Ronda, or Getting Old

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a neat, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson’s mother went to a meeting called the Community Association every month, and she usually took Benson with her. At the meeting they talked about the most boring things Benson could think of, like how many garbage bins there should be at the park and whether the fire safety sign needed to be bigger. Benson usually took a book to read.

One time he finished his book before the meeting ended. He looked around for something to do. Everyone was discussing whether they should have a roster for weeding the garden outside the library – boring. He looked at the person next to him. She looked as bored as he was. She was kind of grey all over, with dull grey eyes. She never said anything, and no-one ever said anything to her.

Benson said, “Hello.”

She looked around, as if she couldn’t believe he could be talking to her.

Benson said, “I’m Benson.”

She just stared at him, shocked that someone was talking to her.

Benson said, “This is pretty boring, isn’t it?”

She said in a kind of rusty voice, “Hello.”

Benson thought that was a good start. “What’s your name?”

“Ronda,” she said.

“It’s a very nice day, isn’t it, Aunty Ronda?” Benson said. He knew that it was good manners to call older ladies Aunty, and he knew it was good manners to talk about the weather.

Ronda said, “Yes.”

Benson was running out of things to say. “What do you like to do?” he asked.

Ronda said, “Nothing much.” Benson was just about to say all the things he liked to do, swimming in the creek, riding his bike, drawing, digging big holes, digging little holes, eating, when Ronda said, “I used to work in a shop when I was younger.”

Benson said, “Like a supermarket? Or a cake shop?”

“Not that kind of shop,” she said. “It was a motorcycle shop.”

Benson was rapt. “You used to sell motorbikes?”

“Not so much sell them,” she said. “I used to repair them, and re-build the engines to make them more powerful.”

Benson’s eyes sparkled. “Motorbike engines? Powerful?” He asked her about how fast they could go, and what was the biggest one she had ever made and how many spanners she had and all sorts of cool stuff. The meeting kept going, but neither of them paid any attention to it.

Benson said, “Why did you stop working there?” He couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would give up such a brilliant job.

“I got too old,” Ronda said.

“Too old?” he said. “How did you know you were too old?” He imagined looking at himself in the mirror and discovering that he was old. “Did you feel old? Did you get all wrinkly and needed someone to hold your arm so you could walk?”

She said, “It’s the way people look at you. They look at you like they think you’re too old to do things any more.”

“What people?” Benson asked.

“Oh, just people,” Ronda said.

Benson felt very sad for her, being too old to do something she loved. The meeting ended and he said goodbye, and then he said, “I’m sorry you’re so old.”

A few days later he was at the playground, when a black shiny motorbike came roaring up. The rider took off her helmet which was black with red flames painted on the sides, and Benson could see it was Ronda inside.

“Would you like to come for a ride, Benson?” she said.

“Would I!” Benson said. He ran and asked his mother and she said yes, and he ran back to the bike. Ronda gave him her spare helmet and he climbed on the back of the bike. They sped off in a cloud of petrol and flying dirt.

They roared down the track. The wind blew Benson’s ears flat inside the helmet, and made all his hair lie down. It was like flying, except much noisier and bumpier. Benson loved it.

When they came back, Ronda did a big skid in the dirt and stones flew up everywhere. Benson climbed down and straightened his ears up again and said thank you. He said, “Can I have a ride again another day, if you’re not too old?”

Ronda laughed and said yes, and zoomed off.

Mick and Alejandro and Ralph and Arlette all crowded around Benson. “Who was that? Was that a real motorbike? Can we have a turn?” they demanded.

Benson said proudly, “That’s Ronda. She’s an old friend.”

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