Baban

A short story, copyright Rose Brimson 2016


“Take it and run. Grab it. Run. Get away. That tree is Naji; spirit. It’ll kill ya.” Billy’s voice whispered words Immu didn’t want to hear. The tree whispered other words; beautiful, triple-trunked, iridescent white – a ghost gum in full glow under a full moon in mid-Yurluurrp. The cold season. Immu didn’t feel the cold. He should’ve. His clothes were thin, many holes in places there shouldn’t be. No shoes. He splayed his hands on the middle trunk, the thickest trunk, leaned in and whispered his own words.

The air smelled of dry dust, of kangaroo dung, not fresh, and rich, rich, rich bush honey. His mouth watered. No. There was something he had to do. What?

Listen. The whispers descended into sighs; meaningless. He had to get it back, learn what it meant.

“I’ve come, baban. I’ve come for you.” The tree didn’t respond. It knew Billy stood behind Immu, and Billy wasn’t meant to be there.

“Go home, Billy,” Immu said aloud. “He doesn’t want you – you’re not the right blood for this country.” It was cruel, but Immu had to get him away, had to find out why this tree wanted him, wanted to teach him the ways of Naji. He had to know. The native bees sashayed and zubbed in a lazy arc; followed the smell of their hard work. He brushed them away.

“Just grab the honey, Im. We gotta go. Gubba come.”

The Gubba weren’t coming. It was just said to scare him into leaving. Immu pushed Billy, shoved him hard, chucked the sugar-bag honey at him. The little black bees followed the lump as it flew through the air.

“Go – take it. Get outta here. You’re not welcome. Not baban. Not nanga mai. That’s me. This is for me.” The words were not his – they came from somewhere else, something else. He did not know what the words meant – yet.

Dust from Billy’s running feet sifted onto Immu’s skin, settled on the bark of the Naji tree. Iridescent white, triple trunked; his baban. The tree sang its high notes, welcomed him. This was the one. The tree for his journey. The boy named Immu would learn from this Naji and become a man. He would rejoice in the knowledge of his song-lines, or he would fail. Die. Under this ghost gum. His tree.

Immu sat. The dry creek-bed sand crackled and squealed as it adjusted to his shape. It was time.

Legs folded under, hands at rest on thighs black and brown, bare feet that waggled in the red dust. Immu didn’t know what to do. He felt the stir, the need to do something. Eucalyptus drifted down, tickled his eyes and nose. The smell of dry dust filtered through the dark rays of the moonlight.

“What?” he yelled. “What do you want me to do? I don’t know what to do! I’m here for you – help me!” Tears rolled down his face, caught the light in prisms of colour that reflected back to his eyes from the three trunks. Purple clearly defined, then the blue. A rainbow. The colours moved along the veins of the tree; swirled and curled and danced into existence.

Nothing happened. Immu sobbed. He wanted it. Needed to be part of it, as he had been part of nothing before, as he had needed nothing before. Not like this.

Lost. That’s what they said about him. The Lost Boy. No family, no country, no songlines. Billy, too, but Billy was gone now. Immu had sent him away. Maybe it would be better if they did this together. He would go. Get Billy. Come back later.

A hunger that dragged at his memory of all things grabbed him, cramped his body and mind. It would be death if he disobeyed.

Whispers on the wind laughed at him, scolded him. It wasn’t smart to be alone with Naji, with no knowledge of the songline or the ritual or the power of the place.

He was in trouble. He would die here.

The ghosts rose from the tree, pointed at him, laughed, danced and pealed their voices in song. They sang his death. How did he know? He felt it. His heart slowed to nothing. His lungs didn’t take in air, his body slid to the ground in a thump of lump. He would die. Immu let go.

It would be an end to the life of his lostness. At least out here there were spirits, other spirits, people of the land spirits. Maybe some of them would belong to him, or him to them. Maybe not. Did he have to be in his own country to find his own family of spirits? How would he know which was his country? He couldn’t know. He had no one to ask, no family to tell him where he came from. When he was taken from his birth mother at two and placed in the home, he lost it all. All memory. All belonging. And no one came to take him back. They left him. Abandoned him to his fate. A baby in a den of dingoes that smelled blood on the crippled pup.

Alone. Lost. And soon to die.

The body was stuck in the dirt. Things crawled on his skin, sucked on his blood, grew roots through his bones. He could not move. His tears gave them life, grew them stronger. They lived through him, through his body, through his heart, through his words.

Sticks and leaves rattled, whispered, littered the air with little sounds, tiny words that ticked and tacked. Immu spoke the words with a mouth that didn’t move, tasted them in a soul that didn’t have a body, sent them beyond the void, beyond the frame of reference. The words spun out into strings, became one word, one song, one history. His history. His story.

Abandonment. Loss. Aloneness. Mourning. Life in desperation. Fear. No connection. No purpose. The trees were in death throes. The bushes were dead. Insects didn’t come here anymore. Birds long gone. Grasses struggled, barely alive, waited for a guardian. Were there guardians who would come, who would know?

No. None left. The ones who were and did not know would not come. Could not come. The guardians were lost. No one to show them the way home, back to country. Country died, guardians died. Immu died.

No one came back to save any of the Naji. All Naji gone – all but one. The last one. The tree and Immu, the last link to the spirit of place.

His heart stopped beating, became stone. The red stone, the red granite. No feeling, no wind to shape the story into him. No words to bring life to his limbs, his body, his mind. Rocks of the earth, of sand and soil and stones. He was grey, brown, striations of gold and hues of ochre. Stone and earth with no life. Immu was there to deny the movement of time, to be sentinel, a foundation of strength and memories. Immu, as rock, placed there to claim the age, the history of place. Forever. Forever. Now.

Tears became streams, streams became rivers, rivers fed into the ocean, joined with the immense Naji of salt water. Immu cried more. His hurt came from the pain of all the abandoned Naji, left to die without guardians. But what could he do? He was one person, a boy with no blood, no kin, no country. His body rocked and shuddered, racked with sobs and agony.

“Im, wake up, kid.”

It was Billy’s voice. Billy had come for him. He wasn’t alone. Immu jumped up. It was dark. Night. The tree, triple-trunked, iridescent white, glowed at him with a smile of lament.

“No,” Immu said. “I’m not going. This is my place, my country. And if it ain’t now, it’s gonna be. I’m gonna be guardian for this place, this piece of country. I’m gonna be here for all the Naji to find. To come home.” Immu sat, folded his legs, rested black hands on his thighs, brown and red, striped with ochres of yellow and white. Marked. Owned by country. Owned by the tree. This tree. This place. His place.

Billy walked between Immu and the tree. Sat with his legs folded under, hands on his thighs. Words sprang into the air between them. Big words, words of place, words of peoples, words of birds and animals and shrubs and grasses and insects and snakes and lizards and . . . all life, all creatures, all things belonging to this place brought their words.

Bodies sprang up. Feet flung out, lifted and fell, tromped and thumped. Sticks clacked and cracked, hands held them up, threw them down, tapped them together. Birds sang, crickets screaked, snakes smoothed the sand. They came. They all came.

Billy’s sounds, Immu’s words, the magic of the tree Naji, the joining of spirit to soul, of soul to earth, of earth to everything. Home. It was home.

Tears fell, became creeks, creeks became rivers, rivers fed into the ocean. Fish swam from the ocean to the river to the creeks – hid in holes made by red-gums, swished their tails, laid their eggs. Life came to the water. Life that fed the Guardians.

Immu and Billy danced in circles, in shapes and colours and sound. Their movements shaped animals, insects, birds – showed them how to be home. Established belonging, connection to place.

Billy’s hand held another. A girl hand. A woman. Now three of them danced around the iridescent white, triple-trunked ghost gum. Three for three. Guardians of the tree, the three.

Immu reached out and held one hand of the woman, pulled her to a stop. Billy and the woman stood still, heavy and solid, chests heaved and breathed.

“A name. They want a name. Not a name from the other world. A name that belongs here. We have to choose a name.”

The woman laughed, twirled.

“I am djanaba – I laugh and bring joy to my place, to my country.” Djanaba danced away, swung her arms and words and music around the tree. Leaves trickled down, garbed her in muted hues of viridian and cobalt.

Billy closed his eyes, breathed a deep intake of red dust. He smiled as he opened them again.

“I am Barra. I bring food to the people of my place, of my country.” He grinned at Immu. “And what is your name, kid?”

Immu couldn’t think. No. He didn’t need to think. He needed to feel. What should he feel? Solid, unyielding, permanent. A foundation.

“I am Giba, the stone of place. The holder of now. I am sentinel and guardian. I am home.”


three trees3

 

A Move to the Country

A Short Story by Rose Brimson

The way they wrote about it, Anna thought it’d be easy. Well, at least easier. It always went the same way – they waltzed into a country town, bought a run-down place, got it all fixed up real schmicko – and all while they completed novel after novel. Because of the peace. Because it was country. Because that’s how it’s done when you’re a writer.

It hadn’t worked for Anna.

She’d bought the house – a run-down old place that would once have been a queen, and could become one again. The list of tradies in the window of the one and only shop that sold any type of food product was so old the paper wasn’t just yellow – it had gone crackly and grey at the edges, softening off to baby poo yellow-orange in towards the centre, but the actual centre was unreadable – a dark urine brown-yellow that hid the letters as effectively as solid matter.

When she spoke to the proprietor, he’d laughed. Not a bit of a giggle laugh, a big and hearty from the bottom of his soles laugh.

“What? You wanna tradie? ‘Round here? That’s a good one, that is.”

The stamps of dust she’d created on the march home sat in the still air. When she turned around she could clearly see her path laid out. No breadcrumbs required in this town. A small group of locals stood outside the shop, all roaring with laughter and pointing her way. She sucked in a breath.

She’d sell it and move … somewhere else.

The real estate agent tried hard not to laugh; Anna tried not to snap at him. A question niggled at her until it popped out.

“How long was it on the market before I bought it?”

“Eight years.”

The thump of her body as it hit the floorboards and caused a rolling creak in the old timbers was the only thing that told her she’d fallen. She felt no pain. The words rang in her head like a bell plummeting from a belfry. Hit her on the head. Gong. Again. Gong. Again. Eight years. Eight.

If she had to live in this place for eight years – no, the place wouldn’t last that long, it’d fall to pieces; she used her fingernail to scrape away a layer of soft timber from the floor. If she just left it and walked away? Could she start again?

How many times would that make it? The first time she’d ended up living on the streets and barely survived. The second time she’d lived in a shed with only three sides until … The third time was after the bushfire and the house she’d built and all the things – everything – she owned gone to ash. When she’d been allowed back to check on things, there was nothing. Nothing. She didn’t recognise it. And no insurance, no heart to do it all again. Walked away. The fourth time she’d left with nothing and changed her name and the way she looked (and carried a hidden weapon for a long time) until she got used to the new person. The fifth time was another fire, not a deliberate fire, an accident, bad wiring. All gone. Everything. That time there was insurance, but that was worse than walking out with nothing. They didn’t give her the choices she would have made for herself, and because she didn’t like what they offered, no payout. No recompense for the loss of everything. Again.

Now. She was here to begin again. To do something with her life. To follow her dream. And it had all turned to shit. Again.

Why? Why did she keep going? What had she ever done – in this life or any other – to deserve this again? What?

Her feet stamped up and down on the old floor as she lay on her back. The disembodied voice of the agent gurgled for a while and then stopped. The screen went dark. The room went dark. Anna lay there, her torso still, but hands and feet smacking against the wood in a rhythm that matched her thoughts and the pound of her racing heart.

Again and again. Over and over. Everything gone. Everything. Everything.

A small amount of cash, but not enough to buy another house – not even in this town! No wonder the place had been so cheap! Another lesson learned the hard way!

A single hot tear slid down the side of her face. It plopped onto the floor and raised a blob of dust as heavy as oil. Something hit her cheek, scratched.

“Ow!” Anna sat up and felt her face. Wiped. Looked. Just dust. No. Something sparkled. She shook her head. That little spike of hope was something she’d have to learn to ignore. Nothing good every happened to her. Ignore it.

“Hello in there!” The deep voice rolled like thunder through the hall of the tomb of a house. She chose to ignore it. They’d go away. Eventually.

Thump, thump, thump.

Anna leapt up.

“Hey!” she yelled. “I didn’t say you -” she stopped when she saw him. Huge. So tall he had to duck to get under the door frames. Deep blue eyes that looked almost black with a silver twinkle as he looked down at her. A half-smile hid in the cracks of a face that laughed a lot, if those lines were any indication. Glimmers of grey in the whiskers on his chin. He leaned his long arm towards her, hand open, palm up.

“I’m Bud – Rod down the shop said you’d be needing a hand.” White teeth peeped out from the full lips when he flicked his tongue out to lick his lips. “I’m the local fixer-upper – can do anything you want.” He leaned down. “Just don’t tell the Council that.”

Anna realised she’d slid to the floor again. She saw her hand lift into the air and grab his, felt her body as it rose like a zephyr into the space of the real world. His skin was hot, his hand was firm but not ragged, not hard. Not what she expected.

“Don’t dig up the floorboards,” Bud said. “Ol’ grump used to own this place is ‘sposed to have buried all his gold dust under there!” He laughed, the sound a warm rollick of gentle waves.

Anna dusted herself off.

“Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “And I think I could definitely do with some help.”


copyright Rose Brimson 2017

Someday, or The Day After

Someday. It will happen then. Maybe the day after that. Always in the future. Never now. Why?

It was a question that didn’t have an answer. Kiri knew anyway. It was a question she’d lived with for so long, a question she couldn’t answer, or wouldn’t answer, because she had yet to take the first step on the path to Someday.

That was the day she would leave this place. Leave it all behind. Walk away. Start fresh. Change her name, the way she looked and dressed, the way she spoke. Someday.

the day of the new beginning, of the search for a more true self. Someday.

But not today. Today, Kiri would take care of the snarling old woman who lay in the chair all day; the old woman who ran the whole place, who stank of bitter tobacco and rancid fat. The woman who would be her grandmother if her mother or father had . . .

Gone. Somewhere. Somewhere else. They chose their Someday, and stepped out into it. The chose wrong, because the old woman found them. They did not come back, did not come home. They chose the wrong Somewhere Else on the wrong Someday – because how else would they have been found?

She, Kiri, would choose the right day; she would choose the right place; she would not come back – but she would not be found.

Play along, be the one unnoticed, be nothing more than a shadow of dust seen when the door opens or closes. Become the dirt, become the shadow, become the dust. Yes, the dust, because dust can move away, far away, with the right wind.

Soon, so very soon, her Someday would come.

Maybe tomorrow.

Almost, she smiled as she prepared the main meal for the mid-afternoon revellers. She turned it into a grimace, a more normal response to the work she did, the smells she had to tolerate every day in this place. Pressed her bare feet against the sharp rock to remind herself of what was real, what was almost real – but not yet.

The door slammed like a cross-bow bolt in her heart. The old woman lifted her gammy teeth in a smile as the man came in. He was the last.

The group waited for her to serve them. Kiri filled all their ewers of hot wine and pointedly refused to serve the ones who didn’t clear their space; the table was finally cleared of weapons and spoils – shoved under the table and out of sight while the feast for her celebration day was consumed.

She continued, laid out the plates of flat wood and the dull, flat-bladed knives used to lift the food parcels; and she struggled with the heavy full-to-the-brim platters of roasted carcasses: two of goat and one of pig and one with ten roosters. And the old lady’s favourite, a whole ram with the head pointed at the head of the party.

Each dish contained the green edges of her carefully tended herbs: parsley, rosemary, marjoram, lavender. The roots and nuts and seeds: yam, beets, artichokes, carrots, valerian, kava, passionflower – and many more. And the gravy, flavoured with all the most efficacious of them all.

Colourful, delicious, food that filled and satisfied.

The smile snuck into her eyes as they dived in like a raucous gang of cockatoos at a waterhole.

She would not be allowed to participate in the eating. Her job was to serve and to make sure the table did not empty.

Someday. Today was Someday.

Copyright 2017 Rosey Brimson.