I’d never seen anyone quite so beautiful before, certainly not in the flesh. After a long day of driving across the desert, I wondered if I were imagining things. One look at the boys’ faces told me I wasn’t.
I couldn’t blame them for staring. I could barely stop from doing so myself.
She was tall, even taller than the boys, with blonde, straight hair worn loose. It was long enough to almost reach her bottom. Her skin was flawless, with just the faintest hint of a tan, at odds with the harsh, drought-stricken land that surrounded us.
Twenty years later, and I can still picture her face, as if I’d only seen it yesterday: a perfect heart, eyes framed by thick, long lashes, a slender nose and a beautiful mouth, although I never saw her smile. I distinctly recall the hot rush of jealousy I experienced as she walked towards us.
I was also intrigued. What was she doing out here, manning remote petrol pumps on the Nullabor Plains?
Whilst the boys refueled our cars and did their best to win her attention, I went to find the bathroom. I smelled it before I saw it and knew I’d never be able to go in. I turned to retrace my steps and nearly fell into her arms. “Sorry!” we yelped in unison.
She looked at me without smiling. Her grey eyes gave nothing away. “You can use my bathroom if you want. It’s not fancy, but it’s better than that.” She points accusingly at the shed, standing like a lone sentinel in the sand. Black flies start circling us. “That would be great. Thank you,” I reply. She beckons me to follow her and leads me into the little weatherboard cottage. I’m trying to place her accent. I think it’s German.
I walk back into the kitchen with wet hands. “Here, let me get you a towel.” She reaches to grab one from a high shelf and as she does, the sleeves on her blue cotton shirt are pulled shorter. It’s then I see the scars, jagged cuffs around each wrist. She doesn’t realize I’ve seen them, or if she does, she doesn’t care. “It must get lonely out here,” I comment. She just shrugs and heads back out towards the boys.
I don’t want to leave her. I suddenly feel quite frightened. We’re miles from anything, anyone, except for the customers who pass through. We’ve met some weird people on this trip. I roll my window down as we start to pull away. “You can come with us, if you want! We’re travelling cheap. We’re on our way to Perth!” I don’t know if I imagined it, but she suddenly appears scared. There’s a look in her eyes that I’ve never seen in anyone’s before.
She turns on her heels and walks away.
It’s dark when the police stop us; random vehicle checks for drugs is part of their job in the desert. It’s humbling to see everything you own sitting in a pile by the highway. I fidget. I want to say something to them about the girl. I try to form the right words but everything sounds wrong. What’s the issue? A girl that pretty shouldn’t be working out in the middle of nowhere? I keep silent when I realize I don’t even know her name.
All these years later, and I still think about her. I made a wish on a shooting star that night. I pray it kept her safe.