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In The Outback With Jasmine Banks Print

  1. 1. In the outback with Jasmine Banks By Ronit Baras A word from the author Monday, 3 April 2006 This e-book is part of a very special mission – to make the world a happy place. Today, I’m releasing this story to the world, with the aim of reaching 1 million (1,000,000) people around the globe. It excites me to think that 1million people will be joining me in spreading the word on positive thinking and positive focus, until it reaches all of humanity. Thanks to the Internet and to e-mail, and with your help, I know we can do this. Please enjoy this free story, reflect on it and be inspired to live a happy life. Then, send it to your friends, to your family members, to your students, to your community, to your member of parliament, to your employees, to your work colleagues and to your executives. I welcome and appreciate your feedback on this story and others and would love to read your review and testimonial. Contact me on or Ronit
  2. 2. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “It all started on the day I found out that I was going to die,” said Katharine Johnson on Oprah. Mark Hayden, the chief editor of the “Day by Day” magazine, looked carefully at the package sent to him from Mrs. Johnson’s publicity office. On his table were three DVDs with interviews Katherine Johnson had given in the last five years. Some of them he had already seen several times, admiring the idol, the interviewers and the show editors. “This is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity,” he thought to himself. Five years before, when the world had just met Katherine Johnson, he would have given anything to interview her himself. Today things looked a little different. For a few years now, the board had been trying to sign him up for a long-term contract and he had refused. They had even offered him more money, but he had hoped to publish a few huge-selling editions that would allow him to take some time off. Now, his chance had come. Every magazine in the world was trying to interview Katherine Johnson. Even a small feature story about her could sell ads for years. He looked at his team through the glass window. “Who shall I give the honour to?” he asked himself. He knew the answer, but tried to fight it. He had been fighting it for a year now, ever since Jay Banks walked into his office. She was a girl who didn’t belong anywhere, the kind of girl no words could sufficiently describe. He had tried to show some interest in her, but she had been cold, sealed, as if all her feelings had been turned off. She had originality and sadness, qualities the others didn’t have. He sensed she had a love for life that had been turned off and he had been trying for a year to reignite it. He had tried spending time with her, taking her out to dinner, initiating a few deep conversations, which he thought would wake her up, but she had not responded. In all of their meetings, she sat there and listened, answering mostly “yes” or “no.” She would work late into the night, well past midnight, and hand in wonderful articles. Once, he had asked her, “What would you like to write about?” She had answered, “What would you like me to write about?” Mark held the package in his hands and walked towards her office. There were beautiful sketches of human facial expressions spread across the walls of her office. He stood behind her for few seconds until she felt his presence and turned to look at him. “Jay.” “Mark!” she said, startled. 2 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  3. 3. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Jay,” he smiled. “We have just received an offer from Katherine Johnson’s publicity office. They want someone to join her for three days in Australia.” Jay opened her eyes wide, her heartbeat increased. “Three whole days?” she asked surprised. “In three instalments. She’s on a private visit and we can join her for a day here and a day there.” “Then what are you doing here?” she thought to herself. “Why are you telling me about it?” she wondered quietly and her breathing grew heavy. ‘What do you say?” he asked. “What do you mean?” she asked him. “I mean, would you like to join her?” he asked, a bit disappointed. Jay rose from her chair as if to hug him, but thought better of it. “Yes, sure,” she said coolly, trying to control herself. “You’re a bit weird, you know? Don’t get too excited. You might accidentally crack a smile,” he said cynically. He put the package down on her desk and left. Jay sat back in her chair, holding her chest, so the excitement wouldn’t spill out. She looked at Mark Hayden’s back as he walked out of her office. He was actually very nice to her now. When she first arrived, she’d felt like she was under a magnifying glass. “Life is one big jungle. It’s all about survival,” her dad had told her. “In every new job, you are prey to your boss and colleagues.” And since then, she had been walking around protecting herself. The first time Mark had invited her to dinner, Jay had tried to get some information about him. She had found out that he had two teen sons and was a workaholic, a flexible boss and very professional. A year after he joined as chief editor, the board had asked him to sign up for 5 years, but he had refused. He never invited any of his team members for dinner. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke and he was divorced. “Divorced?! You don’t need this, Jay, trust me. It’s like he has a diploma in broken relationships,” her mum told her when she reported that he had invited her for dinner. 3 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  4. 4. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras Jay was a “safe side” type of girl. She wasn’t the type who played with fire, so she found a way to avoid dinner, even though she thought Mark Hayden was a really nice guy. “Thank you, Mark,” she whispered to herself as he walked to his office. On Wednesdays, Mark’s sons used to come to stay the night with him. They entered the office in bare feet and wild hair! Jay looked at them with envy. She couldn’t remember herself ever walking barefoot outside the house. Once, only once, on the way home from Kindergarten, when she was 4 years old, she remembered her mum picking her up and she walked barefoot on the way to the car, but only because they couldn’t find her shoes. Her mother talked about the shoes so much the next day that long afterwards, even during naptime, Jay slept with her shoes on. Usually, Mark’s sons walked in noisily. They chuckled and went over to Janet, Mark’s secretary, gave her a kiss and sat down to chat with her. Janet had been the chief editor’s secretary for over 12 years. She was an older woman – the team’s mother. She knew everything about everyone. She was mature and amazingly organised. She remembered everybody’s background – all their family members’ names and ages and what their parents and partners did for a living. She knew of every project the team was involved with. In everyone’s eyes, she was forever the “big boss.” That evening, Jay watched the interviews with Katherine Johnson. She had many questions to ask Mark, but the ticking noises and the laughter coming from his room sounded too happy to disturb. Jay felt sorry for Mark’s boys for growing up with parents who weren’t living together. It was a bit sad, like living with the failure of the relationship every day. On the other hand, she knew that sometimes it is better to break the package. Jay thought of her aunt, who lived with a man that hit her and the kids. Everyone knew and still pretended it was a secret. Once, Jay had gone to help her when she was all bruised and her hand was in a cast, and had asked gently, “Was it Philip who hurt you?” Her aunt had smiled, her eyes brimming with tears. 4 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  5. 5. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Then why do you stay with him?” she asked naïvely. “Because otherwise I wouldn’t have any way to support my kids and he would take them from me. The kids will be torn between us and to be the kids of divorced parents is worse. You can’t imagine, Jay, how cruel it is. Constantly being in court and seeing them only on weekends. What do you think the family would say, or the neighbours?” Her aunt continued, but Jay was lost in her own thoughts and had already begun formulating a conversation in her mind. “The kids are already torn. Is it because you’d rather avoid having to support yourself and risking your life and theirs? Who cares what the family has to say?” she said to herself, but kept on washing the dishes quietly. Every time Mark’s sons arrived, Jay compared them to her cousins. Mark’s boys were barefoot and wore their hair wild. Sometimes they had highlights in their hair and one of them showed up one day with eyebrow piercing, but they were always cheerful, while her cousins were bullies, who lived in terror, constantly fighting the world. Jay stood in front of Mark’s office door, contemplating whether to go in or not. Behind the door, she could hear tapping noises. She couldn’t guess what they were doing inside. “Go in, dear, they’re just playing,” Janet said, looking at her standing at the door. She knocked on the door and the tapping noises ceased. On Mark’s table was a ping- pong net and they were having fun. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she apologised. Mark gave his racket to one of his sons. “You’re not disturbing us, Jay,” he approached her. His sons looked at them curiously. “Keep playing. I’ll be right back,” he said and led Jay to the corner of his room. “I wanted to ask you what exactly Katharine Johnson’s publicity office asked us to do?” Jay asked. “They haven’t asked us for anything. They’ve just given us a chance to make lots of money, big time.” Jay didn’t really understand this. She knew something was wrong. She had been educated to believe that no one gives anything just like that, without asking for 5 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  6. 6. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras something in return. Since childhood, she calculated what she would gain as opposed to what she would lose, but somehow the losing list always ended up being longer. “What will they get?” she asked. “Another article on Katherine Johnson,” he replied, as though it was obvious. “Why didn’t they go to another magazine? There are millions of magazines and newspaper that would be willing to give anything for this opportunity,” she tried to understand. Mark looked at Jay softly. She was 15 years younger than he was. There was something magical about her, which he couldn’t explain. Most of the time, she listened. When she spoke, she mostly asked questions. Even when she needed to give an answer, she asked a question. As if she had an internal battle that only questions could resolve. A journalist never reveals his sources. Mark had told the team thousands of times during meetings, “Never reveal your source.” He really wanted to tell her, but… “Because of my beautiful eyes,” he replied to her question. Jay smiled, embarrassed. “Then why are you giving me this assignment,” she thought, “Is it because of my beautiful eyes?” “I see,” she said and walked out the door. “You see nothing, Jay Banks, nothing at all,” he thought to himself, looking at her back as she was walking away. She went to the Ladies’ Room and looked at herself in the mirror. She didn’t have special eyes. Her younger sister Jennifer had told her that many times, along with “Do something with your hair. Something modern. Maybe colour your hair red. Men like red. You are so pale, you should put some make-up on, so people will notice you. You don’t want to end your life a single old woman, do you?” “But I don’t like red. It’s disgusting. It’s unnatural, like a walking stop light. Like shouting, ‘I’m not real’,” she had said quietly. But after a while, Jay had finally given in and dyed her hair red. She had looked at herself in the mirror and had been disgusted. She’d spent the whole night looking for an open pharmacy, so that she could buy a new colour and dye her hair back to its original colour. Within two months, she’d lost so much hair she knew it was punishment for having surrendered to the pressure. Jay had green eyes that changed colour with her mood. Once, in high school, she had gone out with a mechanic, whom she had met through a mutual friend, and he had said 6 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  7. 7. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras to her, “You have beautiful eyes, but they are sad. If you smile, your eyes will smile too.” Her parents had told her he wasn’t at her level. “You don’t need anyone like that, uneducated and with no aspirations,” she heard them say again and again. Finally, she had given up. She had stayed with the mechanic for a short time. He would hold her hand, touch her face and kiss her gently. On quiet nights, she had closed her eyes, trying to bring back that feeling of being loved. Jay sat in her office and watched a show from England, featuring Katherine Johnson. “When I asked myself, ‘What do you really like to do,’ I realised I didn’t know. I was a mother of three children and I didn’t have an answer to the most important question. My kids already had directions in their lives and I didn’t know what it was that I loved doing,” Katherine was saying. “Some people can’t ask this question at your age,” the interviewer said. “I want you to understand – the answer is in the question. I have placed the question everywhere – hanging on the fridge, in the shower – ‘So what is it that I love doing?’, until the answer came.” “Just like that, it appeared out of thin air?” asked the interviewer. “Yes. It’s a question of focus. The brain is busy with the question even when you’re sleeping, working, studying or eating. Just ask it. The answer is within the question. If the question is there long enough, the answer will come.” “And what have you discovered, Katherine. What is it that you love doing?” “Writing! I always wanted to write. I used to write long stories to family and friends. I bought special pens. I wanted to write down my thoughts. I wanted to make a difference, to express myself. I always dreamed of being a famous author and I knew that time was short and when I died, I would regret that I never fulfilled my dream.” Jay stopped the disc, took one of her drawings down from the wall and touched it softly. She took a piece of paper and drew Katherine Johnson talking about sadness. At night, in her dreams, she imagined someone who loved her dearly, gently touching her body. She had never made love to anyone. “Men only think of one thing. They want to sleep with you and dump you, you don’t need that,” she’d heard this phrase in her house for many years, like a mantra. 7 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  8. 8. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras Inside of her, she thought that women wanted sex just as much as men did. She didn’t like thinking that sex belonged to men only and women were just doing them a favour. There were times when she felt she wasn’t normal, thinking about sex all the time, with everyone she saw on the street or with everyone who walked into the office. Jay took a piece of paper and drew, so no one could hear her thoughts. “Ok, now you have to go,” she heard Mark’s voice and moved to stand in the doorway to her office. “Stop flirting with Janet, I’ll be home in two hours. Go on,” he said and hugged both his sons. “I love you,” he said and kissed their necks. She went back to sit in her chair. She couldn’t remember anyone ever telling her that they loved her. Tears silently streamed from her eyes. She continued to draw Katharine Johnson talking about sadness. Jay sat in the hotel lobby, anxiously waiting for the press conference with Katherine Johnson. She had been watching the DVDs constantly for three weeks. What questions hadn’t been asked? Does it matter? An article about Katherine Johnson is the kind of article that sells mega editions and it doesn’t matter what it says. She tried to ask Mark a couple of times exactly what he wanted, but he just smiled at her and said confidently, ”This is your chance, for once, to do whatever you want.” Even a high school student could sell millions writing an article on Katherine Johnson. He had no doubt Jay could do it. The answer from Mark didn’t help Jay to find an angle. Katherine Johnson started all her interviews with “It all started the day I realised I was going to die,” as if all the interviewers asked the same question. How boring. On the other hand, they all sold brilliantly, be they newspapers, magazines or TV shows. Jay Banks sat in the hotel lobby and wasn’t sure if this was her “once in a lifetime” opportunity or maybe she should just run away as fast as she could. She had sat for three weeks with a list of questions. She had researched and checked, even though everything had already been written and documented. The greatest interviewers in the world had interviewed Katherine Johnson. There was not a question that hadn’t been asked. There wasn’t an answer she hadn’t given. Jay had read over 27 articles on Katherine Johnson and composed long lists of questions, but she already knew the answers. On the white board in her office, she had written notes with information about Katherine Johnson. She was 52 years old, happily married and a mother of 3 grown-up kids. She had been a secretary in a moving company. One day, five years prior, she had 8 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  9. 9. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras found out that she was going to die and decided that since life is short and she needed to live it. She had left her job and dedicated her life to doing all the things she wanted to do. She had gone to visit family. She had spent a week on an island in the Maldives and had gone to see the Great Palace in Thailand. She had learned photography and written books (which had quickly become world best sellers). Since then, she had been interviewed on every major talk show, encouraging people to live their dreams. There were many stories of people, who managed to cheat death, but somehow Katherine Johnson managed to do it in a very special way. “Jay,” an older woman called her name, while she was looking down at her notes. Jay stood up in alarm. “Hello. I’m Katherine. Nice to meet you.” The woman’s face was very familiar. She had been watching that face on the screen for three weeks. On her office walls, there were many sketches of her. She looked so soft, with gorgeous grey hair. She was 57 now and beautiful. “You look much better than your photos. Come, let’s go,” said Katherine Johnson with a smile. She held Jay’s hand and pulled her out onto the street. Jay looked around. There were no people around. No crowds, no reporters and no photographers. Somehow, she had imagined it differently. “I knew you’d come early. Everyone else will start arriving in half an hour, but we won’t be here. Let’s go for a walk. I need some privacy. Tell me a bit about yourself,” she said. “About myself?” asked Jay. “Yes, yes, about yourself. If we’re going to spend some time together in the outback, we should get to know each other, don’t you think?” “Oh, sure,” said Jay, embarrassed. She couldn’t remember anyone ever asking her such a question. “How do you respond to such a thing?” she asked herself. She could remember asking her interviewees this question, but never thought of answering it herself. “What would you like to know, Mrs. Johnson,”?” she asked insecurely. “Do you always answer in questions?” asked Katherine. “Call me Katherine. My name is Katherine and I love my name. What about you?” “My name is Jasmine and I don’t like my name. That’s why everyone calls me Jay.” “And why don’t you like your name?” asked Katherine and played with the white silk scarf hanging over her shoulder. 9 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  10. 10. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “I don’t know. The kids always made fun of me in school and pretended they were smelling me. Jay is a much nicer name. Jay in Sanskrit means “victory.” Jasmine is an old lady’s name. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” she hurried to apologise. On paper, words came out much better. Jay wished the ground would open up and swallow her right then and there. “Why should I be offended by the way you feel about your name?” Katherine asked. “Let’s go into this park, there is a different smell in the air. Australia has a different smell. I’ve been here once before. I have a friend who moved here with her husband and his four kids. They live in the outback. Tonight, we’re flying out to see them. I’ll expect you in a couple of days. They’re a wonderful couple. You’ll like them,” she said. Katherine Johnson was a mature woman, yet she sounded just like a little girl. Where could she possibly get all this energy? Jay compared Katherine to her own mother. Her mum was “heavy” in her mentality. She thought everything was hard, everything was heavy, everything was complicated. Jay imagined Katherine Johnson’s three kids. What fun it must be to grow up with such a cool mum, but then again, maybe she wasn’t that cool before she found out she was going to die. For years, everyone had been trying to find out what it was Katherine Johnson was dying from, but not a single doctor could be found who had given her the news. She had gone for a regular check up, found out she was dying and decided to take control of her life. “It would be nice to take control of my own life,” Jay thought to herself. In every talk show she’d seen of Katherine, she always said, “I thank Death every day for knocking at my door, reminding me to seize the day and live in the moment. Life is a collection of such moments.” How strange it was to thank Death. “What do you like doing?” asked Katherine as she sat on a grassy slope in the park and continued touching her body with her white silk scarf. “I’m a journalist,” answered Jay. No one had ever asked her this either. “Yes, but what do you like doing.” Jay tried thinking about writing books. No, that didn’t fascinate her. She wrote articles, excellent ones, but being good at writing never excited her. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. 10 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  11. 11. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Think about it, it’s the most simple question. Be comforted though, I only found out at the age of 52 that I couldn’t answer this question. How old are you?” “32,” said Jay and lowered her head in shame. “Wonderful! You can earn 20 more years of understanding,” she said happily. Jay looked at her in surprise. How could she take every negative thing and present it positively. “What do you like?” Katherine asked again. Nothing, actually. She didn’t know what she liked. There were things she thought she liked, but only because she had never experienced them: sex, walking barefoot on the street, going to work with her hair down, going out with Mark to dinner, drawing him, playing ping pong with her dad and believing her colleagues weren’t trying to stab her in the back. “Wow, I can see your list is long. What is it you don’t like?” “Bad people, to be ‘OK’ all the time, noise, people you can’t trust, doing what other people want me to do, being considerate towards my family, getting up in the morning, going to work… going back home… being alone…” she suddenly realised she was talking and stopped immediately. “And what would happen if you didn’t do these things?” asked Katherine, sounding worried. “What things?” retorted Jay with a question. “If you didn’t get up in the morning and go to work, for example?” Jay imagined herself staying in bed. The phone rings and Mark is screaming hysterically. He never screamed hysterically, so she didn’t even know why she imagined him that way. Then, her mum finds out she didn’t go to work. “Do you want them to kick you out of the office? Sure, go and work in a plastic factory, do the same thing all day. It’ll be so boring and everyone will say that Jasmine Banks threw away her education and her career. ‘Her mum and dad spent a fortune for her to study Journalism and Business and she threw it away.’ You don’t need this, Jay, get up and go to work. Life is not a picnic. You don’t just do whatever you want in life. Imagine what would happen if Dad and I deciding one day not to go to work? What do you think our life would be like now? No money, no status. What would people say? That the Banks family is hungry for food.” 11 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  12. 12. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras She could always disconnect the phone. Or she could say to her mother what she’s wanted to tell her ever since she was 10. “Get out of my hair! This is my life. I’m going to do with it whatever I want.” Jay had wanted to say this for a long time, but always waited to feel grown up enough. Every birthday, she was older by age, but not in feeling. And every time she imagined herself saying it to her mum, she could see her mother getting all upset and then the whole family gossiping about the fight between Jay and her mum, a discussion subject at every dinner table. “Jay, being unthankful, insulted her mother, who raised her, breastfed her, changed her nappies and got up in the middle of the night to take care of her.” On the other hand, her mother didn’t have to know. She could always tell her she had a day off. But it wasn’t the same. Jay had already had days off, but it wasn’t the same feeling, to have a day off and to steal a day off. “Mark would fire me,” she said to Katherine, not entirely sure it was true. “Mark is your editor, isn’t he? Is he that awful?” “No, he is actually a very nice guy, and I don’t think he’d fire me. He would probably call me and ask what happened?” she had to admit. “Does he call all his journalists who don’t come to work and ask them what happened?” “No, Janet does, but not very often, because she always knows where everyone is. When I come in late because I have a meeting or something, he always calls me to ask what happened,” she answered. Suddenly, when she said it out loud, it sounded strange. Every time she’s late coming into the office, he calls, even though Janet knows exactly where she is. All he needed to do was ask Janet… “I understand,” said Katherine, smiling, “Is he sexy?” Jay raised her head in surprise that an older woman, almost a grandmother, would ask that. “I think so,” she blushed. “Is he with someone?” “No, he’s divorced. He has two boys in high school and he’s very good to them. Janet, his secretary, worships the ground he walks on.” “Does Janet have a crush on him?” Katherine persisted. 12 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  13. 13. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “No, not at all. Janet could be his mum.” “And you? Do you have a crush on him?” “No, he is my boss,” she answered a little too quickly. “So what would happen if you decided not to get up in the morning and go to work?” “Nothing, I guess,” Jay smiled. “An hour later, Mark would call and this time he would have a good reason, because Janet wouldn’t have any record of, ‘Jay staying in bed, not feeling like coming to work’. He would ask what’s happening and I would say “I don’t feel like coming to work today,” and he would say, “Watch out, Jay, don’t get too excited, you might accidentally crack a smile.” “And what would happen if you didn’t go to work the next day either?” Katherine asked cheekily. Jay smiled to herself. Maybe he would call again and ask if she had cracked that smile already. She could just imagine him… and then she stopped herself. “Nothing. Nothing would happen,” she said coolly. “And what would you do that day?” “I would drive to Fraser Island and lie with my entire body on the floury, white sand, in my bikini, without worrying about hiding the extra kilograms. The sun would touch my body and the turquoise colour of the lakes would inspire me and I’d have my sketchbook and I’d draw facial expressions,” Jay’s face shone. “Then why don’t you do it?” Katherine asked. Jay came back to reality sharply, her shining face turning dark and sad. “Do you know what I had in mind when I wanted to write books?” Katherine said, “Once, when I had the courage, I sent one of my books to a publisher, who told me, ‘If you were famous, I’d publish your book.’ And I told myself that I didn’t have a chance, that only a few people managed to publish their books. I told myself that it was a cruel and tough industry and that very few people succeeded in it. Five years ago, when I found out I was going to die, I asked myself, ‘Why aren’t I doing it?’ and I had many excuses and reasons, but I should have asked ‘How did they become famous?’ All of them were unknown once, right? Jay, ask yourself, ‘Why aren’t I doing what I want?’ The answer will come.” “A day or two of stealing a holiday will not change my feelings.” 13 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  14. 14. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “You’re right. Nothing external will change your feelings. Only you can change your feelings.” Jay had heard Katherine Johnson say this in her interviews and the more she thought about it, the more she realised she was always waiting for something external to happen and change her feelings. She always hoped that one day she would get up in the morning and everything would be pretty and colourful. There would be lots of sun, she wouldn’t have to work, her family wouldn’t be there all the time, her dad would love her, her mother would appreciate her, her siblings would think she’s pretty and there would be a guy who’s madly in love with her. Yet here was Katherine Johnson saying she was the only one who could change her own feelings. How depressing! “Let’s go somewhere and get an ice cream,” Katherine said happily, wrapping her white silk scarf around her neck. She stood up and cleaned some grass off her pants. Maybe, as you get older, you regress back to childhood, Jay smiled to herself, but then remembered her mum, who was older but never did childish things. “Aren’t you worried about going around like this?” Jay stood up from the grass. “Do you mean without a trail of body guards, journalists and photographers following me around?” Jay nodded. “No, it’s quite fun hanging around like this. There’s something so natural about it. Come, is there a place you recommend?” she said and started walking. “Not really. Aren’t you worried about people recognising you on the street?” Jay continued. “You’ve seen too many movies. It’s fun when people recognise me on the street sometimes, but I’m in Australia, how many people do you think will recognise me walking around innocently with a young woman? Very few and that’s OK, because I’m happy to meet my readers.” Jay walked a little faster to catch up with her. Somehow, her impression of famous people had been different. They went to an ice cream shop at the corner of the street and Katherine ordered three huge scoops of ice cream. The girl at the counter smiled at her as if she recognised her and whispered to her friend. Jay ordered a single scoop of non-fat sherbet and took out her credit card to pay. 14 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  15. 15. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “This is the way to attract attention, which is not what we want, is it?” Katherine whispered in her ear and went to pay cash. “Paying cash is a good way not to get exposed,” she said. “Gosh, the Australian coins are so heavy. Eat, eat, before it melts.” “Aren’t you worried about the fat and all the calories in the ice cream?” Jay asked, surprised, as Katherine licked her ice cream with joy. “Once, I worried about everything! How much fat was in my food, how much sugar, how many carbs, how many calories, how to get the stains off the carpets, how much meat cost at the supermarket, how I looked and how much I was worth. I was worried about a lot of things, but you have to find out that you’re going to die to sort out your priorities in life.” Jay looked at her carefully, celebrating her ice cream. Katherine Johnson looked as healthy as an ox. Jay knew that every year she was asked how long doctors had given her to live and she always said, “Doctors are not the ones who can tell me how long I’ll live. Only I can decide that.” “Are you sure you’re going to die?” Jay asked her. “Oh yes, I’m sure about that. It’s been five years now and I haven’t found anyone who has contradicted the diagnosis,” she said confidently and kept eating her ice cream. Jay tried to understand death. There was something depressing about it. Why get up in the morning and go to work? “Aren’t you afraid of death?” asked Jay. “What about you?” Katherine answered with a question. Jay licked her ice cream and thought about it. She wondered if you could only answer this question when the next moment of your life was under threat. She realised that some people died while they were still alive. Which was better? “I’m afraid of many things, but I’ve never thought about death,” she answered honestly. “Like what?” “Like disappointing my parents,” Jay answered. “How can you disappoint your parents?” asked Katherine. “By being a loser, by not working, by not getting married, by not being the best, not respecting them or not doing what they expect me to do.” 15 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  16. 16. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “What about what you want to do?” asked Katherine. Jay stopped in her tracks. “What did she mean?” she asked herself, “This is what I want. I don’t want to disappoint them. Why is that so hard to understand?” “What will happen if you do disappoint them?” continued Katherine, watching Jay’s sudden change of expression. “They won’t love me,” she said, and she suddenly felt exposed. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. It had just slipped out. “And now, do they love you now when you do whatever they want?” “Not yet,” Jay answered. She didn’t really understand her own answer. How can you ‘not love someone yet’? “I mean,” she corrected, “They’re not really satisfied right now, but it’ll get there.” “Just like that? One sunny day, they’ll wake up in the morning and go over their list of expectations of you and say, ‘Tick, tick, tick, over the entire list, yup, she’s prefect! Now we can love her’?” Katherine asked cynically. “It doesn’t work like that,” Jay explained. “Maybe you can tell me how it does work?” Jay looked at her melting ice cream. It was tasteless. She went to the rubbish bin, threw it away and nervously cleaned her sticky fingers. She didn’t really know how it worked. Every time it happened, she would say to herself that just this time she would give in, she would do it perfectly and then they would love her. It first started at school, when she wanted a pair of jeans like everyone else’s and her mum said, “You disappoint me, Jasmine. These are clothes for cheap girls. You are not a street kid, you don’t need this.” It went on to choosing a profession. “Art is a fairy tale profession. You can’t buy food at the supermarket with brushes and colours. Do me a favour, Jasmine. You don’t need this.” And finally, her mother’s latest subject was Mark. “Are you a second-hand woman? What do you need a divorced man for? Go and find a good man from a good family. Marriage isn’t a meeting of two stray cats with no family. In our family, no one has ever stooped to this level.” Every time it happened, Jay told herself that this time, she would do it right and they would be happy, and every time, she failed. Tears welled up in her eyes. “I guess I don’t really know how it works, but all my life, I’ve been trying to find the formula,” Jay said, taking a tissue out of her bag and blowing her nose. 16 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  17. 17. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Do you want some of my ice cream? It’s very nice. Food without the fat is tasteless. It’s like living without breathing,” said Katherine and gave Jay her ice cream. “Tell me, why eat ice cream if it’s tasteless? What’s the point of living, if there is no taste to living? Forget the weight, forget the calories, close your eyes and tell me what you see?” Jay stopped and sat down on a bench. She slowly licked the ice cream and a wonderful taste filled her mouth. All her taste buds celebrated. She suddenly felt her entire mouth. In her mind, she saw a little girl, laughing loudly. She kept licking her ice cream with a big smile on her face. “I would give anything to see the picture you have in your head right now,” said Katherine excitedly. Jay gave her the ice cream back. “Hold this and I’ll show you what I see.” She took out her sketchbook and drew herself at the age of 7, laughing as if she was floating on air, with the innocent facial expression of a 7-year-old, who had gorgeous hair and beautiful eyes. Katherine sat next to her. “Wow, she is beautiful. She looks so happy. What’s your name?” Katherine asked the girl in the picture. “Jasmine Banks,” said Jay, smiling, and signed her shortened name at the bottom of the drawing. “Do you have many of these drawings?” “Hundreds of them. I’ve been drawing since I was 15. I had a wonderful Art teacher who taught me the love of drawing. Since then, I’ve been drawing for myself. My parents thought it was a waste of time to send me to a drawing class, so I went to the library, sat there for hours with books and learnt to draw expressions. They thought I was studying and gave me the time for myself. Dad said he couldn’t afford to pay for me to study Art so we compromised on Journalism and Business.” “Could he afford Journalism and Business?” “It’s his money, so he can afford what he wants and not afford what he doesn’t want,” said Jay. She put her sketchbook back in her bag and stood up. She had heard herself saying this many times, but she wasn’t so sure about it anymore. It always made her feel small, vulnerable and ready to do anything for the tiniest sign of affection. “We’ve been away for over an hour. You said the others would all come within half an hour. Maybe we should be heading back now,” Jay said coldly. She had come to interview Katherine Johnson, but she hadn’t written a single word. 17 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  18. 18. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Yes, you are right. The press conference will start soon. Come with me. In my room, I have a book I wrote. I want to give it to you as a ‘Thank you’ gift for allowing me to get to know you. You can get to know me from the book. It’s called ‘Katherine Johnson’s Fridge’.” Jay remembered an article she had read when the book had come out. It was Katherine Johnson’s inspirational book, made up of the quotes that were hanging on her kitchen fridge, with photos taken by her personally. The book sold 6 million copies within the first week of publication. A single book like that could set an author up for life. In her simple room, back at the hotel, Katherine took out a book in florescent green colours, took out a pen, wrote something inside and gave it to Jay. “Aren’t you afraid about what people think about what you write?” Jay asked her. “You need to understand, when you are anonymous, everything you say is exposed to criticism – ‘Why did you move to the right?’, ‘When did you breathe to the left?’ It’s worse when it starts with you, because you are your cruellest critic. When you’re famous, you can write whatever you want and it may even be bad, but the minute you’ve written it, it sells millions and no one criticises it. There is freedom in this feeling, knowing you can make a living by putting your thoughts on paper.” Jay thought about her drawings. It would be nice not to be afraid of everyone’s criticism. She had never shown her drawings to others. She had a few of them hanging on her office walls, but she hadn’t signed them, to avoid criticism. “Tonight, Michael and I are going to the Salsa party at the Casino, if we can survive the cigarette smoke, that is. It’s enough of a trauma finding out you’re going to die. If it’s unbearable in the casino, we’ll go for a walk along the river. We don’t need to commit suicide! Later on in the evening, we’re flying to our friends’ place in the outback. I’ll be downstairs for the press conference within half an hour, but I’ll meet you in the outback. Bring all your drawings,” she said and escorted Jay to the door. “Remember, Jay, page 112. The answer is in the question. We’ll talk about it next week,” she said and shook Jay’s hand firmly. Jay leaned against Katherine Johnson’s closed door. Everything had happened so fast. She couldn’t even remember what she had asked. The press conference was going to start in half an hour and she would be too far back – all the good places would already be taken. She hurried to put the book in her bag and ran to the conference area on the balcony. Hundreds of reporters and photographers filled the space, which was fully 18 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  19. 19. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras crowded. Jay took out her camera, which was quite simple. “Never mind,” she told herself, “Sunil will use some of his magic and make it look like as if a photographer from the National Geographic took the pictures.” She didn’t feel like pushing. On Monday, she could get closer, take closer photos, she consoled herself. The lights went out one by one in the magazine’s offices on the seventh floor. Only the light in Jay’s office was on. She sat on her chair and opened the book Katherine had given her. At the front of the book, she read the dedication Katherine had written inside the front cover, “Jay, what do you want?” which was followed by Katherine Johnson’s signature. Jay didn’t know how to answer. “The answer,” she remembered Katherine Johnson saying, “Lies in the question.” She didn’t really know what she wanted. She remembered the number 112, but couldn’t remember what it was related to. Jay stared at her computer screen for hours, until she decided to take out her sketchbook and draw a series of sketches of a cute 7-year-old girl laughing happily. She felt great, until she saw a shadow approaching behind her. “Hi, Jay,” she heard Mark behind her. He was leaning against her doorway. “Hi, Mark,” she said, trying to hide her sketches. “What are you doing here at this time of night?” “I took the boys to a party and promised to pick them up at the end. It’s a drinking party and I’d rather they didn’t drive, so I’m waiting for them to call,” he pointed to his mobile phone. “Why don’t you go home?” “It’s empty at home when they’re not around. Very empty,” he said sadly. “And where is ‘she’?” Jay asked. She hadn’t meant to. She had always wanted to ask this question, but never dared. “In Spain. She’s been there for two years now,” Mark replied. “Why?” “I really don’t know how it happened. One day, she came home and said, ‘I can’t love you, because I don’t know how to love myself. This is not my place. I need to go home, where there are people like me, who speak my language, back to my culture and my 19 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  20. 20. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras family. I’ve dedicated all my life to work, to you, to the kids and not to myself. I live a life that isn’t mine. This is not the way I want it to be,’ and she left.” Jay felt strange. It sounded so different from what she had expected. She was angry with herself for having judged him. “Do you miss her?” she asked. “Sometimes. I loved her so much once. Three months after she left, she sent the divorce papers and slowly my love has faded.” “And the boys?” she asked and to herself she thought, “And what did the neighbours say?” “The boys were cross. They felt she had rejected them. They were teens, so they took it very hard and refused to join her. When she called, they didn’t want to talk to her. Four months ago, they went to visit her for 10 days. I don’t think they’re so angry anymore. They said she looked much happier.” Mark had wanted to tell that to someone for a long time, but journalists live on gossip and so he had never talked about his separation before. Janet had tried to get him to go on some blind dates, but he avoided them. The boys had tried to convince him that he needed someone to love. “I have someone to love,” he had told them, “I have you.” “Yes, but you need a woman, so you won’t go to bed alone,” his eldest son, Jason, had told him. Mark looked so sad. She decided he wouldn’t fire her if she decided not to get up in the morning. “How was the day with Katherine Johnson?” he changed the subject. Jay looked at her sketches, “I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet,” she said. “How many notes did you get?” he prompted. “None,” she answered honestly. “Actually… I came up with these,” she handed him the sketches of the laughing girl. Mark came closer and looked at the little girl staring at him from the drawing. There was something beautiful in her joyful laughter. “And who is she?” he asked. “Me,” she said, pulling the papers out of his hand, and putting them back into her sketchbook. She began to pack her things. “Jay,” he held her hand. She felt warmth spreading from her hand all over her body. “What do you want?” jumped the question in front of her eyes, “What do you want?” 20 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  21. 21. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “What happened? Tell me what happened?” he asked worriedly. “I need to go home,” she lied, and left. Mark noticed Katherine Johnson’s book on Jay’s desk. He opened it and read the dedication. On her computer screen was Katherine Johnson’s picture. It was paused, so he pressed the Play button. “Does your husband, Michael, join you on your journeys?” “Of course. Michael and I are like bird’s wings. A bird can’t fly with one wing.” “How did Michael take your decision to leave the life you knew and spend the last few years living your dreams?” “Michael supported me the whole way. He always reminded me to ask myself what I wanted. After all, how can you get what you want if you don’t know what it is?” Mark leaned his chin on his palms and rubbed his face. He knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted Jay Banks to crack a smile in his presence and let him touch her life and then he would let her touch his life and he would be real, soft and loving again. No deadline or editorial meetings, lawyers or political scolding would bother him. At last, he would feel the warmth of another body touching his own. “And what do you want?” the interviewer asked Katherine. “It wasn’t easy for me to answer this question. I sat with Michael and the kids and we wrote down all our dreams – all the things we wanted to achieve before the end of our lives. One week, we had a competition to see who could write 100 things they wanted to do during the rest of their life. I was 52 at the time, so I didn’t have 60 more years left until the end of my life. So, at the beginning, we all wanted things that we could buy with money, then there were small things, like sitting naked on the beach or hiking together in the mountains. There were also things that were not so small, but just knowing that we wanted them was exciting. All my life, I had wanted to spend some time with my younger sister, who had married and moved to Europe. Over the years, we had met two or three times, but I wanted to travel with her, just the two of us. We finally got to do it. It was wonderful! Just the two of us – no husbands, no kids – we kind of revisited our childhood. We went to an island in Thailand, sat there on the beach and celebrated like two little girls. It was fabulous.” “What else did you want?” asked the interviewer. 21 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  22. 22. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “We wanted a different life then – no more getting up in the morning, going to work, coming back, cleaning, organising and collecting money. After the competition, our lives were dedicated to making our dreams come true. It was so exciting. We’d get up in the morning and there was a different feeling, as if the wants were calling us to fulfil them. Instead of floating around without a purpose, we realised our lives were like a ship and that we could sail and dock our ship wherever we pleased.” Mark pressed the Stop button. “How exactly can I direct my ship to Jay’s harbour?” he wondered. The screen turned black. Mark was amazed at how she managed to start all her interviews with the exciting discovery that she was dying and in the end, her death took up only 5% of the whole interview. Some interviewers were amazing, but Katherine Johnson made being interviewed into an art. His mobile phone rang… In the morning, when Mark came back to the office after a meeting with the mayor, Janet looked at him strangely. “What happened, Janet?” he asked, dropping some papers on his desk. “Jay isn’t here this morning. She hasn’t left a message and she’s not in a meeting. She’s left her laptop here and Sunil said her computer was on until after midnight.” “I’ll take care of it,” he said coldly. “What else?” he asked and Janet gave him a thorough report of the busiest hour of the day. Janet left his room smiling. Mark Hayden was transparent to her. A few minutes later, he left his room. “I’ll be back in an hour,” he said, apparently in a hurry. “You have an editorial meeting in half an hour,” Janet called after him. “I have a more important meeting,” he told her seriously. Janet smiled. Mark Hayden had never ever cancelled editorial meetings. “Even if you’re sick, your mother’s dying and your daughter’s getting married, you can’t miss editorial meetings,” he had told them all. Janet looked at him with a smile. “At last,” she said to herself and hurried to make some phone calls. 22 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  23. 23. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras Jay Banks opened her eyes. The time was 9:20am. She couldn’t remember ever opening her eyes so late before. She went to the kitchen to make herself some hot chocolate. “I expect you to respect others sitting next to you. You don’t sit like this at the table. John, go fix your hair and put on a shirt. It’s not a gym here and you don’t need to show off your muscles. It’s a dining table,” and her brother got up unhappily and put on a shirt. He was 33 now, a father to a two-year-old girl, and he still fixed his hair before every meal. Jay looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was messy and she wore yellow Tweetie pyjamas. She hadn’t brushed her teeth and the hot chocolate had a bitter taste. She went to the pantry and looked unhappily at her sweetener. “You put real sugar in your drink and then you complain that you have to lose 4 kilos? Change to a sweetener. Trust me, it tastes exactly the same. Sugar is poison and if you use real sugar, you can’t complain about your weight. You really don’t need this,” her sister told her. Her sister was skinny and had been dieting continuously her entire life. “Jennifer, how can you drink this stuff? This sweetener is disgusting,” she said quietly. “You can get used to it. You can get used to anything.” “I can, but why?” Jay insisted. “Jay, you have to pick one. You can’t have both. You have to choose between ‘tastes good and is fattening’ or ‘tastes bad and is not fattening’. Which do you prefer? Look at me. How do you think I manage to keep my figure? One more kilo and Rob is taking himself off somewhere else.” “You’re exaggerating. No one leaves his wife if she puts on one kilo.” Jay suddenly felt stressed. If it were really like that, no one would ever look at her. “I need to lose 4 kilos,” she thought desperately. “The way I look is very important to Rob. He has such a representative role. Every event we go to, he makes sure I dress appropriately and look my best. I don’t need him to be ashamed of me,” she said and made Jay tea with sweetener. “Here, take this, there are worse things in life”. On the bench top were three sketches of the 7-year-old girl. Jay poured the hot chocolate down the sink. 23 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  24. 24. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “What’s the point of drinking it, if it doesn’t taste good?” she told herself. As she was flipping through her drawings, the doorbell rang. Jay went to the door, slightly alarmed. She thought her mum had already found out and had come to lecture her for an hour about what people were going to say. She opened the door hesitantly. “Jay?” “Mark?” she asked in shock. Suddenly, she was aware of her hair, her pyjamas and that she hadn’t brushed her teeth. She covered her mouth with her hand, left the door open and walked into the kitchen. Mark came in and closed the door behind him. “What’s happening, Jay?” he asked, worried. “What do you mean ‘What’s happening’? I should ask you what’s happening. Why are you here?” “Because you didn’t answer your mobile phone.” Jay hugged herself. It felt exciting to disconnect her mobile phone. She should do such forbidden things more often. She smiled to herself. Mark looked at her in surprise. She did smile. He had no doubt that something had happened. “Maybe I’m sick?” she said. “I understand. You’ve seen too many shows with Katherine Johnson. According to her, we are all sick and we just don’t know it yet. I understand you’re sick, but what’s the difference between today and yesterday? Yesterday you didn’t know and today you do?” “I only found out yesterday,” she said sadly. The day before, she had found out she was sick of not being herself. It really hurt to find out that she couldn’t answer the question Katherine had asked her. “The book,” she remembered in fright. In her excitement, she had forgotten the book on her desk. She wondered if Mark had picked it up. She had imagined him calling and screaming hysterically. She hadn’t imagined him coming to her house. She looked around. If only she’d known he was coming, she would have cleaned her house and fixed her hair. She raised her hand to fix her hair. “I need some time off. I need to think,” she said embarrassed. Mark looked at her in admiration. Her pyjamas were cute and her soft belly peeked out from the bottom of her shirt. “I need some time off too,” he thought to himself, “Maybe we could take time off together, the two of us, and do what we really want to do together.” He was quite enjoying the thought. He had been searching for this feeling for 24 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  25. 25. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras two years and now it appeared. It had begun to form the previous year. He had to stop himself from jumping all over her. “You’re the boss, Mark. Behave,” he had told himself. “I was only worried about you,” he said. Jay remembered her conversation with Katherine. It was Janet’s job to worry. “Do you go to Michelle, Sunil or Marcel’s house when you worry about them?” she asked cheekily. Never before in her life had she been so daring. Mark looked at her in surprise. He closed his eyes, “I only wanted her to crack a smile once and she did. I only wanted to touch her once and I did,” he thought to himself. He folded his arms. It was time for him to leave and he knew it. He had noticed that something had happened the previous night, but maybe things were moving too fast. He walked out the door without saying a word. Jay Banks looked at the closed door. She sat down on a chair and began to cry. “What do you want?” Katherine Johnson had asked. She was afraid of the answer. Mark Hayden stormed into his office. Janet went in straight after him and closed the door. “So how is she?” she asked directly. Mark raised his head in surprise. Janet had been his secretary for three years. He knew she could read him like the palm of her hand. “She’s OK. She just needs some time off. That’s OK, because in a few days she is going to the outback to meet Katherine Johnson,” he said, not sure he could handle not seeing her for a whole week. “What happened?” “I don’t know. Something with Katherine Johnson, I guess. She spent some time at her press conference and came up with nothing.” “I heard rumours from a reliable source that she hung out with Katherine Johnson in the city for an hour yesterday, eating ice cream,” Janet said, “Before the press conference.” “Just the two of them?” he asked and remembered the book on her desk. His contact person in Katherine Johnson’s publicity office had done a great job. He remembered having been asked for a photo of Jay, but he had thought it was for flight arrangements. Someone had definitely contacted Jay before the press conference. 25 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  26. 26. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Your editorial meeting has been moved to lunch. I ordered some catering for the board room at 12:30,” said Janet. “I told them it was something urgent with the boys. They all understood,” she said and left a huge pile of papers on his desk. Jay sat on the plane, feeling excited. She had flown before but every time was just as exciting as the last. She had carefully read Katherine Johnson’s book, reaching page 69. Very late the previous night, she had gone to her office and taken her laptop, her drawings and the book. Only the guard had seen her and had reported it to Janet immediately. She had told her family that she was going to do an article in the outback and her dad had said, “In the outback? This boss of yours, he’s not very good is he? Can’t he give you something with class?” “Maybe you should go buy yourself a nice dress. You might meet someone,” her mother suggested. “The guys in the outback don’t care what you look like,” her sister said. “Is this article about a man or a woman?” “A woman. An older woman,” Jay answered. She wanted to say to them, “What are you talking about? I’m interviewing Katherine Johnson,” but keeping it hidden from them made her feel powerful. “Then there’s no point. You won’t get a man out there. You can only get them in pubs nowadays,” her sister added. “I’ll only be away for two and a half days and then I’ll meet her here for a couple of hours, before she flies home,” Jay tried to interest them in the technical details, but they had already moved on to talk about their grandchildren and their exclusive afternoon activities. The plane landed in a wide, dusty paddock and a four-wheel-drive was waiting there to pick her up. “Jay Banks,” a young man, about 19 years old, approached her. “My name’s Nick. Katherine sent me to pick you up,” he said and took her suitcase to load into the car. “Thank you,” she said, embarrassed. She wasn’t used to young people and no one had taken care of her for a long time. “My dad, Gary, is married to Katherine’s childhood friend, Grace.” “Isn’t it complicated, all those relationships?” she asked curiously. 26 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  27. 27. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “No, my dad met Grace on a holiday in America. She’s a great woman and we love her very much. I can’t call her mum, but I love her very much.” “And your mum?” “Oh, my mum died after my little sister, Marsha, was born. It was a long time ago. I don’t remember much of her.” “I’m sorry,” said Jay. Things turned out to be more complicated than she had anticipated. How can you be so happy and jolly after your mum died when you were so young? She couldn’t understand. Nick stopped the car in front of a big house. It was beautiful, with other buildings spread out around it. A fleet of four cars and heavy machinery was parked under a huge covered area. “We live in this good-looking house in the middle. My dad built it with my mum 25 years ago. The house on the right hand side belongs to our farm manager and his family – wonderful people, Ron and Celia. Katherine and Michael are staying in the one that looks like a cabin.” “And the rest?” Jay asked curiously, trying to figure out where she fitted in. “The stables and some guests rooms. Katherine asked us to arrange some room for you in her cabin,” said Nick. Jay felt frightened for a second. “What about privacy?” she thought to herself, “What about my pyjamas and my messy hair?” “Follow me. I’ll take you in to meet everybody,” Nick said and pulled her in. They all sat together on a beautiful balcony, eating, drinking and laughing well into the night. There was Grace, Gary and his kids Nick, Nadine, Liam and Marsha and their guests Michael and Katherine. Even though Marsha was 10, she wasn’t asked to go to bed. Jay could count all the times she was allowed to stay awake past 8:30 when she was 10 on one hand. Nadine, who was about 15, brought bowls of fresh berries with whipped cream to the table. She grabbed one and sat, thoroughly enjoying every piece of fruit with her fingers. Jay had never in her life dared to eat with her hands, and once, when she had, she was told to go and wash her hands straight away. “What do we have a spoon, a knife and a fork for?” her dad said. Jay could just imagine Jennifer watching this. “A whole year of dieting wouldn’t fix this,” she would say. 27 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  28. 28. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras Jay took a bowl of fresh berries from the table, entirely covered the berries with a pile of whipped cream and dug in with her fingers. The great flavour of the cream spread through her mouth. It was so good. She closed her eyes. The laughing continued around her. She could see herself as a 7-year-old, laughing loudly. She took that feeling with her to the soft bed she slept in that night. In the morning, when she woke up, Katherine was sitting in a chair next to her bed and looking at her. Jay got up quickly. “Did I sleep too much?” “How exactly can you sleep too much? Your body is perfect. It knows exactly when it needs to wake up. How did you sleep?” asked Katherine nicely. She was sitting in the chair with her legs tucked neatly beneath her, wearing funny pyjamas. “How can she do this, sitting around wearing funny pyjamas?” Jay wondered. “Well?” Katherine asked curiously. “Well what?” wondered Jay. “Did you bring me your drawings?” “I did.” “Did you go to Fraser Island?” she kept asking excitedly. “No,” Jay replied, almost angrily. The excitement in Katherine’s voice faded. “Why not?” Katherine asked disappointed, “What’s stopping you from getting up one morning and saying you are going to Fraser Island? Gary says it is an enchanted place. Next time I come, we’ll go together.” Jay couldn’t answer her question. Nothing was stopping her. She stopped herself, the way she had stopped herself from saying “I want you to stay” just before Mark had left. “I didn’t go to work the day after, though,” she said quietly. Katherine jumped from her chair in joy. “Excellent, excellent! Did he scream hysterically?” she giggled. “No. He never screams hysterically, but he came over,” said Jay, still absorbing the last week’s events. “He came over? To your house!? And then what happened?” Katherine asked, as excited as a high school girl gossiping about boys. Jay looked at her again. She was a mature woman, 57 years old. If she wrote about this in her article, no one would believe her. 28 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  29. 29. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Nothing happened. I told him that I didn’t feel so well and that I needed some time off and he left,” Jay tried to hide her excitement when she talked. “You let him go? Why?” asked Katherine, disappointed again. “Because I’m chicken, that’s why. Because I don’t know how to behave around men. Because I’m afraid he doesn’t love me. Because I’m not pretty enough. Because I have 4 extra kilos that I hate. Because my hair was messy and I hadn’t brushed my teeth. Because I don’t need this…” Jay told herself. Then, she stopped her internal dialogue for a second. Katherine Johnson was interviewing her. It should have been the other way. It had started wrong from the very first meeting. “Tell me, Katherine, what’s going on in your head? What do you think about when you get up every morning?” she asked a little defensively. Katherine Johnson unfolded herself from the chair, stretched and took a deep breath. “Nice question. This is wonderful. It’s a wonderful question. No one has ever asked me this before. I like you very much. OK, what’s going on in my head? And what do I think about when I get up every morning? That’s a great question. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this for so long.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Every morning, I ask myself, ‘What can I do today that I’ve never done before? What can I do today that I have been afraid of doing? What can I do today to make it different?’ Remember the moment you licked the ice cream? I could see you were doing something different, something you hadn’t done before. It wasn’t that you hadn’t eaten ice cream before, but you hadn’t eaten it with such joy for a long time. Last night, I could see you relishing the feeling of the cream in your hands. If you asked yourself these questions every morning and set yourself a goal to do something different, something you had never done before, you wouldn’t have let Mark walk out your front door. Whenever something comes into your mind, which you think is not normal or unacceptable, forbidden or just something that you don’t normally do, you need to conquer it. Do you know how much fun it is to go to sleep every night thinking, ‘Yes! I did different things today. I experienced different feelings,’ and my body says ‘Thank you, thank you’ for every experience. I’m sick and I’m going to die, but you are trapped inside your body. Your body says ‘I want good flavours,’ and you say, ‘No.’ Your body says ‘Don’t get up in the morning to go to work,’ and you say, ‘I have to.’ How long do you think you can treat your body like this before it says, ‘That’s it, lady!’?” Jay looked at the woman beside her. All her life, she had been told to do the right thing and here was this woman, telling her she should do what she wants. It was 29 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  30. 30. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras confusing. Why would Katherine Johnson want Jay to lose her job, fight with her family or put on weight? “Why are you doing this?” Jay asked through her oncoming tears. “In the last couple of years, I have been to many interviews and its very repetitive – same questions, same answers. I’m looking for variety. I want to do something interesting and different, to give myself the feeling that I can scare my fears away. There is no challenge in sitting with a journalist and answering questions, so I told myself that this time it would be different. Instead of you interviewing me, I’ll interview you. So far, I like it very much.” “I’m not sure I like it so much,” said Jay and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Not on your shirt, Jay. Don’t wipe it with your shirt. If you did the laundry, you wouldn’t be so ungrateful,” Jay heard her mum complaining. For goodness’ sake, how was she supposed to be in control of all her actions if she was crying? “I know how to interview. I don’t know how to be interviewed,” Jay said with her head down. “It’s wonderful then, isn’t’ it? Now you’ll be able to go to sleep feeling successful, because you’ve managed to do something you haven’t done before,” Katherine smiled. “And how will we have an article in the magazine, if you interview me?” asked Jay. “I’ve said everything already. Everything is already written. You can write about me without even knowing me. There are articles about me that I don’t even remember having been interviewed for. Don’t tell me you didn’t write a draft before we met?” said Katherine confidently. Jay thought about the information she had used to draft her boring article about Katherine Johnson. It was going to sell copies like hot cakes, if only because of Katherine’s photo. “Come now, show me your drawings. Then we’ll get ready for breakfast. And remember – go for things you’ve never eaten. It’s quite exciting,” said Katherine. “And what did you come to do here that is different?” wondered Jay, handing over her sketches. “I came to learn from Grace and Gary how to live a different life. They are such special people – they have strange, yet successful relationships. He is an Australian, who loves nature and she was a successful marketing executive in New York. No one thought they would survive more than a month together. I came to learn from them how to raise 30 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  31. 31. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras wonderful kids with no school, without sophisticated technology, without much social life and without TV. It’s wonderful, don’t you think? Every second next to them, I experience things I’ve never experienced before. Besides, I’m writing an article and your presence helps me a lot,” she said and left the room. Jay felt good thinking she was important to someone, and not just any someone. Katherine Johnson was using her to write an article! Jay wanted to call her dad and tell him, “Dad, I’m helping Katherine Johnson write an article. Yes, yes, the famous Katherine Johnson. Yes, me, Jay. And she likes me, too. She doesn’t think that eating with my fingers is so bad and she doesn’t think divorced men are horrible.” Suddenly, she remembered Mark standing in her house, his arms folded across his chest. Katherine Johnson’s book was on her chest of drawers. “Jay, what do you want?” said the dedication. “I know what I want! I want him to stay.” During the day, Jay drove with Katherine, Michael and 11-year-old Liam to a hidden water source a few hours’ drive away. Liam thoroughly enjoyed her digital camera and took hundreds of photos. She had gotten her first camera when she finished high school. No one in her family thought that an 11-year-old could hold such an expensive piece of equipment. Liam felt free to take photos. He was an adventurer and walked around barefoot the entire day, thinking he was the tour guide. “Aren’t you worried, walking around barefoot like this?” Jay asked. “No, the sand is soft. Take your shoes off. It’s really fun,” he told her. Jay looked at Katherine. “What do you want?” Katherine’s eyes seemed to say. Jay took her shoes off. The sand was hot and soft and she walked slowly. Sand grains got in-between her toes. From time to time, she stepped on a tiny stone and it felt special. It was a feeling she had imagined, but had never experienced. She jumped up and down and dust swirled up around her feet. Liam joined in the jumping happily. They were like a pack of horses. In the evening, Jay went to see Katherine, who was looking at her sketches. “What do you think about them?” she asked. “What do you think about them?” Katherine asked back. “I’m interviewing you this time, remember?” “I love drawing them. I draw them for myself.” 31 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  32. 32. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “No one draws for themselves.” “I can draw what I feel. It’s better than saying what I feel.” “What’s the expression on the faces in your drawings?” Jay looked at them. “A bit of sadness… anger maybe… disappointment,” answered Jay honestly. “Eat some ice cream before you draw. That way, they will all turn out like this gorgeous girl here,” Katherine said and showed her the drawing of herself when she was 7. “What do you feel when you draw?” “I don’t know how to explain it. I just know what my feeling looks like. Do you know what I mean?” “I think I do. But the most important thing is that you understand what you mean. If you understand yourself, you can find the answers to the most important questions.” Michael came in just then and gently touched Katherine. Jay suddenly felt like she was invading their privacy. He slid his hand under Katherine’s shirt, bringing it to rest on her shoulder. Katherine leaned her head on his hand and Jay’s heart skipped a beat. They weren’t a young couple, being 60 years old, yet here they were, touching each other! Her dad never touched her mum in front of others – no touching, no kissing and no stroking. Sometimes she wondered if there was anything between them. Jennifer and Rob never showed affection towards each other either. Only John and Bettina held each other’s hands when there were people around, as if to protect each other. “I need to go. Good night,” she said, embarrassed, and started walking backwards. “Good night, Jay,” both of them said affectionately. From the corner of her eye, Jay could see them still hugging each other and kissing passionately. In her bed that night, she couldn’t control her heavy breathing. She closed her eyes so as not to hear them hugging, kissing or maybe even… She thought of Mark with a smile. She took out her sketchbook and drew him, with a strange look, like the one he’d had when he stood at the doorway to her house, with his arms folded. At 2:20am, when she finished her drawing, she picked up her mobile phone… 32 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  33. 33. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras Mark Hayden sat on his sofa and stared at the walls. His wife’s presence was still there – the living room furniture she had bought, the huge bed they had chosen. There were times he thought she had lost her mind. Some fuse had gone off and she couldn’t find herself. But after the boys came back from Spain, he repeated the things she had said to him over and over again. He went over the tapes in his head and tried to find out what he hadn’t been able to see when she was with him. For a moment, he felt like she was the bravest of them all. “Jay, what do you want?” he remembered Katherine Johnson’s dedication to Jay Banks. So, two years ago, when his wife had left, he didn’t have an answer to this question. In the last month, the answer had become clearer. “Well, what are you doing about it, then?” he asked himself. “I invited her for dinner,” was the answer. “That was a long time ago and it didn’t work. What are you going to do now?” he kept talking to himself. His mobile phone rang. He recognised Jay’s phone number. It was 2:20am. What could possibly have happened? “Jay?” he asked into the phone. Silence. “Jay?” he asked again. “Hi, Mark,” he heard her voice. A happy feeling spread through his body. “Hi, Jay,” he said with a smile. The line was quiet for a while. There was only the sound of their breathing. “Did I wake you up?” she asked him. “No, I was awake.” “It’s after 2am. Why are you awake?” “It’s after 2am where you are too, Jay. Why are you awake?” “I wanted to say thank you, for the Katherine Johnson’ assignment,” she said and looked at his drawing on her lap. “OK,” he said. “And I wanted to apologise for Friday,” she added. 33 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  34. 34. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Apologise for what?” he asked, just to hear her voice a bit longer. “That I didn’t let you know I wasn’t coming to the meeting,” she whispered into the phone. “I didn’t mean to be rude to you when you came,” she heard herself saying. It wasn’t her speaking, it was her body taking the lead and she wasn’t restraining it. Mark said nothing. “Mark?” she called to him. “I’m here,” he said quietly. “Say something.” “Something,” he said and could hear her smile on the other end of the line. “Are you angry?” she asked. She wanted to reach through the phone and touch him. “Anger is not exactly the feeling I have right now,” he said. “What do you want from me, Mark? What do you want from me?” she asked herself. She couldn’t voice the question out aloud and she could see Katherine Johnson scolding her, “What do you want from Mark, Jay? What do you want from him?” “Good night, Mark,” she said after a long silence. “Good night, Jay,” he said and they both hung up after a long pause. Jay hugged the drawing in her lap. Mark Hayden walked glumly into his bedroom. His big bed was empty. He fell into it with his shoes and clothes still on. He hugged the pillow and fell asleep. On the hill, in front of Gary and Grace’s grand house, Jay sat with a cup in one hand and a drawing in the other. She was sitting barefoot, looking at the clouds. Katherine Johnson walked towards her. Jay’s eyes were red and she sniffed occasionally. “How did you sleep?” asked Katherine. “Great,” said Jay. As much as this sounded strange, she had slept wonderfully. “How did you end the day?” “I did many things I’d never done before or was afraid to do.” “So why are you crying?” asked Katherine. “I’m not crying,” she said and sniffed loudly. 34 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  35. 35. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Every time you feel like this, ask yourself what you want? What do you want, Jay?” said Katherine and sat next to her. On the ground was a drawing of a handsome man with a strange expression. Katherine smiled. She remembered Michael’s hands caressing her body and she closed her eyes. “I think it’s about time you found out you were dying, Jay,” said Katherine. Jay lifted her head in surprise. She felt she understood something, but she wasn’t sure. “How did you find out you were going to die, Katherine?” Jay remembered having this question on the question list. “You must understand, Jay, that you’re dying too. It’s just that you don’t understand the meaning of it,” answered Katherine. “How did you find out you were dying, Katherine?” Jay repeated the question. “How long are you going to live, Jay?” “I don’t’ know. Maybe until I’m 80,” answered Jay impatiently. “And then?” “And then I’ll die, like every one else.” “And then?” Katherine kept asking. “And then nothing,” answered Jay and had a huge feeling of emptiness. Katherine lifted the drawing and waved it in front of her eyes. “And over there, in this nothingness, will you have him? In that nothingness, will your parents love you? Is there ice cream and whipped cream in your nothingness? In that nothingness, will you go and study Art?” she asked in anger. Tears poured from Jay’s eyes. “What exactly are you living your life for?” Katherine kept going. Katherine could remember herself at that point in time, when she was dealing with the silly things, like cleaning the house, pleasing everyone else and then suddenly understanding the meaning of time and how short it was. She managed to see death touching her life and she imagined that she couldn’t see her grandchildren and she couldn’t do the things she wanted to do. She could imagine her funeral, where everyone was sad and she was the saddest, because she had disappointed herself. Suddenly, disappointing her boss was a minor thing. Suddenly, eating fat free and sugar free food meant nothing. Suddenly, getting up in the morning and going to work was no longer important. “How did you find out you were dying, Katherine?” Jay asked once more. 35 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  36. 36. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “My doctor told me, laughing the whole time, when I asked him about a diet I wanted to try. He said, ‘We are all dying, Katherine. You’re dying too. Did you know that? The question is not how long you’re going to live, but how you’ll live. With this diet, you will live to be 80, because you’ll be healthier, but without it, you will live to be 85, because you’ll be happier.’ And do you think there was any doctor I went to, who thought differently?” “This is sick! You are sick!” said Jay angrily. “No, Jay, I’m cured. But you’re sick and don’t want to admit that you’re dying. Worse than that – you don’t want to admit you’re already dead,” Katherine said cruelly. Jay sobbed. She knew Katherine was right. Doing the things she didn’t want to do every day was being alive, but not living. “I gather you never got to page 112,” Katherine said. Jay couldn’t listen anymore. It had been 7 years since she had erased her desire to have her own kids. Liam’s photo, jumping barefoot and kicking up dust had brought back that desire. “What do you want, Jay?” Katherine leaned in and asked looking her straight in the eye. “The list is huge,” answered Jay. “Wonderful, wonderful,” called Katherine happily. “I told you the answer will come. Tell me, what are you doing here?” she asked. “The article. What about the article?” Jay cried. Katherine held Jay’s face in her hands. “You are dying, Jay. There are more important things. Every day, in this war between what you want to do and what you need to do, you have to be clear about which one is more important. Just doing the things you want to do will extend your life and make you eternal. No one can live your life for you. No one can love for you and no one can draw love for you. You need to live this life for yourself,” said Katherine and kept holding her face. “What’s wrong with me?” Jay asked crying. “Nothing is wrong with you! You’re normal, because you want to live. Everyone else isn’t normal, because they live their life without wanting to, without doing new things. Their priorities are all distorted.” 36 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  37. 37. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Everyone?” asked Jay surprised. “Everyone who can’t answer this question, everyone who’s busy with what other people think about them and cares about what other people say. Everyone who doesn’t understand how precious and how short life is. Everyone who hasn’t yet seen the doctor and hasn’t been told they were dying,” she explained with a smile. “These are happy tears. I see you have discovered you are going to die, Jay. Congratulations,” she said and gave her a big hug. At the airport, that night, Jay got into her car in the “short term” parking area. In the past, she used to call her parents when she got back from trips and go straight home from the airport to say hello. But they weren’t expecting her until tomorrow. She drove up to a nice house in the North of the city. Tomorrow, Janet would find out that Jay Bank’s car was parked in front of this house. “That would be interesting,” she smiled to herself. The automatic yard light came on. She felt exposed. She untucked her shirt as she walked up to the door. When she reached it, she took a deep breath and knocked on the door. His eldest son opened the door. He looked at her slightly embarrassed and surprised. They were both quiet. “Dad,” he called unable to bring himself to tell her to come in. Mark appeared in the dining room with a bowl in his hand and a kitchen towel over his shoulder. “Dad,” his son called him again. Mark walked up to the door wiping his hands. “Jay?” he said in excitement. “Mark,” she barely managed to say. She had felt far braver on the plane. “Come on in,” said Jason, closing the door behind them as they walked in. “Daniel and I were just leaving,” he said to fill in the quiet. “Daniel,” he shouted. Daniel came out of his room, “Come on, we have to go,” he said and pulled his brother out the door. Mark and Jay continued to stand in the hallway, looking at each other. He was wearing a simple T-shirt. She had never seen him without a tie. He looked so different now. 37 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  38. 38. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “What did Katherine Johnson do to her?” he asked himself. Katherine Johnson’s dedication appeared before his eyes. “What do you want?” He wanted to touch her. He took a step closer. “Mark,” she said sadly, “I’m dying.” He smiled and came closer, holding her face in his hands. “Me too,” he said and leaned in to kiss her gently. He had wanted to do this for so long. “Until then, can we die together?” he asked cheerfully. He slipped his hands underneath her shirt and touched her back. She felt a shiver running down her spine and smiled happily. “Yes, yes, this is exactly what I want,” she said, and put her head on his chest. At midnight, when Jason and Daniel came back, her car was still outside. “I think we’ll have to sleep outside tonight,” said Daniel. “Let’s go to sleep at a hotel. They can charge it to the magazine,” said Jason cheekily. In the morning, when Mark hadn’t arrived for work, Janet found out he had disconnected his phone, so she called her sources. Chief editors never ever disconnect their phones. He had been acting weird for a week. One of the board members had asked her to find out if he’d had an offer from another magazine. “Maybe his battery died,” they said. “No, I think his battery’s is quite all right,” she answered. At 10 o’clock, she managed to figure everything out when a fax from the hotel came in to approve Daniel and Jason’s room for the night. When she realized Jay wasn’t on the 2 o’clock flight, she cancelled all of Mark’s meetings for the day. He had been working for three years without a single break, without a day off or even a “sick day.” It had to happen one day. “He’s sick,” Janet told everyone. “It’s true and a monthly magazine can survive one day without the editor, especially when they have three weeks until the next edition is due and when Janet’s here,” she consoled herself. At 4pm, when Janet had finished putting out all the fires in the office, made sure Jason picked Daniel up from school, taken care of phone calls and answered Jay’s mother’s hysterical phone calls because Jay hadn’t called home yet, Mark rang. 38 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved
  39. 39. outback In the outback with Jasmine Banks by Ronit Baras “Hi, Janet,” came his cheerful voice from the other end. “Hi, Mark, I can see you’re alive,” she chuckled. “Are you angry with me for not calling you?” he asked. Janet smiled. She remembered him from their first year together. He had been sensitive, before his wife took off. “Is there anything I can do to compensate for the trouble I’ve put you through today?” he continued. “I’ll sit on it tonight and present it to you in triplicates. When are you coming back from your sick leave?” she asked. “I hope never,” he said happily. “What hospital are you in?” “The one on Fraser Island,” he said. It was nice to find out how understanding Janet was. Her source said Jay's car had been parked in his driveway all night. “You need to live as if you have nothing to hide. You can’t hide it anyway,” she used to tell the team when they were surprised to hear about her sources. “Tell me what I’m missing tomorrow,” he continued. “Your meeting with Marcel about the city council offer is cancelled. Sunil is on a course for the entire day. We have the guy from the February Festival that I still need to change and the interview with the new journalists. Michelle has meetings throughout the day about the article on the Casino and Jay… well, Jay is on Fraser Island,” she said and smiled. “Surely, he doesn’t care what everyone else is doing,” she thought. “I understand. I’m happy everything is under control. We’ll be back on Sunday evening.” “Mark, do the boys know where you are?” she asked. “They sent me a text message late last night to say they were staying at a hotel. We left first thing in the morning, so I left them a letter and some money on the table,” he said, “I’m disconnecting my mobile. Leave me messages on our secret number and I’ll go in every couple of hours to check, OK?” “No, I won’t do that, Mark. You need to know how to be sick. I’ll see you on Monday,” said Janet. “I love you, Janet. You are wonderful.” He had wanted to tell her this for so long, but he was too shy. 39 © 2006 Be Happy in LIFE. All rights reserved