driftersAn Imaginative Response to Bruce Dawe’s Poem Drifters by Taneisha


So, it was time.

Deep down, she had already known. Before the words had even left his mouth, she had known. Before her sister let out an excited whoop of delight, she had known. Before her mother turned sympathetic eyes in her direction, she had known.

For days, there had been that expectant feeling; the hushed uneasiness, the sense of impending doom. For days it had followed her, surrounded and engulfed her. She knew what it meant; she had felt it many times before. Every time they moved, in fact.

Knowing it was coming still did not prepare her for the reality. With a groan of disbelief, she turned angry, accusing eyes at her father. “Please Dad, I don’t want to leave!”

But her pleas were ignored, just as they always were. He didn’t even notice. No one noticed. They were far too busy celebrating his decision. Even the damn dog was excited! 

She turned and ran, ignoring her mother’s calls, as if running away could halt the inevitable. She ran, without thought or direction, through the back gate, and through the lines of vines to the creek beyond. She ran until she could no longer hear her family, putting them well behind her. Finally, reaching the creek, she could run no longer, and fell into a tearful, sobbing heap on its bank and let sorrow engulf her.

She had no idea how long she lay there, but eventually, when she could no longer cry, she sat up, wiped the remaining tears from her cheeks and with a few muffled sniffs, contemplated her future. Why did it always have to be this way? Why, as soon as she began to fit in, to find her way at school and form friendships, did her father decide it was time to move on? She liked it here. She liked the town, the people. She even liked the school. After weeks of being alone she had formed new friendships and the future looked bright with possibility.

Now it was all being ripped away from her. Again! They were leaving. Again! She would be the loner. Again! She was sick of being the new kid, sick of feeling like a leper who spent her lunchtimes alone and vulnerable, and object of gossip and snickers. She had spent her lifetime dealing with loneliness. She didn’t want that anymore.

Absently, she watched the ebb and flow of the creek, as its clear, bubbly water moved swiftly over the pebbled bed. At least the water had a purpose in its movement. Her father did not. They don’t have to leave. They could stay here. There was year round work available to him. They could set down roots; have a real home, a real life. Yet, he chose to go, and whatever he decided, the rest of the family agreed to. He was a drifter. He could not stay in one place for too long. Her mother had told her that long ago, as if it was a reason for their nomadic life. As if it excused his selfish behaviour. As if it made everything alright; but it wasn’t alright. She was sick of moving, of another new town, another new school and another new house that could never become a home. Her mother felt the same. You could see it in her eyes, in the way she held herself. She was weary and defeated, but she would always go along with her father’s demands, because he controlled their lives.

She wondered, as she had many times before but more frequent of late, what it would be like to have a real home, with lifelong friends and a permanent place in life that you could truly call your own. She wanted all of these things. To be invited to parties, date boys, have a best friend. She wanted to be important in peoples’ lives, people other than her family, but constantly moving made all of these things impossible.

There was an option. Her mother had given it to her a while back, when she realised the struggle her daughter was having coping with constant change; she could go and live with her grandparents. Slowly she stood, and began retracing her steps as the first sighs of twilight began to descend. By living with her grandparents, she could achieve stability, attend the same school, make lasting friendships and find the feelings of permanency that had always evaded her. She would be able to carve out a new existence, and find comfort in stability. All she had to do was say that that was what she wanted, and it would be organised.

Could she do it? Could she take that step? Could she leave a mother she loved and depended on, who comforted her in times of need and made her feel better when she was sick of upset? Leave a sister who she may resent but loves regardless, who could make her laugh and cry, and kept her safe and secure?

They were no longer outside when she reached the house. She knew where they would be. In the kitchen, waiting for dinner at a table set for four.

She was right. They were all there, waiting, watching. They all looked at her when she entered, their eyes questioning, their bodies tensely waiting. Even the damn dog.

Okay,” she said, her voice overly loud in the hushed stillness. “I s’pose it’s time to start packing. Which way are we headed this time, Dad?”

For a moment, her words were greeted with numb silence as their minds comprehended the meaning.

Then, all at once, as if guided by the same invisible hand, they jumped up and hugged her, leading her toward her place at the table. With a smile, she joined their cheerful chatter. Wherever they went, they went together. They belonged together. She would make new friends. They were her family – even the damn dog!


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