I roll over in the bed and break my last connection to the dream world with a forceful sigh. Push all my grief away from me in that one breath out. Yukio reaches out an instinctive arm to comfort me. The dark light of dawn lets me be seen, but be hidden too. You okay? The bed dips as I push off it and sit on the edge, my back to him. I don’t tell him I dreamt of Ruby. Of how I remember her, with her long dark hair that is thick and wavy, beautiful brown skin and Asian eyes. Of how I would convince her to stay if I had the chance. I don’t even turn to face him as I speak. Yeah. Better get up and moving.
On the road, the air is still cool at this early hour. I wind down the window and let the early morning Darwin breeze in. The air washes over me, it is warm but fresh, belying how hot and sticky the day will become. I turn the music up on the car radio and let it isolate me. Yukio is in the passenger seat and I do not want to talk. The grey of the bitumen stretches before us, leaves a wide trail behind our car. The steady dull hum of the wheels turning on the road beneath pacifies.
Right in to Katherine now, we stop at Maccas, pick up enough food to feed an army. Drive through town, reach my sister’s house. Knock, knock, knock. Three sets of skinny arms and legs come flying at the door. Aunty Evangeline and Uncle Iyo are here! I smile at Yukio. They ain’t ever gonna get that name right.
When the kids are settled with Uncle Iyo, watching cartoons and eating the feed we brought, I sit down with Olivia in her kitchen and talk. It is small and busy, colourful and alive, just like Olivia herself. I tell her about the work I’ve gotten down in Adelaide. Can you believe I scored such a great job? She nods her head, looks down at her cup of tea, considers what I’ve said. It’s gonna be great for you sis. I notice how much she looks like Ruby and suppose that I look like her too. I ask Olivia if she thinks I am running away. She tells me that she thinks I am, but that it’s okay to run away sometimes. I tell her, maybe one day I will run back. She says, I know you will.
The next day, we pull up at a roadhouse on the outskirts of Alice Springs, squint and shade our eyes against the glare of the sun. Outside of the car I can feel the heat seep in to my body, overwhelming it. The sun has heated the air until there is not a drop of moisture left and the air is still. We head inside and I dip my head in a quick hello to an old girl sitting inside with her grannies. She nods back, unsmiling. Self-conscious about how I look, I turn back to scan the displays for something I can eat. I’ll take the chicken sandwich, thanks. Yukio is ordering hot chips. Get enough for me too, ay?
I head to the table next to the old girl and open my sandwich, smile as I sit down, begin to eat. Where you from niecey? I look up and she is looking at my face, searching it. I’m from up Darwin way…that’s why I look like this. I point to myself, laugh uncertainly and hope she gets it. She looks toward Yukio, paying for our food, and I see him with her fresh eyes. Tanned skin, jet-black hair, strong square jaw line. I feel the question from her before she even asks. Nah, he’s Japanese. Just too much time in the sun.
We make small talk while her grandkids eat rowdily next to her. She asks where we are headed and when I say we are moving to Adelaide she asks, why? I almost want to snap that I don’t know why, but instead I tell her it’s for work and we both fall silent, strangers who have exhausted all the pleasantries. She considers my generic answer and I think about Ruby, being careful not to say her name out loud. Finally, old girl pats me on the arm, wishes Yukio and me good luck and disappears with her grannies into the heat outside.
A day later we make the final stretch, leaving Coober Pedy for Adelaide late in the morning. I watch the bush fly past from the passenger side window. Sparse yellowing trees and muted green-brown scrub, so dry and bare. We ride along in silence and behind us the sun begins to wane, the afternoon dissipates and the evening slowly spreads across the sky. The radio is down low and I feel the friction between the road and the wheels of the car as a vibration in my chest. Lulled to sleep, I dream in feelings, no coherent story that I can remember. When I wake, there is a dull pain in my throat. Sounded like you were crying in your sleep. I am demure in response, murmuring rather than committing to yes or no. Take a big gulp of water, turn my head, look out the window.
When we reach Adelaide, the sun is setting and the city is beginning to cool down from the heat of the day. We check in to our hotel, up on the tenth floor, a world away from the bushland we’ve just driven through. We order room service and after dinner Yukio falls asleep while I lie awake, listening to his deep breaths and gentle snores. I get out of bed and head to the window, open the curtains and look down at the lights of the city below us. It is black but twinkling, silent but busy. I rest my forehead on the cool glass, close my eyes and breathe slowly in and out, in and out. When I open my eyes again, I see that my breath has left a small patch of condensation, a temporary mark on the glass. I rub it off with the sleeve of my top, turn and climb back in to bed.