And we are back!
The last month’s radio silence has covered a frantic period of packing, posting and rushing around, but we’re finally here (albeit homeless) enjoying a sunny Australian winter. At the moment we’re staying with my family in the country, which is nice when it comes to birds and fireplaces, but not so easy for Kin to get to university. So, last week, on a bright sunny day when Kin had classes, we ventured to Newcastle to visit friends, have a proper coffee and take care of a few things like library visits and collecting a few possessions.
It was a lovely day. The breeze was light and scented with eucalypt and Hamilton was sunny and wintry warm. Mid-morning, Kin trekked off to class and I sat in the sun in a friend’s backyard, with a purring cat on my lap and an occasional avocado rocketing down onto the shed from a nearby tree. After lunch, I ran our errands, then headed out to the university to meet Kin. On this carless day, that meant catching a bus. Luckily, the 226 runs straight to the uni, so I flagged one down, hopped aboard and looked around for a seat.
I had a lot of bags, so I decided for a change to sit toward the front, in one of the four person bays. The lopsided gentleman facing toward the back of the bus appeared to be a little too drunk for that time of the afternoon (but who’s judging?) and I didn’t feel like having someone fall on me every time we took a sharp turn, so instead I sat in the opposite seat, next to a pretty lady in a hijab and her two curly-headed baby boys, one toddling, the other perched on his mother’s foot, using her to support wobbly knees that weren’t really ready for standing. I smiled, she smiled, I settled my bags, took out my knitting and felt that it was truly a beautiful world. Knit two, purl two, keep on to the end… and then a sudden gush of warm fluid drenched me from the knees down and splashed the pretty lady (the older child was in the aisle and the younger had
swung to the side, so both were thus far dry).
It took a second to work out what had happened… We looked down at our dripping legs, looked across at the now suspiciously owl-eyed and wet-chinned man sitting opposite, looked at each other… had a simultaneous realisation and both frantically swooped to retrieve bags, bundles and babies from the spreading pool of vomit, not caring which belonged to whom. And then we were trapped, our burdens safely off the ground with only minimal drippage, but so awkwardly gathered and gripped that we were completely unable to relax our clutch on any one item in case another landed in the soup.
Then, while the two of us watched in horror, completely unable to move, the vile, intoxicated beast leaned forward, right over my legs… and vomited again! And again! With each gush, as my stockings soaked, my shoes filled up and the end of my red skirt turned maroon, the pretty lady’s eyes filled with equal parts sympathy and nausea and I began praying to any gods of public transport that she wouldn’t start throwing up as well. I was having enough trouble containing my own stomach. For several minutes, this awful minion of beery darkness threw up on me, my shoes and my ball of wool, then, having wreaked sufficient havoc for one day, blinked a few more times, stood, and as the bus stopped (sending a frothy wave rushing past again and seriously testing my control over my turbulent stomach) he staggered to the door and was gone.
The elderly gentlemen who boarded the bus en route to the RSL were very helpful. The hijab lady and I each passed them a child, then began rearranging our other burdens sorting out what belonged to whom. Both she and they got away from me as quickly as possible, though, and I couldn’t blame them. I smelled awful. My shoes were full of horror. My skirt and stockings dripped. A nightmare-ridden, beery tsunami had washed away my beautiful day and all I wanted to do was cry. And shower. And throw up. Probably while crying some more. While I threw up. In the shower.
Since I could do none of these things, I just sat in silent misery until the bus reached the university, then stood up to disembark…. And it was horrible. My shoes squelched. Trying to hold my bags as far from me as possible, I splashed off the bus, and dripped my way over the crossing then saw Kin, who, expecting the warm, cheerful, bakery-scented wife he’d left in Hamilton, was surprised to open his arms and have a miserable, vomit-sodden wreck fly into them, wailing bitterly about the awful man on the bus.
Kin is a good husband. He just hugged me and didn’t even say “Yuck”.
I’m laughing (a bit) now that I’m back in the country and my stockings, shoes and wool are soaking in separate buckets by the clothesline. But the experience was surprisingly distressing. I’m no stranger to wearing the odd bodily fluid or two in the line of duty (hospital work is good for that) but to be repeatedly assaulted with the noxious expulsions of a total stranger, in what I had expected to be a fairly hygienic setting, actually resulted in a bit of mild trauma, only slightly dissipated by repeated doses of white vinegar and eucalyptus oil. I don’t mean that my spirit has been blighted and my life is now a ruin. But I feel as though I’ve been doused with a hefty dose of reality, as well as second-hand Toohey’s.
For months now, Kin and I have looked forward to coming home and we’ve been so focused on the wonderful things about Newcastle (our parks, our beaches, the wonderful food and interesting shops) that we’ve been ignoring the fact of our beloved city’s dark side. In particular, we’ve been forgetting that Newcastle definitely has a drinking problem, with all of the social nasties that implies. I’ll admit that actually being vomited on is a new one for me, but any health and hospitality workers, or other denizens of late-night Newcastle have at some point experienced side effects of the city’s struggles with alcohol.
Experiencing them again so soon, and so forcefully, has rubbed a certain amount of bloom off our triumphant return.
There’s good and there’s bad everywhere in the world I suppose, and it’s not as though vomiting drunks are unknown on Japanese public transport either. But I’m already feeling less open and more cautious about moving around my city, even before I’ve officially made it back there. On the other hand, my generally solitary nature is now fired with community-building ambitions; I don’t want anyone to be vomited on again, and the best way to prevent it is to make our neighbourhoods as safe and friendly as possible. Even if that does mean interacting with people more often than my semisocial character would normally choose!
So, all of you community-minded Australians, I raise my glass to you (cup of tea, actually) and swear to join your ranks in the coming months. I will be active, I will be supportive, I will work until our community is green, helpful and free of antisocial behaviours. And, until that day, I will always wear gumboots on the bus!
In the meantime, soak it all away….