First you need to get to the suburbs.
That looks easy. You have a bus number, a time, the location of the bus stop. You arrive in plenty of time. You sit nursing briefcase and handbag in the early morning shade of the city landscape. You’re strategically placed to read the numbers on approaching buses, in plenty of time to stand expectantly where the door will stop. Hardly any of the buses are going to the destination Out of service, unlike the last time you sat at this bus stop.
You watch the passing feet and speculate about the owners of the shoes. The man superimposed on the long shoes with a square stitched toe turned up at the end like a blunt Turkish slipper. The woman perched precariously on extraordinarily high heels, with a large bow on the heel and red white and blue stripes on the front. The power-dressed girl, complete with frilly scarf and very white joggers. The older woman with diamantes bordering otherwise subdued black pumps. You half reach into your bag to pull out the camera, and then remember a friend who ended up explaining to the police why he was photographing the feet of passers-by.
You are so pre-occupied with feet you don’t realise that 8.25 has long passed, without any sign of the 518 bus. And no, you didn’t fail to see it. Your eyes have been bobbing between feet and bus numbers like a pigeon’s head.
You relinquish your seat and go over to scrutinise the timetable. It confirms your other information. Yes, the 518 goes from here. Yes, there was (should have been) one at 8.25.
The anxiety begins. You really don’t want to be late for the first work appointment in three years. You watch the banner advertising Sydney Fashion Week scrolling in the breeze. You realise that the street is finally (and briefly) becoming sunny. You consider options for when the 8.55 fails to come too. Eastwood and a taxi? Ryde and another bus? (It will probably be the same one.) A train? A taxi all the way?
The 518 appears. The journey into suburbia begins. You relax a bit, feeling more confident. At least you know the part of the world you’re going to: after all, it’s within a few blocks of where you grew up.
You arrive at the meeting 10 minutes late, and of course it hasn’t started yet. You wonder idly when you’ll learn to ditch anxiety and the expectation of anyone else’s punctuality.
At lunch-time you emerge into a warm Sydney day. You fling your jacket nonchalantly through the straps of your bag and begin walking. There is dappled shade on one side of the street and grass flecked with fallen blossom. Each drive has a plastic-covered Ikea catalogue lying in wait for the householder. You toy with the idea of filching one and remember you’ve sworn off acquisition.
You approach the street you think you need to go down. The signpost is there, but the street name has been removed. You take a punt. Suddenly you see yourself as others might see you – an aging woman, a solitary pedestrian, sombrely dressed, carrying a briefcase. Looking like half a mormon couple on the prowl.
You wonder why you have never been down this street before. After all you lived half a block away for 4 years.
Afternoon tea with your lively 80 year-old cousin is a treat from the past – an embroidered tablecloth; milk in a jug; fine china cup, saucer and plate; an assortment of biscuits, slices and cakes; and conversation that ranges over the distant past and the vivid present. She shows you the teddy bears she’s making at community classes and you fall in love with the white one with the tartan ribbon who looks as if he’s about to start a sardonic conversation with you.
Suddenly it’s 4 o’clock and you need to leave. Crossing the road requires patience, and when the traffice finally dwindles, speed and alertness. Your cousin waits at the bus-stop with you, until the 518 bus appears and you move to the last phase of your Monday in the suburbs.
The bus bays at Macquarie Centre seem to stretch for half a kilometre. You move along the whole length, looking for the 611. It doesn’t feature in any of the bays, so you walk back again. Still no sign of those three numbers, but your eye catches words: Blacktown. Not 611, 630, and of course in the first bay you passed.
The waiting begins again as the sun sinks and your realise that you sister will have to come out in the dark to pick you up. The bus arrives and begins its torturous journey.
It winds its way through many familiar pieces of your past. Macquarie University where you taught in the 1970s, on land you rode your bike through as a child. Marsfield school site where you went to cracker night with your first boyfriend. Epping Boys High where you did an early prac as a young teacher. The highway to Epping where you rode your bike to visit your best friend in primary school. Dence Park swimming pool, the first of the suburban Olympic pools. Epping shopping centre where your feet were x-rayed once a year for school shoes.
Stuck in peak hour traffic, the bus is taking nearly as long as these years.
The sun moves below the horizon leaving pink, grey and ochre layers. A slight man sits beside you. You don’t even sense his presence and when you notice him you are briefly startled. You wonder why he chose to sit there when the bus is nearly empty, and spend a few suburbs dreaming up explanations. A blind woman gets on at North Rocks and you wonder how she negotiates public transport. (The next day you hear a blind woman talking about a planned trip to New York where she’ll find her way by GPS.) You have no idea where you are now. Seeing a sign identifying Muirfields is no help.
You’ve been on the bus now for an hour and you’ve exchanged a flurry of texts with your waiting sister, when you see a sign that says Blacktown 10 km. You’re nearly at the end of Monday in the suburbs.