CHAPTER SIX - THE GOOD IN EVIL
After finding a public toilet and changing into my new clothes, I pack all my belongings into my backpack and set out to explore Wangaratta. I wander aimlessly through the streets lined with big old trees with bare branches. I imagine what they would look like with the beautiful autumn colours filling their canopies. My hand goes to my beaded necklace Tommy made me and tears prick my eyes. It's been less than a day and I miss him terribly. I hope he's ok, that he didn't get in trouble for helping me escape.
I walk for hours, taking in the houses packed in close together along black streets. The mixture of nature and man-made is striking.
After finding a place called Coles that sold all types of food from the fruit and vegetables, we grew in the community, to things packaged in plastic wrappers, in which I bought a lot. I end up wandering into a place called a showground. Tommy had told me about these places, where you could ride on machines that tipped you upside down and threw you around. It sounded fun and adventurous.
As I walked through the showground, I watched as they packed down the machines, loading them on massive vehicles. I watch as people lock up rooms on wheels and a thought occurs to me. Tommy told me how these places travel around, setting up in various locations around the country. I know I can't stay in Wangaratta, I'm still too close to the community. I make a snap decision and sneak into one of the rooms on wheels while no one is looking. I hide in the darkened corner and wait. Minutes later the door at the far end closes and I'm in complete darkness.
I sit in the darkness holding my breath, scared to even make the slightest sound. The room jerks slightly and I hear a grunt from outside. The room stills and muffled voices speak just outside the thin walls. I nervously sit perfectly still and wait as the muffled voices get further away.
I hear the sound of an engine roar to life and then the room jerks forward again. I feel it rolling and swaying slightly, stopping shortly, before rolling forward again. When the rhythm of the room remains constant, I relax back on the floor, breathing a sigh of relief. I reach into my bag and pull out an apple, biting into the crisp skin and enjoying the cool juice coating my tongue and throat. I lay down on the hard surface and close my eyes. My fingers gently playing with the beads of my necklace, exhaustion takes over and I allow the rocking of the room to lull me to sleep.
I'm woken by voices just outside the wall. The room is still and it takes me a moment to realize where I am. The memories of my escape, my very first kiss and the events after run through my mind. I clasp my beaded necklace, my only link to home and Tommy. The door at the far end of the room swings open, flooding light into the once dark space. I shield my eyes as I try to adjust to the light.
“What the fuck? Who the hell are you?” A gruff, deep voice asks and I cower down in my corner.
“What the hell are you going on about now Bryan?” The other voice comes from a distance, I can tell it's female but it's rougher, much less refined than I'm used to.
“There's a girl in my trailer! A bloody stow away!” the gruff voice speaks again. I peak through my fingers at the older man at the door. His hair is receding and grey, his skin appears rubbery and red. His demeanour is menacing and I shrink down further, thinking that hiding in this room may not have been a good idea after all.
“Move out of the way and let me see you old brute.” The slightly more feminine voice says. The man is shoved from the doorway and a woman comes into view. Her hair is grey, her face wrinkled and leathery, covered in a thick coat of makeup. She's wearing pants and a jumper with big glasses over her eyes.
“You scared the poor girl ya idiot.” She yells out the door then slowly steps into the room. “It's ok sweetheart, I ain't gonna hurt ya.” She gives me a crooked smile and I slowly uncover my eyes. She squats down next to me and I am hit by her strong perfume.
“What's ya name?” she asks, her words are lazily spoken. I look into her eyes, wondering what I should tell her. I can't give her my real name, father will find me.
“K... Katie...” I stutter the first name to come to me. She smiles, it appears warm and for the first time she comes across as feminine.
“Did ya jump in here in Wangaratta?” she asks and I nod.
“She better not have stolen any of my fucking stuff!” I hear the gruff voice yell from behind the woman. I cower from his voice and the lady turns her head to him.
“Shut ya hole Bryan!” Her voice is loud and menacing. She turns back to me with a contradictory smile. “Well Katie, my names Judy. Why don't you come out aye?”
She stands up and offers me her hand. I hesitantly take it and rise to my feet, picking up my backpack as I go. I follow her out of the room, keeping my head down, embarrassed and ashamed at having caused them trouble and scared out of my mind at what happens next.
The man Judy called Bryan runs into the room after we left. As I follow Judy, we arrive at a group of people standing around a small fire. Judy addresses them confidently.
“Bryan has a stow away. Jumped on in Wangaratta.” She states and I lower my head in embarrassment.
“Well the kid didn't steal any of my stuff! Just hitched a ride.” Bryan walks up behind us and stands next to Judy. “Now how the fuck do we get her home?”
“No!” I yell out instantly as panic fills me. They all look at me curiously. I look down ashamed at my outburst. “Please don't send me home. I did not mean to cause any trouble. Please just let me go I won't bother you at all I promise.” Judy takes my hand and squeezes it.
“Sweetheart, nothing's that bad that you need to run away.” She says. I shake my head. If only they knew. I know I can't tell them everything, but maybe just enough that they will let me leave.
“If I go home they will make me get married.” I say. There's a universal gasp amongst the people.
“Well that sounds pretty fucking bad. How old are ya kid?” Brian asks, I see concern in his eyes as tears well in mine.
“I turn 15 on the 15th” I say. Judy claps me on the shoulder.
“That's today! Happy birthday Katie!” she says excitedly. I give her a small smile.
“And when are ya spose to get married?” Brian asks me.
“Today.” My voice is small. There's another gasp and a few profanities.
“We should call the cops.” Judy says, I look to Judy, feeling the panic start to rise again.
“What the bloody good would that do? You know what our judicial systems like! Her parents would get a slap on the wrist, told not to do it again and she'd be straight back with them.” I look at Bryan in fear. I can't go back, not now. I shake my head. Bryan's eyes soften as he looks at me. “You can work my van this weekend since you're already acquainted with it. After the show, we will decide what to do with you.”
I nod, relieved that they aren't sending me back just yet.
“You can stay with me Katie, I'm not gonna make ya sleep near these stinky men.” Judy says. I give her a smile and she smiles back.
“Thank you.” I whisper.
“We share our food here, do a communal cook up every day, you'll be expected to help cook and clean up.” Brian tells me and I nod in understanding.
“Come on, let’s get you situated then you can help Bryan set up.” Judy says as she places an arm around my shoulder. I give everyone a weak smile and follow along after Judy.
I sit next to Bryan, surrounded by boxes as we pack show bags in silence. All the items are foreign to me, from stuffed fake animals to small bars of food wrapped in paper. I look at them curiously, as I put them in the bags. Bryan chuckles next to me as I inspect a purple bar, the word Cadbury written in big letters across it. I look up at him.
“You look like you've never seen a bar of chocolate before.” I shrug my shoulders and shove the bar into the bag. “Wait... don't tell me you haven't?” I look back up at him and give a shy smile, shaking my head. He sighs and picks up another purple bar, tossing it towards me. I catch it in one hand and look at him.
“Get that into ya.” He says. I give him a small smile and slowly open the bar. I look at the thick brown squares and bring it to my nose. It smells sweet and unlike anything, I have ever smelt before. “Fuck, I feel like I'm Jane meeting Tarzan for the first time!”
I look at him confused and he chuckles
“If you didn't have chocolate where you're from, I'm guessing you didn't have fairy tales either.” He states. I shake my head and look back at the bar. I bring it to my lips, and wrap my teeth around one of the squares, biting it off. It melts over my tongue, covering it in a velvety and creamy sweetness. I can't help but smile, my eyes wide, causing Bryan to laugh. “I reckon that's probably the best thing I've ever saw, someone having choccy for the first time.”
I smile and demolish the rest of the bar before getting back to work. We finish bagging all the goods in silence. As we're packing up, Bryan speaks again.
“You think your parents will come looking for ya?” he asks and I nod.
“Father will...” I say sadly. I look up at Bryan. “Where are we?” I ask and he chuckles
“Anglesea. On the great ocean road.” He says. I stare at him blankly. “Victoria, Australia.” I look down embarrassed.
“You were home schooled weren't ya?” he asks, though it is more of a statement. I nod my head. “I reckon we need to fix that. Get ya properly educated.” He says with a sigh. He claps his arm on my shoulder and squeezes gently.
“Don't worry, we'll look after ya.” He says. I give him a smile, tears welling in my eyes. The kindness and generosity these people have shown me in just a few short hours is overwhelming. How I ever thought the world outside the community was evil I don't know. All I've seen so far is good, kind-hearted people. No sign of evil at all.