Lismore. Tuesday, 4.45pm
A big bloke has jumped down from the cab of his ute onto the gravelly shoulder of the road. He slams the door shut, and leans back, hands on hips, stretching his back. He walks slowly around the ute tray on which is bolted one of those aluminium checkerplate tool boxes. There’s also a ladder, a broom and a couple of huge plastic buckets lashed to the tray.
I see the bloke as I negotiate the roundabout at the northern end of Ballina Street bridge. (Well, he is wearing a high-vis shirt.) I’m heading his way; he’s in the little street I use to take me out of madding metropolis and to my shack under the cliffs at the end of the world, where only wallabies and scrub turkeys note my comings and goings.
I too am finished a day’s work – but my work is not manual. Unless you count the stairs I have to climb a few times a day (which leave me with sore legs), and the whiteboard marker I have to push across a whiteboard creating kilometres of wriggly line (which leaves me with a sore arm), and the bending down I have to do to hear students labour with the intricacies of a second language (which leaves my lower lumbar aching).
Yep, it’s tough being a worker. (And I have to do three days this week. Three days! In a row! Jeez.)
The bloke tugs at the padlock on the tool box, checking it’s secure – it is – and continues walking, in that big-fella way, towards a wooden gate with a bell, hung on a weathered wooden fence, behind which is a weathered old house. He swings his arms a bit, loosening them after a day working.
He tucks his orange and black high-vis shirt into his pants, revealing for a moment a silver belt buckle which then quickly disappears under a generous belly fold. He runs his fingers through his hair.
Steering my Superoo towards him, I hear a screen door slam and see a splash of blue streak down the stairs from the old house. With a clang, the gate explodes open, and shoots out a girl.
‘Daddy!’ she cries, rushing to the big bloke, slapping into him at speed, and burying her head into that high-vis belly. He smiles big, his eyes squeezed to shut, and wraps big arms around the girl.
I motor slowly by.
Another, quieter, slam from the screen door, and a woman, barefoot and hair tied in a loose bun, ambles down the steps, smiling at the footpath scene.
In the rearview, I see her glide through the gate to him. Her lips brush against his cheek to find his ear, where her lips move, saying something, as he stares down at his daughter’s head. He looks up, grins at the woman and touches her chin. The trio walks to the gate, he with one arm over the woman’s shoulder, the other around his daughter, who is still nestled against his belly.
The Superoo slows to stop. My foot has slipped off the accelerator.
In an internetted world where we’re bombarded daily by scenes of injustice, cruelty and pain; where importance is aligned with money, power and likes; where we’re showered with the vacuous memes and pseudo-spiritualism of self obsession, this vignette of the ordinary, this common honesty, this love, has crossed my path like a comet, making the mundane magnificent, the common exceptional. And touching something in me.
I shut my eyes. I…
A horn behind me. Not angry, just two taps.
I wave an apology, hit the throttle, and zoom to my own homecoming.