120. On the Run

IN DARWIN, WE STAYED in a cheap motel near the airport, the kind where the ashtrays are never really cleaned, and bought an old Ford stationwagon from some German backpackers who had just circumnavigated Australia. They sold us their camping gear too, including a swag, an esky and a fishing rod. Then we had to somehow find room to fit $621,540 in cash into the car's various nooks and crannies, which isn't exactly easy when you're in the carpark of a motel in broad daylight, in an unfamiliar car with a green supermarket shopping bag full of cash. We were on the road by lunchtime: Zahia was the driver and, as I had never learnt to drive, I was the deejay. That first day I played Dear Life over and over again, that album by the Invisible Sky that we both loved so much, to the point that Zahia accused me of neglecting my duties. But the truth was we could barely hear the music above the scream of the engine, and we had to rely on our memories of the music to make sense of what we were hearing. At dusk we pulled off the highway and we spent the night camping by a lagoon under a full moon. We woke in the middle of the night and started to make love with the moon hanging low in the west like a white peach. The next day we turned off the highway onto the track that would take us to Broome, but the Pentecost River was running high, higher than we'd thought, too high for the car. Zahia was in favour of trying to cross it anyway, but with so much cash hidden in the car I talked her out of it. We needed to keep a low profile, it was safer taking the highway to the coast than to risk getting stuck in the middle of a river in the middle of nowhere. It was already late in the afternoon, so we unrolled the swag on an escarpment overlooking the river and the infinite expanse of land and sky beyond it. The night was as quiet as a John Ford movie set, the stillness broken only by the full moon gliding imperceptibly above us. By the time we woke up to make love it had set, and the universe was visible again. The next morning we swam in the Pentecost River and drove back to the highway, stopping at a waterfall along the way, where I almost drowned, and also at a tourist resort, where the resident mechanic fixed a flat tyre. Back on the highway, halfway to Hall's Creek, despite having the windows down and the Invisible Sky blaring over the screaming engine, we began to hear a thudding noise from the front axle. We drove past the Bungle Bungles without even slowing down. In Hall's Creek, every shop was a barricade. I made the mistake of asking the girl in Hall's Creek's only garage where I could find the mechanic. She replied, I'm the mechanic. She was unforgettably beautiful. By dint of habit or necessity she showed no sign of offence and fixed the car well enough for us to continue. That night we camped by a river where the resistance fighter Jandamarra had fought one of his pitched battles with the troopers. When we woke up to make love, the round-faced moon above us was in full flight, while not far from us, just out of sight, it seemed, from the campfire, we heard dingos and what we took to be wild pigs. The mechanic in Fitzroy Crossing had a moustache, that's all I can remember of him. We decided not to leave a car full of cash with him, to take our chances and keep driving. We stayed in a caravan park, where the full moon kept vigil over us as we slept and made love silently among the tents and caravans. The next day as we drove we invented our own songs, or rather we invented imaginary Invisible Sky songs, or songs that we imagined might have been Invisible Sky songs, in an alternate universe at least. But as there are many, perhaps countless, alternate universes, it's possible that the songs we invented had in fact already been written, already been recorded, by an alternate Invisible Sky in an alternate universe. We arrived in Broome in the afternoon, where a mechanic with clean hands told us we'd need to leave the car overnight, which we didn't do on account of the cash. We drove to the beach and swam in the Indian Ocean for the first time in our lives, with the sun setting over the water and tourists bobbing to and fro on the humps of long lines of camels. That night we camped illegally in a park within earshot of the beach. We were shrouded in an oceanic fog, illuminated as if from within by the light of the full moon. After our lovemaking I couldn't get back to sleep for fear that someone - a lonely policeman or insomniac park ranger - would happen by. Inexplicably, the next day the clunking noise in the front axle that had dogged us all the way to Broome suddenly stopped, and we drove out of town, heading north into the Dampier peninsula. We found signs warning tourists not to camp for more than three nights, as the crocodiles take that long to make up their minds. We camped by a sliver of a stream trickling through a wide creek bed and were woken in the night by the sound of a flood: the creek was now a raging torrent as it swelled with incoming tidewater. No one had warned us of the Indian Ocean's biblical, end-of-the-world tides. In the semi-darkness, I thought I saw the silhouette of a crocodile in the foaming water below us, but perhaps it was merely an uprooted tree trunk, or I dreamed it - I was finding it hard distinguishing between dream and reality. We were too frightened to make love. The next morning we found another campsite by some rocks on an empty beach and that night we unfurled our swag with the surf breaking far away on the horizon. We woke with waves crashing on the rocks beside us, but despite our panic the water advanced no further. As we made love I noticed the moon hanging low in the western sky was waning. The next morning, as we were running low on food, Zahia decided to go fishing. Neither of us had ever fished before. She took out the fishing rod the Germans had left us, untangled the line, fixed some salami to the end of the hook and, standing on the rocks, threw the line into the sea, over and over, for hours on end. Meanwhile I sat nearby in the shade and read a book about Jandamarra the resistance fighter. But I wasn't really reading, I was watching her fish. She hadn't caught a thing, but I'd never seen her so happy. Standing undaunted in the sun on those rocks with fishing rod in hand and floppy hat shading her face, she was transformed, almost someone else, someone I didn't know at all, or perhaps, I thought, she had remained the same person but I had been transformed, I was now the other person, the stranger. But there was yet a third possibility, that perhaps we had both somehow been transformed, perhaps we had both become other people by some mysterious alchemy I didn't - couldn't - understand, something to do with alternate universes. Perhaps by some unknown force we had been dropped into these alternate selves and these alternate lives, where everything was the same and yet everything was also imperceptibly different. At that moment I wanted to say something to her, to shout out something that she would hear across the universes between us, across the sound of the breaking waves. I wanted to say, Let's keep going, let's never stop, let's always be together, let's never turn back. But she seemed so perfectly happy just then that I didn't say anything, I don't really know why - perhaps I didn't want to disturb her moment of perfect happiness, or perhaps I decided what I wanted to say didn't really need to be said at all.

To NA, from GD, for your birthday.