Ebony stood uncertain at the rusty wire fence and the wildly overgrown grasses that leaned over like tired dancers at a ball across the dirt driveway. She had already looked left, then right, realizing that as far as she could see in any direction, there were no other houses. The bus that had brought her there had left ages ago that the dust had already settled. She held the string of her tiny shoulder bag, a parting gift from one of the nurses and stared at the desolate gateway. Hadn’t she just gained a whole property that was apparently falling apart from neglect? If so, she didn’t really see any such house on top of the small hill.
Eb felt sick to her stomach. She had left the comfort and safety of a nursing home. Even if she wanted to go back, it was at least a 45 minute ride. She stared up the sorry excuse of a hill and wondered if the house was already in a pile of rotten wood.
She jumped when she heard the honk of a large ute rumbling to a stop behind her, swirling a mini dust storm as the tyres skidded to a halt. ‘Do you need a hand?’
She turned to see a young farmer. He eyed her from head to toe and then eyed her bag at her feet. Everything hunted and gathered by the nursing home staff when they heard Eb had somewhere to go.
‘I’m just passing through.’ She lied. The guy eyed her bag again. ‘My husband has just gone to pee.’
‘You going in there or not? I can give you a ride up. It’s like half a kilometer from here to the front door.’ He jumped out of the vehicle, causing Eb to feel edgy. She wasn’t ready for normal people, or crazy I’ll-kill-women-on-the-side-of-the-street people.
‘I’m fine. Don’t need help.’ She stubbornly reached for her bag and huffed out. ‘As I said, my boyfriend won’t be long.’
‘I thought you said a husband?’ He smiled, reaching for the bag. ‘Come on, I know this place. My dad used to keep the farm when he was still alive. The rich folks only ever came once in a blue moon.’ He swung the metal gate open and waited for her to step in. ‘I’m Niko by the way.’ He extended a hand to her. ‘You friends of the family or family?’
‘Damn! I thought the lady of the house was old, like a 100 or something.’
Eb smiled. He seemed kind enough and stepped onto the grounds. ‘I recently acquired it.’
‘Well, I’ll be happy to show you the ropes around here. Give you an orientation.’
Eb smiled. She knew next to nothing about farms and keeping them, and hell, Hillary’s old abandoned family farm looked like it first needed a fix up before Eb would be easy enough to say that it was her farm. ‘That would be really appreciated.’
Niko nodded and dumped Eb’s bag onto the back of his ute and turned the car towards the gate he had opened. ‘Well, get in then. You don’t want to accidentally step on snakes in them bushes, do you?’ Eb got in and Niko drove her up to the ramshackled house.
It was old, the paint was peeling, revealing large chunks of dark motley wood underneath. The bushes and weeds, and some climbers crawled all around it. She could see large glistening cobwebs, no doubt belonging to deadly spiders. She hated spiders. Neigh, she was terrified of them, especially the large ones. ‘I don’t like spiders,’ she blurted, almost in surprise.
‘I’m not fond of them either. Got bitten as a kid once. Wasn’t remotely entertaining.’ Niko jumped off the ute, grabbed a shovel from the back and started thrashing the tall grasses flat so they could access the steps. He brought her up to the house with her bag and smiled, looking around the acres. ‘You’ve got hell of a work cut out for you, I tell you that.’
Eb felt her stomach churn. How was she going to afford fixing up the house and the farm. ‘Any idea where I should start?’
‘Go in, clean up a room for you to stay in and clean what you can for now. I’ll drop by this afternoon after helping out at the Webb’s farm. Bring you cleaning products and such. And we can start.’ Niko didn’t wait for her to agree or disagree. He dropped off his small esky saying there was a bottle of water and some sandwiches that should tie her over till he came back. Before long, Eb was standing completely alone under the weathered porch watching Niko reverse all the way down and disappear.
She turned and looked around. Well, it wasn’t much for now, but it was definitely enough for someone who had nothing to her name less than a month ago. Eb fished the set of keys from her pocket and started trying them out on the front door.