It’s Wednesday and I’m on the 12.50pm train from Swan Hill to Melbourne and there’s 3 minutes until the train will leave the station, not enough time for me to get off the train, take a photo of the monstrous fibreglass trout on the train station lawns, and get back on before departure.
So instead, I sit looking at and listening to the Italians who are sitting in the seats across the aisle.
There are about 10 of them, I make the guess from around 65 to 75 years old.
They are making a lot of noise; talking a lot, moving from seat to seat, taking their coats off, checking their seat numbers and tickets, yelling at each other over the top of the seats.
And then suddenly I hear from 3 seats down an elderly woman, who is wearing a blue skirt, blue cardigan and glasses stands up, turns toward the Italians and leans over the top of her seat and starts calling out to the old Italians.
‘Oi,’ she says, ‘you’re making too much noise, keep it down a bit?’
Having lived in Italy, I feel protective of the Italians, so I give the woman the stink-eye.
Then, I overhear the Italians talk about me.
They are saying how sorry I must be to have to sit so close to them, with all their noise and chaos.
‘Non c’e problema,’ I say, ‘capisco tutto e mi piace gli Italiani,’
Now they are all laughing and saying to each other, in Italian, ‘she understands Italian, she speaks Italian, she likes Italians, how nice’.
And they are all leaning forwards now and looking at me and waving and saying hello and I am smiling back at them and saying ‘piacere’; telling them it is a pleasure to meet them all.
Then the train starts to move and for a while I sleep in a patch of sun that falls on my seat through the uncurtained window.
When I wake up, one of the Italian men, who is wearing a beige sweater, has ginger hair and moustache and is wearing a short-brimmed, grey hounds-tooth fedora leans forward in his seat, waves his hand palm up to me and tells me, in Italian, to look at the seat next to me.
I look to the seat on my left and see a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
I say thank you and then I ask who has left it for me and then I pick it up and unwrap it and eat it.
‘Giovanni te l’ha lasciato,’ says the man, who holds his hand out for me to shake.
He tells me his name is Rocco.
And we begin to talk.
He tells me he came to Australia in the 1950s but really he loved Canada.
‘I would have dug a hole all the way down to get back to Canada,’ he says.
Everyone is talking loudly so I lean forward in my seat so I can hear what else Rocco wants to say.
He tells me he is the boss of this social group, and that they have been in Swan Hill for 4 days, playing cards and poker machines and shopping and they come here every year and stay in the same motel.
We speak in Italian for a while until one of the other Italians, a woman, comes and sits opposite me and starts to talk to me.
Firstly she tells me why her English is not good.
‘I came from Sicily,’ she tells me, ‘and I have 4 kids, 5 years,’
Then she holds up 4 fingers on her left hand and tells me the names of the children.
Then she asks me if I have a husband.
I tell her no.
‘No time, eh?’
‘No,’ I say, ‘no time for husbands,’
Then we both laugh.
Then she tells me she likes to play the poker machines.
Then swapping between Italian and English, we have a discussion about poker machine addiction.
I tell her about my mother’s.
‘I think my mother spent most of the money my father left her on poker machines,’ I tell the woman.
She makes a ‘tsk’ noise and then suddenly everyone is laughing.
The woman’s husband has fallen asleep, 2 seats opposite and behind us, and is snoring.
Rocco gets up to take a photo of him with his phone.
All of the Italians are laughing and after the husband wakes up they begin to bring out food from containers under their seats.
There is a thermos of coffee and the women offer me some.
I say yes and they give me a little disposable cup of espresso.
They stand in the aisles and shout to each other, laughing loudly, passing biscotti and coffee and wine.
They explain to me what years they came to Australia, they tell me their names and who is married to who.
And it is then I realise that the woman who told them to be quiet, Barbara, is married to one of the Italians and I get out of my seat and I go to speak to her.
‘I am really sorry,’ I say, kneeling down and holding on to the arm of her seat, looking up at her slightly, ‘for giving you such a nasty look,’
‘I wondered why you were staring at me with such a look on your face,’ Barbara says to me.
‘I wanted to say- Excuse me, madam, but these people are Italians, and this is how they ARE,’ I tell Barbara, and she laughs.
‘I know how they are,’ she says, ‘I’ve been married to one for a long time.’
And Barbara and I laugh and then I go back to my seat and Giovanni offers me ‘vino’ and I lie and tell him I am allergic to wine.
‘I am allergic to cheese,’ Rocco then tells me, ‘and milk, anything like this,’
That must be hard for an Italian, I think, with all that pizza and mozzarella di Bufala and cappuccinos.
It would be like an Australian being allergic to beer or tinned beetroot or dim sims.
It is a 4 hour trip from Swan Hill to Melbourne and for perhaps 2 and a half of those hours I talk to the Italians, drink their coffee and eat their biscotti and cakes.
And the Italians are never still.
And they are never quiet.
And they never stop laughing.
I’m standing on the corner of Broadway and 7th, and I’m looking back toward Downtown.
And I’m looking out for a bus with the number 2 on it; the bus that goes up from Downtown to Northpark.
And I’m standing in front of the bus stop, and I have my sunglasses on and I am sucking on my e-cigarette, when a man who looks like he might not have a fixed abode, looks up at me and says- ‘Girl, you look like you got some stress in your life,’
I look down at the man, stop sucking on my e-fag, and I smile.
I want to tell the man that I have just spent the night in hospital where I have seen and heard and felt things I do not wish to see or hear or feel again.
And I want to tell him that I am unwashed and unfed.
And I want to tell the man that although I am trying to find the start, I cannot unravel the thread.
And that, unsure of my future and confused by the past, I feel a live-wired Medusa living in my head.
But I don’t say any of this to the man.
Instead I just laugh, and say ‘Yes, I am a bit stressed’.
And then, when the man asks me for a couple of something to get himself something, I take 2 dollars of notes from my pocket and hand them to him.
And then the number 2 bus comes and I get on it, and to the driver I say- ‘I do not have the correct money,’
‘Never mind,’ the driver says to me, ‘the city needs the money for a new stadium, anyway,’
Then the driver and I laugh.
And then I pay 3 dollars for a $2.25 ticket and walk through the bus and sit down and look out of the window.
And there, in the bus stop sits the smiling man who has told me about my stress-face.
And he is still smiling at me.
And I smile back at him.
And he lifts his hand and waves at me.
And I lift mine and wave at him.
Then I give him a thumbs up.
And he gives me back a thumbs up.
And then the bus moves off, and I wave again.
And the smiling man waves and I wave and smile until I can no longer see him.
And all the way up to Golden Hill, even though I cannot see him, I smile at the smiling man in the bus stop.
I continue my smile for him.