Already, the impending dawn is screaming through the jungle as the birds mock my lack of joy for the morning. Miss Germany, our non drinking, orchestra collecting and productivity obsessed roommate is doing some sort of inventory of everything she has thus far collected (which includes, but is not limited to: a guitar, piano, surf board, tent, pots and pans, and most likely, soon to be, a car that she will no doubt house right between our bunks.) She does this every morning, pacing the wooden floor beams of our tiny river wagon with the vigor of one who is hastily packing for a yearlong trip. She has yet to go anywhere. The whole process lasts from about 6 am to 10 am. It infuriates me.
I can hear what can only be a rooster pep rally across the mossy river. I imagine them circling a fire in tribal dances with feather headdresses as I drift in and out of sleep. I’m not sure why they are in headdresses, but somewhere in between dreams and consciousness, they are. I pull the sheet over my head in attempts to drown out the chaos and mentally note that I have not heard Jeff yet this morning. Jeff is the bastard rooster that visits our lake tent every time he sees fit to wake me. Walking right in through the screen door, his barnacle toenails are usually the first noise to prick my ears, scraping against the wooden floorboards as he approaches. From the sounds of it, he’s decided to stay out with the others, squawking around the fire. Either that or his toenails have been lost in the sounds of Germany’s pots and pans.
Every morning is much like this. Rachel and I wake with groans and unprecedented laughter recounting the criminal thoughts we had been suppressing for the first 4 hours of the day. Rachel is about 6 foot and I come up to her hip. She is a fiery, red-headed Aussie that I met months ago in Spain who detests sport and loves all things musical.
Each night, sleep is a battle; completely mummifying ourselves in sheets to keep out the brown recluse spiders, which Rachel is convinced are going to eat us alive. Her screams throughout the night are never far off. We go to sleep shivering and wake up in mating call sweats to the sounds of aboriginal bongo circles.
Two nights has turned into six and we can’t seem to leave. Stuck somewhere amidst the poppy fields of hippie Byron Bay as everyone in this lazy, coastal town seems to be, we’ve all entered with a mission and fallen into an opium like sleep preventing escape.
I wake and stay awake after Germany’s charades have proven to last well into the afternoon and walk into town to scale the coast. Or more likely – wander aimlessly as I seem to be doing these days in the Land of Oz.
After spending a month in Asia and Africa prior, landing in Sydney almost a month ago had been a reverse culture shock – coming back into such a western world. Australia was beautiful, sure. But everything was over priced and everyone, over-privileged. Over-indulged. I may as well have been in America and it made me sick. Cigarettes were $25 a pack, salads were $19, burgers $29, and beer $10. I was out of money and steam, now spending my days talking to roosters and sharing coffee with giant lizards. And I couldn’t for the life of me explain where the time had gone or what I was doing here, wasting away each day without so much as a direction or purpose.
Until I met him. An unlikely character that would somehow remind me, in a most unconventional way, why I was doing all of this in the first place.
He came from the other side of the road, with a pack the size of him on his back, his bare feet blackened by the road under his cuffed up jeans. Rachel had met me at the bus stop and here we were next to a few other vagrants as Crazy Dave approached. Following a dark haired mangy woman with blue and black paint stained hands. Both with leathery tanned skin, proof of a life lived harshly and wholly.
“I’ve got a message for you,” Looking directly at us, he smiled through his missing front tooth before breaking into song. “Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be alright,” he sang with his arms wide open and swaying side to side on the soles of his naked feet under the weight of his pack.
I laughed. His sun soaked smile was infectious.
“I had a guitar but someone stole it. And my boots,” He points down to his naked feet. “Took them too. Who the fuck takes a man’s guitar? The most thing I love, besides me wife, is that fucking guitar,” He shakes his head in disappointment and lowers his gaze under his ripped and hole covered grey beanie.
“This is me house,” He explains as he sets his pack down with a thud on our bench. A blanket tucked into one side and a tent rolled up in the other. “That’s what a man does. He carries his house for his woman,” He points over to his paint stained wife, beaming proudly with that crooked smile.
I nod in agreement as if every man should carry his house for his wife, and Crazy Dave sits down on the concrete against the pole and puts his black feet up on the bench, quite at home and staring right at us. There is another man who appears homeless and shirtless. His belly flops over his ripped jeans and his red baseball cap hides his booze swollen face. A grey haired woman sits behind him dressed in Salvation Army’s finest and I wonder how an old woman like her survives without a house or a man to carry one for her.
“I was in a bad place last night if you seent me. This close to suicide,” Dave motions a tiny space with his finger to the homeless group we are apparently now part of. “I smashed me guitar. I fucking loved that guitar. Went to bed at 4 am and woke up at 5:30 am a new man. I realized me life. It's a good life. Crazy Dave is back!” He stretches his hands and his smile out to either side as he sits on the ground in front of us. I watch him put on his show for the others and giggle to myself. Smashed or stolen, the guitar appeared to be gone and although unhappy about that, Dave seemed rather overjoyed about his simple life. I listen to him go on.
“All these people have too many things,” he shakes his head in disgust. “You have two cars and a nice house and all you do is fight with your wife. Me and mine," he winks at her, "we make love three times a day and even more. That’s a beautiful thing,” He tells the others.
“We got to flee from the rangers,” he turns his head to me to explain an unasked question. “So we keep moving up the beach. Three thousand dollar fine when they found me pots and me tent. But we look after the animals. I love the animals. Ran after a Turkey the other day. He had fishing wire caught around his legs. Tackled him to get it off. He was pecking me and me wife helped me hold him down. But we got it off,” Dave reenacts the scene tackling the air in front of him. “He wandered off once he could walk again. Turned around and gobbled something to me. You know, I think he was saying ‘thank you,’”
“I’m sure he was,” I smiled at him.
The six of us part ways – Rachel back to the hostel and me on my way to the beach, leaving Crazy Dave, his wife, and his two home carrying friends to whatever it is that home carrying people do.
The heat of the afternoon sunshine had gone chill and the beach lay abandoned in its wake. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face, thinking about Crazy Dave. So free to roam simply and so happy to be doing so. So full of love and life.
The Australian wind whipped the hair around my face and the white caps in the sea were charging like stampedes of a thousand white horses. The coastal clouds turned to divine sorrow, surrounding the kite surfers that soared the air in their wake.
That feeling washed over me again. The one I had left somewhere in the sky between Maylasia and Australia. Dense and thick as smog, consuming me with clarity and gratitude. Who was I to be blessed to walk across this beautiful earth barefoot and unbound? Smiling, I knew ... I was just a girl who had refused to stand still. A small pair of footprints desperate not to be washed away. And that’s all any of us can do if we dare to. Me and Crazy Dave, we didn’t seem that different after all.