They welcomed me in their desert tongue of dust and silence and heat. They pointed to the ground with sticks to show me the tracks of the other pilgrims who had come before, but who had never returned. These were the only signs of those who had disappeared into the dry, into the pulse of the red centre. They sang my path to me- a songline centuries old- so I could dream a question that night. It was to be my pilgrimage, a route through the wilderness to walk my way to an answer. I was told that I would find it at the end, by the sunset of the last day.
It was time for me to take off my shoes, so that I could make my feet into hands. My soles needed to walk-learn the country, to read the stories through the braille in the soil. Those who carried the tjukurpa showed me how to crack open my ribs and feather them out as orbed ears, like the night creatures of the desert. If I flapped them gently enough, they would collect the sounds of the landscape into my heart, where they’d imprint into maps. I could hold them there, feel them there in my chest like a compass and I would never be lost.
At the next dawn I started walking, stumbling like a child of the blind. I felt my way over mountain ridges and ravines, feeling the textures of sand and rock and witchetty shrub. The sun scorched my skin into a peeling brown bark and I hid from those burning barbs, crouching in the skinny shade of the mulga. Listening, searching for signs. I panted open-mouthed like my dingo brothers, unseen in the shadows.
Dazed and exhausted, my skeleton walked on, pulled by invisible strings. She had been listening to my footsteps, watching me from afar, her dry veins aching with the years of drought. The ghost gum spirit called me with a desert banshee cry only I could hear. She beckoned, curling a twig of fingerbone-white, pointing down to where the river was dry, “Come, child.” My tongue was swollen in my head, and my skull ached and pounded to the sound of her primitive heartbeat. I left my path and scrambled down towards her voice.
Steadfast there in the creek bed parched, she smiled at me, cracking her lips. I begged her “Sister, will I reach the end?” Gesturing in her breaths of breeze, she whispered through her leafed hands, “Rest, child.” I sank onto my knees, bloodied in the red sand. She pulled me from my broken spokes to shelter me from the sun.
I leant my back against her belly.
My head eased onto her cool collarbones.
In the lullaby of a heat heavy haze, my skin smeared red onto her lap and dripped down onto the river stones.
Day gave way to evening and I curled up inside her ancient body as she made a home for the night birds. She wrapped me in her paperbark husk-coat and I inhaled deeply from her lungs, rhythm-breathing together. As I cradled to sleep, mute insects busily sewed and stitched our skin. Our children scratched into my scalp where they nested in our hair at twilight.
Morning broke with branch-arms filtering the dawn and swaying us in the wind-hush. I tried to stand, but she had interbedded our back bodies bone for bone during the night, tangling our tendons wood to spine. Yesterday’s wounds were sealed, balmed in a blood sap and once-blistered feet had planted as root-legs down deep in the earth. We were hungry and we greedily suckled the morning dew from our fingers.
I was another who never returned and here I will stay as a warning sign for others who pass by this way, the message carved by my body into the knots of wood: “there is no endplace that can be found.” We are a memory that cannot be forgotten. Together we mark the place where I became my answer, where I was taken by my sister totem-jiin on the sunset of my last day. Here, the dry reclaimed me as a child of its own, and I was rebirthed me into my next millennial skin.