Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Two More Characters
First job Monday arvo, off the radio, Leichhardt to Granville. I M2, get the word to start the meter, find the flat. No sign of life, I go and knock on the door. A voice calls from inside: Sorry, I didn't get text message, won't be long. I wait. She comes out eventually, young, plump, Chinese, dressed in pink. First thing she does is ask if I have a rubbish bag? She's cracked the seal on a bottle of cough mixture, which she drinks over the next five minutes or so. I ask if she's ill, she says no, this is like ... red wine. Sweet-natured, a bit scatty, chatty ... wants to get there quick, she's late for work, we banter back and forth about this, speed, traffic, time. Has a curious habit of timing the trip on her mobile phone but she's way out, I've been keeping an eye on my watch, we've been going far longer than she thinks. She's from the north but grew up in the south. Was studying medicine but gave it up for hospitality. As we stop-and-start along busy Parramatta Road she starts to sigh. Says she's carsick. That she has a headache. I suggest she open the window a little, she does. I show her the map, so that she can see how close we're getting. She's looking a little flushed now, a little bruised. Finally we get to the place and turn off. It's a very short street full of garages and warehouses and I'm wondering where on earth in this mess she works ... until we pull into #10 and I see the pink and blue neon lights burning in full daylight, the sign saying OPEN 24 HOURS. There's a brief, not acrimonious contretemps over the fare, I round it down to forty dollars and she hands of over two twenties, quicksmart. There's a guy loading a truck who leers at her as she passes, pausing at the industrial waste bin to throw out her empty bottle of cough mixture before disappearing inside.
Raised a stick for me in Philip Street and then limped, without hurry, across the road in front of the car. Going to Killara, had his own route, would show me. His wife was going blind, otherwise he would have stayed after the meeting for a few drinks. I'm slow to realise that it's the NSW Leagues Club I picked him up outside of, he was a first grade player before the war, on the wing for Balmain, and has spent the whole of the rest of his life working for the game. Been fifty times to NZ, been all over the world. Tells me about his daughter, died of cancer, all the places he took her in the last years when they knew it was hopeless. Walked over Sydney Harbour Bridge as kid when it opened, in 1932. At one point I start to say something about a book I'm reading but he cuts me off. Don't have any time for books, he says. I read 14 books on the ship coming back from the war and I haven't read another one since. That was enough for me. What kind of books were they? I ask. All kinds, he says, airily. Novels and that. I'm thinking that he must have been returning from Europe or North Africa but no, he was in New Guinea. Two and half years. Was at Wewak, East Sepik River province, where the Japanese surrendered in 1945. Shot a twenty-two foot python up there one day. Shows me with his hands how round it was. Spent one night sitting up to his neck in water, after a river flooded. Now he's telling me something about a right hand turn that he always takes, only you can't do it at rush hour, it's against the law. We come to the turn, just back from the Pacific Highway north of Chatswood, and there's no traffic approaching so I do it. He chortles at that, he's very happy, we're going the way he's gone for fifty years. We're friends for life, or as long as the ride lasts. You wouldn't read about it, he says. You wouldn't read about it.