ON THE WAY
On The Way is a short story about a man that visits the countryside after being conditioned to the city life since he was born. It’s a story about the massive differences between urban and rural communities, and how people develop unlikely friendships and establish a sense of belonging.
ON THE WAY
David stepped out of his ute that his brother Tim had lent him for his stay at Walunya. The ute was sitting next to a paperbark tree on the side of the road, right near the dusty driveway of Tim’s cottage. The cream coloured house was surrounded by a veranda which was often exposed by the rusted corrugated iron roof. There was a huge pile of boots and sneakers right at the front door, besides the welcome mat that presented a worn-out imprint of “SHUT THE FRONT DOOR”. The white wooden fence had paint chipping and posts missing, the gate itself didn’t close entirely. Tim insisted it wasn’t an issue, nobody was going to trespass because everybody knew everybody. Things like this made David miss the city. He felt more secure there, and nobody was ever in his business.
Walunya was located in outback New South Wales, which was almost an entire day’s drive from David’s city apartment. After he left the outbounds of the city, there was very little more than gum trees and roadkill along the dead straight freeway.
Spring was far warmer than expected this year, and David was dreading the idea that Summer would only be here in a fortnight. The heat was something that he would never adjust to. The humidity in the air made his grey shirt stick to his back, and the sweat drip from his temples down his neck. David leant on his dusty white ute and pulled out his phone.
“Hey Siri, call Tim.”
“Calling Tim; mobile.”
He almost immediately picked up the phone. His voice was muffled amongst a rattle of background noise.
“Hey mate, I’m around the corner.”
“Oh, okay. I just wanted to check-”
Tim had already hung up the phone. David crossed his arms in impatience, occasionally wiping the sweat from his brow. The only salvation for him was that he was only here for another couple of months. He stood in ponderance of his situation, and his longing to return home. The city was a distant memory; there were no more lush rooftop bars where he could chat to 20- something year old women, there were no luxury cars to drive him from the office to his apartment. There were no more silk robes and gin and tonics, all he had was football shorts and brutish lager out of a can.
It was clear that Tim was reluctant to ask him to help on the farm, and he was even more reluctant to say yes. “I wouldn’t’ve asked if I didn’t need ya, Dave. One of the blokes has a bub on the way, and another has been real crook” he remembers Tim telling him. “I know you don’t exactly love it our here, but just give it a bit. I reckon it’ll do ya good to jump off ya high horse for a while”.
David knew that he needed some kind of holiday. It was his eighth year being the editor in chief at Graysier Publishing, and his work had smothered him since he started. He loved his job; he had worked endlessly to get to where he was. He just needed to stop. David brought it up to his beautiful, blonde, personal assistant Adrienne when she brought in his coffee one morning. “Go” she urged him. “Consider it cultural enrichment. Go off the grid for a while, you might even enjoy yourself”. Adrienne always knew what was best for David’s work affairs. Hell, she knew everything about his entire life. She probably still does. David told her that afternoon that he was going to use his accumulated leave. With almost nine months up his sleeve, he figured there was no harm in spending time with his brother. That was in May, and December was around the corner.
The closest city centre was an hour away, which had a population of about twelve thousand people. Tim would often send David to town once a week or so to do the grocery run, and it was just far enough away to make David resent driving that little bit more every time. The road to town was either gravel or crumbling bitumen. As far as the eye could see for that hour drive were various gum trees and paddocks. Now was the time of year the canola and wheat would blanket the countryside, a magnificent patchwork of yellow and green, and the occasional massive tree right in the middle. There were often powerlines cutting through the paddocks, which always confused David. Seems like such a stupid idea, he would always ponder; wouldn’t they just get in the way? Stupid farmers, way to ruin your property value.
David could hear the dull roar of Tim’s old land rover approaching, and soon enough the tyres squeaked around the corner. Tim hopped out, his clothes damp and his face flushed.
“Hey brother, bloody hot today.”
“Please don’t remind me. Your car doesn’t have air conditioning. I still don’t know why I can’t drive my perfectly fine car around.”
“Oh, so ya reckon you could push ya fancy Merc through the paddock? Yeah, alright. The ute’s got AC Dave, I told ya.”
“Tim, the windows do not count.”
“Mate, I tell ya, the city made ya soft.”
They plodded to the house and kicked their boots onto the pile near the front door.
“Are ya thirsty?” Tim asked.
“Do you have any sparkling water?”
“Not what I meant ya goose. I’m gonna go to the pub if ya wanna join?”
“Tim, it’s not even four o’clock yet.”
“Mate, it’s been a long day. And you need to keep ya liquids into ya. Just come for a quick schooey.”
David hadn’t stepped foot into the pub the entire time he has visited. On the odd occasion Tim would bring him back a six pack – always with a couple missing. David much preferred to keep his business to himself. The thought of making small talk with senile locals absolutely repulsed him, there was no point in trying to make any friends if he wasn’t staying much longer.
“No, I need to check on some things for work.”
“You’re not even at work! Come on, no one’s gonna bite ya! They’re all good blokes down there. Come on mate, one beer. It’s even got AC and a telly.”
He paused to consider; was the sweetly chilled air and buzz of a schooner glass really worth rubbing shoulders with impertinent geezers?
“Alright, fine. One beer.”
------------------------------------- *** -------------------------------------
After David tried to wash off the afternoon sweat, he donned a polo shirt and cargo shorts, and much to his disgust, headed off to the pub. It was a short walk – they just had to stroll past the tiny police station that was next to the old doctor’s office, which was then converted into a day care centre. The worn-out bitumen felt soft under their shoes, and as they turned the corner, the pub was approaching their line of sight through a vicious heat haze. It was the most popular place in the whole town. There was never any more than six or seven cars out the front, almost exclusively battered up utes waiting to break down. David wiped the sweat from his brow as he opened the pub door. He was unjustifiably nervous, but Tim stormed straight through.
“Heyyy, Cobber!” a toothless man with a greasy combover lifted his glass in Tim’s direction. “How the bloody hell are ya mate?”
“Yeah not too bad, Moocha, how are you?” Tim smiled back at him and gave him a rough handshake.
“Can’t bloody complain mate.”
“Yeah bloody oath. Mooch, this is my brother Dave.”
“David” he extended his hand to greet the toothless man.
“Nice to meet ya mate. Si’down, have a sherbet.”
Next to this ‘Moocha’ man were five other weathered men sitting across the bar; each of their backsides had worn the barstools to their own personal imprint. All of them were dressed in a singlet, shorts, and work boots. None of them spoke much, unless they were arguing about the refs’ decision on the footy or complaining about the pokies chewing up their last fiver.
Behind the six old backsides sat three middle aged women, all tougher looking than the men. One was wearing a white singlet covered in grease and dirt, and her stomach had fallen over the sides of her low-set track pants. She sat back in her chair, belly laughing while she strangled her can of VB. To her left was a scrawny, curly haired lady that hissed a toothless chuckle. The final lady had jet black hair that was accented by flickers of grey; she was wearing a long, flowing brown skirt, a yellowing t-shirt, and thongs. They were all cackling over their assumed husbands at the bar or gossiping about their neighbours.
David tapped Tim on the elbow and pulled him aside.
“These people look homeless” he whispered.
“Oh, come on, don’t they teach ya in the city to not judge a book by its cover or whatever? They’re good people, just give ‘em a chance for Christ’s sake.”
David rolled his eyes “They don’t even have real names! Seriously, Moocha? What does that even mean?”
“Dave, I’m really starting to understand why you don’t have any friends. Sit down and shut up” he grabbed David by the shoulder and forced him into a vacant barstool. The man sitting next to him resembled a lollipop, a massively rounded beer gut and impossibly scrawny legs that barely reached the floor.
“S’garn on matey. Bloody good to see a new face. I’m sick of lookin’ at all these other ugly mugs in the joint,” the lollipop man flashed him a crooked smile.
“Oi Bitzer, I don’t reckon you’ve won too many bloody good looks contest have ya! You gotta head like a dropped pie,” shouted Moocha, as he approached the lollipop man. David was struck with fear; he hadn’t been here for five minutes and he was already prepared to be involved in his first bar brawl.
“At least I own a comb for my bloody hair!” he propped up his fists. David winced. Moocha was right up in this man’s face, when he grabbed him by the shoulders, and they started to struggle with each other. David was ready to intervene when Moocha started laughing, followed by ‘Bitzer’. They punched each other on the arm, and Bitzer bought two more beers.
David shot Tim a glare, and all Tim could do was chuckle.
“So anyway, before this bastard interrupted me. My name’s Bitzer,” he stuck out an arthritic hand.
“David,” he gave Bitzer a cautious smile and shook the hand in front of him. “Sorry, did you say Bitzer?”
“Ask anybody, and they’ll tell ya I’m a bit of a mongrel. But that’s a bit rude, so they called me Bitzer. Have ya met the beautiful barmaid yet? Hey, Spade! Com’ere! Meet Dave.”
A bulky woman with snow white hair appeared from behind the cool-room. She was remarkably short, but she presented with a confidence unseen before. David guessed she would have been in around her sixties, she had massive framed glasses that took up half of her face, and there were wrinkles that wrapped around everywhere he looked. She’s lived a very big life, by the looks of things.
“Well, ‘allo. I’m Spade, what can I get ya?”
“David, um sorry… Spade? Like a-?”
“Like the shovel. Do you want a beer mate?”
“Wait, is that your real name?”
“Noooo, ya dope. My mum and dad weren’t that bloody silly.”
“My last name is Yard. Ya know, like a garden? What’dya use in a garden?”
“Ah, I see.” David’s eyebrows were knotted together in confusion.
“So, beer?” she sat a hand on her well-rounded hip.
“Um, do you have a spirit menu I could look at?”
She erupted into laughter, leant over, and gave him a nudge on the shoulder.
“Ahhhh, youse city yuppies are too funny. I’ve got a can’a JD and coke, a can’a JB and coke, or a can’a Woodstock and coke.”
David wasn’t too sure what she meant by that.
“Oh, right. What do you have on tap? Any crafts?”
“Ohh my god! You are funny!”
Spade shook her head with a grin, and before David could decide what he wanted, she was already pouring him a glass of beer.
“Get that in ya, my friend. Consider it a welcome gift. On me.” She gave him a wink, then collected the empty glasses from the other patrons. David took a sip of the beer and winced at how harsh and metallic it was. He threw it back in a couple of gulps; despite the taste, it was cold.
“So behind us,” Bitzer continued “you have the lovely ladies of the room.” He pointed to the toothless one: “That’s Shazza – married to Dazza,” then the one with salt and pepper hair, “there’s Tanya,” then the one in the singlet “and the lovely little June. Everybody, meet Davo.”
The entire pub raised their glasses and tinnies in the air.
“G’day, Davo!” they called out.
“My name is David, not, Davo.”
“Well, ya look like a Davo,” Bitzer grinned. “What’dya do for work Davo?”
David slouched on his stool, growing distant.
“I’m an editor in chief. Well, not at the moment, but I was.”
“Jeez, you are Mister Fancy Pants!” Spade chimed in.
“What brought you to this lovely little place?”
“I’m just helping Tim out with the crops at the moment, I won’t be here much longer though, I’ll be heading back soon.” David felt a strange twang of regret as the words left his mouth. He will be heading back soon. Back to privacy, back to work, back to being a loner.
“It appears that you don’t get very many newcomers, do you? I feel like I’m getting the royal treatment from you all today,” he added with a scoff.
“Look, I know a bloody good bloke when I see one” Bitzer put his arm around David. “And whether ya come back down ‘ere tomorrow, or not at all; just know that ya got a spot right ‘ere.”
He sat silent for a second. What is going on here? They don’t know me. I could be a psycho? What strange people. But before he could think any further, his mouth started running:
“What are you drinking, Bitzer? My treat.”
“Your shout?! Aha! I’ll take a midi of four-x mate. Bloody legend. I knew you were a good bloke!” Bitzer was absolutely elated, he appeared to almost jump off his stool.
“Spade, two midis of four-x please,” David chimed with a smile. She smiled back at him. He smiled at Tim. Tim smiled back. And suddenly, David’s backside got very comfortable in that stool.
Sarah Cohen is a third-year creative arts student, with a creative writing major and a screen minor. She has had a passion for writing since a very young age, and since the recent lockdown, she has been massively inspired to write about her connection to rural New South Wales where she grew up. She also finds great inspiration from the human mind and experiences. Sarah has a great passion for screenwriting and hopes to develop more screenplays after graduation. When Sarah is not studying, she is working on other creative projects, visual or written, or crossing various novels off her bucket list.
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