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  • Published: 5 July 2022
  • ISBN: 9780143777144
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $32.99

Sixty-Seven Days

Extract

Prologue

My fifteenth birthday is stinging with a blistering heatwave. Balloons and streamers are dangling off the clothesline, motionless. My party in the backyard is full of family, no one here my age. It’s either all adults, or kids of various sizes and roughness. Nin Bid has come down from Cowra; Aunt Mel is heavily pregnant with her second child as she nurses baby Danny, who has just turned one. I wonder how long the dry ice will take to disappear in the rocky garden this time. With this heat I give it two days. The kids want to have a water fight, the adults want to eat the feast of food, and the birthday cake is shrinking rapidly. I loved an ice-cream cake when I was ten but this one is becoming more like a cream cake. The happy birthday is quick-paced and no ‘hip hip hooray’, so the cake can be handed out while it still exists. Pink, white and cream colours are sticking hair, hands and lips together in the sun.

While the adults sit down yarning, the littlies are up the side of the house filling balloons with water. I catch Katie and Jackie trying to smuggle them in using their t-shirts as makeshift aprons. Katie, with her strong skills in always spilling or dropping things, carries a pink balloon bursting with way too much water. I say to all the kids, ‘Listen, you lot wanna wait until after the adults finish eating because it only takes one of ya to throw wonky and someone will be wet, then one of ya will be gettin’ a hidin’.’ I struggle to hold in my giggle because I can see them listening, with their big eyes peeping at the adults around the corner.

I have always loved life, looking after my Elders, caring for the babies, for every one of my cousins. They give me so much joy, no matter what their age. Tormenting and teasing them as they grow is my way of showing my personality through the laughter. Even if I’m annoying, they know they matter. The gift of time and of happiness is just that – life’s gift. The babies and the toddlers get smothered in kisses, in cuddles and in cheeky cheek-pinching, so they know I love them all over and with a heart full of life because it’s full of love.

This is what I know. This is what I have. Life given to me. It’s all around me. It was in me before here. In the twilight of the horizon of the Dreaming. Of the Dreamtime. To enter the particles. Of the atmosphere. Of the earth. To be immersed. To the depths. Of the traditions. Of the practices. Of culture. Of giving. Of sharing. As I have. As we have. Always been.

 

PART ONE - First heat to the easing of the warmth

Day one

As I look out the corner of my eye, I see my reflection on the dirty plate glass. I tried not to see her, see me. I’m like a faint ghost with a haunted soul. My eyes are haunted through their green irises and should I end it, end me, I will wallow on the edge of hell. I have always felt alone and wondered what this world, this life, is all about. Somehow, I knew in my being, deep in me, that there would be something worth staying here for.

Sydney University has its history, with its green lawns, the purple of the legendary quadrangle jacaranda tree, the weathered, cream-tan sandstone, and the fighting-for-change Freedom Rides. After considering every single day of last year whether I could stay here on earth, or if I should just end my torture, my life, I have enrolled in a couple of psychology subjects at summer school, and chosen a double major in my arts degree. Psychology was not what I set out to study, but this bridging prep course is me testing the waters to see if I have what it takes. Last year was a good introduction to university and at least doing something. When I was young I had so many ambitions, which jumped from fashion design to nursing and then law. I do wish I had stuck to law, but knowing how it doesn’t apply to everyone equally, and too often sees victims as targets, I couldn’t stomach it. Just getting through each day is enough for now.

My psychology lecture is in the Old Teacher’s College, Room A71. It’s an awkward room. The patchwork repairs and refurbishments look like they were done by someone who had no resources and had to make do. There are plenty of signs of the old days in the walls, and even in the smell of the room – so much character left over from the years and the students, like you can still smell rotten food shoved behind a cupboard, or the whiff from the dumpster just outside the window.

It’s a hot summer’s day, the beginning of the week near the end of the first month of 1993. Having birthdays in the backyard seems like a lifetime ago, though it has only been four. Looking out at the green leaves of the Hills figs and the Port Jackson pines, I search within myself and ask if the feelings of devastation and heartache will ever leave me. I hate so much about myself, so much about the poison that makes me feel disgusted and dirty. Dirt that I can never wash off, always sticking to me like tar. Dirt that started on the outside but now poisons me inside.

In the background I hear the psychology professor saying, ‘Depression can affect people in many different ways, and often it goes unnoticed until it hits the depressed person like a sledgehammer, filling them with doubts, fears and debilitating anxiety and pain.’

Yeah, I know what he’s talking about. I have lived this for four years now. I fight it off every night, every morning, every time I see myself, when I try to hide but look back with those sad eyes.

Not today, Evie, not today. This day feels different. The hue is shining on me. When I raise my face to the heavens, it’s like there are strokes of golden colours on my pores, painting my face with a radiance.

The walk along the bumpy, cracked footpaths of Abercrombie Street and then along Lawson Street towards Redfern Station is hot, sticky and busy. I’m struggling to stay on the footpath as the idiots who think they are more important than everyone else push past, rushing for trains to take them out west, east, north and south. There are big feet tripping me up, and bodies with lumpy backpacks always shoving forward, not caring about anything other than themselves. Me, I’m just strolling along. Mum doesn’t finish for a while at Aboriginal Connection Services, where she works at reconnecting people who as children were taken away from their families and now as adults are trying to find them. Mum also advocates for children and families to prevent them from entering the foster care system. Today she has to collect the branches’ timesheets so the pays can be processed on Wednesday. My car wouldn’t start last night. Dad thinks it’s the battery – he’s going to buy a new one this arvo. So this morning I had to be organised and get out the door on time with my sisters and Mum, and I’ll get a lift home with them.

I’m always sticky-beaking at the Federation terrace houses that line these streets, the history of their years showing in their walls and iron lace. Instead of gardens or grass, there are dull slabs of cement out the front. As usual, I also look at the trees growing along the path – and their crackling leaves. The trees are important; that’s not always the case with the people. I feel an affinity with the trees and their connectedness with the earth, like how my people have continued our relationship with them for thousands of generations. Above me, their arms of branches spread out over the path, communities of leaves creating a safe haven for the birds.

Staring up, I don’t see anything in front of me.

Then I see everything – well, I see him.

He’s right in front of me, standing tall and looking down into my eyes. His eyes are so dark they look black. His skin is a colour between a milk chocolate and dark. His hair is midnight and as he stares into my eyes, his long lashes sweep across his eyes so it almost looks like he has mascara and eyeliner on. I blink, trying to take him in, and he smiles, parting his full caramel lips and revealing his perfect straight white teeth. There’s something about the way he is looking at me, it’s like his lashes and eyes are absorbing every millimetre of me. I’m not scared of anyone, so this feeling isn’t fear, it’s surprise; it’s something, it’s everything, it’s unknown. There is a connection between us – something unexplainable . . .

The way we both are studying each other, it’s like words are coming from our eyes.

He says hello.

‘Hi,’ I say.

‘Are you lookin’ at somethin’, or lost? Can I help you?’

‘Umm, no . . .’

‘That’s okay, then. All good. My name is James, James Wells.’

‘My name is . . . my name is Evie . . .’


Sixty-Seven Days Yvonne Weldon

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