On Sunday morning it seemed the weather knew no rebuke, no difference. The election had borne no requiem, no ebony pall in the air, nothing other than a great mass of thrip and brilliant light and dragonflies.
On the streets, rather than straw laid out to soften the tragedy, I saw Jeep Cherokees and gargantuan aubergine Land Cruisers, heading happily seaward, for more Bradman & Thorpedo simulacra on the beach, more passegiata di mare, more radio. Shielding my eyes with a forgotten Hastings St tourist visor I tottered out, the pluck of the idealist within me knocked sideways yet again, for a strong macchiato made by Thomas down at Cafe Gosh!.
As I walked through the Ikea drift on the terrazzo I could see him inside, between the till and the glowing Gaggia chrome, his YOU KNOW THE CAMERA WON’T CAPTURE IT! T-shirt ablaze, his head newly shaven, the hectoring coffee and aropax addicts calling for baby soy caro cinos ignored as he scanned a map on the bench with obviously something more important than the post-coital rituals of userpay buccaneers on his mind.
I made my way towards him, the air in the room thick with the whiff of organic, grain-fed bacon and rife with the relief of mortgagees mopping their brows.
‘Thomas,’ I said, ‘make it a strong one, in a tall glass, to accommodate the tears.’
He didn’t even look up, hell-bent as he was on the cartography.
‘Thomas, it’s me.’
His head turned slowly sideways, before he finally looked up with a sneer. His expression quickly changed and stabbing at the map he cried, ‘You tell me! Where can I go to get away from this tawdry mess?’
With an orange waiter’s UniBall he’d circled Nantes, Pisa, Wellington and Galway on the Lonely Planet map. And through each orange circle was a larger, thicker and emphatic black cross.
I looked down. ‘But you said if the worst happened, if Howard got up, you were headed straight to Nantes. So what’s changed?’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Ever heard of Jacques Chirac?’
‘So what about Pisa? A little Villa e Casali perhaps?’
He glared and clicked his tongue. ‘And what about Signor Berlusconi?’ he fired. ‘It would be like living right here but with Parliament House moved to Channel 9.’
He had a point. I began to understand his pallor, his inability to make a coffee.
‘So, New Zealand then?’ I tentatively asked.
Thomas frowned. His eyes darted around the rowdy room. ‘Well that’s all very well in theory. But it’d be just my luck to move there and then they’d change the government. They’re beige enough as it is but with a Tory in power the place’d be downright scones and jam.’
That left only Galway, the little city the Irish like to think of as their gateway to the soul but is these days a fetid series of kebab shops and greyhound tracks, replete with mandatory Celtic Tiger musak. I didn’t bother asking.
I stood in front of him like an idiot, incapable of relieving my own plight, let alone his. For a moment I wished I had stayed at home.
He waved his hand with a flourish over the map and announced: ‘No my friend, it’s a chart of nightmares, an atlas of woe. The best I can think of is a bungalow in Kandy but my constitution couldn’t stand the noise and the fumes.’
Thomas slumped back onto the well-worn Henningsen stool behind him. I sighed. For a minute it was as if we were in a bubble. And it struck us both that the problem was not our location but, our species. In the glare of truth no amount of destination-fantasy, no amount of grass is greener, no amount of getaway-head, could salve the wicked blow.
Eventually Thomas leant down under the counter and punched the play button of the 6-stacker. He calibrated the volume and the mordant opening bars of Verdi’s Requiem filled the air.
‘How about a coffee then?’ he said, resigned, like Sisyphus preparing to rescale the hill.
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