The first day of the weekend had allowed me a second sleep that the 8.30am school bell never permitted. Still, I usually awoke at 7am, regardless of the day. The silence of the house around me had reminded me it was Saturday morning, and although I could already feel the heat of another summer day, I would not be raised from the soft sanctuary of my bed. With a grateful smile, I had turned and slid a little further under the sheets for another three hours of deep sleep. Only this morning, a lazy awakening was not to be mine. Shaken from my sleep by the deep throttle of a revving engine, I had stumbled, irritated, to my window to see what had broken the morning so abruptly.
Pushing back the pink curtains with their dancing bears that had seemed so cute when I was six, not so much now that I was sixteen, I peered down to the driveway below. There was my brother Dylan leaning over a motorbike, revving the engine, looking mesmerised by the machinery before him. But who was the guy with him? Obviously the owner of the motorbike, his leather jacket gave him away. Taller than Dylan, and slimmer, I hadn’t seen him before. Or had I? There was something familiar about the lanky way he stood back, arms folded across his chest, smiling at Dylan’s obvious glee. The half smile that played across his face looked cheeky. Dylan must have seen the curtains move, as he looked up at my window, waving when he saw me, beckoning me down. The stranger looked up too and caught me with a long, deep stare. I sucked my breath in. His eyes were dark and deep, made more so by being set in his lean and chiselled face. Who are you? I thought, as I pretended to be adjusting the curtains. Though the window was closed, I could hear Dylan’s muffled call “Hambone, come down!” My face burned on hearing him use my nickname in front of the stranger. He’s so dead! I thought as I leapt back to the middle of my room to scramble into my shorts and t-shirt discarded from the day before. In less than thirty seconds I had splashed some cold water onto my face, double checking that all the sleep was gone from my eyes. My toothbrush grated against my teeth as I pushed hard on it to get the job done. I drew a hairbrush through my long brown hair, automatically moving to contain the waves into a pony tail before deciding to let it hang loose around my shoulders.
I went down the stairs in a curious haste.
The face of the stranger in the driveway played in my mind with each hurried step I took towards the front door. Passing through the still quiet house, I stretched my memory to figure out from where I knew this guy. He had dark skin; that had to be a bit of a clue. But then again, we lived in Glebe in Sydney, an eclectic mixing place for people from all over the world. My Dad, a high school teacher, and my Mum, a journalist, were what people described as urban hippies. They had settled in Glebe in the 70s, back when they were University students. I guess they had never outgrown those days. Mum and Dad’s matching Birkenstocks were proof of that.
As I stepped outside the front door, already open, I brushed the back of my hand across the corners of my mouth. Wouldn’t pay to meet a stranger with dried toothpaste on my cheeks. It had happened to me once before and my face could still burn at the memory of it. I’d been at my best friend’s sleepover party and after everyone had gone to sleep, I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Just then her older brother, who I had a major crush on, returned home after a night out. We ended up talking for ages and there I was thinking I was having the most grown up and cool conversation with him until I floated upstairs only to see my reflection in the mirror. I had a bit of dried toothpaste caught right in the corner of my mouth the whole time! I was so mortified, I felt like running home in the dead of the night. I deliberately got up early the next morning and walked home before anyone else was up. When Ella rang me to find out why I had left so early I lied and said I had a drama class to go to. I didn’t of course, I just couldn’t bear the thought of facing him again. I felt so foolish.
With that memory still creating a flush in my face which I noticed as I passed the hall mirror, I stepped outside into the morning heat. Geez it wasn’t even 9 o’clock and already the sun was burning and the air felt thick. It was going to be another humid summer day in Sydney. Engrossed in the bike, the boys didn’t initially see me approach. It was the stranger who sensed me first. Turning around slowly, he hooked me again with a piercing stare, his dusky skin creasing into that cheeky half smile. “Hey Hambone,” he cajoled, turning to face me, “it’s good to see you.”
With his eyes burning on me from under the messy fringe overhanging his face, I felt suddenly very large, as if my body was under a microscope for close examination. A picture from the movie Willie Wonka and Chocolate Factory flashed into my head – an expanding Violet Beauregard was blowing up by the second. For some reason my shorts felt too short and my t-shirt felt too tight and I fidgeted at both of them, adjusting them down. “Ohh..hey,” I fumbled. Then finally, “Umm…do I know you?”
“Hambone!” interjected Dylan, sliding off the bike and coming towards me. “Don’t you recognise him? It’s Sanj from across the street! He used to live on the corner…remember?!”
My eyes creased together in puzzlement. Yeah I remembered Sanj, but he was a scrawny kid, Dylan’s friend, whose family had moved to Singapore when the boys had just finished primary school. Dylan had been shattered not to start high school with him. Yeah, that kid had an annoying fascination for cars and planes and…bikes…and…oh.my.God..Here he was. ..Looking all…tall…and…brooding. and, well…
With a quick shake of the head I brought myself back to the two faces now staring intently at me. “Oh right…Sanj!” I said in an oddly lyrical voice. “Yeah, yeah, I remember you.” Awkward pause. Sun beats down. Crickets stop cricketing. “How could I forget,” I finally interjected the silence. “You christened me Hambone, right?”
Oh geez, why did I have to bring that up? Shut up! Just shut up now! I coached myself, too late. Both boys let out loud laughs as they recalled that memory. I felt the redness creeping up my face as they relayed back and forth how my name, Amberley, had become Hambone, after Sanj mistook my then nickname Ambo, for Hambone. Now my face felt hot and fat as the heat pulsed through it. I must even look like a damn blueberry, I thought, as Violet Beauregard being rolled to the juicing room, flared in my mind again. “Juice, anyone?” I sang with false bravado, as I turned on my heel to go back inside. I could hear the boys following behind me. I tugged at my shorts again, wishing I’d found some jeans on the floor instead.
The Australian Literature Review