It is my first weekend home without external demands. I’ve enjoyed working at my own pace and targeted chores that were meaningful to me. As the day winds down I can’t help but remember some of the far away spaces where I was just a mere speck in an enormous land. This came to mind …
I am seated outdoors at a regional airport, the building is no bigger than a suburban home. The luggage is off loaded in an open shed. The word Security is not part of spoken or written language around these parts. There are no warnings to travellers about their unattended luggage or cars blocking the entrance. The car park is spacious with 20 bays. There is no need to park at the door. This is country life. The shed is empty now after a small spill of people emerged from the flight that will take me back home. The announcer says passengers will depart from Gate 1. It is a superfluous announcement. There is no Gate 2. Indoors, my frame is just below the level of heavy backpacks. The miners are going home too. I am safer outside until the crush at the small check in counter dissipates. Near me are two young men, dressed in tee-shirts, jeans and new steel capped shoes. Their mining uniform is tucked into the gym bag, their hard hat, two sizes too small, sits atop their head like a crown. Their arms and chest are smooth sculptured muscle, large enough to provide a backdrop for tribal designs to be inked into their skin. Fresh out of university, the young engineers flaunt their salary in body art. At right angles sits The Old Timer, his face aged faster by the sun than years. His legs are stretched out in front of him. People, including me, respect his space and step over his dusty boots carefully. He is comfortable in the usual uniform of the area, the reflective stripes glowing bright against the red dust he wears.
The Old Timer sucks at his hand rolled cigarette throwing his head back to take in every bit of smoke into his lungs that crackle like electricity. He turns his head to the left and blows out steadily. At the end, the effort convulses his body into a coughing fit. When he catches his breath he closes his eyes and is deep in thought. The two young men are waiting for him to speak and in those seconds, the graphic on their laptop screen collapses and then resurrects itself upwards in a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours. The same graphic is in the Old Timer’s head. He sees it covered in dust. He knows it well. It has not moved in years. It has always been the same colour. He speaks slowly, “I reckon”, he pauses, eyes closed. “It’s the third valve on the right that’s carked it. Fix ‘er and that water pump will run. Sweet as.” A stream of smoke fills the silence when he stops speaking. The two men focus on the computer again conferring softly. His wisdom shared, the Old Timer stands up, the momentum makes his back arch back, a little too far, or perhaps it is the weight of his stomach on spindley legs. One young man laughs and says something inaudible but the Old Timer hears the comment. When his coughing subsides he states emphatically, “Bin smokin 40 years. Buggered if I stop now.” With that parting shot, he gets into his 4WD with dust licking the sides like flames, and drives away, leaving behind his absence in the shed a void that is wider and deeper, from where he came.
His kind is iconic of this region, deep in mining country, but sadly, few and far between. So it is not surprising, the memory of his honest eyes, watery and as blue as the sea he has not seen, is what I take home with me and now share with you.
Until next time,
a dawn bird