The road was empty. I let my thoughts drift. This feeling of solitude found in long distance driving, is something I really enjoy. This time I took a side road off the main highway, one turn off too early. It got me to my destination but via a small hamlet I only knew by signage.
I had left home early morning. Too early for breakfast. I craved a decent cup of coffee. I slowed down and coasted into one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ main streets. A light breeze lifted the faded rainbow plastic strips from the only open doorway I could see, and waved me in. Indoors, there were a few chairs and tables, newspaper and magazines, groceries, a typical ‘only shop in town’.
We pulled up to the doorway together, crunching gravel under the wheels, me in my city sedan, he in a dusty ute. The streets are empty. I’m aware I’m alone. I have no idea what or who is inside the shop. So I bide my time. He whistles, and the red dog jumps off the tray. The dog knows this routine well. His owner bends down at the tap jutting off the side of the building and lets some water gush into a plastic ice cream container. His actions speak louder than words. He straightens up and sees me unwind my coiled self from the car. A flick of his thumb and index finger moves his hat imperceptibly further back and a gruff “g’day!” is enough to make a stranger feel welcomed. I part the plastic strips and walk in, he does the same after giving the ruddy coat of his slurping mate a vigorous rub.
I sit at the table furthest away from the counter. The choice is one of three and the difference I gained in privacy, was barely a few feet. My coffee arrives. There is no barista in this town. It’s instant coffee or nothing. I compromise. My body is craving it. He sits at the other table. He’s been working in the sun, so he downs a Gatorade. He and the owner are talking harvest. The talk between them flowing with ease. My break over, I gather my laptop and belongings. I hear a rumble. It comes slowly from the tip of his boots, travels the length of his lean frame until his body releases it with a low growl that surprises all three of us. He thumps his chest and says, “pardon me” to no one in particular. And, in the silence that follows, both men look at and to me, for the next move. I default to city me. I feign busy and pack my things away. I’m polite in my farewell, our eyes meeting long enough for him to see my smile in them. His look of surprise dissolves into furrows, and among them, I find his.
Dusty ute, red dog. What’s not to love? I knew instinctively. I would memorialize the meeting in words one day.
Until next time
a dawn bird