This afternoon I take a different route to the train station in Sydney. As I walk up the high street I notice a man in a trilby sitting at a small desk typing. There’s some cardboard on the front of the desk scrawled with the word writer. I’m about to move on but the sound of typing stops me and I turn.
I need something to write about, the man says.
He’s about mid-thirties, wearing a pale linen jacket with a tie, plus the trilby.
What’s happened to you today that’s interesting? he asks.
I tell him about the lunch I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant, how I had salmon that was the best I’ve had, literally melting in the mouth.
I like that, he says. I’ll make a note of that.
I ask if he’s always here.
No, he says, and hands me a slip of paper announcing a cultural week in the suburb.
I thank him and step back into the moving line of people heading for the station.
At the station I go and buy a copy of Big Issue, handing the vendor $10 when it costs $9 and saying to keep the change. After my encounter with the writer I feel positive and full of good intent. On the train opposite is an elderly man, perhaps my age but more care worn. He’s got his shoes and socks off and is slouching across two seats. Perhaps he’s tired. He doesn’t look like he’s drunk. There’s a newspaper at his toes in a foreign language I can’t make out. After one stop he shuffles and picks up the paper. I see the masthead: it’s Turkish paper for those living in Australia. To his left at the far end of the bench seat sits a well-dressed woman, perhaps late twenties. She’s also reading a book. I glance at the title The Boy who was raised as a dog. Is she a psychologist? She gets off at the station before mine so I’ll never know.
Some four hours later, at 9.30pm, I’m getting the taxi home from my local airport. The taxi driver speaks about how wonderful the countryside is around these parts, although we can see none, washed out by bright street lights. He has only just taken up driving.
Savings were getting eaten away, he says. I do this a couple of nights a week. Gets me out of the house!
I speak about a nearby town that has an art gallery. He brightens. Says when he was living in Melbourne he used to collect art, and his sister is an artist and she’s visiting at Christmas. Within 30 seconds he’s told me his sister’s life: how she was in corporate, decided she wanted to do art, was poohoo’d by family and others but stuck to her dreams.
When she comes out here she doesn’t go to the beach but to the bush to find things to paint, he says.
Take her to the gallery, I say.
He has an accent I can’t place and when I’m settling up I ask where he’s from.
South Africa, he says. How good to speak to some intelligentsia, he says, as he hands me the receipt.
I laugh and wish him well.
Nice to have met you, he says as I leave.