Off Season Odyssey Pt 35.
I’ve just driven 1,600kms for work the bloke now says is not there.
“I lost my job in the mines last Monday, so I can’t pay you for maintenance,” he tells me, a good four days after he knew.
“You can have the spare room for, say, four hours work a day. Another hour’s work for each meal.”
This is either a scam, or a desperate man clutching at straws.
We have words. His wife gets between us.
I want out, but there isn’t one. It took all my food and fuel money to get here. I have six dollars to my name, a bag full of canned beans and a buggered front end. The left hand tyre is about 400kms from blowing its arse off. The uni joint not far from snapping. If it happens at speed, the shaft will drop, front end first, sending the ute through the air like a pole-vaulter.
I pace the room I thought I was staying in. Goddamn, I pace. I’m gunna deck him, I’m gunna kill him! He’s lost the lot with the job, so is as stuffed as I am. I’ve got to suck in my anger. Keep it nice.
I’m not sure why, at all, but they’re the words that keep bouncing through my head, tempering my bloody rage.
Keep it nice.
But I can’t. The best I can do is hit the road, no plan or direction. It is thin and winding, like a cave. A tiny grey line between mountain ranges and the world’s largest reef.
I stop at a beach two hours before sunset. Cape Tribulation in the off-season is the most beautiful thing. All mangroves, palm trees, vines, and soft, white sand that croons, yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh…, when you walk on it. Everything is blue skies and heat you somehow don’t mind.
I go for a pre-season run. Each beach is brilliantly empty. You could shag for hours on them if there was someone to shag. They all look like heaven.
Then reality sets in. There are no waves. The water is full of stingers so you can’t swim or dive, the river mouths are stacked with crocs. The place is chockers with expensive, empty resorts, tucked under the canopy. There are not many locals, not really. Just ex-Victorian managers and a handful of tourists with attitude running the tours. There are no Aboriginals. Not one. Even though this place must have once been paradise. Because it is a paradise. There’s no footy team. Hell, there’s no oval, or paddocks. There are no tradies, because there’s no work.
There’s no-one to have a kick with.
Scenery doesn’t feed the mind, it feeds the balls. When the time’s right, the place is an orgy of youth and beauty. Angry with the weight of them. In winter, when the rest of the world’s too cold, the nights here go off like Roman candles.
At the height of tropical summer, it’s a beautiful ghost town, the few people here scraping to find ways to get by.
Work defines me. It gives me reason. Having the soil of a land knotting my hair, under my nails, watching it absorb my sweat, that’s a holiday. Then, the beers are earned. The food is needed, then the swim is a saving thing. To hit a waterhole is like diving into salvation.
I’ve fought with many a lover over this. Who can’t understand someone might hate doing the same nothing that they yearn for.
This is as boring as all shit.
I go bush and make a dinner of coconuts and star fruit. The mangos have fruited early and gone. While I’m in there, I spot the shit and turned earth of a wild pig, follow them and find it. Another feral, like me, destroying the bush. If I could, I’d kill it. Eat it. For boredom, if not hypocrisy,
I charge it, yelling, swinging a big stick. They’re tough, have been known to attack, gouging grown men, but this one isn’t that big. It bolts and I get tangled up in the wait-a-while. Razor-sharp, barbed vines that grow up to a meter a day, and cover the Top End.
Getting myself out of it takes forever and gives me time to think of nothing and everything and football. Who would be 44 and still living for something they don’t and can’t make a cent from? Working his life around it? Strung up as if a gutted puppet, in the middle of the tropics, without a cracker, 3,800kms from home?
The wait-a-while cuts me up and tears my clothes pretty good. Getting my legs free takes so long, a cassowary passes in the distance with two chicks. They’re big creatures. This one looks taller than me, all beautiful and stupid, like someone blended a peacock with the colour of a rosella and gave it the height and legs of an emu.
From the other side of the creek, it gives me, hanging there, the briefest look, as if it doesn’t give a damn.
When night falls, the mozzies have had plenty of time to make battle plans. They have sweet, unbroken test-pattern whines. Fireflies, bums flashing orange, drift quietly through the dark.
The heat and humidity are fine. Just sweat. It’s the alien nature of the Daintree that makes it what it is. The tentacle shapes and sheer scale of its 1,000 year old fig trees. Things you can’t put into brochures, or explain. Its sounds.
Alien birds, and weird frogs and enormous insects do their thing. The bats chitter. I can hear what I think is a croc in the distance, somewhere downstream.
The moon is out. ¾ full, as if someone punched it in the head. It charges the clouds, time and again, lining them silver, until they rain hard, then are gone again.
I make my way back down the cape to the Cow Bay recreation ground, where nothing but the odd social cricket match has been played in years, and have a kick.
This sets off the fruit bats. They circle the oval, which is circled by the forest, which is circled by the mountains, which are circled by the night sky.
They circle the world and me on big, dark, leathery wings.
I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how. But that’s why they call them Odysseys. I’ll be damned to hell if I’m giving in now.