Arriving at university for the O-Week festivities, I tracked down Tom at the barbecue.
“Hi, Nina, thanks for coming to help.
“You’re welcome.” I stashed my bag. “What can I do to help?”
“Oh, I’m just heating up the barbecue at the moment. We’re about to put sausages on.”
I nodded, then noticed bags of sliced bread. Removing the twist, I opened one of the bags. I pulled out a slice at a time, slotting them in between serviettes. This is the sort of thing Mitchell would have done. I had a memory of him running a Bandaged Bear Day event, during his uni days. As I became absorbed in time, the presence of another person startled me.
“Hi, Nina,” Callista greeted me.
She stepped into place between me and Tom. Callista started to help out.
“Thanks. I thought that you would be busy today.”
“Well, I will have to go soon. We’re doing drama games with the musical society.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“Yeah. It will be.”
The barbecue started up, onions and sausages sizzling. Tom took a step to his left, closer to Tallulah.
“Happy birthday,” he murmured.
“Thanks, Tom,” Callista replied.
“Oh, I didn’t know, happy birthday!”
“Thank you, Nina.” Callista stirred the onions. “It’s not really something that I’ve advertised.”
A short-haired woman ambled over and it took me a moment to recognise her – Maci, from the group who went to Toukley. She said hello to all of us, then left again to fetch bags of ice. Cans of soft drink would be sold for one dollar each. I thought that was a bargain.
“What, that it’s so warm?” Callista quipped. “We’re in Australia, mate.”
“No, how quiet it is for this time of the day. Don’t you reckon?”
“Well, there are student films playing at the cinema.”
“That sounds good,” I chimed in. “I might have to go and check it out eventually.”
Callista eventually departed so that she could help out the musical society. The students did finally start streaming in and buying sausages.
“Are you still working at the Baulkham Hills Library?”
“Yeah, I work Wednesdays and Saturday mornings, generally,” I provided. “Wednesday works quite well with the support group I’m involved in, for families of missing people. They meet up at the library.”
Tom nodded, continuing to place sausages in bread. After a few hours, I wanted to go to the bathroom. When there was a quiet moment, I asked Tom if I could be excused from the barbecue.
“Yeah, it’s alright, take a break. We’ve got plenty of helpers.”
I left the barbecue and headed towards the toilets. Once I’d relieved myself, I decided to walk in the direction of the administration building, where Rose would be. It would be good to get to say hello to her again, and perhaps debrief on Bianca’s condition. She would have been seeing a number of students affected by the fact that her cancer was terminal, and she was in palliative care. Taking respite in the air conditioning, I arrived at Rose’s office, poking my head in the door as she spoke to new baby uni students. Once the session concluded, the kids dispersed and we were able to chat.
“Come for a walk with me,” Rose urged, as we exited into the main administration space.
“I’m sure that Mitchell’s name is all around here.”
I glanced around at the boards and memorabilia which lined the walls of the office. Rose’s phone tolled and she fetched it from her bag. We paused, while Rose checked the message and I found myself glancing over.
“Oh, that’s my grandfather,” she mentioned. “I’m going over to Coogee this afternoon to spend some time with him.”
Rose and I parted as she finished for the day, while I decided to get some food. I surveyed the culinary options, other than the barbecue I’d been helping on. The Lebanese Students’ Association got my five dollars. I went for a leisurely stroll with my lunch, eventually sitting down in the shade. After I’d finished eating my falafel wrap, I returned to the barbecue and slipped back in with the others, helping where was needed. Finn approached, requesting a sausage sizzle while extending a two-dollar coin. I accepted it from him, plopping it into the metal box where we were keeping the change.
“We’ve just had a hockey game out on the field,” Finn explained. “It was just a bit of fun, but hopefully we’ll get some players from it. Are you going around again this year?”
“Yeah, I’d love to.”
The sky changed from blue to black, sparkling like I wished for each of us. I bounced along to Taylor Swift while trying not to spill the tea and coffee I was making, to hand out for free to the new students. They seemed to be enjoying the festivities. John ambled over.
“Hi, John, how are you?”
“Yeah, good, thanks.”
He purchased a sausage sizzle and scoffed it down. I wanted to ask him about Lizzie. Yet, I didn’t know whether their relationship was a suitable topic for small talk. John started joining in and helping out, squirting sauce onto piping hot sausages per our customers’ requests.
“Lizzie would be here, but she’s working on her blog.”
I nodded my head, rolling over a sausage on the hot plate with tongs. Finally, we ran out of sausages, so it was curtains for the barbecue. We started to pack away and the density of people around me thinned out, as I went to empty the recycling. On my way back from the bins, I spotted Callista and Tom pashing on. They were up against the engineering block, his hand in her hair, her fingers up the back of his shirt. I found myself staring, but not for long. This wasn’t my secret to know, so I continued back to where the others were packing up. Reaching for a cloth, I wiped down the greasy barbecue.
“All done?” John demanded.
I glanced up to view him standing there with a bucket, eyebrows raised.
“Yes,” I confirmed with a soft sigh.
I chucked the cloth into the dirty water. John trudged off in the direction of the storeroom. I didn’t get home until after eleven. Geoff was there, waiting for me, so that I could strip off and change into pyjamas, collapse into his arms, then fall off to sleep in bed.
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.