I was at university back then. In my third-year at the Queensland University of Technology: a glass ‘n’ concrete structure overlooking the Brisbane river, on the outskirts of the central business district. I’d just finished my final tutorial for the day and was dawdling outside campus, waiting for a bus, and was pretending not to perve on the young ladies all around me; wishing I had the nerve to talk to them. It’d rained recently, thankfully during my evening class and not on my way to the bus stop. I loved the city after rain. Cities become dirty, gritty and stuffy pretty easily, especially in such a hot clime as Brisvegas. The rain comes along and makes everything radiant like newly cut and polished paintwork on a car. It also cleans the air. QUT sits astride the botanical gardens, which creates the added benefit, after rain, of giving the trees an opportunity to fight back more easily against the accumulated pollution, yet the all-too-common succession of dry, hot days quickly turns the tide back in favour of human-induced corruption of the atmosphere. The bus rumbled to a stop in front of me, and I checked my wallet and smiled to see enough change to get me home, but not enough to do a lot if the fridge happened to be empty of all but the most mould-ridden used-to-be-foods. I stepped in, slipped on the wet entrance and only saved my nose from damage by grabbing the barrier around the driver. On my knees, I hoisted myself up and thought, ‘It’s ok, just brush yourself off and hand over the change’, but I could hear some sniggering from the rear of the bus. It started to move before I could sit, though there was no way I was going to slip again, so I grabbed one of the overhead-handles and lowered myself into one of the seats facing the opposite window, near the front. I was sitting next to a guy, just a guy; there was nothing particularly significant about him. Mid-30s, business attire and a tired look on his face. Just a guy. I was feeling in a talkative mood, ‘Tough day at the office hey?’ I empathised.
‘You could say that,’ he replied exhaustedly.
‘At least you got paid,’ I returned.
‘You didn’t get paid?’
‘No, I’m a student, I only get paid for the odd-hours I work in retail, and the government fills in the gaps.’
‘Fucking taxes,’ he spat, starting to get a little unsettling.
‘Yeah, fully,’ I said, searchingly, ‘that’s why I try to work as much as possible, so I can, y’know, do my bit for society.’
‘You’ve got it so hard, don’t you?’ his hardly-veiled sarcasm rang in my ears like a smoke-alarm.
I decided silence was the best way to end this unfortunate exchange, and did just that, starting to think about tomorrow’s media law exam, and the cute girl in my tute I sometimes caught looking at me. There was a young Indian guy sitting across from us. He looked familiar and probably came from uni’ too, studying medicine or something, not that I liked to stereotype people. You didn’t see too many Indians studying journalism. I guess he’d overheard our conversation, ‘cause he was looking, alternately, at me and the guy. I risked a look at the guy, and he was staring straight at the Indian. I turned to look at the Indian, and he was looking straight at the guy. Shit, I thought.
‘What-the-fuck’re you lookin’ at!?’ erupted the guy. The Indian bloke immediately looked away. ‘Hey, I asked you a fucking question Ghandi! What the fuck’re you lookin’ at!?’ I was already reeling from the fact this guy’d used the Mahatma’s name in such a hateful way, when he rose from his seat. ‘Well!? I’ll tell you what you’re lookin’ at! You’re lookin’ at a guy who doesn’t want his kids growing up in a country where towel-heads take their jobs!’ Fuck I wanted to point out that the term ‘towel-heads’, aside from being racist, was more relevant in reference to middle-eastern, not sub-continental, persons. He took a step closer to my vilified friend. ‘You’re lookin’ at a guy who wants you the FUCK, out of this country!’ Most of the bus was frozen solid, and I must admit I was rooted to my seat in shock, if not fear, though the bus driver finally yelled: ‘Shut the hell up back there and sit down!’ The guy glanced at the driver, then swivelled his head to look me in the eyes. I couldn’t look away. There was some kind of glazed, yet purposeful madness in those eyes which fascinated me like, well, like a crash scene. He pinned me to my seat with those eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then turned his attention back to the Indian. That’s when the flick-knife appeared. He advanced on the Indian, whose face assumed that of pure terror, and I knew I should do something. The guy was in striking range when someone tackled him, knocked the knife from his hand, then punched him out stone-cold. The police took the guy away not long after the bus stopped, and I remained rooted to my seat the entire time they interviewed me, telling me I might be required as a witness. The driver took an early night, understandably, and another bus took me home. I went to bed without dinner and cried myself to sleep. Probably wasn’t anything edible in the fridge anyway.
I missed that crow. I regretted scaring it away. The contrasted loneliness after the crow’s departure, and the inexplicable passing of that bastard truck-driver, was simply devastating. I just sat there, depressed of all things, listening to the various music and inane advertisements that flitted along the radio-waves, dying. I knew I was dying. It was kind of like looking for the shops in a new neighbourhood though: you never really know how far you’ll have to go, or how long it’ll take. If I was a doctor I’d probably have been able to give myself a prognosis as to an approximate time-of-death. Perhaps it was better I wasn’t a doctor. Being a journalist sure wasn’t helpful; some other journo’d write-up this story, Bill Citizen’d read it during his morning coffee the next day, and Crackers the loud-mouth parrot’d be shittin’ on it by the afternoon. I didn’t think I was passing quickly. My right-arm and leg weren’t cut at an artery or anything, they were just crushed and slowly oozing blood, probably causing all sorts of problems with my system. I sighed. Never thought it’d end like that: a crash. Always thought I’d die in a bomb-blast in Afghanistan, an execution in North Korea, or at the hands of my crazy ex-girlfriend, Patricia. Or my editor. I think, at the time, I almost wished I’d died in those other ways; well, except for Patricia. What was the point of it all? Where was I going? I’d always been devoutly agnostic, rejecting the idea of an interventionist God, but hoped, if not believed, I’d be reunited with my loved ones upon death. Figured it’d be like a party: you walk through the pearly gates or whatever entrance Heaven has, and everyone you’ve said goodbye to in life is there, clapping, cheering and lining up to give you a hug. Dad? You there? I thought Mum’d see you again first. How ‘bout your first-born instead? This occasion definitely calls for a hug. My imagination was getting the better of me. Fuck it, I thought. I might’ve still had some opportunity for survival and here I was planning out my entrance to the netherworld. I seriously felt like calling someone and telling them how stupid I was being. Calling someone. My phone. My phone was in my pocket! I reached for my right pocket and, in the first sign I decided to ignore, pain shot towards my brain like lightning as my stricken arm refused to move. So I used my good arm. I reached across and dug my hand into my pocket, sending another bolt of lightning past my waist, through my right arm, and into my brain once more. I refused to give up. The phone was deep in the pocket, and it was awkward reaching in there with my left. My rapture turned to despair as I fondled the the phone’s smashed remains. Smashed, like everything else on the right side of my body, and no less painful. I pulled out what I could anyway, threw it onto the road in a black rage, sat there breathing heavily and actually started to enjoy the pain out of some kind of sick masochism. When I calmed down a little, I managed to hear the sound of plastic crunching under something. . . .