Wirambi knelt and dug the moist ground with his fingers. He rolled a lump of soil in a ball and rubbed it on his forehead in a circular motion.
“I am Wirambi, son of Witjiti and Kinawinta, of planet Alcheringa. Please accept me on your land, Guriyal, and protect me.”
He watched the echo of his words bounce on the cliff face and fall on the ground, which shimmered with spirit energy in a multitude of shades of purple.
Now that his presence had been accepted, he could continue his journey knowing he would be able to draw his strength from this land, infused with the power of his totemic ancestor.
He had landed his spaceship at the foot of a snow-crested mountain on planet Currunjiwal. In the time of creation Guriyal had made love with Tjunkaya on the summit of the mountain after saving her from the evil Darluvouduk, and their spirit children had wandered along his songline, populating the planets he had created.
The same songline Wirambi was following. He had eight-hundred and eighty-eight standard time units left to complete his interstellar walkabout. At his return to Alcheringa, he would turn eighteen and become a fully-fledged adult member of the Guriyal nation. Only then could he ask the beautiful Elandra to marry him.
But that was assuming he would return. Boys who could not come back from their walkabout in time for their eighteenth birthday never came back at all. They settled on other planets where they had the same status of second-class citizens they would have had on their home planet, but without the shame of facing their families and friends. There was a settlement of such outcasts on Alcheringa, but they kept to themselves and Wirambi had never spoken to any of them.
He was confident he would make it in time, too confident in the eyes of the elders who knew the dangers Wirambi was going to face.
Whether or not Elandra was going to accept him was a different matter. He had tried to approach her, but she had waved him off like an annoying insect. She only had eyes for the ugly Galypilu, the son of the shaman who must have put a spell on Elandra to make her fall in love with his son. Either that or her father saw a union with the shaman’s family as a way to increase his influence on the tribe.
But things were going to change on Wirambi’s return. He pictured Elandra listening to the heroic deeds he had performed during his walkabout, her eyes ablaze with love and admiration, Galypilu burning with jealousy.
Squawking interrupted his reverie. He chided himself for being distracted, but he reminded himself that thinking about Elandra wasn’t a distraction, it was a motivation.
Darluvouduk had been defeated, but his descendants had survived and they had recognized Wirambi as a child of their ancestor’s nemesis. Wirambi shrugged. He had Guriyal’s strength on his side, more than enough to overcome the black birds with scaly wings who were circling his spaceship.
Wirambi’s task on Currunjiwal was to walk to the summit of the sacred mountain and spill a drop of his blood, as an offering to Guriyal.
He checked the contents of his backpack: a gourd of water, a bag of Darrangara nuts, two bumarits, curved sticks carved from the sacred Galimbula tree he could use as weapons, a length of rope and a coat he had made from the pelts of three tree-dwelling animals that looked like burumins he had killed at his previous stopping place on planet Badagaroong. Not only was he going to need it to keep warm here, it was also evidence of his passage he had to bring home. He put it on top of his purple kaftan and looked around him, searching for something unique he could bring back from this planet. The birds flew away as if they had guessed his intentions.
When he reached the summit, Wirambi saw three black birds attacking a purple parrot on the snow. It was dodging its assailants and defending itself with its claws and beak as best it could, but the black birds were closing in on it. He walked towards them as fast as he could, his feet sinking in the snow. He took the bumarits out of his backpack and struck them together in the rhythm of a warrior dance. The birds glanced at him and then continued their attack. He threw one of the bumarits which hit the head of the biggest bird. It fell on the snow and the other birds flew away. Wirambi reached the birds’ prey and saw that half of its feathers had been plucked off and it was shivering.
“Fear not, son of Guriyal. I am here.”
The parrot emitted a soft cry.
Seeing a shadow cast over the snow, Wirambi turned around and hit a bird that was swooping on him with a bumarit. He didn’t see another bird coming from behind. It tore a piece out of his neck with its beak as it pounced on him and he felt blood trickling down his back. When it came back, he didn’t miss it.
The other bird circled him, squawking with rage at the sight of two of his kind lying dead on the snow and his stolen dinner.
Wirambi picked up the parrot and put it against his chest, covering it with his coat. He gave it some nuts which it nibbled slowly. The black bird gave up and flew away.
The sun made the snow sparkle, but the sharp wind stung his skin.
From where Wirambi was standing he had a spectacular view of the landscape surrounding the mountain. It was nothing like Alcheringa with its lively volcanoes and dense luxuriant forests. Here grass-covered craters, dwarfed by the sacred mountain, hinted at past volcanic activity. In the distance a small city had been built on the edge of a lake. Wirambi was accustomed to the smell of sulfur and Duralini flowers, but on Currunjiwal the air was barren of odors. These differences didn’t stop him feeling as much at home here as he did on Alcheringa or Badagaroong, because Guriyal’s spirit linked together the planets he had created, making them feel as one.
He glanced at the parrot. Its eyes were closed, but it was still breathing. There was no time to lose. He had to be back at the ship before nightfall. It was too risky to sleep in the open if that black bird came back for revenge with the rest of his flock.
Now that his blood had been spilt on the mountain and he had evidence of his visit on Currunjiwal, he would be able to leave as soon as he reached his spaceship, provided the parrot survived its ordeal. Bringing back the body of a dead totemic ancestor would bring bad luck not only to him but to the whole tribe.
He named it Kooriwan.
“Guriyal, you have entrusted me with your flesh and blood, and I will show you I am worthy of this honor.”
He pictured himself with Kooriwan spreading his wings and Elandra admiring its perfect purple color. “How brave you were, rescuing it from the evil sons of Darluvouduk. He is so beautiful and strong,” she would say. “You’re a brave warrior, Wirambi. You deserve to have a strong woman beside you.” She would then look at him knowingly and he would nod, all smiles inside.
He continued his descent, walking faster and ignoring the pain from the wound in his neck, hoping he was going to reach the spaceship in time to apply herbs that would stop an infection from the germs of the birds that could be fatal. What a humiliating and sad demise of his walkabout that would be.
Wirambi placed his coat on the co-pilot’s chair and put Kooriwan in the middle. He was relieved to see it was strong enough to stand up.
“You’re safe here, Kooriwan. We’re going to a far-away place where Darluvouduk won’t reach you.”
“Kooriwan,” the bird repeated.
“Yes, that’s your name, and I’m–”
Kooriwan knew his name. Wirambi’s heart soared. It was a sign he had been chosen by Guriyal himself to rescue his son.
He sat down in the pilot’s chair and instructed the ship to initiate the take-off sequence. Kooriwan and the spaceship took off at the same time, one landing on Wirambi’s left shoulder, the other flying above the sacred mountain, which after a few minutes became a tiny white dot on the surface of planet Currunjiwal.
Soon the spaceship flew past one of the planet’s two moons and Wirambi adjusted the course to go towards a yellow halo of energy, the Yarrundji jump point.
“We are going into Yarrundji, Kooriwan. Your father and the other ancestors created it.”
The bird didn’t answer, but Wirambi continued his narrative, grateful to have someone to talk to. Boys had to complete the walkabout on their own, but he had broken that rule for a perfectly good reason. He was privileged to travel with a son of his ancestor, and he was sure it was going to bring him luck.
“Jump points have to be a certain distance from planets and stars because their gravity interferes with them. The nearest jump point is forty time units flight from planet Currunjiwal.”
Wirambi had waited for his walkabout with a mixture of fear of the unknown, and excitement because it was the first time he was going into Yarrundji. It was an alternate region of space co-existing with the universe, allowing interstellar travel provided you sang the appropriate verse of your ancestor’s songline. Every planet, star and nebula in the universe had been sung into existence by the ancestors. Singing a songline was not only a way to navigate through the universe in Yarrundji, it was also a way to recreate the creation, but only if it was sung correctly. If the songlines ceased to be sung, or were sung incorrectly, the universe would no longer exist.
Every verse of Guriyal’s songline Wirambi had memorized allowed him to travel from one stage of his walkabout to the next. He put the spaceship on autopilot and practiced singing the next verse, which was going to take him to the Kataginga stellar system where another of Guriyal’s tribes lived.
Kooriwan repeated it faithfully.
“Well it’s your song, isn’t it? You must know it better than I do.”
Wirambi yawned. “I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. I’m going to my bunk to sleep.”
Kooriwan followed Wirambi and nestled against his chest.
When Wirambi woke up, he told Kooriwan about his dream.
“I saw a woman, she was calling me. ’Wirambi, Wirambi,’ she said. ‘The whitefellas took my daughter away. Please help me find her.’ How does she know my name? I’m sure I’ve never seen her before.”
“Her name is Niningka. She’s on an island called Australia on Terra, the third planet from the sun.”
“I’ve never heard of it. In which songline is it?”
Kooriwan did not answer, but it had to be in one of the ninety-nine songlines. Wirambi knew the names of the ancestors to which the songlines belonged, but not the songlines themselves. That knowledge was reserved for the shamans of each of the ninety-nine nations. Ancestors and their descendants kept to their own songline, but somehow Kooriwan, son of Guriyal, knew where the woman in Wirambi’s dream was from, and where her planet was, even though it was in another ancestor’s songline.
“How do you know so much about that woman? Did you have the same dream as I had?”
Kooriwan did not answer. Wirambi dropped the matter. It was certainly just a coincidence that the woman had called him. There must be other people in the universe with the same name as him. The woman’s problem had nothing to do with him. He had more important things to do.
He was getting close to the jump point, twenty-eight time units to go before he could make the jump.
“Are you hungry?”
Wirambi didn’t wait for an answer. He shared a bowl of Darrangara nuts with his companion. He admired the stars, thinking that a lifetime would not be enough to visit all the stellar systems. There were some where no life existed, and when he had asked why the ancestors had created stellar systems to leave them empty, the shaman had rebuked him for asking too many questions.
Niningka called him again in his sleep.
“Wirambi, I want my Loorea back. Every day I think of her and I cry. The whitefellas won’t tell me where she is. I know she’s still alive, I feel it in my bones. Why aren’t you answering me? I’m not asking for much. Just help me find her.”
Wirambi woke up with his heart pounding. Kooriwan was looking at him knowingly, as if Wirambi’s dream was no secret to him,
“She called again and she really sounded desperate. Whoever she’s calling hasn’t done anything, unless it’s really me she’s calling. Hah! Imagine how Elandra would be impressed if I rescued Niningka’s daughter from those whitefellas, whoever they are. It would certainly take her mind off Galypilu.”
Wirambi stood up and sighed.
“This isn’t going to work. Terra isn’t in Guriyal’s songline, so I have to ask for permission to land there, otherwise I would be trespassing, but the ship’s comm system has been disabled for the walkabout. On the other hand, if she’s called me, then surely I don’t need permission. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m even considering this. I don’t know how to get there.”
Wirambi went to the pilot cabin. The jump point was approaching.
“Hold on, we’re going to enter the Yarrundji in one time unit.”
Kooriwan started singing a verse from a songline Wirambi had never heard. It described the great river of the Milky Way, Sol, the heart of the solar system, Mercury, Venus and Terra with its enormous oceans that covered most of the planet.
The bird had given him directions. He had no excuse now.
“Thanks Kooriwan, but if I get into trouble because I deviated from my songline or because I got delayed, I’ll tell the elders you talked me into going to Terra.”
Wirambi pulled the lever to activate the Yarrundji drive and a swooshing sound filled the ship. He felt every cell in his body vibrate and closed his eyes because he knew from the last time that the energy fields would leave him sightless for two time units.
When the hissing sound stopped he opened his eyes. There was only a dark-blue nothingness outside. He was in the Yarrundji and the ship was still, waiting for its pilot to give it directions.
Kooriwan was looking at him.
“Are you sure about this?” Wirambi asked.
The bird nodded.
While Wirambi sang the directions to Terra, a green light filled the cabin signaling that the ship was translating the songline into Yarrundji coordinates.
He finished with the ritual phrase that concluded every verse of every songline in the universe: “May Awakunduk protect us on our journey.”
Awakunduk was the very first ancestor, the father of all ancestors. Only shamans and travelers in Yarrundji were allowed to say his holy name.
A yellow line appeared outside, the path that the ship was going to follow to the closest jump point to planet Terra.
Doubts assailed Wirambi. Who were the whitefellas that he was going to confront? How was he going to save Niningka’s daughter? What if the real Wirambi showed up? Was Kooriwan really what Wirambi thought it was, or had the bird led him into a trap?
There was no turning back now.
Guided by Kooriwan, Wirambi landed his spaceship near a house resting on the same flat red ground he had seen in his dream. Kooriwan flew out of the ship, while Wirambi climbed down the ladder. He dug the dry soil with his fingers. He started ritually rubbing it on his forehead and stopped when he realized he couldn’t ask for protection from the ancestor spirit of this land because he didn’t know who it was. To be on the safe side, he asked Awakunduk.
A woman walked towards them, and when she was close enough Wirambi recognized Niningka. Like Wirambi she had a broad nose, curly black hair and dark skin, but unlike Wirambi who only wore purple clothes, the clothes she wore were all of different colors, making it impossible to tell which nation she was from.
She looked at the spaceship and exclaimed, “Is that you, Wirambi? Have you come down from the spirit island of Baraku in your canoe? It’s much bigger than I imagined.”
“Well yes, I am Wirambi, the one you called. I have come to help you find Loorea. And this is Kooriwan, the son of my totemic ancestor.”
“You can’t be Wirambi if your totemic ancestor is a parrot!”
“Wirambi is a bat, he’s my totemic ancestor.”
“What’s a bat?”
“You don’t know what a bat is? It has a furry body, little ears and black wings about this wide,” said Niningka, holding out her hands.
“So it’s a sort of bird then?”
“No it’s not. It doesn’t have a beak and it doesn’t lay eggs.”
“Hmm, interesting. As you can see, I’m not your ancestor. In fact I’m no one’s ancestor. I’m just a boy doing my walkabout.”
“Which mob are you from?”
“I’m the son of Witjiti and Kinawinta of planet Alcheringa.”
“You’re from another planet? So what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be doing your walkabout on your own planet?”
“No, that’s the point of the walkabout: you follow your ancestor’s songline to visit all the planets he created.”
“I’ve never heard of songlines with other planets. How could we follow them?”
“With a spaceship, like that one.”
“We don’t have them here, but Uncle Dingo said the whitefellas launched a rocket and they’re gonna walk on the moon when they get there next week. It’s gonna be on television, but only whitefellas have one.”
“Those whitefellas you keep talking about, who are they?”
“Hah! You don’t know what a whitefella is either? Don’t they have men with white skins where you’re from?”
Wirambi shook his head. No one had ever told him such an unthinkable thing existed.
“But why did they take your daughter?”
“Come on inside, I’ve made some tea. You can drink a cuppa while I tell you the story.”
Wirambi and Kooriwan, who had been quietly listening on Wirambi’s shoulder, followed her.
The smell of despair and sadness in the house overwhelmed Wirambi. He bowed his head as he accepted the cup of hot pungent liquid that Niningka offered him.
“One day, when Loorea was ten, I was at the grocery shop with her. There were two other mums with their children with us. The cops came and told us all to follow them. I asked why because we hadn’t done anything wrong, but one of the cops didn’t like that. He grabbed my arm and pushed me and the others into the van. Another cop said they were taking us to Broome. After a few minutes the van stopped and they threw me and the other mums out of the van. Loorea jumped on my back, crying, but the cop pulled her off and threw her back in the van.”
What strange place this is where innocent children can be taken from their mums, thought Wirambi.
“The cops pushed me and the other mums away, and then they drove off. We chased the van, calling our kids and yelling for the cops to stop, but they kept going and we were left there on our own. We walked to Broome, crying all the way. When we got there the next day we went straight to the police station but they said they hadn’t seen any kids. So now I have no idea where she is. I’ve spoken to other mums and the same thing happened to them. No one knows why the cops have done that. Uncle Dingo thinks they’ve sent the kids to the mines, but I don’t believe him. If they wanted people to work in the mines, they would take grown-ups, not the kids. That was seven years ago, and I’ve been asking Wirambi for help every day, but what can you do?”
“Loorea is in Perth,” said Kooriwan.
“Where’s Perth?” asked Wirambi.
“That’s the big city down south,” said Niningka. “But how would he know Loorea is there?”
“Trust me, he knows. He’s the one who gave me directions to get here.”
Niningka stood up and looked at Wirambi pleadingly. “We have to go there and bring her back. Please, I beg you. I cry every day, wondering where she is and if she’s OK.”
“Kooriwan and I will go, but you’ll have to stay here. My ship isn’t big enough and besides it could be dangerous. Do you have a holo of her so that I can recognize her?”
“What’s a holo?”
A picture of a girl who looked like Niningka but with lighter skin and the same age as Wirambi appeared in his mind. He looked at Kooriwan, wondering how he had done that.
“Don’t worry, Kooriwan will find her.”
Wirambi landed his spaceship where Kooriwan told him to, in an oval field with four large poles at each end.
Passers-by stared at the spaceship and the dark-skinned young man with purple clothes climbing down the ladder with a parrot of the same color on his shoulder. The spectators searched for the cameras and crew they thought were filming a scene from a science-fiction movie.
The colors of the electro-magnetic energy fields and radio waves flying above the ground in a chaotic manner gave Wirambi a headache.
“This is where Loorea lives,” said Kooriwan when they reached a weatherboard house.
Wirambi walked to the front door and tried to open it, but it was locked, an unknown concept for him. Houses on planet Alcheringa were always open and people could come in freely if they had to see someone for family or tribal business.
“Is anyone there?” Wirambi shouted.
The door opened, revealing a fat man with hair the color of a burumin’s fur and eyes as blue as the oceans of planet Terra that Wirambi had flown over.
“What do you want?”
“I’m looking for a girl named Loorea.”
“Piss off you boonga or I’ll call the cops.”
Wirambi shivered. The man was not a cop himself because he was threatening to call them, so why had they brought Loorea to this man’s house?
The man closed the door and Wirambi walked to a neighboring house, thinking that if he waited for Loorea to come out, he could speak to her. A short time later, he saw Loorea walking down the street towards her house; she wore a light blue dress and carried a bag on her back. He walked up to her and said, “Loorea, I’ve come to bring you back to your mum.”
“I’m not Loorea; I’m Jane and Mum’s waiting for me at home.”
They must have given her a new name, thought Wirambi.
“No, your real mum.”
“You’re lying, she’s dead.”
“She’s not. She asked me to find you.”
“Leave me alone!”
“It’s true. Look, she gave me this riji. It fell when the cops took you away.”
Wirambi showed her a pearl shell in which were carved a bat and mysterious symbols. A tear flowed down her cheek. “One day, I ran away because I was missing Mum. When the man who forces me to call him Dad found me, he hit me and said that Mum was dead and if I tried to run away once more he would give me back to the cops.”
“Don’t worry, Kooriwan and I will take you to your real home where your real mum is waiting for you, and no one will stop us, but we better be quick.”
“But that bastard is going to run after me. Do you have a car?”
“Even better, I have a spaceship, and you’ll be home in one time unit.”
“A spaceship? You’re having me on! Mum was right, I shouldn’t talk to strangers. I don’t know how you got my riji, but give it back!”
“Wait. I can prove I’m not lying. Just follow me and I’ll show you my spaceship. It’s parked over there, in an oval field.”
“OK, but if it’s not there, promise you’ll leave me alone.”
Loorea followed Wirambi and Kooriwan. They stopped when they saw a crowd around the field, and policemen inspecting the spaceship.
“Is that your spaceship? It’s very small. I saw the rocket they’ve sent to the moon on television, and it’s much bigger.”
“When boys like me do a walkabout, they always take a small ship. It’s only got room for two people, but that’s all we need.”
“But that’s cheating! You’re supposed to walk, aren’t you? That’s why it’s called a walkabout. I read about it in a book I got from the library. My so-called Dad was furious I was interested in aborigines. He said they’re evil savages and I should just forget about them and be grateful he saved me from damnation.”
“But we can’t just walk. We need a spaceship to travel to the other planets in our ancestor’s songline.”
“What do you mean other planets? Where are you from?”
“Never heard of it. I only know Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.”
“That’s because it’s not in your stellar system.”
“So how did you find Earth?”
“That’s what we call this planet.”
“After your mum called me, Kooriwan sang a verse of a songline to get here.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I’ll explain later. You’ve got to trust me.”
Loorea hesitated. “But I haven’t got my stuff. I can’t just leave it.”
“If you go back, your dad will stop you. It’s your last chance.”
Loorea looked at the spaceship, at her riji and what she was going to leave behind.
“OK, but how are you going to get your spaceship back?”
“I’ll ask those men to leave it alone.”
“Don’t! They’re cops, they’ll lock you up.”
“Because you’re a blackfella, and your spaceship probably damaged the field.”
Never had Wirambi felt so far away from home. This place was completely alien and he didn’t understand why Niningka’s people were oppressed. Those whitefellas were barbaric, and primitive too: if they were just about to walk on their moon for the first time, it meant they were far from being able to travel to other stellar systems, which was just as well.
A van arrived and men dressed in white from head to toe started examining the spaceship with some strange instruments.
“What are they doing to my ship?”
“The way they’re dressed, I reckon they’re checking if it’s radioactive and if it’s got any alien germs. Then they’ll study it. They look like scientists, so they must be very excited to have found a spaceship.”
“They’re probably not going to sleep in it. As soon as they go, we’ll make a move.”
When darkness fell, the scientists, the crowd of onlookers and the policemen left, except for two police officers who stayed, apparently to guard the ship.
“What do we do now?” Loorea asked.
Wirambi was about to reply that he was going to take care of the cops when he realized that he’d left something on board.
“I’ve left my bumarits in the spaceship.”
“They’re two curved sticks made from the sacred Galimbula tree. I use them for hunting.”
“So you have boomerangs too. You know, you’re pretty normal for an alien. ”
“I have another idea. Kooriwan, go and fly around the cops; that should distract them for a while.”
Wirambi picked up some gum tree branches from the nature strip.
“Are you going to make some boomerangs?”
Wirambi shook his head and whispered, “Help me, we need as many as possible.”
Loorea and Wirambi carried the branches to the white posts behind the spaceship out of sight of the policemen. Wirambi broke off two sticks and cut a notch into one of them with his knife. He put this stick on the ground and placed some dry leaves and grass in the notch. Then he twirled the other stick vigorously with his two hands at a ninety-degree angle into the notch. After a few seconds the kindling ignited and he fanned it to create a flame which ignited the heap of branches. While the policemen went to investigate the source of the smoke, Wirambi and Loorea ran to the other side of the ship, where Kooriwan was waiting for them.
They climbed into the ship, and Wirambi asked Loorea to sit in the co-pilot’s chair.
“I hope they haven’t broken anything, or else we’re in trouble.”
The ship’s engine reacted to Wirambi’s command. Relieved, he pressed his palm on his heart.
Attracted by the noise, the policemen had turned around and were pointing their guns at the spaceship.
“Cops aren’t happy,” said Kooriwan.
The spaceship took off and soon it was flying above the immensity of the bush.
Loorea remembered the panic and the tears that had flowed incessantly during the trip to Perth in a van seven years ago, but not the scenery. Her “parents” never took her to the bush, so the sight of the red earth brought back memories of her previous life with her real family.
“Look at the people down there,” said Loorea. “They’re as small as ants.”
Loorea’s heart was filled with excitement and apprehension. She was going to see her mum again after mourning her for so long, she was going back to the people the whitefellas had tried to make her forget. She felt more white than black now and she wondered if they had been successful, but her heart spoke out. It knew where she belonged and she had to trust the voice that was telling her she was going home.
Wirambi witnessed Niningka and Loorea’s tearful reunion and listened to them talking about the years they had been separated. Loorea about her life in a white family, Niningka about births and deaths in their mob. After a while, Wirambi retired to the ship, but sleep eluded him as he lay on his bunk thinking about his family and his walkabout which he wasn’t sure of completing on time.
The next day Wirambi and Kooriwan prepared to leave Terra and went to Niningka’s house to say goodbye.
“Thanks for saving my baby,” Niningka said. “You really are worthy of your name, Wirambi.”
“I’m happy to see you two reunited. It was so unfair they took Loorea away from you, but where is she?”
“We had so much to catch up on that we didn’t sleep, and she left at the crack of dawn to Uncle Dingo’s camp; she’s gonna hide there for a while in case the cops come looking for her here. I asked her to wait to say goodbye to you, but she was too upset to see you go. She asked me to give you her riji if I didn’t mind and I said I would make her another one.”
Wirambi took the riji. “Thank you. I will show it to the elders to prove I was here. I’ll have some questions for them too. They teach us that that there are ninety-nine ancestors, but I don’t know why they’ve left out Wirambi. Do they keep his existence a secret because they think his people are primitives incapable of travelling across the universe and subservient to whitefellas? Why don’t they do something about it? We could save your people. Our technology is far more advanced than the whitefellas’.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure one day Wirambi will save us.”
A whirring noise filled the air.
“Helicopters,” said Niningka, looking worried. “You better hurry.”
Wirambi and Kooriwan made their way to the spaceship. It took off and had reached the exosphere by the time the helicopters were flying above Niningka’s house. She had asked Loorea not to tell anyone about how Wirambi had brought her home, and she would do the same. No one would believe them anyway, she figured.
Wirambi looked at Terra become a tiny blue dot. He didn’t regret answering Niningka’s call. He had made a mother and her daughter happy by reuniting them, but he hadn’t expected to fall in love with another girl in such a short time.
He looked at a holo of Elandra and wished he had one of Loorea. He closed his eyes and recalled Loorea’s soft dark eyes, her generous breasts, her golden skin and her musical laugh. Why did she have to run away so quickly? Why had she not stayed to see him leave? He imagined taking her in his arms and kissing her on the lips.
He stopped his fantasy, because that’s what it was. An impossible dream. He had another six planets to visit to finish his walkabout, and if Elandra resisted his charm, he would find and court another woman of his tribe. Loorea wouldn’t be accepted on Alcheringa. She was from a planet that the elders wanted to keep secret, but that was unfair. Loorea’s tribe had the same traditions, with their totemic ancestors and walkabouts. Maybe there were other planets like Terra where people were calling their ancestors to the rescue, and if any of his people heard the cries for help they ignored them, too scared to deviate from their songlines. Wirambi had been scared too, but his desire to impress Elandra had proven stronger than his deepest fears. Now the love he thought he had for Elandra had been replaced with an impossible one, and he was going to have to forget it.
Like all men of his tribe, Wirambi was proud of his excellent memory. He could recite every verse of his songline forwards and backwards. But as good as it was at remembering, would it know how to forget? Maybe with time it would, but right now, the more he told himself he had to forget Loorea, the stronger memories of her tugged at his heart.
He should have asked her to come with him, but it was unlikely she would have said yes after just being reunited with her mum. What sort of life could he offer her? They would not be able to marry and would have to live as outcasts. He thought he wouldn’t mind as long as he was with her, but what about her? Would she be happy away from her family? Her people were pariahs on their own land already. The only improvement on her life would be that she would no longer suffer oppression from whitefellas.
The jump point was now visible. He could still turn back, but if he did he risked being caught by the whitefellas and worse, being rejected by Loorea.
He was about to trigger the Yarrundji drive when Kooriwan said, “Loorea is scared of being found.”
“Yes, she must be scared the cops will take her back if they find her.”
“No, Loorea is scared of what you’ll say when you find her.”
“What do you mean?'”
Kooriwan said nothing but flew to the storeroom.
The door opened and Loorea walked out. Wirambi’s heart skipped a beat.
“How did that damn parrot know I was here?”
“More to the point, why didn’t he say something before? I’m so happy you’ve decided to come with me. I didn’t have a chance to tell you how I feel, but I’m in–”
“Don’t get carried away Wirambi. I stowed away because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding from the cops like I was a criminal. I want to be free now. I’ve spent seven years trying to be like a white girl because I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I don’t care where you’re going, just take me with you.”
Wirambi lowered his head and swallowed hard. He started to think about what he could do to impress Loorea and make her fall in love with him, when Kooriwan said in an authoritative tone that surprised him, “Wirambi, activate the Yarrundji drive.”
Wirambi went back to the pilot’s chair and told Loorea to sit next to him and close her eyes. He activated the Yarrundji drive and after the hissing sound stopped, he told Loorea she could open her eyes again.
“Where are we?” asked Loorea.
“In Yarrundji, that’s how we travel to other stellar systems.”
“Wow, is that like hyperspace in Star Trek?”
“What’s a star trek?”
Wirambi sang the next verse of Guriyal’s songline. After he concluded with the ritual phrase thanking Awakunduk, Kooriwan said, “Now hear the story of the ancestor Wirambi: Awakunduk had one hundred children who he loved very much. But Wirambi was jealous; he thought Awakunduk loved Guriyal more than him because he had created him ugly whereas Guriyal had a beautiful purple plumage. One day, Wirambi told Awakunduk that Guriyal had formed an alliance with the evil Darluvouduk, and together they were going to rule the universe after killing him and the other ancestors. Awakunduk knew he was lying, so he banished him and told the other ancestors that from now on he only had ninety-nine children, and Wirambi’s name was never to be mentioned again.”
“What happened to Wirambi?”
“He was exiled to Yunupinga, the place of infinite nothingness that no one can escape from.”
“So that’s why his people never got their ancestor’s force and the knowledge of travel in Yarrundji that every other nation got. They were left to their own devices and ended up at the mercy of other people like the whitefellas on Terra.”
“My father thought it was unfair that Wirambi’s people suffered because of their ancestor’s misdeed, and he devised a plan to save them. When your parents were waiting for you, Guriyal whispered your name in their ears so that when you would go on your walkabout you would answer Niningka’s call.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“First, finish your walkabout. When we return to Alcheringa, I will repeat what I’ve told you to the elders, and Loorea will bear witness of her people’s oppression. I will tell them that Guriyal wants to adopt Wirambi’s orphans, and he has anointed you to be his emissary. You will tell Wirambi’s people that they have a new father and a new nation, you will bring them knowledge of Yarrundji and teach them Wirambi’s songline. But I must warn you: this journey will be dangerous, for there are many who will stand in our way.”
Wirambi did not hesitate. “No matter what trials await me, I accept this mission. I’ve seen suffering and injustice I didn’t know existed, and I am honored to play a part in Guriyal’s plan to stop them.”
“Wirambi, when I stowed away on your ship, all I wanted to do was run away,” said Loorea. “I didn’t think about the ones I was leaving behind, but you’re willing to fight for them even though they’re not from your mob. You’re a brave and generous boy who’s willing to fight for what’s right. Take me with you and I’ll go wherever you go.”
Wirambi looked at Loorea and saw a spark in her eyes that kindled a fire in his heart. He took her in his arms and saw Kooriwan smiling. Later when he thought about that unforgettable moment, he realized that parrots cannot smile, and wondered if Kooriwan had given him his faculty to read minds, the place where smiles are born.