The room is dark and the chair hard and uncomfortable beneath her.
From behind she can hear breathing, slow and steady. Intimidating, almost terrifying, even.
She dare not move.
Closing her eyes, she offers up a silent prayer and opens them again, her eyes adjusting slowly to the dim. It’s light enough to see a desk before her, covered with documents like old exam papers sitting ready, a black biro to their left.
To her left a clock ticks, marking a slow agonising countdown, one with no apparent end.
And still, she waits.
In the distance the sound of heavy feet approaching makes her catch her breath in fear.
All at once the door is flung back, harshly flooding the room with light. In it its glare the silhouette of a furious, almost sumo shaped woman casts its formidable shadow over her. The glare renders the candidate blinded, and the woman, (who is not unlike the headmistress in Dahl’s ‘Matilda’) slaps a folder on the table and looks imperiously at the miserable specimen before her.
“No one has ever broken me.”
The candidate’s mouth goes dry and she sniffs nervously to try and glean some moisture for her throat. Without the hospitality of a waterglass she fears she’ll not be able to speak when called upon.
She sits, trembling.
“They give me the hardest nuts to crack. You may think you’re smart but before that clock strikes 4 you’ll be wishing you could go home to your mummy. So, once more – from the beginning, if you please.”
“What are the rights and privileges afforded to all Australian Citizens?”
The candiate has heard this question before, the answers are easy but there’s a glint in the eye of this battleaxe that makes her wary. It feels as though one wrong answer could jeopardise her whole future. Cautiously she coughs, and croaks out,
“The right as a voter to help elect Australia’s governments.”
The candidate continues nervously,
“The right to apply for public office or to nominate for election to parliament.”
The battle axe makes no response but keeps the candidate in her malevolent glare so the candidate hurries through the remaining answers,
“The right to apply for an Australian passport and to leave and re-enter Australia; the right to seek protection from Australian diplomatic representatives while overseas; eligibility to apply to enlist in the defence forces and for government jobs for which Australian citizenship is required; and the right to register any child under 25 years of age, born to me overseas as an Australian citizen by descent” she says, barely pausing to take a breath.”
“Think you’re clever do you? Hah. Answer me this then!”
“What are your responsibilities as an Australian Citizen?”
Again the candidate feels confident that she has the answers and so begins,
“As an Australian citizen, I am required to, obey the laws and fulfil my duties as an Australian citizen.”
“Hmmmph… correct again. Continue.”
“to enrol on the Electoral Register and vote at Federal, State, Territory and local government elections and referendums;”
“serve on a jury, if called on, and defend Australia, should the need arise.”
“And? What other responsibilities do you have to fulfil?”
“I beg your pardon ma’am, I’ don’t know of any others.”
The battleaxe gets to her feet flinging the chair to the floor, places both meaty hands squarely on the table before the candidate, and leans… over… the… desk. Nose to snivelling nose …. forehead to sweating forehead.
“WHAT… IS… THE… FINAL… RESPONSIBILITY… OF… AN …AUSTRALIAN… CITIZEN?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, I really don’t know.”
“THE…FINAL…RESPONSIBILTY…OF …AN …AUSTRALIAN… CITIZEN…IS… UNDER …ALL …CIRCUMSTANCES…TO SUPPORT THE WALLABIES… AT ALL TIMES… AGAINST ALL ENEMIES… AT ANY COST.”
Stretched beyond all endurance the candidate leaps to her feet, bloodying the nose of the battleaxe on the way up and yells in no uncertain voice.”
“OVER MY DEAD BODY AND THE DEAD BODIES OF MY HUSBAND AND CHILDREN!”
All at once the the air gets ominously quiet. A whiff of embarassment and confusion wafts over the candidate and, as the red glare fades from her view, she looks around.
Flushed, she bends down to pick up the papers and hide the fact she’s wiping spittle from her lip.
She takes her bag from a proffered hand, and turns towards the door.
A bell rings, and she thinks “4 o’clock, the battleaxe is right; I want my mummy.”
She needs this journey to be over and, as the door opens, she steps forward.
Down onto the kerb..
…and she sheepishly watches as the bus, with its concertina middle, takes its laughing passengers the rest of their way home.