Short story - A Walk to Japan by David Ghazawy © 2020
This Saturday morning started out like many others before it. The chuckling laugh of a distant kookaburra made its way through the fibro and gyprock thick walls of our house. Morning dew formed on the lawn outside as the sun rose. It would now be almost silent if it wasn’t for the metronomic snoring emanating from a bedroom at the end of the hallway by my father. To say I loved these early mornings would be a misnomer, in fact I had a lot of reasons to dislike them, the bitter cold being the most fervent one. Tiptoeing to the lounge room and onto the carpeted floor I sat in front of our large Panasonic television. Strewn from the nights previous activities lay a series of video game manuals. ‘Nintendo, the control deck that puts you in control of incredible fun’ I whispered, eagerly anticipating this morning electronic ritual. I simultaneously pressed the power buttons of both the television and the control deck. The video game, Super Mario Brothers, already inserted, powers up to the title screen. I start playing Level one and Koji Kondo’s Overworld Theme blares out a little too loudly over the speakers, performing finger gymnastics I locate and dial down the volume decrease knob. It’s hard to say when it happened, somewhere between the countless level restarts after dying ten, twenty, forty times, just when you think you’ve got that puzzle all figured out, a blank screen.
The steady tick of an almost ornate clock has kept the time from since before I was born. It is almost ornate in the sense that it is composed of plastic instead of wood and harbours a fissure or two. Eyeing the room in a clockwise fashion one gains a sense of a new working-class charm. The three fish piece clay statues on the windowsill, that was a two-dollar purchase from Go-Lo. The white five hundred litre Westinghouse Refrigerator, a one-thousand-dollar purchase from Grace Bros. As I make the final gestures to gulp down my Coco Pops cereal I stop, think, and wonder if I had made the right choice, it was after all binary, a zero or a one, Nintendo or Sega. Had I chose the latter would I be in the predicament that I find myself in now having to venture outside.
Chester Hill’s suburbanites are composed of two complementary yet diametrically opposed groups of people. There are those like the elderly couple next door, Jack and Mary, who have been here since the turn of the twentieth century. I’m waving to them now as I stroll down the footpath to our local park. Mary politely waves back, Jack mutters something under his breath, most likely some spiel about my pet rabbit Peter being in his garden again. The other group of people are like Brad, housing commission residents. Brad is a proverbial man-child with a penchant for Siamese fighting fish. ‘Morning David’ Brad yells from across the street.
‘Hi Brad’ I yell back.
‘Where are you off to this morning?’
‘Just to the park, are you fighting the fish again?’
‘Yeah, a kid two blocks away is challenging me.’
What Everley park lacks in a smorgasbord of amenities it more than makes up for in sheer size, housing four fully fledged soccer fields. In the on season there would have been the usual sideline barracking from mum and dad fans as their sons and daughters squared off against each other but not today, not in Summer. This fine sunny Saturday morning is completely void of anyone. As I sit here on the swing kicking away wood chips I catalogue what facilities are on offer. ‘BBQ, check’ I state out aloud in a matter-of-fact way.
‘Three picnic tables, check’ I go on.
‘Toilets, check’ I pause momentary.
‘Play equipment, inclusive of swings, monkey bars, slide and sandpit. Check, check, check and check.’
‘Walking track… walking track? Haven’t noticed that before.’
Leaving the relative comfort and safety of the swing I move forward to a partial opening among some trees a distance away. There are no obligatory signs beckoning would be adventurers just a well-worn footpath through the clearing.
The leafy green bushland lays interspersed with reflective puddles of water as far as the eye can see. An array of stern gum trees lines either side of the dirt pathway; from up above a canopy, half strewn but doing enough to shelter those below from the harsh Australian sun. It is not the distant chirping of unseen crickets that attracts my attention. In front of me is a gathering of three hundred or so Skink lizards basking dormant in the midday sun. Ordinarily I would stay away from such potential hazards but discovering this local bush trail near home and given this morning’s unexpected incident has ignited in me a thirst for the unexpected, the unexplored. That these Skink lizards are out in the open, seemingly without a care in the world, perplexes me. Tensing, I am at the ready, rushing at the lounging lizards I manage to reach them before they all disperse. I am standing still now, panting loud. In the palm of my hand a warm coil of bumpy flesh.
The fear in the Skink lizard’s eyes are palpable and it manages to pivot its head around and bite down on my finger. I barely feel anything except a tinge of regret. Kneeling down I lower then open the palm of my hand letting the Skink lizard go. It scurries back into the bush. Looking up I decide to track further in and fifteen minutes later I come across a fallen tree with an overgrowth of orange fungi. I recall from my science classes at school that Fungi occupy a place separate from plants and animals, what is most telling is that even though they are stationary like plants they digest their food using enzymes and don’t photosynthesize. I break off a branch with a crescent shaped like fungus attached to it. ‘This should look good by the bookshelf’ I state, talking to myself out loud.
Walking further in, the distant background of humming cars in traffic becomes apparent but never visible. One could be mistaken that I had happened this trail by chance but the concrete steps, a prelude to a rudimentary bridge, extinguishes that idea. As I climb up onto the overpass and look back the thought crosses my mind that I might have a hard time finding my way back. This thought would have been all that was necessary for me to decide to turn back home if it wasn’t for what I had spotted behind me in the long grass, a red-bellied black snake. Although venomous, red-bellied black snakes are known by reputation to be fairly docile by nature or so states the park ranger that visited our school some months ago. I decided not to put this fact to the test and continued further.
The passage of time is a strange thing. When you’re having fun hours fly by like mere minutes, sadly the opposite is also true as it was for me now with all this walking. The thirst had crept up on me like a lioness stalking her prey in the long grass of the Serengeti. My throat hoarse got no relief despite all the swallowing I was doing. ‘Note to self, never leave home for long bush walks without a water bottle’ I said. The relief I felt several minutes later then wasn’t sudden but ebbed and began to flow as my surroundings became more and more familiar to me. I had been at the very spot I found myself enough times throughout my life to recognise the outskirts of Auburn’s Botanical Gardens, specifically the picnic area. With a newfound sense of purpose, I began making my way to water.
An array of very large, red and black garden pagodas lay interspersed in the centre of the Botanical Garden compound, in keeping with the overall Japanese theme. I made my way past them to the bubblers. Although lukewarm to the touch the water emanating from the bubbler was refreshing. Like a camel preparing to hoard a load for a long journey ahead I repeatedly drank and drank, until eventually I could drink no more. Now seated and looking down I raised my leg to tie my shoelace. My sneakers had performed the task of getting me this far, but a pair of hiking boots would have been more suited to the role. I was thankful at least that I didn’t have any bumps that felt like emerging blisters. Sitting for what may have been half an hour had a two-pronged effect, the first was to return my body to a resting state which I recommend after any vigorous form of activity. The second allowed me the chance to quietly meditate on my own without the distraction of some home comforts within arm’s reach. I would like to say what eventually got me up was some energy I had yet to expend but in truth it was a cool breeze that wafered in with the scent of cherry blossoms.
I made my way to the Botanical Garden’s aviary, a particular favourite of mine as it housed birds of all sorts. The custodians had made their species selection with very great care, looking closely one can identify birds from the Asia Pacific Region, Australian Rainforests and even the Outback. My favourites included the Red-browed finch and the Pale-headed Rosella. An old man with a walking stick limps along in the opposite direction to me and nods as I pass by, I nod in return. After some time watching the birds frolic and whistle about I decide to move on, I had after all had my heart set upon visiting the lake upon getting here.
The rippling of water by tadpoles interspersed nearby hand sized stones belies the difficulty they will have getting to adulthood. Lurking beneath the deep water are Koi, noticeable by their white, orange, and black markings as they swim to the surface from time to time, that is if you are patient enough to sit there waiting as I am. ‘Hey! Mum’s waiting at home for you’ my sister yells. I turn my head. ‘Did you know the bush trail leads here’ I say. My sister nods, ‘Joshua, Daniel and me have come here a few times.’ My sister sits next to me. ‘What time did you get up this morning?
‘I don’t know, about four o’clock.’
‘Why did you get up so early?
‘Why do you care?
My sister points to something in the distance, I look up. A procession of men and women in suits and bridal gowns are making their way forward across a bridge. Stepping out of the homogeneous entourage is a woman with an oversized camera in hand, an all to apparent photographer. She separates herself from the herd by several meters and multiple light flashes later another moment in time is captured. Over the next few moments the usual dance of thematic wedding poses takes place, the bride and groom side be side, the bride and groom embracing, then kissing, all the while followed by more camera flashes. My sister and I eventually tire of watching and leave the confines of the lake before it is all over.
‘What time is it’ my sister asks.
‘Almost lunch time, lets go home’ I reply.
‘Ok, did you want to go to aunty Samia’s place and ring mum to pick us up.’
‘Yeah, that will be a lot quicker and easier.’
My sister and I make our way to Auburn Botanical Garden’s parking area, an influx of cars steadily makes their way through the illustrious entrance as we are exiting.