‘You are not allowed to visit Australia for the next three years and you will be on the first flight we can find back to South Africa. In a nutshell, you are being deported.’
Rowan looked up at the ceiling and blew a long stream of air towards the ceiling. It was the only place in the world where she, actively, passionately, didn’t want to go. ‘Crap.’
The troll almost smiled. ‘Indeed.’
* * *
Sixteen hours later Rowan cleared Immigration at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg and, after picking up her rucksack, headed for the nearest row of hard benches. Dropping her pack to the floor, she slumped down and stared at her feet.
Unlike many other cities in the world, she didn’t know Johannesburg, didn’t have any friends in the city. She had one hundred pounds in cash in her wallet and thirty US dollars. Practically nothing in both her savings and current accounts and her credit cards were maxed out. All thanks to that little out-of-the-way antique shop in Denpasar...
Stupid, stupid, stupid, she berated herself. What had she been thinking? She’d been thinking that she’d triple her money when she flipped them.
Rowan looked up and saw a young girl, barely in her twenties, take the seat next to her.
‘Do you mind if I sit here for a bit? I’m being hassled by a jerk in that group over there.’
Rowan cut a glance to a group of young men who were just drunk enough to be obnoxious. One of the pitfalls of travelling alone, she thought. How many times had she sat down next to a family or another single traveller to avoid the groping hands, the come ons and pick-up lines. ‘Sure. Take a seat. Coming or going?’
‘Just arrived from Sydney. I saw you on the plane; you were a couple of rows ahead of me.’
‘I’m catching the next flight to Durban. You?’
‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ Rowan tried to sound cheerful but knew that she didn’t quite hit the mark. ‘I was deported from Oz and I’m broke.’
Bright blue eyes sharpened in interest. ‘Seriously? How broke?’
‘Seriously broke.’ Rowan lifted her heels up onto the seat of the bench and rested her elbows on her knees. ‘C’est la vie.’ She looked at her new friend, all fresh-faced and enthusiastic. ‘How long have you been travelling for?’ she asked.
‘Six months. I’m home for a family wedding, then I’m heading off again. You?’
‘Nine years. Can I give you some advice...? What’s your name?’
‘Cat. No matter what, always have enough money stashed away so that you have options. Always have enough cash to pay for an air ticket out of Dodge, for a couple of nights in a hostel or hotel. Trust me, being broke sucks.’
She’d always lived by that rule, but she’d been seduced by the idea of a quick return. She’d imagined that she’d be broke for a maximum of three days in Sydney and then her bank balance would be nicely inflated.
It sure hadn’t worked out that way... Deported, for crying out loud! Deported and penniless! Rowan closed her eyes and wondered if she could possibly be a bigger moron.
‘Can I give you a hundred pounds?’ Cat asked timidly.
Rowan eyes snapped open. Her wide smile split her face and put a small sparkle back into her onyx-black eyes. ‘That’s really sweet of you, but no thanks, honey. I do have people I can call. I would just prefer not to.’
Look at her, Rowan thought, all fresh and idealistic. Naïve. If she didn’t get street-wise quickly the big bad world out there would gobble her up and spit her out. Travelling in Australia was easy: same language, same culture, good transport systems and First World. Most of the world wasn’t like that.
‘Your folks happy with you backpacking?’
Cat raised a shoulder. ‘Yeah, mostly. They have a mild moan when I call home and ask for cash, but they always come through.’
Rowan lifted dark winged eyebrows. Lucky girl. Could her circumstances be any more different from hers, when she’d left home to go on the road? Those six months between being caught in a drug raid at a club with a tiny bag of coke and catching a plane to Thailand had been sheer hell.
Two months after being tossed into jail—and she still hoped the fleas of a thousand camels were making their home in Joe’s underpants for slipping the coke into the back pocket of her jeans, the rat-bastard jerk!—she’d been sentenced to four months’ community service but, thanks to the fact that at the time she hadn’t yet turned eighteen, her juvenile criminal record was still sealed.
Sealed from the general public, but not from her family, who hadn’t reacted well. There had been shouting and desperate anger from her father, cold distance from her mother, and her elder brother had been tight-lipped with disapproval. For the rest of that year there had been weekly lectures to keep her on the straight and narrow. From proper jail she’d been placed under house arrest by her parents, and their over-the-top protectiveness had gone into hyperdrive. Her movements had been constantly monitored, and the more they’d lectured and smothered, the stronger her urge to rebel and her resolve to run had become.