Dedicated to Táralómë who was the inspiration behind this story.
It looks like every other shopping complex I've been to except when you looked through the skylights or occasional window, there's a glimpse of movement. I'm not too sure if these... sightings are base on anything more than a heavy serving of ghost stories from Mos's extensive and seemingly limitless menu.
Mos runs a shabby looking cafe- cum-take away in one of the slower ends of the complex. How a shop as grotty as his ended up in a fully air-conditioned, secured and well lit plaza like this, he won't say; but I can tell you, us kids are glad of it. It is grotty; and a day doesn't go by when the centre management doesn't ring up about some complaint, but it does keep anyone with a wage packet away. Cheap as chips, Mos would say about his food, but us kids wouldn't know, we're too afraid to eat anything else but the chips. With sauce, or if the gravy’s fresh, they stay down. So, some of the cockroaches would beat my dog in a fair fight, your clothes always end up smelling of stale oil, and if you sit in the wrong seats you're likely to stick; it’s our hang-out, just for us kids, without any adults around to care what we do. Of course except Mos; but he doesn't count.
Anyway, Mos is full of stories. Some are obvious lies, and if you catch him out he says "Ah you lousy cheap kids!" in his thick eastern European accent and short changes you. Sometimes his stories seemed so far fetched... they're like fairytales; except you can't see the line between the story and the reality...they're just too weird to ever be made up.
For example, the story he tells about this place before the plaza was built.
"Ya know dis land is cursed don't ya...full of spirits of dead boongs killed by settlers poisoned sheep." He'll start and some one will comment that calling indigenous people, ‘boongs’, is really rude. "Too late to be showin’ respect now their dead...somet'in' your ancestors should have done long ago, ...dose ghost want revenge, not polite talkink over der fence." He’ll reply waving his hand flippantly in the air.
“What do they want Mos?” Some bright sparking newbie will asked, looking down the straw of his milkshake at Mos.
Mos will look him straight in the eye, his weak blood shot eyes boring holes into the newbies head until he looks away. Between that moment and the next something changes in Mos. The next time he opens his mouth to speak it's like someone else is using it; someone else is pulling the strings in his head.
All us regulars know the signs, and bunch up closer so as to not miss a thing. Mos's changes have more than once scared the crap out of a newbie. They'll run to their friends claiming the old bugger’s crazy. Us regulars always talk about it afterwards, but none of us think he's crazy; at least in the regular sense.
Mos will stand taller, as if before he wasn’t using all his bones, and look us all straight in the eyes.
"So, you all want to hear the story, do you?" The voice is deeper, the accent is gone and there's very little of the old man left about him. None of us say a thing; the newbies out of fear, the rest of us in rapt attention. Man, if our teachers could see us then!
"All this land belonged to the animals and the spirits long before even the aborigines were here. Places can hold the impression of those who have been there, some more so than others. When the aborigines found this land they recognised this, they saw the impressions left; and called this land sacred.
"They avoided this area except for very important remembering ceremonies that they knew would be kept as an impression on the land. In this way, the land itself became a renewer of the dreaming; a place to acquire and remind themselves of the legends they had learnt.
"So, over time the impressions built. Older impression gave way to newer, but the more emotional an impression, the stronger it is and the longer it lasts."
You know at this moment if all the newbies haven't run off or frozen to their seat one of them is bound to ask.
"Is that what I see in the glass? Just an impression?"
At this moment, Mos, with a smile cooler than ever our Mos would make, replies "Oh no, they're far more than simple impressions."
A collective shiver will run through everyone present, newbie and regular alike. It's like the air-conditioning in that tiny shop has been suddenly turned down and we all huddle closer.
"When white man arrived, their domestic separation from the land and ties to a country many months away, didn't allow them to view this land as anything more than an asset; a possession that can be owned by anyone with enough power to hold it.
"The aborigines were hunted, starved, poisoned and finally legislated off this land, their dead buried here. So now, not only the emotive cries of relatives, but also the souls of those unjustly killed are contained in the land. They poisoned the ground against the white invaders and haunted their settlements. Eventually, his land was once more left empty."
At this time, Mos will pause as a moments hesitation passes over the previously calm face. He’ll wet his lips as the mask of whatever character has been in control so far slips, just a fraction. Here, us regulars know; the story becomes personal.
"And thus, the land stayed for a hundred years, remembering its secrets as it had always done. New immigrants, welcomed to fill an empty land now arrived. They had also run from death, starvation, and the cruelty of governments. Among them came a young man from a country now swallowed up by a powerful other. His name was Moses, and was under no illusion he'd ever see the farmlands of his birth. In this empty land he had set his mind to make his new home, and saved hard to purchase the haunted land. Those who lived nearby warned him of the spirits that drove out previous settlers, but he was a man who had once been driven out of his home and would not be driven out again easily.
"He camped alone on that barren ground, night after night tormented by the spirits and the remembering. Some say he went mad, but by the end of the month he had won a truce with the spirits. After a particularly bad night, when Moses, confused, demoralised and desperate from lack of sleep, ran out into the night screaming at the top of his lungs. He pleaded to the spirits for peace and told them the story of his life.
"At first, the spirits were stilled as they misinterpreted his rantings as a remembering ceremony. As language gave way to heartfelt emotion, they recognised his story as their own; and realised they were brothers. So, through symbols, colours, memories and visions they communicated their needs to him.
"'What this place is, and what was wrought here must be remembered.' They pleaded to him and he promised to tell others of this land’s secrets, until he too joined them in the earth. To this, the spirits were satisfied. They understood a man could not own a land, but only lease it for the time of his life; after that it ceased being his responsibility.
"On that day an uneasy peace settled on the land. On the next day Moses started building his first home; a small daub and wattle hut. In the following years the spirits kept their word and allowed Moses to prosper beyond even his wildest expectations. At the same time, Moses was true his word, and all those who asked about the land and its restless ghosts were told the history as Mos understood it."
Our Mos usually came back around this time. He doesn’t say anything; maybe shuffle off to rearrange the filth on his counter or silently serve a few customers. He never says how the complex came to be or how he ended up serving in a greasy diner, but that’s okay, we don’t want to know.
What keeps me and my friends speculating is what’s going to happen when he ‘joins the spirits in the earth’. What would those spirits do? We have our theories, but we don’t share them much; we just remember and wait.