Free Texas by Sarah Hay

Book: Texas by Sarah Hay Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sarah Hay
Tags: FIC019000
were Afghans in Australia in those days,’ she said and sipped the tea. It was bitter and body warm.
    â€˜One fella had seventy-two camels. Traded with a Chinese family up at the port and then hawked his stuff down this way and over to the east.’
    She hadn’t realised there were Chinese people either. She’d only heard stories about the English.
    â€˜Old Ali Khan. That was his name. They give him a bit of land for his camels on that big place over the border. He liked to gamble that fella. Whenever the missus from the big house couldn’t find her girls, that’s where they’d be, gambling with old Ali and listening to his bloomin Indian music. One time the missus got fed up and kicked him out. Last time I heard he was heading down to Alice. All his bloomin camels, running wild.
    â€˜Blackfella mob south of here. Fellas there called Ally, same word, you know. That old Afghan, he might a been their daddy or granddaddy, I reckon,’ he chuckled and reached for his tobacco tin which was on the bed beside him.
    The rollie paper stuck to his mottled lip, he looked down at his hands as he rubbed the tobacco, grinding the soft pad of one hand into the palm of the other, the top of them covered in patches of hair springing from pink and brown scabby skin.
    He rolled the tobacco into a thin line that fitted the crease of his palm, took the paper from his mouth, wound it around and licked its seal. The cicadas and the grasshoppers clicked and buzzed like some metallic beast outside. A light movement of air seemed to pass through from the east and heat radiated downwards from the roof. The match scraped the box and she smelt the sulphur then rich, harsh smoke. He stared through it, eyes moist. He paused and rolled the butt between his forefinger and thumb. He looked up.
    â€˜Do you have any family out here?’ she asked.
    â€˜Not that’ve come forward,’ he chuckled, then wheezed.
    â€˜What about back in Ireland?
    He squinted, looking away from her. Not speaking for a while.
    â€˜This’s where I belong,’ he muttered.
    She wanted to ask the bush man more about himself but his eyes had left her and he started to cough. He waved at her and she assumed it meant she was to leave him alone.
    Later that afternoon the truck arrived with the cattle. She heard it from her room and from the veranda she watched it
    Texas pass by the homestead, wheels churning the fine dirt into liquid and the last of the sunlight catching the bulldog emblem on its bonnet. The children poured eagerly from the kitchen with their mother following. The driver released the horn and it sounded like a big tug. She offered to take the boys with her down to the yards but Susannah said it was their bath time. When the dust settled a little, Laura walked to where the road train had pulled up beside the cattle ramp. She called hello to the driver and he acknowledged her with an exaggerated salute. She climbed four sets of rails to open the gate on the other side of the yard so that the animals would be able to run through into the paddock where there was a trough. The driver pulled back the gate on the truck and stood away from the opening, prodding an animal through the gap in the rails with a piece of black poly pipe. She could see a velvet nose pressed between the rails, snorting the strange air, and a wet brown eye. The cattle shuffled and squashed each other against the side of the truck. Heads angled downwards. They bellowed from deep within their throats, a noise only their mothers would recognise. One of them stepped forward, forced into the lead, others quickly following, coloured in all shades of black, brown, grey and white with loose velvety skin and large ears that flopped and flicked, backwards and forwards. They were exotic creatures, nothing like cattle she had ever seen before, except perhaps in photos of Asia. They were only half grown and their flanks were sunken and ribs rippled their skin. She

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