SLCC's Premiere Art & Literary Magazine

A Gift For You

Jonathan Hogan

In Western Australia, somewhere in the vastness between Perth and Exmouth, sat the roadhouse. A squat brick building with a corrugated tin roof, it was the only place for hundreds of miles to replenish a vehicle's gasoline, grab a fried chicken sandwich, load up on booze, and restock on water. Every vehicle needed to stop at the roadhouse, but the place was never busy as traffic was always light on this lonely frontier road which moved north like a dark slash in the red surface of the earth.

I sat upon a low brick wall a little way away from the roadhouse. I faced west and watched the sun setting over that low horizon where the Indian ocean remained unseen. It was hot, a dry heat that baked like an oven. My fingers held a brittle rolling paper which my other fingers deposited the even more brittle threads of tobacco. My dry tongue licked the gum of the paper, my fingers twisted it into its familiar lumpy cylinder, I sparked a lighter and inhaled the contaminated air which scorched my throat. I looked at the landscape which was flat with soil a deep shade of red from a high concentration of iron oxide. Martian dirt. I looked over my shoulder at the car that picked me up on the side of the highway where I stood with my thumb extended. The car was driven by a young French couple who decided a couple hundred miles back that they needed to have sex. At the roadhouse, a person could satisfy this need by renting a room for twenty dollars an hour. The rooms were located in an old train sleeper car that sat about a hundred yards away from the roadhouse. The sleeper car reminded me of the carcass of a poor lost animal that wandered the desert, afraid and alone, only to perish in an unforgiving landscape.

I sat upon the brick wall and considered the sunset. It was the time of day that filmmakers called the magic hour, a peaceful, contemplative atmosphere. I took a pull of my cigarette and let my thoughts wander. I was in a foreign land with only a couple of dollars to my name because I had done a poor job saving money as a vineyard laborer. I had become thin, my cheeks sunken in a face that needed a shave. I was companionless and felt far lonelier than that solitary sleeper car.

The cigarette had burned down a useless nub between my fingers and I discarded it to the rust-colored ground. My thoughts and isolation had made me restless. I took a deep breath and wondered how much longer the French couple would be. It was at that moment that I became aware of a sound. A soft murmuring of voices. I glanced to my left and saw I was no longer alone upon the brick wall. A group of aboriginals sat not too far from me.

There were five of them. Two men, and two women, and a baby boy. Their skin was the color of dark chocolate. All of them had long wispy hair that was streaked with grey and white. Their facial features were characteristic of the aboriginal people, deep set and serious. Their clothes were old and worn, flannel shirts dusty, jeans faded and frayed. Each was barefoot, the soles of their feet toughened by a lifetime of walking the hot, rocky soil. Their faces and torsos were rotund, their arms and legs lean and spindly. They talked amongst themselves and acted as if I wasn't sitting on the same wall a few feet from them.

The woman holding the baby boy sat closest to me, and she spoke to the boy in a soft affectionate tone. The baby boy was less than a year old, and he was looking directly at me with a big smile on his face, speaking the garbled, cooing, noises of an infant. The woman followed the baby's gaze, and after looking at me for a moment she smiled.

"He is talking to you," she said, her accent thick and heavy, her voice warm and welcoming.

The other aboriginals looked over to see who their friend was speaking to. I nodded my head and said hello, to which one of the men said,

"Where you from man?" His voice was authoritative, his eyebrows set in a frown.

I told him I was from upstate New York, at which point the man became excited and jumped up exclaiming,

"New York! New York! Welcome brother, welcome to my country!"

The man gave me an enthusiastic handshake and sat down next to me. We talked for a while, him asking me questions about my home and the culture there, and what my experience of his homeland had been thus far. The man was greatly amused by my stories of being in Australia, but I noticed that suddenly his attention was elsewhere. The second aboriginal woman, who had remained silent and distant, now stood before me. The other aboriginals grew quiet and looked at her with respect. She politely asked me to stand, I stood a full head taller than her. She did not seem old, but her face was round and wrinkled and framed by long grey hair parted down the middle. Her expression was kind, her dark eyes seemed to shine. She started to speak, her voice was reedy and she drew out the words.

"I can see the inside of you, and can see what kind of light is in you"

The other aboriginals began to nod in agreement, the man touching my arm and saying to me,

"It's true, she can see"

I looked at the woman and asked, "What do you see?"

She smiled and let out a little chuckle. She told me that my light was that of the good, and that I was pure of heart. The aboriginals murmured to themselves in a language I will never understand and then grew quiet as their attention returned to the woman. She brought her fingers up her temple and pinched them together as if picking up grains of salt and slowly drew her fingers away from her head. She held her fingers before my eyes and said,

"A gift for you" at which she quickly lifted up my shirt and pressed her pinched fingers into my soft white belly. A deep warmth spread throughout my entire torso and I became extremely light headed. I felt dazed and euphoric, a dopey grin spread across my face.

"You felt that?" The woman said. She seemed impressed

"What was that?" I asked, my voice sounded far away.

"It was a gift"

"Yeah, but what was it?"

"You will know" was all she said.

That was when I heard my name called. The French couple had completed what they had come to do, and now they stood by their car looking at me with concerned expressions. I knew it was time to go. I said my farewells to the aboriginals, my voice still dazed and detached. They patted me on the back as I walked over to the car, and they waved as they watched me drive away. It was the start of something good, a time of happiness that would bring a kind fulfillment that I had never known before.