Facing the Sun
Darkness in the desert has its good and bad points. The sudden and complete blackout tends to be disconcerting for anybody not expecting it. But the tallest of the three boys strode along the dark street at a determined but erratic pace suggesting important business while the others, faster but uncertain in the shadows, followed at a quick trot. The brief opportunity before the clouds moved and the stars sprinkling across the night sky would betray them to passersby loomed large in Adam’s mind, while nothing in the shadows disturbed his intense focus. He seemed almost unaware of his companions, dismissing their odd flinches and squeaks when the scrub to either side of the road revealed abundant
Both boys jumped and turned sharply at the sound of breaking glass. The inadequate light went out, the walls of the house fading instantly into impenetrable deep grey shadows against the desert dust, and Adam seemed to have disappeared. Using their hands to guide their feet the two boys kept close to the front wall of the house as they worked their way past the veranda towards the first corner, rough scrubby weed growing against the wall scratching at faces and impeding progress. It was the bite of glass into bare feet which pulled them up, shrieking involuntarily as lowering
From inside the house Adam shushed at them impatiently. Darkness made it impossible for him to see anything, and he couldn’t risk exiting via the hole, once a window, with only thongs. His hands were bleeding from where he’d lifted himself into the room. He’d chosen the side window because it was hidden from the road by bushes. Breaking it with the torch had been impulsive and stupid
The time it took to find his friends seemed interminable, as he picked his way carefully around the veranda steps and unsuccessfully avoided the bushes, several times finding himself tangled in unknown vegetation. This must what it was like to be blind; a daily experience without traces of hope, of ever…he broke off the thought and drew a deep breath sensing how much fear was holding him up. Instead, he drew on the pictures of the shrubbery as he imagined the house from the road. Even still, it was not where his hands expected it, and
We are pulling up camp at the foot of Big Red. Sandro and Josh spent yesterday re-organising our equipment. Everything has to be
Once we’re loaded, you’d expect Sandro to be relieved, but now he’s heading my way with a big metal bucket swinging from one hand and a heavy, black scowl on his face. Here we go!
“Where on earth did you get this bucket from Bridey?” I stand my ground returning his glare. No more tip-toeing around his bad temper. He takes it as a personal insult that I was magically given water in this bucket last night! “What are we going to do with it?” His raised voice exacerbates my stubbornness. Hands on hips, I lean forward to shout at him.
“Don’t you yell at me!” I am so angry, I can feel spit spray from my mouth. Luckily he’s standing back, and it misses. “Get over yourself, Sandro!”
“Well, what am I supposed to do with it? It won’t fit in the truck, and I can’t leave it here.” His loud angry, I’m about to jump all over you, voice frightens me enough to take a step back. “You’re going to have to put your feet in it.” He sneers at me, and suddenly Josh appears from the other side of the car. When Sandro spies him, he yells, “Don’t you start interfering!” It’s getting out of hand, and we’re attracting the attention of other campers. I turn to walk away, which winds him up more. “Don’t you dare go off!” he shouts, “We’re about to leave.” The whole performance is unusual, but he has spoken to me like this before, and when he does it, I feel like leaving him. Flashes of the earthquake and the hospital
I lower my voice into a seething hiss. “If you think I’m travelling anywhere with you while you’re in this mood, you’re wrong.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Bridey. Just get in the car.” He’s about to come over and grab me, yelling out, “Josh! You’d better be seated before I turn around.” Is he going mad? What’s Josh doing? While I stand
“Alessandro!” The voice is loud, harsh, determined and, frightening. It has an instantaneous effect on Sandro. He stands rigid, a dead tree in a paddock, while his face slowly drains of its polished wood colour becoming white before taking on a dark red flush. “You treat your woman like this. What man are you? One who shames me?” The speaker has arrived clapping one hand to Sandro’s shoulder so forcefully that he sags under its
“You!” Sandro’s teeth are bared now. “You!” He’s struggling for breath. “You leave your woman in a strange country; alone. With a baby!”
The atmosphere is electric, Josh and I
“Weeks in the desert,” the speaker hisses at him, “and you stay here another day to play. What is this thing you do?” Josh gazes at them intently. “You come to visit your father, but have no courage for it, and you blame your woman.”
The bucket falls from his hand to the desert floor while Sandro drops his head. His opponent suddenly turns towards me. “I apologise for my son’s behaviours,” he says. I can’t believe he just said that, and it was so sincere! Although I’m glad about a few things here, I don’t really want him to be talking to me this way. Suddenly, I’m on Sandro’s side, which is very annoying. Of
“No. No. No, don’t, please. This is a very big day.”
“I’m right here!” The surly voice only makes him sound silly. “Come on! Give it a go!” he says. His father steps towards him again but only takes the bucket. “So, it was you?”
He holds it out towards Josh (like he’s some sort of servant) who comes to take it and stands with me while the other two continue staring at each other waiting for a move.
“Sandro.” He glances towards my voice, then turns back, watchful. “We’ve come a long way. Surely you are not going to fight him.” It has absolutely no effect. His lean and handsome, now totally brown, proud body faces off with his father who looks startlingly similar.
The father shrugs, dropping his arms to his sides and, ignoring Sandro, walks over to me, smiling his
“I want to meet you,
“No. Just a friend.”
“Good. Come now!” And, he takes my hand through his bent arm leading the way to their campsite leaving Sandro with his mouth open. Josh begins to follow, pausing briefly when the greying head in front of him tosses back to him, “You and me. We speak of my daughter. Later.” I glance back, confused, taking in Josh’s wary face. Sandro has begun to trail along behind us. He actually deserves to sweat it out.
The campsite is tidy. A lanky, dark man sits on a once striped canvas stool before a fire, smoking. Sohrab introduces us as friends of his son, but I don’t catch his name. He comes slowly to his feet offering me the stool, and then gives me no option but to sit on it. He takes a log of wood instead and sits casting
This is not the way to handle Sandro. I want to tell him to be kind because Sandro is overwhelmed, but there’s no way this man is going to listen to what I think, even though he seems to be making lots of effort to be nice to me. He could get nasty. Josh hasn’t spoken a word. We eat largely in silence. Every now and then, I check Sandro’s face, and it is not the face of someone who’s found his dream. Even though I’m angry, I feel like crying for him. When we met back in April in Melbourne, he’d been searching for his father as though his life depended on it. The last time they’d spoken to each other was in his early twenties and Sohrab was in the Baxter Detention Centre. That encounter hadn’t turned out the best either. Seeing his father in that place had left a deep impression, and he’d gone away shattered. Now, we have come all the way for this.
Suddenly Sandro speaks. “How long have you been watching us?”
“We come to wait for you here, two days”
“How did you know?”
Sohrab casts a glance across at Josh, who squirms and stiffens on his log of wood. “This Josh. He has come to meet first.” The boy appears to be waiting for some axe to fall, but Sandro and I are just confused. “He has spoken of you to my friends.” Josh looks across at Sandro who returns his gaze, puzzled. An eerie silence lasts a couple of minutes while I’m struggling to wrap my head around how that might have happened. Then, I remember Sohrab’s greeting of Josh and decide it can’t be all bad whatever has happened, but nothing prepares me, and most especially Sandro, for what comes next. “Who is this man,
The whisper brings Sandro’s eyes around to stare at Josh again, uncomprehending. It’s a piece of steel he’s holding in his mouth when he says slowly pushing out the words, “The girl was my sister?”
“I didn’t know Sandro. I swear.” How could he have known? No one knew.
But Sandro is facing his father and the steel sets his mouth hard. “Molly?”
“Yes.” The deliberate tone leaves no room for discussion, but the next words cement the day. “You have
“And, how old is he?”
“Adam, he is seventeen in three months.”
Disbelief. Dismay. Emotions flicker like a badly tuned TV screen across Sandro’s face while he struggles to process the words and turn them into meaning. Then, without speaking, he stands with a jerk, turns and strides (almost a trot) away into the desert behind us. He’s in shock! I vividly remember that feeling. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m on my feet and have turned to run after him when Sohrab’s ringing voice brings me to an abrupt halt. “Sit! This is not for you.” Torn, I pause thinking someone’s got to go get him, but the voice is strong
Josh is also caught. Sohrab catches his attention before he can make any decisions. “My daughter, she is beautiful?” Josh nods without thinking it through, but I’m unsure whether committing himself
Drawing on all my courage, I leap to my feet and stand between them forcing Sohrab, the gentleman, to take a couple of steps back, “If Josh can’t come with us, we won’t be going to your house. He is in our care.”
To my complete surprise, Sohrab smiles slightly. “So. My son’s woman is in charge now?” This doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. “It is fortunate. Alessandro, he sulks while you do his work.”
“Go on, bag him behind his back! You tell him he has a whole nother family. What did you expect him to do? Say ‘oh how nice’?” We all stare at Josh who is glaring, daring him to continue. “He’s come all this way after his accident. Couldn’t even walk much. To find you. And now you treat him like shit.” I want to tell him to shut up now. He’s said enough. Sohrab ponders the words while his friend offers to deal with Josh, and I glare him down. When Sandro comes back, I’m going to kill him for this. Leaving us to deal with these horrible, dangerous men. He stands thinking for a while, and we wait. I’m holding my breath, I realize, and have to shake myself to start up again.
“What accident?” He stares at me and glares across at Josh. “Tell me. My son has
“He was hit by a car. Nearly died.”
“So. Then he comes to see his father.”
“No!” This man is a complete package. “We were coming all the time. Then he had his accident.” Mad as I am with Sandro, I’m wondering why it’s his fault. Sohrab was in Melbourne for goodness sake. “Why didn’t you go to see him? You were living there.” He’s as bossy as his son.
We’re not going anywhere with you. Maybe not even when Sandro comes back. We all stand around angry. Then he says, “I go to find my son.”
“Good idea!” says Josh. I wish you would shut up. Why can’t you see the danger?
But Sohrab, calm and pleasant as a lowering indigo cloud, responds. “You, I will deal with later.” The belligerence on Josh’s face moves him not one jot,
Sandro was powering, directionless, across the vast, trackless Simpson Desert without a hat or water, in a sleeveless dark singlet which quickly became drenched in sweat. He had been lost in mindless fury for over half an hour, brain locked out in the intensity of his
“Shall we sit for a while, Sandro? You will think more clearly if you rest now.”
“Think about what? I don’t want to settle
Interested, I asked him, “Me, perhaps?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, I only ask because that’s who usually cops the blame for these tragedies.” I was hoping to make him smile, but it had been a faint hope.
“Look. This isn’t funny. It’s not a joke.”
“I’m not making fun of you, Sandro. It has been a painful shock.”
“Why didn’t you warn me? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Did the Caretakers know?”
“No.” I waited while he slowly gathered himself, and then I asked him to shift his focus. “You have left two people in your charge in the middle of the desert with strange men who have uncertain tempers. One is Josh, whom your father has already lifted his fist to, and the other, the supposed love of your life, whom you attempted to attack yourself this morning because you were afraid.”
“Fortunately, they are able to handle themselves quite well. There is much to be done here, my dear. You must get back to your father who is on his way to find you now. He will bring you many challenges. He has suffered heavily over the years since you lived with him. Listen to his story. Help him with his current dilemmas, and you will learn much.”
Although he couldn’t visualize what happened, I took his hand to pull him to his feet, drawing him close and kissing him as his father should have greeted him this morning. He was filled with hope and courage and remembered much that was good in his life. “You are well loved, my dear. Check your temper, and think before you attack this man. Guard Josh for me. His life has been much harder than yours, and yet he has defended you since you left the camp.”
“You are forgiven. Go now, and keep talking with me.” Then I disappeared, and his misery returned like the backwash of a blocked drain in a flood.
The day was calm and still, the antithesis of family matters left unresolved for decades. His footsteps were clear and easy to follow, especially for these two whose knowledge of desert was well developed. A further twenty minutes went by until they met, each observing the other’s progress for
“You cry because you don’t want your brother?”
A flash of anger was quickly suppressed as Sandro saw how it must look. “I have missed you all of my life. And now, you know nothing about me.” The tears flowed freely, and he ignored them.
“Why come?” Sohrab said, completely overlooking the offering.
“Why have you come?”
“To find my son.”
Sandro took a step forward saying, “Let’s start this again.” Drawing in a deep breath to calm himself, he said, “My behaviour this morning was atrocious. You were right. I was afraid. But, to know you have another family feels unbearable.”
“You are not pleased? You don’t want a brother and a sister who are beautiful?”
“Aaahhhh!” His impatience wasn’t helpful, but it was costing him plenty to hold back the frustration. His eyes closed for a minute, and when they opened, he said, “Come and greet me like a father!”
“You come! Greet me as a son. With respect. Not one ashamed of his father.”
Sandro stared into the hard face before him, thinking, waiting, wondering what would help. Suddenly something else inside overtook the doubts, erasing them, leaving room only for the flood of emotion he had been fighting for over a decade.
“Forgive me, Baba.” Words he had repeated endlessly with no-one to hear them. “I was too young and stupid.” His face crumpled into his hands, and he bent forward sobbing uncontrollably while Sohrab watched and waited. Still. Silent. Sandro lifted his face, tears streaking through the desert dirt mixing with snot from his nose and running uncontrolled over his lips and down the front of his dirty singlet. “It was too hard to see you like that.” The man he faced gave no sign he had heard the words. “I am so sorry,” he pleaded. “I have regretted walking out for all of this time…and maybe for the rest of my life. I have searched for you everywhere… trying to make it up to you, but you wouldn’t let me find you. Would you?” Gazing out over the sand hills, the image of his father in Baxter Detention Centre haunting him, he waited. The father stood staring away from the son, also thinking of the humiliation of that day ten years ago. Then, abruptly, he dropped his hand onto the shoulder in front of him. “We have much to speak to each other, my first son. My lovely one.”
“Fuck! I’d forgotten again.” He winced as his father’s three fingers made abrupt contact with the back of his skull. He groaned with half a laugh. “It’s many years since anyone’s done that to me.”
Sohrab dismissed this. “Who is this new father of yours who does not know how to make my son polite?”
“Violence is not his way,” Sandro grimaced, remembering, “but, Baba he did try.”