A couple of weeks ago I got some bad news: a friend in Australia, S, has just died. Grieving from afar is a difficult process: on the one hand, nothing changes, day-to-day life is utterly as before; on the other hand, I have an ache, a little tender spot that flares up whenever a memory of her comes to my mind.
Writing about her is a way of processing this for me... and it allows me to pay tribute to a terrific, hilarious, and greatly loved friend.
I met her about 12 years ago when I went to live in the Western desert, near Wiluna, Western Australia. She lived in Wiluna and was a regular resident at the station where I lived on-and-off for two years. She was a Mardu woman - that's the tribe round there - and that's why I can't mention her name (or post a photo) as this would be a disrespect.
I got to know her through the medium of Emu Export. God, what a horrible beer. But it's the poison of choice in Wiluna and on the weekly trip to town we would wait patiently for the 2pm cut-off to arrive so we could buy a block of the stuff (30 cans) and head down to the creek for the afternoon.
I was, still am, a dreadful drinking lightweight so I would join these sessions only intermittently and would never last the full distance. But while I was there I was usually with S. Those afternoons were a weird mix of the companionable, the hilarious, the tragic, the unsettling, and (gradually overwhelming all the others) the incoherent.
I remember those times fondly. S was a great person to go drinking with. She was charismatic and, when in the mood, loquacious. She could also be fantastically cantankerous, and cheerfully devious too - handing out cans with a wry twinkle in her eye.
When I think of her I invariably smile for I think she was perhaps the most hilarious person I ever knew. She didn't crack jokes, she just spoke her mind. I see her now chewing on a blade of grass, her jaw jutted out and her shoulders hunched while she gazes into the distance. Then she spits, shakes her head and sighs "fuck dat".... But the twinkle is still there.
It's the lack of pretension that made her so funny I think. Like many people out there she saw the world very clearly - without the scales that fog the white man's eyes - and when you look at modern life square on you can't help but shake your head and curse. Our world is absurd - she saw it, and with a shrug of her shoulders she let me see it too somehow.
Writing about her now I miss her dreadfully. I've hardly seen her in recent years, but, still, for me, a light has gone out. Rest in peace, dear friend, rest in peace.