Big Kev’s Journey to Cricketing Fame and Fortune
Jennifer Molloy (Macquarie University, Australia)
It’s Friday and the police are at the door.
When I get home from my job scrubbing ovens at the bakery there’s a couple of burly policewomen on the front porch. I’m balancing bags of leftover buns and quickly see that I would have to push past the officers to get through the doorway. But before I can decide how to squeeze in, I find the front door isn’t going to open anyway. Mum’s blocking the flyscreen with one of her gumboots wedged against the base and she’s hefted a hip against the frame as an alternative line of defense. I don’t know if the two officers are fooled by that look she gets. She’s smiling but her chin is thrust out in a way that means she’s not going to budge.
So, I settle in between the officers and decide to hold onto my horses, Mum’s favourite piece of advice and one that she’s probably already offered the police judging by their red faces. It’s hard to see beyond her because the interior is dark, but I’m struck by the gloom. Our long entrance hall stretches off like the gateway to a crypt. There’s no sound, no light, and most surprising of all, no Big Kev, our cricket-tragic, hollering as he anticipates the next ball to come hurtling down the corridor cricket pitch, spinning over the tiles. I patiently balance my bags against the shoulder of one of the officers and wait for a clue from Mum. We’ve got our own language; messages passed back and forth from eyeball to eyeball, a custom honed over years.
Mum pointedly ignores me, jutting her chin out further as she raps a finger on the flyscreen and says to the policewomen,
“Gawd, what do you mean you want to speak to me about stolen property?” Then she starts swinging her good eye back and forth between the two while maintaining an injured look. “I don’t know why you’d think we would steal the galah from the pub.”
Although I can’t catch Mum’s eye, I decide it would be timely to upend my bags, and, just in the nick, all four-dozen leftover buns tumble to the porch and ricochet off the steps. They’re a little on the tough side but they bounce and scatter like chook feed across the front path. To her credit, the older policewoman with the tuck shop arms gives an apologetic shriek as if it’s all her fault and sets off down the steps after them. Her partner, built like a brick shed, launches off the doormat just a fraction later. For a minute or so the two are occupied snatching up buns and shrieking out totals and a preference for this or that in the baked-goods line-of-fare. Mum finally catches my eye and takes the opportunity to slip out from behind the screen, shutting the front door firmly behind.
“Why don’t you take your leftovers down the back shed,” Mum says to me, watching as the officers deliver buns back to us like a pair of eager Jack Russell terriers. “Why don’t you put them in the cupboard?” Her left eyebrow pulls into a weird little pucker that appears when she’s trying to wink. It’s enough of a clue for me. Thankfully the terriers aren’t alert to Mum’s facial contortions, and in any case, they’re getting competitive with their baked good tallies. I push off round the back.
Later, when she’s managed to pack the officers off with a bag of iced-sugar buns garnished lavishly with fibs, Mum joins me and Big Kev and the galah down at the shed and lets us know it’s safe to come out of the cupboard. It’s refreshing to have more light, but we hunker in our hidey-hole for a minute, all of us blinking at the bright rays pouring in through a gap where the tin roof has pulled away from the old brick chimney. Big Kev and the galah are stuffing their faces with finger buns and they’ve got smears of butter on their cheeks.
“Gawd,” Mum says, flailing her arms as she details the events that unfolded before I turned up. “I nearly didn’t get these two bloody galahs out of the house in time. Had to chuck a ball into the cupboard so Big Kev would chase it in and lucky for me the other one hopped in behind.” Then Mum flaps around some more, demonstrating how she’d skimmed a faultless topspinner across the concrete. “Only then was it safe to answer the door to the police.”
Alert that her flailing might mean a cricket game, Big Kev stops chewing. “Five balls?” he roars, using exactly half of his entire four-word vocabulary to show his excitement. “FIVE BALLS? FIVE BALLS?”
“Right, love,” says Mum, regarding him fondly while contemplating the likelihood of keeping him still long enough to wipe the butter off his ears. “Five balls down the cricket pitch in the hall. Coming right up.”
Big Kev goes peaceful at the promise, so I take a moment to select a ricotta and flaxseed cob-twist bun for Mum. It’s a favourite at the bakery and rare to score a leftover. We both contemplate the pink and grey galah and consider our predicament. “Do you think,” she says after a moment, “that we could do anything to disguise this bloody galah? I don’t know what we’d do without him now.”
I scramble out of the cupboard and start picking the raisins out of a bun, lining them up on a workbench in two rows and then making a dotted white line down the centre from crumbs. The galah hops over and as he nibbles his way down my little makeshift highway I come up with a silly idea while in the back of my mind I’m working to find a better one. Relocating the hotel galah to be our cricket commentator after the untimely death of Pop behind the wicket was my harebrained scheme in the first place, so I feel responsible for our descent into crime. “Could we dip him in peroxide,” I say, “and turn him into a cockatoo?”
Mum hoots, inadvertently spraying ricotta over the galah. “Sounds like a plan,” she says. “Why don’t we get some of that blonde dye Pop had and dunk him?”
The galah fixes a beady eye on Mum. “You’re bloody dreaming,” he says, one of his favourite put-downs from the pub.
“I’m bloody not,” says Mum, flicking a flaxseed his way.
“Anyone got a better idea?” I say, thinking that pink, grey, blonde or spotted the galah should be grateful to be liberated from his previous digs, a small cage dangling over the dartboard at the local tavern. As locals had often observed, Friday night’s inter-pub competition had been especially risky for him.
“Tell me another one,” squawks the galah, another favourite.
“I will,” says Mum, “just give me a minute.”
“You’re a bloody galah,” says the galah, and goes back to his foraging. We contemplate him for a minute and then look over at Big Kev. He’s so happy gorging that he hasn’t bothered climbing out of his hidey-hole. The cupboard is a favourite for hide-and-seek but a few years ago, in his early teens, Big Kev got too big for it and he’s pressed up against the top shelf with his head tipped, legs skew-whiff and one arm bent to keep a tight hold on his cricket bat. We can see his ginger chin-fuzz catching the light angling in from outside. Mum’s started shaving him and he likes the part where the foam sprays out of the can and he gets to smear it over the rest of us. Aside from the amount of foam we’re going through, Mum likes it too. She reckons wiping his chin makes a change from wiping his bum. “I wonder which of these bloody galahs they’re actually looking for,” she says, and we both crack up. Big Kev joins in with a guffaw. “You’re a bloody galah,” says the galah again, before waddling off in search of more raisins.
After a bit, Big Kev demolishes the last finger bun and takes up his hollering in earnest. It’s been a few hours since a game and he’s about to start climbing the walls. “Five balls?” he roars, catapulting from the cupboard. He scoops up a tennis ball and starts flinging it against the shed with one hand while swinging his bat with the other. “Five balls? FIVE BALLS? RICKY PONTING?”
“Well, thank the lord for cricket at least,” says mum, dodging the bat. “You want to bowl for Big Kev while I get dinner?”
“I’ll bowl, you cook,” I say, thinking how good it is that Big Kev can’t count even though I can probably bowl a hundred and five balls before dinner anyway. “And can I just add, for the millionth time, thank the lord for Ricky Ponting?”
“Hear, hear,” says Mum, watching Big Kev’s buttery grin spread wide at the prospect of a game. “Ricky Ponting, you’ll never know how you changed our lives for the better at the ’99 World Cup.”
I think to myself how good it would be if those policewomen could see us playing ‘five balls’ in the entrance hall, and how indoor cricket games are the only thing to get peace to reign in our household. The pub galah has settled in as cricket commentator and proved to be Pop’s equal in volume and enthusiasm, prerequisites for maintaining harmony with Big Kev both off and on the pitch. Thankfully, it’s been easy to teach the pub galah a whole bunch of cricket commentary to holler out during the game. As we position ourselves in the passageway – me set to bowl, and Big Kev poised to bat with an invisible Ricky Ponting at his side – the galah takes up his spot on Pop’s chair behind the wicket. “Lights, camera, action! Big Kev’s at the crease,” he shrieks. “Duck!”
Let’s back up a minute.
Ricky Ponting and the ’99 World Cup. Back when Big Kev is four.
It’s Big Kev’s fourth birthday and Mum’s sitting on the sofa knitting a Crows scarf for a fundraiser. She’s done rows of red, blue and yellow and she’s got the telly on so she can keep up with Days of Our Lives, even though she keeps the sound down because the chatter seems to make Big Kev howl more than normal. Silence is golden when it comes to keeping Big Kev calm. Mum says she’d rather imagine what’s happening to all those bloody Hortons than put up with all that crying and caterwauling when the sound’s turned up.
Big Kev’s got an orange sponge ball for his birthday and he’s chucking it round the room, off the mantle-piece, down the back of the Lazy-boy and into the side of Mum’s head. A couple of times the ball goes under Pop’s desk and Kev flattens out on all fours trying to reach behind the drawers.
“Well,” says Mum, tying off the yellow wool and flicking the ball across the room before hitching her needles to red. She watches Big Kev leave off the sponge ball and pounce after the yellow wool one instead. “Nothing wrong with your eyes at least. That’s gotta mean something. Bloody doctors. What would they know?”
Big Kev yodels happily for a while as he chucks the yellow ball about but then sets up a howl as the grandfather clock starts to strike eleven. And then just as all the howling and chiming reach top pitch, several things happen at once. World Cup Cricket comes on, Mum turns the sound up to catch the score, and Big Kev hurls the yellow ball at her knitting. Mum’s response to the throw is immediate. Without breaking the tempo of her stitch, or even taking her good eye off the telly, she spins the ball back to Big Kev with one smooth flick of her size twelve needles. “Charge, backlift and outswing,” she hoots as Kev, swooping for the shot, upends Nan’s candelabra and a platter of souvenir matches. Mum is unperturbed by the mayhem. “Good catch,” she shouts to Big Kev. And then, to the telly: “Take that, why don’t you, Shane-bloody-Warne.”
And then, all at once, Big Kev stops his caterwauling and looks at Mum in surprise. He plonks down in front of the telly and stares at the ball bouncing across the screen and all the little white stick figures running after it. To Mum’s amazement, he doesn’t even seem to mind the roar of the crowd or the commentary. He just clutches the yellow ball and stares.
“Well, for Gawd’s sake,” marvels Mum, seizing the opportunity to turn the sound up a smidge. “Silence, is it? It’s unheard of.”
For a while, play goes on with the two of them glued to the screen. The only other sound is the click-clack of knitting needles. “Would you look at that,” Mum finally says as Australia comes in to bat for the second innings. “Suddenly I can’t hear a thing except the cricket. It’s a miracle, so it is. How about that?”
“And it’s Ricky Ponting at the crease,” answers the telly, and Mum and the crowd at the oval roar their approval.
Big Kev suddenly sits up straight. “Ricky,” he shouts — although to be fair, back then it was a garbled kind of gobbledygook only loosely related to Ricky Ponting’s name.
But it’s his first word.
Mum drops a stitch. “And they said you’d never speak,” she says, beaming as she pats him on the head. “You’re a marvel, Big Kev, so you are. You know, I think I might get you a cricket bat of your own, so I will.”
And now back to that bloody galah.
It’s a little before dawn four nights after the police visit and Mum’s tugging at the black balaclava she’s wearing, trying to loosen it from her chin. “I think if we’re going to get into crime in a big way,” she whispers, “I should invest in a bigger size.”
“I don’t think crime’s really for us,” I say, whispering too. There’s no one about but we’re jumpy at hanging around the back of the pub outside of trading hours. We’re on a covert mission, having purchased a young galah and a big new cage from an out-of-town pet shop. We’ve hoisted it up onto the beer barrels where the publican will find it first thing. Our cunning plan hinges on getting the police off our backs if we replace the talkative cricket galah at home with this one.
“Do you think they’ll be fooled?” says Mum, peering at the little galah snoring on her perch, not the least bit interested or lively. In the back of the cage we’ve pinned a note with big black letters: I’VE DEVELOPED A TASTE FOR PEANUTS. Mum’s pasted the letters from a newspaper so it can’t be traced back to us.
“I reckon,” I say, although I haven’t got a clue.
We stand back and admire the luxurious cage, complete with perches and playthings. “Did you manage to teach her to say anything?” hisses Mum, shining her torch at the galah. The bird wakes up, startled.
“Just two things,” I say. “But at the moment, she’ll only answer if you give her a peanut.”
‘Hence the note,” nods Mum. “Show me what she can do.”
I’ve placed a hefty bag of peanuts by the cage, a hint to get the hotel patrons started. I poke a hole through the plastic and scoop one out. Then I shine the torch onto the perch. I’m proud of the galah’s progress, she’s come a long way in two lessons.
I put my finger through the bars and offer the peanut on my fingertip. The galah has lovely manners and takes it delicately in her beak.
“Where have you been?” I ask her, shining the torch in her eyes.
“Mind your own business,” she shrieks. “And don’t be so bloody mean with the peanuts.”
Jennifer is a mature age student who commenced academic study after a career as a graphic designer in marketing and advertising. She completed a BA majoring in literature and composition along with art history through Open Universities Australia, and a Master of Creative Writing online through Macquarie University. Jennifer currently resides in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, and has recently embarked upon a PhD in literature and languages with the University of Adelaide.