You know it’s not the best way. You never should have left the people walk-way. Now you’re no closer to home and light is beginning to fade out of honeycomb colored sky. Not just blue anymore, more likely a dirty through to flint grey, or shades of dull brown blending into shadowed gold when late afternoon sunlight almost breaks through festered warned air.
Now you must get to the station. Wait here for a while in this shelter to catch your breath, harder now to fight through thickness. You need to make ready because you can feel night approaching.
First arrivals are dogs, two of them. One taller and with peppered coat in course terrier-like hair which is thicker about jowls and ears. His mouth shows signs of having pushed through rubbish to find a meal. A dirty plastic cord hangs around his neck, broken and dragging along like a fishing line. He dribbles as he stands just off the shelter’s concrete shape to regard you. His legs are powerful and his stance stiffens to take on a more aggressive demeanor. Marks from some sort of defensive weapon on his flanks. Not quasars as you’ve heard they can kill. Must be air rifle pellets or old electrical prods else the animal would simply not come this close to humans. His companion is smooth coated and hovers off in deeper shadows buoyed up by a stronger animal. They both survey you with menace.
You’ve heard, when caught without weapons to crouch down, hunker your human shape into a smaller area, confuses these marauding dogs and then they will turn and flee. Why not try? But this enflames the larger beast, he moves closer, fury now in his growl while his smaller companion admits a searing bark. Yet both still just encroach. They morph from canine threats to predators circling. One strategy fails so you offer friendship, a hand extends in greeting even though your head is saying, this is dangerous. Hairy dog rumbles worse and now growls; his companion already fled. Some vaguely human noise over his right flank makes him quiver and jump. Next moment both animals vanish leaving only lifted dust. You wonder when dogs got to be such a problem. Perhaps since people had no food for pets, so released many to fend for themselves.
You remind yourself of the bag. You should have sent those ‘papers’ home electronically instead of carrying them. You must be one of the few last professions required to take work home.
It isn’t too far to the station. You can see lights glowing down below. Just as smudges through air both dirty and laden with sweat. A worn dirt trail leads from this shelter across struggling grass; weeds flattened by other feet make the route appear safe. Why do they always put stations near open space, even if surrounding pylons form a boundary? Why, once off peopled walks are there areas like this? How will you traverse gaps? As if for advice you look up to pylons, then straight ahead: Remind yourself to watch this rough patch of grass! Darkness is growing and you must get home.
Sand crunches underfoot and it is not long before first faces appear blocking your progress.
You hug the container to your chest and shove past. Why do they assume a bag equals a thing of value? What would be gained by handing it over? Yes, there is a drink bottle but you emptied that an hour ago. There is no food only completed offerings from students. Now school and kangaroo insignias are visible and some low grunts are proffered from street people you can hear but not see. Amid sounds you detect words ‘teacher’ and even earlier slang of ‘guru’, which reaches your ears grunt-like. Stronger now is street-speak pared down half word, ‘cher’ ‘cher’ ringing out. Even these people can recognize someone who daily braves a class; spends hours where faces are bent over green phosphorescent screens, sending messages to explain strange symbols. A semblance of respect settles. But some hands still grab at your movement along pathways. Light catching in places shows haunted eyes.
Finally, as you hurry on, dirt sticking to legs and feet, station lights grow closer. You know that beige clad security guards will be on stations with their clubs and quasar guns. They will keep peopled areas free of any menace. But moments before you step into this safety, a bundle is pushed into your path as if someone makes a last-ditch effort. A dirty child looks up, sniffs and rubs his nose on sleeve-rags.
‘Give me bag!’ He is looking at you with great droopy eyes, empty hollows in his cheeks, thick heavy dreadlocks tumbling out of a hooded top.
‘There is no food so you don’t want the bag.’
He looks incredulous, running over your words – too many words – unable to convert to meaning in his head.
‘No food, only work.’ You shorten and insist in order to be better understood.
‘Can use, can sell.’
‘No!’ You push forward, almost overwhelmed by his sweaty, musty smell. He is afraid both of your confident denial and proximity of station lights. You must not touch him but still this child still bars your way. And then a thought - what makes him so different from your students?
‘Take me with?’ He pleads.
Pause: Think: Pity tumbles up over long-established social conditioning. He could be one of your clients; your allocated receptors; your pupils. But you must not – once inside station spaces security guards will harm him. Even if you could hide this dirty bundle from them under pretense of being some kind of socio-cultural project or at the very least not a threat to their precious ‘security’. What about once your train glides silently in on its magnetic surface? Poles reversing to make it stop, then reverting to their opposites as it slides away again. Inside airconditioned carriages will be passengers. Faced with a street-boy, and they will acknowledge his odor, rags and shape. They’ll grab him, tear him apart right there and then. But more likely they would just shove him out at the next station where he would again be a trespasser in guard’s domains. Faceless crowds will then let those who have been trained do real damage.
But if you could take a street-child, he could be fed, cleaned, he would become a student. No, that’s too fantastical a thought.
He insists, ‘can take,’ pointing his thin arm in the direction of encroaching night.
You push past, his desperate fingers pull and you can see knuckles with missing chunks. His pleading eyes, grey like this world, fear of rejection dwells in his breath.
‘Cannot!’ Uttered softer but with a shove and you burst onto platform spaces attracting the semi-comatose guards.
They nod and acknowledge, ‘Teacher.’
It is only moments before a square yellow train emerges from adjacent tunnels, plastic bags and dust tumbling along in its wake and it whirs to a halt. Around you multiple toned uniforms of magneticians, electronicians and food servers now step forward and tumble into train carriages.
As you feel ready to doze, lulled by quiet buzz of air purifiers as the train emerges out of tunnel blackness and over tarnished metal of Sydney Harbor Bridge; you can see dull beige façade of the Opera House sails are under a dome for this year’s restoration project. Laser lights of twinkle in sudden darkness like glow bugs