The trip to camp was torturous, no matter how tightly I packed my ear buds into my ears and turned my iPod up, I could not drown out the sound of excited kids. My mum had a ‘no-eye contact’ policy for travel. She was a voracious reader and she said if you made eye contact with the person sitting next to you, there was no way of avoiding a conversation with them, which usually meant time away from her novel. I did not look up from the time I boarded the bus to the time I stepped off. I know a boy with blue shorts, hairy legs and Havaiana thongs sat next to me, but if I was later required to describe him, I would be useless.
After claiming our bunks we met in the hall to play ice-breaker games. Most of the kids already knew each other from previous camps, so it felt more like ‘everybody get to know Jenna’ games. I hated every minute of it and got by with monosyllabic answers and withering looks. Most of the kids got the message after a while and gave me a wide berth.
Lying in my sleeping bag that night I was the angriest I had ever been at my mum. Although camp was a designated ‘screen-free zone’ I had brought my mobile with me and snuck it out of my daypack and into my sleeping bag. I wriggled down and pulled the top of my sleeping bag over my head. Switching my phone to silent, I unlocked it and to my dismay saw the message that every teenager fears, ‘No Service’. This would be the longest ten days of my life.
Lily must have been under instructions from her mum to make sure I was included and having a good time, because she was by my side all the time with her perfect smile. The girl was unrelenting. Once she broke through my defences, I started to realise that apart from our physical differences; her looking like a beautiful angel and me looking like a dimpled troll, we were just the same. She was funny, with a dry sense of humour that left me breathless and in tears sometimes. She loved make-up and clothes and we even liked the same type of music. We both worried that boys wouldn’t like us, or that we wouldn’t know what to say to them if they did. She was also the first person I had ever really talked to about my mum. Although mum was officially in remission, deep down I was so worried that I would lose her. I admired mum for her stand against the chemo, but I was concerned that the yoga and alternative health was not enough. Growing up without my mum was my gravest fear and Lily was the first person I had shared this with.
I concede, camp was fun, most of the organisers were super nice. It was obvious they were there because they really enjoyed running youth camps, not because of the money, which was the feeling we had got from many of the teachers at the Year 8 camp last year. They quickly learnt all our names, smiled with their eyes and laughed at the corny jokes we shared at meal times. It was like being part of a community, I could understand why kids came back year after year.
Life at camp consisted of time at the beach, which was a five-minute walk away, with sandcastle building competitions and volleyball matches. Activities by the river such as raft-building, canoeing, sandboarding and fishing and nights of talent shows, quiz nights and games like Capture the Flag and Spotlight. Each night I was fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I slept a dreamless, deep sleep and woke up refreshed and energised each morning.
After ten exhausting days, we clambered aboard the bus ready to return to Perth and back to the rest of the school holidays. I had thought I would be thrilled for this moment, but I would happily have stayed longer at camp. The good thing was that Lily and I had exchanged numbers and made plans to catch up. The weekly organic wine sessions between mum and Tan would now be something to look forward to rather than dread. I had even developed an appreciation of Matt, who I still considered weird, but Lily told me that the whole family thought he was weird and that he even classed himself as weird, and saw that as a strength not a weakness. I would even miss Pet who had been the cause of so many memorable moments at camp, some side-splittingly funny, some awkward and some downright frightening.
From the first meal at camp Pet decided to give the chef a nickname. It was one of those inopportune times where there is a natural lull in the conversation and everyone is quiet at the same time. As the chef placed Pet’s serve of lasagne on her plate she piped up with, “Thanks Little Poo-poo.” You could have heard a pin drop. Chef, a big Maori man with tribal tattoos on his face and arms, paused, blinked and then threw his head back laughing. I swear that even though Pet was the smallest member of camp, she was consistently given the biggest and best serves. I suspect Chef also gave her extra biscuits on the side when no-one was looking.
There was also the time at the beach where Pet had been nagging us older kids to take her in for a swim, at the time we were all too preoccupied with our game of volleyball. When we finished our game and went to find her she was no longer visible on the beach, she wasn’t at the small playground near the beach either. Hearts pounding, we raced back to the beach, splitting up and desperately calling her name. We could not find her, although Matt found one of her thongs by the shore line. As the possibility of what may have happened due to our selfish actions began to come crashing down on us, we saw Pet, an old lady with a giant dog appear on the horizon. Apparently, when Pet couldn’t get us to take her for a swim, she had begun walking down the beach to find someone who would. There she met Mrs Wellard and her Great Dane, Baxter. Mrs Wellard and Baxter became daily visitors to camp and Chef saved up bones to give to Baxter.
We piled onto the bus after breakfast and dorm inspection. As we headed back to Perth towards the main highway, we came to a stop as a line of cars spread before us. Ahead in the distance were the flashing lights of a police car, cars were being turned away from the highway to Perth and directed back to Moore River. As it became our turn to be at the front of the line, the driver and Tim, the main guy in charge of the camp, got out of the bus to speak with those in charge. I have no idea how long this exchange went on for, because I was busy grilling Lily about a boy I had not noticed before.
Sitting diagonally in front of us and definitely employing my mum’s no eye contact rule, was a beautiful boy. Hunched under a red Billabong cap, I could tell he was reading from the angle of his tanned neck. His sun bleached, blonde hair had been tied into a messy pony tail with no thought to how it looked. As he had stepped onto the bus I had a moment of recognition, those legs and blue shorts, this was who I had been sitting next to on the way to camp. Nudging Lily, I nodded my head towards him, “Who is that? Why is this the first time I have seen him? Has he actually been on the same camp as us or has he just hitched a ride on our bus?” I whispered.
Lily grunted with displeasure, “Urgh, that’s Josh, Tim’s son, he’s too good for the likes of us. He’s been here the whole time, but he does his own thing. He does what he wants every year and Tim just lets him. He even has his own room where he comes and goes as he likes. I don’t know why he even bothers coming to camp anymore. He would have to be sixteen by now surely, he would be able to stay home on his own. Why bother coming on camp when you don’t want to mix with anyone? He’s such a loser,” she added.
We had now turned around and were heading back towards camp, kids had started to call out questions, there was a lot of shouting and Tim couldn’t keep up with the volley of questions.
“Quiet down everyone!” called out Tim. “We will meet in the dining room when we get back and I’ll go through what I know.”
I could see Matt making his way to the back to where me, Lily, and Pet were sitting.
“What the heck!” exclaimed Matt. “Did you guys see that barricade?” His eyes were bright with excitement, he was so dramatic. Any change in the regular schedule of things was potentially the end of the world as we knew it and Matt would be ready for it.
“What, what, what?” squealed Pet, who had been busy playing with one of her dolls and hadn’t noticed that we were heading back. Lily glared at Matt. We had no idea what was going on, probably a gas leak, or a car accident or something. We didn’t need him getting Pet hysterical for nothing, especially as he was never the one who stuck around when Pet chucked one of her epic tantrums.
“There were army and police blocking the road, must be something really serious for inter-agency cooperation,” said Matt nodding knowingly.
“Or the army happened to be in the area carrying out military training manoeuvres and they offered to lend a hand because there isn’t a police station at Moore River,” I said, my voice dripping with disdain. “My dad is a police officer and we spent time in a country posting. These small country towns don’t have their own police stations; the nearest station is probably Gingin, or Lancelin and they would be responsible for all the small towns within the area, so if whatever is blocking the main highway is also affecting other small towns. If that’s the case then the local police would not have the resources to set up enough roadblocks. That, my friend, is why the army would be here.”
Matt looked taken aback, but not for long. “Maybe there is a group of escaped murderers on the loose, you know there is a maximum-security prison not too far from here, don’t you?” he said nodding with conviction.
“It’s probably just an accident, you saw how long some of those road trains we passed on the way up are. If one of those crashed, they could block out the whole road. I hope no-one has been hurt too badly,” Lily mused.
By this point we were back at camp, we grabbed our day packs and headed to the dining room, soon we would know one way or the other.