Aborigines have different ideas about property.
You can hardly stop looking at it, it's so utterly revolting. Why doesn't he wear dark glasses or something? His gaze travels up the carriage, past you, so you can get a really good look without him noticing. The eye is almost black, you decide - black, like those glass black eyes they put on people in horror movies when the Devil has taken them over.
And looking at the fish man on the train, you forget about the other eye he must have, an other eye of some colour somewhere described or looked into, an other eye that has winked or sparkled or pierced or narrowed at certain times. You forget about that other eye, that other, perhaps blue or hazel or stone-coloured eye, because his fish eye, his fish blood soulless shiny wet black raw red eye is now looking out at you.
Of course, you casually look away.
There is a businesswoman getting on your train now, at the door over there. You know she's in business because she is wearing expensive-looking clothes and is neatly coiffured. University educated, probably, you assume. She looks a bit out of place though, on this Saturday night train - looks as if she's just come from work. Everything matches, right down to the modern, golden brooch set with a green stone that picks up the colours in her shawl. She must have a lot of money, you think. You watch her as she makes her way over the schoolbags left in the doorway by those kids hanging on the walls; past the mother and daughter who've been shopping, holding their bags to their breasts like prizes; past the nodding young man with the headphones on. She is looking around at the available seats, picking out the best one. There is only one seat in the whole carriage that's by itself.
The businesswoman sits down so precisely, so neatly, she seems almost to hover. You wonder if she has haemorrhoids. She has a lacquered, wooden briefcase like a painter's box, and she carefully places it on her stony knees. It sits there, like a good dog. She neatly arranges all her other luggage about her - a straight yellow umbrella, a tiny, shiny red handbag, the lovely shawl - and she stares straight ahead. Now that she's settled, the other people in the carriage breathe out.
The train courses along on its steel tracks and the night city outside advertises itself through the windows. The businesswoman's eyes repeat a mechanical path, back and forth, back and forth, as people's eyes do when they watch the scenery go by. But instead of looking at the pretty city as all the other passengers do, you are observing them.
The man with the raw eye is now watching the clever woman. He's crossed one stick leg upon the other, and his polyester grey pants are stretching over his balls, slicing them in half. You can see it quite clearly. He sits this way, just staring at her.
She's quite good-looking, really. In a hard sort of way. He's checking out her legs, you guess, and then you see him break into a watery smile. Disgusting. You look at his fish eye staring straight out, while the other one wanders about. The train rockets along at the speed of night.
At the next stop a uniformed woman gets on the train and flops in next to the fish-eyed man, with a hummph. The eye! She didn't even see it! you marvel. Look at her hair, though. Her perm is the tight curl of the frequent salon-goer, that unnatural frizz. The uniform is the blue of the cafeteria worker. You remember when Coles caf was a fixture in town, and you were dragged off there by your grandmother for a solid jelly parfait whenever you went into town. She probably makes the damn things, you speculate. She's the kind that would. Below the hem of her uniform bubble blue-white opaque veins and an arthritic joint. She shifts about in her seat uncomfortably, and rubs a knotty hand up and down her calves. They are swollen at the ankle, their unnatural shape hardly contained by the flesh-coloured pantyhose. How do their legs get like that? Must be diet. She'd only be my age.... She crosses her ankles and pulls out her knitting from a floppy bag, but first checks with an old, filmy Woman's Weekly; the pattern isn't coming out right.
The train screams into the first city station in the Loop, and starts to absorb everyone from the platform. It seems to sigh under the weight slightly. Everybody already in the train suddenly tenses, in anticipation of having to slide their knees sideways for the throng. You look out at the platform conveniences: a cream-tiled toilet block, half-a-dozen sweet vending machines, a tiny magazine stall booth. Your eye is drawn to a black girl standing at its counter. Hardly see any Aborigines in Melbourne, you think. They're all up north. The warmer climate. 'They prefer deserts', you recall reading.
The black girl seems to be nervous; glancing over at .the train all the time. It'll leave soon, if she doesn't hurry. She leans heavily into a raggy cloth shoulder bag at her side and cocks her head, pleading. It's obvious. The enormous bulk that is the man behind the counter shuffles, and a hand extrudes from his striped T-shirt. He plonks it firmly on top of a packet of cigarettes on the counter with a thud. The girl seems to be flapping. Suddenly she shouts, and you hear it even above the trains' whooshing:
'But I said I can pay yous back later.'
The great fat arm withdraws from the counter, and with it, the packet of cigarettes. He leans back into his girlie magazines.
The girl blares: 'Why not?' but you're too far away to hear the answer - if there is one - then: 'Shithead!' and she runs for the train.
Aborigines have different ideas about property, you think.
She just manages to scramble in before the electric doors slice together. Everyone has heard what the girl screamed; they're all suddenly silent, occupied, staring at the advertisements around the carriage, fussing in their bags, looking out the window. But the black girl seems not to have known she's made a scene. She slips under the arm of a tradesman, slumps into a window seat and stares out.
Rain blatts at the girl against her window and she lets out a furious sigh.
You wonder if she's slept in her clothes. And you recognise the odour of cannabis, too. The other passengers stifle their comments, turn their noses away, move seats even.
She looks around at her fellow passengers, and sees that the fish-eyed man is looking at her. She's seen it! you triumph, but she gives him that 'What are you lookin' at?' stare as if he were just anyone, as if he were normal, and she hitches up her leg and props one foot on the opposite seat. A fifty dollar fine. You've read the sign. Her bent knee makes a sort of barrier between herself and blood-eye, but he doesn't seem to get the message, and you marvel at how he just keeps on staring at her, checking her out.
The rest of the people in the carriage are still busy. Nobody wants any trouble. And nobody will comment on the black girl's sandshoe on the seat, either. Not worth it, you think to yourself. People like her don't understand.
It's just that her foot happens to be on the seat right next to the good-looking businesswoman. This'll be fun, you muse, and sit back to watch what happens.
It seems to take ages. The businesswoman is still staring straight ahead. Stuck up bitch, you think, but she doesn't move. She could say something. But she doesn't.
The black girl has broad nostrils, you observe. And a flat nose. She's not pretty. Not like the Torres Strait Islanders. Her bag is on the other seat, even though there are people standing. She couldn't care less about anyone else, you think.
Suddenly the businesswoman jerks to the handbag at her side - the shiny, hard red thing. She delves inside - it couldn't be hard to find, whatever it is, in there, you think, because it's that small. She produces a foreign-brand lipstick and some sort of jewelled mirror contraption that folds neatly around and around itself. Expensive, you think. You get what you pay for, though, and she's obviously worked for it. The black girl couldn't care less, still. The lipstick is applied with smooth, practised strokes. The lips are pressed together to spread the grease, in an action that looks as if the businesswoman is saying "Mmaa-umm." Mum. The case snaps shut with a click. You jerk slightly.
But the woman with the clever mirror is now unsettled. No-one's noticed her silent protest. She shifts about on her seat. She sits up quite straight, she shifts. She folds her shawl over her painter's box, she shifts. Now grazing over the advertisements on the walls of the train, now poising a cool white elbow on the aluminium window strip, she avoids the black girl right in front of her - completely. You can see how they are almost in the same position, exactly opposite each other, except for the leg. Look at the difference in their postures though, you think.
Then the train starts to slow, straining along against its desire to pelt ahead, observing the comptroller's commands, giving way to other, more important vehicles down the track. It enters a manufactured tunnel. All dark. Black concrete. The internal lights of the carriage are the only illumination in the whole world. It slows to a dead stop. A red globe on the side of the tunnel peers in to the fluorescent carriage, where you perch. You feel suddenly isolated from the rest of the universe, watched by the globe. It's an unnaturally long wait.
Everybody breathes out. The straight, poised woman starts to look around at the other passengers, but quickly dismisses them as unworthy of her attention. She seems to be trying very hard not to look at the foot next to her on the seat. Just have to put up with it, won't you, you say to yourself, gloating. Then, amazingly, the businesswoman slumps a little. Resigned. You never predicted that. Not in her. The businesswoman, ever resourceful, has thought of something, though: she unlatches the clever briefcase on her knees and takes out a novel. Recently published. Critically acclaimed. She wouldn't read trash. But you never read on the train; it's more fun watching.
The young man with the headphones suddenly rises and climbs up on his seat. He flicks open a top window, and, sticking his head and shoulders way out of the train, tries to see further up the track. A few people watch him expectantly - they're glad it's him, not them, risking his neck. The ones by the door lean with him, straining to glimpse what he's seeing. The mood is bored, but hopeful. There has to be some reason for the delay. Then he's seen something. He crashes back to his seat and grumbles: 'Bloody expresses get to go first', and you breathe out heavily, like the rest of the frustrated passengers. The businesswoman snaps a glance at him and returns to her book. The foot on the seat next to her arches.
Everyone starts to settle in. The tradesman has found a seat - opposite fish-eye, as it turns out. He pulls a bikie magazine from his nylon backpack. Its front cover features a fleshy girl straddling a motorcycle and licking a pink icy-pole. The cafeteria worker pulls out a fluffy yellow ball attached to a crochet hook, and checks with a baby bootie pattern.
But the black girl's eyes are darting. Her attention is all over the place. She takes her foot off the seat and leans over and peers at the baby pattern, and says to the blue-uniformed woman: 'Nice. Nice baby.'
The uniformed woman smiles and nods and knits. The tradesman flicks through the magazine. Raw-blood-eye watches her.
The black girl turns to the businesswoman: 'Scuse me, scuse me -'
The business woman holds her novel very tightly, concentrating hard.
The black girl leans forward and says: 'Scuse me, scuse me.'
You're glad she hasn't chosen you.
The businesswoman looks up.
The black girl says to the businesswoman: 'You woo'n happen ta have a smoke, would ya?'
The businesswoman lowers her book. She says to the black girl: 'Sorry, I - (and the black girl joins in so they both say it together) - don't smoke.'
The black girl nods her head as if she'd already guessed as much.
The businesswoman studies her novel. You observe that Mr fishman is still watching the black girl. The black girl sees it too.
She says to the business woman: 'Scuse me, scuse me please, scuse me please', quite quietly this time and waits for a response.
The poor woman. You feel a bit sorry for her now.
'Ave you got the time, please?'
The businesswoman consults her watch with a flourish. She says to the black girl, 'Seven o'clock, I believe.'
The train starts to pick up.
The black girl whirls around, looking for any other likely target, and catches on the blood eye of the man watching her. For an instant she seems to lose that sure, sassy attitude, and she freezes mid-whirl - just for a second. The man with the blood eye just watches her - devours her, more like it, you think.
The tradesman leans over to blood-man and points out something in his bikie mag: MEDIA MOGUL MARRIES MODEL, the headline reads, and it features a picture of a blonde woman in a slinky red dress. He pokes the picture with a finger, and says, apparently summing up his whole life: 'If only it was as easy as that!' Blood-fish-man nods, but his eyes - or eye - is still on the black girl. She knows it, too, you marvel, though she seemed so self-absorbed at first.
The train veers to one side as it starts up again, and rounds out of the city Loop. About time. The wet evening air plunges into the carriage, and the train lurches to a station, exhausted. It's been at least half an hour.
The black girl picks up and bolts out the door.
Blood-fish-man sees her leave and promptly rises to follow her. He says to the tradesman, over his shoulder, 'Yeah', as if in response to his last comment.
You can see them on the platform as the train waits for its next meal. Blood-fish-man has caught the black girl by the arm as she hurries away. She seems to try to free herself, but the man is saying something to her that makes her hesitate. He is still wringing her sleeve. He reaches into his jacket pocket with a free hand, and produces a packet of cigarettes. She steps back towards him and she takes one from the pack - at first pleased, but then she goes all clumsy and uncomfortable. She wants to walk off and be done with it, you realise. He offers her the entire pack, quite casually. She takes them, then looks up at his face, querying. She's only about fifteen! He glances sideways up the track, and lowers his head. You are watching them on the railway platform as the train draws you away, and the blood-eyed man talks to the black girl as he brings out his wallet.
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|Title Annotation:||short story|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1998|
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