Last week, a white woman who’s been living with an aboriginal mob up in the far north west of the country, she told me all about that mob’s death customs. That mob, she told me, has one death custom which is – never say the dead one’s name. It’s a good custom I thought, and funny how I sometimes use that rule too, in my own mob, even if it’s not really a law, and we don’t really like to talk about it. And then I think about how I’ve had a death, and I stopped saying her name, for the sake of the living, and it’s worked good so far. The custom. You see, the death I had, she wasn’t mine to name, her name belonged really to someone else, and this someone else, her man, you see, was still alive. So what bloody good would it be to this man alive, if I was to start hollering and crying and yelling out our death’s name? No bloody good, I say, no bloody good for a man who has to wake up every morning and get dressed and have a cup of tea, and work, and do what a living man has to do, for life.
So it’s been so many years now that I’ve been silent-treating my death’s name. It’s been enough years for two children to be born and that, not my children mind, but the man’s children, the man with the death and the naming rights, you see, he done good for himself. He done what all us mob wanted for him to do, what we all prayed for him and what the healing leader said would happen if he just did, what he needed to do. You know, that secret stuff that you need to do by yourself very far away, in the desert. That white woman’s black mob did that too, she said. Funny that.
So then the man, he comes back from the desert after all those years. Me, I’ve stayed in brick all this time, so I just been hearing about how he done well, and found a woman, and then the two children and all that family thing. So he comes back, right, and he calls me up one day and he says that he wants me and my mob to come and have some food and drink at his place, and he says it real casual like. Like maybe it’s our death that he had the children with, and not a different-mobbed woman he found, that we don’t know. But I hear the children there, behind him, on the telephone, like two birds chatter chattering, and I think, bloody hell he done good and I said we’ll be there no problem.
I regretted that decision, but it was too late. Me and my mob dragged ourselves into the car and drove to where the living man with his living wife was waiting for us. And when we arrive we see that the living wife is good, you know, she has love-eyes for him, but you can tell she knows what’s up too, and she’s thinking maybe she regretted that decision to invite us too. Now me and my mob just have to be very careful see, because now is that tempting moment when our death’s name could slip out. And that wouldn’t be good for nobody. No. Nobody.
But the kids. But the kids. Well, I gotta say it three times now, ‘cause it was just that good see, but the kids, were so good. Good like a soft chair in the shade of a tree, no, more like good like a present that you thought would be bad but’s good. Yeah, that good. The girl was almost four, and the boy was two, it was his birthday our mob was invited for. There was nobody else there though, and it made me think maybe this live one and his stranger-wife, maybe they hadn’t made much friendship here yet. And maybe it was hard.
So then we talk, and we start to eat and drink, and then we start telling stories, because spinning yarns is our mob’s way. But we can’t be drinking and spinning too much, and we all know it, because the death’s name might pop out. Sometimes, lots of times, someone was telling a story, and then all us mob, and the living man, we all suddenly realised that the story can’t go on without our death’s name being mentioned. And we all look, sly-like, out of the corner of our eyes, at the living wife, to see if she knows. But how could she know right? But then, sometimes, I look at her when she is clearing the table, right, or going to the kitchen for more food, right, and when she thinks no-one’s looking I see her. I see her tired eyes, and her cheeks sucked in, and maybe I see her knowing everything.
Later, after we’ve all eaten and eaten, and now we’re sitting and sort of sighing and nodding, that’s when the little boy suddenly comes to me and sits on my lap. I bend down into him and smell his soft, white hair, smells like my babies when I had them as babies still. Then it’s terrible really, I start chanting my death’s name, in my head, not out loud, but it’s still terrible because my head is spinning and the little boy he feels like a hot hot piece of coal that’s burning through my dress and skin down to the bone. So I start to turn to my mob to say, listen up time to go you good-for-nothing buggers that can’t see I’m burning up alive. When the boy turns his head and sort of tilts it up to me and he whispers right into me “why you look so sad?” I swear he said it, I didn’t dream it, but at first I did think I dreamed it because he was only two right, and how come he could speak such a sentence ay? and also, right, how could he see my face, that it was sad, when he was turned back to me, until he said it. So I excused myself and picked up the boy and popped him on the ground and said, sorry guys, I have to visit the ladies’ room and then we have to go ‘cause it’s getting late and school day tomorrow.
So I go to the ladies’ room, and I’m standing there looking in the mirror and I see myself and I’m burning up with flames for hair, and coals for eyes and my mouth is a great big cauldron. And behind me is a winnie-the-pooh shower curtain, and a wiggles bath toy and lots of those plastic letters that my kids liked to play with in their bath too. And I stare and stare at the craziness and I start to laugh and cry and sort of lose myself for a while, and then I clean myself up to look half-decent and go out and we all pile back in the car and go back home.
So I come back home, yeah, and first thing I do, as soon as I step in the door, is run to the computer and turn you mob on. I see you all lined up to greet me and that’s when it hits me, right. Bloody hell!!!!! You mob also have your rules on naming rights. Some of you got names, and some of you don’t, and some of you I’m just not really sure about your names at all. Like maybe the name you use for yourself, when you’re in this mob, is your really name, or maybe it’s not, or maybe it sort of is your really name. But only sometimes. And then I start to play this game where I start giving you all big-mob-on-the-outside names, but it doesn’t work see, not one bit not at all really. All it does is change everything to nothing, so I stop that big-mob imagining game quick smart. Because I start to think now also that if you mob don’t need to tell me names not of your dead and not of your alive, then it turns around and then I don’t need to tell you the names of my dead or my alive, no not at all. That you understand more without the naming stuff. And maybe that’s why I like you mob so much. So very much. Yeah. That’s why. That's why and maybe that’s what makes us such a deadly mob. Yeah.