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  • Published: 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781760897161
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $16.99

What About Thao?


‘Just go back to where you came from.’

That’s the last thing I expected to hear. We can’t go back to the city. We don’t have a house there any more.

We’d been on the road for six hours straight. It didn’t feel like six hours because I’d been singing tunes to myself. Dad loves listening to his classic hits radio station, but I prefer the ad jingles in between the songs.

When we drove away from the city and Dad’s radio faded into static, I took over the airwaves with a jingle about travelling to Megulla, chucking in things that I saw on the way. I might have worn Mum and Dad’s patience a bit thin.

When we finally arrived in town, they asked the lady in Megulla Cafe directions to our new house. Then Dad started arguing with her, and that’s when the lady told us to go back where we came from.

Now the lady is pointing to the door. ‘Do a U-turn, drive back up the main road, turn at the next left and go down that road for three minutes,’ she says. ‘Then you’ll come across Clancy Road, that’s where your house is.’

Dad checks his phone. ‘But my online map says Clancy Road should be around here.’

‘Look, if I’m wrong, come back and I’ll shout you all milkshakes for life,’ the lady said.

My tongue hangs out like one of those dogs in the utes we passed down the highway. Free milkshakes would help us settle into this new town, and help us all cool down.

‘Come on, love.’ Mum’s squeezes Dad’s shoulder.

‘Who are you going to trust? Your phone’s GPS or someone who lives in Megulla?’

‘For my whole life,’ the lady adds, wiping her hands on her apron.

Dad puts his phone away. ‘I’m sorry, it’s been a long drive and we’re just keen to get to the house and start unpacking. But I think we’d better buy some milkshakes first,’ he says with a grin. ‘I want to know if a lifetime supply will be worth it.’

Mum takes out her wallet but the lady shakes her head. ‘These drinks are on me. Think of it as a milkshake handshake to welcome you to Megulla.’

‘Thank you, Miss,’ I say, licking my lips.

‘Call me Shelley.’ She whips up some milkshakes in a flash and hands them around, passing me the last one, full to the brim with frothy chocolate.

‘Call me Thao. Like towel without the “l”,’ I say, pretending to dry myself. It’s more like a reflex these days.

‘Got it, Thao. Don’t worry, I never forget a name or a face.’

I grab the milkshake with both hands and slurp it down until I get a brain freeze. It doesn’t last long in this heat. The freeze slides from my head all the way down to my toes.

As Dad drives us back out of Megulla, I take in the shops along the main street. They’re a mixture of tired looking wooden and brick buildings that feel a long way from the shiny glass and metal towers of the city. Across the road from Megulla Cafe is a two-storey pub with a wide verandah surrounded by curly iron framework.

Everything looks like it needs a coat of paint, and I reckon it wouldn’t hurt to have some neon lights. The only flashy things I’ve seen so far are Shelley’s dangly silver earrings.

‘Where is everybody?’ I say.

‘There’s not much open in town on a Sunday afternoon,’ Mum says, ‘and a lot of people live out on their farms.’

‘Even the servo is closed,’ Dad adds.

We get out of the main street and zoom down the highway, following Shelley’s directions. I watch the yellow wheat fields whizz by, tapping my fingers on the

window sill.

Hey! We’re going to Megulla gulla!’ I sing softly to myself.

Mum turns to me. ‘I think it might be time to change your tune.’

‘I can’t get it out my head,’ I say.

‘But we’re here in Megulla now,’ Mum says.

Hey! We’ve made it to Megulla gulla gulla gulla!’ I sing loudly, and then Mum and Dad join in.

‘You and your songs,’ Dad laughs. ‘Maybe you can teach them to some of your classmates at your new school.’

I bite my tongue. I don’t know about that. I’ve never told anyone about my made-up songs, even at my old school.

Dad catches my eye in the rear-view mirror ‘Are you excited for your first day of Year Six tomorrow?’

I nod, trying my best to convince myself. ‘Are you excited for your first day at work?’

‘Oh, yeah, working in a gold mine is a lifelong dream,’ he says.

‘I thought it was finding a giant gold nugget,’ Mum says.

‘Well, living in a country town is also on our dream list,’ Dad says. ‘I crossed the ten-year mark at my old engineering job and I needed a change. This new mining job ticked all the boxes.’

Mum smiles at Dad then back at me. ‘You know how, after the pandemic, I said I didn’t want to be cooped up in our tiny flat forever. Well, now we can be free-range humans.’

I picture my parents flapping their arms and clucking, as they run across the fields. I lean forward, hoping to catch some of Mum and Dad’s enthusiasm. I try to think back to my Megulla song but my mind has other ideas.

‘I wonder if I’ll be the only new kid at school,’ I mumble, clutching my seatbelt.

‘Is that what you’re worried about, Thao?’ Mum asks.

‘I’m sure you’ll fit right in,’ Dad says.

I dunno about that. I’m sure I’ll stand out in a small school. But will the kids think I’m cool, or will they snub me because I’m not a local kid?

Somewhere on the trip here, my excitement must have leaked out the window. The milkshake churns in my stomach. This was my parents’ dream but what about me?

What About Thao? Oliver Phommavanh

From the author of the bestselling Thai-riffic, Con-nerd and The Other Christy comes a funny and heartfelt novel for 10+ about a city kid in a small country town who's enjoying being the new kid at his tiny two-teacher school – until Kadir arrives and things get interesting!

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Buy now

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