TWENTY FOUR PLUS ONE

I'm tired, but I don't want to sleep. There's only four hours left of my flight from Auckland to Sydney which will end an unforgettable year; an experience; an uproar in my being that may never subside.

TWENTY FOUR

The gentle rocking motion, natures tantric strings being plucked, and the sun melting over me aren't enough to keep me asleep, as children run up and down the aisle outside, laughing and calling to each other. I catch snipits of their playful banter, their make believe world. I tilt my head upright, eyes gradually opening. As focus clarifies, I gaze out the large window and see that the colour of the land hasn't changed in hours. The golden brown dottings of the dried grass that is the product of yet another harsh summer. We are in the midst of one of the worst droughts for many years and I'm happy to be leaving it behind. Tired of nights of damp pillows and oppressive heat. Rain was a commodity in high demand and the coming months meant a great deal to many people, me inclusive, but for different reasons.

The telephone poles set a regular beat and the lines between them bobbed up and down like small waves, a metronome, and a mindful song being sung.

Sitting quite motionless in my airconditioned cabin, looking out into that searing heat, gave me a feeling of safety, even alienation, from that world from which I'd come. I was leaving it behind. The conflict of those small waves out there amidst that intense heat was like looking at a big television screen and seeing the titles of a show just ended with Peter Keelan starring as "the wave".

The previous months had been hectic and, although the excitement was always there, it seemed overshadowed by the eternal screen/play/drama that was my life. It was Tuesday, 23 March 1982 and in four days, Saturday, I would depart Sydney International Airport, together with my good friend, Brad Fowler, (Bragger, Bad Flowers, etc.) with our initial destination as Hawaii.

Due to a mix-up of booking arrangements by our travel agent, we found ourselves boarding the massive Air New Zealand Jumbo jet on Sunday, 28 March.

There is a mysterious air of excitement which surrounds all airports, but the International terminal could only be bettered in flavour by the launching pad of a space bound rocket. I thought it an enjoyable tension. A story marked with unknown characters who circle on a different plane to that of a country boy. The people behind the counter work with pleasant efficiency and seem to take delight in whisking another unsuspecting character off onto the theatrical stage of travel. World theatre.

The gathering tension blends with the easing of pace, at leaving behind the exhaustive set of terms, that Sydney sets. I feel that I could almost do without the endless "goodbyes" and "kisses" ...... and "good luck" ........ and "take care".

My good friend and travel partner, Brad.

Mrs Fowler seems to stand firm in her supreme knowledge that she's packed us up with enough tablets, bandages and medical wares so that we could almost handle a 1990's Bubonic Plague on our own! Uncle Don gives me a wave and smile and Marg dishes up a look somewhere between disgust and love. But the general feeling from everyone is support, if not wonderment, at what the two "hicks" from Broken Hill might do in the wilds of South America.

Every step through the boarding chute seems a giant step towards an unknown adventure. The clutching arms of life, family and "the system" had grasped at us almost until the last hour. There were rents, taxation, possessions, dogs, girlfriends, cars, cats, injections, travellers cheques and passports. The list was endless. Checks and re-checks. I turn around and look at Brad and our thoughts are the same. With my arm around his shoulder and smile saying, "We've done it!"

She must surely get RSI of the spoken phrase, I thought to myself. The stewardess greeted us with a well conditioned smile rattled off her greetings and signalled the far aisle. Somewhere in that wash of red cloth are our allocated seats. I sense the extra excitement from Brad on his first Jumbo flight, but don't feel much less excitement myself. Shall we buzz the stewardess to bring up the Quantas excitement meter?

There aren't many empty seats aboard, although I guessed that this would change dramatically after Auckland. Two and a half hours skipped by without us noticing. The conversation had been a thicket of stories and laughing. We were really enjoying every moment as it presented itself and I felt like an 'old hand' at this 'jet set stuff', showing Brad all the smooth maneuvers such as the headphones, the food trays which almost magically appeared off the back of the seat in front, etc. Adventure magnifies all the senses and we were taking it with open arms. Being served food and drinks, choosing magazines, watching in-flight films, just getting up and taking a stroll around the plane, or was that jet, seemed way beyond our average lives. An hour at the international transit lounge in Auckland and then another two and a half hours of jet-setting to Nadi, Fiji.

It was humid here and the hour stopover seemed apt to refueling the camels with cool water. I was busily being the tidy little accountant, to which I should have aspired, by keeping the travel hours tally deadly accurate. An obsession for times and distances; useless information.

Back on board the plane with six and a half hours ahead of us to Honolulu we settled down to enjoy the safety drill performance put on with compliments of the stewardesses. We were substituting our own dialogue and having a good old laugh.

The stewardess on the left couldn't even get (did she really want to?) the oxygen mask elastic over her puffed-up hair. If it came to the point, I wondered whether she would choose between superficial looks and a good old-fashioned death! Her hand gesticulations were by far the most animated though, and we could see that the largest part of the audience in front of us had their heads to the left. Another subliminal communist takeover plot maybe!

Also, as I had predicted, the number of people had thinned out dramatically. With dark coming upon us outside and a movie starting up inside, we relinquished our window seats for some prime movie-viewing seats.

After eating yet another carefully packaged flight meal of baby carrots, flinch of chicken, super sinus seizure dessert, and watching the start of the movie, I pillaged the surrounding seats for a pile of cushions, a couple of blankets and stretched out to enjoy the luxury of the seven middle aisle seats in row G. Savouring this enjoyable little moment, I plugged in my headphones until I found some relaxing music and then waited for sleep to take over.

We are allowed to look messy, punk-like hair and rugged blood-shot eyes, the breath of a sultry elephant in backblocks Pakistan. Now was not the time to think of kissing air hostesses.

It was early morning Honolulu, five thirty a.m. to be exact, we were both tired and a thickened heat greeted us. It seemed to put forth its slimy wet hand and when you stepped forth to take its greeting it would thump you on the head to say .... "take that". Humidity served at ninety per cent.

We caught a taxi into the city and found a room at the YMCA. Tried to sleep for a couple of hours, but outside was amass with the noise of a thousand terrified four wheeled motor things. This was a phenomenon that stayed with us and didn't allow for much sleep during our stay there. Day, night, morning etc., all the same. It was clear already that to enjoy the Hawaian islands we would need to move away from Honolulu, probably to one of the smaller islands. There were strong thoughts however, that our inclination was more towards getting to South America.