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21. A WIMMERA, A WIMMERA

November 30, 2007

[Layla]:

“Right girls, I’m off. Here’s my ride coming now.”

 

[Catherine]:

“No way. You get your parents to pick you up? You only live ten minutes up the road.”

 

[Layla]:

“Not that kind of ride. More like a fairground ride. Look there.”

 

Labouring and lumbering down Robinson Street was a long, blonde Joel in his Port Adelaide footy outfit.

 

[Catherine]:

“Oh my God, now she’s eyeing up the footy captain.”

 

[Layla]:

“Nah, not really. I only really talked to him yesterday. Mind you I like a bit of footy.”

 

Joel had steadily pushed on towards their coffee shop and reaching it;

 

[Layla]:

“Hey, Joel, stop a minute.”

 

Smelling of sun screen and with his curly blonde hair pushing past his baseball cap, Joel stopped and took a moment to bend forward and breathe.

 

“Hi, Catherine. Annabel. Layla. How yez going?”

 

[Catherine, Annabel, Layla]:

“Good thanks Joel”.

 

[Catherine]:

“What on earth are you doing running around on a day like this?”

 

[Joel]:

“Oh, footy season is starting and I have to get into shape. Some games can be as hot as this so no point avoiding it.”

 

[Layla]:

“You do look hot Joel. Here, have a sip of my milkshake.”

 

[Catherine and Annabel]:

“Or mine if you like”.

 

Joel looked at the three straws pointing at him, a little uncomfortably.

 

[Joel]:

“Ah look, I’ll leave it for now. I’ll have a drink from me bottle a little later on. It’ll give me something to look forward to. The coach always encourages us to set a target.”

 

[Layla]:

“Joel, take me home will you? I’ll tag along and be safe.”

 

[Joel]:

“Well, I intended to go down there to the river, then run up along the bank and back along Baillie to my house. That’s in McLachlan Street. It’s a nice 5K round trip. But look, I’ll take you home if you want. Where do you live?”

 

[Layla]:

“Searle Street. That’s just on the other side of Baillie I think. Perfect. I’ll jog along with you.”

 

[Joel]:

“You’re not really kitted out for running Layla.”

 

[Layla]:

“I’ll be right. Anyway, I’m wearing my sports bra. Bye Bel. Bye Cath. See yez tomorrow.”

 

And with that Layla slurped most of her milkshake, hopped out of her seat and set off down Robinson Street in an exaggerated canter. A resigned Joel followed. Maintaining a measured pace and two abreast they mutely bobbed their way towards the river track. About two minutes later they turned into it and meandered along the Wimmera. ‘Hmmmmmm’ thought Joel.

 

[Joel]:

“Layla, let’s stop a minute and get a drink and some shade over there.”

 

Joel took a long drink from his bottle and offered it to Layla who took a short turn. They recuperated for a while.

 

[Layla]:

“You play footy Joel?”

 

[Joel]:

“Oh yeah, I sure do. I’m captain of the under sixteens. I play ruckman.”

 

[Layla]:

“Wow. You are tall enough to play ruckman alright. You must be 180cm already?”

 

[Joel]:

“182 last time I measured. Hey, you were very good today at your presentation. You must have done a lot of public speaking.”

 

[Layla]:

“Oh Joel, I’m not that bad. Actually I enjoy it. I’d love to act professionally. I’ve had plenty of practice in the last couple of years though. I think religions with a strong focus on teaching, like the Baha’i Faith, are likely to manufacture their fair share of extroverts. Actually, and you’ll find this funny, one of the main attractions for Baha’i summer schools and conferences is usually ‘we will have a number of dynamic speakers’. I kinda imagine them being plugged into a battery and having their hair frizzled. Yeah, it’s a real status thing if you can get to be a dynamo.

 

But back to footy. I’m filling out pretty good myself. I’m 166cm. I love footy. I like to play centre half-forward and kick goals from around the fifty.”

 

[Joel]:

“The fifty? You’d be having me on there Layla. You couldn’t kick a goal from there. Not straight through anyway, you’d have to dribble it through I reckon. Half the AFL players can’t kick from fifty.”

 

[Layla]:

“I can. And I never miss either.”

 

[Joel]:

“Well, if you say so. Look, you should come up to training at the City Oval on Mondays or Thursdays. We have a bit of a kick about after. You can strut your stuff.”

 

[Layla]:

“Stand still Joel. Still.”

 

Layla, standing in front of Joel, reached stealthily up to his forehead. She feather-touched him with her baby finger while Joel froze.

 

[Layla]:

“Will you look at that! Man, oh man. That bead of sweat looks exactly like Australia. And hey! There’s even a little Tasmania underneath it.”

 

Frozen Joel had been looking at Layla’s eyes all the time whilst she was pre-occupied with his moisture. He reached out to under Layla’s left eye. His right index finger pressed slightly on her eye socket.

 

[Joel]:

“Even more amazing. You have one here that looks like the whole Earth.”

 

After some interested perusing on both sides, Layla used her free arm to slowly pull back Joel’s touching arm so that his finger still had most of her bead. She moved back her own likewise. Then she put her sweaty finger to his.

 

[Layla]:

“There you go. Now Australia is mixed in with the world. Or is it the world with Australia? Either way I’m sure it is an improvement eh?”

 

Hot summer watery landscape. Australian dust, brush and scrub by the river. Yew trees on its banks. And some in it, the river, the low, wide, river. Colourful cockatoos. Warm day, passionate day.

 

[Layla]:

“Joel. You see that bench over there. I’ll race you to the bench. Are you ready? Go!”

 

Layla tore off with Joel in pursuit. Hopeless, as it happened. He was further behind than ever when Layla reached the bench.

 

[Joel]:

“This is getting ridiculous! I must be tired. How can you run like that?”

 

[Layla]:

“Me state under fourteen 100 Metre champion last year.”

 

[Joel]:

“Yeah, I’ll pay that. Man, you’re as quick as Cathy Freeman.”

 

[Layla]:

“I met Cathy at a Baha’i conference once. Her mom is a Baha’i you know. I was only seven. She gave me a cuddle.”

 

[Joel]:

“Lucky her. Lucky her if you don’t put your hand up for the Olympics next year.”

 

The pair jog off again with just a very occasional huff puff talk. Eventually, they came to the busy intersection which marked their parting.

 

[Joel]:

“Right Layla, see you tomorrow, be careful of those bloody trucks.”

 

[Layla]:

“Thanks Joel. See you tomorrow.”

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