She hasn’t been back here since she graduated. Some things have changed; some have stayed the same. The tuckshop is bigger now, and opens onto the courtyard outside the school hall. The hall still needs repainting; then again, it’s been so long, maybe they repainted it once already. It still looks just about like every other Primary School in this part of Queensland; red brick building with a tin roof, bitumen playground beside the oval, a couple of timber outbuildings. There are people milling everywhere, parents, kids, maybe some teachers, and of course, locals who are just here to vote and get out. The compulsory sausage sizzle is set up against the wall of the hall. There’s a couple of dads on the barbie, a couple of kids, girls, at the cash box, and a couple of mums hurrying between the two and trying to keep the flies away from the meat.
She doesn’t recognise any of them, and they don’t recognise her. Some of them frown in disapproval, taking in the shorts, the iPod stuck in the back pocket, and the cigarette loosely held between two fingers. She ignores them, just like she ignores the people handing out how-to-vote cards. In an election like this, they’re a joke. It’s easy to guess what each party’s card says when there are only three candidates anyway. Lucky thing it isn’t federal; some of her friends voted in the last one, and they said it was nasty trying to figure out what to do with the senate slip.
She finishes the cigarette before going into the hall. Flicks a glance around then puts the butt in the bin. She’s got into the bad habit lately of just flicking them into the nearest garden, but somehow she doesn’t want to do that here. No kid should ever have to find a cigarette butt buried in their sandpit.
Inside, the lady checks off her name and gives her the slip. Takes her about five seconds to fill out the card—only three candidates, after all, and this isn’t a marginal seat. She, like most of the people here, knows exactly who she’s voting for, and is pretty sure that they’re going to keep the seat anyway. There’s a moment of embarrassment when she can’t find the ballot box. She doesn’t want to be that kid that people coddle and say, “Now, this is what you do, dear.” She was that kid for seven years at this place already.
She finds the box soon enough, though. It’s right near the door. Drops her slip in and leaves. Outside, the wind shifts and brings the smell of the sausage sizzle to her. She looks at the little blue tent with its trestle table and her mouth waters. They’re only a dollar anyway. Everywhere else, they’d charge two or three bucks for a sausage in bread—she knows that’s what they are outside the hardware store in winter—but at the school, it’s a dollar, and onion is free.
She hangs back a bit, until the girl on the till notices her and asks what she wants. She steps forward.
“Just a sausage in bread, please, and a diet coke.” The cans are only a dollar too; she wonders if they’re even turning a profit on those.
The girl nods and turns around to one of the women, who takes over. She doesn’t push the girl out of the way, so much, but suddenly the girl isn’t on the till anymore, she’s standing to one side of it, looking slightly bewildered. “Two dollars, please,” says the mum. She nods, and pulls out her wallet. Hands the money to the girl, and the mum moves off to make the sausage.
“I’m sorry, I’ve only got a five dollar note.” Not sure why she apologises, anyway, because two dollars from five isn’t exactly difficult. The girl looks at her—she gets the sense—properly as a person not a customer. She wonders how she looks to a twelve-year-old, wearing as she is a painfully fashionable shirt with scungy shorts, hair in a messy bun, iPod headphones looped through her belt loops. So thin her hipbones show through the gap between top and shorts, ordering a diet coke. Probably reeking of smoke.
The girl smiles, and she smiles back as she receives the change. Realises that she was that girl. She has been on the other side of the trestle—probably the same trestle, it sure looks old enough where the wind has blown up part of the red check tablecloth and exposed it—and handled money like she was the most grown up person in the world, at least until her mum came and took over. She’s spent the rest of her life, all six years of it, growing up from being that girl.
“Thank you,” she says with another smile as she accepts the food and the can of diet coke.
The girl nods, moves on to the man behind her.
She turns away, puts the sausage sizzle stall to her back and walks out of the school. Finishes eating the sausage as she reaches the gate, and lights up another cigarette.