When you get there…

 [A journey to the inner south Queensland]

It is scrub land out here. Till where the eye can see, there are brave, desolate, defiant and solitary shrubs and trees. An old silo is pitted against a plump,overcast sky. An ancient coal train lies abandoned on the tracks. It hasn’t gone anywhere in the past decade. The paint is rusting, the wheels are sagging and there is merely a line of carriages with no guiding engine at either end. It is still on the tracks though. Like someday, if time were to walk this way again, perhaps the old cogs could fall back into place and the rusty coal train would merely pick up and move on without missing a beat. Perhaps there is a thin line between hope and impossibility. Perhaps impossibility is merely hope that hung around forever.

 The soil is red. Not the fertile red that one would expect in such a tropical setting but rather the deeper red that talks of having seen and heard secrets that coloured it forever. The rain alternates between a steady drizzle and a sulking thunderstorm. The visibility varies based on the sporadic bursts of sunlight that manage to make it through the sooty, opaque clouds. There is road kill in these parts, a hapless kangaroo, a dead emu and a stray koala all dot the road. It can happen to anyone, a sudden sleet of rain, a wrong turn, and a wildlife casualty. There is no town around for ages. There is no farmland or vegetation either. This is the desert but not as we know it. It is a desert without the stretching sands, the endless heat and the silhouetted horizons. It is still a desert though because you cannot see the end of the journey in sight, because there is a still a mirage of an extinct, but gleaming rail line. A mirage defines a desert because it is the only thing about the desert that you would rather want to exist. Everything else is a proven reality, the mirage is the only possibility that could change the landscape and possibly the ending of your story. 

The longest road eventually ends up in a country town because all solitude flirts with company, sooner or later. The main pub is still open for business. Everyone talks to everyone here, a visitor will never be a guest if he is not acknowledged. They are out of food because really, who drives past sleepy deserts and country towns on a chilly June night when even the moon has deserted the sky!Fries and a lemon lime and bitters are dinner. There is a fire in the corner and old country music blares out of the juke box. A draught announces every new visitor as if to say “Look, he braved the winds to make it this far, so take him gladly and share the warmth with him for he will be on the road again, and he will need to remember what it was like, to be warm and to be under a roof”. 

You are on the road again and the landscape will talk to you if you will listen. The old hay bales and the rusty stables will have a tale to share because they have been here since the beginning of time. A good story will come to you if it was meant for you, but you could travel the length of the entire road and still come back empty handed if it was not destined to be. A barn owl takes flight and some night life at the edge of the road stirs. You pass small towns in the night – a row of cottages, a school, a church, a couple of shops. The blinds are drawn, but a sliver of light tells you that someone is home behind those curtains. Concentric smoke from the chimney tells you that somewhere behind this closed door is a memory being made or re-lived. That someday, this now nascent memory will include the patter of the rain, the moonless night, the occasional car on the highway and the barn owl’s flight. That everywhere around you is a picture being created and a memory being stored and you pass these ways giving up a bit of yourself at every turn.

“Did it take you long to get here?” The inn keeper asks. How do you define a journey? By the road? By the time taken? By the way time stopped when you didn’t want to? Or by how long you will stay when you know you are already charting your return journey? So I tell her that it took me a while because most journeys do take a while. And I drink the hot tea gratefully and fall asleep listening to the rain knowing that it doesn’t matter whether you stay or you leave or whether you finally get past the bend in the road.

When all is said and done, it comes down to having a memory of the road traveled and a knowing that you will be okay as long as you can look over your shoulder for the paths you traveled, and that you can do it again anytime you want to. And then you toss out the map for the road ahead because you already know the road this time.