Management should have checked the top window more closely before closing up for the night. In the early blackness after dusk, a food foraging group of fruit bats had located an open window and roosted inside the cafe in the Coffs Harbour Community Village. Now, it might seem unlikely, and try to stay with me here, but these bats happen to be…. U3A Creative Writers. By day, a quiet, respectable group of grey-headed wordsmiths, they routinely shape-shift after dark and become grey-headed flying-foxes who dare to discard civility and live on the fringes. Coincidentally, I’m one of this group. With toes and claws wrapped around a small cable, I’m hanging upside down over the freezers that house the ice creams and frozen yoghurts. A clutch of shrieking fellow writers hangs beside me. Joan, Eva, Geoff and a couple of others are nearby, suspended over pastries and pies. This is so much more appealing than moths and rotting bananas. It’s raucous in here because we’re all screeching, chattering and warning others away when we get too close to each other’s food.
Feasting like this can be problematic. Food travels up to our stomachs, not down. So it’s a bit like bobbing for apples in the cafe tonight. My wings are useless for clutching ice-cream, I can only use my mouth. My face is buried deep inside a container of double-chocolate, then I withdraw making disgusting slurping noises, squawk rudely at Mike, who’s been eyeing off my loot, and plunge my head across to the vanilla. Hetty screeches at me and flaps her dark wings to warn me off because she’d coveted the vanilla first. The tips of her hair are covered in a sticky mess of strawberry and French vanilla. Graeme’s face is covered in crumbs of pastry and the smeared remains of an apple slice he’s been gorging on. Scanning around the unlit cafe through my large beady eyes, I guess about 20 of us are hanging in here tonight, most of the writing group. The noise is deafening. Yeah, I know, casual observers might think a life spent hanging upside down would be gross. Food passing upwards, digesting into acrid bat poop, and oozing out the other end. Then gravity doing its thing as rivulets stream down our bodies. But hey, don’t be too judgmental about how welive our lives. Personal hygiene aside, wedon’t have mortgages or pay taxes unlike other supposedly higher-order mammals.
But our frenzy of foraging in the cafe ceases abruptly when Helen suddenly screeches out, “Shut up! The Manager’s nearly here! It’s Jimmy! Jimmy’s outside! Everyone shut up!”
And we all go silent and pull our bodies upwards into the inky blackness of the ceiling to make ourselves appear smaller and wrap our wings around ourselves. The room is eerily silent after the chaos a few moments ago. I poke my head slightly below my wing to spy. The canteen door opens slowly, just a crack at first. The face of the Coffs Harbour Community Village’s manager appears tentatively in the darkness of the doorway. I can just make out the whites in his eyes. Fear radiates from his face. Being a highly-tuned mammal, I can detect his trepidation.
Damn! Jimmy’s hand scrabbles at the wall, fumbling for a switch. If that light goes on we’re busted. Forty eyes are glancing furtively underneath wings watching and waiting for our alpha bat to make her move before Jimmy switches that light on. Demonstrating the presence of mind that has elevated her to alpha bat, Betsy makes an instant decision. She shrieks aloud, “Go! Everyone out! Now!”
There’s a sudden explosion. Wings beat violently, everyone’s screeching and 20 huge, panicked bats flap erratically behind Betsy towards the open doorway. Sighting a tsunami of sticky faces, Jimmy drops instinctively to the floor wrapping his arms around his head to avoid being struck in the face. He feels the rush of our tailwind and senses the exquisite stench of bat urine as we exit the cafe and flap off into the night sky towards the Botanic Gardens in search of further cafes to plunder. Nothing can stop us. The Manager drags himself to his feet and props against a wall to re-compose. He locates the light switch, flicks it on, and surveys the room. The floor is a mosh-pit of melted ice-cream and yoghurt, crushed pastries and other debris. Shaking his fist in the direction of our escape, Jimmy the Manager sighs, draws a long, slow breath, and growls menacingly, “I saw you Betsy Cassell!”
Flipping off the light roughly, the Manager steps back out into the darkness of the Community Village grounds, securing the door behind him. Retreating into the inkiness of the evening, shoulders slumped and defeated, he mutters to no one in particular, “That Creative Writing Group is so busted….”