Lismore. Tuesday, 1.35pm
I like Lismore when it floods.
The river breaks its banks and the town breaks its normal reserve. There’s a buzz on the street you can hear above the rain drumming on the cafe umbrellas. Around me, smiles are flashing in the rainy gloom like lightning in dark clouds. The smell of coffee competes with that distinctive wet Lismore aroma.
Morrison (my van) had all shields up as it dodged potholes and wet crows on its way into Lismore from the saturated hills where I live. I just had to get out of the shack. After initially enjoying being all snug and cosy with the fire and DVD player warming up the place, I got, well, lonely.
Snug is really meant for two. Snug with one gets a bit weird after a day or two. I wanted company and coffee.
On my way in, I saw clouds locking onto the hills, misty fingers grasping at trees as the wind cop tried to drag them away. I saw creeks choking on good working topsoil now destined for Ballina and early retirement by the sea. I saw farmhouses leaning into the pelting rain – the plume of smoke from the chimney a flag of human defiance against natural forces.
On wild rainy days you realise that it’s a big universe and it’s beyond our control. It’s big enough to contain all possibilities: flood, cyclone, UFOs, sane government – possibly even coffee and a friend.
A young fella, oblivious to the cold in his black t-shirt, brings two lattes. My napkin attempts a getaway in a zephyr but I grab it and park it under the saucer.
Our cocoons of certainty are fractured when it rains like this. Appointments aren’t kept; things to do aren’t done. The security we think we have is an illusion. Our control over life isn’t real. Anything can happen at any time.
A river tsunami, motivated by eco-revenge and enabled by climate change, could form in the hippie mountains of Upper Wilsons Creek and take Lismore by storm, leaping the levee, damaging white goods and clearing the pubs. Goonellabah may slip off its hill and join us for real coffee. Or the internet may go down and the weather won’t know what it’s supposed to do.
Anything can happen at any time. For instance, I just met a good mate I haven’t seen for ages. Now I have coffee and a friend.
He has his leg up on a chair. Normally, I disapprove of leg-on-chair behaviour at a cafe, but seeing as his foot is bandaged and he’s just spent four days in hospital, I allow this breach of etiquette.
‘I wasn’t expecting this,’ he says. ‘Supposed to be working this week.’
‘Bummer,’ I say.
‘Good to be out of hospital though,’ he says.
I think about how good it is I’m not in hospital. I sip my coffee. It tastes particularly delicious.
Life is unpredictable. I’m lucky I haven’t cut my foot. I’m lucky I’m not in the big floods of northern India, the big fires of Colorado, the leaky boats from Indonesia, or the falling factories of Bangladesh. I’m lucky I’m not an Iraqi or Afghan or Syrian or Egyptian or anyone else the Americans have helped. But anything can happen at anytime.
‘It’s supposed to rain all week,’ my friend says.
‘Yes.’ We are desperate to control the future. But we can’t.
The darkness is pierced by a shaft of sunlight that angles past the umbrella and hits our table. The reflection off the mist-wet surface is blinding.
A murmur ripples through the coffee drinkers and we reach for our sunglasses.