Mike could be whoever now. He was freed from the version of himself that he used to please old friends. He had no past with these people and they had no filter of past social situations in which to judge him through. These innocent sun drenched faces cared not for image or reputation. He was a new toy in an old nursery that had known nothing but itself.
His life before this had become a theatrical show. He was merely a performer, and like a well-known actor he had been typecast by his friends. Everyone knew the role he played, and had come to expect it every time they saw him. He was only himself when the lights went down. For no one can see the actors as the move about in the darkness between scenes. They re-arrange props and position themselves to where they ought to be. Then when the lights come up they snap instantly back into character and begin to perform as if the darkness had been some sort of limbo period that never existed. Mike moved about in the dark as he re-arranged the props of his social life, and he knew his position for when it was time for the lights of social attention to come back up. He however enjoyed this, and whether he realised it or not played the part. For once you get a hunch of how someone perceives you, you begin to unconsciously confirm their assumptions by playing the role they expect. Just as actors strive for audience members, mike strove for popularity.
The last days in the city seemed to drag on forever for him. Drop by drop they would pass by as he counted them down not in anticipation, but with a sort of uneasiness. As if he didn’t quite feel in control as he couldn’t intercept the event that was about to change his lifestyle. But now looking back these drops have formed a puddle, as days run into weeks, months and years in his mind. All this is now another era. It is the Sydney era he thinks to himself. He guesses that this too will become another puddle as he will let many drops fall here, these will form the river of his life, but for the moment he only feels as if he has a wading pool.
He steps outside the front door, and breaths in the dense humid air. The day has grown hot already, or rather the air-conditioned inside has filled him with a false sense of mildness. He stands gazing down the empty gravel road, the hot pebbles penetrating his sensitive city feet. Feet that are used to being cushioned in designer shoes treading trendy sidewalks, as they would glide past cafés, bars and restaurants. The sun begins to beat down on his styled head and he wonders why he even bothered to put gel in his hair today. He’s not going anywhere so he’s only going to be seen by the few jersey cows lazing in the shade under the jacaranda tree. A plane hums through the sky, as it cuts the blue sparseness in two, and what looks like whit cotton wool begins to burst through from the other side. Mike recounts numerous plane trips he has taken over the years and remembers how he would gaze out the small oval windows looking down at the countryside below. A sea of sun scorched green, with brown dirt roads cutting through it forming giant puzzle pieces of land. He used to wonder who where these people living in the little tin houses amongst the green below. He is now one of them.
He begins to walk down the road. This is the first time he can remember ever walking without purpose or a destination in mind. Not to a bus stop, a nightclub or a friend’s house, but he is just walking. The surrounding openness and the country air has inspired him to get fit, and he begins to feel healthier already as if the sun and the air has begun to filter out the smog of the city that is soaked deep into his soul. Up ahead he notices a figure coming down the road towards him. He tries to make out whom it might be but they are too disfigured as the heat from the road viciously attacks them with wavy distortion. A sense of panic begins to well up in him. This is not the city where he can simply pass by without saying a word or even a nod of recognition. He is on a remote dirt road where the only other evidence of human civilisation is this distorted figure growing bigger. He begins to feel stupid on his aimless walk, and begins to think of stories to justify why it is he is walking down this dusty deserted road with his gelled head and nice shirt, but he is unable to think of anything. He has reached the awkward distance where you can’t quite judge whether to say hello yet so he stares at the ground for a while linger before taking another glance up.
He does so, and notices it’s a female. She is dressed in power-walking type clothes but she herself does not look very sporty. Her hair is long and blond as it swings from her left to right shoulder as she walks. She slows down and comes to a stop just in front of him, she is panting and has obviously been walking for a while.
‘Hi’ – She says, as the left corner of her mouth turns up to manage a smile.
‘Hi’ – Mike replies, then pauses as if he is going to say something more. He wants to say something funny or clever, or something to explain who he is, and why he is walking down the road, but nothing comes to him. Mike is struck by the fact that the moment’s silence between them is not in any way awkward. He remembers numerous occasions back with new friends in the city where awkward silences would feel like they were lasting for years before someone shattered it with an obviously pathetic attempt to save face. It was the way she looked at him, smiling in a non-judgemental sort of way that made Mike feel at home.
‘You’re the new guy, right? I’m Alice’ – She brings her hand up to her chest as she introduces herself.
‘I’m Mike’ – He smiles casually, as he stands not quite knowing whether to shake her hand or not. The trend in the city was to shake hands with guys, once normally, and then shifting the hand to grab each other’s thumbs in a sort of diagonal shake. With girls it was a kiss on the cheek. Despite this entire framework of rituals that has been engrained deeply into him, he simply stands there gazing at her.
‘I know’ – She says, giggling in a way that suggests that it was a silly thing to say. Mike feels annoyed at the fact that everyone knows who he is. The whole town knows his past, present and probably even future, so what is he supposed to scramble together in the way of conversation. It was like a convention he remembers going to a few years ago. They were all forced to wear nametags, and before it began they went around the circle and everyone had to talk about themselves for three minutes. This he thought was a ridiculous idea, as it robbed him of any form of introduction, and sure enough when it came time for lunch everyone just sat around in silence, nibbling on little triangle sandwiches and slowly sipping their orange juice as if they were afraid of what to do if it ran out.
‘You’re living in the Jackson’s old house’ – She says, just as a gust of wind springs out of nowhere lifting her blonde hair so she looks like one of those models in a shampoo add. Mike is confused as to whether this is a question or a statement
‘Am I’ – He says inquisitively.
‘Yeah, they moved out two weeks ago’ – She says, as she looks him up and down ‘Nice shirt’
Mike begins to blush with embarrassment. Even though her tone suggests the compliment was genuine he can’t help but feel like bushman Ken, as the incongruity between his appearance and the ragged surrounds gnaws at his insecurity.
‘Thanks’ – He replies, he means to sound genuine, but his words contradict him as the float out of his mouth on a cloud of sarcasm. This is a form Mike had been so used to among his city friends that he seemed to become sarcastic even when he didn’t mean to.
‘Where are you walking to?’ – Mike feels happy that he has popped the question before she has a chance to ask him.
‘Nowhere, just walking I guess’ – Her reply puts mike immediately at ease, as he no longer feels so stupid in his aimless wanderings.
‘Cool’ – He says on a sigh of relief – ‘how far does the road go?’
‘All the way to crooks bend, about five kilometres, you wanna walk together?’ Mike starts to feel insecure, he tries to think of an excuse to get out of this, but what can he say he has to do. You can’t say you have to run for a bus, or that you have an appointment when you’re in the middle of nowhere standing on a deserted gravel road.
‘Sure’ – He says. The comfortable silence he experienced before begins to lull him into a sense that a walk with someone he has only just met might not be so bad.
He follows her as they wind their way up the steep hill and Mike unbuttons his sleeves, roles them up then after making sure they are at even lengths he wipes the sweat from his forehead. He wants to take his shirt off, but he remembers he is wearing his tatty old New York Yankees T-Shirt underneath that his aunt had bought him as a souvenir from her trip to the states. This shirt was an around the house shirt only, that he couldn’t be caught dead in, so he would just sweat it out.
They talk about all sorts of safe, first meeting type topics as they climb the way to the top. Alice has promised that the view from the top is spectacular. The Idea of this seems foreign to Mike. View of what he thinks? He is used from the view from his house in Sydney as it overlooked the harbour from the east. He remembers staring out the window for what seemed like hours, as he watched the tugboats chug across the water and gaze at the harbour bridge as it stretched its steel spine from the north to the south, dominating the landscape even through the early morning fog.
There was something he really liked about Alice. She was honest, innocent and up-front. She was attractive, not in a made-up way, but she possessed a sort of natural beauty that made him feel like a try hard, with his designer shirt and styled hair. Her eyes where a deep enticing blue, like the ocean at the depth just before the light fades and it turns to black. Her checks where tight and slightly pink from the sun as they lay either side of her button nose.
‘This is it’ – She exclaims as she lifts her hand to straighten it out above her eyes, as if she is an explorer surveying newfound land.
She was right thought Mike. The view was more amazing than anything he had ever seen. The green plains stretched for what seemed like an eternity, before the jagged volcanic like mountains began. It was as if there was a giant wall at the end of the flat terrain, and like ivy the land had begun to crawl up it in the shape of mountains. The sun was still low in the sky giving it a pinkish tinge, a thin paper-tissue clouds seemed to sprawl themselves across the landscape. Mike had never seen anything quite like this. The silence was amazing. He had never seen so much yet at the same time heard so little. Mike had never felt the feeling he felt now. He never went on many holidays from the city, and if he did they where to trendy beach resorts, where the only nature he would see where the plastic plants that decorate the foyer. He suddenly had an amazing sense of the earth he was standing on as he gazed out over its vastness. Full realization of what a trivial life he has led hits him like a ton of bricks. From this moment he would have an entirely different outlook on life. He had been through a lot in the city. He had met so many people, eaten out at so many restaurants, and been to nightclubs catering for every style of music imaginable. He thought he was the peek of cultural enlightenment. But now he realizes that was only one culture and a narrow minded, shallow, image-conscious culture at that. His image of the country before this was of small-minded country bumpkins who listened to songs about tractors. He once sat next to a guy in a cowboy hat and flannel shirt on the train. This man was surveying a map of the city from what seemed like every possible angle the rotation of the map would allow as he listened to his Walkman. It was so loud that Mike could here the tinny sound of a country twanged American accent blaring out the lyrics ‘she thinks my tractor’s sexy’.
This man became mikes impression of everyone who lived in a small country town, and it is this image he would bring up in conversation for amusement whenever the topic was mention amongst his friends. He felt himself somewhat superior. But now standing on top of a mountain, with this beautiful girl he realized he was anything but.
Vile wastage begins to fill his mind as he recounts numerous frivolous performances he gave to his friends in Sydney, he sacrificed his pride in order to entertain these people, all of which he can’t even be bothered to keep in contact with. However the thought a moving on, becoming anew, comforts him.
Alice taking him up this mountain was the most significant thing to ever happen to him, it was as if his eyes had suddenly been opened. He takes off his shirt, runs his hand through his hair, turns to face her and ends their comfortable silence with.
A new beginning for a city boy who has known nothing but naive city culture.