Two ageing women are determined not to go gently into that good night but find the may have bitten off more than they can chew. In undertaking a righteous crime they save a life and resurrect their own self-worth.
Or, as Anais Nin said:
Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage.
Sarah: 50 something plus but fairly well preserved. An ex-teacher now writing school resources, she’s on the point of losing her job – and her relationship.
David: Sarah’s partner of 7 years. Not a bad person, just a controlling, anal, angry man in the twilight of his career.
Margaret: mid 60’s. Very grandmotherly. Retired. She carries an emotional burden behind her placid exterior.
Alice: Margaret’s daughter, mother of two.
Alan – Margaret’s son by Waleed.
Sister Ann: 70 in the shade, an ex-nun and nurse. Short, no nonsense. You get the feeling you shouldn’t cross her.
Ron: late 40’s. Sarah’s neighbour. A kind face. Trim, fit, calming.
Arman Zahrouni : 36 years old. A fairly secular Iranian refugee. His English is good if stilted and his eyes speak of great pain and futility.
Jamal Mehdi: a Hazara refugee in his early 50’s. Jamal attempts to smile a lot and accept his fate but there’s a steeliness behind the facade.
When Sarah and Margaret ‘befriend’ two detainees in the Baxter Detention Centre, they are both at a low point in life. Little did they know how ‘low’ they would go – and how high it would take them.
Sarah sits unhappily over a corflute poster – ‘Stop the War!’ it screams but her texta hovers uncertainly over a half-finished dove. An old fashioned clock tic-tocs in the background and Sarah closes her eyes for a moment as though to block out the sound.
David, in his clipped, accusatory voice, leans over her shoulder. “Getting a bit old for this protest stuff, aren’t we?”
Margaret washes dishes. A radio murmurs in the background, mixed with the sound of young children playing. John Howard’s unctuous voice : “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” Margaret turns and throws a plate at the radio. The children’s voices fall silent, as does the radio. “Bloody Howard!” Margaret hisses.
Inner city, crowds of anti-war protestors. The somnambulant tic-toc of the old clock morphs into the beating of drums. Sarah waves her completed poster energetically. In the crush, she bumps into a diminutive older woman with a Red Cross name tag - Sister Ann. The old woman presses a wrinkled flyer into her hand and marches off, chanting “Freedom! Azadi! Free-dom!”
Margaret folds children’s clothes and places them neatly in a small suitcase. Once again, the bubbly sound of small children in the background. We see the back of a woman who stands watching Margaret. A child’s voice, “Grandma threw a plate at the radio! She smashed it! She said the bloody word!” A second child’s voice “Bloody Howard!” The children laugh hysterically but the young woman shakes her head, “Mum, what’s wrong? Why are you so angry?” Margaret closes the suitcase and shakes her head, she has to get ready for bridge. Alice laughs – what’s with this bridge? She hates bridge! Margaret smiles bitterly, it’s what old women do…
Sarah stands in a small office before a desk of a very thin woman. Behind the desk is a colourful poster advertising “Harmony School Resources”. Sarah’s shoulders are tense with anger. Why is there no war stream in their educational resources? She’s written two proposals and they haven’t even been acknowledged! The thin woman waves her hand dismissively, it’s not in the curriculum. Sarah lifts her arms in disgust, seems about to say something but turns and leaves the office.
David stands at the kitchen window, squinting into the setting sun. Sarah sits in Ron’s backyard, a still shape in the fading light. Four enormous aviaries fill the yard. Ron sits next to her, making notes. Sarah smiles during his commentary. There’s Julia the Black Shouldered Kite, she’s coming along well after tangling with barbed wire. He squints towards the smallest aviary, Bazza the Pacific Baza, the youngest of his charges. There’s Ricky the Tawny Frogmouth he really shouldn’t have in care but he couldn’t resist and – of course Speranza the Brown Goshawk and Sarah’s favourite. He fits a falconers leather gauntlet onto his arm, hands what looks like a dead mouse to Sarah and motions her to follow him as he enters the largest of the aviaries.
David squints at the two figures who appear to be moving closer together.
In the aviary, Speranza sits on a low branch, looking at them expectantly. Ron moves a tall ladder against the side of the aviary, takes the mouse from Sarah and moves towards the bird. Sperenza lunges for the mouse and Ron expertly grips the bird’s neck and legs. Holding it gently he climbs the ladder. Sarah holds her breath as they climb. Ron turns awkwardly and releases his hold on the bird. Speranza wheels once and then floats awkwardly to the ground. Ron frowns, “Let’s try it again.”
Speranza tilts gracelessly and flutters to the ground.
Outside the aviary, Ron picks up his notebook sadly, avoiding Sarah’s distraught face. As she grabs Ron’s sleeve, David frowns and turns away from the window.
Ron tries to calmly explain that, once again, Speranza’s flight test was unsuccessful. The bird cannot be released into the wild. That means…Sarah shakes her head, nearly shouting, “Means what? What??” It’s painless, Ron mutters but Sarah has run to the aviary and stands looking in at the doomed bird. Ron stands beside her, his arm around her shoulders. Rescue, rehabilitate, release. Speranza would not survive in the wild. His job is to care for the birds, not collect them…Sarah is not listening.
Sarah stands at the kitchen window, looking into Ron’s yard. She can just make out the silhouette of Speranza. She is at the aviary door, whispering, opening it. Wider, wider. Speranza is flying over her shoulder, wheeling, floating, flying away. “You’re free.” She whispers.
Ron enters the yard, followed by a thin man carrying a leather bag. They enter the aviary. Sarah turns from the window, eyes closed.
Margaret enters a crowded hall. The gathered are mainly young but we see Sister Ann in the background. People raise their hands and greet Margaret as she enters. The banner on the wall reads “Refugee Support Alliance – building a bridge.”
A faint smile on Margaret’s lips as she moves towards Sister Ann.
Sarah sits at her untidy desk, shoulders slumped. There is a jumble of papers before her and she makes a faint attempt at sorting them. David calls out, enquiring about dinner. When she doesn’t answer he comes in and stands over her shoulder. She doesn’t look at him as she passes him a letter. He reads it aloud, “Dear Sarah, unfortunately, our catalogue for the coming curricular round does not include your specialities…”
She half turns to him, perhaps expecting comfort. He hands the letter back and turns to leave, “Well, now you’re free to find a better job.”
Sarah doesn’t move. ‘Free’ she whispers sarcastically and we hear the beat of wings. Her head droops and she drops the letter and pushes it aside, revealing a crumpled flyer: “Free the Refugees! Compassionate supporters meet each Tuesday at the Marsden Worker’s Club.”
The old woman’s voice comes to her, “Freedom! Azadi!”
Margaret seems to be fighting unseen demons. She opens a photo album, closes it, walks through the house, tidying things that don’t need tidying, knocks over the bodum and watches in dismay as it smashes on the tiles.
Sarah applies mascara and just a touch of lipstick in front of a mirror and takes a deep breath.
Sarah sits in a modest reception area. A woman in her thirties and an even younger man wait with her. The sign above the desk states “Hi-Scholastic Learning Resources.” A woman in her forties comes out of the inner office and gives Sarah a slight shrug as she leaves. The receptionist checks her schedule and motions the young man into the inner office.
Sarah and David sit over dinner, a stilted atmosphere. He lifts his shoulders, “Tuesday’s always a bad day to go for a job.” For a moment he smiles at her and we see something of their old relationship. Then David spoils it. Has she thought about what they talked about? Selling this big old house and getting something smaller and closer to town? Sarah wilts, this was her mother’s ‘big old house’ and she loves it. If he wants to live closer to town…she lets the thought dangle. David tries to stare her down, shrugs and gets up to leave.
She sits at her untidy desk, her diary open. Tues 6pm has Refugee Marsden Workers written and crossed out. She rubs her eyes and picks up the phone.
‘Lantou and Williams Real Estate’ comes the cheery voice and Sarah asks for Janet. A new voice comes on: ‘Hi, is that YesNo Sarah?’. Sarah winces at the words, her mouth thins. “Get off it, Janet.” “Oh, sorry, it’s NoYes Sarah today is it?” Janet says cheerfully. Sarah rolls her eyes and takes a deep breath. She’s called about getting a valuation on her house. This elicits a long silence from Janet. It’s none of her business but… Yes, Sarah admits, she and David have talked about it. Another silence before Janet says she’ll arrange it and – by the way – she misses their Friday coffees. Sarah sighs and assures her they’ll get together – maybe this Friday.
Sarah hangs up and flips her diary to Friday, starts to write something and then flips back and looks at the Tuesday page.
The Marsden Workers Club is packed. Margaret steps inside and stumbles slightly as she swerves to avoid a chair. No one seems to notice except Sister Ann, who looks over with a frown and then turns back to the data projector and the young man unfolding a screen.
Sarah enters uncertainly, frowns in slight recognition of Sister Ann.
(Perhaps make this a refugee’s story of loss and death, with pictures)
The night’s short film is introduced. Sister Ann has recently returned from the ‘Baxter 03 convergence’ and, with the help of some talented people, has put together a record of the event. The gathered sit in tearful silence as scenes from the desert protest play before them to the soundtrack of The Scattered People’s Choir ‘Stand with us’.
Margaret and Sarah stand in line waiting their turn to talk to Sister Ann. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just shouting from the sidelines. Hardly even shouting actually.” Margaret complains. Sister Ann overhears this – “Don’t you have a letter friend in Baxter?” she asks and Margaret nods, “Jamal, Hazara.”
“Why don’t you get off the sidelines and visit him?” she tilts her head to the very young man, “We can even assist you with a little smuggling if you’re game.” The very young man blushes but smiles.
Sister Ann hugs Margaret and then turns to Sarah, not bothering with niceties but asking her outright what she does and why she’s here. Taken aback, Sarah stumbles through her resume – ex teacher, writer of educational resources, unemployed. She’s here because…. it’s Tuesday.
Sister Ann guffaws and pulls a tattered card from her pocket. “You are going to come and visit me. May have a job for you.”
Over tea, Sarah tries to strike up a conversation with Margaret, wanting to learn more about her ‘letter friend’ but Margaret remains somewhat distant and Sarah gives up.
Margaret sits in front of her computer, children’s laughter in the background.
PO Box 2477
Port Augusta SA 5700
Greetings to you Jamal
I hope you are well.
I hope you are well as you can be.
Margaret closes her eyes, shakes her head and closes the document without saving.
David straightens his tie and looks over at Sarah, who is slipping on a light jacket. He asks where she’s going, “Looking for a job.”
Sarah walks into Sister Ann’s living room. Chaos. Noise. Story books, papers, crayons and children everywhere. Sister Ann moves unperturbed through this disorder. We see the children’s excited faces – middle eastern, Asiatic, black. They don’t speak the same language but this doesn’t hinder their interaction. A woman sits on the sofa, a white headdress framing her delicate face.
Introductions are made. The woman on the sofa is Roula, a Syrian woman in ‘community detention’. Her husband remains in Baxter. Her two children are – Sister Ann tries to point them out but the children are now chasing each other in an unruly mob.
Roula’s grace and acceptance touch Sarah but it is the glowing faces of the children that move Sarah to smile.
While the children sleep, Sister Ann tells Sarah there are plans to create a real school for these refugee children. There is some money available but what they need are real teachers. Sister Ann doesn’t push further, simple tells Sarah to ‘think about it’. She gets on her computer and shows Sarah where to find all the information she will need on refugees.
Recommends that she find a ‘letter friend’ if she wants to know more about what’s happening. They don’t call them ‘pen pals’. As an afterthought, she tells Sarah to look for surnames well down the alphabetical list – they tend to be the last to get friends.
Sarah tip-toes through the living room, nodding a goodbye to Roula and stopping to look down at the peaceful face of a little girl.
On her computer in her small ‘office’, Sarah finds a name on the detainee list – Arman Zahrouni, Iranian, 37 - he seems to fit the bill for a letter friend. David finds her on the RSA website and wants to know what she’s doing, why isn’t she looking for a job?. Gritting her teeth, Sarah reminds him she’s nearly old enough to be retired and her mother’s inheritance makes her quite comfortable, thank you. He’s a little shocked at her new-found feistiness.
Sarah doesn’t seem so feisty as she approaches Sister Ann at the Worker’s Club. She started to write a letter to Arman but found she didn’t even know where to begin. Margaret overhears this and nods sympathetically.
Sister Ann smiles and points Sarah to her new mentor – Margaret.
Sarah sits in Margaret’s kitchen, coffee in hand.
We hear Margaret’s voice: if you want to communicate with a detainee, you must understand what they are living.
Margaret unfolds a sheet of paper and reads:
My boat has not yet landed
Do you know of Noah's Ark?
Like him I once released a dove
To find a peaceful land and an olive branch
But it has not yet returned
Do you know why? I do not know
But why I do not know, I do not know
It’s part of a poem she received from a detainee who….Sarah presses her to continue.
“I used to know.” is all Margaret will say. She seems standoffish and out of sorts.
She then goes through the basic protocols of letter writing – things she should and should not say, the censorship, the fact that detainees use postage stamps as currency. She finishes with a simple rule – write from the heart.
Sarah sits at her computer. The sound of a football match in the background.
She types. Takes a deep breath and continues typing.
Margaret folds a letter and puts it into an envelope.
Sarah gardens. Ron puts his head over the fence and calls out. Sarah scowls at him. He crawls through the fence and squats next to her. Julia the black shouldered kite is due to be released tomorrow – would she like to come? She shakes her head and then looks up at his kind, unhappy face.
Sarah and Ron walk through light bush to a ridge. He holds a covered carry cage. They stop and he whispers to the cage before removing the covering, opening the door and holding it high above his head.
Julia pokes her head out, looks around and flies onto Sarah’s shoulder. Ron and Sarah try to contain their laughter. “Fly Julia” Ron instructs and the bird tilts its head and flies over them, wheels and heads for the valley. Sarah’s expression of ecstasy.
An expression of near ecstasy remains as she chants with the gathered “Freedom! Azadi!” The worker’s club is packed with supporters. Sister Ann silences the chant and tilts her head to Sarah. Tonight’s ‘my experience’ time will be hers.
Sarah looks around nervously and clears her throat. She received her first letter from Arman and it has made her sadder than ever. She wants to keep writing to him but it seems so futile! And cruel – like talking to someone in a cage. Oh yes, she’s signed petitions and written to the Minister and…here she breaks down, unable to go further. She doesn’t even know what Arman looks like….
People move to put their arms around her. Even Margaret reaches out to take her hand.
Sister Ann stands before Sarah – if she wants to understand and know her friend, she should visit him. Her serious face tilts to a grin – she looks around the room and finds the very young man again. There are ways to – add some excitement to the visit. The young man blushes.
Sister Ann takes Sarah’s hand and for a moment the three woman form a circle.
Sarah and Margaret in an untidy garage. The very young man opens a large bag of Chic nuts and pours them into a bowl. He pulls a fresh, unused packaging bag from a box – a ‘gift’ from a friend of his in the Chic nut factory. He pours half the chic nuts into it, then takes a very small mobile phone and nestles it into the bag, topping it up with Chic nuts before moving to the vacuum heat sealer. He expertly seals the bag and gives it to them to inspect.
Chic nuts are very popular in Baxter, detainees get a lot of them. Of course, he has other ‘untampered with’ foodstuffs that are allowed in Baxter. He allows himself a small laugh.
Margaret nods in approval but Sarah bites her nail nervously.
Sarah and Margaret look closely at a Blackberry. Sarah pushes one button, then another, frowning. She shakes her head, pushes a final button. She jumps as her voice comes from the device: “How do you get this to record?”
The young man nods in approval.
All three are laughing as the young man does a magic trick with an SD card. Now you see it, now you don’t! He hands it to Margaret and turns his back. Sarah points to her hair and Margaret nods, snuggles the SD card into her bun.
When the young man turns around both woman hold out their empty hands.
They sit over coffee and he pulls out a sheaf of papers. Now for the hardest part – filling in the DIMIA form to approve their visit…
The two women walk back to their cars. Their earlier levity is gone. Sarah voices what they’re both thinking – “I’m not sure about this.”
Margaret packs a small gift box. A store-fresh bag of peanuts, a roll of stamps, a phone card. She bites her lip, uncertain.
Sarah turns from her suitcase and stands face to face with David. He tilts his head in disbelief, raises his hands in surrender and turns away. Sarah moves to follow him, hesitates.
Margaret and Sarah at the airport. They look younger, kids off on a great adventure. (perhaps a scene on the plane where it comes home to Sarah what she’s doing).
Their enthusiasm morphs to nervousness as they stand in the guarded reception area of Baxter. Their gifts are carefully examined and placed on a shelf, their pockets and purses emptied and inspected, their mobile phones confiscated. The official examines a small book and hands it back to Margaret. They cannot give the gifts to the detainees personally but they’re told curtly, “They’ll get them.”
The official almost reluctantly waves them through.
Sarah and Margaret wait nervously in the sunny visitor’s room.
The meeting is somewhat unreal. Jamal is not sure which of the women he should go to. Margaret surprises by saying “I am honoured to meet you Jamal.” in impeccable Dari. She holds up her ‘English-Dari’ dictionary and smiles.
Sarah’s eyes widen as Arman enters – she had not expected a tall, good looking man with sad, grey-green eyes.
Disinterested guards watch as the foursome settle down.
Arman’s English is good if over-wordy. Jamal has carefully learned basic phrases. He and Margaret actually laugh as they converse through the dictionary.
Sarah asks Arman about his past. He was born and raised in Darrous, a suburb of Tehran. He stops and Sarah leans towards him to learn more. Arman is hesitant but relates that his Uncle was one of the ‘disappeared’. Then, his brother was arrested and….he stops again and Sarah watches him silently till he continues. His father borrowed money to get him out of the country…now he is here.
As they leave, Sarah tells Arman that she hopes he likes the Chic Nuts. They’ll be back tomorrow. He watches them leave sadly, nods to Jamal and stands.
Walking to their car, Sarah starts to shake.
In their motel room, Sarah declines dinner. She has no appetite. What if they find the mobile? What will happen? Margaret isn’t smiling when she says “Maybe they’ll lock us up too. We could just leave now.”
Morning. The two woman walk towards the entrance gate stiffly. Sarah hides her shaking hands.
A new guard, gruff. He takes their purses and examines the contents before putting them in a locker. He makes a brief call and a female guard comes into the processing area.
On Sarah and Margaret’s growing panic as the female guard tells them to take off their jackets. She searches the pockets and then starts a full body pat down.
Satisfied, she waves them through.
The two take a deep breath and enter the visitor’s area.
Jamal has hand written a letter for Margaret – in English! Words are crossed out here and there. Was it censored? Jamal smiles guiltily – no, he had to cross out his mistakes.
Sarah asks Arman if he got the phone card she left with the officers. He smiles sadly – only ACM phone cards can be used at the centre. He has to purchase them with work.
Arman places his hand over Sarah’s in farewell and palms the SD card to her. Sarah tilts her head, smooths back her hair. She’s no longer shaking.
At the door, the two women turn sadly to their friends, “We’ll be back.” Sarah says and turns so they can’t see her tears.
The hotel room. The two women, tired, sad and deflated, pack wordlessly.
The airport. With uncharacteristic tenderness, Margaret puts her hand on Sarah’s. “We can only do what we can do.”
A flight is announced and the two women watch as guards walk a short, brown-skinned man to check in. He is not cuffed but his elbows are firmly held. He looks defeated – or drugged. Sarah gasps – she thinks she recognises him! She’s sure! She saw him in the yard at Baxter!
They are witnessing a deportation! Without thinking, the two women move as one, shouting, waving their arms, pushing through the line to the border police and their prisoner. Yells, scuffles; the deportee looks at the two women sadly as they are pulled away by security.
A small room and a large security officer. A caution. No charges. “We’re too old to be arrested, huh?” Margaret spits.
On the plane, the two women grow closer as they go over the experience. “I can’t believe we bloody did that.” Sarah says.
The two woman wait for their luggage. They’re home. They’ll stay in touch. Sarah says she feels drained. Perhaps it’s time to get her life back.
At home, Sarah ignores David’s half-sarcastic remarks as she unpacks. She looks at the SD card and hides it in her purse.
Margaret sits quietly, listening to her grandchildren in the background. The soundtrack of the confrontation in the airport plays in her head as she opens an album and gently strokes a photo of a middle eastern looking man.
Sarah sits in the office of Berkeley Educational, a sharp-faced woman frowning at the resume in front of her. The woman sighs, perhaps they’ll give her a trial but she can’t expect standard rates until she’s proven her worth. A beat. Sarah stands and walks to the door. She doesn’t have to prove her worth to anyone but herself!
David’s all too familiar response: “You what??? Turned down a job offer???” Sarah reminds him again that she doesn’t have to work. “You’ve got to do bloody something.” He slams out of the house.
Alone, her insecurity slips back and covers her. Do something. She takes a texta and defaces her fridge – do something! She opens her diary and writes the same two words.
Margaret is in her backyard, head bowed as something burns in the BBQ. Two young children race up in excitement, eager to join in the game. For a moment we glimpse their faces – just a hint of something foreign, a slant of the eyes and a light chocolate colouring. Margaret gathers them in her arms.
Sarah inspects the SD card, pushes it into a slot on her computer and scrolls down to open it. A small, white cell with a camera in the ceiling. A young boy, eyes filled with sadness. Razor wire. A man on his knees, guards pulling his arms behind his back. She closes her eyes but the images remain.
She opens a blank document, types: ‘Educational Resources for Refugees.’ smiles slightly as she shortens this to ERR.
She hesitates and then types: ‘Lesson One: Welcome to Australia children. G’day!’
David looks over her shoulder, pleased that she seems to have a job. Sarah bites down on her anger.
In Sister Ann’s living room, Sarah is surrounded by a multi-cultural circle of rowdy children. “Hello.” She says. A small boy with large eye waves “G’day!” he yells. Sarah laughs. They all laugh. The lesson begins.
The children are restlessly resting. Sarah makes a cup of tea in the kitchen while Sister Ann hunches over her computer.
Sarah turns in shock at the language but Sister Ann has not looked up. “You’d better come sit down.” she orders.
On her screen is an email from ‘Project Safe Haven’. Sister Ann explains quickly - it’s an email group run by someone known only as ‘Jack’ – a man who seems to have a lot of inside info on DIMIA and the detention centres. Sarah should join it. ”Oh shit.” The old woman says again and now Sarah’s really worried. Sister Ann says she’s afraid that Margaret’s seen the email.
Sarah grows impatient so Margaret walks her through it.
An advocate in SA has brought an action against DIMIA over their arrest of a ‘people smuggler’. Two detainees have made statements claiming the man did not charge but brought people here to save their lives. The advocate wants the detainees to testify in court.
Sarah doesn’t understand – isn’t that a good thing? Sister Ann almost spits in anger. DIMIA/Border Force will do anything to stop them testifying. They desperately want a people smuggler conviction to act as a deterrent. Shaking her head, Sister Ann tells Sarah of an Iranian who was a similar witness to a non-charging ‘smuggler’. Advocate lawyers wanted that one to go to court but the detainee was deported in the dead of night prior to the trial. Back to Iran. Probably dead now.
Sarah adds her own “Oh shit.” but Sister Ann isn’t finished.
The two detainees to testify are Hamid Zahdeh and Jamal Mehdi. Yes, Margaret’s Jamal. Sister Ann picks up the phone.
Alice is standing by her mother when she gets the call. Margaret listens for a moment and then lets out a half cry and starts to collapse. Alice catches her, grabs the phone and demands to know who’s calling. Sister Ann blinks, “A friend, with bad news.” Alice slams the phone down and faces Margaret.
She demands to know what’s going on. Why the secrecy? What bad news?? Margaret shakes her head and sits down heavily, “Not now. Please, not now.”
Sister Ann is gathering up folders, “Let’s go.”
She and Sarah pull up outside Margaret’s house just as Alice and the kids are driving away.
Margaret’s printer is churning out paper as they enter. Margaret waves at the growing pile. “The Iranian case, appeals, names of pollies…” her wave becomes a weak flapping of the hand as she sinks back into the chair. Sarah and Sister Ann move to comfort her.
Sister Ann looks around for a phone. It’s time to call ‘Jack’.
Some frustration as they try to figure out how to put it on speakerphone.
The conversation is brief. It’s been done before. There are ways and means of making it happen. It depends on what they’re willing to do. Margaret grows impatient – ‘what’s been done before?’ Jack tells them that Sister Ann knows. He can organise a team for them in Adelaide.
The three women sit on the verandah, not touching their coffee. Sister Ann lays it out. Either they go through the formal channels to protect Jamal or – they get him out.
Sarah is flabbergasted – it’s impossible! Crazy! Razor wire, guards – it’s a high security prison! Margaret looks thoughtful, asks for details.
Sister Ann plays with their spoons, moving them around like characters in the plan.
The only way to get any detainee out is getting them to hospital. Has to be serious stuff. Sewn lips, suicide attempts and even broken bones are treated in the centre. Jamal must present something life threatening. Or something that appears life threatening.
There’s silence for a moment before Margaret asks, “What?” Sister Ann smiles and puts the spoons back.
Jack will need to get syrup of Ipecac to Jamal and, when the time comes, he will have to bleed himself – a lot. The Ipecac will make him vomit – profusely. The 100ml of blood he drains from himself is to be split in half – 50ml to be drunk some minutes before he raises the alarm and the second 50ml to be kept in his mouth for a bit of dramatic and bloody gagging when they come to his cell. This gagging and general bloodiness to be followed, if all goes well, with blood-tinged projectile vomiting and a trip to Port Augusta Hospital.
Here Sarah and Margaret will be on their own. Jack’s team can’t afford to be seen in the area.
Sarah sits, stunned, shaking her head ’no’. It’s so risky - and illegal…
Sister Ann shrugs – if Sarah won’t do it, she will.
Sarah and Margaret prepare: pouring over maps of the Port Augusta/Baxter area, practicing (badly) with two way radios, shopping for hiking boots…
Instructional emails from Jack that they read out to each other: a list of things they should do or not do. During all of this, Sarah occasionally stops and shakes her head, bites her lip.
Margaret packs, nervous and excited, spirits high. A grandchild asks where she’s going. ‘Camping.’ she responds and then has to explain that no – he can’t come with her!
Sarah packs. There is a new glow to her – nervousness and excitement combined.
The instructions continue. They are to take Jamal to the camp and leave him there. GPS coordinates will be given to them. His ‘team’ will pick Jamal up once the roadblocks are down.
David at the bedroom door. Sarah doesn’t even look at him as she says ‘Don’t say it. OK?’
‘You’re beautiful when you’re mad.’ he responds and moves to embrace her.
She stiffens, undecided. Their lovemaking is surprisingly passionate.
David sleeps. Sarah looks from his face to the packed suitcase. She bites her lip.
Over breakfast, he stares at her intently. “Don’t do it, Sas.”
The women wait to board their flight. Sarah still looks undecided.
Margaret, at a window seat, looks down at the brown land. Jack’s instructions continue. They are to fly home immediately and await word. The key thing – don’t panic.
Margaret looks on the point of panicking – what’s a GPS?
In their hotel room, the two black clad women sit facing each other, reciting their roles as though rehearsing a play. Two hire cars. Margaret to park in Miles St, two blocks from the hospital. Sarah to park behind tall shrubs near the emergency entrance.
Jamal has instructions to be ‘unconscious’. When they pull the gurney from the ambulance, he is to leap off and run like buggery towards the shrubs, leap through them and into her back seat.
Sarah will drive to Miles St and transfer Jamal to Margaret’s car. Sarah will then lead the expected tails on a wild goose chase.
A deep breath, the women shake hands and it’s time to go.
All to plan. The ambulance enters the detention centre at 8:15pm and roars out again at 8.45pm.
Sarah sits in her idling car, headlights off. She can just see the emergency entrance through a break in the shrubs. The ambulance arrives and she cranes her head to watch. The gurney is pulled from the ambulance and she sees Jamal – bound to the gurney with Plasti-cuffs!
“Oh god.” she moans then claps her hands over her mouth.
The gurney is wheeled into the hospital. OK OK OK Sarah whispers to herself, just wait, wait…
She glances at her watch – 9.10pm. Wait.
Her watch reads 9.30 pm. Wait, she whispers but now it’ a question – quickly answered by distant sirens that grow closer. Police cars in rear view mirror, racing towards the emergency entrance. Her hand wobbles so badly she has trouble putting the car in gear.
A police car, siren blaring, rushes past her and Sarah pushes the two way under her skirt and prepares to surrender. It doesn’t stop but turns into the emergency entrance.
Sarah waits a moment and then slowly pulls out onto the road.
As she does so, a voice squawks from under her skirt.
“What’s going on?? What’s going on??? There are police everywhere!”
A pause and Sarah seems to remember their careful script, “Momma bear, this is baby bear, there are bad bears everywhere!!! Meet you at home, no further communication.”
The two sit in their hotel room, the shaking over and the tears beginning.
Margaret is beside herself with grief and guilt. She’s done her best, she tells herself but this doesn’t help.
The next morning, Jack’s voice over the phone is terse. Jamal was able to get a message to a friend.
He did play unconscious – very realistically. The duty nurse insisted that the cuffs be removed and, once freed, Jamal leapt from the gurney, ran down the corridor – and got lost.
Realising he’d never find his way out of the cavernous hospital, he had the good sense to start babbling and offered no resistance when the police found him. He’s in isolation, of course. The two women are to fly home immediately.
Margaret looks down at the brown land as they fly out of Adelaide. Sarah takes her hand sadly. She’s had it, it is the end of the road. No more. Time to get her life back together.
Back home, Margaret plays her last card and asks for a meeting with Julian Burnside QC. To her surprise, he agrees. He listens to her story and sighs – he’ll get what legal wheels are available rolling to protect Jamal. He pauses a moment and then tells her there are other avenues: “Marriage will not advance a refugee claim, but could provide humanitarian grounds for a visa at a later date.”
David pulls files out of his briefcase, looks over at Sarah. Maybe it’s for the best, he says. If she’s giving up this refugee business it gives her more time for them. Their relationship. Perhaps even think about marriage. They could honeymoon somewhere exotic. He’s got long service leave and she’s free. Sarah glances at the fridge – do something!
Sarah watches the children as they settle for their lesson. There’s a sadness to her the children seem to sense. She sighs and gathers up paper and coloured pencils. Today they’re going to draw pictures of their life.
Julian brings Margaret into his office. She declines coffee and he gets straight to the point. DIMIA have managed to quash witness statements in the trial of the alleged people smuggler. The ‘smuggler’ will probably be jailed. That’s the bad news. The good news? Jamal and Hamid are no longer a threat. This doesn’t mean the department won’t find some way to deport them but, for now, they’re safe.
Sarah blu tacs the children’s pictures to her fridge door. Some of the little figures are dancing, some gazing through wire, one stick child holds an enormous flower.
David’s shadow falls over her. Has she thought about it? Her silence tells him. She starts to say ‘I need some time.’ But he interrupts. Yes, he needs some time as well! Time alone to think about what he wants. Up to now it’s been all about her and whatever cause has caught her fancy.
He packs but pointedly leaves many of his possessions behind.
Sarah walks around her house, caught between sadness and – what is it? Relief?
Sarah sits in front of the children, reading an ‘alphabet’ book to them. Sister Ann appears and tells the children it’s play time. Confused, they look between Sarah and Sister Ann but, being children, they jump to their feet and run to the play room.
Sister Ann motions Sarah to her small office. An email from Jack, she says simply. He’s sent a list of detainees who are to have their ‘status reviewed’. This is DIMIA-speak for pre-deportation. 7 names on the list. Arman Zahrouni at the bottom.
Sarah sits down weakly. What have they done? Do DIMIA know about her and Margaret and Jamal??? Sister Ann is shaking her head ‘no’ but Sarah is far away. ‘All my men are going away…’ she whispers.
Go home now, Sister Ann tells her. She and Margret will come round after dinner.
Margaret and Sister Ann tidy the mess Sarah has made of the living room. Sarah sits, hardly noticing. The two older women sit opposite her. “I shouldn’t have anything to do with men.” Sarah half weeps.
“Bit old to become a switch hitter aren’t you?” Sister Ann quips but Sarah is shocked. How can she joke at a time like this??? Sister Ann gives a knowing look to Margaret. “What better time to laugh?”
Margaret is calming and more focussed than we’ve seen her. She and Sister Ann have a better plan for getting Arman out from behind the wire. Sarah stands and paces – no way! She won’t do it! She can’t go through it again and fail! They put their arms around her, they hold her tight. It’s OK, they understand. It’s OK. They’ll be back in the morning.
Sarah wanders through her house like a zombie, unable to check her emails, unable to eat or sleep.
It’s dawn and she still hasn’t slept. Her phone rings and she lets it ring. Sister Ann leaves a message – the children are having a home day, there’s no reason for her to come in.
She is combing her hair when the phone rings again. She lets it ring. David’s voice is casual, almost cheerful as he says he’s moving back in. Her eyes widen in surprise – then anger.
She’s packing. His books and his boots and his stupid coffee cup.
She places his belonging neatly on her front verandah, puts a sealed envelope on top.
The phone call wakes Margaret. It’s Sarah. “Let’s do it.”
The three women walk through a park, sit on a bench and watch the dog walkers.
Sister Ann and Jack have a better idea for Arman. She lays it out.
There is no dentist in the centre so a cracked tooth (self-inflicted and rather impressive) will get Arman out from behind the wire with two (hopefully bored) guards. Given the age of our heroines, seducing the guards is out of the question. So - Arman will be smuggled two capsules of the diarrhoea inducing Naproxen. The dental surgery has toilets down a hallway that also leads to a rear door. It will be up to Arman to get himself from the dentist’s rooms to the toilet to the grey sedan waiting in the shopping centre car-park. And it will be up to the women to spirit him away. Once again, the support team cannot afford to be seen near the action. The bush camp will be resurrected. The women will leave Arman there and fly home. When the roadblocks are down, the ‘team’ will collect him.
Deja vu all over again Sarah whispers but Margaret is having none of that, “Not this time, sister, this time we get our man.” Sarah has to smile. The three try to do ‘fist bumps’ but mistime and end up laughing.
Sarah packs. Shorts and tops and hiking boots, face cream, sun screen. David’s belongings still sit on the verandah but there’s a new envelope sitting on top, addressed to her. She picks it up, turns it over and puts it back. She has a thought and rushes into the house, picks up the phone, dial. “Janet please, tell her it’s NoNo Sarah.” She smiles. When Janet comes on, Sarah tells her to cancel the valuation. Janet laughs, she’s already done the valuation! Sarah frowns but Janet is still cheerful – “Let’s see, here it is…’Not worth it’.”
Janet asks if she’ll see her Friday.
Not this Friday she replies.
Now it is Sarah looking out the aeroplane window at the brown earth below.
In their Adelaide motel room, the women are nervous. Margaret tries to lighten things: “We’re getting to be old hands at this…” but Sarah shakes her head. She’s had an idea – they need to have a baby in the car. How could two older women with a baby between them look suspicious? Good idea.
Sarah paces, opens her mouth to speak and closes it again. Margaret waits. Sarah sighs and admits her relationship seems to be over but part of her wants him back. Once again, she seems unable to make up her mind. Margaret looks at her – perhaps she should give some thought to what really makes her happy. A memory flashes through Sarah’s mind. The children, ‘G’day!’ Laughter.
Sarah asks Margaret what brought her to all this. Margaret hesitates and then takes out a photo of Waleed, her late Lebanese husband. He was never allowed to become a citizen but at least they didn’t lock him up. She seems on the point of saying more but stops.
Looks pointedly at Sarah – and what brought her to all this?
Sarah stands and walks nervously around the room, not looking at Margaret. She doesn’t know – maybe the children. Margaret won’t comment so Sarah continues. She’s not able to have children and when she and David first got together they agreed to try to adopt. Not easy at their age. In the end, a young boy from Sri Lanka was their only option. The silence lasts so long Margaret prompts her - “And??”
Sarah tries to shrug it off. David didn’t want a – dark – child.
Sarah lies in the dark, unable to sleep.
Morning. Coffee and the remains of their breakfast on the small table.
Sarah pulls on jeans and hiking boots. Time to check out the camp. From the air we see the grey sedan turn off the highway, travel along a short stretch of paved road and then onto a dirt road and finally onto a dirt track. It disappears for a moment end then reappears and travels down the dirt road a little further to a second dirt track. We hear the women arguing as they try to find the camp.
The sedan drives through an open gate and further down an ever-narrowing track. It stops and the two women get out, look around. Dense bush. Sarah checks the GPS and motions to a narrow opening that could be a track. They push their way through the low branches and vines, swatting at mosquitoes. Margaret screeches and claws at her neck. A large leech has attached itself to her. Sarah looks at it in horror, ‘Don’t pull it off!’ She drags Margaret back to the car, scrabbles for a small bottle of tea tree oil and sprinkles it on the leech. It twitches twice and falls off.
The hotel room door flies open and the two enter, dirty and out of sorts. Margaret holds a bloody tissue to her neck. While Margaret cleans the wound, Sarah paces.
She’s convinced the team hasn’t put enough food and water at the camp. They need to buy more – and better. And they need something to stop the leeches…
In the morning Margaret is distracted and snappy as Sarah shops for food, water, a baby seat, insect repellents and a rather realistic toy baby. They stop for a coffee and Sarah gulps hers down and tells Margaret to wait, she has to pop into the camping shop.
In the car together, Margaret asks what she bought – ‘Just more stuff.’ Sarah says unhelpfully.
In the motel room, they change into casual clothes and lace up their walking boots.
Their grey sedan pulls into the parking lot adjacent the dental surgery. They wait. Margaret pushes her door open, she’s going to watch from the little park beside the parking lot. Just in case.
At last an ACM van pulls in and parks outside of the dentist’s office. Flanked by two officers, Arman gets out and looks around. For a moment his eyes meet Sarah’s. He turns away.
Sarah takes a deep breath, looks around for Margaret, who’s disappeared.
The two guards and Arman stand at the reception desk. The receptionist motions them too wait. Arman farts loudly. One of the guards waves away the smell with a curse. Arman starts to bob. He needs to go – badly! As if to make his point, he farts again. The receptionist frowns, holds out a form and points to the ‘Toilet’ sign. The larger of the two guards grabs the form and a pen and smiles rather maliciously as he points the second guard to the toilets. ‘Thanks a lot’ the second guard mouths. He keeps his distance while holding Arman’s elbow, moving to the toilet area. It’s a short, narrow hallway and Arman’s frantic bobbing is annoying the guard. He pushes Arman into the cubicle and turns his back to guard it. From the cubicle comes the sound of explosive diarrhoea, more farting and moans. The guard claps his hand over his mouth and nose and seems about to throw up. He waves away the smell and trots down the corridor, taking up guard back in the reception area. The first guard looks at him quizzically. “All yours buddy” the second guard mouths pointing over his shoulder at the toilet block and the first guard actually laughs.
Margaret stands looking over the rear of the surgery. A sound behind her catches her attention and she twirls around, scanning the bush. Behind her we see Arman dash from a small door and wheel towards the parking lot.
Sarah sees him and gives a silent scream, of relief, throws her arm out impulsively and knocks the head off the ‘baby’. Motor on, car in gear. She’s shaking and twisting her head to watch Arman’s progress. She loses him and moans. Then, the back door opens and Arman throws himself onto the floor, pulling the door closed.
Sarah is making sounds that might be relief. She slowly turns the car and heads to the exit.
“Shit! Margaret!” she has to U turn to go back. Margaret runs towards the car, slowing to a trot as the two guards run from the surgery. She gets into the passenger seat. “Where is he???” she whisper shouts. Sarah smiles. “Shut up.” The guards scan the parking lot, giving little notice to two old women in a car with a headless baby. The first guard points to a van and they both rush towards it.
The grey sedan pulls slowly onto the highway and heads east.
Sarah is talking too fast. Margaret twists in her seat and looks in back, giving a loud moan of relief. “Stay down Arman, stay down, stay down.” He stays down.
From the air, the grey sedan makes its way to the camp.
Sarah follows the tyre tracks they left on their first visit, slows and stops at the gate. She gets out and closes it and now we see the sign – ‘Forestry Land, No Trespassing’. Margaret looks at her quizzically but says nothing. Sarah drives on, parks the sedan under a massive Fig tree. A moment’s silence, the ticking of the engine as it cools. Sarah and Margaret let out a loud ‘Whoa!!!” and Arman sits up. Pandemonium.
Out of the car, the three face each other. Arman is shaking slightly. The woman move to hug him but he stiffens slightly, steps back and collapses on the boot of the car. “Is this real?” he asks. A chorus of noisy galahs overhead assures him it is. He grips his mouth, the pain of the broken tooth returning. Margaret goes through a small black bag and pulls out a painkiller).
Arman, more composed, sits pulling on a pair of slightly too-large walking boots. Margaret is explaining to him that he’ll have to stay in the camp for a few days on his own. She stops and looks at Sarah, who is pulling a large canvas bag out of the boot. Then a backpack, then a second backpack. Margaret moves to the canvas bag – is this a tent? Sarah smiles – big enough for two – and she’s got two sleeping bags. Margaret frowns unhappily.
The three of them walk through thick bush. Arman carries the tent and juggles a backpack on his free arm. Sarah and Margaret also wear backpacks. Margaret limps slightly and mumbles. Sarah stops and turns to her – did she really think she was going to just dump their ‘city boy’ in the bush and hope he coped?? Margaret waves her arm in resignation. Arman looks embarrassed.
They walk on. Sarah stops and frowns at the GPS, looks to her left and right and shakes her head. Arman moves to the right and points out very faint footprints on the leaf littered ground. They move right.
The little camp sits in a shadowed clearing. Just a tent with a camouflage tarp, nothing more.
Margaret stumbles as they approach it, drops her backpack in relief.
Arman goes through the contents of his tent – a camp stove, eskies, torches, food, large containers of water. Sarah is unpacking her own tent but having problems. Arman smiles and moves to help her. They erect the little two man tent beneath a massive, dense canopied tree. Margaret sits with her back against a tree, exhausted.
It is nearly dark. A saucepan sits on the camp stove, bubbling. The three sit around it, swatting mosquitos. Uneasy small talk. Sarah break the impasse, turning to Arman and thanking him for the photos he sent via the SD card. They were quite…she looks for the word – confronting.
Arman frowns, perhaps not understanding. Sarah tries again – they were very - sad. What they showed looked nothing like the bright visitor’s room.
Arman tenses, looks down. When he looks up, his eyes are harder, his lips thin.
‘They make the visitor’s room – how you say? Pretty?.”
The two women are a little embarrassed, not sure how far to take the conversation. Sarah tries to break the tension, pouring boiling water into their mugs and raising a toast.
Torchlight snags around the bush. Sarah holds it, pushing through the tangled undercover, Margaret a step behind her. The torch is turned off. Far enough, Sarah says. Did you bring toilet paper? Margaret asks. ‘Tissues.’
The rustling tinkle of wee on leafs. “I didn’t bring any pyjamas.” Margaret whispers and Sarah laughs softly, “Roughing it.”
Arman stands outside his tent, head bowed. The women stand outside theirs. “Goodnight Arman.” He nods once and pushes into his tent.
Arman lies in his sleeping bag, eyes wide, still angry.
The guards enter the visitor’s room and motion Jamal and Arman out of the room.
As they reach the door, a commotion breaks out, screaming, yelling, then sirens. “Cert! Cert!” over the PA. Arman and Jamal trot towards the noise but a line of guards keeps the growing crowd at bay. Arman looks around, sees an acquaintance and speaks to him quickly. The man shakes his head, upset.
Hamid Reeza, young Hamid..
The man shouts to another detainee, asking a question.
They say shampoo, he could find no poison…
In his sleeping bag, Arman turns over and covers his head.
A man stands at his cell door, his lips roughly sewn shut.
A young boy cries at the razor wire fence.
A mother cradles her infant, weeping uncontrollably.
In his tent, Arman turns over, unable to sleep.
In Sarah’s tent, Margaret is tucked into her sleeping bag. Sarah lies on top of hers, trying to get undressed in the too small space. She gives up, crawls into her sleeping bag half dressed.
A raucous chorus wakes all three at dawn. Crows, Kookaburras and Parrots all try to outdo each other in their wake-up calls. The three look up at the loud and colourful burst of birds flying over the canopy.
Breakfast is cereal, powdered milk, coffee and dried fruit. Margaret clears her throat. The three of them may be here for a few days so perhaps a few – rules – may be needed. One – they need some privacy. Arman suggests he could move his tent further into the dense bush but Margaret indicates the camouflage tarp hanging over Arman’s tent – it could be strung up to make a dividing wall.
They are stringing up the tarp when the low thrump-thrump of a helicopter in the distance freezes them. Arman quickly unties the tarp and begins to put it back over his tent. Sarah looks up at the dense canopy – they can’t see through it, surely?
The thrump-thrump grows closer. Arman looks up and now we hear not just the approaching helicopter but machine gun fire, missiles, bombs, screams. His eyes widen but he shakes his head and motions the women under the tarp.
The three squat side by side as the helicopter grows louder, then softer, then louder again.
A glint of sun reflects off something shiny in the clearing and they flinch. The sound of the helicopter grows softer. Silence but for the birds.
Margaret closes her eyes in exhaustion. “I think we have to get out of here.”
Sarah shakes her head – where to?
Arman tightens the ropes holding up the tarp, hiding his tent and giving them a covered area. Sarah uses a knife to cut the flooring from her tent. Margaret and Sarah string up the tent floor to make a privacy wall.
Late afternoon. The three sit round the camp stove. It’s been placed under the camouflage tarp. Instant soup. Sarah empties a bag of rolls onto a plate. Margaret takes a sip of the soup and cries out, clutches her chest. Hold up her hand to indicate she’s all right.
Dusk. Margaret tidies around the camp stove. There’s a scream and Sarah appears, half undressed. She is too terrified to speak – points towards the dividing tarp. Margaret stands to investigate but Arman moves her gently aside and moves behind the makeshift wall. ‘Ahh ahh!’ he cries out and then something loud in Farsi. He reappears, trying without success to look calm. ‘It’s a…’ Sarah can’t say the word but the 2 metre python that slithers from behind the divider makes it unnecessary. Arman tries to move the women further away, as frightened of the python as they are. It looks at them and then slithers back where it came from.
Sarah sits under Arman’s tarp, wrapped in her jacket. “I’ll sleep here tonight.” Margaret and Arman exchange a look. He stands, searches for a suitable branch and goes behind the tarp. Loud shouts in Farsi, the banging of the branch as he ‘clears’ an area around the girls’ tent. Margaret tries to contain a giggle but Sarah shoots her a venomous look.
In their tent, neither of them sleep. Sarah is angry. OK, she has a phobia about snakes – doesn’t everyone have a phobia? Margaret is tired and doesn’t want to argue but Sarah persists, this ‘team’ of Jack’s that Margaret organised – where are they? There’s enough food for two people for another few days but not three. Suddenly she shrieks. Something moved! It was my foot, Margaret answers, now getting testy herself.
Margaret waits a moment before asking ‘Do you want me to go?’
Sarah’s temper slips away, if anyone should go, it’s her. Margaret props up on an elbow, looks into the dark at Sarah. “Don’t trust yourself alone with him, huh? Oh sorry, sorry…”
The two women turn their backs on each other.
Morning. Their mood has not improved as they crawl out of their tent. Arman is standing scanning the sky. “Safe?” Sarah asks and he nods and then turns to a 4 litre container of water, opens it and starts to tip it over his head.
The two women screech at the same time and lunge for the emptying container, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” Margaret shouts, though she knows.
He looks genuinely confused and a little angry, “I must wadhu before Fajr.”
Arman feels their bad luck is because he has not honoured Fajr. Each day, he must make 5 prayers and there is a need for absolute cleanliness before his God.
Margaret turns her back and it is Sarah who lines up the 3 containers of water they have left and makes it clear that it is for drinking only. She motions Armen to follow her to a dry creek they had passed, bends down and picks up the clean white sand from the bed and uses it to scrub her face and hands.
Over breakfast, tensions ease al little when Arman asks where he will be going. ‘Melbourne’, he is told. A community of Iranians who will house him, hide him and even give him a job. “I would like to go to Surfing Paradise.” He replies. “I have seen pictures. It is Australia.”
The two women look at each other with raised eyebrows and their hostility goes down a notch.
It goes down yet another notch as they gather dried twigs around the camp. Margaret tells Sarah of the advice she got from Julian Burnside – if she’s able to marry Jamal, it may help his chances for a visa. Sarah is thrilled but Margaret laughs a little bitterly – “10 years and three inches difference but hey – maybe I can talk DIMIA into believing in true love.”
They clear up after breakfast. The dried cereal is nearly gone. They’ve got a bag of oats, dried nuts, instant soup, tea, instant coffee, chocolate and some very stale biscuits. No more gas for the camp stove.
Sarah scratches her numerous mosquito bites, asks Margaret if she has the stop itch. Margaret indicates her handbag and Sarah searches through it, finding a half empty pill packet and examines it. Margaret’s hand lashes out, grabs the packet from Sarah. “What is it?” Sarah wants to know. Margaret quivers with rage – or is it fear? For the first time we hear her yell – none of her business. Nothing! Maybe Sarah should leave and look for help!
Sarah drops onto the ground and starts rocking in anguish, scratching, crying. Margaret stands over her, tight lipped. This is how Arman finds them as he comes out from the thick bush. He stands for a moment looking at the scene and then drops to the ground and holds his head. He must go, it is all his fault. They must leave him. He mournfully resorts to Farsi.
The two woman look at his sad figure, than at each other. The move to sit in front of him. Sarah gently touches his head. “We’ve won the war, now we just have to win the battle.” Margaret says and Sarah looks at her with a new respect.
That night, Sarah sleeps soundly while Margaret lies awake. Very softly, we hear Arman speaking in Farsi. Margaret listens for a moment and then closes her eyes.
The back of Margaret’s head. Alan stands facing her, his face twisted in anger. He screams that she has broken the family, broken everything that was good. She tries to reason – “My son…” but he nearly spits at her as he says he is no longer her son, turns his back and walks away.
Day 4. Sarah tries to make amends with Margaret but the older woman has drawn into herself. While Arman is hunting down wild fruit, Sarah finally faces her. They may never by best friends but they have to support each other. She wants to know what’s wrong and she won’t take silence for an answer. It takes a long time for Margaret to answer. Jamal wasn’t her first ‘friend’ in detention. Her first friend in Baxter was deported. He’s probably dead now. Or wishing he were. Sarah moves to comfort her but Margaret shakes her head. She had a good marriage until Waleed’s extended family came to Australia. Devout Muslims, they tore the marriage apart. Margaret hesitates. “I left him. I lost my son. And I dobbed his youngest cousin in to the police. He was dealing drugs but…” she takes a deep breath, “It brought shame onto Waleed. He died. I killed him.”
A shadow falls over them. Arman. “The wrong honour killed your husband. Not you.” He searches for words, angry. He sits beside Margaret and takes her hand. “You did not kill Waleed, his family did.”
Margaret closes her eyes, something flows off her like a tired jacket. She cries but it is freedom not remorse.
Their joy and comradeship comes to an abrupt end the next morning. The sound of motorcycles or cars in the bush. Close enough to be terrifying. Sarah tilts her head and whispers that she thinks they’re getting closer. They’ve found them! How could they? Arman stands, “They have come for me, not you. Remain here.” He starts to walk towards the noisy disturbance but both woman lunge for him and drag him back. They will not let him give himself up! If he goes, they all go!
The whispered argument ends when they realise the sound of engines has stopped. They don’t move, they don’t speak, they wait.
There is no fire that evening and little conversation. Arman wants to dismantle the camp and move further into the bush. Perhaps tomorrow…
But the next morning brings the sound of the ‘search party’ again. Margaret and Sarah crawl from their tent and whisper for Arman. He is gone! The women pull on their shoes and run towards the sound of engines.
The find Arman on a slight rise, angled against a tree, watching a cleared area below.
Four quadbikes do skid-wheelies in the muddy clearing. Kids. They rev their bikes and head off.
Day 5. The water is running low and they agree on strict rations. Ditto the food.
The atmosphere in the camp is desolate.
That evening, a large bang makes the three of them jump. With no warning, the clear blue sky turns a swirling grey-green and a downpour follows as though someone had opened the taps above them.
They stand in silence and then laughter, dancing and twirling in the rain. They find a bar of soap and shriek as they wash the grit from their face and arms. Then, soaked through, the three of them stand and look around at the harsh bush and the hard ground and the hostile shadows and it’s transformed. Birds skirrup in the trees, the brown leaves turn green and the patter of large raindrops on the ground seem like God’s applause for their daring. Without a word, the three join hands and looked upwards at a golden lance of sun that has found a break in the clouds before setting for the night.
The dry creek bed fills and runs clear water for their bathing. Arman finds fat, juicy grubs that he insists on cooking over a fire. Not far from the camp is a tortuously old tree that bears a seedy, sour fruit. Early one morning, a young wallaby comes to inspect their camp and the three of them look at it and see food. “Where’s your boomerang, Arman?” Margaret asks and the next hour is filled with talk of the aboriginals and how they had lived on this land for tens of thousands of years.
“Before Muhammed…” Arman whispers and stands to walk into the bush.
Later, they find him by the dry creek bed, cleaning his hands with sand.
He looks up at them and smiles - with his eyes and his lips and his soul, “This is Australia.” he says.
Day 6. Their packaged food is gone, their water low and the creek bed dry again. Margaret laces up her hiking boots, “Time I went and got us some help.” Sarah moves as though to stop her but Margaret shakes her head.
Alone together, Arman picks through the gnarled fruit he has gathered while Sarah watches him from a distance. His firm back, chiselled features and grey green eyes. She shakes herself, “Stupid old woman.” she mutters. As she enters their camp he looks up and smiles,
“You are a beautiful woman…” he says and Sarah stops dead in her tracks. “Here…” he touches his chest, “where it lasts.”
As dark falls they nod and move to their separate tents. Sarah lies smiling in the dark.
The next morning, Margaret is back with two sheepish looking young men. “Sorry, bit of a stuff up.” one mutters. “Don’t ask.” Margaret adds, not smiling.
They walk out single file, our three lingering at the rear. It will be their final moments together. They reach the dirt road and the unmarked van that will take Arman to his new home.
He turns to them, lowers his head and whispers, “Always in my heart. You shall live here…” he thumps his chest “for you have given me life…and we shall meet again...” he falters, turns and walks towards the Kombi. “Inshallah.” Sarah says and for a moment he hesitates as though he would turn back to them. But he cannot. A man cannot let women see his tears.
The women stand, arms entwined, their own tears free to flow. Behind them, the bush explodes as a flock of Galahs rise from the scrub, wheel and head back to their home.
Sarah turns to Margaret and opens her mouth as though to speak.
Margaret shakes her head, “We may never be BFFs…” she smiles at her own knowledge of youth speak. “But you are one fine lady, never forget that.”
Sarah walks into a makeshift classroom where her refugee children await her. “G’DAY!” she calls out to them. “G’DAY!” they chorus.
In her backyard, Margaret sits playing with her raucous grandchildren. Alice appears and tries to enforce some order – it’s time to take the children home. Margaret looks at her daughter and smiles. Let them play. Alice raises her arms in happy resignation. “I love you mum.”
Sarah weeds in her garden. Ron comes to the fence and raises a cage, smiles at her.
“Brown Goshawk. Nestling. Want to come and meet her?”
She smiles back.
Sarah walks into her living room and looks around at the new habitat she has created. Children’s pictures cover the walls. The TV is dark. The ‘do something!’ scribble on her fridge has been covered with a picture of Arman and Margaret, taken at the bush camp.
She walks into what was David’s study – now a crowded, colourful classroom
While the grandchildren wait impatiently, Margaret puts her arms around her daughter, “I love you too.”
In her pyjamas, Sarah hums as she prepares breakfast. She turns on the radio, listens for a moment and then turns it off again. “I’ll make my own news.” she sings and dances towards her front door. Flyers in the letter box. The local paper folded neatly. A white envelope, return address simply ‘Margaret’
Sarah sips her coffee and opens the letter from Margaret. Two lines and a signature.
Please marry Jamal.
She frowns. Picks up the phone and dials. Margaret’s voice: Please leave a message…
She dials again. Sister Ann hesitates before answering the phone. She knows who it will be. “Sarah?”
Sarah pushes through Sister Ann’s front door and follows the old woman into her small office. Sister Ann motions Sarah to a chair and then swings her own round to face her.
Margaret had known for quite some time. She refused to tell anyone, even her own daughter. She had hoped to live long enough to marry Jamal but…the old woman shrugs sadly and looks down.
The two women sit in silence that is slowly filled with the excited voices of children.
A wooded hill, the trees festooned with kites and lanterns, wrapped in bunting. Sarah, Sister Ann, Alice and dozens of people from the Refugee Support Association stand watching the children who are busy putting the finishing touches to a very large kite with a long, colourful tail. Sister Ann steps forward. The children turn quietly to watch her.
Margaret did not want a mournful wake. She wanted her friends to celebrate what they have done – and will do – and face the future with freedom in their hearts. Today, the children will send their dear Margaret off in the best way possible.
Sister Ann turns to the children who whisper to each other, jostling the oldest to step forward. The young lad takes the kite, takes a deep breath and starts to run down the hill, holding it aloft.
He stumbles, recovers. Cheers and shouts urge him on. He releases the kite and lets the wind swing it skywards. The gathered fall into silence as the kite twists and turns and rises gracefully into the sky.
Sarah eyes follow the trajectory of the kite - and then down at the small English-Dari dictionary she holds.