Judy isn’t old, though she feels it today. She smudges lipstick across her sunburnt lips – pink, because that’s what Bruce liked – and pulls on her best linen shirt. She’s been out to the lambs already, but there’s no time for a shower. The bus leaves in 10 minutes. She has to be on it.
The boys were on the ABC again last night. Her boys. She hasn’t met them yet, but she knows all their names. The pronunciation is difficult – she was never good with languages. But she’s determined to practice until she gets it perfect.
She whispers those names over and over as she walks down the hill to the peppercorn tree. ‘Ajmal, Walid, Hakim, Achmed, Ikleel, Mujahid.’
Her boys have been at Darwin Airport Lodge for the last three months. They’re crammed behind the cyclone wire, guarded day and night. They do not go to school. Achmed is 14, Hakim is 17, the others are somewhere in between. Unaccompanied minors, the government calls them.
The ABC calls them castaway kids. There are 900 of them, in detention centres all over Australia. No mother, no father. Plucked from the sea and kept locked out of sight.
Bruce would think she was crazy for taking an interest, but he wouldn’t be surprised. He saw her face as they watched the flickering television screen, all those years ago. The Vietnamese women handing their babies up to the helicopters. She’s hollow when she thinks about it: all those children in danger, and her with a big house and so many empty rooms.
She watches the bus pull to a stop. The slow rattle of brakes, the smell of new diesel. At least it’ll be cooler inside; even under the tree it’s pushing 40 degrees. Puffing, she climbs the steps, catches hold of the rail.
‘Where to Missus?’
‘Town Hall, please.’