It was after dark before Poppy finally arrived, turning off the "Highway" into the one-horse town that was to be her new home and taking the meandering road in. She expected it to be dead at this time of night on a Tuesday in the summer school holidays. So dead that she'd made sure to grab food a few towns back – food to eat and a few grocery supplies to tide her over for the first day until she got time to go the little local seven-to-seven or into one of the bigger regional centres.
However, as she expected dark, dead and uninhabited, Ngurang turned out to be a surprise.
In fact, it was none of these things, it was a blaze of lights and she supposed what passed for a hive of activity in a town like this.
It was 8.30pm at night and had only just started to get dark (something that would take a northern girl a bit of time to get used to) and yet Ngurang was lit up like a Christmas tree. She saw the shimmer of bright lights in three separate locations before she even reached the town limits.
If that was a shock to the system (and it was after dark windy roads that served as highways mainly in name only) then what she came across next was down-right amazing.
She rounded a bend in the road hit, the town limits (is 240 people even enough to be a town?) and there it was – a beacon of light, hope and green – yes green – so much green. Okay, a little oval of green but after so much red dirt and dying vegetation, it looked like an oasis in the desert.
After kilometres and kilometres with no grass or vegetation other than gum trees with their ghostly white trunks and smaller scrubby native pine trees, it was – a mirage of lights and green.
It stood like a beacon calling to her – lit up enough to see it from the moon and covered in grass – okay not the lush grass she was used to but grass, green stuff – actual green stuff.
The roads around this mirage of green were dusty, the kids park in front of it the same – the houses across from it hardly had gardens and the tennis courts next door were obviously artificial but there it was – lights, grass and noise.
She slowed right down to take it in, pulled over on the side of the road and had to pinch herself
The town was tiny but here was a shrine to all things football and not the Rugby League that had, until recently, been more the norm in her part of the years. No, judging by those goal posts – this was the other type – AFL, Australian Rules – the game her, her brother and sister had dabbled in as juniors at the insistence of their mum, the game her father called Aerial Ping Pong when he was in a mind to be nice! It must still be 26-28 degrees out there and yet there they were – a whole team, well she assumed it was a whole team she wasn't sure how many there was in a team but it looked like half the town's population was on that field. Running around – an older man with a voice loud enough to permeate through her car windows and drown out Panic At The Disco – was barking orders.
It was so fascinating, so unexpected that she was tempted to stay, lean on the fence and watch, But she was tired. This wasn't like driving to the Whitsunday Islands for holiday with three of her mates, there had been no-one to share the driving and it had been two days hard slog. She started the car and turned on her sat nav – not that there would be too much use of it here in this less than thriving, less than metropolis. She drove past the cross street before Suri sprang into action, the computerized voice still came as a surprise after kilometres and kilometres of people free driving.
"Turn left in 100m metres!" and she left the mirage behind her and headed for the second lot of lights.
But it wasn't the last surprise of the night – far from it to be honest. Before she made the obligatory turn, there were more lights -heralding the lawn bowls club – also green, lit up and peopled – like white ghosts against the green. There they were – the older population of Ngurang having a roll up at 8.30pm on a Tuesday night. She supposed it made sense – being out during the day would turn you to crispy bacon faster than you could say "weird country town" but that didn't make it any less unexpected.
No, as she turned the corner into Jubilee street and then passed her new street - Reid Street heading for the back lane behind the old Federation-style house that served as shared teacher housing in this town, she wondered, not for the last time, if she'd entered the twilight zone!! She could see another patch of light at the end of the lane, backed up against the football ground but that would have to remain a mystery for another night.
She just wanted to get home, to bed. Away from the constant kilometres speeding by her windows. Away from the cramped conditions of her too-small car.
She peered through the back gate of the high-fenced yard.
The house – all red brick and wooden windows, was surrounded by verandahs with thigh-high walls around them covered in weird textured rendering. The house was three quarters the way down the street in fact probably only about six doors up from the footy ground and directly behind the bowling green – sports central. She wondered why Suri hadn't directed her down past the footy ground – maybe she wanted to show her the true extent of the madness that was Ngurang? Or maybe she was reading too much into it. It wasn't weird that a small country town would love its sport right? Let's face it, there wouldn't be a lot to do in a place like this, no shopping malls, arcades or nightclub's at good old Ngurang, she'd been warned that they didn't even have a supermarket anymore – well not much of one.
It was obviously sport or nothing here.
She silently thanked her mother for the tennis lessons she'd been forced to attend and her Pop for teaching her to bowl as she hauled open the big double gates and drove her tiny dust-covered car down the driveway.
No car washes out here in Ngurang either she suspected sighing as she pulled her little car to a stop behind the old house and fished the keys she'd been posted by her new boss – school principal George Black. She'd share this place with two of the other primary teachers but as she was arriving first, the keys had been posted to her. They were all newbies, fresh blood and she wondered why they'd need so many new teachers all at once.
She shivered involuntarily.
Wondering again if this really was the twilight zone as she hauled her big old bag from the back of her newly red white car.
The automatic light came on as she approached the old wooden back door -well at least there was some sort of technology out here and she jiggled the keys in the lock like she'd been told.
"Just jiggle them a bit – might take you a couple of tries," had been the instructions with the keys when they arrived priority paid at her home last week.
And then, after she lent against the door heavily with her shoulder, it suddenly gave way and she was sent sprawling to the laundry floor of her new home - an inauspicious way to start her new life, for sure. But somehow as the weary Poppy pulled herself up from the floor using the side of the ancient laundry tub, it felt incredibly fitting.
YOU ARE READING
Football drought & other catastrophesRomance
Newly minted teacher Poppy Fraser is starting a new life - she just didn't expect it would be in such an alien place where football is the main religion and anything else is just not worth knowing about. Joel Hardy has been trying to escape his fam...