Stolen Girl

she wakes to the sound of the bell ringing
and stumbles out of bed hurry up before
you get in trouble the older girls warn
her the girls eat their breakfast of
bread and milk and no one talks this is
just one of the many rules at the
children’s home in the early morning
silence her thoughts wander back to her
life before she came to this place she
used to live with her mother in a
corrugated iron house with a huge yard
that seemed to stretch to the Sun each
morning they would sit on the verandah
eating damper thick with golden syrup
and drinking sweet milky tea her mother
took her to the river every day and
taught her how to fish and swim as they
walked she learned how to hunt goanna on
the way home they would collect sugar
bag honey from the eucalyptus trees in
the afternoons her mother rested in a
hammock strung between two old river
gums and the girl would play with a
family of lizards their evenings were
spent sitting around the fire listening
to the elders tell stories of the old
days one hot and dusty day they walked
into town while her mother was buying
flour a man in uniform came and dragged
the girl to his car mama she screamed as
she has struggled to escape her mother
ran out of the store crying out her
daughter’s name but it was too late
the chief protector of aboriginals is
sending you to a new home you’ll like it
there the man told her the girl sat
silently hoping thief she was very still
he would forget she was there it was
raining the day she arrived at the
children’s home the first heavy drops of
the wet had turned the earth to bright
yellow ocher they took away the clothes
that her mother had sewn and gave her a
faded dress someone else had worn when
am I going home she asks you ain’t none
of the south say the older girls they
tell her that she will get used to this
place just like they have in the
mornings they are taught how to read and
write and in the afternoons they cook
and clean the pots in the kitchen are
heavy and the water is streaming hot the
girl’s hands become red raw from the
harsh soap and sometimes they bleed at
the end of each day she is exhausted
every night she dreams of going back
home and running into her mother’s arms
when she wakes up she is still in the
dormitory they have given her a new name
but she whispers her Aboriginal name to
herself over and over again
sometimes they shout at her for talking
in her own language in the evenings she
softly sings sending the notes beyond
the iron fence far away to her mother’s
fire she imagines that her mother can
hear her voice echoing off the desert
sand she dreams she is a star shooting
through the dark night Here I am mama I
have not forgotten your stories she says
she snuggles close to her I gain she
wakes to the ringing Bell weeks and
months pass winter comes and the girls
are made to do their exercises in the
shivering they huddle together to get
warm she dreams her mother is waiting at
the gate wearing her best dress trying
to come home now her mother says with a
shy smile the people from the children’s
home dragged her away some of the old
girls are taken by white families to
work as domestics and she hears them
being told they’re lucky at that moment
she decides she doesn’t want to be lucky
in the schoolroom, she works out how many
steps to the river how far she can swim
before getting tired and how long before
they will realize she is gone the
weather gets warmer and she practices
gliding beneath the surface of the water
barely making a ripple and then the time
comes early before the bell starts
ringing she slips from her bed and walks
silently through the halls pulling a
chair to the cupboard she unhooks the
key and makes her way to the door with a
deep breath she turns the key in the
lock the door swings open and she takes
her first step towards home

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