6.59 Sydenham. Thursday

Thursday 26 June 2008

The first I saw of him, he was standing the next door along in the carriage, smoking a fag. A small flicker of irritation passed through me but I thought, "Let the boy smoke" because it was apparent from where I was standing that there was a certain sort of edginess about him. It was like sharp short spikes of red were emanating out from him even from where I was standing, and he glared his way round the carriage, defying anyone to tell him to stop. He knew nobody would.

His girlfriend/enemy/best mate got off at Footscray and yelled platitudes at him as the train pulled away.

"Yeah, you're a fucking hero. Fucking h-e-r-o."

"Fuck off, ya moll," he yelled out the door as the train left. Lovers' tiff at Footscray station maybe ;)

Then he waltzed down the aisle towards my end of the carriage. The usual thing of, "Oh, no. Don't come near me!" My writer mind thinks he waltzed with insouicance, even before I looked it up - but really, I could just as easily say noncholance and sound like less of a smartarse. And anyway, I'm not so sure how noncholant or insouicant you can be when you've got blood spatters on your forehead and on your windcheater. But noncholance is an easy thing to counterfeit, especially when you learn it young. The counterfeit fools people more often than you'd think.

"What the fuck are you looking at?" he said to the guy sitting in front of me, who had been having a conversation with the guy in front of him about the bloody Labor government, and how they've had enough time to do [whatever it was] and they still haven't done it. The woman next to the other man had been saying that she thought that every politician should get thrown out of office when they don't come through with their promises. Which I imagine would make for an eternally echoing office. But it was around about then I tuned out. Political discussions about political structures seem quite pointless to me these days. And anyway, the conversation ended on an outsider's violent volition once one of the participants was asked what the fuck he was looking at.

"Nothing," was the correct reply, a downcast turn of the eyes, a human version of a puppy lying on its back and showing it's belly. A reply I would have viewed with scorn and derision as a teenager and which now shows to me, wisdom. The courage not to fight.

"Yeah, nothing's fucking right," the guy said. He sat down to my left. I stole a couple of quick glances at him but not for me tonight the entering into a conversation with a fellow traveller who was drawing me in. This one was all intimidation and spikiness. It is to the eternal gratitude and eternal loneliness of wounded people that spikiness works.

I don't know what the guy he sat down next to said to him. Whatever it was, it defused his anger. I'd like to think too it was my prayer for him, breathed out of my heart out the door of the train where I was looking because I was too scared to look at him. I couldn't bring myself to do anything else.

Whatever the guy said, a middle-aged dude with long ponytailed hair doing a crossword, it elicited an interesting response.

"Nah, mate, it's not alright. Nothing's fucking alright," bloodman said. Probably one of the more honest things said this evening in this carriage, full of largely lower-middle to middle-class people, coming home from a hard day's computer toil, just wanting to get home, get the door shut, get away from the freaks. A completely understandable and rational desire.

One that no Christian can comply with. Not really. One that we can rationalise away to our heart's content, but it's surely not an option. That desire to get away from the freaks fuels the reasons behind the violence of guys with blood spattered foreheads. Which sends the people scattering home even quicker. And so the snowball goes, and so the streets empty.

I wish I'd had the guts to lose my life to talk to that guy because when he said, "Nothing's fucking alright," he said it out to the entire carriage, and it was the most truthful thing the carriage had heard in its short life journey together, and we blew it. Like we always blow it lately now that God's dead and so is vision.

It's easy to think that no truth has been spoken 'cause it came out the mouth of a guy with a shithouse attitude, a foul mouth and a full container of violence. The Other. So easy to demonise the Other, right?

Of course, in one way you can argue that of course he is nothing to do with us. We have been off doing respectable things while he has been off bashing the shit out of people. But still. Whenever truth gets bleated out into train carriages, if we can't respond we should at least listen. Even if its by intimidation. Maybe he brought all he had to the table. But there were no crumbs anyway. The public table has no food on it. Keeping your head down and your eyes downcast is not always a brave thing.

The guy said to the carriage, "Hey, does this train go to Broadmeadows?" And the man who thought the Labor government had had ample time to do stuff said, "No, mate. Your best bet is to get off here [at West Footscray. Frank's station, right?] and catch the train back to North Melbourne."

"Oh, fuck. Thanks," he said, brushing past me as he got off the train and the carriage realised it had been holding its breath. There was a sudden rush of scapegoat cameraderie and strangers began talking to one another.

The second most honest thing said in the carriage was from the mouth of the woman who I see often, a simple-minded woman doing a simple-minded job that requires her to wear the unattractive fluorescent orange of the manual worker, and who said,

"Wow! I'm glad he got off! Oh, boy! Am I glad he got off!"

And that was the second most honest thing that was said, and I just felt like crying.


  1. You could write a book of just these stories from the train. I hang on every word.

  2. My thoughts as I was reading were: This needs to be published in all the "Christian" magazines that get pumped out regularly, full of the kind of thinking that keeps people from having any clue of what this is all about.

    Sue, this is an example of the honesty I was alluding to...you do it often here on your blog. This was a full body blow to me, and not a paralyzing one but one that moves me to ask...Jesus, help me respond in love along with what the Spirit is doing in moments like these.

  3. Tina - funny you should say that. Just tonight I was thinking, "Gee, if I keep going, one day I'll have a book!" That would be cool.

    Kent - I don't think any Christian magazine would publish this :)

    Actually, it's funny, I was talking to a friend last night about work and how I hate it and he said, "Well, why don't you write then?" and I'm thinking, "But where?" There's, like, 200 trillion magazines out there, and I feel like I'm too spiritual or "religious" for most of them and not enough for the rest, and too much swearing for all of them.

    (Of course, that's not to say that how I write on this blog is the only way it comes, but I'm having a lot of trouble feeling like there is any kind of niche out there for me, really. It's a bit frustrating).

    Thanks, Kent. Nice to know it was a body blow (in a nice way)

  4. I know it wouldn't see the light of day in any of those magazines.

  5. No, definitely not in the "Christian" magazines. But maybe not even in the Christian magazines either! :)

    (Anyway, I've brought this back to being all about me again, which is boring me. End comment, off to bed ;)

  6. Send it to some underground zines where some people might actually get it:) You might not get paid, but at least you would have fullfilled your calling:)

    What was really important for me here is what you say about getting away from freaks not really being an option for Christians. Anyone who seriously engages the person of Jesus, as you say, cannot rationalize it away. Good stuff. The poor show us who we are, prophetic ponderings like this, show us who we can be.

  7. Sue, if Anne Lamott has found a niche with her colorful language, you can find one as well. You have that same kind of honesty that she has and it is wonderfully refreshing (and very convicting - in a God way).

    But don't let us pressure you, darling. ;)

  8. Monk - Dammit, I wanna get paid! I don't wanna get rich (I really don't want to be rich) but dammit, one day, I would like to get paid 0.00007 cents a word for something I write :)

    You know the funny thing? Even though I chickened out around this guy, the desire was still there to engage with him. The "freaks" don't really seem all that freaky to me anymore, you know?

    Tina - aw, thanks :) And yeah,thanks for the pressure, hehe ;)

  9. Hmm...wow. Honesty just knocks the doors down and lets the light and fresh air in. I hope that guy had some healing in those moments of human connection.

  10. Hey. I really enjoyed this (loved it!) and just how observant you are (your inner/ writer's eye) and how well you conveyed the reader to that train and what was really going on...You wrote so well, not surprised one bit...(hope this comment measures up to your majesty hee-hee)
    By the way Anne Lammot curses all the time and she's been published by I think Christian publishers (though not sure) Anyway, she's published and well-respected, even within some of the Christian community (for her raw honesty, I believe, and her caring heart) You sort of remind me of her a little... haven't read a whole lot of her stuff but want to.
    So, great piece. Did you enjoy writing this? I say, keep letting it flow and God will do something with it( not that he already isn't..!) People need to hear what you see

  11. Thanks Jennifer and Manuela. Heady compliments. I think I need to go away and flagellate myself now to keep them in line.

    Yeah, I did enjoy writing this, Manuela. It feels good to me writing train stuff. It feels very real and raw.

  12. having been a commuter for many years in Melbourne, this post rang so true

    carriage conversations
    train wrecks
    rattle and hum

    whatever you call it, you need to start a collection of these train stories


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