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5.15 to Adelaide

Koalas, trains and the strangeness of strangers.

I’m on the little train that trundles and shakes its way down from Adelaide Hills to the city. The train makes its first of many stops and she gets on.

It’s been a fantastic day in Belair National Park. It’s hot but a pleasant heat, not like sweltering Adelaide. A sleepy koala high in a gum tree, kangaroos peering from behind bushes, a few people about on the meandering trails. And birds, birds everywhere, a bewildering range of calls and whistles and whip cracks; flashes of jewel-like iridescent plumage caught in peripheral vision. I crash through the knee high underbrush trying to get closer to a bleary-eyed koala, trying to get a better shot, when I stop and stare at my feet and unprotected ankles hidden in the dense mass of dead sticks and spring growth. I’m thinking of son #2’s parting gift, a book, Dangerous Creatures of Australia. His idea of a joke. But it’s all true, they are here; snakes, scorpions, tiny but deadly spiders, but they’ve heard me coming and I return to the trail unscathed. We continue our walk until it’s time to return. We head to the station.

She’s a small dumpy woman, fifties, garishly dressed in purple. She carries a hefty bag which she dumps on the seat in front of us, lets out a loud sigh, and stands, hands on hips, surveying the sparsely occupied carriage. An actor searching for her audience.

I look away, staring through the side window at the fascinating station buildings. My wife smiles, the show begins.

She’s been to a book sale, that’s what’s in her bag. Books? Well, I can’t help but show moderate interest. She pulls out a colourful tome on minerals and crystals, now I am interested. She shoves it into my hands but it turns out to be crystal healing she’s into and a succession of books on spiritualism and related matters are discussed. Perhaps she’s a witch, a real modern witch, I know they exist, at least in their own heads. I take another surreptitious look. Yes, that seems quite likely.

For the next twenty minutes we hear about her life. It seems to have been an eventful one. But I’m not really listening, I don’t have to, all that’s needed is an occasional yes or a nod of the head. So I’m surprised to find a card handed to me. What has she just said? I try to rewind. Something about her brother/friend/cousin/uncle printing them for her. At the same time I peer at the card trying to read it, but it’s not easy. I’m short-sighted, it’s dazzlingly bright outside but there are deep shadows in the carriage. The card is badly designed, garish, a jumble of fonts. Like an eccentric professor I lift up my specs and peer at it. It doesn’t make sense but just one word, sex, jumps up and bites me on the nose. She’s still talking. Has she really just said something about shaking her money-makers? Yes, she has, she truly has. I have no idea what’s going on, none at all. I hand back the card desperately trying to avoid the irresistible urge to stare at her money-makers. I glance at my wife. She gives no sign she’s heard anything odd.

When and where is the next station? I know that it has to be ours. But when is the next train to the city? Is there another one tonight?

I’m saved. She’s tidying up her library, mumbling to herself, heading for the door. The train stops, but no, she doesn’t get out. Walks up and down, mutters some more. The train stops again. She gets out. I take a deep breath and return to the scenery as we roll down the hill to Adelaide.

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