Share

Train Lord

Redfern Station. Photo: dykzei eleeot. Distributed under Creative Commons license.

1

The first day of train school our teacher asked us what we would do if we were on the train, and we had to go to the toilet, and we’d already had our break. For a while, no one spoke. Then Susie said, Shit in a bag, sir. Yeah. Probably shit in a bag. Good on ya, Suze, our teacher said. The shit in a bag approach. A classic. Then we went around the room and said our names and where we’d come from and a fun fact about us too. Ed said he’d worked in logistics and sailed around the world with the Navy in his youth, and Zayd had been a transit cop with a baby on the way. But now it was my turn and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to talk about the migraine or how I’d failed as a writer. I didn’t want to talk about pain. So I said my name was Oliver and flipped my wrist frypan-style. I winked and said that I loved to cook.

2

Five months of train school? What the hell did you learn? Sam asked, and so I told him, this: we learned about the railway, the different trains, the S sets and K sets and C sets and T sets and M sets and H sets and A sets and B sets. We learned how to communicate with bell signals and where to locate the fire extinguishers and how to administer first aid. We learned the Sydney Trains Network, every station in order, and what platforms, if any, a train could terminate on. We learned how to take a train apart and put it back together, and how to drive the train in case the driver became incapacitated. We learned how to prepare and how to terminate a train, how to test for faults, and how to talk, phonetically, on the radio, as if we were in the army, like my dad taught me long ago. We learned how to evacuate trains, safely, methodically, and we learned to follow rules. We learned the correct procedures for opening windows and climbing ladders and wearing backpacks and the correct paths to walk from station to the train yard. We learned which signals were permissive and which were absolute and which would remain red, fixed, no matter what. We learned to slow down, to not think, or to think only about what we had learned; we learned how to stop.

We were shown how to wake drunken people passed out on the train and we were given the number for security and told about the guards who had been assaulted late at night. We were told to watch out for spitters and we were told of the frequent suicides and we were told to watch out for fights. We were told about the snakes, especially at Leppington, and we were told that none of this was a joke. We were told about the drugs tests and the alcohol tests, and we watched videos, filmed in the 90s, about the trains that had derailed and the people who had died because someone, somewhere, had failed to follow the rules.

We learned to make announcements, to stay calm; we learned to be rocks. We learned that in life and work the waves would come and the waves would crash and people would yell and call us names, but we wouldn’t care because we were stable and dependable and when the waves were gone we were still there because we were rock people now. We learned all this and five months later we passed exams and were given shirts and pants and hats and whistles and belts and vests and flags and backpacks and shoes and belts and keys. We worked a 24-hour roster, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We were given train diagrams that told us where to stop and when to have lunch and when and where our shifts would end. And there was something beautiful about changing, about not writing, or not thinking, or thinking very little, or wearing a uniform and being told what to do.

Congratulations, our teacher said on the last day of school. You’ve all won the lottery. I’ve been with the railway for 47 years, and I’ve never worked a day in my life.

3

On my first shift, there was a suicide. I went to Hornsby to relieve the guard; his train had cut someone in half. Fucking useless pricks always offing themselves around Christmas, he said. Want my advice? Don’t look at the body. So I sat on the train while emergency services cleaned up the blood and the limbs and the mess, and when the body wheeled past I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. I had to see the body wrapped in a white sheet on a stretcher, and I had to see the way their legs poked one way and their arms poked another. I had to see the sun and I had to see the sky, the blood drying beneath it, and I had to imagine his parents or friends or siblings when they got the call. I had to know what that moment looked like, that this wasn’t just an idea, that this was final, that this was real. After I took the train to the sheds, I burst into tears.

4

When I was a writer, or unemployed, living at Toby’s house, in his bed, he sat me down and said: Oliver. You need to get your shit together. Get a job. This is no way to live your life. And so we spent the following hours drinking Toby’s rum and snorting Toby’s cocaine, looking at all the ways it might be possible for me to grow up. We looked at advertising jobs and public relations jobs and copywriting jobs. The following day I updated my LinkedIn. I wrote cover letters, emails. Once, absurdly, I even arrived unannounced, at the door of a creative agency, my resume in a manila folder. I was 25, then, and on the rare occasion I received an interview, I would make the mistake of telling the truth. I would say that I did not have a business degree or a communications degree but that I did have one of the most useless degrees of all: a creative writing degree. I would say that I did not have any formal copywriting or advertising or marketing experience, but explain that the rights to my first book had been sold, and that I’d been published over 50 times in Australia and overseas, and that I’d built a following for myself online (now, largely defunct). Then I would smile and leave realising what I’d suspected all along: that no one gave a shit how many pieces of fiction or nonfiction you had published, that, in the end, the best case scenario for Australian letters was a life of obscurity and critique, and perhaps a book or two, a couple of writers festivals, but rarely, or in my case never, a living or a job.

With the trains everything changed.

5

And apart from those cramped platform meal rooms where we ate next to those horrific bathrooms, where wafts of shit would mix with sweat and microwaved meat or vegetables or curry, the job was one of the best many of us had known. So long as you had something to occupy you between stations, I didn’t mind working weekends or on my days off. The money you could earn –at least to me – was astonishing. When all was well, when there were no delays and management wasn’t calling to ask why you lost two minutes between Hornsby and Waitara, when there were no medical emergencies or fights or needle scares or fatalities or masturbators or drunks or screaming children or spitters or members of the public saying, apropos of nothing, ‘Fuck you’, or, ‘Your network is a piece of shit’, or, ‘You’re late’, Sydney passed outside our windows with a tranquillity that I had not known before. G’day mate, I’d say, relieving a guard at Central or Lidcombe or Blacktown. How are ya? Living the dream, mate, they would inevitably reply. Living the bloody dream.

6

But these, too, were the days when the migraine would, inexplicably, return leaving me unable to look at screens and write or read. So one morning I walked to Optus on George Street and told the sales attendant that I wanted the cheapest phone they had. You’re going to want Internet, she said. No internet! What about Instagram? Uber? No Instagram! No Uber! I told her I wanted a phone that made calls and sent texts and played the radio and recorded my voice.

Can you hear me? What? Can you hear me? No. After a while my family and I just laughed: the phone barely worked. It dropped out every ten seconds, but I could send texts and look at the screen, could communicate and be heard. Eventually my family encouraged me to try recording stories on what we now called my burner phone. Burnie Sanders, my brother would say. Feel the burn! Give him the business! And so I would make my announcements, then hit record, stopping, to open and close the train doors, before departing, and hitting record again. The process was frustrating, time consuming, but it gave me something to do, and after roughly a month I produced my first story – this.

7

During train school, the trainer wanted to show us the points. So we went down to the train yard and looked at the mechanical installations that guide the trains from one track to another. The trainer told us a week earlier someone had pulled the points when the train was travelling across them, and the train derailed. What do you think about that? Pretty shit, I said. Fuckin’ oath it’s shit. The trainer told us there was a process for everything. All injuries were preventable. Even snake bites. Snakes? Fuckin’ oath, snakes. He told us there were king browns everywhere.

Just the other day another trainer had told us about the time he found a king brown on a seat. King brown? someone had said. What’s that? It’s a human fucking shit, isn’t it? But now we weren’t talking about shit. We were talking about snakes.

You gotta be careful, he said. The brown snakes: they’ll chase ya, then kill ya.

The trainer told us to be prepared for anything. He told us about the accidents, about the suicides. He told us there was nearly one a day, but the tabloids didn’t report it. He told us father’s day was the worst. Followed by Christmas. More cunts die on the railway than the roads. Just look around. Everything can kill you.

So I looked around and saw all the trains and train lines and overhead wires, and I looked even further and saw all the cars and roads and people. Then I looked even further and saw Maria and I saw myself too. I saw that we were smiling. We were smiling because we knew you couldn’t see the real killers.

Then the trainer pulled the points lever and the tracks changed from one route to another. The job’s easy, he said. But sometimes shit fucks up. You gotta be tough. He told me his wife died of leukaemia a few years back. Then he lit a cigarette. He laughed and said he knew she’d be watching. He knew she’d be mad. He promised he’d quit but now it didn’t matter. Every dart, he said, inhaling, brings me closer to her.

At some point we returned to the path and walked to the platform. We sat at Waterfall station and waited for the train. And I knew there was no logic to anything. Because the very things that killed you could also bring you home.

8

One afternoon, while waiting for our trains, I began talking to a guard about the usual: how much of the shift they had left, how long they had been on the job, what they had done before. He moved a bit closer, lowered his voice and said, Do you ever get lonely? He told me that since he’d graduated he’d barely seen his wife. He lived north, somewhere on the Central Coast, and between her day shifts and his night shifts and the commute he was struggling to find time to sleep, to see his kids, to relax. There’s just no quality time anymore, he said. I told him I knew what he meant.

In truth, I did not know what he meant. I was single; I lived in Darlington, 500 metres from Redfern station, three minutes from Central by train. I did not have to think for others, nor did I have a mortgage, or any debt beyond my enormous university one – compiled from years of useless degrees and indecision.

I told him I didn’t know how he did it, commuting an hour and a half each way. We required eleven hours between shifts, but assuming, for example, that he finished at 2.30am, he would, at best, if he had a car, be home around 3.45am, though if he had to rely on public transport, it would be closer to 5 in the morning. Then, he would sleep six or seven or eight hours only to wake in time for the return commute in the event that he had a 3.30pm start. Of course, a shift like this was rare, but not unheard of, and as a new guard, one had to wait until a line opened up on the roster, until they had accrued enough seniority, which only happened when someone died, or quit. Only then could a guard transition to a permanent line that allowed them to sleep, to see their partners, to live a life of one’s own rather that facilitating the movement and direction of others.

Maybe in four or five years I can move to Hornsby, he said. Or maybe I’ll become an intercity guard and get stationed at Gosford for Newcastle. But that was another thing: there were rumours inter-city guards would be made redundant soon. Of course the bosses had been threatening to remove guards for the past thirty years; there were always rumours on the railway – when we started we were told, If you haven’t heard a rumour by 9am … make one up. All around us, the world was changing; automation, we knew, was coming, and it was no secret the current government and Transport Minister resented the power guards and drivers had over them and their city. But at that moment, my fellow guard wasn’t thinking about job security; he was thinking about his wife. I heard there’s a high rate of divorce on the job, he said.

9

It wasn’t a few weeks later that I started to feel lonely too. I’d been working for close to a year, mostly evenings and nights. I would start around five or six or seven and finish between one and three in the morning. I liked those shifts; I had my days free: to swim, to climb, but now I was on mornings and after eight consecutive days my world had begun to shrink, to change. Waking, initially, at one or two in the morning had seemed barbaric, but interesting. There was a van that would pick me up close to my house at the Redfern station car park and take me to Central but most of the time I chose to walk. I liked walking: past the Glengarry, nodding at Ollie or whoever was having staff drinks after hours; through Prince Alfred Park, the park that many years earlier I had done push ups in, or cried in, or had simply laid in, when I had the migraine, when I couldn’t do anything at all. I would walk through that park in the early morning listening to jazz, which now seems like a false, additional detail, the kind of detail added by an editor to seem cultural. But the truth is I did listen to jazz, and what occurred next happened too.

One morning around six am, halfway through my shift and on my break, I burst into tears beneath the large clock at Central. These weren’t little, push-them-back-in tears, but inconsolable-unable-to-breathe tears. I hurried around a corner, turned my back and cried into my shirt. I didn’t know what was happening.

My phone rang. I felt a pang of anxiety that it was a manager calling to tell me I’d missed a train, that I’d been crying for so long I’d lost track of time. But it was my mum. She was awake, about to go for a run. Hey Oliver, she said. How are you? Not good, I managed to say, or almost say, after a while. I told her I felt lonely, that I spent all day in my own train compartment, in a tiny metal box, and that when I went home I was by myself too. I told her I tried to exercise to make myself feel better but inevitably I did that alone. I told her I didn’t want to be by myself anymore. I wanted connection, relationships, a normal job, a nine to five; I wanted to talk to people, to be heard. It’s too much, I said, suddenly shaking from the lack of sleep, or from coffee, and then I said, I just feel so empty. I have to go to bed at five in the afternoon if I want eight hours of sleep, but it’s still light outside; my housemates are having fun; I don’t know how to do that; I don’t know how to do anything anymore. Then I burst into tears once more and said, I’m just sick of being alone.

Mum told me to slow down and she told me to breathe. Then she said something else but a train passed; its brakes screeched so loud that I recoiled, and I told her I couldn’t hear her. Then I started apologising, telling her I knew how pathetic it all sounded, that I shouldn’t complain, that I was acting like a child, that I knew how lucky I was. And then I asked that absurd question we asked as children: if things would get better, if my body would heal; in the end I wanted to know if I would be able to work another job, a normal job, one that involved a computer; I wanted to know if I would be able to write again, perhaps not like I used to, but at least on paper, without pain; I wanted to know if I would be left behind.

10

Sometimes it felt like Sydney was a microcosm of the world, and the world was falling apart. One night, around 2am, I was on break getting a kebab when this guy walked in asking for scissors. Got any scissors? Need to get this thing out of my ear. Then he showed me his ear –  there was a headphone jack pushed all the way in. It was like one side of him had sealed up, and I thought he looked like a doll. Stupid headphone jack, he kept saying. Then he grabbed a plastic fork someone had left on the counter and tried to fork the headphone jack out, but it wouldn’t come. Eventually he turned to me and asked me what I reckoned. I reckon you should go to hospital, I said. Yeah, hospital, he said. Naa. Maccas will have scissors. Then he threw the fork back on the container and walked away.

I didn’t have many friends at work, and this suited me fine. I wasn’t there to make friends – I was there to go around and around for as long as I needed to figure out my problems, and to work out if it might be possible to love myself again.

11

Another afternoon. After spending an incredible amount of money on a mouth guard at the dentist that, I was told, was necessary, would prevent my teeth from clenching and perhaps, over time, even alleviate the pain in my jaw and head, I rode the train to Fairfield and ate lunch at an Iraqi restaurant, several blocks behind the station. The dentist’s assistant was a wiry, likeable guy with firm posture, and I had told him about my jaw pain, but also about my neck pain and shoulder pain, about the headaches that came and went, and he had told me about his pain too, how, sometimes, when he returned home he could barely walk, that he would lie for hours on his back on a tennis ball trying to make it all go away. But, he said. I’ve got this guy. You’ve got to see my guy. He’s a chiropractor. And he works miracles. And so he wrote his name and he wrote his number, and I sat in the restaurant eating a kebab staring at the paper thinking about all the miracles I heard about when I was young: about Jesus walking on water and turning water into wine, about making the blind man see, and right then I made a prayer, or a deal. I said, If you’ll help me; if you’ll make the pain go away, I swear to God, to you, I’ll do anything you want. And so the chiropractor bent and twisted and pressed and adjusted, and my body stretched and cracked and popped, and for a while I even kept thinking: holy shit, laughing, or at least smiling, because it had worked. But then, on the train home the pain returned. My neck tightened and my back tightened, my head throbbed, and it was like the whole world had shrunk too. I put on my sunglasses, and wiped my eyes. You stupid fuck, I thought, wasting your money. For thinking, believing, that you might be okay.

12

I only drink two days of the year: when it’s my birthday, and when it’s not my birthday, the driver said, and then he burst into laughter and shook his head. You young blokes don’t get humour. We were walking through the train yard at Flemmo on our way to prep a train. So what’s your story? Been out long? Bit over a year, I said. Thought you looked a bit wet behind the ears. I’ve been on the rails for 35 years. Course, before that I was driving freight. Fuck me dead, that was a job. Back when I was a young fella we’d drive days on end just the desert and your mate and the sun and your feet on the dash. Mind you, that was all before drug testing. I don’t smoke anymore, barely drink, he said, winking, except for those two days a year. Anyway, got a missus? Naa, I said. Wouldn’t worry about it. Even an ugly bastard like you should be able to get someone to marry ya. It was three in the morning, a full moon; we walked single file between trains and the world droned. What did you do before? For crust? Couple things, I said. I worked in pubs; I was a tour guide, an usher; for a while, I was even a writer. A writer! Plenty of money in that racket. Goldmine, I said. I’m just doing this for fun. Me too, he said. Then we climbed into the crew compartment at the front of the train. I used to paint, he said after a while. Not, like, seriously. Not professionally. But I wasn’t bad. In the end, though, I had to decide: pub or painting; girls or painting; making money or painting. It was just too hard. I didn’t love it. It became a pain. It became a pain, I repeated. Yeah, that’s more or less what happened to me.

13

It’s nothing serious, the doctor had said, years earlier, staring at the MRI or CAT scan or whatever test my GP had recommended. In fact, the doctor said, there’s nothing wrong with you at all. What is it that you do? I knew the doctor meant: what do you do for work, but I couldn’t help thinking about what it was I did with my time. I take codeine pills. I cry when no one is watching. I pretend that everything is okay. Then I said, I’m a writer, or I was a writer. I can’t look at a book or a page or a computer or a screen. Why? Because it hurts. Hurts where? In my head. Do you make any money from writing? A little, I said. Not really. The doctor considered this, then said, Well I suggest you forget writing and find another career. The thought, until then, that I would give up writing had never occurred to me, and in the elevator I turned to Maria and said, Fuck that guy. But more silently, I thought, Fuck. She agreed, calling him names – a fuck head, a loser – but on the train home, eyes closed, I knew I was just disappointed and angry with my body, with myself.

14

But the truth was I had been writing. Slowly, in pencil, in pen, on paper, in secret, between stations. If I wore my glasses, took frequent breaks and completed my exercises, I was, for a while, able to remain pain free, and occasionally, when I produced something I didn’t hate, I would invite Sam and Taylah up to my room. I would read them small passages from a collection of papers I had titled As Yet, Unfinished Novel. I would read them stories that I wanted to forget but could not forget: small, fragmentary stories about Maria and I and the migraine and Sydney that, even now, I’m sure weren’t translated properly, butchered somewhere between reality or so called reality, between my imagination and the page. I would read these stories quickly, initially with excitement, though towards the end with embarrassment and shame – at what, exactly? I’m not sure, though I suspect that it had something to do with failure. It’s very sad, Taylah said, one time when I finished. I smiled because that was the sort of writing I was attracted to then, that stupid sort of writing that meant I was a serious writer – writing that pretended to be something else, a little comedic, before breaking your heart.

15

The day I returned to Brisbane, Mum took me to see the headache doctor. She dropped me outside a tall building and I rode the elevator to the top floor. In the lobby, a receptionist told me to fill out some forms. So I took a pen and I took the paper and I pretended to be normal. I sat in a chair and stared at the page and waited for the pain. I wrote my name and I wrote my birthday and I didn’t start to cry. I wrote my address and I didn’t try to explain. I began to sweat and I began to shake and the receptionist asked if I was okay.

The headache doctor took me into his office and explained that he wasn’t a real doctor but he knew how the head worked. He showed me a model of a head and a model of a neck and then he pushed down on the joints marked C4 and C5 and said words like muscles and knots and pressure and buildup and pain. He said his practice was experimental and he couldn’t promise anything, but he’d had luck treating people with headaches in the past. Besides, he said, you’re only seeing me because I’m your last hope, right? You’ve seen all the doctors. You’ve had the MRIs. And no one knows what the hell is going on? Tell me I’m right. You’re right, I said. You’re god damn right I’m right, he said. My head pounded. Who was this man? I stared into his eyes and prayed he was a healer.

16

The Healer told me to lie down and The Healer told me to breathe. He said, I’m going to apply pressure to parts of your neck. I need you to tell me if this triggers the pain. Then he pressed down on the back of my neck and it triggered the pain. Then he pushed down on another part of my neck and it triggered the pain. Then he pushed down on another part of my neck and he told me to close my eyes. He applied pressure to the muscle and said that no one, not even doctors, knew how the body really worked. He pushed and he pushed and I felt the man with the shovel return to the spot behind my frontal lobe. He pushed and he pushed and a shovel went WHACK and the pain grew into PAIN and I tried not to cry. The Healer said, I know this hurts, but it’s going to be okay, and he pushed and he pushed and I waited and I waited. But then, something extraordinary began to happen. The pain began to go away.

17

That afternoon Grace called and told me there was a party. She said we were going to take heaps of drugs and get fucked up. She said I could meet all her friends and someone would probably bang me, and then she said that all her friends were hot.

18

At first, I didn’t want to go. That afternoon, I’d walked around in a state of bliss, then paranoia, then confusion. I’d had the migraine for 10 months, but now I’d seen The Healer and the migraine was gone. The stillness, the lack of pain, was profound, but the feeling was so new it disturbed me. I didn’t trust the pain and I didn’t trust The Healer and I didn’t trust myself. Even now, years later, I find it hard – I guess I’d had the pain for so long I’d forgotten who I was without it.

19

I walked down a driveway and into a backyard and Grace introduced me to her friends. They said their names and I said my name and we all drank beer and talked shit in the afternoon light. Someone sold us coke and someone sold us caps and I thought: shit yeah, because we were gonna get high. We racked up in the living room, and we smoked and danced and laughed, and I smiled because it was like afternoons from long ago. Someone told a story about getting fired from Cold Rock because they fucked their boyfriend and got stoned and trapped in the cold room, and someone else told a story about the dealer who buried and lost a thousand white heart pills in the side of Mount Coot-tha in 2007, and I listened, and I laughed, and I wasn’t in pain, and I didn’t think about what I would do if the migraine returned or how I would become a burden to everyone I knew. I didn’t think about being useless, and I couldn’t remember being afraid, and no one else thought about their pain either. No one else thought about the jobs they hated or the bills they couldn’t pay or the people who had hurt them long ago. We forgot about our lives.

20

Six months working on this essay, and I’m still not telling it right. Because I’m not telling you about the passengers we helped and the announcements we made and how vital we were, are, to the safe running of the train. I’m not telling you about the grown men, women, we found, trashed, spread out on seats, carriage floors, and platforms at the end of the line unable to pronounce their own names. I’m not telling you about the police we contacted and the ambulances we called for the men with bad hearts and the women who had been punched and about the emergency brakes we pulled when people fell between the platform and the train. I’m not telling you how we were as young as eighteen and as old as eighty-four and how we colleagues died and others retired and even others got divorced. I’m not telling you about the dark circles that appeared under our eyes while we said, Are you alright, mate? as bodies were cleaned from the rails.

But that’s not even the half of it, because I’m not telling you about the elderly couples we saw helping one another along platforms and the kids we saw playing peek-a-boo with their reflections and the fathers who spent entire Sundays with their disabled sons: he knows the timetable and all the trains, one father told me. He loves riding the network, which means it’s my favourite thing too.

I’m not telling you about the jokes, those beautiful dark jokes that, perhaps, were never jokes at all. I’m not telling you about the girl who pinned a suicide note to the noticeboard at Werrington. The way I heard it, she said her goodbyes, went down to the track and put her head on the rail. Ten minutes passed, but there was no train. So she started getting angry. She kept muttering, Fucking Sydney Trains. But she was determined. So she lay her head back down, and waited another twenty minutes, but still, there was no train. Eventually, she returned to the station to see what the hold up was, and next to her suicide note was a print out that read: BUSES REPLACE TRAINS THIS WEEKEND BETWEEN WERRINGTON AND KINGSWOOD.

I’m not telling you about the ladies in wheelchairs at Olympic Park who turned to their carers and said, Fucking, hurry it up, fuck ass, and how the carers laughed. And I’m not telling you how I started doing funny announcements to distract from my own demoralising, unpredictable pain. I’m not telling you how I told people that Newtown was named after Isaac Newtown and how Como was named after the Holden Commodore. I’m not telling you how I told people that Rockdale was named after Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and that Kings Cross should be renamed Kings Crossed-out. I’m not telling you how one day I said, Attention customers… Next stop is Ashfield. But for all you singles out there, we call it PASHFIELD. I told all the singles if they were ready to mingle to raise their hands, and then I dared all the singles to make out. I said, GO ON! HAVE A KISS! – and then I did a psycho laugh and said, NAA … JUST KIDDING! OR AM I? And then I sat back and watched everyone on my little train security camera blushing and talking and laughing, and it was almost like we weren’t on a train to the jobs we hated or the partners we should have left long ago. It was almost like no one was sad and no one was in pain and we were all smiling at how stupid the world was. And it seemed so improbable, then, that we would all be together, as beautiful and flawed and useless as one another, just trying to get somewhere, to move, to go home.

21

The New Years Eve before I quit, I stood at the country end of platform 16, Central station, and wondered where all the people had gone: the station was deserted. When my train arrived the guard said, Just come in from Penrith. Caught two fuckers fucking. Filthy! Can’t blame them though. What else are you gonna do 20 minutes to midnight, New Years Eve on a ghost train to the city? Anyway, train’s sweet. Happy New Year! and as we left, I waved, and she waved, and the station staff waved and then the world went black because we entered a tunnel. I did my announcements, told people where they were going, where they could change, and then I even wished them Happy New Years too. I said, Happy New Years, legends. Glad you ditched all your cool parties to spend it with me, but as I scanned the train on my security camera I counted 11 people, mostly men over the age of 40, sitting alone. We left Wynyard and emerged from the tunnel. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was clouded in smoke – 5.8 million dollars worth of fireworks had exploded, and none of us could see a thing.

We are grateful to the City of Sydney for funding to commission and publish this essay.