I find Australia sitting alone in the corner of the playground.
“Oi! Australia! What are you doing over here by yourself?”
Australia looks up from his book. “Ohhh, nuthin.”
“Where are your friends?”
Australia scratches at the ground with a stick. “Dunno.”
“What!? Where’s Indonesia? Weren’t you guys hanging out?”
“Nah, well, Nezzy found out I had hacked her Facebook account ‘n’ stuff…”
“Ha? Why did you do that?”
“Thought I’d find some stuff out that would make us better friends.” Australia smiles up at me, honestly as though that makes sense. “Hmmm, right.” I look around the playground.
I see Sri Lanka chasing after some kids with a stick in each hand.
“SRI LANKA! STOP THAT NOW!”
I look back down at Australia, “Hey, Ozzie – maybe you could let those guys getting chased come and sit with you here? Whadya reckon?”
Australia looks up, squinting at the kids being chased by Sri Lanka. One of them falls over into the dirt, and is hit repeatedly with the sticks. Australia doesn’t flinch, just goes back to scratching in the dirt.
“Nah, I don’t let anyone sit here unless they come through the obstacle course.” He motions to his right, without looking up. “And anyway, I gave Sri Lanka one of those sticks.”
“You gave Sri Lanka one of the sticks?”
“Yeah, Sri stops people jumping my queue to get to my obstacle course.”
“Your obsta – what?” I turn to where he has waved nonchalantly. There is a line of kids, queued single file, weaving a long line that disappears into nothingness on the horizon of the football oval. The first few – lucky as they are to be at the front – are sliding through barrels, wading through mud, jumping hurdles, crawling through nets…
“WHAT – AUSTRALIA! You used to be nice to the other kids! You used to give them lunch money when they were poor, and welcome them into your little nook here! What changed??”
“I’ve grown up Miss. I’ve changed. I need to look after myself.”
“But… all those kids you used to help, they helped build – all of this – ” I gesture to Australia’s area, which really, now that I look at it, is quite a nice little place. And spacious. “And you have so much room!”
Australia looks around and shrugs. “I can’t let them all in. They’ll take over.” He looks off into the distance.
I am distracted by some commotion behind me, and the sound of splashing.
“BRITAIN! What are you doing? Are you okay!?” I can see Britain trying to pull flailing bodies out of the swimming pool. Some other kids run over and start pulling out the drowning kids. “Australia, go help Britain.”
Australia looks over thoughtfully at Britain and the others at the pool. After a few seconds he speaks. “Britain’s not talking to me.”
“What? Why’s that?”
“Ohhh he got angry coz I didn’t back him up when he was telling off Sri Lanka for beating up people with sticks. And coz I gave Sri the stick…”
There is more splashing and screaming behind me and I can see that Tuvalu is the first to go under fully, the top of her head disappearing under the water. “Ozzie come ON! They’re drowning in the pool!”
Australia looks at me blankly, and then after a few seconds laughs – an off-putting element of hysteria in his voice. “Miss, we don’t have a pool!”
I look at Australia. And then to the queue that stretches to the horizon. And to the bullies chasing kids with sticks, and that damned obstacle course – the gateway to a yard of freedom. And then at the kids drowning in the pool.
I look back at Australia.
“Who are you?”