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Monday, February 4, 2013

Spirit Bird

I have continued writing and developing the story that I outlined in my previous blog post. With the federal election announced for September 14, it is becoming a more and more relevant story to tell.

The night is still
My friend, the night is still.
I feel the cold in your despair
The night is long
My friend, the night is long
I feel hope suspended in the air.
The day is nigh
My friend, the day is nigh
Lay down your arms
Surrender, until daylight breaks the sky
The day is bright
My friend, the day is bright
Today is not the end
My friend, your heart will heal
And soon your tears…
Will run dry

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him - G.K Chesterton


My good friend Kari once told me that in Aboriginal folklore, the Kookaburra’s laugh at the break of dawn was a signal to the sky spirits to light the great fire that would illuminate and warm the Earth for the day. It is believed that he is a messenger of the great spirits and as long as he laughs, there will always be a brand new day. Sometimes he is known as a spirit bird.

I have often found solace in this story when tough times have been upon us. Sometimes heartbreak and isolation would permeate every pore of my being. I’d sit in stark, brooding silence and wistfully remember the Australia I once knew, the Australia we all remembered. The one we grew up in had been fanciful and carefree. We were the lucky country; a land ‘abounding in nature’s gifts, of beauty, rich and rare’.

Then all at once it was gone. The only thing we could rely on was that every day the sun would rise. Kookaburra would guide us through the night and deliver daylight once again. He became more than our spirit bird. He was our symbol of hope.


It is nigh on impossible to be certain of a great many things in this world, and yet I can state without so much as a skerrick of doubt, that the year 2042 will be ensconced in my brain until both feet are firmly in my grave. I’m not often one for obnoxious, over-embellished tales of heroics and tragedy. Mine is one of cold hard facts; facts that still, years later, send a chill down my spine. It was the year my parents were killed and worse, the year when freedom was lost for so many of my fellow countrymen.

When I look back, I can almost pinpoint the very moment I realised things had begun to change. Until then I was a relatively normal kid really. Well, mostly. I was always the rebellious type, inclined to do things not ordinarily accepted just to go against the grain. I didn’t like to do what other people expected; my parents fought hard for my carefree, unbound life, and I intended to make the most of it. After escaping a life of terror, for them the town of Willoughby was something of a sanctuary. It was a place where they, and I, could be free of fear. That is, until it wasn’t.

In 2042 I was 15 years old and in year 9 at school. School life was typical. I’d catch the train at 8am and hang out with my friends at school until classes started at 8.45. When the bell went at 3pm, if we didn’t have other plans, every day my friends got on the DART - the Willoughby District Aerial Rapid Transit railway shot from one end of the city to the other in 15 minutes - and they’d disembark in their various suburbs and make their way home. Every day however, I opted to walk the eight kilometres to my house in the northern suburb of Miles Grove. It was a sometimes treacherous walk; one that my parents were always telling me was too dangerous. The crime rate had really shot up in recent years; muggings were frequent and so were break and enter robberies, even during the middle of the day.

“Zafar”, they’d beg, “you must not walk by yourself. You should take the train with your friends”.

Despite their pleas, I continued to walk. I lived for the adventure; it gave me a little rush of adrenaline knowing I was sort of living life on the edge. But more than that, I loved the liberating feeling of watching the world go by in my own little bubble. All the noises, big and small, from the drone of the traffic, to the rainbow lorikeets attacking berries and tropical fruit in the lush trees lining the street, were like the most wonderful symphony. It was almost hypnotic to listen. Little did I know I would relish the relative safety of those peaceful afternoon walks within a matter of months; they’d soon be swiftly and abruptly snatched from under my feet.

Willoughby was always a dynamic and quickly changing city. The southern end had once been home to a number of historically documented cane farming families –as well as the odd cow- but these farms had gradually been replaced with an assortment of housing estates, freeways and bypasses. In the north, the sleepy beach suburbs had become hotspots of pulsing entertainment and local business. Somewhere in the middle, lay the town’s central business district. It was the nucleus of the whole town as far as its government and authority buildings were concerned, but it was not so much the epicentre of the city any longer in terms of the buzz of local business. In fact, in recent years it had really failed to thrive. Over time it had become increasingly crowded with high rise office buildings where stiff and highly strung business people worked at sumptuous desks overlooking serene views of the coastline; outside on the Promenade people wandered lazily and relaxed under palm trees, in a tropical haven strangely juxtaposed by screaming traffic and hustle and bustle. My school, St Martha’s, was an independent catholic school nestled in the outskirts, just close enough to the action to absorb the sterile feel of the inner city.

All the older locals often described the inner city as having been leached of all its warmth and character. And they were right. If you walked through it at the busiest time of the day, you were still overcome with a feeling of being lost, lonely even. It certainly wasn’t the safest town to wander around in either. By all anecdotal reports, it was once safe enough to drunkenly stagger home after a night on the town to the skirting suburbs quite unaccompanied and never feel at risk of being bailed up by a gang of knife wielding youths. Although my own parents weren’t around to bear witness to this unthinkable phenomenon of perennial safety, the parents of many of my mates were. It was this that had once afforded Willoughby such appeal to young sea-changers around the country. Sadly, that time had gone.

I, however, was sure I was as invincible as they were back then, until one warm afternoon in early April. As I usually did after school, I walked my friends Kari, Iris and Finn to platform number 4 and waved them off, then went on my merry way. I walked to the train station exit on Lawrence Street and made my way down the stairs and across the sandstone pavers out onto the street front and stopped at the traffic light to wait for the green signal to walk. The air was particularly humid and the palm trees lining the median strip were barely moving in the almost invisible northerly breeze. It was sultry weather typical of the tropics during the summer, only the summers seemed to have been getting longer and longer in recent years. It felt as though this year summer would go on forever.

My school uniform of maroon shorts and white cotton short sleeved shirt with the top 3 buttons undone gave me a distinct teenage school boy appearance. The only thing that would have set me apart from anyone else was the green bandana I was wearing on my head and the steam punk clock pendant hanging around my neck. Or it should have been. Despite the culturally diverse nature of Willoughby, the fact that I am Afghanistani –my heritage and my coffee coloured skin- has, on occasion left me open to racial vilification and bullying. I recall one boy, Blythe, at school picking on me for wearing my bandana. He was quite short in stature and, in turn picked on himself for having a girls name, buck teeth and a lot of pimples.

“Hey Za-fart, is that a turban?” he’d snickered one day.
Being a collected sort of a person, I answered calmly.
“No, it’s a bandana”
“It looks like a turban. Hey turban-head are you a terrorist?”
“No!” I seethed, beginning to get impatient.
“But turban-head, aren’t your parents in the Taliban? Everyone says your family are terrorists”
“No!” I shot back, trying to keep my cool.
“But turban-head, that’s what everyone says. They say your parents got kicked out of Arab Land for joining the Taliban. So when’s the next terrorist attack?”

I lost it.

“My parents were nearly killed by the Taliban, you shut the hell up! And it’s not a turban, moron. My family doesn’t even wear turbans”

I had been standing at the cross lights lost in my own thoughts when the signal changed to green. It wasn’t until I reached the other side of the street that I first noticed a middle eastern man about the same age as my Dad and an Aboriginal man who somewhat resembled a taller, billowier and hairier version of my mate Kari, on the opposite side of Lawrence Street ahead of me rushing in what looked like panic. They were in those last stages of walking before it becomes running and their pace was quickening. The Aboriginal man glanced over his shoulder and then turned back to his friend and in an urgent, hushed tone told him “oh man, quick they’re coming”. As they broke into a run, a police vehicle roared from behind me.



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