s sake, it’s three in the morning. We all have to work, Jac has to go to school. Where did the joey come from?
‘Don’t ask,’ says Dan quietly, and gives her a look. She shuts up. ‘To bed everyone.’
‘I’ll hang the roo up.’ Andy takes the little joey, now asleep and tips her gently into the special woollen shopping bag hanging on the back door. She disappears into the depths, her back feet hanging out. He tucks them in. Jac tiptoes across and peeps in. ‘She likes it in there. It’s like being in her Mummy’s pouch.’
Miranda stokes up the wood stove to keep the kitchen warm overnight. Dan says‘ I just have to do something before I go to bed. Jacinta, go back to bed. Now.’ Andy disappears without a word. Miranda raises an eyebrow and nods towards his disappearing back. Dan mouths ‘later’. Once he is sure Jacinta’s bedroom door is shut Dan says ‘Have to go and shovel up the roo he shot. Fucking idiot. Don’t want the kid to see it. Don’t want to explain the gunfire to the cops. He thought it was Taliban. I’m keeping the key to the gun cupboard on me at all times from now on. He knocked off my shotgun. Must have pinched the key while I wasn’t looking.’
‘Jesus wept’ says Miranda. ‘He could have killed someone.’ She leans towards the wood stove to warm her hands, looking at him, her brown curls so like Jac’s, tumbled over her face, her brown eyes worried.
‘Exactly,’ says Dan pulling on his jacket and shoes. ‘Won’t be long’.
‘Love, we can’t go on like this. He’s dangerous.’
‘But what can we do? He’d be more dangerous on his own.’
‘At least he wouldn’t be living with us. That bloody war. And what’s Defence doing about it? Not a thing. Just a few counselling sessions.’
‘They’ve got a website.’
‘That’ll help,’ says Miranda dryly.
Dan shuts the front door and walks down the drive. He grabs the roo by its back legs and drags it toward the ute, what was left of its head bouncing along the road. He heaves it up into the tray, shuts the tray-gate. He goes back with the shovel to scrape the brains off the road and puts the shovel and its contents in the ute. He covers it all with a tarp. I’ll bury her tomorrow in the back paddock so the foxes don’t dig her up, he says to himself. It is only then he allows himself to stop for a moment. Leaning on the cabin of the ute, his head in his hands, a couple of tears trickle down his cheek. He gasps, choking, and wipes the tears away with the back of his hand. He turns on his heel and walks back to the house.
The next morning is grey and dull. Dan hopes they might get more of the rain that has been so welcome in the last few weeks. In spite of her broken sleep Jac is up early. Rooby is hopping tentatively around the kitchen when he opens the door.
‘Please can I keep her, Daddy. Please.’
‘But what about school?’
‘Uncle Andy will look after her. I took him tea in bed. He says he will.’
Dan shakes his head. It’s hard to resist small daughters.
‘OK’ he sighs. ‘But you still have to feed the pups and the dogs at night and clean up. The auction is only two months away.’
Jac hugs him tight.
As Miranda jokes, Rooby grows in leaps and bounds over the next few weeks. Andy takes her out every day in the back yard, before he walks the kelpie pups. Walking is recommended by the counsellor. Andy shuffles along in his tracksuit and hoody, hands in pockets, eyes on the ground. It’s all Miranda can do to get him out of bed every morning before she leaves to take Jac to school. ‘Don’t forget to walk the dogs Andy.’ He usually groans and turns over in bed, until she stands at the door, leaning against the lintel. ‘Up,’ she says. Worse than a teenager, she thinks.
In the lead-up to the Annual Kelpie Working Dog Auction Dan is training dogs. Every day. Rounding up sheep, putting them in the pen, responding to whistles, kelpies low on the ground, learning to chase the breakaways, keep them in a group, not alarmed. Tuesday, the smartest pup in the bunch is showing a lot of interest from behind the fence.
Dan lets her come too, has to watch she doesn’t get trodden on. She’s only two hand-spans long, black with a tan nose, her ears flopping over at the top. Maybe he could sell her at the auction, the extra money would pay for Jac’s laptop she wants for school. Otherwise he doesn’t see how he can afford one, not even a crappy second hand one. The money disappears so fast each week he sometimes doesn’t have enough to buy a beer.
As ANZAC day approaches, Miranda is watching Andy. Last year ANZAC day was a disaster – Andy was playing two-up outside the RSL, got in a punch-up with Brett Foster. Brett thought Andy was a layabout. ‘Strong man like you sponging off your brother. Get a job mate.’ Andy lunged at him, they both ended up rolling in the dirt, Marg told Miranda. Marg was just passing at the time. Marg is always just passing at the time. ‘Language!’ Marg said with pleasure. ‘You should’ve heard it. C this, F that B the other. Everyone yelling at them, ‘come on Brett, come-on Andy.’ It was the cops had to pull them apart in the end, good thing Tone Nagle does weight training. They’re both big men. Anyway Tone had to take them down to the lockup for 24 hours to calm down.’ As if Miranda didn’t know.
Miranda doesn’t want a repeat. Andy has anger issues. Sometimes he takes it out on Dan. Andy has a loud voice that echoes round the little weatherboard cottage. When that happens Miranda takes Jac out to play with the puppies in the back paddock. They’ve spent a fair amount of time with the puppies over the last few months. Jac adores them all but Tuesday is her favourite. ‘Look at her smiling at me.’ She kisses the velvety black head.
Now Rooby and Tuesday have to compete for Jac’s time. She solves that by taking Rooby into the dog pen. ‘It works, surprisingly,’ Miranda tells Dan. ‘They’re all babies together.’
Dan doesn’t approve. ‘It’ll make them soft,’ he grumbles. ‘All that petting. And it’s not good for roos to trust dogs, they can get ripped apart.’
‘Until your bloody brother goes we don’t have a choice,’ says Miranda crisply.
Andy is angry that Dan insists on keeping the key to the gun cupboard on him. ‘I’m your brother, you’re treating me like a baby. I give you my word I won’t take the gun again.’
‘Sorry Andy, can’t do it. Too much at stake.’
Andy screams ‘fucking arse-hole. What do you know about guns? Nothing, zilch. For seven bloody years I carried a gun every day, a proper gun, not that bloody popgun you’ve got in there.’
‘Come on Jac,’ Miranda says hustling her out of the door. ‘Let’s go and see the puppies. ‘She grabs the shopping bag with Rooby snoozing and hangs it over her shoulder. The loud male voices abusing each other goes on, but get fainter as they leave the house and hurry down to the end of the garden.
‘Why is Uncle Andy cross with Daddy?’
‘Because Uncle Andy is a bit sad at the moment.’ They reach the large airy pen and open the chicken wire door. The black and tan kelpie puppies tumble and squeal, rushing towards Jac, who kneels to embrace them. ‘Hello Monday, hello Tuesday, Friday stop licking me, Rooby you come here too.’ But Rooby is interested in nuzzling up to Maisie, who puts a motherly paw on her to stop her bouncing around.
Miranda sits on the ground, her back against the chicken wire. Friday crawls onto her lap and she strokes the soft little animal, scratching behind his ears. This can’t continue, she thinks. It’s a nasty environment for Jac to hear adults screaming and swearing at each other. I will have to go to Mum’s place, camp out there with Jac until Dan gets the message he can’t keep on putting his family in danger. Mum will love that, she’ll keep on telling me we should have listened to her and told Andy he couldn’t stay. She shudders, thinking how Andy could have shot someone the other night. Already a couple of visitors to the café have mentioned they heard a gunshot in the middle of the night, from up her way, and she has just lied ‘ Oh really, I didn’t hear a thing.’
Eventually the shouting in the house stops ‘Come on Jac it’s getting cold,’ says Miranda, scooping Rooby up and putting her in the shopping bag. Her head sticks out, her enquiring ears turning towards the sound of their voices ‘Time to cook dinner.’
‘Can we stay a bit longer?
‘No petal, give them one last pat. ‘Jac obeys with a pout. ‘I’m so SAD,’ she says. Horrible Dad will be selling them soon and I LOVE them, ‘specially Tuesday.’
Miranda gives her a hug. ‘Petal it’s how we pay the bills. There will be more next year to cuddle. Maisie’s good for another litter. Anyway, you’ve already got Rooby.’
‘I love Rooby. But I want Tuesday. To KEEP.’
‘Sorry, my sweet peanut.’
‘I WANT TUESDAY. I WANT TUESDAY. I WANT TUESDAY.’
Jac screams all the way up to the house.
‘Andy’s gone to the pub. Now look what you’ve done,’ shouted Dan to Miranda above the yelling child. ‘Shouldn’t have let her play with them so much.’
‘How could I help it with your bloody brother – I have to get her away from all that violent language.’ Soon everyone was yelling.
‘Jac, shut up and go to your room now,’ bellows Dan. Crying and clutching Rooby to her, Jac runs to her room and slams the door.
Miranda turns her back on Dan and starts clattering around with pots and pans, banging them hard on the stove-top. ‘If this goes on much longer I will be moving back to Mum’s,’ she threatens.
‘Do it for all I bloody care,’ says Dan, and walks out of the kitchen, out of the house, slamming the door so hard it shakes the walls.
Miranda turns to the sink, and peels the potatoes, tears dropping into the muddy water full of brown peelings. She and Jac eat a sullen dinner of lamb chops, mashed potatoes and green peas from the freezer. Afterwards they sit silently on the sofa watching Frozen together. It’s Jac’s movie of the moment, and Miranda knows she shouldn’t reward her for bad behavior. But whatever. She sips a large glass of red wine.
After she’s gone to bed Miranda hears the roar of Andy’s old jeep as it screeches to a halt just outside her window, then Dan’s Ute. She hears both doors slam, and a murmur of voices, subdued laughter.
‘Bloody men.’ She pulls the doona over her head. Dan creeps in, takes his clothes off and climbs into bed. ‘I’m sorry love.’ He kisses what he can see of her head. She turns over, sighing loudly, her back to him.
‘I mean it,’ she says. ‘About going to Mum’s.’
‘I know, but he’s promised not to shout anymore.’
‘Humph,’ says Miranda crossly. I’ll believe that when I see it. And you stink of beer and cigarettes.’
He kisses her, properly.
A couple of weeks later it’s the day before ANZAC day and Miranda has to be early at the café. There are cakes to bake, ANZAC biscuits to prepare for the rush the next day. Dan takes Jac to school after she has fed Rooby. Before he goes he puts his head around the door, ‘Andy you awake? Don’t forget the dogs, and Roob.’ Andy grunts, turns over. Reaches under the pillow for his whisky bottle. Drinks, closes his eyes.
He hates ANZAC day. All that lest we forget crap. If only he could forget the dust and the guns, that time the IED blew Baz to bits. His best mate, taken out by a road-side bomb. Andy was driving the next vehicle. Could have been him. It should have been him. Baz had a baby boy he’d never seen. All that was left of Baz was his ring finger, gold band shining. He shakes his head to clear the image away. After that, being in the army lost all its purpose.
Fuzzy headed, he gets up at 12 to have a piss and get a piece of toast. After the whisky, he should probably eat something. He sits down heavily in the kitchen, and catches site of Rooby, her head peeping out of the shopping bag. Shit, he forgot to feed her, he grabs the bottle Miranda has prepared, and gets her out of the bag and she sucks greedily. He has promised Jac he’ll look after her, she needs feeding every four hours.
Shit again, the dogs! He has to feed them and walk them. He puts Rooby down on the ground and goes to put his tracksuit and shoes on. He races outside leaving the door open. The pups are hungry now they are almost weaned, and as he measures out the dog biscuits for them and Maisie he smiles as little Tuesday nuzzles his foot.
He takes them for a walk before Dan gets back, just to train them to be comfortable on a lead. Job done, fortunately before Dan returns.
He walks to the house. Goes to have a shower, get dressed properly, or Miranda will tell him off. Still hasn’t had that toast. Goes back into the kitchen. Where’s Rooby? Shit, he left the kitchen door open, shouldn’t do that. It opens onto the drive at the side of the house. Goes outside. ‘Rooby,’ he calls. Not that she really responds like a dog. Walks down the drive. He stops, next to the bush that he shot at. He looks down at the black road. There’s Rooby. She’s wearing the little collar that Jac bought her with her pocket money. Pink with red glass rubies. Rooby is lying down, on the road. Rooby is roadkill.
Andy squats down by the little animal. He cries. He cries for Baz, he cries for Rooby, he cries for Jac, he cries for himself. He cradles the little bloodied body in his hands, sobbing. He takes her into the back yard, gets a shovel from the garden shed and digs a hole. He puts the body in, taking the little collar off first. He covers Rooby over, and marks the spot with a rough cross made of two twigs and some garden twine that is holding up a rose bush, tied to a stake.
He walks back into the house, goes into his room, and climbs into the large wardrobe. It was his Mum’s, a solid polished cedar wardrobe with oval mirrors on the front. Some of his Mum’s clothes are still in there, neither he nor Dan have the heart to give them away to the Salvos. He takes a pink woollen jacket off the coathanger, and strokes it. He curls up in the wardrobe, the clothes dangling in his face, clutching the jacket and the collar, and pulls the door shut. Andy screams.
continued...Part two below
Goodbye Rooby, Tuesday Part Two
An hour or so later he hears Dan calling – ‘mate, where are you? Andy? Come on mate don’t do this to me.’ The door opens. ‘Andy?’
He hears the murmur – probably a phone call. He hears Jac’s voice. ‘Where’s Uncle Andy. Do you think he’s got Rooby?’ He shuts his eyes tight.
His bedroom door opens again. His heart is beating hard. He hears Miranda’s voice – ‘his bed’s unmade. That’s unusual. He’s normally army neat. Has he taken his things?
Dan opens the wardrobe door – ‘I’ll check,’ he calls over his shoulder, then ‘Fuck. Jesus, Andy what are you fucking DOING? Miranda, he’s sitting in the bloody wardrobe.’
He glances at Andy’s bloodied hands. ‘Why have you got Mum’s jacket? Is that Rooby’s collar? Don’t tell me ‘… his voice trails away.
Miranda is looking in the wardrobe too. He looks up at their faces.’Rooby died’ he whispers. ‘On the road.’
They are all silent. In the distance they hear the sound of a song. Let it Go.’ She’s watching Frozen,’ Miranda said. ‘Singing along.’
Andy climbs out of the wardrobe. He grabs his coat, phone and car keys. ‘I can’t tell her,’ he mutters, and brushes past them both. They hear the jeep start.
Miranda and Dan look at each other. ‘Love, I’ll have to go after him. He might top himself in this state.’‘
The way I’m feeling at the moment that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But Miranda doesn’t say it out loud. She nods. She hears the ute start. She picks Rooby’s collar off the floor and puts it in her pocket. Goes towards the sound of tinny American singing.
‘Come on Jac, we’re going to spend some time with the pups.’
‘Have you found Rooby?’ The expectant face looks up.
‘No, my petal. I have something to tell you.’ Miranda takes Jac by the hand.
Dan drives fast towards Melbourne. He is sure Andy would not have gone the other way. An hour passes and he doesn’t see a jeep. He tries ringing Andy on the hands-free but there’s no answer. He spares a thought for Jac, poor kid. Losing an animal, a pet, a wild thing you are caring for is big at any age. But when you are only eight it can change the world you know.
He is focusing on the road but suddenly up ahead is a khaki coloured vehicle parked on the verge. The jeep. His heart jumps uncomfortably. He screeches to a halt and jumps out. Andy is in the front seat, very still, his head down.
The door is locked. Dan taps on the window, and to his relief Andy looks up. The window winds down. ‘Hi bro – did you follow me?’
‘I was worried about you.’
‘No need. I’ve put the jeep on Gumtree. Already got a taker in Melbourne. How’s Jac?’
‘Don’t know. Why are you selling? You love this old heap of shit.’
‘So I can pay you a bit of rent. Put a deposit on a rental property. I’ll get a bike. I love bikes, roaring along in the old leathers. Jeep’s a bit military, I’m letting it all go, like that stupid Frozen song. Rooby was a wakeup call. I don’t want to be responsible for any more deaths, animals, people, Taliban, anyone. Not even ants. I’m going to be like the Jains, who step over cracks so they don’t squash the ants.’
‘That’ll work, in the country.’
Andy ignores Dan. ‘I suddenly remembered, when I was in the wardrobe with Mum’s jacket, that her favourite song was the Stones’ Goodbye Ruby Tuesday. Well it’s goodbye Rooby, and Tuesday, but the other line was something about catching your dreams. It’s time to do that. I’m sure it was Mum speaking to me in that wardrobe.’
Andy revs up the jeep and drove off. ‘I’ll be back for the auction, Dan,’ he waves. The house is peaceful without him, but Dan worries if he will ever see him again. The auction comes up quickly. It is a big event, the whole town and beyond attend. Four month old Tuesday excels herself in the trials in the morning, rounds up a flock of sheep, chasing and barking at the one that got away, ensuring it joins the flock. ‘Walk up,’ calls Dan, ‘Back off, Stop.’ The audience held their breath, Tuesday is so small won’t she get trodden on? There is applause when the sheep enters the pen, and laughter when Dan lifts Tuesday up to sit on the back of a sheep. She is just too small to jump onto the sheep’s backs and run along, the final requirement in the demonstration.
That afternoon Jac leads Tuesday into the paddock behind the auctioneer. She is entered into the Started Dogs, 3 months and over. Jac knows she can’t ask to keep Tuesday, her Dad had explained to her how much they needed the money. ‘That’s how it is in the country,’ he told her. ‘We love our animals, but we have to say goodbye to them.’ She is sad about Tuesday and sad about lovely Rooby, but she made sure Rooby had a very good funeral service and Uncle Andy even sung a song down the phone called Goodbye Rooby Rooby, still I’m gonna miss you. She has stopped being so angry at Uncle Andy after that. She kisses Tuesday on top of her soft black head and whispers goodbye.
Dan takes Tuesday up to stand next to the Auctioneer. Miranda takes Jac’s hand and they watch in the stands. The Auctioneer calls fast, ‘Lot 17-is-Tuesday, only-4-months-old-black-and-tan-top-little bitch, good-legs-prizewinning-mother-Maisie-trained-by-Dan-Monahan-away-we-go-who-will-bid-me-one-thousand-over-there-whose-got-two thousand-I’m-bid-two-on-the-money-five-hundred-I’ll-go-that-way-three-thousand-you’re-out-I’m-bid-four-thousand-now-five-hundred-just-for-you-on five-thousand-I’m-bid-come-on-its-only-a-hundred-dollar-ride-now-one-two-three-no four. Its-five-thousand-four-hundred-would-you-like-a-parting-shot?-Going-once-going-twice-it’s GONE to ANDY MONAHAN. A record price for a Starter Pup but she’s a great pup Andy. Well done.’
Miranda screams out loud. There is a murmur round the stands. Andy! No-hoper Andy has bought his brother’s pup! Surely he isn’t thinking of starting a sheep farm? Miranda holds Jac’s hand tightly. Andy turns around in the stands, catches sight of them behind him, walks up the wooden steps. He kneels down in front of Jac. ‘I bought Tuesday for you, my sweet,’ he says. ‘Tuesday is your dog now and forever.’
Jac just stares at him. Then she flings her arms round his neck and almost topples him backwards. ‘Steady girl,’ he says. ‘Let’s go down and get her.’
He turns his head to Miranda. ‘Yesterday doesn’t matter if it’s gone,’ ’he murmurs. ‘No wonder it was Mum’s favorite song.’
Weatherboard House - Clapboard house, house made of wooden planks
Anzac Day, 25 April, is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
RSL – Returned Services League –runs clubs all round the country, originally membership was just the armed forces.
TwoUp – a game only played on Anzac day with two coins
Kelpe – Australian sheepdog
Joey – baby kangaroo
Roadkill – dead animals, usually kangaroos and wombats killed by cars driving by
Anzac Biscuits – oat and golden syrup biscuits
An Elephant for Breakfast
An Elephant for Breakfast
By Marilyn Chalkley
‘Your average elephant just wants to be loved,’ says Dennis. ‘Give them affection, and pieces of fruit, and you can train them, easy. ‘
‘Really?’ Kate says. As a pickup line it is certainly original.
The old school bus lurches out of Victoria station, the motor making the sort of sounds you don’t want to hear in an engine that is meant to take you from London to Delhi. Even if the ticket has only cost fifty quid.
It is 1970, and Kate is sitting next to a sandy haired man in his late twenties, who seems friendly enough. Her travelling companion Caro has done better – she gets the good-looking guy, Duncan, with the guitar and the large black and silver ring.
The front half of bus is full, but the back half is taken up by accommodation for the two Australian bus drivers and a blonde woman. Is she their shared girlfriend whispers Kate to Caro, who raises an eyebrow.
‘I thought the pamphlet said we have taken out half the seats to make more leg room for you,’ Kate mutters to Dennis.
‘It did,’ he says. ‘Never trust the Aussies. Bunch of cowboys. Did you know elephants mate for life?’
The bus is green with cream accents. It looks almost vintage, a forties bus with uncomfortable seats designed to take children to and from school, not assorted eccentrics to India. Kate and Caro are on the hippie trail, although it is not called that now; the bus passengers are the pioneers creating the hippie trail. Although Hilda, an ancient woman, so Kate thinks, is travelling on her first post-retirement adventure.
It seems like only a few weeks ago that Caro and Kate sat in their shared kitchen in London having finished all their exams. ‘Are you going to apply for jobs?’ Kate asked Caro.
‘I’d like to go to India,’ she said.
‘But I’ve always wanted to go to India too!’ Kate said
They looked at each other. It was as simple as that.
And here they are. A few months later, a month long bus trip to India through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan then India, with a job at the end.
Dennis brings Kate back to the present.
‘In India elephants have a handler for life, and they live a long time.’
Kate gives in: ‘Why do you know so much about elephants?’
‘Because I’m an elephant handler from Manchester Zoo and I’m going to pick up an elephant in India and ship her home.’
Kate turns around to grin at Caro. She winks back. This is an adventure. Two occupational therapists, just qualified, heading off to India, going to work in a leper colony. Never mind elephant trainers and guys with guitars, this is the journey of a lifetime. Two long-haired girls with hair parted in the middle, Kates’s brunette, Caro’s blonde, wearing hipster jeans, wide belts and T shirts.
Kate’s mother had asked – ‘Aren’t leper colonies infectious?’
‘Not any more, everyone gets treated but a lot of people haven’t got fingers and toes, or even noses, because they dropped off before they knew about treatment.’
‘Ugh. Why did you have to choose a leper colony? Why not an ordinary hospital?’
‘That’s where the jobs are.’
‘You promise to write every week?’
‘Every week Mummy. And you can write to me at the Post Restante, I’ll check the main post office in every town I have listed for you. The first one after Istanbul will be Delhi.’
The bus was already at Dover, and the bus trundles onto the cross-channel ferry. The white cliffs of Dover, those icons of Britain, recede into the distance. Kate turns to Caro in triumph. ‘We did it!’
‘Now it’s real,’ she says, leaning over the ship’s rail, looking at the grey frothy waters of the Channel.
It is when they get to Bulgaria that the problems start. If there ever was a hotel, there isn’t one now. ‘Sorry guys, you’ll have to sleep on the bus.’ Wayne, the taller of the two bus-drivers, leans against the bus door, and speaks in a nasal drawl.
‘There’s not enough room,’ Hilda says sternly.
‘Well, we’ll pull up next to a field and you can stretch out on the grass.’
Bulgaria in October is not a warm place, and with a sprinkling of snow even a warm sleeping bag is not quite adequate. Plus, Kate manages to set their part of the field alight.
‘Christ!’ Caro jumps up as the petrol stove tips over, so convenient, the fuel is available everywhere according to the man in the camping shop. Amazing how fast flames can spread in a Bulgarian field in the dark. They stamp and yell and throw the contents of their water bottles on it and it goes out, leaving a black unpleasant smelling patch of grass. They move, and Caro opens another packet of instant soup.
The first hotel they stay in is in Istanbul. There is an enormous bathroom and both girls are delighted at the prospect of a hot shower, with piping hot water supplied by a large rusty tank heated by a wood fire. As Kate leaves her grubby clothes on the floor and steps, pink and naked into the shower, she sees a movement out of the corner of her eye and shrieks – she has an audience of two men watching from the windows near the ceiling. Once spotted, they scramble down, and after loud complaints to the hotel manager Kate and Caro don’t see them again.
Kate loves the bazaar in the middle of Istanbul, the little shops where the owner sits them down and offers them tiny curved glasses of peppermint tea, or small cups of coffee flavoured with cardamon. Dennis and Kate have wandered off from the others; he is still valiantly wooing her with elephant stories, but she needs more romance than that, and then a carpet seller tempts them with his beautiful rugs.
He looks at Kate, at Dennis and then lays out a particularly beautiful red, blue and orange woven rug with a complicated pattern. ‘Look at the back,’ he encourages. ‘See how it is almost the same as the front. It’s the sign of excellent craftsmanship. I give you this,’ he strokes it, ‘for one night with her.’
Kate goes red. Dennis teases her by pretending to be tempted. Kate drags him off by the elbow as he declines the offer politely. The carpet seller calls after them. Kate doesn’t know whether to be flattered or enraged.
’Bloody hell, Dennis, that was a bit close. And it’s as if you own me!’ He shrugs and grins. ‘ I might give an elephant for you,’ he murmurs, looking into her eyes. Kate flushes red.
Clare and Duncan have a similar experience. ‘A trader in the bazaar offered two camels for me,’ said Clare. ’Do you think that’s less or more than a rug?’
Kate considers this thoughtfully. ‘About the same I reckon, but less than an elephant.’
The last stop for the group of passengers is the Pudding Shop, suggested by the energetic grey-haired Hilda, who has done more research on this trip than all the rest of them put together.
The Pudding Shop is a famous eating-place for hippies and beatniks, a place to exchange messages and information about travel and the hippie trail, and to eat sweet desserts overlooking the Blue Mosque. It is one of those places you have to go to, to add a notch to your belt, to say ‘I’ve been there.’
Caro and Kate choose a rice pudding with cinnamon on the top, and a chocolate pudding, both served in a small glass bowl. There is an exoticism in eating a familiar and yet more spiced version of something they know while looking at the pointed minarets of the Blue Mosque and the line of shoes outside. Kate thinks they are leaving the familiarity of Europe for the unknown of the East, and Istanbul is the gateway.
The next big city is Tehran, the capital of Iran. In early November as they get off the bus, in their jeans, they realize they are wearing the wrong clothes for this place, even though under the Shah of Iran women wear European clothing. But tight-fitting pants mean that the local men pinch them mercilessly as they walk along the street. They snap and slap the hands away and walk faster.
They are hungry, and it is Ramadan. All the restaurants and cafes are firmly closed until after sunset. But not all the nation is fasting – a guide leads a group of them down a narrow alleyway and knocks on the door. It is opened a crack; their guide gives a brief explanation in Farsi and they are welcomed in. The place is packed with men eating as fast as they can, against tradition and custom. They are served with the most delicious buttery rice and leave quickly. The atmosphere of anxiety and the fear of being caught is contagious.
Caro and Kate are sore in a number of ways. ‘Isn’t the bus an old-bone shaker?’ Caro complains ‘What with the bum pinching and being shaken about for hours on end as we drive for really long days I’m hurting all over. Even so I’d love to stay here longer.’
‘Me too. Aren’t they beautiful?’ Kate says looking up at the snow-capped mountains that rise above the city. But they have to move on, Wayne and Brett their drivers are relentless. It is obvious they want to get to Delhi as quickly as possible, often driving through the night, and if that means missing out on some of the most beautiful cities, like Isfahan, so be it. There isn’t much the bus passengers can do, and as Hilda observes, the drivers would happily leave the whole bus load behind.
The relentless rush through Iran means they land early one evening at the border of Afghanistan, famous on the hippie trail. There is an experience, so Duncan tells them, that they have to be part of it to show that they are bona fide travellers. He pats his shirt pocket where he keeps his dope in a tobacco bag.
‘What do you mean?’ Kate asks.
‘Smoking marijuana behind closed doors is legal in Afghanistan. So the deal is, after they have ticked off your passport you light up a joint.’
‘Are you sure?’ Caro has visions of them being carted off to prison in the middle of the night.
‘Everyone talks about it. We have to do it.’
The soldiers as the customs point wave them towards a hut. It is dark and cold, but there is a fire in the hut, and lamps which create pools of light which light up two uniformed men sitting at a desk. One holds out his hand, and Kate gives him her passport that he goes through carefully, turning every page, while her stomach clenches with the familiar dread of officialdom. To her relief he stamps a page with a heavy metal stamp and hands it back, with a curt nod.
Duncan and Caro are already through. A certain amount of money has passed hands, and Duncan offers the customs officers a joint each. They all light up, and of course if it had been 2020 they would have taken a selfie. As it is the dope relaxes them and they giggle at the incongruity of the situation, then get back on the bus, reeking of cannabis.
They drive towards Kabul and stop briefly in Herat, Afghanistan’s second biggest city, where the road though the centre of town is still dirt. As they get off the bus a man standing on what could only be called a chariot, whips his way through the town, the horse galloping, his white flowing robes streaming behind him, the wheels kicking up a cloud of dust. As he passes Kate looks up at his turbaned head and glimpses a pair of glittering blue eyes and a powerful nose. Caro and Kate look at each other. ‘The men here are beautiful,’ she breaths. ‘Wow,’ Kate says.
A short stop, no time to see the mosques or museums, and then they are on the road again, driving on the straight road that has recently been built by the Russians. Some twelve hours later they enter Kabul and draw up outside a scruffy hotel where they are to stay for a couple of days. As they climb the stairs with their backpacks the smell of dope permeates the place. Voices speak in German, French, Italian, Swedish and with strong American accents. This is where the hippie trail pauses for a short time, before embarking on the last leg of the trip to India. In fact some people stay longer because the dope is strong and good, Caro hears, and they are reluctant to move.
An American woman with her hair scraped up in a ponytail, and wearing a bright kaftan calls down the stairs, ‘can anyone make fudge? I’m desperate for some fudge.’ She obviously has the munchies, and Kate’s grandmother’s recipe for fudge is one she easily remembers. ‘I can, but I’ll have to get the ingredients tomorrow.’
‘I’m Kitty,’ the woman smiles and gives Kate some cash to buy them. ’My boyfriend is hanging out for something sweet.’
The next morning Kate and Caro step out of the hotel to be greeted by a chaotic bustling city dominated by mountains covered in snow. Many women pass dressed head to toe in light blue chadors with just a grille for their eyes, while others are in European dress. ‘Must be stuffy wearing one of this,’ Kate says. They find their way to the market and buy sugar, loose in a bag, and some ghee. But they can’t find milk. Feeling hungry they buy some nuts. The man squatting on the ground swiftly makes a cone from a fine piece of paper torn out of the page of a book, and hands it over. When they have eaten the toasted almonds, Kate turns the paper over and finds it is an English maths textbook covered in algebraic formulas.
Rounding a corner they come across a man with some metal churns, and he ladles out some buffalo milk into a tin mug they brought with them. It smells strongly of earth and buffalo with a whiff of dung. ‘I’m not sure the flavour will be disguised by the fudge, ‘ Kate says. ‘Maybe we can use our cocoa to disguise the flavour.’
Caro and Kate retire to their room, a scruffy place with two sagging beds and Kate squats over the petrol stove, stirring the concoction. She remembers that the key point in making fudge is the temperature reaching the soft ball stage, when you beat it like mad. So she drips tiny drops of fudge into a tin mug of rather dubious tap water, until the little balls form, then beats it with a tin spoon with her glove wrapped round the handle.
She pours the fudge into the lid of the pan, and waits for it to cool, and cuts it into squares. She tastes it and it has a very strong flavour of buffalo. ‘I hope they’re too stoned to notice,’ she says to Caro and takes it upstairs to Kitty.
Kitty and her boyfriend are sprawled on the bed, surrounded by a thick fog of dope smoke. It looked like they are settled in for a long stay. ‘It’s the British fudge bearer,’ squeals Kitty, and grabs the tin. ‘Oh wow, this is so good,’ she exclaims, her mouth smeared with chocolate.
It won’t be the last cooking with strange ingredients Kate will do on this trip. And soon it will be time to move on.
Brett and Wayne have just told them they are behind schedule and Kate and Caro are furious. ‘Now the bus will drive through the Khyber Pass by night, so avoiding seeing the stupendous views and the famous winding road,’ grumbles Caro. Brett and Wayne couldn’t care less. The Khyber Pass, the barrier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the place Caro has been looking forward to seeing more than any other. As they rattle their way through Kate peers out the bus windows and sees dark walls of rock looming above them in the night, as they wind up and then down the endless sickening road into Pakistan and Lahore.
Lahore is green, and lush, and the treetops are full of parrots. But it is a fleeting visit, and they drive towards the destination: a day’s drive.
Wayne and Brett drop them at Delhi Post Office in the late afternoon and roar off in a cloud of exhaust. ‘Good riddance,’ Care and Kate agree, then farewell Duncan, Hilda and Dennis. ‘I hope you make friends with your elephant,’ Kate says to Dennis. ‘Thanks, it was good to travel together,’ he mumbles and wanders off. Kate often thinks later that if she had written down everything Dennis told her she could have written a best seller called How to train an elephant.
Duncan, unexpectedly, gives Caro his silver and black ring that she finds is reversible, and has a white and silver side. ‘It’s from Thailand,’ he says, giving her a swift kiss on the cheek. Hilda shakes their hands formally and wipes away a tear. ‘Have a good time, my chickens,’ she says, and walks off, carrying her canvas suitcase.
They pick up their post restante mail (five letters from Kate’s mother, four from Caro’s father) and hail a bicycle rickshaw to the address Kate’s uncle has given them. They feel overfed and large being wheeled along by a scrawny Indian in a white khurta pedaling hard. A wealthy Indian business colleague, Mr Seth, has told Kate’s uncle he will look after them in Delhi.
They are dropped at the door of an extremely large house with a magnificent garden, the beggars and the bustle left far behind. The door is opened and the two women are warmly welcomed. The mistress of the house, Mrs Seth cannot disguise her horror at their appearance: jeans and loose afghan shirts and tangled hair. She bustles them off to have a bath, and they reappear much later dressed in saris for their first meal in India. Kate manages to keep her beautiful deep pink one up, having been taught how to fold the skirt over a straight petticoat. Mrs Seth and her daughter took a long look at Clare’s blonde hair and fair skin and chose a yellow sari. It is not a flattering colour for an English rose.
It is their first day in India, a country that transforms them, politicizes them and educates them. But that is another story