Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Night Air

I walked to wait for you at the crossroads, at the top of the hill, so you would see me standing on the side of the road, my thumb extended, a fantasy hitch hiker. It was night and the road was warm under my bare feet. The head lamp, slung around my neck, made a circle of light just ahead of my toes. It was dark and the moon hadn't risen. You said you would meet me.

I stood still at the corner and watched for the loom of your lights over the hills. No lights, only the orange glow of the fires on the other side of the bay. No car engine, but the slow pound of the surf against the island that broke up the sea and the night noises of crickets and slithery creatures in the bush.  I kept the head lamp turned on because I was afraid of tiger snakes and dugites, cold blooded, seeking the day's warmth soaked into the bitumen. Then I couldn't see anything beyond the thin stream of light.

The mosquitoes found me, whining around me and one bit me in the small of my back. I slapped at it and the slap sounded too human, too fleshy. You said you would meet me. What has happened? How long should I wait here, in the dark? What if you'd had an accident on the way? How would I know? What would I do if you died? Would I go to your funeral?

There was a rustling in the bush at my back. As I turned, a huge creature crashed out of the banksia thickets and rushed towards me. My heart bleated and I opened my mouth to scream. For a split second the animal was captured in the pool of my light - a boomer, a big one -  before it lurched away and fled into the peppermint grove on the other side of the road. Then silence. I knew he was watching me from the trees. I remembered the Kangaroo Woman warning me not to go into the red gum forests where the big grey boomers dwelt if I was ovulating. Was she myth mongering or was she for real? It was all too much, the phantom snakes, the mosquitoes and then that beast crashing out of the dark at me.

I walked back along the road to my car, giving up on the hitch hiker fantasy and thinking that of course I would go to your funeral. I shut myself in my car, put the seat back and turned on the radio, the blue LED screen the only light.

The Night Air. The Night Air presented a girl with a sweet, sweet voice called Bell who told a story of an old man who stood under a lamp light with shabby clothes and a cloth hat. The old man put his hat on the ground and a crowd began to gather. A dog poked his head into the circle and waited, head cocked to one side. When they put some coins into his hat, he held out his empty hands. The people hissed and began to move in to take back their money and spit on his shoes. But before they could get their coins, he made the birds appear. The man made the birds from his hands and they were created feather by feather until their shadows were huge against the glow of the lamp light on the town hall walls. The crowd were amazed. They watched the birds and they were so distracted by the feathers that they didn't see the talons opening. One by one, the birds picked up every person in the crowd and flew away with them. Sometimes a single shoe would fall to the cobblestones. The man with birds for hands stood in the old town square and watched them soar into the evening sky ...

And then there were headlights and the rumble of a car as it pulled to a stop beside mine, gravel dust swirling in the beams of light. A door slammed. My passenger side door opened and you launched yourself over the seat, held my head in your hands and kissed me hard, tasting of something sweet and minty, before you even said hello.

The Old Man With Birds For Hands by Rjin Collins aka Bell.


  1. Replies
    1. I'm terribly sad to hear the rumour that The Night Air is being decommissioned. It's one of the whackiest, most original programs on radio in Australia. There is nothing else like it.