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Sport 35: Winter 2007

Michelle Arathimos — The Hitch

page 78

Michelle Arathimos

The Hitch

There are two of them, a boy and a girl. They are hitching out of one of the major cities. They are hitching home. As they get out of the grey car the woman driving hands the girl a tinfoil package. It is the size of a thimble. When the grey car drives away the girl looks inside.

'It's good shit,' she says.

They hoist their packs on and head down the road to a place where cars can stop more easily. To one side is an antiquated petrol station, the kind with run-down buses outside, waiting for some hippy to buy them for a hundred bucks and fix them up.

'Check out those buses!' he says. 'Imagine. We could live in one.' They smile into each other's eyes for quite a while, forgetting their packs strapping sharply into their shoulders, the rough wind. Traffic passes, they keep looking.

They thumb the road. She dances, hands up, appealing to the oncoming cars. The motorway is four lanes wide, the edge dropping off to gravel where they shuffle, toeing the rough stones. The farmland slopes confidently up on either side, dry-grassed, brown, rising hugely into the distance. There is a faint baaing of sheep. Above them the sky is wide and grey, empty as the surface of the sea. They are optimistic. Time wears on a little. There is a moment where they must put down their packs and fall silent, staying thumbs out to the road, setting their feet, when it is no longer purely fun. They put this moment off. Then he puts down his pack first, and takes out an orange.

The peel is in the gutter and he's sitting on his pack when they hear a train. The tracks are behind them, on the other side of the petrol station, the railings rusted and obsolete-looking, like dead boats. The train is a surprise. They had hardly noticed the tracks before, passing quietly behind the old buses. They were just part of the landscape.

'Come on!' she yells, and he gets up. She runs to the other side of the verge to look at the place in the distance where the train is page 79coming fast. He runs to her side, grins. The train is coming. The train is all rush and noise, thunder and movement and speed, a cacophony of mechanics. The train is the train is the train is coming, and she puts out her thumb and laughs. He kisses her quickly on the temple, pulling her for a moment against his warm side, and she looks up into his face and then he puts his thumb out too.

And the train is the train is the train is passing, but then as it rushes and whips and floats the dust against their legs it makes a screeching noise, a groan, a sound like it's wrestling shrieking moaning itself to a halt. It is! But is it? It is! It's slowing down! The front of the train is way past them now, it's down the track past the petrol station but with a great huff and shudder and weighty complaint it's slowing, it's grinding, it's trying to stop.

They drop their thumbs, meet eyes.

'Let's go!' he says and they run for their bags, and they run beside the tracks in the noise now hefting their packs through the oily metal smell, bumping and toiling and sprinting, the road beside them forgotten. The fear is the train will not stop, the train will keep going, and the train is still moving after all, though clunking now slower beside them but yes, the train is the train is the train is stopping.

At the front of the train the driver opens a blue steel door with a bang. They look up, their open faces, puffing, packs hanging off and touching, though they don't know it.

'She takes a while to pull up on the straight,' the man says.

They look at him, they smile at the same moment.

'Better bloody get in, then,' the train driver says.

There are two of them, two girls. They stand by a petrol station, at the edge of the light, the bit where it puddles weakly off into the quiet small-town darkness.

'What is this place?' the tall one asks. 'Where the hell are we? Have you ever been here before?' The other one is stooped over her pack, getting her scarf. It's a little cold.

'Huntly,' she says. 'We're in Huntly.'

The tall one looks around.

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'Not much going on in Huntly at midnight on a Tuesday, eh?' she says.

'Haven't you heard that song?' the small one asks. She begins to sing. 'What's wrong with Huntly, it's my home country, it's my home town …'

'Please, no!' the tall one says. She laughs. She looks around. In the cool dark the road stretches silent on either side. The station behind them is the only bright light apart from twinkles like fires from the small town. Like little cooking fires, the tall one thinks. The light from the big city off over the hills, where they're going, makes the night sky a smoggy purple, a deep bruised hurt colour, unnatural, with no stars. In the glow she can see the twin stacks of Huntly's paper mill, looming forms rising up, spuming into the night. 'Hey, do you think we did the right thing, deciding to keep going?' she asks.

'I just want to get home,' the smaller one says, wrapping her scarf around her neck. It's a red scarf with Sanskrit on it that neither of them can read. She has a ring through her nose, the small girl, and the tall one has dreadlocked hair with beads in it. They have been hitching for ten hours. 'We'll get a ride,' the small one says, looking out into the dark. It seems too quiet, no traffic on the road, no people.

They stand for half an hour and then go and smoke up behind the petrol station. When they come back the small one goes into the petrol station for some M&M'S.

'Chocolate, eh? Need anything else? Got the munchies, eh?' the attendant asks. He looks at her reddened eyes. She knows she smells of the smoke, there's a humming in her ears, the lights seems altogether too harsh. She looks at the attendant's face and thinks, he looks like a walrus. She cracks up. She opens the pack, gives him some M&M'S. She can't stop laughing and she has to leave, too quickly, spilling the chocolate on the floor.

When she comes out her friend is putting their packs in the front seat of a petrol tanker. She runs the last few steps to the truck.

'Wicked!' she whispers to the tall girl. They grin, and then the small one gets in first, hauling herself up, arms above her head into the tall cab.

'Brian nice to meet you I been with the company twenty years,' Brian says. 'Company policy is no friends no family no picking up page 81hitchers travelers tourists in the cab,' he says. 'Policy is but they can kiss my ass they don't know my philosophy.' Brian has a lot to say.

'Thanks for picking us up,' the tall one says.

'Used to be a man could drive,' Brian says, 'one end of the country to another you'd pick up whoever none of this risk-management public relations shit, none of this unstable load risk-reduction policy shit, you were just a driver,' he says. 'And you'd meet some out-there types back then I'm telling you right now.'

The girls laugh. It's warm in the cab, high up, and as they swing out onto the highway the small one offers M&M'S to everyone and they're high, they're in a petrol tanker and they're moving and Brian turns up the radio, which it turns out is classic hits but it doesn't matter, because they know all the songs.

'Incy wincy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini,' the tall one sings.

Brian is a large man and the words spill out of him like bees, buzzing around the cab, bouncing off the windows. The small one wants to tell the tall one this but she looks at her from the corner of her eye instead and the tall one makes a small looping flying movement with her finger, just like a bee in motion, and the small one thinks, my God, she knows, and they've been on the same wavelength since the dance party and she doesn't even have to speak and the road's stretching on ahead, pure and free into the dark, and then for a moment it's all so beautiful, so beautiful.

'All I'm saying is don't you ever let them get you girls,' Brian says, 'and I look at you I can tell you're those free spirit types I can tell I been one myself back those years and all I'm saying I'm telling you now,' he says. 'What happens see is there's kids and the cost and the house and it's always a mistake the first house it gets you in the game and then you're done for after that it's all buying selling paying off and trying to get a bigger one. I'm telling you now,' says Brian, 'but I can see I'm looking at you here two young enlightened souls I'm looking at you I can tell I don't have to say a word.'

The girls laugh.

'What do you think about,' says the small one, 'while you're driving?'

'Sixteen hours they got me up here sixteen hour shifts I'm telling page 82you I have a break in the middle one hour they say that makes it legal.' Brian takes a swig of something. 'You have to stay alert awake you have to keep drinking these,' he says, and gestures to three bottles of energy drinks at his ankles.

'You're the one that I want, the one I want, ooh ooh oooh,' the tall one sings.

They're almost in the city when they hear the crash.

The cab jolts and the girls and driver rise up and then down in their seats. The tall one's head hits the window. The small one's knees whack the dash. The petrol tanker crosses the white line and the bulk swings out behind them as they swerve toward the barrier. They're going to they're going to hit it but Brian is braking hard, Brian is heaving at the wheel and they pull up short, diagonal across two lanes, the cab a metre from the concrete wall.

They sit for a moment, there's a horn blaring outside, going on and on.

'Umm,' the tall one says.

'We got hit.' Brian says. 'We've been hit. It was a car back there, going too fast it must have been. Spun out and hit us.'

He looks at them.

'I'm gonna go check everything out,' he says. 'Make sure it's okay, the tanker.' He opens his door, gets out. The small girl looks at the tall one.

'Are you okay?' she says. The tall girl turns her head. She is bleeding from the temple, a thin trickle.

'Umm,' she says.

She should tell someone, the small girl thinks. Brian. But he's checking the tanker. Of course! The tanker. Wait a minute, she thinks. Her head is going very slow, like a clock ticking. Her knees hurt. Wait a minute, she thinks, what happens when petrol gets shaken up real bad. What happens. Brian's checking. The two cool white tanks behind them, clean, safe-looking when she'd got in, like a fridge. Images pass through her mind, images from movies, cars crashing and then blowing up, petrol tanks exploding.

Brian appears at the open door. She should tell him about her friend. The blood.

'Brian—' she says.

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But Brian is looking very hard at them. He picks up the radio transmitter from next to his seat, but he doesn't speak into it.

'Now girls,' he says slowly, very slowly, 'I want you to listen carefully, okay? I want you to pick up your packs, and get out of the cab, and I want you to run the fuck away.'

The girls look at him.

'Did you hear me?' he says. 'Run away. Run down the road as fast as you can. Whatever happens, don't come back. You go. Now!'

He turns and presses a button on the receiver.

'It's Brian,' he says. 'Problem. I've got a rupture in a full tank, there's been an accident, I'm halfway through the Bombay hills—'

'Go!' says the small girl to the tall one. The tall one opens the door, half-falls out onto the road. The small one throws their packs out after her. The highway stretches dark on either side. There's a bank metres high at the edge, unclimbable. There's an overbridge one way, concrete walls, the tanker the other, stretched large and steaming across the lanes. There's a hissing sound. The short girl shoulders her pack, helps the tall girl with hers.

'Come on!' she says. 'Hurry! This way!' She runs past the tanker, and her friend stumbles a little and begins to run too.

The first tank is smooth and whole.

The second tank is ruptured, a gash where the metal's folded in like cheap tin. There's a smell. Petrol is flooding out, fast, spreading slick on the road like a stain.

'But what about Brian,' the tall girl gasps from behind. The girls stop, metres from the leak. They can see the petrol pouring out. Their shoes are in it.

'He told us to go,' the small girl says. 'Come on!' she says, looking at the tanker. 'We have to go!'

The blaring horn cuts out.

'Oh my God,' the small one says. 'The other car.'

They start to run again; the small one slips in the petrol and the tall one helps her up. It's on their hands, in their clothes. They run past the tanker, down the dark road, away from the smell, towards the dark form of a car that's crouched against the bank as if for shelter.

'We've got to look,' the tall one says. 'We've got to see if they're okay.'

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They leave their packs and run faster, in the night, it's a long way to run, puffing and gasping, toward the crumpled steel of the spun-out car. No one is moving in it, they can see no one moving.

There's a noise behind them and a flash and then a louder bang, like a gun going off. They turn and the tanker's in flames, it's on fire and where's Brian, but they can't do anything, he told them to run away, it's in flames now and they keep on running forwards, towards the wreck.

'We've got to do something for them, we've got to help them,' the tall one says, and they're running so hard it hurts, they're letting out little sobs of breath, they're running, towards the silent car.

There are two of them, a girl and a boy. They're at an intersection where two major routes meet, next to a native forest. There's a lot of traffic but no one's stopping. The day is filthy hot by the side of the road; they're sitting on their packs and taking turns at holding out their thumbs. The boy is standing now, thumb out, his body a sloped curve in the heat. The girl is poking at a twig in the tar that's melted at the edge of the road.

'There's this line by Tolkien,' she says. 'How does it go. "The road goes ever on and on", something like that. Like the road's a river, and streams lead down from your front door and meet bigger streams and they turn into rivers, that's what the road is. And so it's dangerous to step out your door.'

'I need to take a piss,' the boy says.

'Are you this rude to your girlfriend?' she says, as he walks past her, ducks into the darkness of the bush.

She stands and hums lightly to herself, stretches, feels sweat on her body, her hair solar-heated, her jandals warm and rubbery in the roadside dust.

'Guess I'll take over then,' she says. She walks to the edge, puts her thumb out, and a truck trundles past, kicking up dirt into her eyes.

'Hey,' he says from the bushes. 'Hey. I've got an idea. You stay there with your thumb out and I'll hide in here. Chuck my pack, eh.' She turns.

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'What for?' she says. 'You mean, like I pretend I'm hitching on my own?'

'Yeah,' he says. 'They see you, they go, hey check it out, a chick hitching by herself. We'll get a ride heaps faster.'

She looks at him uneasily.

'Me and Nance do it all the time,' he says. 'Works real good. Usually it's old ladies, they see you, they think, I can't leave that girl there on her own. That sort of thing.'

'Then you come out?'

'Then I come out. Yeah. That's how it works.'

'Okay,' she says. 'I guess we can try.' She throws him his pack, and he grins, ducks into the bushes. Bastard just wants to stay in the shade, she thinks. But she turns back, puts out her thumb.

Thin clouds scuttle hump-backed across the sky. Cars pass, red, blue, red, white, white. One stops.

It's grey and old, a wagon, a little beaten up. A man gets out. He's moustached, with sandy hair and thin, like a racing hound.

'Where you going, love?' he calls, he sounds friendly.

'Going south,' she says, and notices another guy in the car, a younger one, he's looking down at his lap.

'We're off south too,' says the man, very friendly now, and starts towards her. 'Only going as far as Timaru, but we'll take you as far as we can.' He takes her pack before she can say anything, opens the boot. 'My son,' he says, nodding towards the front seat. The guy is probably her age. He looks up, into her face, and down again. He's shifty, shy.

'Just clear out some of this old shit in the back here,' the man is saying. She looks at the back seat. There's room for two, she thinks, her and her friend. 'I'm a beekeeper. My son there, he's helping me out. Learning the trade.' He's speaking fast. The boot is loaded with equipment, nets, canisters with spouts, bottles of chemicals. He shoves her pack down amidst it all. She looks over her shoulder, to where her friend is hiding in the bushes. When's he going to come out?

'We seen you, back there, and we thought, it's not right to leave a young girl like that out there alone,' the beekeeper says. He looks her up and down. 'It'd be wrong, that, my son he said to me. We should pick her up, Dad, he said to me.' She looks at the front window and page 86the guy's looking at her again. There's something wrong with his face, his mouth is curved up somehow at one edge and his face is round and bloated, a sick face. But the boy's eyes are sharp, and he's looking at her.

'We should pick her up, he said to me,' the beekeeper says. 'Or just anyone could get her, pick her up I mean.' He looks her up and down again. 'He's a nice boy, my son,' he says, and his voice sounds odd, almost angry.

'Hi!' She jumps. Her friend has come out of the bushes, he's there beside her, grinning at the beekeeper. 'Sorry mate,' he says. 'Was taking a leak back there. You got room for me too?'

The beekeeper's face changes. He looks from her friend to her and back, the smile falling out of his face. She steps back.

'Trick,' he says, as if to himself. 'A fucking dirty trick!' He grabs her pack and wrenches it out of the boot, throws it on the ground.

'Hey, wait a minute,' says her friend as he steps back as well. 'I was just taking a piss, we didn't mean to—'

'Saying she's by herself, standing there the whole time all on her own in that little dress and she's hiding the fucking boyfriend in the bushes!' He's speaking louder. He spits on the ground by her bag. Both of them have backed away from him now, and she trips, banging her heel against a rock. The beekeeper kicks at her pack with sudden force. 'Just another cheating lying bitch!' he yells, his voice rising to a shout. He slams the boot, storms round the side of the car and leaps in, banging the door closed. 'Cunts!' he screams through the open window. 'Fucking cunts!'

She sees the head of the guy in the front bend down and then move up to take one last look at her through the dusty window. She sees relief, she thinks, as they peel away, relief and disappointment too, in that odd misshapen face.

The sun beats down. Traffic passes.

'We won't try that again,' her friend says, and looks at her.

'I guess that's the hitch with hitching!' she says. Her voice is high and small. She laughs. 'Ha ha!' she laughs. 'Ha ha ha ha!'

But it's not really funny at all.

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There are three of them, three girls. They are a little drunk, pleasantly and not uncontrollably so. They have left the warm room with the voices and wine to catch the last train to the city.

They are walking well in their going-out boots on the platform. They are walking in step, as if their arms are linked but they're not. They are walking in time, their steps ringing out gladly on the long platform, talking loudly, drunk and a little heady because of the cold air, the sudden freshness of it, the clear night.

There's a seat on the platform next to the station house and they sit on it, checking the time, their watches, the time, and back again. Making sure. But they haven't missed it, the last train to the city. It's coming soon.

Across from them over the tracks is a little house, a cabin really, where the signal man must have sat once upon a time. The house is two metres wide, it has a tiny window and miniature door, as if for elves.

'Whose house do you reckon that is?' says the youngest one, the one with the blonde hair and good hat.

'It's an elf-house,' the small dark one says, the one with the big hair. 'Can't you tell?'

'God, you guys,' says the funny one. She's smoking a rollie. She puts on a funny voice. 'God, you're so insensitive,' she says. She takes a puff, blows the smoke out into the air. 'That's my parents' house,' she says, as seriously as she can. 'They're very small, my parents. Tiny. God,' she says. 'Some people are so rude. Not everyone's parents are big,' she says. 'Not everyone is rich you know.'

The other girls fall about laughing on the quiet platform. They're not stupid. They've been to Thailand and Cambodia, they've been to Vietnam. They know some people do live in houses that small. The girls look at the silly little house across the tracks, they look at the funny girl. They shout with laughter helplessly into the still night.

'My mum pops out the window in the morning and gives my dad breakfast,' the funny one says. She shakes out her long hair. 'What are you laughing at?' she says to the others, seriously. 'What's so funny?'

The one with big hair jumps up and runs a few steps down the platform. She threatens to leave if the funny girl doesn't stop.

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'I can't take it,' she says. 'I just can't take any more.' She sits down again.

There's a roar and a shaking and a thundering.

'The train!' The blonde girl says. 'I can hear it!'

The platform is rumbling under their seat. The quiet is gone.

'It's coming!' the funny one says. They get up. 'The last train!'

The rumbling goes on. But they can't see the train. Only hear it. It sounds closer and closer.

'Where is it?' says the dark girl. They look at each other, listen hard. They look at the tracks. The train sound is deafening, the train sound is so loud, the train sound is so loud, it's louder, it's going away.

'It's leaving!' says the young one with the good hat.

'Maybe it was a ghost train,' the dark one says, into the rolling noise. 'That happened to me once in Levin,' she says. 'I heard this train but I couldn't see it. Levin is weird,' she says uncertainly, into the fading sound.

They look at each other, they look at the tracks. They look at the other side of the platform, beyond the station house.

The train is on the other side of the platform. It is leaving. The last train to town.

'Oh shit!' says the funny one.

'The last train!' gasps the blonde girl.

'The last train to town!' says the dark one, and they all run across the platform and after it, the departing train, and they run a few steps in their nice boots, quite a few steps, as the train leaves mercilessly, into the night.

There's a long moment when they have to stop running and look at each other.

'Shoot,' says the funny one. 'Well doesn't that just suck arse.'

The dark one swears profusely and fluently into the dark.

The blonde one throws her good hat down onto the platform, and then has to pick it up.

They walk to the edge of the platform where the road stretches back to the city, large and dark and wide and empty. It is way too far to walk, there are no buses, there are hardly any cars.

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'Well what the fuck should we do now?' the funny one says. She rolls another cigarette.

There are some decorative purple cabbages at the side of the road on a traffic island. The dark girl with the big hair sits down in them, expecting them to be supportive. They give way suddenly and leafily onto the hard ground.

This is a unique experience, the dark girl thinks, up to her knees in the purple cabbages, looking out at the unforgiving road.

'Let's hitch,' she says.

They walk to the right side of the motorway, filled with a sort of reckless hope, in the cold.

'Isn't there an age where you sort of stop hitching?' the funny one asks. She's the eldest. They all look at each other. They put out their thumbs.

Some cars go past. They're going so fast they whiz.

'I always find that dancing helps,' says the young one. She hops up and down a bit. A car passes. She sighs like someone much older.

They stand for some time. Four cars go past. This is not many for the time they have been standing. It's quiet on the verge, the bare dark hills sloping up behind them like giant people, the small hushed tinkle of sounds from the town across the road. They look at each other.

'Aren't you guys just a little dodged out?' the funny one asks. 'I mean, I haven't done this in ages,' she says. 'That's all.'

They keep their thumbs out, all of them.

'I hitched a ride once in the middle of the night,' the dark one says from behind her big hair. It moves as she adjusts her position, faces the road squarely. 'From Huntly, this dead small town up north. I caught a ride in a petrol tanker,' she says. A car rips past.

'They're going too fast,' the blonde one says. 'They'll never see us.' She shifts closer to the streetlight; it lights up her clear face.

'This petrol tanker guy kept telling us,' the dark one says, eyes fixed on the road, 'about how he wasn't meant to pick us up, because of the danger, because he was carrying petrol.'

The funny one lights her smoke.

'And the thing was, this car actually hit us,' the dark one says.

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'Spun out, it was going too fast. It hit us and ripped a hole in the tank, and so petrol was pissing out all over the road.'

A car passes.

'And the driver he said to us, run, just like that. He said, run away, run as fast as you can, don't come back.'

A car passes. The blonde girl pushes her hair out of her face.

'And we ran,' the dark girl says. 'We ran down the road and then we remembered about the car that had hit us.'

'Ooh, ooh, there's a van!' says the young one. 'They'll have room!'

'And the tanker blew up,' the dark one says. 'It blew up, when we were halfway down the road. And I think the driver might have been in it.'

The funny one looks at the dark one where she stands, eyes still on the road, thumb out, for a long moment.

'But he would have been in trouble for picking us up,' the dark one says as the van approaches, 'the driver. And all these police cars and fire engines turned up, like heaps of fire engines, and an ambulance, and a helicopter even, and we kind of freaked out and ran away like he told us to,' she says.

The blonde girl is waving at the van.

'What happened?' the funny girl says, still looking quite closely at the dark one.

'We ran towards the car, I remember,' she says, 'we ran and we ran because we thought maybe we could help. But it was freaky. We were running, and there was no one moving in there, and God, we started to think all this stuff about bodies and people hurt, you know, cut up like people get, and what would we have done and all that shit,' she says. She shakes her hair a little. The van seems to be slowing down.

'But when we got there,' she says, 'it was the weirdest thing. The car that hit us,' she says, 'it was empty.'

The van pulls up on the verge, RnB belting out lush into the quiet.

The girls cheer.

The van door opens and the blonde girl and the funny girl jump in. The girl with the big hair stops, looks into the van, which is smoky, page 91filled with guys holding beer bottles, spilling out music. She looks. Then she gets in.

'Nice to meet you, would you like a beer,' says the boy next to the dark girl in the van.

'No thanks,' she says.

'Oh,' he says. 'Okay lady where you been tonight where you going?' he says. 'Where you been all my life, ha ha ha!'

She looks at him carefully. His knee lurches over towards her as they take off, twice the width of hers. They are huge, all of them, massive broad-shouldered boys. But she doesn't have a bad feeling, the dark girl. She doesn't.

'Hey soleh, chuck me a beer eh,' says a boy. 'Where you from, if you don't mind me asking,' the boy asks the blonde girl, 'a pretty girl like you.' His voice is accented.

The funny girl is in the back with a guy on either side. She watches the blonde girl angle herself subtly away from the boy.

'If you don't mind me asking,' he says.

'Are you guys Samoan?' the dark girl asks. 'What does soleh mean?'

'Yeah we're islanders,' the one beside her says. He's stopped trying to touch her leg. He's fairly drunk. She's pretty sure the leg was a sign of appreciation, nothing more. 'All bloody coconuts eh, ha ha ha!'

All the boys laugh. The girls laugh too, uncertainly at first and then gratefully, because they're allowed.

'Soleh means like "hey bro", the boy goes on. 'Like, "hey you, chuck me a beer". Say it, "soleh".'



'"Soleh", that's the one, you got it ha ha ha!'

The dark girl looks at the funny one, all the way in the back seat. The funny one's very quiet.

'So what do you do?' says the boy next to the blonde girl. 'If you don't mind me asking,' he says.

'Umm,' she says. 'I'm an artist.'

He pauses.

'Oh yeah like ahhh, graphic design?' he asks. 'Like design and shit?'

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'Umm, not really,' she says. 'More like um, like just painting pictures really.'

He pauses.

'Oh yeah, right,' he says. 'So painting. So what kind of job can you do when you finish that?'

'Umm,' she says.

'Are you an artist?' one of the other guys says. 'Man, we got a real live artist in the van!'

'Better than a bullshit artist, eh! Ha ha ha!'

'They're artists too,' the blonde one says, a little defensively.

There's a small silence in the van.

'I'm a chef,' one of the boys says then.

'I'm a waiter.'

'I'm a builder. I finish my apprenticeship soon.'

'I'm a plumber.'

'But we all play rugby. That's our first love. That's what we do it all for, eh. For rugby. You gotta have a passion, know what I mean?'

'So how you gonna make money when you finish studying to be an artist?' a boy says to the dark girl.

'Umm,' the dark girl says. 'I guess it's not really about the money,' she says. They look at each other curiously, the boy and her.

'You speak Samoan at home?' she asks.

'Sure,' he says. 'I'll teach you some. Sunga,' he says. 'That's the word soleh, but like, if you're a girl. Sunga.'


'Sunga, ha ha ha!'

She hopes it doesn't mean something rude.

The blonde girl checks up on the funny girl. She looks small between the guys on either side of her, pale and delicate-looking. The boys are laughing at something and speaking to each other fast in Samoan. There's an imbalance between the sheer mass of boys vs. the girls in the van. There's the number of them, the fact that the van is theirs, their physical strength and the constant noise like a party in the small space. The boy next to her moves closer, she shifts away. She thinks of rugby scrums, how they tell you how much they weigh altogether, the pack weight.

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They're close to the city when the guy in the front jumps out to go somewhere else and the dark-haired girl climbs over the seats to replace him. She's filled with a fierce joy, she's filled with recklessness and a curiosity. She climbs into the front seat like a kid.

'Hello,' she says to the driver.

'Watch out,' the driver says, looking at her for the first time, 'I'm a tell you my life story. You got your belt on there?' he says. 'I'm not anal about it it's just, you know,' he says, 'safety first and all that, ha ha ha!'

'It's on,' she says.

'Now I'm gonna tell you something straight,' he says. 'What you up to hitching like that, three white girls at night on the edge of town? Anyone coulda picked you up.'

She looks at him.

'I saw you,' he says. 'You all just jumped right in, but you had a look, I saw you. But then you jumped in anyway. Now I'm not gonna lecture, but can you count?' he says, 'and don't take this the wrong way or nothing but it don't look like you girls play rugby, if you know what I mean.'

Is he telling her something? She tries to keep out of her mind what he's talking about, the threat of strength, that other thing, the turn down a quiet road perhaps, the bodies moving in a dark room.

'Shit,' he says. 'All I'm saying, you were my wife I'd tell you to stay home.'

'You have a wife?' she says.

He tells her his life story then, between the flashes of streetlights, the road going dah dounk dah dounk dah dounk under the wheels.

'My name's Micah,' he says.

'I'm Michalia,' the dark girl says.

'My dad left when I was three,' Micah says, later.

'Me too,' says Michalia.

'Shit, girl. This your life story or mine?' Micah says.

'My mum, she couldn't look after us so well,' he goes on. 'My granddad though, he raised me. He was something different, you know? Taught me about family, my language,' he says, later.

She looks at him over there, driving.

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'I've got another language,' she says.

'And here I was thinking you was just a white girl,' he says. 'Ha ha ha! No offence.'

'I tell you what you got to do, if you want something,' he says, later. 'You get a piece of paper and you write it down. Then you look at that list. You got to write it all out, if you want it.' Micah says. 'You work hard,' he says, 'like I work for my wife, my kid. Then you get them money, what they need, you look after your family know what I'm saying?' He looks at her. 'So you wanna paint pictures, whatever, you gotta do the same, right?'

'I make lists,' she says.

They drop off the two guys in the back seat, they drop off the funny girl. They drop off the blonde girl in town. They drop off the boy who is left in the back.

'You a good-looking girl, Michalia,' Micah says. 'What I'm saying is nothing, don't get me wrong. I'm saying if I didn't have a wife and a kid all I'm saying is,' he says, 'you a good-looking girl.'

'Where are you going now?' Michalia asks.

'Hip-hop party in Newtown,' he says. 'We all meeting up back there. Gonna have some palangi take-out first, but. You can come, you want.'

'That's okay,' she says.

Micah takes the girl right to her door.

'Thanks,' she says. She's still a little drunk. She's late. Her boyfriend is waiting inside. 'Thanks, Micah,' she says. She opens the door. She reaches back.

They shake hands for a long time.