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PAPERBACK BOOKS

A BUDDHA FROM BYRON




a buddha from byron cover

Astrologists call turning thirty

‘The Saturn Return’.

They say it will shake you to awake you.

 

Witnessing a murder and being abducted

will do that too.

 

Amaranth Vaughan

has always accepted being bullied and used,

until the night it became life-threatening.

That’s where her line was drawn.

 

There’s always a risk in resistance,

and harm lurks in the shadow of escape,

but when you find yourself in danger,

you find yourself.

In Store Price: $29.95 
Online Price:   $28.95

 

AMAZON

EBOOKS
Ebook version - $AUD9.00 upload.

 

ISBN: 978-1-922229-03-8
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 306
Genre: Fiction

 

 

 

Cover: Clive Dalkins


Author
-
Sunion C. Matheson
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2018
Language: English


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Chapter 1.                                               Chris

 

Last drop of the day, a store in Newtown, block after next. Chris looked upwards through the dusty windscreen of his small delivery truck. A hot sun up there was urging a detour to Bondi after this. He could swim in his work shorts; they needed a wash.

He found Triple J on the truck’s radio and cranked it up because the weekend starts on a Friday arvo, so long as there’s a decent soundtrack. Back to the windscreen, he saw the traffic up ahead had suddenly stopped. Some idiot was trying to reverse a trailer into a lane off the busy clearway.

Chris hit the brakes, but nothing happened. He didn’t slow down. He pumped them again, and again. Nothing! He could see, if he didn’t do something fast, he was going to slam into the back of the car in front.

He had only two seconds, and he used the first one to dismiss the crowded footpath to his left. He snatched his eyes to the right, across an oncoming bus. No one on that footpath on that side of the road, and there was a vacant demolition site with a pile of old bricks and roofing iron that might just slow his truck down.

It was just a chance. And he grabbed it.

He plunged the accelerator to the floor and swerved violently across the prow of the bus. With a jolting thud, his truck bounced over the kerb and onto the rubble-strewn lot, smashing straight through the pile of bricks and rusting iron. A cloud of demolition dust exploded across his windshield, and his engine stalled to a halt just two metres before he would have slammed into the solid brick wall at the back of the site.

He let out a grunt of relief and flopped back into his sheepskin seat cover. The self-absorbed prattle of the radio DJ, oblivious to the drama that had just happened, was irritatingly loud. Chris snapped it off.

Hero! he began his mental accolades in the quiet. Lightning reflexes.

‘You lunatic!’ a voice raged, through the settling dust cloud.

Chris looked out through his open side-window and saw a furious man with a blanched face running towards him from the footpath.

‘Settle down, mate,’ he shouted back, unclicking his seatbelt.

‘You ran straight into it!’ the man screamed.

 Chris looked back at the crumpled iron behind his truck.

‘Bloody oath, I did,’ he chirped with a cheeky pride. ‘Had to.’

‘They were in there!’ the man shrieked, as he ran towards the flattened stack.

‘What was?’ Chris said, casually opening the door and stepping down from his truck.

‘It’s their cubby. Oh, God, you ran right over them!’

The distance from hero to villain can sometimes be measured in fate. The exact same actions would have earned Chris such enthusiastic praise if there hadn’t been three children playing in that pile of tin.

But there were three children playing in that pile of tin.

 

The charge sheet was read out to the hollow courtroom. Chris only caught odd phrases. “Recklessly driving… defective braking system… inappropriate speed… blah, blah, blah”. He wasn’t listening. He’d already condemned himself, these proceedings were a mere formality. He sat silent, numbed by a massive blend of guilt, regret, and sorrow. It wasn’t what he’d done that he was ashamed of, it was the consequence of doing it, and the barrage of courtroom jargon so far made no mention of that. The next three words, however, did, and they slammed into him like an out of control truck.

“Criminally negligent manslaughter”.

He glanced at his parents. They looked at the floor.

The judge took into consideration that Chris was only twenty-six, and had no previous convictions.

‘I further accept that you were attempting to avoid a collision,’ he said, ‘but your defence that you were unaware there were children in the vacant lot is invalid. Your deliberate and dangerous course of action resulted in the tragic loss of three young lives, and that can not be taken lightly.’

He was ready to make his determination, and he turned to the clerk of courts. ‘Three thousand dollars,’ he declared, ‘and an eighteen-month custodial sentence with a set minimum period of three months.’ He looked at Chris. ‘The balance being subject to the usual condition that the defendant does not re-offend during the term of the parole.’

Chris had nothing to say.

‘Driver’s licence suspended for the full eighteen months,’ the judge added.

Suspended. Guilt itself is suspended by a single Damoclean hair, and it can hang over a conscience for far longer than eighteen months.

 

His mother visited him twice the first week he was in jail, and then only three more times during his term. His girlfriend, Josie, only visited him once. His father never came at all, but Chris sent word to ask him to sell his car for him and use the money to pay the fine. Which he did.

Three months in prison is ninety days. Ninety days of not having to think about dodging left or right to avoid a line of inmates shuffling along the corridor. No piles of rubble to decide whether or not to drive into. Everything was directed by the guards, by the system. It was their responsibility; Chris was merely a passenger now.

But ninety days is also ninety nights. Ninety nights of staring at the corridor lightbulb glowing in through the small gap high up in his cell wall. He couldn’t escape from what happened in Newtown. He re-ran that afternoon, and each time he steered his truck around the pile of roofing iron. Each time, the kids poked their heads out and giggled at the silly man in the truck. Each time.

And then he remembered that’s not how it happened.

He was sitting eating his dinner in the food hall one day in his second week when a fellow prisoner walked over with his own meal tray and sat beside him. Chris didn’t even notice he was there.

‘Sausages,’ the prisoner said. ‘Two big, fat turds on a plate.’

Chris didn’t respond.

‘You’re a freshie,’ the prisoner went on. ‘What you in for?’

The last thing Chris wanted was to relive his accident. He just shrugged and continued to eat.

‘Hey, gronk,’ the prisoner said, ‘I asked you a fucking question.’

Chris paused eating. He sat very still before he slowly raised his face, numb with emptiness, and looked dispassionately, straight into his inquisitor’s eyes.

And right through them.

 ‘Yeah, all right, don’t go the spinner on me,’ the prisoner said nervously, mistaking melancholy for malevolence. ‘We all done something, haven’t we? That’s why we’re here. No offence.’

Without reply, Chris went back to chewing his food. His demeanour was interpreted by everyone as the confident cruelty of a hard man, which was just as well. Some prisoners need a victim to repay what they felt the world was doing to them. Many of them have kids back on the outside so they particularly seek out anyone who’s been charged with hurting children, and they mete out a stern moral ‘justice’ on them.

Perhaps years of surfing and loading heavy boxes into the work truck had given Chris a body that looked more dangerous than he actually was. Perhaps his constant vacant gaze was taken to mean he was capable of anything since he seemed to register nothing. Whatever it was, he survived the three months without incident from anyone, and he used the time as though he’d been cloistered in a monastery.

And found peace.

 

When he got out, he realised that staying with his parents was unthinkable. For him as much as for them.

‘How are you going to get a job if you can’t drive for another year or more?’ his father prodded. ‘You’ve got less than four grand left from your car. That won’t last long. You’re going to have to buckle down now and see what the real world’s about.’

His father thought Chris could have been so much more, that he was a disappointment who had settled for an easy life, that he didn’t go to uni or find himself a career and now he’d even lost the one crummy job he did have.

Chris wasn’t allowed to leave the state for the remainder of his parole but he could move home, so long as he informed the police of his new address.

Perhaps it was running away, or turning the page, but he needed to start again. Somewhere completely different. Somewhere no one knew anything about what had happened. And somewhere he could forget.

Byron Bay!

‘Wanna come?’ he asked Josie.

‘Maybe next year,’ she offered, neither expecting nor wanting to follow up on that. ‘I’ve just been made section manager at work.’

He said he had to go now. That he couldn’t wait.

And he went.

 

The bus pulled out of the bus station into the early morning, and the sharp sunlight squinting between the tall office blocks stabbed Chris’s eyes. He pulled his beanie down over his forehead, he didn’t want to see the city streets anyway. They were nothing to do with a beginning, they were merely the ruins of an ending.

Fumbling the iPod from his jacket pocket, he pushed the buds into his ears, selected the soundtrack for his escape, and cranked up the volume. The music drowned both the motor and the thoughts, and he drifted into dazing.

A couple of hours or so later he raised his beanie and sat up. He stared out of the bus window and watched the roadside unravelling like wool from a snagged jumper. It was just something to look at like there was something to look at.

A passenger in the row behind him pulled at his headrest as they got up to move seats and brought Chris’s attention back inside the bus. A child coughed from somewhere up in the front section. Was it a cough? Could be chucking.

Chris looked forwards down the aisle and out through the windscreen as the North oozed towards him. He was now the furthest he’d ever been from Sydney, but he was still hours away from Byron.

Should’ve checked for a cheap flight, he thought. Though maybe it was better that he established the distance properly by road; flying cheats the scale.

There were hills to crawl up, where the driver shuffled the gears with a jerk. There were small towns to dissect and larger ones to bypass. A row of trees ended abruptly and fields of sugarcane monotonised the landscape.

The bus thrummed on until late in the afternoon when it pulled into a servo and the disrupted passengers were invited to use the toilets there, or to buy some hot brown liquid in a thin plastic cup and grab one of the pre-made sandwiches suffocating in cling film.

That done, twenty minutes later, there was the straggling back on-board and the erratic resettling into the seats. The driver hissed the door closed and walked up the aisle, counting heads before the bus rolled out of the parking area and back into the tedium of journeying once more. Chris watched the window again till the sun melted into the horizon, and then he pulled his beanie back over his eyes.

It was fully dark when the bus jerked to a stop in Byron’s main street. A line of accommodation touts was standing at the rear of the footpath, mostly there to rendezvous with the pre-booked, but two of them were holding inviting pictures of the places they represented. Chris had heard that Byron accommodation was tricky to get in summer, but he’d ignored that. He didn’t necessarily believe the information was wrong, it was just he couldn’t allow himself any doubt that this was where he had to go.

His only bag was the one he had stashed under his seat onboard the bus, so there was no need for him to have to loiter with the other passengers waiting for the driver to open the side luggage compartments. He approached the tout closest to him before anyone else was ready to, and he ended up scoring the last available bunk at the Arts Factory Backpackers, just a short walk from the town centre.

He threw his bag onto his given bed and went to check out the backpackers’ Buddha Bar. It was a large dim room with several statues of Buddha set into the walls and behind the bar. He bought a beer and sat in one of the little booths.

Suddenly, Sydney seemed a long way away. A long time ago.

Despite it being the busy season, with so many people looking for a summer job, he found work the first day he looked. It was a part-time job, collecting empty glasses from the tables at the Beach Hotel. The same week, he scored a traineeship at the Dive Centre, where he helped kit-up the tourists and scrub the boats in return for free dives and a discounted dive licence. Within a month, he had his own room in a share house with Liam, another glassie at the hotel, and called it “home”.

 

One Sunday morning, before his afternoon shift at the hotel, he checked out the Byron Markets. It was a pageant of peddlers flogging bric-a-brac, colourful costumes, and a varied menu of food. He bought a spinach and ricotta crepe and a sugarcane juice, and sat on the grass for a few minutes, listening to some guy with an accordion singing ‘Where do you go to, my lovely?’

Chris felt okay in Byron. It seemed something had changed for him ever since he’d found a place to stay at the Buddha Backpackers. Everything was suddenly good. It had all just gone so smoothly.

He leaned back, spread his hands across the grass, squinted his eyes closed, and felt the warm sun painting a smile on his face. Smile. He hadn’t done that for months. Maybe even years.

His fingers ran over something intriguing. He turned his head, parted the grass and saw a small silver Buddha pendant. Abandoned, dropped, forgotten. Waiting for him to find. A Buddha like the statues where his new life began. This tiny token symbolised all that was right for him.

It was his good luck charm. 


 

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