My dog Millie was sniffing the rubbish bin beside the IGA carpark and I was impatiently holding the lead after our slow walk around the rain wet block. A Willie Nelson looking bloke in his fifties, a loner with long blonde hair and dusty boots, was tidying up his shopping in a duffle bag.
He looked up and said, ‘G’day.’
I smiled and said, ‘How’s life, mate?’
He stopped packing. ‘Real good,’ he said, ‘ yes, much better now.’ He sounded like he wanted to tell me more but held himself in check.
Silence for a moment while my dog moved to an old carton to sniff on.
‘Yes, I think I know what you mean,’ I said. ‘I knew a bloke in Perth who had some things wrong with him. Each Christmas he and his mates, all loners, would get together and have an orphans’ Christmas.’
He stood straight up from his bag and replied, ‘You know, you’re the first person to mention that. Some years back I came over from Tasmania to the mainland. Never been here before, so I was on my Pat Ma for Chrissie. I rang a mate I hadn’t seen for ‘bout ten years and he said, “What’s ya doin’?” “Nothing,” I said, and he said, “Come and spend Christmas with some of us”. Just like that, that easy: 2000 kilometres away! Well I made it, and we had an orphans’ Christmas – everyone there alone for one reason or another. The food and drink all free, on the house.’ He paused and looked over my shoulder and up the highway. ‘All my troubles went away then, it was the best orphan’s Christmas … ' He focused back on us, ‘Merry Christmas, mate.’ Picked up his bag and headed off.
- Andrew Burke