Chcemy się pochwalić że zostaliśmy dziadkami.
There is a paucity of vowels for a start. I was comforted at first by assurances of phonetic consistency. After English, that seemed promising. But in the daunting sentence, there are three different kinds of z s (and one possible kind is missing, I discover later). There are c s and e s and s s with and without diacritical marks. They all sound different – I think.
One of my goals (to avert Alzheimer’s without resorting to crossword puzzles) looks as if it will be well served. The brain will certainly be breaking new ground. My main goal – to communicate with my daughter’s in-laws when I go to Poland – looks completely unachievable.
I fumble round the edges of learning: I buy and borrow teach yourself Polish books. I blu tak a bewildering array of flash cards on the kitchen cupboards, although I know osmosis probably won’t take the place of hard work. After all I spent 9 years of my working life espousing explicit teaching with absolute conviction.
I identify patterns and become enamoured of adverbs and conjunctions because they hold their identity, no matter what the rest of the sentence does. They are the mature parts of speech in my view – the ones that don’t succumb to the pressures of proximity. As I “progress” ponieważ (because) becomes a particular favourite, because it enables me to move out of the realm of the simple sentence into more complicated sentences, such as “I like it because it is nice.”
I don’t seem to be getting any closer to my first goal of emailing O and J. The breakthrough is the arrival of a postcrossing postcard. The front of it delights me with its palette and patterns.
When I turn it over, this is what I see
It’s from Poland. And then I realize that not only is it from Poland but that most of it is written in Polish. (I have progressed. I know it’s not Swedish, or Lithuanian or Russian.) I did post on my profile that I “was struggling to learn Polish” and Anna has called my bluff.
So I begin a process that becomes familiar (and easier – a bit.) I pull out the dictionary and work through word by word. My greatest triumph is niedaleko. I don’t need the dictionary. I can read Polish!! I know nie – like a 2 year old one of my first Polish words was no or not. And daleko is on my flash cards. I even remember what it means. So niedaleko means “not far.” Context kicks in – I’ve always been good at leaping over unknown words in another language and getting it roughly right, provided there aren’t too many unknowns. I reckon Anna lives not far from Roztcze. And the dictionary confirms it.
I become cocky and do two things. I add to my postcrossing profile: “If you speak Polish, please write in Polish to make me work hard to translate, and learn a bit more about this challenging language.” And I send an email to O and J.
Stagnation sets in again. O and J don’t reply. Have I offended? Should I have addressed them more formally as Pan or Pani? Or have I been totally incomprehensible? My daughter reassures me – they don’t use their email much now, because both their sons have returned to Poland and live nearby.
I soldier on. I comment in broken Polish on my daughter’s blog, blithely using the infinitive instead of the first person. I write part of my emails to her in Polish. I send Marcin birthday greeting in Polish. However, when I look over what I have written it doesn’t flash into meaning. I’m still stymied by unfamiliar letter couplings.
By now I’ve discovered an online keyboard that provides the diacritical marks I need – ą ć ę ł ń ó ś ź ż – and I’ve discovered Google translate, so I can see how it interprets my clumsy attempts. I’ve become vaguely familiar with pronouns and the conjugation of verbs and the declension of nouns. The dictionary seems to have more of the words I need, now that I recognize forms and transformations, and know that z has a different section from ź and ż.
Then M sends me a note from his parents in Polish. I spend an engrossed Sunday morning learning that they thank me for my letter, that they are grandparents, that they are delighted that R (my daughter) and M have arrived and that I am invited warmly to Poland. The sentence that leaps out at me is Twój polski jest bardzo dobry. I know exactly what it says. I can read a whole sentence in Polish! It says “Your Polish is very good.”
Now it’s my turn to respond. I draft a few ideas in English, shape them to the capabilities of my Polish grammar, and write my reply. I congratulate them on being grandparents (Chcemy się pochwalić że zostaliśmy dziadkami means “We want to boast that we are grandparents”), ask them about their holiday on the Baltic; talk about spring here; say I want to hunt for mushrooms with them when I go to Poland. I am very pleased with my letter, despite its kindergarten constructions, until I feed it through Google translate and find that I have said as my opening line, not “I liked your letter”, but “I have fallen in love with my letter-box.”
On Saturdays I often wake to the sound of a lyrebird deep in the gully in front of the house, or, if I’m lucky, strutting along the flat area just outside the bedroom. One morning, I surprise a young male in full display, tail shimmering, on the rocky hillside outside the kitchen window. Many years ago J. promised me a rose garden: the lyre bird is a very satisfactory substitute.
We begin the day immersed in our reading. This weekend it’s Bertrand Russell’s History of western philosophy for J. He’s ecstatic because he’s escaped the oppressive throat-slitting world of Pope Gregory and Ulfilus the Hairy, and emerged into the renaissance where people are allowed to think, although there are still those who say “I denounce the telescope.” I’m slow-reading Gisela Kaplan’s Birds, fascinated by the world of bird behaviours so like the human.
Outside the mist has lifted, and the day looks warm and inviting. After a bowl of porridge and leatherwood honey, J. goes outside to smash an old concrete tank stand with crow-bar, block-buster and pulley, to make way for the huge blue tank tethered on its side just outside the window. Rain is predicted later in the week and the tank needs to be inched into place along a narrow path to catch every precious drop.
I go for a walk, in search of a little patch of greenhood orchids. The pittosporum at the front door is pouring out perfume so strong that even my aged nose can smell it. I potter up the bush road, looking for new spring flowerings. Of course there’s a stiff breeze which means the pink pea-flowers of the indigofera woggle and resist photography.
I know this track well. I used to roll my eyes when J. said “Let’s go and visit the myrtle in that gully – you know the one”, but I have my own familiars now. I remember a wonga vine wrapped around a stringy bark from last year and I search the roadside bush to find it. It’s in perfect blossom, maroon throats with tiny spots visible even from a distance. The wind has dropped a bit. The photographer only needs to avoid the large blue circle that marks the sun’s intrusion.
To my left Gulaga mountain looms, without its possum cloak of cloud, clear in the clear morning. The hakeas outside F.’s place are a pink haze of blossom. Despite my preference for indigenous plants, I can’t help being charmed by these invaders. F. died more that a year ago and the new owner is busy scraping back the paint work.
I’m getting close to the place where greenhoods are rumoured to be. A wallaby thumps off into the bush and distracts me briefly. I begin at the mossy guide post and eyeball every patch of dirt, even moving into the bush a bit, on casual alert for snakes.
There are no greenhoods. I suspect my vision, and am ready to be mortified when J. has a look and spots them immediately. However, my camera-eye is caught by elegant coils of grass and the cheeky green eyes of luxuriant purple hardenbergia.
I give up on the greenhood search and move to the seeping bank on the high side of the road where I find treasures: maiden hair fern, trigger plants, more hardenbergia and a blue rock forming a wonderful back-drop to the seed heads of kangaroo grass. Two motorbikes zoom past in a cloud of dust.
By the time I return home, J. has had enough concrete smashing, so we laze the afternoon away. At 4.30 we grab a bottle of wine and head down to the river reserve. J. has cleared it into a pleasant strip of wattles, she-oaks and callistemon. The river flows bank to bank below our chairs and we watch the sun sink. It spears light onto the water like the flares at the tip of sparklers.
At first we can’t hear the rapids because of the wind in the she-oaks. As the wind drops, the rapids and frogs take over and a couple of tractors clatter their way home.
Our desultory conversation settles for a while on Charles Harpur, an early Australian poet who was gold commissioner at Nerrigundah and whose grave is on the hillside above us. J. wants to name the reserve after him. We revisit an old argument. I find him totally unreadable. J. feels as if we should give him a chance.
The light fades to true dusk. We pour another glass of wine. Against hope, I grab the camera and try to catch the fading light on the river ripples. An owl swoops in front of us as we drive home.
Back at the house, there are two text messages from the larger world. K. has just signed a contract to teach at Bamaga on the tip of Cape York for a year. A. is interested in a job at an international school in Indonesia, but will probably settle for 10 weeks in Abu Dhabi.
I shall not hate, by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish takes the reader into the dailiness of life on the Gaza Strip, where he has lived all his life. He shows the difficulties of getting an education when his family desperately needs the money he can bring home by working. He recounts the humiliations of crossing the border into Israel where he works as an obstetrician – sometimes it can take 24 hours and there is always the chance of being turned back. He reveals the poverty and the hopelessness of his fellow Palestinians. Then, 3 months after his wife dies of leukemia, three of his daughters are killed by Israeli shells while they are talking in their bedroom.
As the title suggests, he refuses to hate. He learns as a 15 year-old that Israelis can be caring people when he works on an Israeli farm and is treated as one of the family. In an interview at the 2011 Sydney Writers’ festival, Abuelaish expresses a rare burst of anger when the interviewer asks him how he can deliver Israeli babies, potential killers of Palestinians. He says that a baby is a precious new life and that no child is born violent or a terrorist.
How do I think about Dr Abuelaish’s story and the long agony of Palestinian refugees? This question has been nagging at me for a week now. I’ve read a number of cognate books recently – Mahboba’s promise, Three cups of tea, The hospital by the river. The difference between these books and I shall not hate is that Abuelaish is writing from inside the pain – the others are all outside it and therefore they (and I more so) are distanced. I feel relatively easy about the other books – I can donate to the charity attached to the book. Of course, I can do that with the Daughters for life foundation as well. But it seems inadequate.
I hoped book club discussion would help to clarify my thoughts, but something quite strange happened. Everybody told a parallel story, after minimal reference to the book – a mother stationed in Gaza in World War 2, grandparents driven out by the Turks, a murdered girl and a Year 12 assessment task, Daniel Barenboim’s Palestinian-Israeli orchestra, the local fund-raising concert for Mahboba’s promise, membership 20 years ago of the free Palestine movement, good Jewish friends who went to live in Israel, Palm Island in the 1950s, the tensions under a three-day threat of bushfires. This has never happened before. We always focus on the book we read. Was it evasion? Were the actual events of Aubuelaish’s life hard for us all to cope with? And if that is so, why?
I look for help in Susan Sontag’s Regarding the pain of others (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY 2003). She focuses her discussion on photos of atrocities. I scan it for words that might open up avenues to make sense of my responses: evasion, compassion, outrage, empathy, helplessness, frustration, sorrow, despair, indignation, pity, disgust, shame, shock, sadness. Some of these words resonate.
She encapsulates my problem for me: “How do I respond with emotional freshness and ethical pertinence?” She suggests that being human requires us to look at hard facts and startles me by saying that someone surprised by human cruelties hasn’t reached moral or psychological maturity.
I have many strategies to “avoid being moved”. Usually when I close a book “strong emotions become transient ones.” Sontag might say it’s normal to fend off thinking about the ordeals of others. Maybe this is what I’m fighting in my feeble way. Fighting to be haunted.
Sontag speaks of “the task of imagining” and an obligation to look at real horror. Abuelaish doesn’t leave much for me to imagine. He describes his daughters after the explosion that kills them: her eye was on her cheek … her finger hanging by a thread of skin … (Mayar) had been decapitated … arms in familiar sweaters and legs in pants that belonged to these beloved children leaned at crazed angles where they had blown off the torsos. As I copy this I feel invasive (Sontag calls this “the indecency of spectatorship”): I feel sick: I feel an urge to withdraw from the contemplation of this absolute awfulness. I draw back from the appalling act of imagination that seems to be required if I’m going to truly understand: putting my own children in that bedroom. I can’t do it.
When I previewed this post, my header was of burrawangs against spotted gums, in the peaceful bush near my unthreatened home. Other random headers show flowers, the ocean, rock patterns, birds – unspoilt things. I am writing this from a position of absolute privilege. How could I possibly understand life in a Palestinian refugee camp, carved off from the rest of the world by Israeli brutality and bloody-mindedness? My days are never a perpetual struggle for food and water, for education, for opportunity, for safety. I have what Sontag calls “the luxury of patronising reality”.
I don’t know that I’m any further forward. I can’t answer the main question: what does it mean to protest suffering? My final position is one of helplessness, and the shame that accompanies that. At least I didn’t, this time, “see the list in the morning paper and dismiss its recollection with the coffee.” But how can I take pride in this?
I can’t get out of my mind the accusation. Unless we alleviate we are voyeurs.
Book club is just as much about logistics as it is about literature. It begins with the not necessarily harmonious discussion of which book next. Determination beats hushed thoughtfulness every time. What really irritates me is that the determined suggestion is usually a good one. (We never get as far as evaluating the hushed one.) There’s an odd tendency for the suggester to be elsewhere the night their choice reaches the table.
Then there’s acquiring the book. I’ve taken an oath to borrow rather than buy – usually I’m glad to have read the book but I don’t want to own it. So I need to make a fine judgement. If I read it too early in the 2-month period, I’ll forget it. If I leave it too late, the book will be out on loan to a series of people until well into the next century. Usually I manage to get it right. If I borrow too early, I make brief notes – character, theme, key events, nice turns of phrase, things I like best, things that drive me nuts (like the green eyes of the woman in Shantaram –which I did buy, since it was my first book club and I had a strong sense of proper behaviour.)
Occasionally there’s a dilemma of modality and courtesy. Judith Lucy’s Lucy family alphabet soup is abysmal. How do I express the level of my dislike without offence? As it happens, no-one else likes it anyway. We spent discussion time that night reassessing the way we do things.
When I stopped teaching, I thought I’d finished with the fine discriminations required by marks out of ten. Not so. We start our discussion with a round-table numerical assessment, so we can see how the land lies. Is it a 4.5 or a 5? And what can I say to justify that rating when everyone else has struggled not to give it 10/10, because it wasn’t quite perfect?
After the scoring we take it in turns to talk about our response. That’s to circumvent interruption and domination. I enjoy this time. It offers an insight into the minds and preoccupations of these quite amazing women, most of whom I meet only at Book Club. Even when I’m in wild disagreement with an interpretation I know it will provide me with food for thought as I drive home the next morning.
Then there’s the alternate video nights. I’m dumb in the face of choice here mostly, because I’m not a big video consumer and I’m usually part of an audience of maybe three in the small Kinema at Narooma. So I’m almost hesitant to complain when we watch Ben Kingsley don his medals and suffocate in a plastic bag in The house of sand and fog. However, I become vocal about dismemberment after The lovely bones, all the more a seed-bed for nightmares because it is suggested rather than actual butchery. I practise appropriate modality in less-than-strident insistence, and the next video night we watch Babies. To put the record straight, I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed, against all expectation, Mama mia and (with no expectations) Black Orpheus.
I haven’t mentioned food. Food takes as much thought-space as the most demanding book. I can’t take fruit salad every month, but it’s about all I can think of to cater for the fish-allergic, the gluten-free, the dairy intolerant and the vegan. That accounts for 70% of us. My limited repertoire, lovingly accumulated over 60 years, has to be ditched and I struggle to replace it. Curried vegetables. Fruit salad. Lentil and lime soup. Fruit salad. Fruit salad. And today orange almond cake, which needs, I’ve just discovered, food processing – and my food processor is broken.
None of this matters at all when I think about the life of Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose book I shall not hate we read tonight.
I usually prepare for pre-school amid a flurry of photos, trying to decide how I’ll record last week’s session to be useful to the director, L., or interesting to the children. L is doing battle with the Regulator and the Being, Belonging, Becoming document which is a maze of outcomes and indicators. This is familiar turf to me as my battered English K-6 Syllabus attests, so maybe I can be helpful.
Sometimes I stick photos on cardboard with a bit of text. These posters are blu-tacked to the windows, the outcomes and indicators discreetly stuck to the back. The kidlets love seeing photos of themselves and words about what they are doing.
Sometimes I write letters to I. who has written to me from her “office”, and scrunched her letters up into envelopes.
I write a letter back and I too put my letters in envelopes.
I’m very pleased! I got another two letters from you and a drawing that filled up the whole page. Here are some butterfly photos to say thank you, because I know you like butterflies.
Sometimes I make a sheet for L to file, marking particular achievements with a photo and words, accompanied by the dreaded outcomes and objectives.
Today I’m empty handed. I’ve been absent for two weeks and impetus has retreated behind a cold and a trip to Sydney.
I drive through the village at snail’s pace to avoid dogs lying on the road or ambling along it. The view is magnificent – out across the headland to the sea and down over the lake out to the mountains. The closer view is not so good: yards full of battered vehicles; broken windows; a burnt-out car; smashed glass.
The pre-school nestles at the bottom of the hill with a view through the trees to the lake. The solar panels were a community installation and have only been bricked once.
T is standing at the easel, wielding a paint brush with total confidence. He’s painting his mum, laying on the paint for her smile thick and sure. S is a bit surly: “Don’t look at it.” I can’t charm her. Later she resists my comments about the sparkly glitter in her hair with the same glare.
I is at the table with paper and a texta, drawing a friendly monster with enviable speed. She pastes it in her special book. Then she writes her name, over and over, stumbling only at the “e”, which she doesn’t seem to be able to master. I make it out of dots for her to trace. She turns all the other letters in her name into dots too. She tells me about the football day yesterday to celebrate fathers day. Her dad won the lucky door prize. We look at the photos L has taken and read the story she has written.
K, another volunteer, is on the reading lounge, engulfed by children. No-one is playing with blocks today: there have been some splendid constructions on other days. The sense of balance is amazing – I’m certain the whole construction will tumble, but small dexterous fingers add one more, and then another. Sometimes they make long roads, or garages, or a tall gateway to walk through. My favourite blocks are the stained glass ones, which have been turned into many architectural splendours.
I don’t spend much time with M, aka Capman, today. He’s a lad of passions. One week it was snakes, another it was dinosaurs. He is meticulous in his colouring in, but his speech is very hard to understand. Today he shows me his monkey T-shirt.
Mid-session L and Aunty C come in. I’ve known them both for a long time, from different pieces of my past life. They are spending the day further down the hill at the old graveyard, identifying where bodies lie. They won’t be able to find the exact place for each person, but they plan to put all the names on a plaque.
The session ends with big plastic teeth. L shows the children how to clean the teeth, and they each have a turn. Then she gives them a toothbrush each and a box to keep it in, so they can clean their teeth after lunch at pre-school. They are all very definite about what colour toothrush they want. They are not quite so definite about the round and round, along, across movements necessary for a good clean.
I scrub two tables, removing glitter, glue and play-doh, ready for afternoon fruit. It’s time to head off back through the village, taking the speed-humps cautiously and waving to a couple of teenagers leaning aginst the wall in the sun.
Gulaga looms, its crewcut of trees sharp against the grey sky.
I walk on the headland frequently, so frequently I often set off thinking “I’ve seen it all. There won’t be anything new.” But there always is. Usually the new is animal (lizard eggs nesting precariously on the beach steps), vegetable (a schelhammera spurting pollen under the ferns) or mineral (the oranges, ochres, blue and pale crimson of the rocks at the end of Jemo’s beach.)
This Tuesday, past days flow out of my memory bringing their ghosts with them to people the tracks and coves and beaches.
Right at the tip of the headland there is a twisted casuarina. There we are, J, me and 4 children, pitching our Christmas tent one long-ago New Year’s eve. The ground slopes and my foot throbs with potential tetanus from a rusty nail in the market garden. But the Pacific Ocean crashes, splashes and rumbles just below us and we’re having an adventure. A bustling man appears. He spits out officious words: “No camping allowed here.”
Below the casuarina is a secluded beach. Two women are scrambling down the steep track, one of them exercising excessive caution. She slowly submerges herself in the channel between the rocks. The other one is much more at ease. She frolics and cavorts and splashes. A young man with a bucket, a fishing line and a white dog hangs off the cliff heading for the rock platform in another cove.
A palimpsest of women haunts the forest of twisted spotted gums near Brush Lake: A on the look-out for hyacinth orchids; B who has a passion for splotched trunks in grey and cream and green and apricot; R, in a fawn raincoat with a camera round her neck, on a rainy day. Or M, alone, reading in her chair. She looks up startled by the scrunching of dry leaves. Two emus circle, closing in until she moves, and then thumping away until she settles back to her book.
The long beach stretches south to Dalmeny. A brown figure moves along the beach, clothes bundled up in his arm, a casual trail of footprints, a hat pressed hard on the head against the wind. Or a straggle of people appear. They aren’t speaking much, but are obviously together and interested in the landscape in different ways. A man picks a bright pig-face and kneels to offer it to one of the women. The ocean rolls in behind them.
Three women, caught up in the whirr of desultory coversation, move close to the dunes in an unsteady line (crocs, boots and joggers) until they see a track through the dunes. They follow it along the edge of Brush Lake through swamp mahogonies, careless of time and destination. As the afternoon fades they reappear on the beach and straggle back to the village.
A distant figure is coming along the beach in early morning light. He occasionally breaks into a stumbling jog. S, I think. He’s been partying in Narooma and decides walking home along the beach is a better idea than driving.
Then it’s M again, sitting on the headland watching the sun make its pathway across the sea. She seems to be there at sunrise most mornings for a year. Often during the day too in the cooler weather.
A Marine Park signpost appears smack bang in the middle of the view and she stops visiting. The portrait studio and chat space shuts down too. The photographer no longer brings her friends there to be photographed against the background of Gulaga. Nor does she lie there talking to her niece from Singapore or her colleague from work or her mate from third class, while a sea eagle soars lazily just above their heads.
It’s Tuesday now and time to stroll back into the present. But ghosts and memories are hard to quell. A stranger with red hair sits in her camp, washing her breakfast dishes. My grandchildren play in the casuarina cubbies on the edge of the cliff, and I struggle with my extra height to join them. My surfing sons and their mates shiack in their camp amongst the banksias above the creek.
And a diamond python slides off the track and into memory as my footsteps disturb him.
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.