Coles opens at six in the morning. The usual early checkout lady is here, speaking her accented English. (As if I do not, as if we do not all, declare our origins whenever we speak.)
‘Are you from Israel?’ – I ask.
‘Where should I be from?’
She’s Israeli alright.
I tell her my wife and grandkids and I estivated in Israel just a couple of weeks ago.
‘To visit Israel is wonderful’, she says. Her voice works fractionally harder on ‘visit.’ Her emphasis is to teach me something undeclared: to go there and stay is not so wonderful.
Her busy face looks up at me: ‘Do you really want to pay $7.90 for this celery? Organic?? You don’t look so rich. Go, get normal celery, two dollars fifty.’
‘That celery is better. Sometimes organic is not organic.’ Her face, usually set too dour for conversation, opens. The checkout lady finds time this morning to soften our transaction, to confess whatever it is she has been carrying for this long time: ‘To live in Israel is hard. The stress, the bombs, every day – the stress.’
Grey day. Not cold, just damp, a case of Melbourne having weather instead of a climate. Striding along Collins Street to keep an appointment, I sight ahead of me in the gloom a lone figure sawing away at a violin. The sounds, initially thin, fill and broaden as I near the performer, a slender young woman. Closer now, and the sound is rich and spacious under the leaden canopy of wet cloud.
The violinist stands alone in her parallelogram of space as Melbourne’s skulkers scuttle to shelter.
I chuck a coin into her empty violin case, thanking her for beautifying this unbeautiful day.
Further down Collins Street, I stand in the drizzle awaiting my appointed meetee. A thin man approaches, veers towards me and slows: “Wanna buy a diamond ring?”
Seventy-year old ears don’t pick up such fine print.
Did he ask for money? He looks like he could go a feed.
My hand locates the ten dollar note in my pocket.
Uncertain, I ask: “What did you say?”
“Do you want to buy a diamond ring?”
The thin man flashes a thin silvery band before clenching his hand around the ring.
“What? No thanks. I don’t need a ring. Thank you.”
The man peers. He is shorter than I am. He sights my kippah.
“Are you a Jew?”
“That’s good”, he says. Reassuring me. “You wouldn’t have a spare dollar…?”
My ready hand finds the ready note and produces it. The man palms the note, opens and considers it, then says, “You wouldn’t have another ten, would you?”
“Piss off!” Smiling.
The man extends a skinny arm. His paw pats my shoulder –
“Thanks sir” – then slopes away up Collins Street.
Two young coppers stand at the corner. Both wear guns. Sundry hardware hangs from their belts. One of the two carries a slim metal cylinder in his gloved hands. The latex gloves are sky blue, the shiny cylinder. He walks to the wheelie bin and drops the cylinder delicately before turning to join his friend and a tall, thin, older man. The thin man gangles and sways. He is grey, all grey – his hair, his beard, his bushy eyebrows, even his track suit pants. (Is there any garment more expressive of neglect than track suit pants? Apparel for vomiting in!)
The young officer walks up to the thin man, takes the older man’s arm gently in his hand and leads him to the Police wagon. The second officer opens the door to the mini-cell that is the prisoner’s compartment. Tenderly the officers hand the man into the interior. They protect his head from the low sill of the cabin, they bend his legs, then straighten him up before belting him in and closing the door carefully. The young men could not handle Mister Thin more tenderly if he was their grandfather.
My patient used to be a copper. He works now for the Council, in Security. He injured his spine at work a couple of months ago and as his spine is about sixty it heals slowly. In the course of those months I have come to know him moderately well. We have established a routine: he comes in, he sits down and complains a little. I listen, examine and record. Then I complete tedious worker’s insurance forms. While I write the security officer confesses. He tells me how certain police of his former acquaintance would be a little ungentle while interrogating a suspect. He winks. He tells me how acquaintances would visit brothels where favours were expected and received. ‘Police and brothels, bad combination.’ He winks. I am to understand he is giving me his confession.
People tell me things. I remember the man who told me how brutally the hospital staff manhandled him when all he did was threaten to cut someone’s throat. The patient told me how he planned to go back to that hospital with a bomb. I asked my patient not to tell me things like that. I told him I have to report conversations of that sort to the police.
My patient told me he would ‘fucking kill those bitches who work for you.’ Those bitches were young women. They left my employment.
I wonder what prompts my patient to tell me these things. I wish he did not.