CHAPTER FIVE - A WHOLE NEW WORLD
It is 3 days before my 15th birthday and mine and Tommy's wedding. Father’s wives are in full swing with wedding preparations. Tommy hasn't been well the past week, he's carrying a nasty cough and the entire flock is praying he will be better for the wedding.
Father left early this morning to go outside the boundaries. He said he would only be a few hours this time, instead of days, which with my new found knowledge of the area surrounding us, I wonder if he is going into Beechworth or to Albury/Wodonga. A large part of me wanted to sneak out after him and hide in the car Tommy said is kept outside the community, just to see the outside myself. But, the repercussions if I were to be caught were too big, instead I busied myself tending to the bee hives with Tommy.
Father returned and I saw all his wives run to greet him. Tommy and I downed our tools and walked over to the huddled masses. There, on fathers arm, stood his now 16th wife.
Her long brown hair and petite figure blending in to the crowd of women. As Tommy and I moved closer, father introduced her to us and I watched as she bowed before me. My stomach churned as I took in her features, she could not have been any older than me.
The wives excitedly rushed her away and Tommy and I walked silently to the horses. We forgot our task and hurried on horseback towards the dam. Tears welled in my eyes as I think about what Tommy left behind when he came here. His school, his friends, his family. What did this girl leave behind? Has my father gone too far this time?
We dismount the horses and sit in the grass. Tommy wraps an arm around my shoulder and I rest my head on his chest.
“It's wrong... isn't it?” I whisper.
Tommy nods his head in answer.
I listen to his beating heart and the wheeze in his chest from his cough. We sit in silence, my mind reeling from my father’s newest wife. I don't think I can do this anymore. I don't think I can live this life. Tears run down my face as my resolve sets in.
“I'm running away.” I say. Tommy squeezes me to him.
“I'm coming with you.” He replies without hesitation. I move off Tommy's chest and look in his eyes.
“But... your mum...” I say. Tommy moves his head away to cough; it appears to be getting worse. I rub his back as his coughing fit subsides. He clears his throat.
“Mum will be ok... she's brainwashed, sure, but she thinks she's happy, and I don't think he would physically hurt her.” He says and I nod. I can't see him hurting anyone, not physically anyway.
“No... He won't hurt her.” I assure him. Tommy pulls me back into him and I rest my head on his chest as he runs his fingers up my arm.
“When are we leaving?” he asks.
“Tonight. I'll sneak out after dark and meet you at the hives.” I say and Tommy nods in agreement.
“Do you think you could get some of your father’s cash? We will need it.”
I nod my head, knowing exactly where father keeps it. We continue to discuss our plans of escape before heading back for the night.
I lay in bed waiting for the house to go completely silent before quietly climbing out of bed and changing into my hunting clothes. They are simple black pants with a black top and jumper, but better than the usual ankle length dresses I wear.
I tuck the stash of money I took from my father’s room into my pockets, filling them and the cups of my bra with the cash. I have no idea how much I took, I never counted it, I just grabbed enough that it wouldn't be noticed unless he counted it. He doesn't hide it or keep it locked away, instead it's just placed in a cupboard. There's no need to hide it, there's no need for it in the community.
I pull on my boots and quietly open my window before I climb out and close it behind me. I feel a thrill go down my spine at what I am doing. I've never done anything wrong, committed any sins, yet here I am sneaking out of my house and running away. I quickly make my way to the hives where Tommy is waiting for me.
We don't say anything when we meet, we are still much too close to the houses. We quickly make our way on foot towards the edge of the community, it takes approximately 20 minutes to walk to the boundary, but as soon as we are out of ear shot we start to run.
I can't help but laugh on the inside at us running away in the middle of the night, it feels so free. We only run for a short time before Tommy stops in a coughing fit. I pat his back hoping to help relieve his cough before we continue walking. The edge of the community comes into view when we hear a commotion behind us.
We hear yelling and the sounds of horses galloping towards us. Both of us sprint to the fence and duck under it, hiding in the bush. Tommy stops again in a coughing fit. He finishes coughing and I go to leave, Tommy grabs my arm, stopping me.
“You go. If I come, I'll only slow you down.” He says. I shake my head vigorously.
“No! Tommy! We're both going” I whisper loudly. He cups my cheeks with his hands and looks into my eyes.
“They will catch us. Do you want that? Do you want to be used as a breeder? Because that is the life you'll have if you don't leave me here.” He states. Tears well in my eyes as I shake my head. “I'll distract them, throw them off your trail, but you need to go now.” He wipes the tears from my cheeks and I nod. Tommy pulls me to him and crashes his lips on mine. I gasp at the sudden contact and he pushes his tongue into my mouth, massaging my own with his. I pull him closer and kiss him back, enjoying the feeling of our tongues dancing to the song in our heads and hearts. He pulls away and rests his forehead on mine.
“Head east until you hit the road, then turn north. Stay off the road though, just follow it. Stay safe Gen.” he whispers. He places a soft kiss on my lips then pulls away, gesturing for me to go. I nod in understanding.
“Thank you, Tommy.” I whisper to him before turning east and running through the bush.
It takes me a couple of hours to reach the road Tommy mentioned. When I reach it, I stay just inside the bush and follow it north. My mind is still reeling over leaving Tommy behind, my lips still tingling from his kiss. My first kiss. And, it was magical.
Tears still fall as I walk through the bush, ducking behind trees when the odd car passes. It's coming on dawn when I make it into a small town. I thought it may be Beechworth but the sign said Yackandandah. Tommy never mentioned that town, but it's probably best that I didn't end up in Beechworth, if that is the closest town to the community it will be the first place they look.
I walk through the small town until I come across a wooden bench and a sign saying bus stop. I sit down on the bench and rest my legs, and wait.
At some stage, I must have drifted off as I am woken by a strange sound. The sun is higher in the sky now as I blink my eyes open to see a large long vehicle in front of me. I assume this is the bus thing that Tommy mentioned.
I pull myself to my feet and take a bit of the money I have out of my pocket. I step up the stairs of the bus and the man sitting behind a wheel smiles at me and puts out his hand. I'm not sure what to do so I place the scrunched up note in his hand. It appears to be the correct action as he takes the note and places it with some others, then grabs some different ones and some coins and hands them back to me. I give him a weak smile and thank him before making my way down the aisle and slide into a seat.
The bus jerks forward and I look out the window, watching the world go by. My thoughts go to Tommy, and I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I know nothing of this world, and I am completely alone in it. At least if Tommy was here he could show me the way.
The bus drives for a while, stopping at small isolated places. I don't get off until I come to a place that appears to be bustling with people. I've never seen so many people in my life and I wonder if this is Tommy's home of Albury/Wodonga.
As I step off the bus I see a sign welcoming me to a place called Wangaratta. Tommy never mentioned this place either. I follow the people away from the bus and walk aimlessly in the direction of the crowd. They all split off in different directions, as if they know where to go and what to do. I take in their appearances, some tall, some short, some fat and thin. Some have dark skin and some light, yet they all acknowledge each other and appear to accept each other despite how they look. It is a vast difference to the light skinned brunettes of the community. I'm trying to see the evil my father described, to see where the devil may be hiding but I see nothing of any resemblance to my childhood stories.
I follow the streets until I come across a big building. People of all types walk in and out of the clear doors. They go in with nothing and come out with bags in their hands. I look to the top of the building and see big red and blue letters. Kmart. I wander through the doors and I'm amazed by what I see. Aisles of clothing, cooking equipment, bedding and other things I have never seen before.
I look down at my clothes. This is all I have, my black hunting clothes stitched by hand by one of my mothers. I wander into the clothing part and watch as a girl about my size flicks through the racks picking out different items. I see all the hangers in her hand have the same numbers on them. The number 8. I decide to copy her and pull out items with the number 8 on them. I follow her along, grabbing items as I go. She walks to another area with a big sign saying fitting rooms. That must be where you put the clothes on.
I follow her in and go into a small room, closing the door behind me. The clothes fit perfectly. They are so different to what I've known, all different colours and shapes. With the exception of my hunting clothes, I've only worn flowing white dresses.
I change back to my own clothes and carry the stash of goods out of the room. I continue looking through the aisles, picking up a bag that sits on my back and can fit all the items I have. When my arms are full, I end up back at the front of the store.
I stand in the longest line and watch as people place their items on the surface and another person puts them into bags, then they exchange money. Seems simple enough. I can do that.
I make the exchange when it is my turn then walk out into the fresh air with my newly acquired goods. I can't help but feel proud of myself. In a completely foreign place, alone in the world, maybe I can make my way.