Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jenny & Con

Walking down the steps of Marrickville station, sun already strong enough to fry an egg on one of the metal handrails, she saw Con. A big, overgrown toddler… chunky legs and arms, a huge round face, small features twinkling in its vastness… a big tummy and thick neck. Dressed in ironed shorts, a freshly nappy-san’d white tee shirt, his trademark luminous white runners and socks pulled tightly halfway up his calves.

“It’s coming, train’s coming soon” he said to a small Asian woman carrying an imitation Louis Vuitton handbag.

“Not long now, train’s coming” he told a young man with a goatee and white ipod-ears.

“This platform, train’s coming soon” he told Jenny, and she smiled, “Hi Con, how are you?” He took her hand and kissed her on the cheek, asking her “how are you?” staring into her eyes. At this point in her regular encounters with Con she was always struck by his masculine adultness – the look he was giving her was intense, very much like the kind of unflagging attention she used to get from boys she’d gone to uni with who wanted to... well, you know. But that wasn’t part of Con’s agenda; “train's coming from that way” he said, letting go of her hand to point towards Dulwich Hill. “Train's coming now!” he exclaimed as its nose came around the bend.

As it pulled in, a clattering blur of blue and yellow, Con forgot about Jenny; he was concentrating. He stood planted there, his big runners firmly apart on the platform, fists clenched at his sides in anticipation. The guard, leaning from one of the middle carriages – an Indian woman with a long plait over her shoulder – waved at him as she whooshed past. Just as he’d been waiting for her, she’d been watching out for him. Con was known to all the train workers who came through Marrickville, and the bus drivers for routes 423 and 426 all knew him too… he liked buses nearly as much as he liked trains. After he saw the guard waving at him, Con clapped his arms together like a seal, jiggled on his toe-tips and threw his head back, mouth open in a huge smile.

Jenny had only seen the kind guard’s expectant face for a moment, and yet it was enough to see that the woman had been looking out for Con as much as he’d been looking out for her… And it was then that Jenny realised that she also looked forward to seeing Con, to having him hold her hand and kiss her cheek and look at her with his special sort of intensity. And she felt immensely sad, and suddenly very tired. She let herself get on the train with the crowd, sitting wherever. A heaviness set down on her as she realised that she’d spent last night with Muriel, this morning with Con, neither people who really needed or liked her. She was kidding herself with this good citizen, good samaritan bullshit – it was a way to fill in time, hide her loneliness. These were strangers, not real parts of her life, just props. If she moved suburbs she’d probably never think of them again. Muriel would have another neighbour, perhaps less obliging, but really not much different – after all, Jenny reminded herself with shame, she didn’t allow Muriel into the house – Con didn’t differentiate between Jenny and other kind women around the place who gave him the time of day and let him hold their hands. She felt hollow, flattened, angry with herself, and by the time the train pulled into Central it was all she could do to lift herself out of the seat and start her legs moving to get wherever she was going.