Around 8:45am, I sat on a bench at Casuarina Square waiting for the bus. Besides myself and my new acquaintance who just recently moved here from India, there were only a few aimless people roaming around. There might have been more, but the passed out drunks let their bodies lay limp in the shade.
A man walked past me slowly, dragging his dirt-covered, worn down flip flops on the ground. Carrying a Woolworth’s bag in one hand and a “coke bottle” in another, he stared at me with gentle bug eyes, magnified by his thick glasses.
Sitting down at the bench next to me, I noticed that, just like his flip flops, he looked worn down. The skin covering his skeleton-like body was patched either with dirt or sun damage. The ripped fabric on his shirt and stained denim vest looked like it smelled stale of dried blood and urine. Despite his gray hair and beard, there was something youthful about his demeanor.
“Strawberry?” he interrupted my friend and I, holding out a plastic carton filled with the fruit. I haven’t bought strawberries since being in Australia. They are around $5-6 AU for a handful. Considering this, I gladly accepted.
“Thank you,” I said after finishing it, “It was so delicious.” Just as I threw the stem away, the number 4 bus pulled up. I hopped on and my new friend and I continued our conversation about employers in Australia taking advantage of foreign workers. The strawberries man sat near the back of the bus, but overhearing the conversation he caught my eye and moved closer to sit behind me.
“It’s not just foreigners, its Australians too,” he said. I acknowledged his contribution but continued to speak with my friend. As soon as he heard a break in our conversation the strawberries man jumped in, asking me where I was from. When I asked the question in return, he replied with a confusing name, spoken quickly. It was the kind of odd old English fused with an aboriginal name that was hard to remember. “But I’ve been living on an island,” he clarified, “with only around 130 people living there.”
When he asked specifics on where in the U.S. I was from, I said “Indiana” and followed it by my usual addition: “sort of in the middle,” I always say, just to give people some context. He huffed a bit and said, “Just ‘cause I live on an island doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” Then he added, “and I don’t let them take advantage of me,” in reference to our earlier conversation of workplace exploitation.
I looked over at my new Punjabi friend who looked slightly nervous as I talked to this man. In my experience, foreigners are really uncomfortable with rough-looking Australians and don’t like that I don’t mind engaging with them.
Despite my friend’s concerned look, I commented on how smart he was for avoiding such situations with employers.
“Well I’ve got an IQ of 175,” he shrugged. I nodded and after a few moments of silence he said, “You’ll probably be about average.”
“Hmm,” I nodded again, smiling a bit. He continued, “Most people are about 135, you’d probably be around there. That’s average.” I didn’t know quite what else to say to him, so I sat without speaking. Suddenly I got a call from my friend Erin and after hanging up with her, I noticed he has retreated to the back of the bus.
He was sitting far away from me, but over the roar and creaking of the bus, I could hear his indiscriminate mumbling.
Featured photo taken from Facebook.
This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks andidiosyncrasies.