Hot. Another stifling day. The boy sat quietly for once, looking through half-closed eyes at the shimmering lake in the distant paddock. He opened his eyes wide and the lake disappeared. A mirage. He squinted again, and there it was, trembling in the far away furnace.
The camp was quiet in the afternoon heat. Even the dogs were sleeping. Above him, the leaves on the mungart tree drooped silently in surrender to the stifling humidity. He levelled a patch in the dust, and with his forefinger he idly drew a pattern, then smoothed it away.
He was alone except for Old Girl granny asleep in the humpy. All the others had gone into town. He had wanted to go; of course he had wanted to go. But he had fought with his cousin, and had lost, then he had got angry with everyone laughing at him, and he had hidden. He watched them go, angry with them, and even more angry with himself.
He had thought about following them, but some prideful perversity in him, prevented him. He had half-hoped that someone, maybe his mother, would have made him go, at the last minute. But they had laughed again, and excited by the prospect of the day ahead, had left him.
He brooded, and became drowsy. Then suddenly, there was a call from down the track. The boy jumped up, immediately alert. Surely they weren’t back yet. Another call, a man’s voice. He stared down the track. A wam, a stranger, an old man, white-haired and bearded.
‘Hey, boy, get me kep.’ The boy ran for a tin mug, and filled it from the water-bag.
He handed it to the man. He watched surreptitiously as the man drank. He was dressed in worn clothing, had a good pair of boots, and a hat, and carried a blanket roll.
The man glared at him. ‘What you looking at, boy?”
The boy dropped his eyes, and looked at his feet.
‘Where’s the mob, boy?’ the man asked.
‘Gone to town.’ the boy said.
‘Aaargh,’ the man gave an expression of disgust. ‘I wanted to see Billy Sheed’.
‘E’s not ‘ere. Granny ‘ere. She’s asleep. You want me to get ‘er?’
‘No, me mate’s pickin’ me up. E’s got a truck, we’re going root-pickin’.’
He levered the roll off his shoulder and dropped it to the ground. He eased himself down, and sat with back against the tree.
‘So, boy, who’re you.’
‘Jimmy Nallup. Me mum’s Ivy. Me dad’s Cliff, but I haven’t seen him for a while.’
‘I’m your uncle, boy.’
The boy nodded.
‘I’m gonna tell you some things, boy. This is things you gotta keep all your life. It’s very important. You don’t tell anybody until your time comes to pass it on. These things come from the Law, from your grandfathers, your grandfather’s fathers and their fathers. You gotta keep it safe, all your life. You don’t tell nobody. Your Old People are looking at you, boy.’
The boy was trembling. The hair stood on the back of his neck. His heart jumped around like a fish in his chest.
Suddenly a strange little willy-willy started around their feet, spurting up the dust in ever-increasing swirls. Startled, the boy looked at the uncle. But he could not see clearly. A kaleidoscope of colours and forms surrounded him, and held him tight. The camp disappeared, and the boy felt his skin tightening and stretching.
His eyes became the eyes of old waalech the eagle. In an instant he saw his own
Spirit. Gasping he turned to the uncle.
The uncle was now young and strong, tall and handsome. There were koomal fur bands around his upper arms, and around his head. He wore a hair belt, and djurlap, and a small woven bag dangled from his belt. There were symmetrical scars on his shoulders and chest. Through his nose was his mulyart. He was painted up, yoort. He was magnificent. He was a man of the Law.
He signalled to the boy, and they were both swept up in a mad whirling noisy rush of movement for some minutes. Just as the boy felt he could not breathe, the sensation stopped, and he was walking calmly with the uncle.
He was spent. The uncle folded him in a great booka, and together they hurtled away. As they raced along the uncle whispered to him, sharing the mysteries of the Dreaming, and the secrets of the mabarn.
When at last they returned to the camp, the uncle laid the boy on the ground. The uncle reached into his own armpit and gathered his sweat. He wiped it gently on the boy’s forehead.
‘Ee-ow, you.’ Someone screamed in his ear. The boy jerked awake.
His sister and his cousin were laughing at him.
‘You been sleepin’!’
He rubbed his eyes. ‘Where’s the uncle?’
‘What you talkin’ about? There’s no-one here. Come on, we got fish ‘n’ chips for tea.’
The boy shivered slightly, though the late afternoon was still hot.