I’m hot, sweaty; at the river bed, near to where I’ve made camp for the past week, washing my only clothes. I am putrid; my own smell is offensive even to me. The sun feels close. In-my-face, right-there-kinda-close.
Ten years ago, before the apocalypse, the weather here was pleasant. Oh, we had seasons, sure; sometimes we had scorching summer days, and cold winters that made your bones ache. But nothing like this.
Looking up, I see the twigs above my head will do for a clothesline, so I throw my singlet and shorts on the branch. Gone are the days of pegs and a Hills Hoist. I chuckle, remembering those simpler times. To think I actually used to worry if it rained while washing was on the line. I would scurry outside to unpeg them in haste and rush back indoors. Now, I’d happily dance in any rain.
The heat is so oppressive I feel shaky. My clothes are almost dry. I glance around, more out of habit than concern that someone might be nearby. I have lost track of when I last saw another human. Months, maybe even a year. I take off my crop top and knickers and leave them on a large rock, while I slip naked into the trickling river.
Not as cool as I imagined, but revitalising. I dunk my head under; the pleasure of water in my hair is indescribable. If I were to speak, all words would be rendered gibberish. I sit on the river bed, watch in fascination as a fish swims past. All sea life and river creatures were destroyed in the explosion, or so I thought.
If there’s one, there must be others.
There must be more swimming around. If I can fashion a spear from a tree branch, I can hopefully extend my diet from berries and grubs to old-school protein. My mouth is salivating as I sink beneath the water. I open my eyes while under. On the bank, I see legs. Human legs, bare save for steel-capped boots.
My heart swells to fill my chest cavity. I slowly bring my head above water, hiding my fear and vulnerability.
‘Hello.’ The legs speak.
I look up, and up. A man.
‘I’m afraid I’ve caught you at a bad time.’ He smiles, nodding at my nakedness.
I want to curl up and die. Instead, I stand. The water glistens and trickles over my skin. Walking past him, I collect my underwear from the rock, and my singlet and short on the branch, and say, ‘Not at all.’
He watches me as I dress. ‘Name’s Mike.’
‘Shell.’ I feel strangely at ease with this guy.
‘How long you been on your own?’
‘Don’t remember the last time I spoke out loud.’
‘Me neither.’ He continues to stare. Clears his throat and says, ‘Got supplies if ya wanna share. Keen?’
I wait a beat. Consider my options. Before I my thoughts are clear in my own head, my mouth responds as if working as a sole operator, ‘Sure.’
‘There’s fish in here, d’ya know?’
‘Yeah, one just swum past me.’
‘Gotta spear in me stuff. Can I set up camp with you. Up there?’
He’s found my camp then. Probably been through my things. I still feel at ease with him. I nod. ‘Let’s get you settled. Then we can fish for dinner.’
‘Feels good to find a mate, Shell.’
‘You know Mike. I think you’re right.’ I stop, look him in the eye, hold out my hand and say, ‘To new friendships.’