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The farmer's beads

I hadn’t been to writing group in so long after another move, another friends’ wedding, and another few months of getting used to having a night free to do… anything that wasn’t writing. I had a legitimate excuse those first 2 months, but after that I just got lazy. The laziness settled in, and before I knew it a good part of the year had passed without me doing anything writing-related: no blog posts, no Hi sketches, no chapter on the never-ending novel.

Then a few weeks ago I had dinner with a rather creative friend of mine, and a bit of the encounter made me feel bad that I hadn’t been to writing group. Here they were, across the table from me, sharing their latest poetry over pizza and beer, and there I was, smiling and giving feedback as a means to hide that I had nothing to share back.

So maybe it was guilt that brought me back this month. Whatever it was, it was a good enough motivator to get me to put into my calendar the time/place for when/where writing group was usually held, set a reminder to go off an hour before, and then make that long walk from my work to the writing group.

I entered the room and was greeted by mostly familiar faces, plus some new ones. Some things had obviously changed, but others hadn’t as, later on in that meeting, we got to that part I enjoy of an on-the-spot writing exercise, which follows below.

The exercise this evening was to write about an object, given to you by someone else in the group (so imagine a random object swap), its relation to a person/persona/character (selected from folded strips of paper at the center of the table we sat around), and how it came to be in your possession. I was given what I thought was a bead necklace (turned out to be a black pearl necklace), and the person I got was a dairy farmer.

The farmer’s beads12

Geoff was an odd one, I’d tell people. Working on the farm, looking like that old image of a “typical Kiwi bloke”: black singlet, shorts, gumboots, a dog at his side. Think Footrot Flats but for one difference in that he carried this bead necklace around with him.

I always imagined the beads were like those stress balls that people had, making that loud “clink” noise as they rolled in your palm, because that’s exactly how he’d hold them. Opening a fence? One hand on the fence, the beads in the other. Driving his ute? One hand on the wheel, the beads in the other. That was how I saw him whenever I went around to help him those days he was short a few hands and me and some of the other pub regulars would come around to assist with his staffing shortfall.

I asked him about them once, but he just grunted and walked away; took it as a sign that he didn’t want to talk about it. I asked some of the other guys, and they all came back to me with different stories: it was an ex-wife’s, it was his mother’s, it was a former lover’s, and so on. One guy even said it used to hold the cowbell around a prized heifer! I think it was at that story that I stopped trying to figure it out, letting it just be another of those mysteries that some people like to hold close to themselves.

Then one quiet Monday afternoon, Geoff walks into here, not a patron in sight, just me manning the bar and doing some God-awful tax calculations in my ledger. He looked like he was packed for a long trip: jacket on with pockets stuffed full of whatever it is travellers stuff their pockets with, carrying a duffel bag bursting at the seams, and the dog in tow.

“Hold on to these will you?” he asked, passing the beads across the bar to me, fist closed over them but with bits trailing out between his fingers.

“Umm, OK.” I replied, questioning looks over my eyes, face, body, everything.

When I didn’t get a response to my reaction, I looked beyond him and saw his ute parked outside, the back full of what looked like furniture under a muddy blue tarp. “Headed somewhere?” I asked, motioning my head towards his ute.

Geoff didn’t look back at where my eyes pointed - he knew what was there. “Yeah, just taking what I need with me, leaving behind the things that I don’t.”

With that I took the bead necklace from him. There was no sudden vision about the origins of the necklace, no disembodied whisper in my ear about their significance to Geoff. The beads were simply light, smooth to the touch, and as silent as the man they belonged to.

“I’ve got family coming over to look after the farm. Give my regards to the guys.”

“Will do.” I said.

And with a nod of acknowledgement, he was gone.

I turned the beads over in my hand just as I had seen Geoff do many times before. I then put the beads down beside the ledger, and poured myself a non-alcoholic drink.

  1. Once again, I didn’t actually get to finish this whole story during the meet-up, so this here is a nicely edited and completed version of what I wrote :)

  2. Photo credit: Black Pearls, by Harsha K R (used under the Creative Commons Attributions-ShareAlike 2.0 license)