24 hours in Melbourne — Part one ::

The train station was deserted. It was a country rail station with Victorian style lampposts casting pools of light up and down the platform. I smoked a joint and paced in front of one of the benches on the platform. I had an eight-hour overnight train ride ahead of me and needed to use my legs and unwind.

The only sound came from crickets in the grass beside the tracks and trucks rumbling along a nearby highway. I finished the joint and chucked the roach in a bin.

A short, large man rounded the other end of the station. He was wearing track pants with paint stains on them. He had his hands tucked into the pockets of a large winter jacket. He walked my way and stopped at an information phone. I heard the woman on the other end. ‘It’s on time. Five to seven minutes late. Basically on time.’ The man laughed, thanked the lady and hung up. He ambled my way.

‘G’day,’ he said when he came under the pool of light I’d been pacing.

‘Evening.’

‘Five to seven minutes.’

‘I heard an announcement said it’d be here in ten minutes. That was about ten minutes ago.’

The man chuckled. He was elderly, maybe five and a half feet tall. He carried a hefty beer gut and had short white stubble on his face and neck matching the short white hair on his round head.

‘Waitin’ for my wife to come home,’ he said. ‘She goes up to Sydney every now and then when her celiac gets real bad. There’s a professor up there seems to be able to get her feelin’ better. We used to get this medicine imported from Singapore but it got banned. They don’t realise when they ban things like that it hurts people.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Apparently it had some kinda egg thing in it. Nice to have the house to myself, though. The wife don’t like me workin’ on my planes when she’s around but that’s where I get to soon as she’s gone.’

I raised my eyebrows a touch.

‘I fly model airplanes,’ he said. ‘Get the parts imported cheap from Hong Kong and put ‘em together myself.’

‘They get big?’

‘Oh yeah, just got one from the parts warehouse with a wingspan of eight feet. Put an electric motor in it.’ He laughed shortly. ‘Didn’t have the guts to fly that one myself but I know an instructor. He broke her in for me. Flew like a dream.’

He stopped for a moment to peer up the tracks. Beyond the end of the platform a few lights glared constantly. If you stared long enough it was possible to imagine you saw something coming.

‘How often d’you do this for your wife?’

He frowned and thought. ‘Aw, maybe once or twice a month. Whenever she needs it. Better this than when I drop her off. I can’t stand trains myself but she loves catchin’ the night train. Leaves here at about 4am, that one.’

I shook my head. ‘And you pick her up and drop her off every time.’

‘Yep. Get used to it after a while. I’m 68 now and I guess once you get to that age you just do it or you don’t. She’s my second wife, this one. The first one left me about fifteen years ago but I did the same kinda thing for her too. You have to. It hurts after twenty-five years but when one of ya wants out what’s there to do? She was good to me, though. Helped me find this place I’m livin’ in now.’

The PA system chimed and an announcement sputtered out in a broken monotone. ‘The—XPT service to—Melbourne—will be arriving at—Yass Junction—in approximately—ten minutes.’

The man and I laughed.

‘Reckon I’ll go for a stroll,’ he said. ‘Enjoy your trip.’

When the train came into sight a while later he hollered from the other end of the platform, ‘Here she comes!’

I waved, he waved back and I boarded.

I awoke on the train to the sound of a child crying. The sun had barely risen above the hills to the east. I wasn’t sure if I’d slept but it didn’t feel like it. Regardless the night had gone quickly.

The child stopped crying and began speaking. The language sounded like Arabic. He spoke only briefly and then burst into laughter, squealing and protesting. He was playing with a parent or sibling. I pulled my jacket over my head and resolved to sleep a little longer.

A loud squeal ended my attempt. It’d been an hour since I dragged myself under my jacket. The child had not ceased. Occasionally he would lapse into silence only to break the silence at higher decibels.

The kid began to speak again after one of these outbursts when I heard a voice behind me, loud enough that a few could hear but still sotto voce.

‘Fuckin’ shut up! I’m gonna fuckin’ murder that kid.’ It was a strong Australian accent. I pictured a guy with a tattoo of the Australian flag on his back. ‘Fuckin’ speak English. What fuckin’ language is that?’

There was an uncomfortable silence. Out of nowhere, a guy across the aisle responded earnestly, ‘Iss noht Germahn.’

‘Oh yeah?’ said the first man.

‘No, iss noht,’ confirmed the German.

The first man seemed suddenly satisfied. Now that we were sure the Germans were not to blame he fell silent.

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