Old friendships and the way they settle into comfortable routines have such claims on us that we instinctively shun change, wilfully blind to unsettling new behaviour. Yet time passes and a parent dies, a child survives a major trauma, or someone spends twelve gruelling months fighting to keep a marriage together and we all change: re-adjustments often made so deep within us that they are not immediately apparent to the other.
Over the years new names had begun to drift into Sally and my increasingly irregular conversations until each one had become a stinging reminder of the distance between us: all my childhood friend's friends are now strangers to me. At times I thought of leaving the friendship behind, yet when I was away and dreamt of home it was always of the water lapping at the ferry's bow and the rhythmic droning of its engine as it made its way across the water to Sally's home.
(included in the anthology, A Country Too Far)
The woman who came today - sometimes I can't remember their names – asked if I was lonely. I had no idea how to answer so I stared down at my hands resting on the picnic table between us until they were no longer resting but clapping in time to the music at my cousin's wedding. In this little memory movie I have stopped clapping and I'm taking my handkerchief out to wipe the sweat from my brow. Everyone, including Aasera, is on the dance floor laughing, moving to the rhythm. She's looking at me now smiling, summoning me to join her. 'Sa'eed, you are my dancer,' she's saying over the noise. 'No one dances more beautifully than you, my husband.' She's lying, of course, but with her smile and her beckoning hands she's pulling me onto the floor. As I begin to move she throws her head back and laughs at my jerking, wayward limbs before leaning in to whisper, 'I love you, Sa'eed.' The memory movie stops and I'm left alone in this place without Aasera.
My nights are becoming increasingly long and wakeful, my days full of fitful sleep as I wait out time, sleepwalking through the weeks, wondering how long I will need to be here. How long will be long enough?
When I woke this morning it was to a heavy, liver-pink haze stretching out across the horizon. The westerly that came howling down the bay yesterday afternoon, whistling through the rigging and swinging the boats around on their moorings, brought with it the ash and smoke of the fires ringing Sydney to leave behind this new day heavy with the fire's debris.