‘Hi sweetie, welcome back. I’ve missed you. How was Stanthorpe?’ Amy’s mother asked as she picked Amy up from the airport.
‘It’s very good. It’s so different over there. So much open space. Aunt Jayne and Uncle Jerry are nice,’ Amy smiled and went to hug her mother. As she laid her head on her mother’s shoulder, she was struck by a scent that was unmistakably familiar. Her mother’s fragrance was strangely irresistible. It soothed her instantly and she nuzzled her face deeper into her mother’s neck.
‘Oh Mum, I missed you too.’
‘Did your lungs feel better with those cooler and dryer air?’
‘I think so. I didn’t have any shortness of breath or anything. Didn’t get sick once,’ Amy gave her mother a thumbs up.
‘That’s wonderful to hear. What did you do with Aunt Jayne and Uncle Jerry during your stay?’
‘Lots of things. Uncle Jerry was busy with the farm but Aunt Jayne showed me around. The place is pretty with lots of open space. You can see land as far as your eyes can go. Geologically speaking, it’s fascinating. The whole area is called the granite belt. Do you know why?’
‘Magma, which is really really hot, was pushed up from the earth’s core because of volcanic activities. When the magma cooled, granite rocks were formed. Stanthorpe is surrounded by these formations. These rocks are massively big and round. Some the size of a big building. It’s incredible!” Amy spoke excitedly.
‘Sounds like you had a pretty good time. To think that you fought us tooth and nail and got all upset when we asked you to go, what a big turn around,’ Amy’s mother teased.
‘I know. But Mum, it was very scary at the time. I had never travelled alone before!’ Amy protested.
‘Fair enough. But there is always a first for something in life. Maybe we can feel more confident next time we find ourselves having to do something new?’
‘Maybe, and oh Mum, I love the flying. That’s the best bit,’ Amy beamed with her eyes opened wide.
‘I bet. You’re very lucky to get that opportunity. Not many people do. I must confess that I find flying equal parts terrifying and astonishing. Looks like you are a better flyer than me. That is a good thing,’ Amy’s mother laughed.
‘Mum, there’s nothing to be afraid of,’ Amy nodded wisely.
‘Right,’ Amy’s mother squinted her eyes and squeezed her lips.
Going back to school felt different for Amy after her travel experience to Stanthorpe. The usual feeling of dread and boredom was diluted by new feelings of hope and excitement. Instead of brooding over her loneliness as an outsider, she felt for the first time that there was a meaning to her life. A desire stirred in her stomach. There were things that she needed to do. There were new and beautiful places beyond her home and school that she could explore. She wanted to open the gate to see them.
Amy knew that her recent adventure was something that the other kids at school did not have. With this privilege under her belt, she felt an elevation in her self-esteem. She was as good as the other kids. When she walked, she found her steps more springy and her back straighter. With her chest out, she could even breathe better.
When the sports hour came, Amy started to head over to the library as were her routines. Then she stopped and had an idea. She turned around to head to the sports field. She wanted to be part of the group even though she wasn’t doing the activities. She could watch and cheer on the side. Why not? She picked a bench towards the back of the stand.
‘Oh Amy, hello there. Are you joining us today?’ Helen, one of the girls spotted her and ran over, panting from the exertion.
‘Nah, still can’t. But thought I would sit and watch you guys play.’
‘Great! This is our weekly comp. We’re playing class 7C today. Two of their players are form champions. We may be getting a thrashing today,’ Helen made a face and twisted her mouth.
‘Even stars players have bad days. You’ll never know. Keep at it and look for an opportunity. Be like David and Goliath. The game is not over until it’s over,’ Amy encouraged her.
‘Thanks, alright. Got to run,’ Helen laughed and ran back to her basketball game.
‘Oh look, the spider is outside. Washed out by the rain,’ a scratchy voice came from behind Amy. Giggles from other girls followed. Amy spun around. It was Carol, a notorious student from the public school nearby. There had been tales of school fights at the station and Carol was said to be the most brutal one. She had imagined a scene of kids lying on the ground with bruises on their faces, torn uniforms and school bags scattered around.
Carol now stood over Amy, flanked by three of her underlings. Amy felt a shiver down her spine. She watched Carol slowly brushed her imposing long dark curly hair back with one hand. Her thick black eye-liner had smeared and run in the hot sun, making her look even more menacing. Amy lowered her gaze to see a piece of greyish chewing gum hanging between the back teeth of her opened mouth.
With a swing of her head, Carol spat out her gum. Amy saw spits in the air and watched the gum land on the ground in front of her. She then stole a glance to the left where her class was playing their match. They were well into the game and nobody was looking this way.
Oh no. They can’t see me.
Carol then lit a cigarette and blew smoke into Amy’s face. The astringent odour irritated Amy’s nose and made her choke and cough. She waved her hand to diffuse the offensive smell.
‘They have to play in slow motion with “Drag” and “Sphere” on the team,’ Carol nodded towards the sportsground and the girls laughed.
Amy was startled to see that Carol knew her classmates. “Drag” was a kid that couldn’t run very well and “Sphere” was an overweight kid. She eyed the distance between herself and the basketball court where her classmates were.
Fifty meters. Steep steps but no obstacles. I should be able to make that.
Amy stood up and placed her hand on her bag.
I could swing my bag at them if they come at me.
‘What’s in that bag?’ Carol asked.
‘Got money in there?’
So that’s what they want.
A month ago, Amy would have handed over the money to get out of the situation. However, today, she felt less helpless. She didn’t feel alone. Amy turned to look at the basketball court. It must be half-time as the players were coming off the court. She could pick out Helen from the group of players and knew that no matter what happened next, she would have at least one person on her side.
‘Sure, how much do you need?’ Amy looked compliantly at Carol.
‘All of it.’
Amy made a show of reaching in to her bag to get her purse. She rummaged for a few seconds and then toss an object at Carol.
Amy tossed the object vertically up into the air. Carol and the girls’ eyes followed the object and waited for it to come down. As their necks cranked skyward, Amy swung around to fly down the steep steps two steps at a time towards her classmates at the basketball court. Her heart raced. She was not allowed to exert herself but her entire body was charged. Run.
‘Stupid bitch!!’ Carol yelled after Amy holding a half eaten sandwich in her hand. She angrily smashed it onto the ground.
With her heart pounding and lungs burning, Amy reached the safety of the basketball players before she allowed herself to turn around. When she realised that Carol and her cronies remained behind and did not chase her, she laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Helen came over to see what Amy was doing.
‘Carol was after me and I got away. She wanted money from me and I gave her my leftover sandwich instead. I could’ve died. I can’t believe that still I’m alive,’ Amy covered her face with her hands.
‘I hate those girls. It’s about time somebody showed them a lesson. Now, that’s a good David and Goliath. We will stay as a pact in case they come back for their revenge.’ Helen held her hand out to Amy, who grabbed it gratefully and tightly.
‘Thanks Helen. She knows everyone. She named “Drag” and “Sphere”.’
‘We’ll stay together and warn the others.’
Helen and Amy became good friends after that encounter. For the next four years at high school, they were inseparable. They were only apart during school holidays where Amy continued her stints at Stanthorpe while Helen went on vacations with her family. It was a blissful period. Things were routine and predictable. Home work, classes and exams were interspersed with jokes, long chats and a sense of camaraderie with Helen.
Then on her 16th birthday, Amy received a rude awakening.
“Amy, this is your last year at school. What do you want to do next?” her mother asked.
“I thought I’d keep studying. Do year eleven and twelve, then go onto university to study geology. I’ll need a degree to become a geologist.”
“A geologist? Are you serious?” Amy’s mother widened her eyes.
“I’ve always wanted to be a geologist. You know that. This is not news.”
“It was fine to think that as a child. But you’re nearly an adult. You need to be more practical.”
“What’s wrong with being a geologist?”
“We live in the city. How are you going to find a job in the city as a geologist? Geologists have to work in some God forsaken places in the middle of nowhere,” Amy’s mother threw her arms up in the air.
“Mum, working in remote locations is one of the key attractions of being a geologist. That’s the best part.”
“Amy, don’t be ridiculous. You’re a girl. A girl cannot live alone with a group of men in some remote location. That’s not a good life for a girl. You should look at other options.”
“Well, good and smart girls go to secretary colleges.”
“And then do what?”
“To become secretaries of course. You will learn business skills such as stenography”
“Stenography. It’s where you listen to someone speak and then write them down in short hand or short form. That way, you can keep up with the speaker.”
“Why do we need that?”
“Businesses need many things to be written such as letters and notices etc. It takes too long to write them by hand. So businesses hire secretaries to do the writing for them. The boss will dictate to them what needs to be written. The secretaries will capture what was said in shorthand which they then type out neatly on a typewriter.”
“Doesn’t sound very exciting, Mum.”
“You have not tried it yet. Don’t judge until you’ve had a go. Plus, this is a decent way for a girl to earn a living. It’s important to be independent these days.”
“What about Robert? What will he do when he grows up?”
“Hopefully, he can take after his father and become a car mechanic. There’s a shop here that he can work in.”
“Why can’t I become a car mechanic?”
“You’re a girl. You don’t want to be smelling of grease and oil all day, do you? It’s also a physical job. You don’t have the strength like the boys have. “
“Girls can’t do this and girls can’t do that. But boys can do whatever they like,” Amy folded her arms and looked like she wanted to explode.
“There are physical differences between boys and girls and this does lead to certain limitations for girls I’m afraid.”
“What if a girl really wants to do what a boy is doing?”
“Then she is probably going to have a hard time.”
Amy was stunned by her mother’s comment. Her mother had always been strong. She was the fixer of all things. She was the very person who had encouraged her and supported her when she felt helpless. She had not realised that her mother was a second class citizen until this moment. Now her own future was also curtailed before she could start.
“You and aunt Jayne sounded the same. I must say that this is awfully confusing. You always taught us about the importance of being fair. There’s nothing fair about this.”
Amy’s father put down his newspaper and decided to interject.
“Look Amy, your mum is right that life is in general easier if you fit in with society. But sometimes, you have to do what you have to do regardless of what other people think.”
“What are you saying Tom?” Amy’s mother gave her husband a frowned look.
“Well, when I was young, my family didn’t want me to become a car mechanic. They thought that a blue collar job was beneath them. They wanted me to put on a suit and go work in some banks. But I just love cars. I can’t help it. That’s all I can think of. I can’t do anything else. It’s in my bones.”
“So how does this apply to your daughter, Tom?” Amy’s mother was agitated.
“What I’m trying to say to Amy is that, it is okay to go against the grain if it is something that she feels she must do,” Tom then turned to face Amy.
” So Amy, if you want to become a car mechanic, I’m totally supportive of it. But you’ve got to really want it because it will not be easy. You’ll be the odd one out and you may feel left out sometimes and singled out at other times. But you’ll be the best car mechanic in the end because you love it so much. You will be willing to do what it takes and then some. Because it is in your bones. Does it make sense?”
This was the first time Amy’s father said something like this to her. She wasn’t sure whether her father was backing her or whether he was just recruiting for himself as he needed staff. He must be pretty desperate to consider Robert, her imbecile brother, to also work for him. Nevertheless, his speech pulled a chord I her. She understood what he meant to have a feeling that you couldn’t fight. She knew that feeling. A feeling that felt true, that felt like home. She had felt that before.
“Thanks Dad, it makes sense. I appreciate what you just said. But no thanks Dad, it’s not being a car mechanic that I want. It’s something else.”
“Alright, it’s settled then. Let’s get you enrolled in the secretary school. It’s a good starting point,” Amy’s mother took the opportunity to re-direct the conversation to where she wanted.
Amy didn’t argue. She wasn’t ready to disclose what she really wanted. It wasn’t even clear to her until that moment. Geology was interesting but it didn’t give her the tingling in the spine. Her hair did not stand on end, nor did her heartbeat quicken the way they did when she stepped onto a plane, saw a plane in the sky or even just thinking about it.
I want to be a pilot. Being an aviator is in my bones.