Tuesday, nine am. I’m just about to head back to the air-con-bedroom with a coffee when I bump into a woman in the hostel kitchen. She’s a job search broker from New Zealand. She’s doing her washing up from breakfast. She asks me if I’ve “seen everything there is to see in Darwin”.
No, not really, I say. I think of the crocodile farm, the cyclone simulator at the museum, fishing boats down at the harbour, trips to Litchfield, etc etc. People say you should see them, but we haven’t done these things, and we’re running out of time. Two weeks is not enough for Darwin.
There’s not very much to do here, is there? she says. And the heat. Your hair is constantly dripping: drip drip drip drip drip I can’t stand it. You just never get comfortable.
She is a large woman. She’s probably having a hard time of it. I sympathise with her about the sweat. The air in Darwin is like a gentle sauna. I feel moisture in every crevice. The back of my neck where my collar touches the skin has developed a stinging roughness which I can feel with my fingers, but I can’t see it in the mirror. Is this “heat rash”?
* * * * *
A few days after we got here, I had two insect bites which developed into small wounds on my right arm. They oozed a clear pus which, left alone, dried out to form a small hard cap on the raised pinch of skin. This scab-cap felt good to touch, and I would subconsciously finger it, often accidentally knocking it off, releasing more liquid and starting the cycle over again. It became almost meditative: I worried at my bites the way some men stroke their beards when they are thinking. After a week, the bites healed up. Since then I’ve been trying to stop myself scratching. I know it’s not a good idea.
Jason, on the other hand, continues to be attacked by some sort of blood sucking insect. His legs below the knee are dotted and crusted with bites. He rubs on tea tree ointment several times a day. It smells nice.
* * * * *
We’re all working on computers here. Five laptops networked with bright blue cables on a low bench in the gallery.
The only one without is Hayley. She has her sewing machine. I envy her. She seems free. Her cute portable Elna is just a tool. It does things for you when you set it up right. She has repaired the split in the seat of my trousers. She’s taking up the legs of Elka’s too. She chats away while she works. She’s really here, in the room. Her machine does not pretend to be a portal to the outside world.
The rest of us sit in silence for hours tapping away on who knows what.
Last night while we were working on our computers, Julie sent Lina an “instant messenger” message. They were sitting, facing each other, less than forty centimetres separating their faces. Julie just wanted to say hi.
It was a mistake to bring computers. We need them too much.
* * * * *
A man came into the gallery last night, while our heads were buried in screens. I think he was what people call a “long-grasser”. Introduced himself as a “bushman.” He rides horses. He ducked under the open rollerdoor and sat down. He looked confused. “What do you call these? Computers?” he asked. “Can they talk to you?”
No, Julie said, they don’t talk.
But, in fact, they do. They sit between us and talk to us, one on one. They are our pets. They crave our attention. They do whatever they can to get it.
Eventually, the long-grasser freaks out. He springs to his feet and points at Julie’s screen. He’s seen the Fusion Strength logo – which is the orange and black symbol used to denote nuclear power. It reminds him of “back home”, in South Australia, and he can’t handle it.
He asks us for two dollars to get a bus. “I’m frightened”, he keeps saying. I don’t give him anything, but the others chip in. He takes his coins and disappears into the night.
* * * * *
A fog of “elsewhere” rises into the humidity in the gallery. Where are we? At least the heat gives some clue. If the space were air conditioned, we could be anywhere. But here we are, late September 2005, sitting in the Darwin suburb of Parap, with a fortnight prised from our busy lives, in a makeshift office.