Monday, May 30, 2011

I looked over the bridge at the Yarra River and watched a young woman in the water swimming for the joy of it.  The water seemed clear and deeper than usual, after recent heavy rains.

‘It’s wonderful.  Come on in,’ the girl called but no one joined her until out of the blue another girl splashed in from the shoreline.  I had been wondering what it would be like to dive into this water from the bridge itself, not that I would do this.  It was sure to be dangerous.  The girls mucked around together in the water and called out occasionally to people on the shoreline.

 The people on the shoreline sat in groups.  Many of them had disfigured faces and scoriated skin.  Most of them in some way or other had surrendered part of their skin to the ravages of fire, some on their faces, others on their chests, backs or arms.  I soon realised these people had come together for this reason.

 Entire families, some of whom had several members with significant scars had come together here.  I took to talking to them.  Their burns reminded me of the way the tectonic plates of the earth shift by centimetres every year.  When one plate shifts into another, slowly and year by year, each plate moving northwards by as little as a centimetre and growing at the rate of our fingernails - the Indian plate for instance jammed up against the European - then mountains form.  Just so the burned skin as it sloughs off and heals leaves layers of skin rough and patchy in places without pigment, like scrubby mountains.

 And then I was with my daughter and husband on a train travelling with some of these burned people.  Our train passed through a display of army vehicles, tank on tank in khaki and battleship grey.  The first lot we passed were left overs from the German war.  Then we passed through a collection of Japanese fighter planes, trucks and tanks.  I worried for some of the people who sat near me who looked as though they might be Japanese or at least Asian.  They might be as traumatised by memories of the war as might the group of Europeans.

Then it was time to go to one of a series of concerts put on for charity.  I overheard one from the burns group saying that she could not bear to go to the performance  put on to discuss disability.  She would instead go to the one on racism, the one against racism, the one I also intended to attend with my husband and daughter.

We stood in a queue waiting to get off the train and into the theatre.  My husband worried that we needed our train tickets to get in.  He had lost ours but we found them again on the floor.

A couple of old friends and my older sister began to fling their arms around my husband and me, as if we were not there.  I joked that I did not exist but then decided to take our daughter to change her nappy.  But there were no public toilets.  I decided to try to change my daughter in a corner of the garden.

 She protested.  It was too public, even for her a baby.  I stood her in a garden bed and my daughter's feet sank into the soil as did mine.  She lost her little shoes.  We then struggled to find another place on firmer ground but equally private, and I changed her sodden nappy.

 I left my daughter outside seemingly asleep while I planned to go to the concert.  It did not seem so strange to me that I should leave my daughter alone in the foyer, until she woke and called me.  She was distressed that her birthday necklace had broken and her nappy fallen had off.  I decided then we might go in to the performance together, mother and baby.

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