<p>I clung tightly to a Country Road bag full of onions, engaged in a fierce tug-of-war contest with the now crazed former Prime Minister.</p>
It turns out that Tony Abbott can throw a mean left-hook, unfortunately for George. He collapsed, hiding his face in his hands, muffling cries of abuse I hadn’t heard since 2013. I clung tightly to a Country Road bag full of onions, engaged in a fierce tug-of-war contest with the now crazed former Prime Minister. Don’t bother asking me for details. I can’t exactly explain what the hell he was doing beside Mordi Creek or how George and I had gotten into this mess – we assumed snatching onions from Tony would be simple, considering his pallid, scrawny appearance and the fact that having been a wealthy politician he probably got so used to people doing shit for him that by now he’d be a soft little butterfly with delicate hands and weak muscles. This was not the case. He was struggling against my weight, frothing at the mouth from the physical effort. Or was he infected with some plague? Suddenly I didn’t feel that hungry for onions.
Tony’s ears pricked up before I heard anything, so he must have expected the girl who had snuck up on us. I faltered at her approach, which allowed Tony to wrench the bag from my grip, onions spilling everywhere. He shrieked in dismay before scuttling away, chased by the mystery girl who tried but failed to throw a net over him. Tony was out of sight within moments, and, reluctantly, she stormed back to us just as I helped George up from the ground.
Her hair was short with jagged edges, probably due to DIY haircuts, and seemed to be dyed with as many possible shades of blue colouring she could find, proving a vivid contrast to her dark brown roots.
She scowled at us. “Idiots. You scared him off.”
I wanted to point out that it was actually her that scared him off, but George interrupted me.
“Scared him off? Did you even see that shit? We’ve just been personally victimised by Tony Abbott.”
She scoffed. “So has the whole country. Get over yourself, Boy George.”
I think it was then that George decided to hate her forever, or perhaps it was after when she realised his name was indeed George and had an asthma attack from laughing so much.
I, on the other hand, was entranced. “Are you Hazel?”
For a second she stared at me in shock, before she must have realised and said, “Are you that Tinder girl? I thought that must have been a trick, like you were a cannibal or something. What was your name again?”
“Like the bird?”
She frowned. “That’s a pretty weird name.”
“You’re named after a shrub,” exclaimed George, ever to my defence.
She shrugged and, throwing the net over her shoulder, began to walk off. George shook his head at me but I followed her anyway, hearing him huff in frustration before running to catch up.
Hazel said that she was ‘collecting’ Tony for this place she called The Sanctuary, where he often escaped from. She’d find and return him in exchange for fresh water, plant seeds, one hour to recharge her iPhone and food scraps. The Sanctuary, she said, was a huge blocked off zone built out past Dandenong, full of Australia’s richest individuals enjoying all the luxuries of a pre-Apocalyptic, capitalist lifestyle.
George raised his eyebrows at me, not needing to voice his scepticism. I also found it pretty hard to believe – how would a scrawny man like Abbott make it all the way, on foot, down to Aspendale from Dandenong, equipped only with budgie smugglers and onions?
“Ro, forget this. We are not going to follow this arsehole hipster on some wild Tony Abbott manhunt. Let’s go back to Mordi – your mum is probably freaking out.”
Hazel, who had ignored George’s insult and continued her Aragorn-style search – “You need to listen to the earth,” she murmured, pressing one ear to the ground and caressing the soil – came to a halt and spun around. “Your mum’s alive?”
I nodded, and then felt bad, realising that I held a sacred privilege over the others. Hazel might have had an iPhone – which I was too poor to buy even before everything went to shit – but I still had a living relative. And it had been an entire day since I’d seen her.
“Why aren’t you with her now?”
George beat me to an answer. “Because Ro thought it’d be cute to have a girlfriend to share this beautiful, end-of-the-world experience with so now we’re trekking through this fucking swampland, after already rowing through a literal river of shit, to find Australia’s creepiest Prime Minister ever on some off chance that there’s some stupid Sanctuary where you get the Post-Apocalyptic equivalent of Centrelink payments.”
I resisted the urge to kick George and turned to Hazel. “Come with us.”
She shook her head. “No. I know that Tony’s around here somewhere. Can’t you smell the onions?”
We paused to take a deep breath. George frowned and said, “All I can smell is smoke.”
Our eyes turned to the horizon; the smoke was coming from Mordialloc.