Magan Magan wrote this short story as part of a two-day symposium hosted by Diversity Arts Australian, The Wheeler Centre and Creative Victoria to improve equity and inclusive practice in creative industries.
‘You don’t say much, Zack,' says Amina. 'You’re always in your head.' She continues, 'I can see your thoughts running amok in that small head of yours.’
A hollow air of distance moves throughout their wooden house, through the bedrooms of loss with tile floors, across the bathroom of rage covered in plastic. Devastation seems to linger uninvited. Eventually words tussle out of his mouth, ‘How do you move past pain so easily aunty? I’m still trying to work out why mum left after all these years.'
‘You get sick of yourself as time goes by’ says his aunty. 'When your mother walked out on us, all those years ago, I had no choice but to push through or else you would have suffered more than you did kiddo. If you aren’t intentional about surviving, this world will eat you, blame you and then forget you. You grow wise. You take less crap from people and you begin to see right through the bullshit.’
Zack’s mouth begins to click. ‘I just I mean I don’t know.’
Amina and Zack walk to the backyard. Amina grabs a large towel from the clothes hanger and spreads it across the cement. Next to the towel is a small coffee table with cigarette butts lying lifeless. ‘You can lie on the hammock, love. Get yourself comfortable while I fix us some smoothies to drink.’
Zack gets lost in the hammock. The material overcomes his thin body. It swallows him whole. Amina returns with the smoothies. The front of her dress is tucked in her undergarment. Her stomach demands more space lately, it is the fifth time she has fallen pregnant in the past two years.
‘Here Zack, grab the drinks. Lord knows it’ll be a mess if I pretend to be able to place the drinks on the ground this swollen.’ Zack takes the tray off her. He blows the cigarette butts off the table and places the plate on the coffee stand. Amina’s whole body claims the towel. They are both looking at the sky. The sky is unapologetically blue. Not a single blot of white in the sky. Nothing is sauntering across the sky. Zack feels the sky looking at him, giving him all the attention of the universe. He feels safe. He lets out a sigh. This is the first time he has felt inner peace in a long time.
‘I heard you’re no longer talking to Sami. Is this true, Zack?
He feels tense again. The hammock that was hugging him now feels like it is suffocating him. He feels paralysed.
‘You know you can talk to me about anything.'
'People will get away with a lot if they can.’
‘Talk to me, Zack! Please!'
Zacks face opens up. His exhaustion begins to gush out of his body like a sprinkler silencing a burning home.
‘People like me are run by emotions, aunt.’
‘We’re all emotional honey.’
‘No. You don’t get it.’ Zack’s voice begins to crack. Shame is seeping through the hammock. ‘I’m feeling so burnt out by life. I don’t know how to explain it. I want to change how my emotions run my world and how my past slips through the cracks.’
‘What happened, Zack? What did Sami do?’
A warm breeze begins to pronounce its name; it holds its head up high as if to say my life and what I’ve been through isn’t a joke to me. Zack wants to go away with the wind, to leave this conversation. But there is nowhere to go. There are wolves and bears in the world that speak politely and wear silk, that wait to devour him.
‘You were right about him, aunt. You were.'
‘Everything you said was going to happen, happened’
‘God dammit. I’m so fucking stupid.’
Amina sits up, looks at Zack lying on the hammock as though he is dead.
‘You get nothing out of shaming yourself. It gives evil more power.’
‘How do you know all this? Why wasn’t this taught to us in school? I spent my entire life trying to be good. Believing if I just did the right fucking thing, I would be happy.’ Zack is crying.
'That is the first lesson my love. You have to unlearn the lies told to you. It’s not a conspiracy it’s the truth. Everyone lied to you. And the ones that know the truth always appear crazy.’
Zack begins to feel a tight knot in his throat. His body begins to shake uncontrollably. He tries to wrap the hammock around his entire body. His heart is beating faster.
‘I can see you’re in pain honey.’ She turns around and picks the glass from the tray. ‘Have some of the smoothy. You’ll feel better.’
He gets up, takes the glass Amina is hovering over him with. Before he drinks the smoothie, he takes a deep breath as though he is about to swim, as though everything that has happened up to this moment can be swallowed and mutilated in the same way he has been throttled, as though he has the power to reverse universal law.
‘It comes out, you know. It all comes out’ says his aunty. 'And when it does,’ she continues, 'it is relentless, it is unforgiving. All those years you spend looking away, all the small moments life gently taps you on the shoulder to look at your world, to look at the claws digging into your body.'
‘And then life gets angry at your denial. Your commitment to maintain the status quo and all the while you’re screaming on the inside, wanting it all to stop’
‘You hear the truth and then you turn away once again thinking it will be more painful if you look and acknowledge the pain you’re in. And so the world dizzies you and my poor child, aren’t you in pain anyway?’
The creaking sound of the clothesline gets louder as the wind strengthens its voice. The branches of the tree beside are swaying to the demands of the wind. The tray on the coffee table is quivering. Amina puts the tray out of its misery as she puts her hand on the tray. The wind is unhinged, it’s motivation for causing havoc is in the detail of its ruckus.
They get up. Amina takes the tray while Zack is finding his balance to get out of the hammock. When he does, he picks his glass and scurries past Amina towards the house. When Amina walks into the house waddling like a penguin she finds Zack crouched over the sink sobbing.
She puts the tray on the kitchen bench, walks over to him and begins to rub his back. Snot is rolling out of his nose; he is beginning to fight his own body. ‘We were friends since we were kids, aunt. How could he do it?’
‘Do what sweetheart?’
Zack shakes his head as he takes a deep breath.
‘He spread that rumour about me. He is still maintaining his innocence. I am wishing and praying he is telling the truth.’
The wind outside is howling louder and louder. It begins to rain as the clothesline is bowing. Amina is looking out the window to witness the chaos and she sees the wind push the coffee table across the yard. Everything in this moment is conspiring towards the ugly nature of this world.
‘You can swallow the ocean and then dig the earth to find a story that fits neatly into Sami’s justification. You can’t fight against law.’
Everything stops, the wind quietens its feet, the screeching sound of the clothesline halts and time sinks back into the earth. And now Zack is panting like a dog. He wants to dance with clarity, he wants to touch it, to hold it’s hand, to bend it; to allow its equilibrium to wraps itself around his body until it all makes sense. ‘I want this to end’ screams Zack as the sunsets and darkness blinds them in their home once more. Amina wraps her arms around him and for the first time she sees the way time has been punishing him, his body suddenly feels different, it feels parentless yet covered.
Magan Magan is the author of From Grains to Gold (Vulgar Press, 2018). He was a 2018 Hot Desk Fellow and co edited the Black Inc anthology Growing Up African In Australia and Volume 7 of the Australian Poetry Anthology.