When I awake, I am crammed against the window, bag hugged closely to my chest due to an instinct I apparently observe even in my sleep.
I look up, slightly discombobulated. An older lady stares back, an expression of open disdain on her face. I wonder if I have been snoring. Wiping a small line of dribble from the edge of my mouth, I realise I probably have. I don’t have the energy to care much. If the worst thing that happens to this lady today is my snoring, she is lucky in this world.
I look outside. I don’t recognise it. The outside, that is.
I stand up awkwardly, lurching with the tram. I nearly fall, in which case I would have planted my tits squarely in the disdainful lady’s face. I slightly regret this not having happened. Not because I want her face between my tits, but because it would have been comical.
Perhaps not in practice, I decide. My head sometimes turns rather serious events into Charlie Chaplin movies.
I squeeze between the lady, a cheerful big businessman (who’d kept me quite warm, despite the cramming), and a dainty little Korean. In the aisle, I push through an embankment of bodies smelling of sweat, perfume and hair-goo. Why is it so busy today?
I get off. I wish I didn’t wear high heels today. They are not stilettos, but they nevertheless prevent the horizontal meeting of the pavement and the soles of my feet. I stride along the road and ask strangers how to get to tram 96. I do this for thirty minutes, after which I a) find tram 96 and b) find that, along the way, I have once again given in to my materialistic desire to own all Adventure Time mugs.
Like the first, this tram is as full as the marble jar of a marble enthusiast. It goes… and goes… and goes. It empties. I worry. Has my discombobulation lead to me boarding the wrong tram, per chance? I ask the tram driver if this might be the case. Indeed, I should have boarded tram 86.
I jump off this tram and quickly onto another, which is going in the opposite direction. It is also full of human bodies, murmuring out of their top-ends and jostling uncomfortably. Most complaints are kept under the breath. This way, one remains unaware of how many naughty words their complaints contain. Out of sheer curiosity, I’d rather know which bad words that sweet old man is using.
Is there some major event of which I am unaware? Is it Santa’s birthday? Has Jesus resurrected? No – if that was the case, surely people would be happier, and atheists like myself would be running around yelling, “I’m sorry, God, I take back all those things I said about religion!”
In this moment, I get pushed roughly to the front of the tram and find myself pressed against the Perspex bubble that protects the driver. I’m happy to be there, for I have a question. I move my mouth towards the tiny holes my voice must navigate to reach the driver’s ear.
“I am trying to get to East Brunswick. Can you tell me how to do that?”
No answer. I raise my voice.
“Do you know how I can get to East Brunswick?”
He grunts and looks at me for a moment. This is the split second it takes to decide if I’m a menace. I guess I don’t appear menacing, because he answers.
“See the road up there? Get off now and go to that bus stop – up there, yeah. Now!”
The doors open and I am ejected by the crowd. I narrowly avoid falling into traffic. Damn high heels!
I run to the bus stop, clip clop clip clop, and wait in the drizzle. I jump on the bus when it arrives and ask the driver, “Does this go to Nicholson Street in East Brunswick?”
“Not exactly, sorry, love. But I can tell you where to catch the next bus to get there.”
He drives for twenty minutes and chats to me about India and how it expanded his mind. I’ve been there twice. I hope he’s not the type whose mind feels expanded via the myth that all Indians are deliriously happy despite the poverty and mud they are born and die in. He is not. His mind was expanded because he realised he lives a life of privilege. We are in agreement. I feel glad. There is enjoyment to be derived from like-minds.
I get off the bus and cannot see this supposed bus stop which will aid my reaching Nicholson Street. Perhaps it turns invisible when people approach it. Perhaps it just turns invisible if I approach it.
A guy about my age walks past as if he knows all about walking in Melbourne. I tap his shoulder. Slightly startled, he takes out his earphones.
“Sorry to bother you, but I was just wondering if you know whether I am anywhere near Nicholson Street… Or East Brunswick, for that matter?”
“Oh, um…. We are in East Brunswick, but I’m from Perth…”
So much for cold reading. This is not a guy who knows the streets of Melbourne at all. He takes out his phone and studies it closely. I tell him sorry, he says don’t be, I say don’t worry about it, he says don’t be silly, I say I really don’t won’t to bother you, he says it is the least I can do, I say….
Jeez, us Westerners do carry on with a lot of bollocks!
He sets off, saying he thinks Nicholson Street is not far from his work. Gratefully, I follow. We do small talk because that’s what you do. To explain my Adventure Time umbrella I mention my love for cartoons. He spasms in an apoplexy of excitement which I ascribe to geekism. He rushes to show me phone pics of all the Adventure Time paraphernalia he owns.
For context, I am also a geek. My house is littered with Adventure Time paraphernalia, I listen to the Adventure Time podcast, and search online regularly for Adventure Time fan art. This is why I remain unalarmed at his extreme enthusiasm.
We veer into a carpark, still talking about Adventure Time. We approach a door that looks like it leads to a basement.
Hang on, what?!
I slowly put my hand into my bag, taking hold of the latest addition to my collection of Adventure Time mugs. If he tries anything, his head will be cracked by the adorable but saucy little elephant who makes apple pies.
He fumbles with his key. I step back, pulling the mug from my bag. He opens the door slowly, still trying to sort out the contents of his bag. I peek in, half expecting to see whips and dog collars on the wall. Let’s be clear: it isn’t that I have anything against whips and dog collars. I just don’t want to be personally introduced to these instruments suddenly and violently by a psychopath.
Inside, there are no whips and spikes of eternal doom (whatever they are).
There are about a dozen people, kicking back on ergonomic chairs and tapping away at computers. The walls are covered by some geek-friendly posters and cute models of cartoon characters and such. Between each desk is a hammock. My helper says, “Come in!” in a friendly voice. I leave Tree Trunks the elephant mug snug in my bag. This man deserves to keep his skull intact.
I enter, seeing what appears to be a rustic version of a Silicon Valley workplace. Everyone seems relaxed and cheerful. I learn that they are working on various types of animation. I resist the urge to dive for a hammock and beg for a job despite my lack of any history of working in the animation industry whatsoever.
Mister Helper finds Nicholson Street on his computer and discovers it is not as close as we thought. The swear words don’t leave my mouth. This self-employed equanimity is too lovely to disturb. Back on the street, I look to where he instructed me to go. Something doesn’t seem right. I do sorta kinda a little bit know this area. I go back up to the corner where I met Mister Helpful who shall henceforth be known as Misguided Mister Helpful. This name-change is due to his erroneous instructions. Maybe he should have looked at google maps sideways.
Desperate, I ask two truckies if they know where Nicholson Street is. They say, “You’re on it, mate!”
“Do you know where the café Birdie Num Nums is, by any chance?” I ask, hopes rising.
“Yeah, that’s way up the road. Just catch a tram at that stop,” one of them says, pointing, “and you’ll be there in no time.”
It just goes to show: if you ever need directions, don’t ask a tram or bus driver. Ask a truckie.
I wait for the tram. Of course, no trams come. I start to wonder if I emit an odour repulsive to tram drivers. Eventually, a bus pulls up. On the front there is no number. Only the words “Trams Replacement Bus.” I tentatively board. “Is this what I catch instead of the tram?” I ask stupidly. “Yes,” he answers.
“Is something going on today?”
“Yeah. There’s a tram strike between 10 and 3.”
Oh. Oh! Hence the early morning pile-up of humanity. Hence people boarding and disembarking like madmen. Hence people waving their hands madly in the air in the middle of the street in a futile attempt to make sense of it all.
I tap my Myki card on the little beep-beep platform. There are good beep-beeps and bad beep-beeps. Upon contact, my card causes the bad kind. I am out of credit. Furthermore, due to the amazing foresight and intuition of our good city planners, I am unable to pay for extra travel points on the actual tram. For that, I’d have to go to a 7/11 ten miles away.
Let it be clear that, had I spoken the last two sentences out-loud, they would have been dripping with syrupy sarcasm.
I apologise to the driver profusely, who shrugs it off as he attempts sign language with more madly-waving people in the middle of the street. Yes, buses are indeed bussing while the trams aren’t tramming.
I settle down. To be safe, I check with the driver that my café is indeed on our path.
“No,” he says. “We aren’t doing the exact same route that the trams do.”
“Shit,” I say, then apologise again.
“But I will be coming back in this direction. You’ll be able to walk from where I drop you off.”
The bus grumbles along the road. Then another road. Then another. People are getting out. We stop, and he yells at the last bloke, “End of the line!” Before I know it, the bus is driving again. I suddenly miss crowded transport. Now it’s only the bus driver and I, snaking up small alleyways, bending around unfamiliar corners. My hand clamps around the mug again.
I am happy to report that this man was the second confirmed non-rapist I met that day.
We eventually reach a wider road, pick up more passengers, and he tells me where to go. Not in a rude way. I mean, he suggests that the present stop is the closest to my destination I could ever, EVER hope to find on this day.
I alight. I pop open my umbrella, allowing Adventure Time characters to cop the rain instead of me. I am exhausted. I realise, however, that the scenery is familiar.
It is another half an hour before I reach the café. My cousin and her partner turn up, full of smiles and hugs. I accept the hugs gratefully, explaining that, early though it may be, I’ve already had a long day.
“What happened?” my cousin asks.
“It’s a long story. Maybe you’ll find it on my blog,” I answer.