*Continued from Pearl, Harbour: Rising Suns
The three-day trip is intense and their conversations further revealing. Kintaro's looking to hide from the repercussions of his race. His mother, long in the grave, a white Australian who in the gentle paradise of Broome fell for a Japanese pearler. His father, dead of a diving accident timely in its proximity to the death of his mother. Born in a corner of Australia so remote, no certificate records the event nor his citizenship.
Long nights driving are countered by days spent with brief respite under shady eucalypts to avoid the midday sun. The trucker sleeps while the mismatched pair console each other and realise how similar they are. Dispossessed, disappointed but hopeful.
"How long do you think it will last?" Elise asks not of curiosity, but of waning concern for her father. Honor and duty bred in blood, he would no doubt seek entry into the Australian Army. There is also the hint of waxing concern for this man in front of her, a refugee in his own country, victim of appearance and choices made by men he's never known in lands he's never been. She's in danger of trivializing her own tribulations, those due to her own choices, made by a heart too eager and a mind too inexperienced.
He perceives the welling of tears at some subconscious revelation, allows a lopsided wry smile, quickly and adeptly changing the subject. Wind and tide carry the souls of men and women and his entire life has been dedicated to learning how to spread wing and fin. "How far do you think you have to go?"
Eyes close in defense of the unexpected question, its force not all too dissimilar from the blows of her former lover. The impact, though, is different. A genuine concern for her. At the very least a genuine curiosity. Memory struggles to recall the last time a voice pretended to care.
"I don't know." The admission is terrifying to her ears, destination never yet considered, its thought stifled by a singular need to only watch the landscape scream by. It's barely registered that Australia is but an island, and whether by will or by ocean, something will eventually stop her. She begins to cry and further recounts the details of her life.
He simply watches, waiting for the moment when the weight of insignificance instills the desire for a shoulder to grab, a bosom to empty long-held sorrows on, hands to reassure that they're still here. Still alive. Significant in the moment of a stranger. Two shadows converge in the broken shade of leaning eucalyptus trees, anonymous in their understanding of each other. His shirt soaks the evidence of her tears. Her hair guides the evidence of his down the back of her neck, the tops of her shoulders, falling into the dust of a country where both were born but neither belong.
The devolution to a carnal state is rapid, overwhelming. Physical pleasure enjoyed for the mere fact that mental anguish is momentarily pushed away. It is nothing more than intercourse between kindred spirits. Sex without love, only a burgeoning lust. A reminder that pain is as fleeting. He doesn't mind that she continues to shed tears. She doesn't notice that she does. Hard body glides into soft and convulsing eruption whispers a hint of fate forever intertwined. They are, so far, free to run. That is enough for today. Tomorrow comes the realization that neither's destination is a place. Merely a moment when shadows, bodies, converged. And that it was yesterday.
"It's almost the end of the road. Where do I need to drop each of you?"
"We'll get out together." It is Kintaro's voice, but Elise is certain she said it.
The road train terminates in Mildura, western New South Wales within the rich Riverina, home of citrus, wine and market gardens. A town where neither are known. She has some money, he has three pearls, enough to lead a quiet life. If only he were not so conspicuous.
Elise reaches into her bruised valise, hands him a broad-brimmed hat and hastily removes the feminine blue ribbon. "Put this on." She points to a paint-peeled wooden bench outside a small realtor's store. "Sit over there and don't say anything." He acquiesces, all too aware of his obvious point of difference.
Enquiring at the realtor as a woman alone goes unnoticed. Able men are waging war, leaving the infirm and old to fend in this bread-basket town. She secures a dilapidated shack amid the orchards in exchange for keeping house and a pittance of a wage. Her 'brother' will come with her as he's 'not quite right in the head' and unsuitable for soldiering.
The realtor vends a sympathetic smile. "Poor luvie. Must be hard for you, darls. All alone." He hands her the keys and directions to their new abode. Elise nods politely and exits, avoiding further inquisition.
As she plumps pillows and kneads bread, he tends a tiny garden. His once salt-bleached hands now tanned and calloused and grubbed with the earth. He is a fish out of water, a solitary man, unseen, unknown. Sadness wells within him but she keeps the tides at bay.
Elise loves to watch him labour, hat drawn to shade his face, crouched low with an arrow of sweat dampening his shirt. He is tender with his crop, stroking verdant leaves with a lover's hand, smoothing soil around their roots with a gentle caress. Sadness - and something else - stirs within her when she sees him there alone.
They never speak of their encounter beneath the trees. He, a little shameful of his loss of control. She embarrassed of her acceptance of it. They do not share a bed, he slumbers on the floor. They sometimes chat as they fall asleep, almond and oval eyes at rest, breasts gently rising and falling as dreams of limpid ocean and balmy breeze replace the waking heat of displaced desert.
It is an accidental encounter, but one that accelerates the inevitable and steals the breath from his lung. She does not feel his gaze upon her as she bathes. Brown arms raised high, she shampoos her thick brown hair. Slim fingers glide languidly among the suds smoothed across her skin. Water beading on her back then trickling across shapely hips and down her legs. Drops of water hypnotic in their transformation, mocking and faux soap-tinted pearls. Something stirs within him, too, but this time it isn't only lust.
*Continued in Pearl, Harbour: Safe Harbour
The Complete Pearl, Harbour