“Just what d’ya think ya’ doin’?” Palms on hips, her head tilted, and eyes squinted against the sunlight.
“What d’ya think I’m doin’?”
“You’re lying on your back copyin’ a goanna gettin’ a suntan?”
“Are ya waitin’ to die of sunstroke to become Dingo bait?”
He screwed up his nose. “No.”
“Unless you’re pretendin’ to be a brown snake, stretched between them rails, please explain for the masses…” her arm swept across deserted surrounding sunburnt scrub lands, “… why are you lying on the train tracks?”
Her laugh unsettled a flock of white galahs perched high in the scraggly gum tree. Wiped happy tears mingled with beads of perspiration with an expert flick of her finger. “Why?”
“To stop Mum leaving.”
“Oh.” Teething her bottom lip, she dropped beside him. Wrapped her arms around bent knees, tucking flyaway hair behind her ear. “Where she goin?”
“Down south. Says I gotta go too.”
“‘What – why?”
“That’s how I reacted.” He sat up and pointed to her slackened jaw and swatted at a fly.
“Ya can’t go. Unless,” she swallowed, “you wanna go?”
He sighed deep, shaking his head, fiddling with the laces of his shoes. “Told Mum I don’t.”
“Maybe you’re goin’ for a holiday?”
“Must be permanent if Mum’s sayin’ I’m goin’ to school there.”
Her lower lip trembled and eyes glossed. “You’re my best mate, you can’t go.”
“That’s why I’m protesting,” and rested his back down on the tracks.
“I’ll protest with ya.” She lay beside him. Quarry stone on bare skin, surprisingly cool. Flat wood panels warm on her back. She stared at flawless cobalt skies. Scents of red dust, flowering eucalyptus trees and warming metals lingered in the air. Grabbed his hand, crossed her feet at the ankles, and cushioned her head on her bent arm. “When’s the next train?”
“Dunno.” He mirrored her image. “Mum should notice and come lookin’ for us any minute now.”
“I won’t let her take you coz we’re meant to be friends forever.” And kissed his cheek. She lay back and smiled at him.
The bright sunshine made eyelids heavy as they beamed at each other. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “We’ll always be friends forever.”
“There’s something lying across the tracks.” The train driver’s eyes bulged and slammed hard on the brakes.
The co-driver dropped his newspaper getting to his feet. “Another feral camel?”
Brakes squealed in protest. The co-driver reefed open the door. A vicious hot wind whipped around them. Both, craned out to scour beneath the moving mass of snaking metal.
They jumped out and peered under the carriages.
“What’s that?” The driver pointed to two white crosses. A desolate contrasting symbol amongst the red dust on the verge of the cleared railway line and scraggly gum trees.
“That’s a Memorial for a coupla kids that fell asleep and got killed on these tracks.”
“When?” The driver’s colour drained from his face.
“Bout eighty years ago. Some reckon they still haunt this part of the track.” He cocked his head. “D’ya see it? See them kid’s ghosts?”
The driver tore off his cap, ruffled his flattened hair. Rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm. He shrugged, blinking and frowning at the railway line. “Dunno what I saw.”
“I’d seen it once – out here. An’ I got no idea what I saw either.”
They eyed the expansive wilderness surrounding them. The air – breathlessly silent.
“Come on mate, there’s nothin’ on these tracks now. An’ we gotta schedule to keep.” He patted the driver on the shoulder and climbed on board.
The train shunted northbound. They glanced back at the sun-bleached crosses that shadowed track spilled stones. They looked ahead, never taking eyes off the railway line again.
But beneath the soft breeze caressing sun warmed metal rails, children voices whispered, “We’ll always be friends forever.”