"We're here. Wake up, Precious!"
Zeke's feet were kicked from the seat that they rested on, and his balance gone, he slid off his seat.
"Where's here?" he growled from the floor, trying to grope his way out of this undignified posture.
"Dunno," replied the roadie as he left the bus.
Zeke had picked up his personal luggage by the time Ratso sounded the alarm. "Look out - the enemy, closing fast."
The members of the band who were still on the bus grabbed their gear and pushed one another to the door. Tristan was waiting for them.
"Quick, this way." Tristan had his empty hands filled by Hammer, then he joined the others scampering to safety. Hammer fell back, in a ritual they all appreciated. He tripped, and while the others made it safely to the building, security men tried to rescue Hammer from a seething mass of fans that had formed around him.
When he joined the others in the hotel his clothes were torn and his face wore a blissful expression.
"There's always one that grabs the right bit," he said, gesturing to make sure they knew what he was talking about. "Don't know why you boys don't let yourselves get caught more often."
"One day one of them fans'll 'ave yer balls fer a sooveneer. You won't be smilin' then." The members of the band laughed. Biter and Hammerhead’s rivalry had earned the band a few publicity points in the past.
"You will get caught good and proper one day," remarked Tristan. Hammer looked at the man, scarcely more than a boy, who had added his gift to the band. He'd had his misgivings about the youngster, but he was all right.
"Just not cut out for the life-style, are you, kid?" he commented, expecting no reply.
"Oh, I dunno - I remember the night . . ." before Ratso could begin another of his tasteless anecdotes, he was stopped by a stray article of clothing that flew from Tristan's general direction.
"You just keep doing things your way, Tris. Don't let these pricks get under your skin," said Zeke as he headed for a shower.
This was a particularly comfortable hotel. The band's rooms opened onto a central living area, complete with kitchenette and bar. The furnishings were not luxurious - they were too old for that - but the beds were comfortable and the decor inoffensive. They would be here until it was time to go to the concert. They would return afterwards to sleep, perhaps, then after lunch the next day they would leave for the next gig.
Sump Oil set up camp on the couch and began snoring.
"We'd better make sure he wakes up in time so we can feed 'im before the gig," Ratso reminded no-one in particular as he changed into his "street" clothes. Disguise complete, he left to see what he could of this town before he had to move on to the next.
Hammerhead would not budge.
"Look, you're right, what you're saying,” he continued, “but it just doesn't make sense. Why should we change anything? Things are going fine as they are."
"For us," remarked Tristan, who had so far stayed out of the argument.
"Oh shit! Help me, I'm scared. He spoke to me." No-one really appreciated Hammer's sarcasm.
"But 'e's right," took up Biter. "Things might be okay fer us . . . now, but if we've got a chance to do sumpfing to help . . . I mean, fuck it! We can afford ter take a chance."
The band sat about in the cluttered dressing-room. Tristan had asked them all to meet in Zeke's room. Scattered bottles and glasses took up the free bench-space. The mirrors doubled the costumes that hung about the walls, waiting for their moment of glory. They all waited.
"Okay. Okay!" The faces that watched Hammer, broke into smiles. "I guess it's about time I stuck my neck out for something worthwhile. Let's do it!"
"Yes!" The band's jubilation was cut short by their minder bursting into the room.
"Come on, you bastards. You're supposed to be on stage."
It was a signal they all knew. It was time to go. They grabbed their favourite bottles and headed for the door.
Zeke thrilled at the roar of the crowd that greeted the band as they loped onto the stage. Glad to be in charge of himself again, he felt every muscle in his body, tense with anticipation. He bounced on the balls of his feet, looking about him, waiting for the band to take their places. The focus of so many eyes, he thought instead, in this crowded pause, of a beautiful pair of eyes, many miles away.
Spotlights swept the mass of people who shouted and seethed, eager for the band to begin. The energy in the stadium sparked when Zeke began to speak.
The roar from the crowd was deafening.
Sump-Oil started pounding the bass drum, taking up the rhythm of Zeke's energetic tension. The beat seemed to wind up the band, all beginning to tap or nod to the pulse of the drum. Although the crowd still roared in front of them, Zeke gave the signal.
" . . . three, four!"
Sump-Oil's snoring bored through the closed door.
Tristan and Zeke were not trying to sleep. They had become friends during the last few weeks.
They talked about the concert and the party afterwards. Their second cups of cocoa steamed on the table between them.
"And when Sumpy leaned over and burped in his ear I thought we'd had it!"
Zeke laughed in memory. He and Tristan had not been able to get along well - before . . . But now he realized why Ratso had insisted that the lad joined the band when Keith had left. It wasn't just the way the kid played guitar.
Zeke's reverie was disturbed by Tristan.
"You've changed, you know."
Zeke looked carefully at the gentle youth.
"Yes. I suppose I have."
"You've really sorted yourself out. I wouldn't have thought the drugs could make such a difference." He paused, looking thoughtfully at Zeke. "Whatever happened, I'm glad it did."
Zeke looked away. He would never tell any-one what had happened. How could he?
"That's the problem with the world , after all, isn't it?" continued Tristan. "Before we can change the world we have to change ourselves. But there's so much in the world around us that stops us from changing. Before we can change ourselves we have to change the world."
"We just have to change," Zeke replied. "We can't shirk our responsibility for what has happened. We're all involved. We all have to change."
"And perhaps if each of us changed ourselves, perhaps then we could change the world. You know, sort of like ripples in a pond." Tristan was absorbed with the scenario that was developing in his mind.
" Maybe if people cared more, the world would be better anyway. Each person doing their bit to make the world a better place would. One person, for example, who was prepared to help out a kid in trouble, might be stopping the trouble from spreading."
"Like Ratso helped you?"
Tristan smiled. "Yes. I'd be out on the streets, living off my wits and anything I could con or steal from other people. I would have spread a bit of misery." He blushed. "And if I'd ever gotten around to having kids, I wouldn't have liked their chances." He looked over to Zeke. "Don't you see? If people cared for each other and their world, it'd have to spread!"
"There are already people doing all that." Zeke suddenly felt an ancient weariness overtake him. "But it's not enough. Individual responsibility has to lead to collective responsibility, but it just isn't enough. Not yet. Maybe there's a way . . . " His voice trailed away, preoccupied.
Biter and Ratso burst into the room, ending the conversation. Between them they carried the tattered remains of a man. There were no blood-stains on the shredded clothing, but the grimy human trash was inert.
They lay Hammerhead roughly on the couch, then stood over him, deciding the best approach.
"Do ya fink we should call the Doc?" suggested Biter.
"He finally got what was coming to him. That's what," remarked Ratso.
"After you left the party he jumps up on a table and announces to every-one that you were a prick." Zeke's eyebrows raised. "He said you'd taken credit for his idea to start actively supporting the environmental movement. Not that he minded, you know. After all, you really are the band's spokesperson."
Biter began snorting with laughter, remembering the scene.
"But he'd be real pleased if any sweet young thing would offer to soothe his troubled brow," continued Ratso. "He's just so tense, what with worrying about the environment and all!"
Biter broke into a roar. "They sooved'im awrite!" he managed to gasp out between breaths.
"Tore him to bits," added Ratso, taking a jug of cold water from the fridge. He carried it to the couch and began pouring it slowly onto Hammer's face.
The shambled form spluttered and groped its way into consciousness.
"What the fuck!"
"Good to have you with us, Ham'," said Zeke.
Hammerhead smiled in recognition and leaned back onto the couch.
"We hear you had a spot of trouble," Tristan suggested.
Hammer chuckled as his memory returned. He turned to Tristan soberly, a courageous achievement.
"You know, kid," he commented seriously. "It's not easy being Green."
"So the class is settling down now?"
"Yes. It's incredible what an effect settling one trouble-maker can have. And Jason's not such a bad kid. I think he can even get enough work done to avoid being kept down another year."
"He's been kept down a year before?"
"Oh yeah, at one of his previous schools. Poor kid's really been pushed from pillar to post."
"I did rather wonder at Ang taking up with him. I heard her talking to Linda once, about the boys in her own class. You'd have thought she was talking about boys who were ten years younger than herself."
"I don't think she's ever forgiven the school and her parents for making her repeat Year Nine."
"It seems a little unfair. It's not her fault she was so ill."
"How fair would it have been to let her attempt work that she was unprepared for?"
"Mmmm. Still, I'm glad she and Linda stayed friends. Ang seems like a good kid, even if her parents are a little odd."
"A little odd! Oh Cassie, what is wrong with you? A little? They are a lot odd. I've been told the father has a lock on the stereo so that it can't be turned up too loud."
"He does," said Linda, looking up from the work she was doing. "I've seen it!"
"Really." Cassie seemed mildly surprised.
Linda and Annie exchanged glances, then looked at Cassie.
"It's the play, isn't it?" remarked Annie.
Cassie looked up. She had been absently observing a fly crawling on her glass.
"It's going to be great, Cass! I knew it from the moment I read that first Act."
Cassie gazed at Annie and wondered again at the vitality that seemed to have returned recently to her old friend.
"When are you going to introduce me to your new bloke?"
Annie was taken off guard by the question. She hesitated before answering.
"When I'm ready to," she finally said. "There are a few . . . complications that have to be ironed out."
"How long is that going to take?"
"I don't know. But I'll tell you what, it's good to have a man again."
"Yes," said Cassie, observing the fly which had returned to inspect her glass.
"Don't worry, Cass. It'll happen. You're too good to stay alone."
"And who's to say I'm not better off that way?"
"I do sometimes wonder why we go to all the trouble of letting ourselves become fond of men."
"`Can't live with'em and can't live without'em,' eh?"
"Yes." Annie chuckled again. Then silence fell once more on the three women who sat, enjoying the afternoon sun on their secluded back verandah. Annie broke the silence.
"I saw Liz the other day, at the supermarket; I don't think I told you."
"No. How is she?"
"Oh, good. Mind you, those kids are a bit of a handful!"
"There's been times when I've found one off-spring to be too many. I don't know how she copes with three. What's she doing with herself?"
"She's going back to work. Neil wants to take a year off work to spend with the kids, so she'll be the bread-winner."
"Neil taking care of the house? He can't even butter bread!"
"That's more or less what I said. Liz just laughed and said that they'd manage."
"Better her than me." Cassie began to reflect. "I don't know how I'd cope with living with a man again."
"Don't let bad luck prejudice your judgement."
"Oh no," said Cassie, "it's not that I'm scared to get involved, it's just that I'm not sure whether I'm ready for the consequences. Women take care of men. We work so damn hard to keep our men and our families happy. Linda's such a good kid. She's enough for me. I suppose I feel a yearning now and then . . . " Cassie's voice trailed off. "But then," she said, forcing herself to feel an energy that she didn't, "it's nice only having to take care of yourself. Invigorating to know that the demands on your emotional energy have a limit."
Annie laughed at the pomposity of Cassie's manner.
"There speaks a true feminist!"
Cassie joined her friend in laughter.
"I guess a few years ago I'd just have said that women need men like fish need bicycles and left it at that."
"You'd have been able to give some pretty convincing evidence to support your statement if you'd had to. I'm glad you and Jack spent some time together. I think he helped you to trust men again. He changed your perspective."
"Maybe," her voice trailed off with melancholy nostalgia. "But I don't think my beliefs have changed. I've always believed that men and women were equal, only in those days I don't think I realized how different they are. Now I realize that men are different, but I still can't find any justifiable reason for them to have systematically oppressed women." She responded quickly to Annie, who opened her mouth with a protest. "And I know, things are changing.
"People are beginning to value women for what they are instead of trying to apply a male standard. They're starting to see that women do things differently to men, but that it works just as well that way. I think there's hope, Annie."
"Ooh, careful now," teased Annie, "the Commissar for Ideological Purity will be after you."
"The Commissar can stick it!" growled Cassie as she smiled. "Besides, since the Commissar is probably a man, he'd probably decide to interpret my changing views as an affirmation that women should stop this "liberation" nonsense and get back to the kitchen where they belong." Cassie added, as an afterthought, "How many men does it take to do dishes?"
"None, that's women's work!" growled Annie in response to the old joke. A comfortable silence fell over the women.
The peaceful afternoon was not even disturbed by Mrs Evans T.V. set. The trees rustled soothingly in the breeze.
"Men and women are different, though. Whether it's innate - linked with biology - or learned from the society around us, those differences exist. By and large women are nurturers, specializing in the sensitivity that is part of that role, and prepared to put themselves second if necessary. Men are more likely to be aggressive and want to control, even dominate their surroundings.
"What we really need now is to let women use their nurturing abilities to help solve the problems we face, just as they do in their own homes."
"More women in government, eh? Like Bronwyn Bishop?"
"Don't be an arsehole, Annie, you know what I mean. She's just an example of how women have to be more like men if they want to succeed. That's the sort of thing that frightens me. We musn't let conditions for women return to what they were; but what would happen if we lost the values that are traditionally kept alive by women - nurture, caring, selflessness, sensitivity to others, et cetera, et cetera?"
"Oh come on, men have those qualities too!"
"Of course they do! But you still make a big thing of only seeing women doctors." Annie shrugged her shoulders and made noises of dismissal towards Cassie. "Anyway, it's not about who's best at anything, Annie. That's the trouble. People keep getting caught up in the argument about men and women. They end up so damned involved in who's going to win, that they forget that it's not about winning. It's about living together happily."
"World peace and harmony - the Age of Aquarius, huh?"
The women laughed. Then Annie became thoughtful.
"It's a bit depressing sometimes, isn't it? Men and women are different. And we allow these differences to rule our lives. Women should be women and stand back while men thrust themselves forward."
"Yes, added Cassie. "If a woman is too strong she's butch, and heaven help the man who approaches life too gently!"
"Yeah. Bloody woman!" quipped Annie. Then after reflection, "Bit sad, isn't it, that we judge people according to the way we think they ought to behave, rather than by the admirable qualities they may possess."
"And meanwhile the world has been brought to the brink of disaster time and time again by the aggressive, but competent men. Mmmmph!"
"What's the answer, Cass?" Annie eventually asked.
Cassie took on the furrowed brows of deep concentration. After a few moment's silence, a look of serenity played about her face.
"Co-operation. Work together so that the abilities and energies of men and women complement each other; the strengths of one combine with the strengths of the other. Weaknesses are irrelevant. If we're prepared to overcome our prejudices we will see the good in others and be able to change things. Sexism could become as irrelevant as racism. Simple really."
"Oh yes. Nothing simpler. All you have to do is change the way people think and treat each other - revolutionize society. Why don't we do it this afternoon?"