She was behind the counter in a coffee shop beside the highway – except it had run out of coffee, so we had icecreams instead. She was keen to chat. She needed to tell her story. She needed to be heard. She was desperate.
She and her husband were sharefarmers with his two brothers, she told us. But schizophrenia ran in the family, times are tough in the drought-stricken bush, and one brother had committed suicide eighteen months ago. The other two men had struggled on, trying to support all three families; the women found such work as they could – always involving a long drive for low wages. Tears started trickling down her cheeks.
Then, she said, a month ago the other brother killed himself. Now she and her husband are trying to support all three families from the one farm with only one worker – him. They couldn’t afford to buy in labour. So they decided to sell the farm, carve up the proceeds and get out of there. To anywhere.
But there are no buyers. Not now. Not until the drought breaks, at least. Perhaps not even then – there are so many farms on the market. They are all trapped. The trickle of tears became a flood. We murmured useless phrases of sympathy, empathy – but how could we city slickers relate to an existential situation like that?
Travel opens so many windows on so many lives, and the glimpses inside can be horrifying. She has haunted me every since. What story would we have heard if we had stopped at the next little struggling eatery? How could it possibly have been worse than this?