Noumea. Thursday, 5.35pm
She strides quickly, pushing the pram in front of her, the tears on her cheeks flashing in the setting sun’s yellow light. She shouts something in French over her shoulder, her voice breaking up from emotion.
Behind her, a man with a neat haircut, fashionable stubble, khaki cargo shorts and shiny sneakers follows her, eyes downcast, the distance between them increasing.
I am susceptible to sadness. Sorrow hangs over each of us, mostly looming on our horizons or hiding in our peripheral visions, until, one day, the dark shadow precipitates in a storm, raining tears down on us, throwing us into darkness.
In a world that sells happiness, sorrow is not profitable, but sorrow is real, born from our mortality. It connects us, creating empathy. It is the same sorrow, shared.
Her sadness is palpable, emanating in waves, her pram pushing an envelope of sadness, wrinkling the late-afternoon light like a rocket through the stratosphere.
Hers is not a passing angst, like when our phone battery runs flat; this is a sadness that has gutted her and left her empty. Her blonde hair, styled fashionably, has surrendered to the breeze. Her make-up is streaked from tears, her blues eyes framed red.
She thrusts the pram along the Promenade Roger Laroque, on a footpath that snakes along Anse Vata beach. Beyond the sand is the water, mostly blue, but smeared sunset yellow to the west.
Along the beach are groups of Kanaks, hanging by the sea as they have done for thousands of years, their time unsevered by schedule. As the sad woman and her pram pass by, a young male Kanak leaves his group under a big tree and walks into the sea, fully clothed. He dives under and emerges smiling from the crystal water. He walks back to his group his jeans and Rasta t-shirt soaked through. Only his hair remains impervious to water, drops hanging hopefully onto curly tips for a moment until a shake of the head sends them off in a spray. He watches the sad woman as he walks, his smile evaporating. We all feel her pain.
The sad woman’s man shouts something to her. She turns to him, still pushing the pram, and shouts a question at him. (I can’t hear the question. My French isn’t that good and I’m across the road, sitting at a cafe drinking a local beer. But I can feel it’s an important question.)
As well as our individual sorrows there is a dark cloud squatting on our collective horizon. I read this morning that it is ‘politically unrealistic’ to expect governments to react appropriately to avert catastrophic climate change. This is a hell of a statement. We have to accept avoidable calamity? Jeez. I’d be angry if I had any anger left.
She stops pushing the pram and faces him, staring him down, waiting for a reply. He stops too. The question hangs between them.
The Kanak boy, wet jeans and dry hair, waits for the reply. I put down my beer, and wait for the reply.
He can’t look at her. He stands staring at his sneakers. Silence suffocates time and it nearly stops.
He says nothing.
A drum kicks in, then guitars and bass. Reggae kills the quiet. Just up the road, a Kanak band plays on a makeshift stage on the beach. The music makes the Kanak boy’s smile return, and he dances, kicking up sand.
The sad woman’s man turns on his heels and walks quickly away.
The sad woman watches him for a moment, opens her mouth as if to yell something, but she is so empty even rage has no fuel.
She pushes her pram, slowly now, towards the music.