Portrait of Travelling Companions III

Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
Trip End Nov 31, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Sunday, April 17, 2005

When, sweaty from my biking, tired and with an aching butt, I first approached the office of the Busselton Backpackers and rang the bell, I had no idea what to expect. Except a place to sit my weary self down.

The gate popped open and a girl, about my age, stuck her head out. "Hey! Come on in! There's nobody here but me and it's so boring!" She bustled me in and gave a whirlwind tour---"bathroom there, watch the ants, kitchen here, other stuff over there," popped me into a bedroom ("I gave you the small one because you might be here for a while picking grapes and stuff") and then we ended up outside, sitting on the picnic tables, chatting shyly. Only shyly on my part, actually, because Alexa has, to put it mildly, the gift of the gab.

It's a good gift, one where she can be rapidly informing you about the lives of people you've never met, but in such a way as to make it interesting and to make you interested in meeting these people. We went out for dinner that night and from then a solid bond was formed; we'd come together in a moment of loneliness, we were (at that point) equally bad at ping pong, and those two things were enough that it could be us against the world.

Together with Alexa I assayed my first tentative jumps off the jetty, my first tentative bicyclings along the fine bike paths of Busselton, my first foray into the drinking of Australia's multitude of pre-mixed bottled alcoholic drinks, my first wild game of doubles ping-pong. We lived in the same caravan for a while, we worked at the same job three times---all of which I got because of her, bless her soul; she basically hired me for the cleaning job, which got me out of a big financial hole, and we got both the grape-packing jobs because of her lemon of a car; we met many a time in the middle of the night after she'd moved out for an emergency powwow.

The girl is a bundle of fun. She can make a board game as much over the top as a drunken birthday bash. She likes to drive quickly and bet high in poker and gun for all the properties in Monopoly. Everything she does, she does with the same off-kilter "rightness," like going to pick grapes in high-heeled shoes but being asked to come back to work the next day when the rest of the crew isn't. It's because she's never unwilling to open her mouth and speak up, whether it's to berate a slack floor-cleaner or chat with a long-time grape picker.

Sometimes I think Alexa's worst traits are her loyalty and her niceness. Sam would always say, anytime something bad happened to her (fairly often---running out of money, car breakdowns, getting her $10 bike stolen from outside the video shop, boyfriends turning out to be cheating arseholes), "It's because she's too nice, you know. She's gotta work on that." And while normally I'd argue that you can't be too nice, Alexa is nice without expecting anything in return, and sometimes that leads to getting nothing in return.

When we first met, she had a bit of money, from working thousands of hours at the cleaning job and cleaning Sam's hostel to stay for free at the same time, and she was busy spending it on everyone but herself. Every night a block of beer and copious amounts of hard liquor would mysteriously appear in the outside fridge and when I peered into the depths, Alexa would be yelling, "Help yourself!" in the background. She loaned money to anyone, even loaning money to someone a second time after he'd put off paying her the first time for two months. Even though she was dead broke herself by that point, struggling quiet under the strain of a financial load that had descended on her from home, the need to pay for the car she'd bought, the added rent that came with moving out of the hostel. She always seemed to be working two jobs, and always broke, but at the same time always willing to buy something for somebody else. "I've got no credit on my phone, I can't call you," she'd say, but then in the next instant offer you a free beer.

She was loyal to friends who didn't deserve it, even sometimes me, when I was in a selfish mood and wanted a car to get me somewhere. The first time I drove a car in WA was because she knew I desperately wanted to go somewhere she didn't want to go, so she gave up the use of the car for the day to loan it to me. On the phone as she agreed to this I said a dubious, "Are you sure?" suddenly seeing that I could be one of those people that's not nice enough, and takes advantage of those that are. "Yeah, I'm sure, no problem, I'll just bike around today."

By the time we left Busselton, Alexa had found a good job at a local resort but was planning to move north to Mandurah with her roommate as he had gotten a good job up there. She wants to immigrate to Australia, to get her sponsorship visa, maybe to become a teacher, but somehow the stars keep aligning against her and the jobs that might work out that way, don't, and the paperwork for the teacher certificate is confusing and uncertain, but she's still working at it, confident that eventually she'll get it.

A few days ago I got a message on my phone from her saying she was "in a bit of a pickle," by which she meant she'd been kicked out of the place she was staying after a spat with the roomie, which was possible because she was too broke to pay rent, and she had no petrol in her car to get to work, and she didn't get paid at her new café job until next week, plus it would only be about $100.00. "But some random people took me up to Perth to a casino last night, which was fun, even though I couldn't really bet," she trilled after I called her. Still up and facing the world in the face of impossible odds. Is it that she doesn't recognize how impossible the odds are, like her confidence that she could clean supermarkets at night, go straight to the grape-packing job, and still be alive at the end of a week? Or will that natural gift of pulling people to her pull her through again?

I know if our positions were reversed she would find some way to help me. But I'm thousands of miles away and don't have a lot of money myself! But I! But! It's when we meet the nice people in the world, the ones who give and give and give, that we first recognize the walls in ourselves that hold things back, and just how much those walls encompass.
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