♦ Budgeram means story in Bundjalung language.
I am a teacher. I teach at University Canberra, on Ngunnawal country, in ACT.
This university went into ‘Lockdown’ about four months ago. We were all locked out of workplace and told to stay home and teach online. ACT Health issued instructions to the population to ‘stay at home and only leave there for essential reasons.’
Federal Police paroled a mostly bleak and empty city. The cops set up a massive roadblock at the borderline, to check out of state drivers. Things were getting serious ‘round here’. The Chief Minister would report, each day, at midday, grim news about hospitalisation numbers, and sadly, the overnight numbers of deaths due to the pandemic. And on the radio, many of the “commentators” were talking with ever-increasing vigor about job losses, the cost that lockdown was having upon the economy, and the poor Australians who were now ‘locked out of Australia, who couldn’t get a flight back to Oz’. There seemed to be a frenzy on the airways, there wasn’t many happy voices, that’s for sure.
I live alone, in a one-bedroom place, that I call ‘the shack’. I occasionally would play my guitar and sing bits and pieces of songs I remembered.
‘…I lay round the shack,
till the mail train comes back,
rollin’ in my sweet baby’s arms…’
Then the Chief Minister would then be back on TV again, talking about another outbreak, another nursing home, more dead. Good grief!
I turned the volume off on the television and the radio and began that what seemed like one long and painful stroke-the sounds of silence.
I quickly came to realise that the ‘silence’ was very noisy. It was all in my head.
Oh dear, this was becoming too much! ‘How can I turn the sound off in my head?’ I asked myself.
I lay on my bed and watch the light in the room change from the weak yellow bright of morning to the hard bright light chime of midday, to the pinky softness of early evening. For a few days, the ‘light watching’ in my room was a good distraction for the noise in my silence.
Then I got sad news from Newcastle that a cousin, and Elder of mine, has passed away. ‘The funeral’s next week,’ my sister’s voice kind of whispered on the phone.
My thoughts went immediately to the cops on the border. If I went to the funeral, I would have to isolate for fourteen days in NSW and miss the service… If I ran the blind, the cops would probably get me on the return trip, I’d then be made isolate here, in the Can (as I jokingly call Canberra).
I’m stuffed either way, I told myself. My mind was racing, engines runnin’ overtime! His death and memories of his life’s work, his kindness and support and courage, was about the only thing on my mind. I couldn’t stop the thinking… The noise was getting to be too much for me. Depression’s best running mate, anxiety, had settled inside my head.
I lay in that room of mine for three days, deeply upset with feelings of guilt with having made the decision not to go to the fu8neral. I had come to realise that not only was I in Lockdown, but I was kind of ‘locked out’, too.
I hadn’t eaten more than two pieces of toast during those past three days, I suddenly felt hungry.
In the corner, near my bedroom door, stands a broom. Nothing especially significant of the broom or of it’s place in the corner, except to say that as I passed it on the way to the kitchen this time, I swear I heard it whisper something to me. I didn’t quiet catch what the broom said because of the bloody noise in my head. I made more toast and returned to the bedroom. When I got to the doorway, I stopped and looked hard at the broom. I picked the broom up and turned it around checking for hidden microphones or something unusual, I could see nothing out of the ordinary. Must have imagined it, I thought. I replaced the broom back in the corner and went to sit on the edge of the bed to eat the toast, which I no longer desired.
As the sun went down that day, a ‘voice’ clearly spoke to me saying, ‘My name is Broom-Broom.’
‘Who said that?’ I spoke in alarm.
I sat bolt upright in my bed as I scanned the room to find the person or thing that said their name was Broom-Broom.
I had become ‘unhinged, it seemed, for I reckoned that the voice was coming from the broom in the corner.
‘What?’ I asked aloud to both myself and to the broom.
I was beyond the realms of normality, having spoken to no one except my sister four days ago, four weeks had passed since I last saw another person or spoken to anyone in the flesh.
‘Four weeks. Where did that time go?’ I asked myself.
‘Broom-Broom is my name’ that voice in the corner spoke again.
I was shocked and kind of bemused all at the same time, as I slowly came to grips with the fact that I was talking – or more correctly, the broom was talking with me.
Well, I didn’t ponder whether I had lost the plot for long, at least someone or something was talking to be. Crazy? Maybe?
Over the following month Broom-Broom and had many conversations – mostly academic and arts discussions. It seemed that Broom-Broom was a font of knowledge. There was nothing that the broom didn’t know. I tried an extensile question on the broom, just to mess it up, ‘Broom-Broom, what’s the meaning of life?’
Immediately the reply came, ‘To live.’
Of course, I thought. To live, that’s the whole point of it. Life is to live.
I found new respect for Broom-Broom in that answer. ‘Live, boy.’ I told myself.
The noise in my head began to quieten and over the following two weeks Broom-Broom did not say much more.
I turned the volume up on the television to hear what was happening in the world outside the shack. It was all the same stuff I heard all those weeks earlier, more covid outbreaks, more deaths, people on the borders locked out, more angry voices. The noise in my head was gone. I wondered if all that stuff that had happened to me – inside me, was in fact dream. Like in Sleeping Beauty, had some magic struck me mad and then woken me out of the deep sleep? Days had turned into weeks since I had heard from the broom. I put it all down to some psychosis that I attributed to being locked down, locked out and locked away in my bedroom. ‘Yeah, nothin’ wrong me, Joe’ I tried to convince myself.
But to be certain that I was lucid, and, on the level, I asked the broom one final question. Below in the form of a poem is that question and, well, you can read it to yourself:
All Flights Cancelled.
(In The Room with Broom-Broom).
What fresh hell has come our way?
Another Lockdown. Hey,’
‘Together again,’ replies Broom.
in the Can,
‘There’s room a-plenty
for us two, Broom-Broom.
So good to see you,
But, my time gathered pain,
And pain messes with my brain
And Broom-Broom’s gone insane.’
‘don’t know why it hurts this much’
Wasn’t I born for the chain and the cell?
Born to see the sky through little bars. . .
to live in this hell?’
Sure, wouldn’t hurt if you would fly today, dear Broom-Broom, I plead …
‘All flights cancelled.’
‘But, it hurts, Broom-Broom, this lockdown.
It hurts me.
Just one little twirl?
Around the world?
‘All flights cancelled!’
Wing Commander Broom-Broom.
‘Oh, Broom-Broom, so cruel.’
Paul Collis is a Barkindji person form Bourke in far north wester NSW. Paul is an academic who teaches Indigenous Studies and Creative Writing at University Canberra, ACT.
Paul is a writer of prose and poetry.
Paul’s first novel, Dancing Home won the David Unopon Award for a previously unpublished Indigenous author in 2016 and the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2019.
Paul first book of poetry, Nightmares Run Like Mercury published by Recent Studie Press in 2021 is available online for purchase.
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