The plane was waiting on the tarmac, its propellers spinning.
I sat staring at it. The rain pattered louder, the sound drumming inside the jeep. The plane’s engines growling beyond.
“Come to Melbourne,” Harland said.
I shook my head. “I can’t get involved,” I stammered, hands gripping and regripping a fold of my skirt, terror yawning inside, swallowing me up.
“You’re already involved!” He pressed himself rigid into his seat. “Don’t tell me you’ve surrendered already?”
My lips parted in shock.
“You’re just going to sit back and wait for them to—”
The silhouette of his uniform flashed stark in a burst of lightning. I ducked my head. The war was for soldiers to fight. I wasn’t a soldier. I did laundry. This was madness.
Harland tapped his temple on the rim of the jeep door. “Kim, you know where your home is. You’ve always known. Where do you want to protect from the bombs?”
I looked away. The town lay silhouetted against the night sky.
“Broome,” I whispered brokenly.
“Work with me, then.”
Retreating lightning lit the sky with a flash of purple. The huts dotting the edge of the airstrip were illuminated like in a photograph, separated from me by bars of driving rain.
Leave Broome. Leave Jiro and Missus and everything and everyone I’d ever known. I barely heard him.
“We need your help, Kim. If we can’t decode the Japanese comms, northern Australia is a sitting duck. Broome will be the frontline.” Both his hands gripped the wheel. Rain scattered rice over the roof of the jeep. I blinked, trying to focus. Broome – at war? Yesterday bombs were just something that fell in Europe.
Harland went on. “Together we can keep Broome safe from the bombs, the battlefields. We can, we can end the war, and life can go back to how it was.”
My face lowered, remembering how it was. The bath house with Harland, the beach with Jiro, a childhood of sunshine and seawater. I closed my eyes.
He shoved at the jeep’s door, strode across the tarmac.
After a second, I followed.
I caught up as he exchanged salutes and paperwork with the flight officer. He waited, one foot on the ladder. “Melbourne. Yes?” His eyes searched mine, his face impassive. “Last chance.”