They say if you’re pregnant or thinking about starting a family, all you see is pregnant women on the street. When you decide to buy a new 4 wheel drive, all you see are black Toyota Hiluxes at the traffic lights and parked outside the local corner store.
All I see is middle-aged men in transport worker’s uniforms. It is not only the train drivers and guards with their pale blue shirts and grey trousers, it is also the men who work on ferries and buses in Sydney.
These older men, in their blue and grey, the ones that have been in the job for a while, hold themselves a certain way. They stand slightly bent forward with the hours of the day pressing against their backs. They walk slowly and deliberately, a protest against the duty of transporting others as efficiently as they can throughout their shifts.
The men in uniform never seem to smile. Their greying hair cut functionally short frames a face drained of emotion. They are the walking dead, the fire in their bellies long ago extinguished by years of monotony. The job remains the same, day in and day out, and all that changes is the time of day with the randomness of shift work. The passengers’ faces may also change, but the tide of bodies swept up in the public transport system remains relentless – demanding passage to their jobs at the beginning of the day and a fevered expectation to be returned home as quickly as possible when their work or play is done.
Intellectually I know that I will never see him again in his sweat stained City Rail uniform trudging between platforms, or the driver’s cabin of a blue Tangarra or a yellow Millenium train as it pulls into Circular Quay station. I know that he no longer walks down Blues Point Road at the end of his day’s work, and yet I still see him everywhere.
Tall men in their 40’s wearing crumpled blue shirts adorned with transportation logos walk into my field of vision all the time. My heart holds its breath for a second cascading ripples of recognition through my body until I realise that it is not him because he’s dead.
If I had loved him, that jarring reminder of a lost husband should bring me to my knees with grief or leave me yearning for a time when we were together. But even when it was him waiting for me at some City Circle station I never felt delighted or excited to see him.
Although I wish I had a tangible emotional yearning for the loss of his life, the feeling I have is more like one of re-learning a fact I’d forgotten – as mundane and simple as my seven times table. An indisputable fact, important to try to remember but nothing to get worked up about. Oh yeah, he’s not here any more, remember?
It is not that fact that he is gone that pains me every time I mistake another uniformed man for my husband, it is the fact that I feel nothing when I think I should. Am I a monster, so incapable of human empathy and so brutally scarred that I can’t even feel sorry for my loss? Of course, I feel sorry that he died, that he didn’t live beyond his 40th birthday, and that he was so fucked up that he killed himself, but I don’t grieve for him or miss him.
The other day a bus stood in a layover, its driver waiting for the minutes to pass until he required for the next run. The front door of the bus was open allowing a breeze to blow in. My eyes swept past this unremarkable scene but my ears that stopped me in my tracks. Incongruously I heard the melancholy sound of music breathed lovingly into a beautiful wooden baroque recorder. The scruffy middle-aged man wearing the blue and grey uniform of discontent and regret was using his free moments to play a wistful melody on an instrument he must have pushed into his backpack as he left for work that morning.
As I breathed in the sound, I tasted his grief and I heard the still voice of hope and beauty reaching out from his soul. I would never know his story and he would never know mine but he was there in that moment, giving a voice to all those disillusioned, listless uniformed men. He knew their pain, but he alone had found a way to transcend it.