Byron Bay. Tuesday, 3.25pm
Her hands cover her eyes. She sits on concrete edging in Railway Park, elbows on knees, her arms propping a head that seems so heavy it would surely fall onto the grass if they didn’t.
She hasn’t moved since I noticed her nearly 20 minutes ago. She justs sits. A cloud, darker than those left behind by a teasing supermoon, hangs over her, shading her within an umbra of gloom.
At least, that’s what I see.
She is so separated from the world that, at first, I thought maybe she was clasping a phone to her ear. But no. Her hands hold only her head. Her curly black hair falls over her hands.
Byron life goes on around her.
A loud couple, plastic shopping bags in hand, walks past her anticipating a cool drink at the Rails. She pays them no heed.
A shirtless bloke, with a top knot speared by a feather, twirls what looks to be two fire sticks hinged together and tied to a fine chain. He displays his twirling skills to three young women sitting on the grass. They’re dressed in brown skirts, heavy lace-up boots and Elven carry bags. He dances around them, sticks spinning. The young women ignore him and smoke organic tobacco. Only when a trick goes wrong and the two-stick contraption whacks the twirler in the stomach do three heads (shaved sides, bone earrings) turn to him.
The sad woman doesn’t turn.
She has a feral style too (but no boots or shaved bits), though it’s obvious to me that sadness has sucked her out past the warm shallows of fashion and into the chilling depths beyond.
Behind her, cars rumble over a pedestrian crossing, young people with huge backpacks and burnt shoulders stumble towards parked buses, and a screaming child holding his crotch is dragged to the park toilets by a flustered mother pushing an all-terrain pram.
Beyond fashion; beyond joy; beyond anger – is sadness.
On the footpath is a stall. With a silver-encrusted finger, the seller points to necklaces and bangles laid out on worn velvet. A giggle of Japanese wrapped in Australian-flag towels looks and laughs.
A small child – a toddler – with blonde ringlets and a tie-dyed dress checks out the silvery man and the chuckling Japanese, and then turns away. She hops up onto the concrete edging. With arms outstretched, balancing, she walks along the edging, each barefoot step carefully placed. She’s headed towards the sad woman.
Of all the sensory flash in Byron today – the rainbow colours of happiness, the beeping cacophony of wealth, the incense wafts of hope – this woman’s desolation flashes brightest, a lighthouse in a storm.
In this noisy town, her silence rings out like a church bell at dawn, reducing the shrill of commerce, consumption and community to a muted murmuration.
The child has balanced her way to the woman. Gently, she touches the woman on the head. They have similar curls. No response.
Sure, Trump won the presidency, the planet has moved from simmer to saute, and Australia’s heart really is stone, but the woman’s sorrow is beyond such tidal fluctuations. Her heart is broken.
Her misery calls out to its own. In a diminished way, I feel the sadness too, now. But I thank her for that. We need sadness in a hurting world. It’s the honest response. In a cacophony of lies, a tear tells the silent truth.
The child jumps down from the edging and stands in front of her mum. She touches a hand. Slowly, the hand drops and an eye looks up.
Luckily, there is also love.
The woman’s arms open and the child walks in.