I wrote this post on the train coming home last night. When I woke this morning, my better judgement told me not to publish it. But here it is now, nearly bedtime, and as I am in the midst of reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, it seems quite tame in comparison to his wickedness, so here I go . . .
I had the strangest day today (yesterday – Saturday).
First of all, I went to the wake of a woman I didn’t know. And it wasn’t a wake, in the Irish sense. It was a Memorial Lunch; and the woman whose life we were celebrating was the first cousin of my first cousin – but I don’t think I was related to her.
Her mother and my cousin’s father were brother and sister, but I am related to my cousin because his mother and my mother were sisters. So I am not related to the deceased – right? At least I don’t think so. I hope you are keeping up with this?
It was only through my ongoing and seemingly never-ending family history research that I recently discovered the lady’s whereabouts. My cousin hadn’t seen her since 1962, when a rift in the family caused them to cut contact. It was a time in society when these rifts seemed insurmountable. I hope that somehow, for all its faults, society is more forgiving these days. So I let him know that I had stumbled across her, and she was ailing, and he was just planning how to rekindle a connection, when she suddenly passed.
For reasons too complicated to explain, they had each grown up thinking of themselves as isolated orphans, with no family outside their own orbit. So the lunch comprised a dozen friends, mostly. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate credit to any of us, that a dozen unrelated people would gather to raise a glass when we are gone?
I had to travel up from Wollongong, about a two hour train and bus connection.
While waiting for my bus, a young Indian woman approached me about my reading material. As I mentioned, I am working through the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I seriously think I was a better reader as a teenager than I am now. Before the scan and speed reading of the internet, we could follow these convoluted sentences more easily. I find it easiest to pace the room reading the characters aloud, but if you do that at a city bus stop, people think you’re weird (more on that later). Anyway she said you can’t buy this stuff in India (perhaps for sensible reasons). I told her mine was a library book, but since it was a Penguin Classic, they were sure to be selling it at the major book shops. When she told me she was studying at uni, I said they were sure to have it in the library there. It must be compulsory for the English literature students, I said. I am not that faculty, she said sorrowfully, which immediately gave me the hint the poor woman is stuck in commerce, same as I was. The library doesn’t discriminate, I comforted her. Go for it!
I hope you are still paying attention. And are you are keeping up with this?
I arrived an hour early at my destination, with my notebook, so I loitered down the street, sipping a cappuccino and scribbling at my manuscript. When I got to the restaurant I discovered it was BYO only, so I scuttled off to a bottle shop. Not wanting to appear mingy, I came back with a bottle each of red and white.
I’ve been alcohol free, by and large, since the beginning of the year- so the rest of what I write has to be viewed through an enhanced mist – much like those scenes in a movie when our protagonist wanders the streets in a drug enhanced enlightenment.
At the lunch I met a couple who know another couple who live where I live. In fact, the second couple helped edit my book. The claim to fame of the first couple is that they introduced the second couple to each other. I really hope you are keeping up with this.
They were surprised – what a small world they said. Keep in mind that Sydney is now a city of five million people. I just shrugged. “I have ceased to be surprised by the coincidences in my life,” I said.
The real story lies in what happened when I left the restaurant. I walked about ten minutes to where I could catch a bus to my railway station, knowing all the while that I would just miss my train, which is only a once-an-hour service. I had lingered too long over the goodbyes – if such a thing is possible at a wake; after all, the concept of time does appear to be an oxymoron in that situation doesn’t it? At least to the person whose life we are celebrating.
So when I alighted from the bus I took my time getting to my platform. I passed a woman on the footpath opposite the Queen Victoria Building. She was speaking into a microphone and had colleagues handing out leaflets. She was talking about being a broken woman, which was a coincidence, since I had just been writing about the broken men who returned from WW1. And she was talking about having found Jesus. The particular point she was making was that as an Aboriginal woman, a descendant of the Stolen Generation, she was lost and broken until that moment. Except they don’t seem to use the term Aboriginal anymore. Now it seems the correct term is Indigenous. Anyway, I thought that was another coincidence, as I had just recommended someone to the book Rainbow in a Bottle by Joan B Cooper, which chronicles the devastating effect that the missionaries had on the lives of our Indigenous people in the late 1800s.
I decided to lean against a lamp post and listen to her for a while, and after some minutes I realised there was a Chinese man doing the same. He caught my eye and gave me a smile, at which time we both must have realised we looked like a pair of loonies hanging out on a busy Saturday afternoon street-corner in the middle of a major city, so we just exchanged apologetic shrugs and moved on.
Down in the underground chaos of a multi-platform junction railway station I noticed a man scribbling on the wall. He was in a shabby coat, with stringy grey hair, of a swarthy complexion and sporting a pronounced hook nose. To Shakespeare, he would have looked the epitome of Shylock; to Trump, he would have been a ‘bad man’ or ‘Muslim terrorist‘ – or perhaps both. He didn’t notice me as I passed close by, straining to see what he was writing. I went back later. It looks like some mathematical calculation, à la the scenes in A Brilliant Mind when John Nash scribbles all over the window in his study – or was that Alan Turing in The Enigma? Anyway, if you are keeping up with this, you will interpret that the behaviour, while perhaps brilliant, was out of context to the environment, and this poor man was marching to a different drummer.
Only a few steps further on, there was a guy on all fours hunched over on the ground. People were streaming past either side of him. This station, Town Hall, is one stop up from Central, which used to be the hub of Chinatown. The Asian (in Australia that means Far East, not sub-continent) population has grown so much in inner Sydney that it is spreading ever wider, and the nearby crowd was about eighty percent Asian in appearance (but could easily be more Aussie than I am), and most of those were under-twenties glued to their mobile phones. No one was taking any notice of him, and for a moment I wondered if he was having a heart attack, but he clambered to his feet. That’s when I noticed he had a begging tin in front of him. I had seen this deferential head-down posture frequently in Paris, but never before had I seen it here in Australia.
He noticed me looking at he swept past me, and he said cheerily, “I got down there, but wasn’t sure I would get up!” and then he continued on his way.
I continued wandering. One of the nearby shops was a barber’s, and they were doing a roaring trade giving young Asian guys the latest funky look. One of the barbers, also Asian in appearance, and barely out of primary school, was poncing around sporting a bleach-blonde pouffe with short back and sides. His jeans were so tight I wondered he could even lean forward. But hey! I had to acknowledge that I was the odd one out on this strip.
Next thing, I stumbled across the entrance to the Woolworths supermarket. I could not possibly be hungry after the Lebanese banquet we had just enjoyed. All the same, I still had a long trip home, and besides which – when did eating bakery products ever have anything to do with hunger? And I knew that Woolworths had an extensive bakery section in there.
Next thing I was standing in front of the cabinet eyeing the Vegemite scrolls. Scrolls are yummy, Vegemite is yummy (“yes, you English pig dogs”, says Monty Python, “Vegemite IS yummy!”) Anyway, if John Cleese did not say that – he should have! The conclusion is that Vegemite Scrolls are two kinds of Yummy! So I followed the instructions to grab one with the grease proof paper and headed for the cashier.
Who should I bump into but my crouching man. Here I said. Let me buy you this one. I really shouldn’t be eating it. But he held up his package of three healthy tomatoes. No, he said, I’ve got what I need.
At the cashier I didn’t have small change, so I pulled out a ten dollar note. “It’s a bitch to be rich,” I said, in a lame joke to hide my embarrassment that I only had “big” money on me. “It’s only 60 cents,” he said. “But it said $1.25 on the label!” I said. Must be on special, he laughed. Your lucky day!
“Sure is,” I said, and I turned back into the store, clutching my change. I found my crouching tiger and thrust the change into his hand. “Buy something for tomorrow,” I told him.
Finally down on my platform, I got bored waiting for my train, so guess what? I ate my Vegemite scroll. Man, those things make you thirsty! Or was it the red wine?
Footnote: I had sent a text to let Bill know I had missed the earlier train, but had forgotten to update him that I was definitely on the next one. So he sent me a text asking if I was on the train yet. So I texted back, “No. Fell asleep leaning against a garbage bin. Nearly fell in.”
Next thing, my phone was ringing. And I was in the quiet carriage. And I’d just chipped two women for talking loudly while I was trying to write my masterpiece.
Seriously . . . the guy’s been married to me for thirty-one years. And he still doesn’t understand my sense of humour.
But he is a sweetie. Picked me up from the station and made me eat the dinner he’d cooked. I wasn’t game to tell him I was already full on Vegemite Scroll.