His family have never had much to do with church, but he used to ask me about my beliefs at school, so I was really glad to get a chance to talk to him again. Not that I did much good though.”
Back to the road, I crossed again
Over the miles of the saltbush plain --
The shining plain that is said to be
The dried-up bed of an inland sea.
Where the air is so dry and so clear and bright
Refracts the sun with a wondrous light,
And out in the dim horizon makes
The deep blue gleam of the phantom lakes.
From “In the Droving Days” ~ Banjo Patterson
“See? You didn’t even jump that time,” Angie said the next afternoon, as the dust stirred up by a passing semi-trailer swirled in front of the windscreen. “I told you you’d get the hang of it.”
Jemimah nodded, her eyes intent on the road ahead. She was tired. Despite her best intentions, it had been late when she and Angie had finally gone to bed last night. She half wished she hadn’t agreed on this plan to drive for three hours to Moree and then back again, although she realised the practice was exactly what she needed to build her confidence.
“Thanks, Angie - I really appreciate you doing this for me.”
“For you?” Angie laughed. “I’ve been dying to go to that boutique again. It’s no fun browsing through shops on your own, but I couldn’t talk anyone from my family into making the trip. It was nice having a meal out too - there’s not really anywhere to eat in the Plains, unless you want to go to the pub.”
“Well, I ended up having dinner there Tuesday night.”
“On your own?”
Jemimah stifled a smile, enjoying the knowledge she’d surprised her friend.
“No, I actually ran into someone I knew from school. He comes to work at the courthouse twice a month.”
“Matt Gordon? The guy from Moree?”
“Yes. Of course, you’d know him from work, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah - I’m always at the courthouse when it’s open, so I see a lot of him. We’re doing the same Law correspondence course, too. What’s the story with you and him?”
Jemimah pulled as far left as she dared while the truck that had been sitting on her tail for the last few kilometres finally overtook her. “I’ve known Matt since we started pre-school together, and our sisters were close friends right through school. I haven’t heard anything of him since we finished the HSC though.
As she spoke they had passed through a tiny township that clustered by the road and now Jemimah leant back against her seat with a sigh and told Angie all about her failure to convey the importance of eternal things to Matt.
“Have you ever tried asking him about the Ten Commandments?” Angie suggested when Jemimah had finished. “I know some people use that as a starting point to explain how we all stand guilty before God. You see, most people think of themselves as good people, because they judge themselves against their own standard, not God’s. Talking to them about the Ten Commandments gives you an opportunity to explain how they are actually measured against God’s standards.”
“Doesn’t that make it sound like you are saved if you keep the Ten Commandments?”
Angie shook her head. “No. That’s the whole point. When you start talking about the Ten Commandments, it becomes obvious that no-one has ever been able to keep them perfectly. Like, they might be able to say they have never stolen, or murdered, or committed adultery - but Jesus explained that if anyone hates someone else he has committed murder in his heart,
or if anyone has looked at another person lustfully, they have committed adultery in their heart, and they are just as guilty.
“I think so. You’re showing them that they are guilty before God so they can understand why they are not okay the way they are.” Jemimah turned off the highway and onto the road that would take them back toward Jacaranda Plains. The traffic was sparser now, and she was able to relax a little more about her driving and give her concentration to what Angie was saying.
“Yeah. And the crunch is, even if someone can convince themselves that they’ve managed not to break any of those last six commands: honouring their mother and father, lying, stealing, coveting, committing adultery, or murdering - either in deed or in thought - there is simply no-one who can kid themselves they’ve kept the first four commandments which deal with our relationship to God. If there has been any moment of our lives where we have failed to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds,
or put anything above God in our interests or affections, or even used his name as a swear word
- we’ve broken all the law and stand condemned.”
Fields stretched on either side of the ribbon of road, a narrow edging of trees running along the boundary fences. It was strange to be driving this road again, and this time to feel she was returning home. They travelled in silence for some minutes, while Jemimah mulled over Angie’s suggestion.
“What about the rich young ruler that Jesus was talking to? He came to Jesus saying he’d kept all the commandments since he was a child - but it was like Jesus said that it wasn’t enough, that he had to go and sell everything he had and give it to the poor before he could follow him.”
“That’s because the rich young ruler only thought he’d been keeping the commandments. Like I said before, that man understood the commandments merely in terms of outward actions like lying and stealing and murder and things like that. But Jesus looked straight into his heart and knew that he didn’t love God above everything else. He knew the man loved his wealth and material possessions more than God, and put his finger on it by showing the man that he wasn’t willing to give up his riches.”
“But I just don’t want to make Matt think it’s only about keeping the commandments. Because I know the Bible says we can only be saved by faith in what Jesus has done and not what we do --”
“Yeah - but don’t you get it? The point is that we have to keep the commandments perfectly to be good enough by God’s standards - but because of sin, no-one can. The whole reason for explaining about the law of God is to show how sinful we are, and that we can’t make ourselves good enough. The law shows us that we need God’s forgiveness, and that we need Jesus to make us right with God.”
“Okay, I think I understand now,” Jemimah said slowly, “But I don’t know how I’d bring that up in --”
There was a movement amongst the bushes at the roadside, then a flash of grey fur and long tail. Jemimah screamed as a kangaroo leaped onto the road, only metres in front of her bonnet.
She slammed her foot on the brake, and went to wrench the steering wheel hard to the right - but Angie had already grabbed onto it, the pressure of her hand forcing the wheel to stay straight.
“Get off the brake!” Angie’s voice was like steel, and Jemimah obeyed it automatically.
“Now ease it on again!”
Jemimah screwed her eyes half-shut against the inevitable collision, and in the millisecond before impact, the kangaroo turned its slim, pointed head to stare right into her eyes and she screamed again.
There was no impact, for with one effortless bound, the kangaroo had cleared the road, landing on the opposite verge a bare moment before a ute
swept past in the opposite direction.
“I bet you didn’t even see that ute,” Angie chided as Jemimah drove slowly on.
“No. All I saw was the kangaroo. Oh, Angie …” Jemimah spotted a clear bit of gravel ahead and pulled off the road, “I thought we were going to hit the poor thing.”
“Look, you can’t swerve like that. You know, you would have hit it as it leapt away - not to mention you would have put us on the wrong side of the road, straight into the path of that ute,” Angie told her sternly. “If a kangaroo comes onto the road, slow up as much as you can without locking the brakes and just stay in your lane - it’ll probably get out of the way. If it doesn’t, well - that’s just one kangaroo less eating all the pasture - and it’s better than the two of us smashing into another vehicle, or into a tree.”
Jemimah felt like being sick. “Can … can you drive, please?”
“You can’t give up every time there’s an animal on the road! What if you were on your own? Would you just sit here sulking forever?”
Feeling hard done by, Jemimah sniffed and pulled the car onto the road. Just like last night, her arms and legs felt weak and tingly and tears were welling up in her eyes. If only Angie’s brother Michael had been there … he wouldn’t have made her keep driving. He would have given her shoulder an encouraging squeeze and taken her straight home. He would have understood perfectly.
Thinking of him made two big tears roll down her cheeks, but Jemimah didn’t care. Being out here in the country was too hard. She hated driving, she hated worrying about how to tell Matt about God and she hated continually feeling like a fool in front of Angie.
They were approaching another small town, and as a service station
came into view, Angie told her to pull over.
“See, you could manage to keep going, after all. I knew you could, but you had to see that for yourself.” She popped out of her door and disappeared into the shop, returning a few minutes later with a couple of juice bottles and some potato chips.
“Here, I’ll swap you.” Angie opened Jemimah’s door and handed her the chips and one of the bottles, gesturing for her to climb out. “You got us this far, I’ll drive home if you like.”
Jemimah almost cried again as she climbed into the passenger side, partly with relief but mostly with guilt for thinking so harshly of Angie. God really had blessed her to give her a friend like Angie.
“The main thing with animals on the road is not to panic and cause a crash,” Angie was saying now, as she drove back onto the road, an opened bottle in one hand. “Of course you want to do what you can to avoid hitting them - especially something as big as a cow or a bull. That would be like running into a concrete wall. But you’ve got to keep in control. If you can slow up, more often than not the animal gets out of the way.”
Another car approached them, and Angie lifted one finger in the passing wave
before returning her hand to the wheel and taking a sip of her drink.
“You want to avoid echidnas though,” Angie added as an afterthought. Echidnas were far more rare than kangaroos, and Jemimah wondered if this concern revealed a softer side to Angie, but that idea was soon scuttled when Angie continued, “ ’Cause you can write off your tyre once their spikes go through it!”
Jemimah gave a gasping laugh of surprise, as the tension within her finally escaped. “I can’t believe how callous you country folk are. Last night Jack was trying to tell me he was cooking up roadkill, and now you’re telling me to avoid echidnas because they’ll damage my tyres!” She shook her head in disbelief. “Up ‘til last week, I’d only seen these beautiful animals when I’ve paid to visit a wildlife park. It was a special treat in my family.”
Angie snorted. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking the wildlife is just like the cute story books. You know, it’s the city people who’ve never had a red-bellied black snake slither through their bedroom who want them all protected. Anyway,” she slowed down as she took the next turn off, “you’re not going to want to practice night driving after this now, are you?”
When Jemimah shook her head vehemently, Angie continued. “In that case, would you rather us head into town and have me stay one more night, or you come home with me and spend the night at my place?”
“Oh, my place, please!” Jemimah answered, and felt immediately embarrassed that she’d made her reluctance to go home with Angie too obvious. The truth was that she was dreading meeting Pastor Turnbull and Angie’s Nan.
“Your family aren’t expecting me, and I wouldn’t like to put them out,” she added lamely. “So if you don’t mind too much …”
“Fine with me, tomorrow lunch time will be soon enough to be stuck back at home!”
Jemimah forgot that she was meant to watch the roadside to become familiar with the area and leant back and closed her eyes. Tomorrow lunch time - in less than twenty four hours time she would be going back to the Turnbull’s home with them after church.
It was ridiculous that she hadn’t been able to shake off her infatuation with Michael, but it meant that his family’s opinion of her had become terribly important. Worst of all was the abiding conviction that they would be greatly disappointed in her once they knew her.
From the various comments Angie had made it sounded like her Nan was over-critical and her father was stern and inflexible - but then again, Jemimah’s impression of Michael had been startlingly different to Angie’s description of him.
Jemimah took a deep breath and wished that tomorrow was already over. Whatever she might think of the Turnbulls would not be nearly as important as what they would think of her.
© R. L. Brown 2007