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She of the Never Never


by Celine Xavier


Never Never. She’s wild, rugged. She nibbles at the barren air, copious and dry. Untouched by the white man’s burden. She’s sunburnt, skin peeling; blistering and callousing. She’s not white or black. Bred from the union of serpent and spirit. Is it any wonder I want to go home?


An earworm she is. Her hum brushes gently past my ear, coaxes me to Her. I believe Her spirit runs strong in the veins of the boab tree. I’ve never visited before. She speaks to me often, but I am not brave, and I can’t reach her. If I take the journey, I may never return; at least not as the person I was when I left.


Here I stand in the hallway of a cold, dark institution. 'Prestigious', my Mamma calls it. Mamma looks nothing like me, but the lady who does… I can’t say her name anymore. Mamma says I have a second chance here, that God has seen my cream soul and He will make it white. My soul will never need saving; that requires a sin. Never Never isn’t concerned with what has been, or what my soul looks like to strangers. She will hold me in her steady gaze, wrap me in her sun-kissed arms, rifle my hair like a gentle breeze.


The other white kids fall silent as I walk past each day. Their heads shoot toward me. Snickering and sneering. The room grows still and the air thick. I can’t breathe, I can never breathe. They are suffocating me. Their dirty looks and sharp eyes tear into me – if their looks were bullets, I’d be a flimsy flag shot through, a flag with the stars torn out. At least my light would shine through, and they’d see that I’m the same as them on the inside.


They’re toying with their golden locks that their Mamma's gently brushed out. I watched my Mamma do this for my sister this morning, she sat there patiently, brushing, admiring deeply the work of her genetics. Mamma doesn’t sit patiently as she combs my hair, she rips at my black knots. I cry. Mamma doesn’t like it that Papa is part of me and she’s not.


I long for a connection, something to tell me I belong. Instead, the cold and lifeless Band-Aid between my feet and the earth distances me from all that feels right, even though there was never an open wound to cover in the first place. It’s just there to suck the life out of the living. That's what those little girls, in that little hallway, do to me. Suck the life out of me, like leeches. They yearn for it, to make me feel dirty, wrong, small. It makes them happy, feeds their sense of superiority.


I want to go home. To where the sun casts thirsty dapples of shadow across the red dirt. To where the heat pools at your feet, dancing triumphantly, mocking the cold swell of nightfall. To where the shrubbery is shelter to all breathing, one no better off than the other, just safe from the elements.


I call for the Never Never this time. I don’t know how to make my voice reach Her but she’s always listening, she hears me; just as I hear Her. The bell performs its rusty song, tuneless from the lump in its throat. It’s time to go home. I won’t linger, I’ll leave with the throng of children, anonymous in the chaotic rush like ants before the rain. They’ll wonder where I am, but they won’t miss me. She sings to me, clear as the wind over the desert and I’ll follow the song lines walked by my ancestors. Her melody guides me through the old black gate, over the rusty back fence, the one that no white man crosses through. The one that will deliver me home.

***

The boab dances in the shimmering heat as I draw nearer. She’s all belly and arms waving, no shade at all, a thin shadow, but I sit at Her feet as the last fingers of light gently stroke my hair and whisper ‘home’.


I wake to the break of dawn, the sun forging hues of pink, yellow and orange. Silence. It thrums at my ears. No beeping horns, no sirens whirring, no cars purring. Just the faint rustle of leaves overhead. Turning, I see the sheer height of Her; up, up, up. I step back to admire Her, in all Her vastness, only to find Her divided. Barbed wire, three-metres tall, stands then wobbles into the distance, both sides, far as the eye can see. For keeping the whites in and the blacks out or vice versa. She’s a towering fence post who spared the white men four metres of wire. Which side to choose? If I climbed up into her branches, I could see both sides and this country is the same from any angle, no need to choose.


She grows up, but never out. She’s the heart of the Never Never, lifeblood of the desert, belonging to nobody. The white’s say the Never Never is a place you’d never want to go but she’s my country and I never never want to leave. I choose Her.


Unlike them, we move with the cycle of the sun and moon, the seasons change, and we move through them like shade through the leaves of a tree. They move with the cycle of the city scape - unnatural and broken, bending all to their will, fencing things out and in. Unlike them, we understand we are finite; our blood is thicker than water, we are not owned, and we don’t own anything. Unlike them, we are connected.


Out here, I am not white, black, or creamy. Out here, I am the Never Never and she is home. All I need is to be home. There’s no place like home.


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