I pulled up Mitchell and my car. Dust swirled around, given that it was a very hot day out at Blacktown, where the cricket match was being played. I waited a moment for it to settle on the gravel again, before opening the door. Once my seatbelt was unfastened, I swung my legs around. I stepped out and glanced around, noticing a tall man. He was dressed casually in a T-shirt and shorts. Around the time when he raised his hand, I recognised him as Max, Uncle Julio and Aunty Caroline’s nephew. I closed the door behind me, then opened the door to the back seat of the car. Fetching my bag, I slung the strap over my shoulder, then closed the door. Locking the car, I ambled over to Max, who greeted me with a hug.
“Hello, Nina,” he said warmly. “Great to see you, thanks for coming.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
I couldn’t help but think of all the other things I could have been doing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be at the cricket, but I just couldn’t bring myself to relax. We walked through and up the stairs into the grandstand, taking advantage of the free entry. Max waved towards his older brother, Hank, in singlet, shorts and thongs. Beside him, Clara glanced at us through her rose gold-rimmed sunglasses. The players were walking out to start the game, as we approached. Max hopped over the back row of seats.
“Did you come together?” Hank asked.
“No, we met up in the carpark,” I mentioned, and he nodded to accept that answer.
I turned my attention to the field, identifying two figures in blue and a lot more in yellow.
“Is that Eloise out there batting?”
“Yeah,” Max confirmed. “She’s number seventy-six.”
She took strike.
“Is anyone else coming today?”
“Mum and Dad will pop in later on.” Max relaxed as much as he could in the plastic stadium seat, casually glancing at his watch. “I think they’ll still be brunching right now.”
The yellow fielders, Western Australians, organised themselves. A tattooed bowler ran in to send down medium pacers. Eloise fended the first delivery awkwardly off the edge, for a single. I’m not that familiar with the rest of the New South Wales team. I thought about Geoff, and figured that he would know more of the players. It occurred to me that I should have invited him. This would have been good, neutral territory to hang out. The bowler ran in again, to the New South Wales captain and wicketkeeper, who I recognised from the Australian team. As the delivery was wide down the leg side, the umpire extended his arms, signalling the sundry. I breathed out, trying to relax. Max, Hank and Clara chatted with one another every so often. I didn’t really have the energy to engage in small talk, so I rummaged through my bag to grab my sunglasses to shield me from the light. There’s a perverse purity to the heat and sunshine of the western suburbs, blistering conditions in which to play cricket. New South Wales got off to a good partnership. After ten overs, the umpire waved his arms around, and the first powerplay ended. At one stage, Eloise played at a good length delivery and the ball flew through to the wicketkeeper. The bowler whipped around, screaming. Max shook his head, but so did the umpire. Eloise stood her ground. The fielders looked at each other, hands on heads and hands on hips. The batters ran through for a treacherous single, but thankfully the ball missed the stumps. We applauded heartily, for Alyssa Healy bringing up her fifty. I glanced around the ground for her husband, but he must have been away on tour. When Hank got up to find the toilets, Clara shifted across closer.
“It’s nice for you to come along today, Nina,” she commented.
“Yeah, it’s been a good day so far.”
I didn’t really want to talk about Mitchell. Hank came back, then one of the batters hit the ball towards a fielder. Despite her colleagues coming around her, she didn’t throw it up. I suspected that the ball might have not quite carried, or maybe she wasn’t even sure as to whether or not she had cleanly taken the catch. There wouldn’t be the benefit of a third umpire to make the decision. The two umpires came together.
“How would you tell?” Hank nibbled on his fingernails. “How would you ever tell?”
The signal was finally given for not out. Play eventually went on, the scorebook none the wiser. Living to survive another play made me feel better. I rose to my feet in applause to commend Eloise for bringing up her half-century.
“Onya El,” Hank called out, his loud claps almost seeming to echo through the grandstands.
Eventually, I sat back down, hoping I hadn’t made too much of a scene. Smiling, I felt glad that Eloise had batted well. The bails scrammed from the top of the stumps, and I slunk in my seat, before offering limp applause. Eloise walked off the field. Head down, she clutched the blade of her bat in both gloves. The next batter strode out, a short blonde ponytail sticking out from underneath her helmet.
“This is Jessica Howard, one of Eloise’s housemates,” Max told me. “She’s a Sixers player as well.”
Clara reached for her phone, sending a text message.
“Fifty-seven’s still pretty good, though,” I remarked. “She did well.”
Jessica took strike. I knew little about her and her career other than what Max had just shared. Given the connection, however, I hoped Jessica would perform well. She started quietly, but thankfully, was hanging in there. Eloise eventually emerged from the sheds. She’d changed out of her batting gear. I wondered if Eloise was going to come up to say hello, although in the meantime some of the kids from the crowd jumped down to the fence line, for autographs. She smiled towards Hank and padded over. He wanted to know about the conditions.
“Oh, it’s a bit of a soft and slow wicket.” Eloise gestured to accentuate the description. “You never really feel like you’re in. Still, it would have been nice to kick on.”
She eventually needed to return to her teammates. I watched Eloise as she floated across the grandstand. In the middle, the batters engaged in a mid-pitch conference, just to slow down the play. Maybe they needed to communicate what Eloise had told us about the wicket. Cricket could be a numbers game and, slowly but surely, the score grew, player by player contributing to the total. I spent most of my life in a liminal space. On one hand, I craved everyone to cut me some slack. At the same time, being vulnerable felt way too hard. The last thing I wanted to do was drag everyone else down. Therefore, I remained silent about my issues as much as I could, which in turn made me seem petulant, rather than grieving. I squinted towards the scoreboard on the opposite side of the ground, eventually confirming that there was only one over remaining in the innings. Even though I’d enjoyed my day so far, I was looking forward to the break. The over passed quickly, and after that I anticipated food, water, and the bathroom.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Do you want me to bring you back some food?”
“Alright, thanks,” I accepted, as Max got up from his seat.
I stared out into space, until he returned with ice cream.
“Oh my goodness, this is divine,” I gushed as I accepted the cup from Max, filled with soft serve, chocolate topping and sprinkles.
“That’s not lunch,” Hank scoffed.
“Oh yes, it is,” Max insisted.
I laughed, which seemed to settle the point for both of them. Keturah and Gavin arrived. I’d last seen them at Aunty Caroline’s birthday. Something caused my heart to swell that they’d finally made it to watch their daughter play, even though she’d already been dismissed. They found somewhere to sit down.
“We would have come this morning, but we ended up bumping into the Mathewsons at breakfast this morning,” Keturah justified. “I’m glad that Ela batted well.”
“Yeah, she did,” Hank agreed, taking a sip from his bottle of Coke.
Fluffy white clouds floated across, smearing themselves through the deep blueness of the sky. I retrieved my phone from my bag, checking the weather app. There wasn’t any rain forecast for the rest of the day, and just as well. That would have spoiled our calm afternoon of cricket. Sometimes the sport could feel sedate, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hank slipped his arm around Clara’s shoulders.
“Are you going alright?” he murmured.
“Yeah,” she answered, although she didn’t sound convince. “I’m just a little bit worried about her.”
I caught myself staring, so returned my eyes to the cricket. They can’t have been talking about me. I couldn’t help but wonder the cause of Clara’s stress. Maybe it’s associated with her work, although I know little about her personal life aside from her relationship with Hank. Sometimes I wonder how they ended up getting together. I mean, she’s gorgeous. He’s not ugly, but he’s not a looker. We’re kind of related, but I have no inclination to go there. I felt anxious, unclear that the result was going to go the way of New South Wales. It didn’t really matter at the end of the day. At least not to me, although I craved a good result to report to Mum and Dad when I returned home. We watched through as the innings unfolded. Wickets would fall, then runs would be scored, the likelihood of a result for either side seesawing back and forth. I couldn’t be sure how the match would end, even when there was just one wicket left to take for New South Wales, and seven runs left to score for their opposition. All of a sudden, the batter flayed at the ball. The wicketkeeper secured it in her gloves, and the fielders around the bat leapt up in appeal. I bit down hard on my thumbnail, then leapt up along with the others as the umpire slowly raised his finger. The small crowd heartily cheered, as the New South Wales players rushed to embrace each other. Keeping her cool, the ground announcer proclaimed the result. A good win secured, the players lined up to shake each other’s hands as they departed the field. I followed Max down to the fence, to meet his sister on the way off, along with a few of the other players’ relatives. I drove home, happy about a good day.
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.