The kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. The old man sits on his creaking balcony. The dog lies panting under the cooling shade of the house. I trudge down the road, one step after another on the smooth cement. With my too-big school bag tugging at my shoulders, I walk slowly, back arched in fatigue. The buttons on my shirt tug on each other, a long way past being too small. But it’s fine, I don’t need to look like a model to learn. Or at least that’s what mother says.
The breeze passes me freely and fresh as the sun loses its concentration on the ground, the blaring light fades away leaving a blushing array in the sky. The sweat on my forehead diminishes in the wind, slowly I feel the redness from my flushed cheeks die down. The scent of freshly mown grass and a sausage sizzle mix together. The sweet sound of serenity fills my ears, the sporadic chirp of a bird, or the satisfying crunch of a car’s tire on the rocky road.
As the suns sets, everything comes together. The sun has a hold on people, anxiety-inducing really, but once it’s near gone from view the fog subsides and the world becomes a somnolent cloud. The pressure of the sun abates and the chaos of the day lifts.
It’s that time of day when night is begging to break through the cool evening air and the sun beams down faintly and gently as if it is taunting you. The trees are brimmed with new leaves and the warm breeze wafts through the branches, they swish back and forth in a rhythmic melody singing for night to arrive. I love when I can walk past and watch it all happen, everything culminated into one sweet period, the kookaburra, the old man, the dog, and the fleeting light in the sky guarding it all like an angel.
Houses line up, wind-chimes play an inviting tune, and the Aussie flag flaps in the wind. Christmas lights and decorations from last year are still stuck on the front door, no one bothering to take them down, it’ll be Christmas again soon enough.
It’s euphoric to walk down the street. The happiness that seeps out of every blade of grass numbs the anxiety from the fleeting light and the inevitable darkness ahead. It becomes addicting like a drug, every day like clockwork. There, the kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, waiting for prey to present itself. The old man sits on his creaking balcony, a Vietnam war veteran, nursing his now-warm beer. The dog lies panting under the cooling shade of the house, retired after a long day of futile barking at the cars and people that pass on the path. Day, after day, the kookaburra, the old man, and the dog.
A girl sits in her front garden, not a care in her head, not the worry of danger as the street rapidly darkens or any thought of hunger in her stomach, a meal always waiting for her inside the proudly-painted house. A barbie doll is clutched in her hand, she dreams of being a princess in a palace made of diamond and gold. How lucky would she be to be a princess? She doesn’t know that she already has all the luck she needs.
I’m not racing to get home; I walk down the street taking in all of its ecstasy. Here and now, along the unblemished path, I feel happy and like I belong. Here and now, I can pretend that I am one of them, a garden gnome, or a butterfly.
Reluctantly, I reach the end of the street. For a moment I hesitate, yearning to just let myself fall to the plush pillow of grass, basking in all its perfection. Yet, I must go on, they’ll call the coppers if I squat and claim their front garden. With a begrudging step, my feet turn left and fall into the not-so-nice part of town.
The atmosphere that filled the air is cut off. The strong smell of cigarettes and piss on the floor clouds the air, jabbing at my nostrils. A canopy of towering trees shelters the street from any light that could possibly want to reach the road. And with that, the peaceful evening swiftly falls to night.
The local drunk stumbles down the dim alley, singing in his intoxicated mumble, the tune of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, pausing briefly to regain his consciousness every few seconds and hold in the vomit that is sure to be found in a puddle somewhere along the path. I dodge his gaze and cross the street.
Further down the road, the darkness thickens and my head is once again clogged by fear. Here, the grass is brown and dead. Here, the quiet is disrupted by the sounds of bashing doors and cars old enough to tell dream-time stories somersaulting down the pot-hole ridden road.
Mother isn’t home yet. The living room is empty and so is the fridge. I dump my school bag and fall unceremoniously onto the couch; a whirl of dust lifts and I sneeze as it reaches my nostrils. The room is still dark, we got cut off weeks ago.
But it’s better. Here and now.
Better, than there and then. Where lullabies are accompanied by distant gunshots and the wail of a freshly made widow.
It’s better. Here and now.
I long for the white-painted houses and trimmed front gardens. I long to walk along the street where the Christmas lights are still hung even though it's April. I long to stay in the sunset until my eyes are blinded by the light.
Tonight, I won’t eat, maybe there will be food tomorrow. Life, here, in the dark alley where my house lies, nothing is promised. Yet there, the kookaburra will always be sitting in the old gum tree, the old man and the dog, all there, every day until they reach their end; because, even there, nothing is promised.