That night Anjea dreamt of a man. He emerged from the depth of her heart. A heart filled with tears, a tearful of pond, just like a billabong. Because it was Anjea’s own heart, she could see all the way to the bottom of the billabong. At its depth, on a black mound of darkness, sat the man. She noticed something glint in his hand, the man was hugging it close to his bosom. She tried to see what it was. She should have avoided looking at it. But how could she have known?
Her gaze drew his attention. He raised his head and parted his long, dishevelled hair to look at her. It was then that Anjea saw his face. His eyes were etched sharp, set a bit farther apart than usual. His fleshy lips were carved into a long, thin line on his face; Anjea could not tell if the man was grimacing at her or if it was just his usual expression.
“Do you want to see what I have here?” he asked, and in her dream Anjea knew that he was asking about the object clutched to his chest. The man’s words, like sharp, bright needles, pricked the air around Anjea, making her skin and eyes sting.
“Yes,” said Anjea and regretted immediately. When the man had opened his mouth to speak, she had noticed how sharp his teeth were. Now she wondered if the man was dangerous.
“Isn’t everyone dangerous?” the man asked as he soared up towards her in one swift, effortless motion. He was clutching a mirror to his chest.
Anjea looked into the eyes of the man who was now sitting on her chest. In her dream, Anjea didn’t realise that the man had read her mind and answered a question that hadn’t left her heart.
She could see rotten plants clinging to the man’s body. What she earlier thought was his hair, was in fact these rotting plants. Snails, decomposed leaves and crayfishes were stuck in the dead plants that masqueraded as his hair. Black, muddy water dripped from them on her clothes and bed. They filled her room with the stench of death and decay.
He smiled at her, again exposing his sharp teeth. His skin was too grey to be human. Anjea realised with a jolt that the creature sitting on her was a bunyip, the monsters who lived in ponds and billabongs and preyed on humans, particularly women and children. It destroyed anyone who tried to harm the billabongs where it lived.
Again, the ‘man’ read her thought.
“Yes, I am a bunyip,” it admitted.“Just like the one in your favourite childhood picture book, The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek!I am the same bunyip! You were always looking at my illustrations then. Wasn’t the image of me peering at the mirror your favourite picture in the book? See, I still have the same mirror. Back then, we were always together. You wouldn’t eat or sleep until your mother read my story to you. Now we’ll live together again. Together, we’ll dig deeper and darker in your heart till it can hold no light.”
A morbid fear gripped Anjea. “W-w-why?” she forced herself to ask the bunyip. She wanted to protest, to refuse but she could not; uttering each word took efforts, as it always did in dreams, especially in nightmares.
It didn’t matter, bunyips could read hearts.
“Why? Because you look exactly like me. See!” the bunyip said, holding up the mirror for her.
Yes, the mirror was from that picture book. Anjea recognised it right away. But in her dream, it was also the mirror that stood by the window of her room. This did not confuse Anjea. In dreams, two different things can be the same.
A sharp pain coursed through Anjea as she saw herself in the mirror. The bunyip was right! She looked exactly like it! She could even see dead crayfishes trapped in her hair. She realised that like the bunyip, she too reeked of the dead and the rotten.
The smell and the discomfort pressed againstAnjea, making her struggle to breathe. With a gasp, she woke up.
She could feel a wetness between her legs. Her first period, she realised with relief, the nightmare temporarily forgotten. Finally! She knew she would hate the discomfort the periods would cause every month, but at least now she was ‘girl enough’’.
She was the only girl in her class who was not invited to Jessica’s birthday party yesterday.
“See, boys will attend the party. But even at fourteen, you’re not girl enough to know what to do with them, right? I’m just saving you from embarrassment,”Jessica had made fun of Anjea, her scornful gaze fixed on Anjea’s flat chest.
Anjea’s eyes had welled up with tears.
“As if I care!” she had hissed, raising her small, bony fistin the air, as if to strike Jessica. Without realising, Jessica had taken a step back.
“Jess, perhaps you should’ve invited her?” Anjeaoverheard Lily’s words as she ran out of the classroom. She didn’t want the others to see her tears.
“Yeah, and let her hideous face ruin our photos?” Anjea had snorted.
That evening, the mirror in Anjea’sroom heard Anjea muttering to herself as she scrutinisedher face and body.
The mirror did what it was best at. It gathered all the evening light it could to showAnjeahow shelooked. And Anjea saw.
Oh, her eyes weren’t oval like Jessica’s. They were like square buttons. Aren’t they too far apart? Why did her earsnot rest by the side of her head, like other people’s, Anjea wondered. She touched her lips, they felt dry. Her lips could hardly hold her teeth within; weren’t her teeth too big? Anjea wished she had a slender neck.
Then the mirror whispered, as was its habit. “Look at your mother, so beautiful. I see her face on me everyday. It’s a real pleasure. Why can’t you be like her?”
Anjea tried to imitate her mother. She tried to look at the mirror as her mother would. She tried to smile at it as her mother would. But her smile froze mid-air when she heard the mirror scream.
“Stop. Stop. You look so ugly!” thewords spilled from the mirror, dropping into Anjea’s hearts, like coins dropping into a dark, empty well. Then the mirrorturned away from the fading evening light, blurring up Anjea’s image.
In Anjea’s nightmare, however, the mirror had not blurred. It had showed Anjea her face, her ugliness. The bunyip made sure of it.
Waking up from her nightmare, Anjea had gone to the bathroom to clean up. Then, careful to not wake up her mother who always slept with her door open since Anjea’s father died, Anjea tiptoed to the mirror that stood by the window.
At first Anjeacould see nothing in the mirror. But as her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw herself in it.
Her eyes were set too wide apart. Her teeth were too sharp and too long, they protruded from her mouth, giving her the appearance of a monster. A tangle of dishevelled hair fell like a mass of limp, rotting plants all over her face. Are those crayfishes in her hair?
In a fit of rage, Anjea fetched a knife and chopped off her strands. But much to her chagrin, she still looked like the bunyip.
Her hand moved to her chest. She could feel the bunyip’s heart beating inside.
“Why are you here?” she asked. Did she actually utter those words or did she just think them, she didn’t know.
“Because your heart is as dark as the bottom of a billabong, my favourite place,” the bunyip answered.
“Why is my heart dark?”
“Because nobody can see it.”
“Why can nobody see it?”
“Because you are too ugly for people to give you a second glance.”
“Am I really that ugly?”
“Who knows? Don’t you remember my story from the picture book? Everyone said I was hideous. So hideous that one man claimed I didn’t even exist. Just as you don’t exist for your friends. Do you remember what happens at the end?”
“Yes, finally you meet another bunyip. You show her your mirror. You two look exactly alike.”
“Indeed! And tonight, I have shown you the mirror. We too look alike. Together we’ll live in darkness and scare away people who try to get close.”
“But I don’t want to scare people away. I don’t want the darkness,” Anjea heard herself pleading. The words felt familiar on her tongue, as if she had said the same words many times earlier too.
“My little one, our destiny was sealed the moment they named you Anjea. Now that you are fertile, like the fertility goddess Anjea, it’s your destiny to house my soul in you. Your heart is my billabong, my dear. Let me dig deeper and darker into your heart.”
“Go away! Go away, or I will kill you!” Anjea threatened the bunyip.
“Calm down, my little one, it’s too late now. I live in your heart!” the bunyip chuckled.
“Not too late! If I don’t have a heart, where will you live, huh?” asked Anjea, as she plunged into her heart the knife she had used to cut her hair. She knew it was not enough. So she slit her wrist.
The bunyip eyed the mess on the floor. It could feel a wave of exhaustion wash over its body. “Now I will have to find another billabong,” it grumbled to itself as it shrank away into the night.
Next morning, Anjea’s mother discovered her daughter’s cold, lifeless body in a pool of blood.
Doctors, investigating officers, school authorities – everyone grappled in the stench of Anjea’s dead, dark blood to fish out information. They pieced together the information to determine Anja’s cause of death – suicide due to depression caused by body shaming, bullying and rejection as social outcast.
Nobody saw when the bunyip crouched into the mother’s room.Nobody noticed the air thickening in the mother’s room.
The mother was dreaming. In her dream, she saw a bunyip sitting at the bottom of her heart, a heart filled with tears, a tearful of pond, just like a billabong. Because it was her own heart, she could see right into the depth of the billabong. At its bottom, on a black mound of darkness, the bunyip sat, clutching something to its chest.
When their eyes met, it soared up towards her in one swift, effortless motion and sat on her chest.
“Do you recognise me?” the bunyip asked.
The mother could not recognise him.
“Too ugly to be forgotten?” smirked the bunyip.“I am the bunyip from the picture book you used to read to your daughter, remember? The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek.”
The mother remembered. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I live in your heart. It’s dark and deep, a perfect billabong for me. Do you want to see what I have here?” it asked and the mother knew that it was asking about the thing clutched to its chest.
The bunyip held it up for her to see.
It was Anjea’s lifeless body. The body had started to rot, the mother could feel its stench pressing against her. Dark blood was still oozing from it. The blood trickled down the bunyip’s body and puddled in the mother’s heart, turning it darker and darker.
In her dream, the mother tried to scream. No words came out of her mouth. Only tears seeped out from her closed eyes, wetting her pillow.
The bunyip reached out and ran its fingers through the mother’s hair. “Sh, sh…Don’t cry,” it comforted her.
“I’ll be there for you, I’ll be there for you,” the bunyip crooned in the mother’s ears, dropping the words one by one into her dim heart, like dropping coins into a dark, empty well.
In Australian aboriginal mythology, Anjea is a fertility goddess or spirit. People’s soul reside within her in-between their incarnations. She picks them up from their resting places in the sand.
An Australian word for a pool of water or swamp. The language scientists stress that “billa” means “river,” and “bong” or “bung” means “dead.” Origin of the word is widely credited to be derived from the Wiradjuri(indigenous Australian Aboriginal group) expression “bilaban”, meaning creek or water-course that runs only during or after the rainy season.
In Australian Aboriginal folklore, thebunyip is a legendary monster said to lurk in swamps and billabongs. They prey on humans, especially women and children. They can use their supernatural power to alter water levels, cripple victims with the use of their voice and hypnotise humans to act as their slave.
The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek: A classic Australian children’s picture book, written by Jenny Wagner and illustrated by Ron Brooks. In the story, a bunyip asks everyone he meets about his looks and everyone tells him that he looks horrible. Shaken by everyone’s response, the bunyip decides to live by a lonely billabong, where he unpacks his bunyip comb and mirror. That night, from the billabong rises another creature. Delighted, the bunyip tells the creature that she is a bunyip who looks just like him and lends her his mirror to prove it.