Friday, October 30, 2009

Walk on by

from w
Wednesday evening:It was 6 p.m. and I was running along Collins Street after alighting from a crowded tram. Peak period. I had eight minutes to catch the Geelong train at Southern Cross Station. At the corner of Spencer Street the red light stops us in mid-flight. I was in the midst of a sea of black, office workers finished for the day. I picked my way to the right for space. Below me a beggar with a mass of tangled black hair huddled against the shop-wall, a few coins in a scarf nearby. The woman was covered in a lightweight shawl and on the pavement were several pieces of art-work, like rangoli the Indian sand design, but these were on cardboard I think. I looked at her face, small, pinched, narrow, and she smiled straight at me. I looked again at the artwork – intricate, brightly coloured and she was making another one. What is her story, I wondered as I was reminded of a long-lost friend from Fiji that I cannot find in Melbourne though I have asked around. The response had always been that she had run away from her family, had a mental illness, but she was probably still somewhere around. The traffic lights changed to green and I plunged forward, still intent on catching the train. But I should have stayed, talked with her. As the train snaked across the land a Beatles song 'Penny Lane' was in my head and I was thinking - was this elderly Indian woman Sarita, my friend of the early days, an Indian girl who had been a lovely dancer in her teenage years. Probably not, but I felt uneasy that I had not stayed to ask, ‘What is your name?’

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