TUESDAY March 15 2022. It was the day the red helicopter landed at the Area 40, a place locally known as Pensioners Point in Inverloch. Another black chopper landed at the oval around the same time. Fortunately those two choppers weren’t here for a medical emergency, and the spectacle provided much excitement and entertainment for locals and tourists.
I had walked nearly seven kilometres that morning when I bumped into Anne and her beautiful labrador Wally at the Surf Club. When she asked if I would like to extend my walk with her and Wally, I nearly declined since I was ready to go home. Then in a fleeting second, a little voice whispered “What if…?” I may stumble upon something intriguing if I say yes. If I don’t take the chance I will never know what could’ve been. Thus three of us started walking merrily towards Flat Rocks. We could have gone to the other direction but somehow we didn’t. Something grand was guiding us for a big surprise on our regular beach walk.
We just laughed. “Suspicious? There aren’t any suspicious people in Inverloch. You are the one who is suspicious!”
He explained that he was a fugitive and had been travelling for nearly three weeks in Victoria, hiding and escaping from the hunters, avoiding being caught. Both Anne and I noticed his clothes and shoes were too clean for such an ordeal. Next minute we saw another guy filming us with a GoPro type of video camera on a selfie stick. That’s when I thought they weren’t pulling our legs. I remembered one of our friends from our running group posted about a TV program called Hunted on social media a long time ago. Her theory was that as runners we had a great chance of winning by outrunning hunters. No one from our running group applied.
Our fugitive’s name was Stathi, short for the Greek name Efstathios. He worked in a humanitarian field helping refugees. His nervous energy was intensifying rapidly and I could almost feel his heartbeat. When he mentioned he wanted to use the prize money for an overseas surrogacy I sensed he was driven and genuine. I really wanted to help him win and I knew I was the best person to do so. I knew every single street of Inverloch like the back of my hand. I had an intimate knowledge of back streets and laneways in my hometown because I had walked and ridden many times before.
My day was getting really exciting. When Stathi encountered difficulty with a microphone and hid in the bush for a while to fix it, I decided to go home briefly and grab my bike. Instead of walking with him, I thought it would be better for me to ride ahead and check to see if anyone was really suspicious. If there was anyone even slightly doubtful, then we could change the route accordingly. I was getting engrossed in helping him realise his dream.
The destination was the Inverloch coastal reserve and the deadline was 1pm. We thought we had plenty of time to kill when we first met him, but now the time was running out. We slowly and carefully progressed towards Area 40. We could hear the helicopter sound above us. While Stathi and the camera man hid in the bush at the top of St Kilda Street, I rode down the street to check a guy who looked extremely suspicious. He had two mobiles with a headphone. I asked him directly. “Are you local? Do you know where the Post Office is?” His answer was a big NO and he suggested I go towards the town centre. Strong alarm bells rang. I rode back to tell Stathi to use Hillside Avenue for the last dash to the red helicopter.
He started to run, dropped his backpack, then ran harder. He was focused. He went for it with all his might. Stathi dashed to reach his dream. I rode my bike behind him to witness his incredible triumph. I could not wipe the big smile off my face. It was one of the best feelings in the world. Later I picked up the backpack he dropped and passed it on to the producer. She also asked my number so that Stathi could contact me in the future to thank me. It never happened. Apparently he wasn’t given my number after all and had no way of contacting me.
However his determination paid off. Recently, after nearly a year, we happily reunited for a catch up in Inverloch. He was on his way to Wilsons Prom with his cousins from Greece and mates from Melbourne. He calls me his “Inverloch Angel”. It’s not a bad feeling being called an angel. Our meeting was pure happenstance and serendipity certainly played an important role in everything. All the random choices I made coming together in one wonderful moment – I’m so glad I said yes to extending my walk on that morning.
Postscript: We were travelling when the show went on air. We had a TV in our caravan but no antenna so missed it. Later on I managed to watch the last episode of Hunted. I couldn't believe the hype around me.