Category B: Highly Commended (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Halle Schroor
Title: Stolen love
They came in the night, as the gumtrees stood still and the sound of cicadas echoed in the distance. We woke to the thunder of engines and knew who it was. They were coming to take us away, take us from our bagirngun and babiin and steal our blood.
The removals had been happening for months, in places around us, so we had been preparing. But no matter how much we fought back and how much we ran, we could not escape them. We held onto each other as we drove off, our only family in our arms, as the sound of our cries echoed into the night.
Clara sat at the dining table and listened to the conversation around her. Her mother sat opposite her, sipping her tea every so often, keeping her eyes trained on the plate in front of her. To Clara’s right sat one of her older brothers, Howard, who was deep in conversation with her other brother, Lawrence, and her father.
This was how their mornings usually went. The men talked, while Clara and her mother sat silently, listening. A full meal with no talking, that was the unspoken rule. Not a strict one, but it was the norm.
This morning was different. After Father’s conversation died down and the table settled into an uneasy silence, Mother spoke, “We have a new maid arriving today. She is young so she will be watched by Ruth for the first few days.”
Clara’s ears pricked up. She loved the maids – they were the few people in the house who regularly talked to her – but they were years older than Clara and felt more like aunts than friends.
Her mother had said that the new maid was young. Maybe she was Clara’s age? If this new maid was Clara’s age, she would have a new friend to spend time with her at home. And her afternoons of solitude would be over.
When Clara arrived home from school later that day, she could hardly contain her excitement. Throughout the day she had let her mind wander and barely paid attention to her teachers. Next year she would start finishing school and the books, chalkboards and ink wells of her current classroom would be long gone. Clara loved school so she hated wasting her precious class time. Today, she had made an exception.
Clara went searching for new maid, first in the kitchen and then in the dining room. She thought maybe the new maid was helping set the table for supper, but she was nowhere to be seen and eventually Clara retreated to her room, disheartened. But when she opened the door to her bedroom, there stood a young girl folding a blanket by her bed.
“Hello!” Clara exclaimed, then collected herself feeling slightly embarrassed by her abrupt introduction. “It is nice to meet you,” she added, with an extended hand.
The girl looked down at Clara’s hand suspiciously and then snapped her focus back to the blanket. Determined not to give up so easily, Clara tried again. “What is your name? Mine is Clara McKenna.”
Clara waited a beat and then dropped her hand. Maybe this girl would not want to be her friend… she thought to herself. But when Clara turned her gaze to the ground, she heard a voice.
“Excuse me?” Clara asked, surprised at the small voice that had come from the girl in front of her.
“My name is Annie.”
Clara felt a surge of excitement flow through her again. “Well it is nice to meet you Annie. Where are you from?”
“Wiradjuri country,” Annie said, but then she caught herself.
“Umm… where?” Clara mumbled.
Bitting her lip, Annie tried again, “Australia, I come from Australia.”
“Well, yes. I assumed you did. Wiradjuri country? Is that where you grew up?”
Annie looked down. “I was raised in an orphanage a while from here. This is the first proper house I’ve gone to.”
“I am sorry about your parents.”
Annie took a deep breath. “My mother died when I was younger.”
Clara didn’t know how to respond. She wanted to comfort Annie, but she didn’t seem sad at all, if anything, she looked angry. Clara decided to drop the topic.
“I hope you enjoy it here! I am really excited for us to get to know each other and I hope we can become good friends,” Clara said with a blinding smile.
The corners of Annie’s mouth lifted. “Thank you.”
Kirra peered through thick glasses at the newspaper which she held in her frail, trembling hands. ‘National Sorry Day’ was printed in the bottom left corner on the sixth page of The Age. A box that took up the quarter of a page was all the newspaper had to offer.
She put the newspaper down in disappointment. After nearly 80 years of trauma, only now was she getting an apology. We understand all too well the hurt and harm that occurred. How could they understand? They weren’t taken from their mothers. They weren’t sold as slaves and sent off to white families.
Kirra knew she was lucky. After years of travelling and talking to others like her she realised how fortunate she had been as a child. While others had been abused mentally and physically by the people around them, Kirra had made a friend.
She still remembered Clara after all these years. An outgoing girl, someone Kirra had looked to in times of despair. Clara would keep looking, she used to think to herself back when all hope of finding her family seemed lost.
But Kirra never found her mother and, though she never stopped searching, she never saw her brother either. Kirra held the grief of those losses in her heart and at times felt like they would suffocate her.
Then, when her daughter was born and, two years later, when she held her newborn son in her arms, Kirra found a love she thought she had lost forever.