At the river in the morning I took off my shoes and socks, brown school shoes and dirty socks and I plunged my feet into the water.
Mud oozed between my toes, twigs scratched against my legs. There was a light current, not enough to push me off balance but enough to make me want to stay close to the edge, close enough to be able to reach out to the thick tufts of grass that sprouted there.
I was on a mission. I had taken my bike out that morning. I had cut myself a sandwich, filled it with butter and jam, wrapped it in greaseproof paper and dropped it into the bike basket at the head of my bike.
The bike basket signified my bike was different from my brother’s bikes. Only girls had bike baskets. Boys did not need baskets. They carried their belongings in their pockets.
That Saturday morning I had decided I would ride to Sydney, an entire state away. A bike ride to Sydney all the way non-stop. I told no one. No one need know. And I took off with the energy of any self respecting ten year old, full of confidence that I would be there by late afternoon and back by nightfall.
Uphills were the worst. Burke Road past the turn to Doncaster, a good run down to the Yarra River, and then I elected to stop.
I ate my sandwich and found a drink tap next to play equipment in a park, carved out of flat land near the river. I was thirstier than I had imagined, and my legs had taken on that jelly like quality that comes out of too much exercise. Even in a ten year old.
The sun was mid sky and I had learned enough from nature study classes to know that it would only get hotter, but in the shade of the gum trees and with a slight breeze skipping over the river I cooled down.
My feet in the ooze and all I could imagine were dangerous creatures underneath, creatures that might drag me down if I stayed too long. It took a huge effort to drag myself back onto the shore.
A cow in a nearby paddock looked up from chewing on grass. Even the cow had an ominous look in her eye as if she were unhappy that I should be there.
That’s when I saw the man at the top of the hill, the man who stood looking down at my bike, sizing up the basket, as if he were looking for a rider and her belongings, as if he were looking for me.
And what could a man alone on a hill top near a river want with the rider of a small girl’s bike, one he would know belonged to a girl because it held a basket?
The man’s silhouette on top of the hill, a black shape against a blue sky left me with a feeling I had broken rules.
There were no signs around that said not to trespass. The river was free or so my brothers had told me, but this man reminded me of the word ‘no’.
I have met many such ominous men in my lifetime, in reality and in dreams, silhouettes against the sky.