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Friday, 7 December 2018

The first day of summer on the Bankstown Line

This is the latest in a series of what I call “meditations” that have appeared on this blog since January. There are 25 of them so far, including this one. Each one has a theme and each one, in my mind, forms a unified whole. They are written in contrast to the “collages” that I have written for the blog but that started even earlier, and which are samplings of things seen and heard while walking in the streets of the city. 

I waited for my friend at Redfern Station. They had redesigned the east entrance. There was a young guy with long hair and who was wearing jeans with a hole in the back pocket walking around in the atrium there near the displays showing routes and stops and times. He kept on glancing at me as he circled the enclosure and I became a bit alarmed. I walked over to the side of the space and stood near some railway staff. Then he met with the girl he was there to meet. They greeted each other with open arms and left the building together.

After that two heavyset Boomers in shorts came past quietly cursing. "Black c***," one of them said. Then he added, again loud enough for anyone to hear him if they were standing nearby, "Fucking n*****. I then saw a black man (but not an Aboriginal) wearing a red athletic top with white stripes on its sleeves, and he was looking at the two men who had been making these comments. He had earphones on that were attached to an electronic device that was evidently playing music. He seemed to know however that the two men had been saying things about him. All the men disappeared from view. Then, just for good measure, a man came through the space dribbling a soccer ball.

On the train out to Cabramatta two young Anglo men were sitting nearby. They were talking about learning languages. One of the men was the expert on French and he was teaching his companion about the language. But he made basic errors. In his mind, the first-person plural of "vouloir" (to want) was "nous voyons", which actually means "we see". The true declension is "nous voulons". It was totally engrossing for me, who learned French from the age of eleven until I was about 23. I sat there eavesdropping compulsively. I couldn't help myself. And I thought about the way each new generation has to be the first to discover everything. The two men got of at Marrickville. I was not surprised. My friend and I were headed further west.

We I stopped at Campsie and went into a Cantonese restaurant to eat some food. One of the waitresses who served us had worked at a different restaurant that I used to go to in Campsie ten years before. I had lived in the suburb from late 2005 until early 2009. At that time, she had worked at a restaurant at the southern end of the shopping centre. But I recognised her face. The restaurant we were at now was located at the northern end of the shopping centre. As we were walking north into Anglo Square a man walking a bicycle and who had stopped on the pavement dropped a magazine that he had held in his hand. I bent down and picked it up off the ground and he looked me right in the face and thanked me in English, then in Mandarin, “Xiexie!”

At one station on the journey out to Cabramatta on the same line two young black women got off the train and as they walked along the platform to the station exit the one who was walking behind her companion looked at me straight in the eyes as I sat on the train’s seat. Her companion was pushing a pram.

Once we got to Cabramatta my friend and I ordered more food at a restaurant. This time I had egg noodles in soup along with crispy fried chicken. A woman who worked there who was in her fifties and who was dressed in tight black (leather-looking) slacks came to the door near where we were sitting to look out into the street, then went back inside the room. About five minutes later two people arrived at the door and she came out again, to meet them this time. The people she met were both dressed in black and were aged in their late fifties or early sixties. Like the woman in the tight slacks, they were immigrants from Vietnam who had arrived in Australia in the 1970s. The man was wearing a casual black jacket and dark sunglasses and neat black trousers. The woman was wearing a body-hugging black dress made of some elasticised fabric. She had on designer sunglasses that had big, plastic frames. Both of the people who entered the restaurant were slim and both looked like they had money. It was an ensemble with people who would be played by character actors in a TV series.

On the way back to Sydney my friend and I hurried through the doors of a train waiting at the station and sat down in the lower deck. There was a young black man sitting on a seat behind us and we asked him if the train we were on was going to the city. He said it was but added, “the long way”. We asked him what that meant and I ventured that it was via Bankstown and as I said the word he also said the name of the same station. We were in perfect accord.

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