I am waiting for the Pearl Town bus. I’m staring at the bird shit smeared down the sweat stain darkening the back of his grey t-shirt. His shoulders are half again as wide as hers. The back of his neck is sunburned red except for a white streak shielded by a fold of flesh; her hair, sleek black and straight, grows down to her narrow hips.
The bench is burning the backs of my thighs; my plastic water bottle is empty and steaming up. I’ve been in Broome for a day and the 40 degree heat is almost debilitating after living in Melbourne for the winter. Caravans, station wagons, and utes, all caked in red dust, bake in the Cable Beach parking lot.
Another man watches me watching them. I’ve been pretending he’s invisible. He’s holding a frayed Coles Cool Bag laden with clothing and beer cans and drinking an Emu Draft. It’s 12:47 pm; the bus is three minutes late. His gaze is both piercing black and loose with alcohol.
The skin on his face is sun-toughened and stretched tight; scabs encrust the curls of his ears. His shirt is crisp, collared, blue-checked, short-sleeved. The tattoos on his forearms have bled out and wrinkled into Rorschach ink blots. He glares at the sky, or squints. He sips his beer.
“When’s it gonna rain?” he asks.
“Dunno,” I say. “Nothing to do but wait, I guess.”
“Wait your whole damn life and you’ll be dead.”
A day later, the Rorschach man watches me watching a daisy-chain of thirteen camels saunter past The Sunset Bar and Grill. A string of dismounted tourists follow them, and the wind blows the camels’ acrid scent and the sweeter smell of coconut sunscreen over to us. He is carrying the same cooler and wearing the same shirt. It’s still crisp and clean, bright white and blue against his deep tan and the haze-muted sunset.
“From the side,” he asks, turning his face to showcase his profile, “don’t you think I look like one of them camels?”
His breath smells like watered-down beer. But when he smiles, his face breaks apart and becomes something new. I wasn’t expecting the skin around his eyes to crinkle into kind crow’s feet, nor his teeth to be straight, white, even.
“I’m gonna throw myself off the cliff later,” he says.
He takes two steps up the path, stops, turns, walks back towards the beach, and sits on the bench. He drinks his beer, waiting.