It’s a Saturday morning and traffic has snarled the roundabout on Cherry Street. I know why even before I see the train pulling into Werribee Station. There’s a Bulldogs game on so the car park is full. I park at the back, near the gym, cursing. I tattoo a recrimination on my thigh.
It’s quiet, and my boots sound crisply against the asphalt. I skid down the ramps into the station; everyone else is walking slowly. I’ve missed the 8.48. Fuck. There are 64 steps up the ramp to the platform and I perform walking, heel to toe, muscles in my feet engaged, tense, release. Tense. There is no rush.
The 8.48 Flinders Street was the express; the 9.08 takes in the Altona Loop and takes 15 minutes longer to get to the city, 20 minutes later. I’m half an hour later for my life than I had planned. All of us on that platform lean outwards, heads towards the void. The cold licks at us.
The sun is lit and it glints into my eye, making me wink. I turn my head and see the shadow of the train against the wastelands between the industrial flood plains. Into the space between carriages the sun shines through, making a magic lantern show—rail line weeds are the puppets. The train is the projector, a momentum machine endlessly spooling landscape.
The train slows along a bend and the frames slide to each other slick and unctuous. The brown stubble of some unknown deciduous shrub mimics limbs contorted into obtuse angles and through my winter clothing I feel the point of my elbow. Slowly, slowly the slide of images flamencos, rhythmic. The dry winter grasses—vertical sheaves—enact a flickering animation, shadow within shadow. The heather is sharply taupe. The thistle thrusts Scottish across the ditch. In banks of florid yellow the canola grows, outcast from the farmlands now that everything is houses.
The concrete slabs of warehouses present themselves as polylithic and are coloured by bands of street art, here where there are no streets. Thistles creep up to the walls, caressing the pictures with their purple heads. The scintillating picture show frames fractured motion—there are sinister, abrupted things at the sidelines. On the straight we speed up and suddenly the scene turns to ikat—the train is a loom.
It comes, it comes and the sun is shining and the sea is blue. Seaholme. There are people on bikes in tight clothes and people laughing, dogs and people holding hands or just single people, eyes streaming from the wind, looking at the light. And the sea is a ribbon of shifting colour slung into the middle of the day, below the mauve sky above the green fields. This picture looks warm—it lies to me and in the minutes I spend looking at it all I can feel is the happiness.
The people are happy, the white people are happy, the white dogs are happy and I remember a summer day where the smell of seaweed—iodine in the heat—stuck to me like the white sand, and as I walked the kelp onions popped under my feet black and leathery; I remember the purple pipi shells, flightless butterflies like the ones children draw—shell butterflies I keyed out of the sand with my toes, and on the horizon a haze-coloured tanker skated by, and I remember I wasn’t happy.
Altona wasn’t for me, it didn’t welcome me, it was not ‘beach’ as I knew beach. I took no joy in it but today looking at it for a minute through a scratched train window, I feel such affection. Affection for the white people of today sunning themselves in the surprise sunshine—and for the brown children of that lost summer. The wetlands are blooming in barbie pink and a black duck chevrons the water of the estuary. Arrow, arrow, arrow.
I am still bemused and sit nodding with the train, looking into the geraniums and wattle trees speeding by; I am, I feel, on the edge of a portal, almost able to bring the past into the present and make it weft for this here warp. Then the train stops, and it waits. Across the Westona platform is another train—I am watching a version of myself suddenly—the observer projected.
I can see the people in the other train through the twin windows, but we are remote from each other. They are going where I have already been. Then I think, looking into that alternate carriage, I think as I look at the people not looking at me: let’s fall in love. There is a woman with a sheaf fringe of black and red moued lips. She catches my eye, and skitters it away, back to her phone held high, so her posture will stay clean. I move on. There is a woman in a sky blue, sea blue, Aldi blue hijab but she is looking elsewhere—she’s found a portal too, I think. I turn back to my train and in doing so I catch a reflection.
The young boy and young girl sitting in front of me appear doubled, they are floating above the platform, and they are tilting into the sky—the grey concrete, thick Plexiglas and shining sun working together to make this illusion of a medieval oil painting. He is hanging on her neck so casually, positioned just so; his eyes are closed and his face is relaxed—clouds are curling behind him, through him. Her brilliant brown hair is cascading and she is looking down also, at his hand in her hand—held and holding. And I think, yes, let’s all fall in love, let’s all love like that again, let’s run our hands along arms, through hair across backs.
The train moves and I lose the illusionary them in the movement. It seems right, but I’m still sad. Then this arsehole’s phone goes off full volume and it’s the Celine Dion song from Titanic and he can’t get the phone out of his pants and the song fills the carriage in between the cracks of functional noise and then he gets the phone out of his
pants and he can’t decide what to do about the call and the carriage is filling with this song and people turn to look at him and he’s still undecided but at least he’s blushing. The song is here, there, wherever I am I can’t get away from it.
Wherever you are
I’ll be there and
My heart will
My heart will go on and
The boy and the girl shift them-selves and laugh quietly and they look like a boy and a girl again. So maybe the guy with the Celine Dion phone is not an arsehole. Maybe, all of us in that carriage, in the light of the shining sun, don’t mind the song.
I think, yes, why not?
Let all our hearts just go on.
Let our hearts go on.
Sumudu Samarawickrama has work in Boston Review and the Lifted Brow and is part of FCAC’s West Writers Group. Her chapbook Utter the Thing (2018) is available from Vagabond Press. She tweets @olaf78.