Rhys was reading a novel outside and his face lit up at Kieran's happy expression.
"That wasn't long. You said you might be doing a whole new exam."
"They asked me about the methods I’d use instead, and I only had to show them I knew what I was doing. I could tell they were on my side almost straight away. Mr B must have told them about the study method we used because they got me to use it for only one problem."
"Just one? And they’ve given your scholarship back?"
"The coordinator was great. I was nervous about him at the start but as soon as I talked about the graphing stuff I could tell he was impressed."
"Well, Mr B said it would be okay."
"It's better than okay. As a kind of make up for being called a cheat my scholarship starts as soon as I get back from Central Australia instead of two months later. Geston’s practically done me a favour by starting it all because they’re even offering me one of the private residences if I want it."
"Will you take it, or are you still going to look for a share house?"
"I don't know. The private residences are great because they're all on campus and I wouldn't have to worry about transport, but they’re all one-bedroom setups and there wouldn't be room for anyone else."
"If you go to a share house there might be people you don't like."
"Not the way I'm thinking of doing it. I’d get a place under my own name and pick whoever I want."
"That would cost a lot. Rent’s high for houses in this area."
"It's not too bad three suburbs away."
"That would mean travel time every day."
"I know, but the tram stops right at the College entrance so that's no big deal."
"Sounds like you've already made your mind up."
"Not really. It depends."
"It does? On what?"
"I have to find someone really friendly who likes to slave drive me at swimming."
The big smile that Kieran loved spread all over Rhys's face and Kieran knew it was going to happen.
"Of course you."
"I hope you can cook then."
"I'm hopeless at it."
"Rhys. You're crazy."
"No I'm not. I like eating. Have you seen any good places anywhere?"
"About four or five possibles, but we’d have to check them out to know what they're really like. Can you come with me for the next few weekends to have a look?"
"Wow! You getting your scholarship’s great but I think a share house is even better. How big do you want it to be? If there were a few others it could be cheaper."
"I know, but they'd have to be people we both like."
"How about Tan? You could ask him. He’s friendly ... And he's got a car. That could help with transport."
“Hey, that's a great idea. We'll find out if he can cook first."
The next few weeks were very busy with looking for a share house and getting organised for the big expedition to Central Australia. Tan was completely enthusiastic about the idea of moving into a share house, especially as it would be less then College accommodation prices, and he drove them to seventeen different places they wanted to check. It was his thinking which ended up deciding them on a big old four-bedroom place with a back and side veranda. At first glance they’d discarded it because it looked run down and didn't match the standards of all the other places, but then Tan pointed out that the small enclosed storage area on the back veranda could be used as a study or extra room for another person, and Rhys liked the idea that it was slightly cheaper.
"What do you think, Kieran? It's old but it's got lots of room and it's the closest one to College too. I reckon we should snap it up."
Tan was nodding his agreement as well so a drive to the estate agent made it a done deal with a lease starting one week after the semester break.
Kieran and Rhys had their places confirmed for the Alice Springs trip and in the two weeks before their departure there was an administration meeting about the itinerary and equipment and then another very interesting one with Professor Miles giving them a whole lot of background information.
There was absolutely no trouble from Geston and his group and Rhys laughed at the way they very carefully avoided any contact. Kieran was pleased because the scary look thing was on his mind, and with the other unusual things he didn't want it to happen again. Most days they spent some time at the College swimming pool because that was how Rhys kept himself fit. Mr B turned up a couple of times to coach Kieran. He'd promised a couple of sessions on the night he'd invited them round to celebrate Kieran's scholarship win and Rhys kept complaining that wasn't fair because he was now being beaten in both the backstroke and the freestyle.
"I can't believe this is happening."
Kieran smiled because Rhys had said this three times so far. At the moment he was staring through the small window of the jet as the vast expanse of inland Australia passed steadily below. Technically the window seat he was occupying was his but because of the novelty of it all he'd been making swaps with Kieran so they could share the view. Without the College subsidy Rhys wouldn't have been able to afford this expedition, and now that it was actually happening his excitement was bubbling through his normally quiet manner.
Kieran was just as excited and the thought that they'd be camping near the great monolith of Uluru tonight was the biggest thing in his mind now that they were approaching Mparntwe. Everyone else called it Alice Springs, but after the talk with the elder who'd given them the message stick Mr B had got them into the habit of using the First Australian name. The message stick was stored safely in his pack for when they returned to Mparntwe in four days time.
"Look! It's the airport."
"A barking frog?"
Rhys pressed the button to hear the recording of the Centralian tree frog again. The last three days of exploring Uluru had been wonderful and today they were back in Mparntwe before heading off for two days at Kings Canyon. This morning they were at the Nature Park where many of the local birds and animals were on display. Kieran knew most of the birds because his competition with Mr B to get the biggest list was really going well and his tally was four ahead. The most impressive creature he'd seen here was a giant perentie lizard which had sent Mr B and Rhys into a conversation about dragons. Their guide out at Uluru had told everyone to keep an eye out for them but the only one they'd seen was a roadkill on the track between the camping ground and the Rock. The Rock had been amazing because, as the professor was with them, the whole group had been taken to a special place where ordinary tourists couldn't go and they'd seen curious formations and listen to a Dreamtime explanation of how the Rock came to be.
"Make it bark, Kieran. It will listen to you."
That was a stir because two emus had followed Kieran for a quarter of an hour till he went through a gate to an enclosed section of the sanctuary and then, ignoring everyone else, a big red kangaroo hopped close and stared at him.
It was hard to ignore Rhys's theory about animals reacting to him though. Kieran moved his head close to the glass. Eyes blinked open, the frog's head turned towards him, and Rhys exclaimed with delight.
"See! It's watching you.
This Centre was much bigger than the one at Gariwerd and there were people everywhere, marvelling at the murals, paintings and cultural artefacts on display. Professor Miles had arranged a private session for the tour group and Kieran was eager for it to get started. Because he was holding the message stick from Gariwerd, several First Australians had already given him a check out, but he hadn't offered it to anyone because Mr B said who ever took the group presentation would be the best person. Professor Miles appeared from an office and Kieran's eagerness lifted because the dark skinned person beside him was the elder they'd met at Gariwerd. Kieran watched his eye traverse the twenty-one people of the group then light up with recognition.
"Welcome to Country."
He spoke to the general group but then gave Kieran, Mr B, and Rhys a nod and a smile.
"Let's move to the auditorium. We have arranged a greeting ceremony and a special show to introduce you to some of our local traditions."
In the auditorium the lights were low. There was the rhythmic tapping of music sticks and, as they moved to find seats, two young people in ceremonial costumes painted everyone's forehead with an ochre stripe. Kieran's was a rich red. The presentation went for half an hour with a mixture of modern media and a group of First Australians dancing and acting while three elders spoke. Mr B whispered that they were being given special treatment.
The elder they knew gave a question time then asked if anyone wanted to learn a ceremonial dance. Kieran couldn't resist because the rhythm of the background music had been getting to him throughout the whole presentation and he jumped to his feet along with four others. Rhys didn't move. He was too reserved. The five unsuspecting volunteers were taking to a side room where they were dressed in loose, baggy type loincloths and feathers were clipped to their hair. Back in the auditorium they lined up facing the dancers who'd performed during the presentation. Kieran peeked over and saw Rhys with the biggest grin ever.
The four dancers made a kind of stamping movement then waited. Kieran understood he was meant to copy so he did just that. There was laughter at the ragtag effort by the visitors but that died away and changed to a few claps over the next five minutes while a series of moves was demonstrated, copied and learnt.
Two of the dancers looked to be about twelve or thirteen years old. One was an older person. The leader, he must be because the others were taking their cues from him, was very striking in appearance and action and Kieran quickly stopped looking at the others. There was something unusual though and Kieran puzzled at it till he realised there was no eye contact. Strange. The older dancer gave a guiding touch. Oh my! He was blind!
For the next five minutes Kieran lost himself in the spirit of the dance, stamping and leaping in time with the blind leader, and thrilled by the sound and movement. After a great aggressive bound they'd learnt, the dancers froze, the music stopped, and after lots of clapping the audience gathered on the stage. Rhys rushed close.
"You looked amazing, Kieran. I didn't know you could dance so well."
Kieran was a bit surprised. He did love dancing but in his mind the blind guy who'd led them was the amazing one. He wanted to thank him but couldn't because he was being led through an exit by the older dancer. Kieran pointed.
"He's the amazing one, Rhys. He’s blind and he showed us everything."
"Blind? Are you sure?"
"See, he's touching the other guy's arm so he knows where to go."
The door closed after the pair and Rhys turned wondering eyes to Kieran.
"Wow! It didn't look like it."
Mr B joined them.
"Another hidden talent, Kieran? You looked like a First Australian. We'll have to ask if you can keep your costume so you can put on shows for us round the campfire."
Kieran suddenly felt out of place and moved himself to go to the side room for his clothes. The blind boy was there, now wearing a raggedy pair of jeans and tying the laces of his runners, and by the time Kieran was dressed he was gone again. Mr B and Rhys weren't in the auditorium, which was weird because everyone else was, but the professor saw him looking round and came straight over.
"Well done, Kieran. That was a great exhibition. Burrimul has taken Rhys and Mr B for a conference and they’re waiting for you in the front office.
"It's nothing to do with the tour so I have no idea. Burrimul said it was private business."
Kieran rushed to the office. He had no idea either, except maybe it could be something to do with the message stick which he was holding again. Mr B looked excited and Rhys was almost goggle eyed. Now what?
"We’re going to miss out on the open-air theatre, Kieran. Burrimul wants to welcome us to his family and we’re going to be part of a proper corroboree."
Mr B nodded then looked to Burrimul.
"Yes, Kieran, while I was there the site at Garwerd was visited three times by the local elders and they all agreed it's a sacred place which had been lost to their knowledge. My people would like to thank you for restoring it to us. Would you like to accept our offer?"
Kieran wondered why Burrimul was asking him. It was Mr B who’d found the place. Mr B and Rhys were both nodding emphatically though, so maybe this was a formality which meant they had to agree independently. With sudden insight Kieran realised this was an important moment. His body straightened and instinctively assumed a mantle of dignity and courtesy.
"Burrimul, I deem it an honour. Your court is mine and my court is yours."
The moment passed and, as Kieran took in the three sets of wondering eyes, the words he'd just said replayed in his mind. Deem? Where did that come from? Rhys was sure going to stir him later.
The professor saw them off when the crowded minivan collected them at the camping park. He must be envious because his interests were much more with the Corroboree than a movie show but his duty of care meant he had to stay with the rest of the group. Kieran felt slightly guilty accepting one of the three available seats while others were standing, but they were the guests. Oh my! He was sitting next to the blind dancer. Kieran took stock as the minivan made its way along the busy highway. Apart from Burrimul who was driving there were twelve First Australians, all young looking. The blind boy said something that must have been about Kieran in what must be their own language and there were smiles all round and several responses.
"Sorry. I should speak English shouldn’t I? I wondered if you were nervous about being in a bus full of strangers. My name is Woorawa."
A dark skinned hand extended and Kieran jumped to accept the proffered handshake.
"Hi, I'm Kieran. I was dancing with you at the Centre this afternoon."
The firm grip tightened a little but didn't let go and Kieran wondered if this was a blind person’s way of assessing who they were with.
"Neat. We'll have lots of dancing tonight. Will you want to join in?"
Kieran nodded then felt silly.
"Yes, we all will."
Rhys had an ‘I'll get you look’ at that but he didn't look too worried. Mr B was smiling.
"Uncle thinks the spirits spoke to you at Gariwerd so we're taking you to our own sacred place ... Do you know our Caterpillar Story?"
Uncle? Was that Burrimul?
"Um! ... Only what they explained at the Centre this afternoon. Our professor told us parts of it too."
"Uncle Burrimul, can I tell Kieran the Caterpillar Dream?"
Burrimul glanced back from his driving.
"Yes, Woorawa, you can tell it to our guests while we get ready."
The streetlights ended as the minivan left the outskirts of the town and the only light to see anything by was a small courtesy lamp. Kieran glanced at the windows but everything outside was pitch black.
"Is your College a good place?"
Kieran wasn't quite sure what Woorawa wanted to hear.
"I think it is. We have some good lecturers and there are lots of things to do."
"Do you have a hobby?"
"Not really, except for swimming. I use most of my time to study."
"Does that mean your College has its own pool?"
"Yes, and my slave driver makes me use it nearly every day."
"Not really. Rhys is my friend and he likes to train hard."
"Is he a good friend?"
Kieran was tempted to say something cheeky but he didn't.
"He’s the best. He's looking at us."
"Do you call him slave driver?"
"Yes I do but if I say it now he'll kill me. His name is Rhys."
"Hello, Rhys. Are you really a slave driver?"
Woorawa’s hand went out again and Rhys leaned across to take it.
"No, I'm not. He just says that."
"How do you kill him?"
"Easily. He’s so weak and puny."
So much for Rhys's usual reserve. He was comfortable with Woorawa.
"Are you strong?"
The extended handshake changed as Woorawa’s grip tightened. Rhys responded in kind.
"Mr B. is our friend too. He’s sitting next to Rhys."
The battle of strength ended and Woorawa's hand reached again.
"Hello, Mr B. Is that your real name?"
"Hello, Woorawa. I try to get them to call me Peter but somehow I'm stuck with Mr B. We’re having an interesting time in Mparntwe and listening to your Dreamtime story will be wonderful. Will you be dancing as well?"
There was a general laugh.
"Woorawa always dances. We couldn't stop him."
That was a guy sitting on the other side of Woorawa.
"We all dance, Mr B, unless we’re making the music."
The van slowed and turned off the Ross highway onto a gravel track.
"We’re nearly there and when the van stops there’s a short walk to our meeting place. When we get there I’ll show you the way to our Caterpillar paintings. Have you got a torch?"
"We've all got headlamps."
The minivan stopped and turned into a parking area where the sweep of its headlights showed a dozen other vehicles. There was a light touch on Kieran's arm and with one look he understood he was being asked for help. After the bustle of leaving the minivan Kieran took in the dark of the surrounding night and a red glow flickering in the distance.
"Can you see where we have to go?"
The light touch was there again and Kieran decided he liked the sense of trust which went with it.
"You mean the campfire?"
"Yes, that's it. Just follow the others. It's an easy track. It's all sandy."
Five or six of the others rushed ahead and Burrimul led the slower group.
"Can you see the Caterpillars moving?"
For the last ten minutes Kieran, Rhys, and Mr B had listened, first to a song which they didn't understand because it was in First Australian, and then to the Dreamtime story of how the fight between the three giant caterpillars and their enemies, the stinkbugs, had formed the mountain ranges and other local Mparntwe features.
They'd left the gathering near the big campfire and with Woorawa's guidance made their way to a cleared space near a rock face covered with sacred paintings and started a little fire with the twigs and sticks they'd been prompted to collect. At the moment they were using Kieran's headlamp for a close look at the striking caterpillar representations.
"In my mind I can. Why do they look so fresh? I thought they were hundreds of years old."
"They’re much older than that. We have a repainting ceremony whenever they fade. Can you see the colours properly?"
Kieran switched his headlamp to high-strength and the rich red ochre stood out more.
"Yes, my torch is bright and the colours are strong. Woorawa, there are a lot more stripes than just three caterpillars."
"Can you see the red dots at the top?"
The three red dots were very obvious. Kieran suddenly wondered what red would mean to a blind person and went quiet.
"What's wrong? Can't you see them?"
"Yes, they really stand out. When you said red I started wondering what it meant to you."
"I could see till I was ten years old so I know all the colours. Blue is my favourite ... Have you got blue eyes?"
"Rhys has. Mine are black and Mr B's are green."
“Rhys has blue eyes? Does that mean his hair is blonde?"
"A little bit but mainly brown."
"Blue eyes, black eyes, and green eyes. You are very interesting people. Would you be happy to let me see your faces? It might feel funny because I touch with my fingers and some people don't like that."
Rhys spoke up straight away.
"Try me first, Woorawa. I've read about this in a novel. It means you’d like to know us better doesn't it?"
"Yes, blue-eyed slave driver. It does."
Rhys took Woorawa's hand and guided it to his cheek. By the light of his headlamp Kieran watched the gentle fingers trace carefully across Rhys's features. When it was his turn Kieran got goosebumps. The almost feathery touch was nothing like the firm comfort of one of Rhys's massages.
"What happens, Woorawa? Do you make a picture in your mind?"
"For people who let me do this I usually already have one, Keiran, and sometimes it changes a lot and sometimes it hardly changes at all."
"Did Rhys's change?"
Woorawa's fingers left his face and Kieran guided them to Mr B.
"Yes, he changed a lot ... And you didn't, Kieran! You got more definite."
"What do you think of Mr B?"
"You feel like you all fit together and he has a big smile."
Mr B's smile grew even bigger. The look that Kieran and Rhys were sharing was interrupted by the dramatic sound of a didgeridoo. A second one joined in, and then a third, and the atmosphere of the night changed.
"Wow! That’s unreal. Will we hear the didgeridoos playing much tonight?"
"They won't stop till the night’s over. Let's go. We have to get you ready."
“How much dancing will we be doing? Rhys is nervous about it."
That brought a hefty nudge in the side from Rhys's elbow.
"No I'm not. I just don't know what to do."
"And I feel the same as Rhys."
That was Mr B. Woorawa laughed.
"A corroboree is very exciting and you join in whenever you feel like it."
The didgeridoos got louder.
"How many are there?"
"About twenty but they'll be playing at different times. Some people are learners and some are very clever."
"What about you? Can you play one?"
"A bit. I'll teach you how if you want to try."
Rhys was really keen and asked questions about it while they made their way to the big campfire. People were in groups everywhere, the didgeridoo players sitting on a fallen tree While six young boys were close to the fire with their feet stamping in time to the music. Woorawa called out something and Burrimul answered. Wow! He looked spectacular in a big feathered cloak with lines of ochre on his face and arms. Woorawa had a rapid conversation with Burrimul then a group of helpers gathered round to transform the three visitors. When they were dressed in the same baggy saggy loincloths everyone else was wearing the painters went to work. Mr B ended up looking very distinguished with a cloak like Burrimul.
Kieran wished he had a mirror to see the effect of the red and white ochre being applied to his face. Rhys looked so wild Kieran could hardly believe it. His chest and legs and back were covered with jagged lightning shapes and not even one part of his face was left bare. According to Woorawa, Mr B was the elder, Rhys was the warrior, and Kieran's designs meant he was a spirit man.
Burrimul raised two arms and everything came to a halt.
"The people of Mparntwe welcome you to Country. Tonight you share a place amongst us."
He called a phrase in his language and every person round the campfire repeated it. Woorawa moved towards the glowing bed of coals then very dramatically started one of the stamping movement's Kieran had learned earlier in the day. The didgeridoos joined, growing louder and louder to match the motion with sound.
"Woorawa is stating your welcome. He’s dancing first because he feels he knows you better than the rest of us. Everyone else will soon join in."
Five guys who'd been in the minivan moved to join Woorawa. Another group started on the other side of the fire, and in moments the only people not dancing were the didgeridoo players, Burrimul and the visitors. Kieran's heart pounded with excitement. His eyes caught the different movement as three of the youngest boys darted aside then back to make a blaze of light with handfuls of dried leaves flaring brightly then dying away, complementing all the movement and sound.
"One of you might like to say something."
Mr B, looking quite resplendent in the long elders cloak, moved close to the fire and held up both arms. There were smiles at this direct copying of Burrimul, but it was most appropriate and Kieran was impressed.
"Thank you people of Mparntwe. It is a wonderful honour to be with you tonight."
Instead of more words Mr B made a copy of the stamping movement Woorawa had started with. It was a poor copy, without style and grace, but that didn't matter because after the smiles, cheers, and clapping the didgeridoos sounded and everyone joined in.
"Go on! Off you go!"
Kieran grabbed Rhys.
"Come on. We have to help Mr B."
Rhys had even less style but that changed as the spirit of the moment lifted him out of his awkwardness.
The next few hours passed with all sorts of dances, storytelling by Burrimul and another elder which the visitors only understood because of Woorawa's running commentary, a steady supply of food, and the ever present music.
Kieran was sitting with Woorawa, happily unwrapping the tinfoil from a couple of large potatoes which had been baking in the hot ashes, when a pressure behind his temples made him look at the campfire. Oh no, not now. Pain came from nowhere in a savage assault. In the moments before he closed his eyes the people round the campfire blurred to confusion. Another sharp stab of pain startled him so much he dropped the potatoes and clutched at his temples.
"Woorawa, can you see Rhys anywhere? I need him."
“What’s happening, Kieran? Your voice tells me something is wrong."
"I get migraine headaches sometimes and this one is bad. Rhys knows how to help me."
Woorawa called out and after a moment the didgeridoos stopped. Woorawa called again and there were a number of responses.
"He's gone to the minivan with Mr B to collect my didgeridoo."
An even stronger stab of pain made Kieran groan and rock his head back and forth.
"Someone’s running to the van and they’ll be here in a few minutes. How does Rhys help you? Can we do something while we’re waiting?"
"I'm sorry, Woorawa. It's usually not as bad as this. I just lie down and he massages my head."
There was a scurry of movement and Kieran felt himself tipped backwards. His head rested on the sand and his eyes opened long enough to register the shapes of a whole group of people round him. A hand rested on his forehead.
"Tell me what to do."
"Rub my temples. That feels best."
Firm hands rubbed at both temples and Kieran stayed quiet, accepting the help that he knew wouldn't work. He withdrew into himself. Where are you, Rhys? I need you. He sensed the continuing massages and the sudden movement of bodies against him but didn't open his eyes.
"What's happened? Is he unconscious?"
"I don't know. He said it was migraine and rubbing his temples might help till you got here."
"Hold his head up while I have a try."
After a few seconds Kieran felt the longed for sensation of warmth. The pain was still there but he pushed it away and gratefully accepted the rising flush of heat. Rhys had done it again. A smile built. Kieran started to open his eyes but a great wash of sensation carried him away.
"He's still smiling."
Kieran blinked his eyes open.
"And he’s awake. Kieran, do you feel all right?"
Mr B. was looking down at him. Burrimul without his cloak, was looking down at him. The cloak was spread on top of him. A whole ring of silent people were all looking down at him.
"Yes, I feel good. Have I been asleep for long?"
"Twenty minutes. We’ve all been waiting."
Mr B was speaking very softly. Kieran sat up and saw why. Covered with cloaks, two other forms were lying on the ground beside him. Rhys and Woorawa. Woorawa?
"Lie down again and close your eyes again, Kieran. They’ve both stirred in the last few minutes and we think they’re close to waking."
Kieran closed his eyes but only for a moment.
"Did I zap both of them?"
"You certainly did, and I’m not looking for a sensible explanation. Along with at least a dozen other witnesses I saw it with my own eyes."
Mr B touched a finger to his lips and Kieran looked at Rhys. Twenty minutes. That was different. The other times it had only been a few. Rhys's eyes blinked open and he looked straight at Kieran.
"You did it again. Are you all right?"
It was Kieran's turn to signal for quiet. Rhys gave a blank look then sat up and took in the circle of quiet watchers and the covered shape of Woorawa.
"Yes. We’re waiting for him to wake up."
"Why is everyone staring?"
Mr B. answered.
"Burrimul stopped the Corroboree when I told him this had happened before and you were just asleep and would wake up in a few minutes."
Kieran suddenly realised the strangeness of all these people sitting quietly for so long. He started to say something but Woorawa moved and his arm appeared from under the cloak. Good. He was waking up. There would be a lot of explaining to do. Kieran started to smile. Rhys would be using his human battery idea and saying they'd been zapped. By the light of the little standing lamp someone had set up close by, Kieran watched Woorawa's face and wondered what it was like for a blind person to wake up. You'd have to get your bearings by feel or maybe by listening for someone to tell you.
Woorawa's eyes opened and Kieran's heart nearly stopped at the strange call of shock and convulsive movement to roll to the side and cover his head. There was another indecipherable sound and Kieran's first weird thought was that maybe his migraine had somehow been transferred. On pure impulse, he was right next to Woorawa, Kieran rested a hand on the broad shoulder presented to him. Lost for what to do he looked into the eyes of Burrimul who was now on his knees. Another hand joined his own on Woorawa's shoulder and for a puzzling few seconds they watched as Woorawa's hands moved back and forth from his face.
"The light is too bright."
During the few seconds it took for Kieran to take in the import, Burrimul shouted in his language and someone dived to turn off the standing torch. In the dim campfire light Kieran watched Woorawa's hands moved tentatively to the side as if ready to clap back into place. His head twisted up slowly.
"Uncle Burrimul. I can see you."
Half of Burrimul's face was in shadow but the other half reflected a soft glow and for an utterly poignant moment Woorawa's palm rested against it. Kieran didn't say anything. With a feeling of wonder and unreality he listened to the murmur of voices spreading, watched Woorawa stare at his hands, then give attention to each of the people close to him.
"I can see! Uncle Burrimul, I can see!"
There was an interchange of words between Woorawa and Burrimul which Kieran couldn't understand but at the end of it Burrimul jumped to his feet and called with a loud cry which the whole gathering repeated. In the ensuing silence Woorawa said something else then covered his eyes while the little standing torch was switched on again. He carefully uncovered his eyes and looked again at the much more brightly lit people around him.
"It's all right, Uncle Burrimul. The light frightened me the first time because it was such a shock."
Burrimul knelt again and, with a pause every time Woorawa stopped to look at something new, the two spoke rapidly for several minutes in their First Australian language. Woorawa pointed to Rhys, spoke in a loud voice, then changed to English.
"I just told them that the hands of the Warrior let me see again. Thank you, Rhys!"
Rhys looked stunned for a moment then started shaking his head.
"No! No! Woorawa. It's not me. It comes from Kieran. When he gets his headaches he's like a battery. Didn't you feel the heat or whatever it is he gives off?"
"Heat? Yes it was like that ... But it only happened when you started your massages."
"I know. I don't understand that, but it definitely comes from Kieran. He special. He can do things."
"Rhys, don't be silly."
"I'm not being silly, Kieran. You know it's true and so does Mr B. He can't understand how you can swim like you do and learn things so quickly. And there are all the other things. That's why it has to be you."
"Not now, Rhys. Woorawa should be going to see an eye doctor."
That brought another several minutes of exchange between Burrimul and Woorawa. This time it was about his eyes because he closed them one at a time, followed his own moving finger with each of them, looked at things in the distance, and then things close to the standing lamp.
"Tomorrow, Uncle Burrimul. We'll see an eye doctor then but I know I don't need to. Everything is all right. Tell everyone to start the Corroboree again so I can watch."
Burrimul looked doubtful but gave a nod and called out. A didgeridoos started and when Woorawa stood up he put the elder’s cloak across his shoulders.
"Uncle Burrimul tells me I have to wear this for the rest of the night. He says it's a spiritual thing but I think it's so I won't start dancing. I want to see all my friends, so will you talk with him for a while?"
Kieran nodded then wondered about Woorawa's strange look.
"I'm sorry, Kieran. I haven't seen a nod for such a long time I had to think about it."
He suddenly sobbed and, shaking with emotion, wrapped his arms round Burrimul for a huge hug. Kieran's throat tightened at the site of the moisture glistening in Burrimul's eyes. The long hug finished and Woorawa turned to one of the van travellers who was standing close. Burrimul composed himself then looked at the three visitors and pointed at the ground. What? Rhys picked up the ground lantern and the pool of light followed as they moved away from the campfire.
"Did you light a fire at the Caterpillar place? My people will soon explode with excitement and we won't be able to hear ourselves speak."
The glowing coals were soon augmented with new twigs and sticks and when the flames started dancing they settled close. Burrimul chanted something in his language then sat in silence with a big smile.
"I just welcomed you to this sacred place again, but I don't know how to speak. My heart is filled with happiness and a great wonder for what you have done tonight."
He touched Rhys on the arm.
"Woorawa told me that as elder for our people I must listen to your story. He thinks there is a great mystery surrounding you."
"Me? I haven't got a story."
"Yes you have. You started to tell it when Woorawa thanked you and you said there was more."
"You mean about Kieran? That's not a story. It's real. Mr B. tries to make explanations and Kieran says everything must be a fluke or coincidence or something but it can't be."
"After tonight I've changed my mind, Rhys. Faith healing is the only thing I know of that's anywhere near like what's happened. It's sometimes called the laying on of hands, and that part fits, but there are other things, Burrimul, and they don't."
Burrimul shifted his attention to Kieran.
"Are you happy for us to talk about these things, Kieran?"
"We talk about them a lot, especially me and Rhys, so I don't mind at all. We can't make any sense of it. Well, I can't."
Mr B. spoke up.
"Kieran has a special mind. He understands things at an amazing speed and his memory seems to be almost photographic. That's the first thing I noticed ... And his swimming and climbing ability."
"He swims like a fish and climbs like Spiderman."
"I'm not Spiderman. Rhys, you're a galah."
Mr B. laughed.
"Close, but not quite. Rhys, you tell the rest. You’re close to Kieran and you've seen more."
"I am close to Kieran. And since I met him I’ve stopped being lonely. He helps me all the time, and does funny things to make me happy, and he's the most amazing person I've ever met. He’s clever and complicated about ordinary life things but as well as that he can do things that aren't ordinary."
Rhys turned to Kieran.
"Burrimul is a wise man, Kieran and I want him to understand you are much more special to me for things like friendship and kindness and trust them for the strange things."
Kieran gave a nod because he couldn't speak.
Rhys turned back to Burrimul.
"There's something amazing about Kieran and animals. When we were at Gariwerd an eagle nearly landed on his arm and then a wild honeyeater walked on his head. Today at the Nature Park the emus followed him everywhere and when I told him to talk to a tree frog it reacted straight away."
"Yes, a big wedgetail."
Kieran watched Burrimul's head nodding while Rhys related the details of each incident. Nodding? Did it mean something to him?
"He can be scary too. There was a nasty group at our College who started picking on us and he stopped them just by looking at them."
"With the force of his personality?"
"Sort of, but it felt like more than that to me, and one of them even fainted."
"You felt it yourself?"
"Not with the others. We did an experiment later when we were trying to make sense of it and it frightened the hell out of me."
Once again Burrimul wanted all the details and as they poured out Kieran watched Mr B's amazement.
"Kieran, I want you to try the same experiment on me right now."
"I don't like it. I’ll have to make myself feel angry at you."
"You managed with Rhys who loves you, so you can manage with me."
It was hard to reconstruct the right mood but eventually it worked and when Burrimul leapt to his feet with both arms warding in front and chanting something, Kieran closed his eyes and let the induced emotions drain away. He opened them to see Rhys and Mr B standing as well and looking as amazed as Burrimul. Rhys broke the tableau.
"It's stopped now, Burrimul. See what I mean about scary?"
"This is a new thing for me, Kieran. We have old stories about songs or words of strength from Kadaitcha men which give fear, but you do this without words."
Rhys asked the question which Kieran was wondering.
"What's a Kadaitcha man?"
"A man with knowledge and strength who can give justice. Some stories say his song can even make a person die."
At the sudden look and blossoming grin from Rhys, Kieran knew this was going to be a new nickname.
"So, a Kadaitcha man’s very wise and clever is he? Rhys is going to start calling me one."
"He might be right. I think..."
Everyone turned to watch the approaching light.
"Uncle Burrimul, can I join in?"
Without waiting for an answer Woorawa grabbed a few sticks and added them to the little fire.