The road’s an arrow shooting at the land’s heart, an arm reaching out to grasp the north. It bears the ceaseless sweep and swish of tyres and the moulded gleam of metal bodies in the newest thrilling shapes. Once these were plodding hooves which trod the years’ ruts in the dust as the wagons creaked their northward way amid the rawhide crack of whips. Even now, in the steel and plastic rush whose tempo makes redundant the long days of stubborn toil, I still feel across the years the ceaseless tread which wore this conquering track into a continent.
There’s a break in traffic. With a sudden, sliding shift across my vision, the cushioned hustle of my modern life suspends. The century’s roar abruptly muffles, and the rasp of dust and heat invades my air-conditioned chill. Ahead, the dusty wagon shimmers in the gap, still slogging north, swaying while the stolid cattle twitch their tails at flies, or at the passing cars.
In my charmed and floating hush I draw abreast; our paces match. The child is silent on the wagon seat, her faded dress and bonnet wan under our modern sun. She turns her patient gaze to mine, but doesn’t smile.
I don’t know what exchange we make. The yoke pulls obstinately north, forever. The silent world resurges in a roar of sound. Child and wagon and their patient span dissolve and fade, frail as the smoke which rises from the shantytowns to drift to fragments in the hurtling traffic’s wake.