My younger son Liamh calls up just after 9 am and says he’s coming down this morning on the train . . . by himself. He’s never done this before but sounds confident enough. I’ve just spent a fruitless hour trying to wake his brother, who had agreed to go up and get him; so this works for everybody. When I pick him up at Strathfield station he looks a bit phased, as if the solitary journey was more alienating than he thought it would be, but is soon back to his normal self. Once we’re home he wants to go to the park for a kick around of the soccer ball, wearing his boots – he missed training this week because of the weather.
On the way there we discuss the merits, or otherwise, of sprigs on concrete and then, just before we run out on to the grass, doing something complicated with the ball in the air, he slips and falls hard on his back on the path. A grazed arm, near the elbow, is the worst of it but he’s dizzy and pale, almost winded I think, so we sit on a bench for a while; he several times yawns and I remember how, when he was about three years old and fell off the arm of an armchair and broke his collar bone, he lapsed straight into a deep sleep and it wasn’t until he woke up an hour or so later that we realised he would have to go to hospital. Once we get out on the pitch I’m impressed by the developing sophistication of his ball skills.
Bob texts to tell me to pick up in Ashfield, I cook up a pile of sausages – kanga bangas, I have a taste for ‘roo meat – so there’s plenty left over for the boys to eat later and set off; I don’t like picking up on the street, especially if I have to wait for the day driver, but when I get to the corner of Hugh and Arthur the cab’s already there. It’s grubby inside and smells of Chinese food . . . I go all the way into the city empty then take a woman from Melbourne to the casino; on my return a fellow in a suit hails me on that stretch of George between King and Market where I find so much of my work and wants to go to Silverwater . . .
Later, as it’s getting dark, in almost the exact same spot, I meet the eyes of a young Islander woman who’s talking on her phone. She cuts the connection, walks over, climbs in the back: I want to go to Miranda, she says, in an Aucklandalofa accent. But first I want to pick up my sister . . . at Hunter and Macquarie. I bunt my way through rush hour traffic around to there. Her sister is wearing an orange dress, lighting up the murk of the evening like a glowing fruit. She gets in the front and we head off down Southern Cross Drive . . . they talk softly to each other in Tongan, with bits of English mixed in and lots of laughs. I’m playing Cassandra Wilson, Belly of the Sun, and that seems just right. It’s going to be a good ride.
. . . but you never can tell. Somewhere just shy of the airport we hit one of those vast traffic jams Sydney does so well and stop and start and crawl and stop for what seems like an eternity; or five k’s, whichever is longer. Their conversation languishes, I begin feeling guilty, Cassandra starts sounding over-bearing . . . can you drop us at Kogarah Station? the one in the back says. Sure, I say, if we can get there. No-one likes sitting in a taxi going nowhere with the meter ticking, not the driver, not the passengers, it’s one of those situations that’s hard to manage successfully and I’m just praying there’s a simple cause for the hold-up: there is. A small 4WD broken down in the tunnel that runs under the airport runway is the single cause of this monstrous dysfunction.
Once we get past that they decide to go to Miranda after all, we speed on down the western shore of Botany Bay, past Brighton-le-Sands and Dolls Point, I confess my own origins and the rest of the trip becomes a happy conversation about rugby, both kinds, and particularly about the prospect of the Kiwis winning the Anzac test tomorrow night. They’re going to the mall to shop so that’s where I pull up; she in back (the younger sis) shuffles cash from her wallet but there isn’t enough so pays with a card. I’m embarrassed by the size of the fare – 90 bucks when it should probably have been nearer to 60 – but she adds on a five dollar tip so I guess that’s alright. I do a local job then head back up the Princes Highway, collecting a Japanese girl at Arncliffe and taking her to Marrickville and from there giving an English fellow a ride to Erskineville, where he’s meeting a woman whose name he can’t remember . . . I’m playing Taj Mahal and his Phantom Blues band now and we all like that.
Though no-one can really explain how this can be, a city is in fact an entity, with its own moods, its own neuroses, its own predilections and desires; its mysterious agendas. A successful shift, in my view, depends upon your ability to synchronize your own state of mind with that of the city; and to do that requires of you what Keats called negative capability . . . in other words you can’t do it consciously, you have to relax your mind, switch off that part that uses logic and reasoning to grasp irritably after conclusions, let your intuition rule. When you manage this – and it’s always subject to things outside of yourself – the night can feel the way it does when, body-surfing, you catch a long wave to shore.
This is what is called luck. I had it last night, tonight I don’t; it’s an okay shift but I have constantly that other feeling, the one you get when, time after time, you just miss catching the wave and have to try for the next one. In the end, quite early, I give up and go home. Jesse’s filling out an online questionnaire from Pizza Hut or Dominos or one of those – he really wants to get a job – and Liamh is, grumpily, half sleeping. I don’t talk much to either of them at first, just sit out on the deck until I feel the accretions of the night – psychic as much as of any other kind – begin to fall from my skin.