It was a hot Melbourne day, the kind where the air is heavy and damp before 9am, holding the city hostage until a cool change blows in from the west. I was waiting for a train at one of the red brick rail stations so ubiquitous in the inner city, federation bungalows and Victorian houses backing onto the tracks. If it weren’t for the prickly pear and palm trees lining the embankments and the sticky, overbearing heat, you could almost be in old England, wrought iron arches and curving brickwork evoking somewhere half a world away. Perhaps that was what they wanted, the architects of this city by the bay – a reminder of faraway home.
I sat on a bench in the shade as I waited for my train to arrive, fanning myself with my hand, though all it did was move the warm air around. The platform was almost deserted. The only other occupant was a tiny old lady with a wrinkled face and improbably black hair, dressed in dark layers that looked stifling in the heat, her small feet stuffed into black shoes. She came to sit next to me and I smiled at her. She smiled back, flash of bright eyes in her lined face.
‘Hot day,’ she said, her strongly accented English betraying her European roots.
I nodded. ‘Sure is.’
‘Where you from?’ she said, lifting her chin at me.
‘Canada,’ I said. It was my answer at the time, my most recent address before coming to Melbourne, the twang in my voice giving me away.
‘Ohh,’ she said, nodding. ‘It’s cold there. Lots of snow.’
I think I said something about how nice it would be to have some snow as we both wilted in the heat, air shimmering on the tracks nearby.
She agreed then leaned in, as though about to share a confidence.
‘When I was a little girl in Italy, we sometimes have snow. Not very often, but I remember one time when I was at school. Our classroom had a balcony with big doors and we all ran out to touch the snow as it fell. When the teacher called us back in, we threw snowballs at her.’
Then she giggled, her legs swinging back and forth like the little girl she used to be, transporting both of us back to a place where snow fell and children laughed. Eventually the train came and we both went on to our destinations – I never saw her at the station again. But I always remembered her story, the small glimpse she gave a stranger of snow on a hot day.
What a lovely piece. Very evocative.
Thanks Connie – very pleased you enjoyed it 🙂
What you say in this piece about the desire of the architects to create a bit of home in a strange land is incredibly moving. I lived in Italy for two years, and the lack of snow there–not to mention the beautiful but unfamiliar architecture, and not being able to find peanut butter or my brand of toothpaste–was unsettling, especially during the winter holidays. That the young girl in your story was from Italy and had such a fond memory of snow was endearing, as was her ability and eagerness to share that magical event with a stranger from another land.
Thanks Connie. It’s the little things, isn’t it, that remind you that you’re not at home. I lived in Australia for 17 years but never felt quite at home there, even though it was a wonderful place to live. And the lady at the train station was wonderful – I’ve never forgotten her glee as she told me her story. I have no idea what moved her to share it with me, but I treasure it as a real gift.