Ask anyone you like, Australia is in severe drought.
A man drought.
From Perth to Melbourne, Sydney right up to Brisbane, there’s many a single, smart, sassy, sexy woman who can’t find a man her equal. But in my neck of the woods, the roads are veritably paved with fellas: six to one, once you cross the Berrimah Line. Ringers, Army Jocks and diesel mechanics. Fitters, turners. Fitters and turners. FIFOs and fishermen. If you’re a lady looking for a bloke, this is the Holy Grail, especially if you like rough diamonds and men in high vis.
Yep. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.
That’s an expression that gets bandied about regularly by women up here. The dating world up north is rife with mercenaries, missionaries and misfits. I’ve dated many from their ranks: from aspiring politicians to helicopter pilots and professional gamblers with mother issues. I once went out with a guy who wore his bike helmet for our entire coffee date. Another time, I met up with a bloke who was about to get kicked off his mine site for three drug test fails in a row. When it comes to the odds being good and the goods being odd, believe me, I’ve done the leg work.
But the story I’m about to tell you was the oddest experience I ever had. And by odd, I mean freaking bat shit crazy.
His name was Rashid. And he was very good looking.
I met him in an ugly coffee club in the even uglier Broome Boulevard, in between K-Mart and half-price Sex and the City DVDs at Sanity. I wasn’t really a Broome Boulevard regular, but my friend Jen was up from Kununurra for an Internet date and she wanted a taste of the big smoke.
Jen was a character. She drove trucks at the Argyle diamond mine. Big trucks where she only came up to the hub cap by the scrape of her hard hat. All day, she’d drive back and forth, backward and forward, taking dust and rubble and miniscule flecks of diamonds from the pit.
Jen had done a bunch of outback jobs; working as a governess on a station and in a pub at Fitzroy Crossing. And it was from working in Fitzroy Crossing that she knew Rashid, who was trying on sunglasses across the Boulevard.
They waved and he raced over to give her a big hug.
“Jenny! Been a long time!”
They swapped gossip and tidbits from down the track, and when he left, I pumped her for details.
Who was that?
“He could be good for you!” she said. Jen didn’t remember too much about him, but he was a nice guy, she said. She hadn’t seen him for a few years, he had disappeared a bit suddenly after a goanna hunting trip with some of the local boys. I was intrigued.
Later that night, we went to Diver’s Tavern for drinks, gossip and to check out the local talent.
Rashid was there too, and he came over to talk. He sat right next to me and our thighs just barely touched. Later he came over to the bar when I was ordering a drink and lifted up my hair.
“Hello gorgeous,” he whispered.
A couple more hours, and a group of us moved on to the Roey, The Roebuck Hotel, made famous by wasters and wet T-shirt competitions. We hit the dance floor. Rashid performed the lawn mower, fed the chickens and imitated an eagle. He was the worst and best dancer I’d ever seen and I was smitten.
I didn’t expect to hear from him again but I did, the next day. We met at the Courthouse Markets. He said he missed me. I thought it was intense but thrilling.
That night we drove to Gantheaume Point and he spotted sting rays in the waves for me.
We watched the sun set over those red and ochre rocks. Rashid told me about how he used to be a paramedic, but one day he’d been handed a baby with barbed wire around its neck and he couldn’t do it anymore. So he moved up north, to the Kimberley.
We cuddled and he stroked my hair.
“You’re so beautiful, Bub”, he said.
A few days later, we walked on the beach, and his sister rang. He told her all about me.
“You’re going to love Miranda”, he said. “She’s the best girl I’ve ever met.”
Pretty soon, we started spending long afternoons and longer evenings in my Old Broome flat.
A couple of weeks later, my best friend was in town and she liked Rashid a lot too. Thought he was cute. Affectionate, sweet. We had a big night out together, dancing at Zee Bar, and they got on like a house on fire, although his hanger on mate didn’t do much for her.
After that, things started to go strange. One night, I asked Rashid to pick up some rice for dinner but he said his wallet had been stolen.
A few days later, he disappeared for hours to comfort a friend. It was past midnight when I got a knock on my screen door and he came in smelling of cigarettes and tinned rum. He got angry when I asked him to have a shower.
Rashid wouldn’t let me go over to his house.
He’d ask me to drop him off at the servo on the corner.
“I’m sorry, Bub”, he said.
“It’s just my housemates. And the house. That house is a mess. Pizza boxes, dirty dishes, the works. I don’t want to take you there. They won’t like it that you’re a white girl.”
Other times he’d tell me very bloody bedtime stories. Fights he’d seen, fights he’d been part of. The time they dug up his grandmother’s grave and found blood on her bones. And the cousin who lost his mind and cut off his penis. Rashid found him on the toilet, bleeding profusely with the dick still in his hand.
One day, I came home to find Rashid sitting on a fold out chair on my deck, head in his hands. He’d just got a phone call from home, Lightning Ridge, to say that his brother had committed suicide.
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say so I just put my arms around him. We looked up flights on the Internet.
He disappeared to talk to a friend from work and packed a suitcase.
That night, we held eachother and didn’t sleep much.
I offered to take him to the airport.
“No Bub,” he said. “It’s OK. John from work will take me. I’ll be OK. I’ll call you as soon as I get there.”
He called me three hours later.
“I’m here, Bub, it’s pretty awful. I miss you already.”
Three hours seemed quick: Broome to Perth to Sydney and a train to Lightning Ridge. In fact, it didn’t seem possible.
“That was a quick flight”, I said.
“Yeah, yeah, they got me onto the best connections because of what happened, Bub.”
We got off the phone and I went for a walk on the beach with my friend Beth.
Rashid called me again, mid walk.
“Where are you?”
He sounded desperate.
Just on the beach, I said. The sand and wind were whirling around us, and the phone was cutting in and out.
I’ll call you when I get home. I hung up.
Beth suddenly launched into a story. She’d been living in the UK a few years ago, dating a girl who was a bit high maintenance. Big mood swings. Beth was just about ready to call it off when this girl’s grandmother died, and she flew back to Australia.
The next day, Beth walked into her local bar to find her girlfriend, sitting on a barstool.
“I don’t know why I just told you that story”, she said.
We looked at each other.
“He’s still in town”, she said.
He’s still in town.
The next day, after my radio show, I did a drive-by of Rashid’s workplace. And then I called their number.
Hi, there, I said…I’m looking for Rashid.
A voice that sounded very familiar said, “Who may I say is calling?”
I panicked and hung up.
Rashid rang me almost immediately.
His voice was hard. “Hey Bub, I haven’t heard from you for awhile. Don’t you like me anymore?”
Sure I do, I said. How are…how is….Lightning Ridge?
“My family are crazy,” he spat. “I’m going to come home.”
Don’t you think you should stay and help, with your brother and his family?
“Nup. Not after what they’ve said to me.”
Rashid, I’ve gotta go.
His voice got harder still. “Yeah? Go. You should go. The next time you see me, I’ll be hanging from a tree, I’ll be hanging from that mango tree outside your house. There’s nothing for me to live for anyway.”
That night, I could feel shadows creep around my pindan garden. My flat consisted of two dongas, with my bedroom in one and the bathroom in the other. I was too scared to cross the verandah.
The next day, I left the house to have dinner with a couple of other friends and told them the story.
“I know,” said Kate. “Tomorrow. I’ll ring his work. He won’t know my voice. I’ll ask to speak to him.”
She did it from work, from our blocked number.
“Hi, it’s Kate Matthews here. Can I please speak to Rashid?”
“Speaking!” replied a cheery voice.
She hung up. He was in Broome. He’d never left Broome.
Rashid rang me straight away.
“Hey Bub, what’s going on?”
I said he was lying. I said there was no Lightning Ridge and no brother and no one had died. I said he’d been watching me and hanging around the house and he should get some help.
He huffed and puffed.
“Actually…Actually, I just got in this morning. I was going to surprise you, But thanks a lot Miranda, thanks a lot. Thanks for nothing.”
He hung up.
I called the police and they promised to keep an eye out for me. I worried each time I reversed my car out from under the mango tree, worried that he’d be hanging from the branch. I still felt him around the house, at the end of missed calls and watching me from the car park when I went to work early in the morning.
Eventually I broke down and couldn’t leave my bedroom. I had to call in reinforcements. My friend Flic brought over a male friend one night, a solid station boy who had never told a violent bedtime story in his life. He shone the torch in every pindan crook and cranny. Nothing.
My friends Beth and Ryan put up security lights, triggered by human movement. In the meantime, I stayed in their spare bedroom. I was still scared of my house, of the shadows and especially of the mango tree in my front yard.
I felt like I was going crazy, so I ran away to Darwin for a few weeks. When I came back, I walked up and down Cable Beach, trying to decide whether I should stay. Eventually I found a trident shell the size of both my hands on the low tide watermark. I took it as a sign. I’d stick it out in Broome, at least until the end of my contract.
I never found out who Rashid really was. If he’d ever been a paramedic. If he was just a guy who liked to cheat on his girlfriend with gullible newcomers. If his housemates really hated white girls. If he had a drug problem. If he was a compulsive liar, or if he was mentally unstable.
It took me a long time to go on another date.
As they say, the odds are good but the goods are sometimes very odd.