Broken men, trying men – two minutes of observation.

The door bell never rings when everyone is home.
So when it interrupted the insistence of percussive rain on colour bond awnings, and grass that was aching, and fruit trees that were singing, the humans in this house, cocooned off from the world raised their antennas.

I walked to the door to be met by the army of curious children that make my progeny. ‘Who is it dad?’ they asked as I reached for the keys to unlock the security screen.

There, was a man in a rain jacket, holding a folder.
My defences went up, my defences are always up but they went up another notch. I braced into fighting stance subtly, I reached into my pocket and clicked the top of a pen so the tip was out, clutched it firmly in one hand so it could be like a shank if needs be. I unlocked the door and opened it. You can’t be too sure in this day and age of scammers and thieves and I was already eyeing the targets I would strike before he could flinch, making sure I was in an advantageous position.

He greeted me and introduced himself. Andrew was his name and he was trying to sell me something. Usually, I am blunt and straight to the point with door to door knockers. But Andrew was different. He reminded me of another Andy I knew, in facial features, complexion, voice and as mentioned, even the name.

I was overcome with a sense of familiarity and my guard came down slightly as my heart softened to his circumstance.

Here was a broken man, a father, a man at his wits ends trying to make a buck and support his family. Was he the owner of the business he was trying to introduce, nah, it didn’t fit, he spoke with too much detachment from it for it to be his. He was definitely a man trying hard. A man busting his balls to provide. He seemed intelligent, just a stroke of bad luck perhaps. Perhaps laid off a job he knew for too long for him to know anything else and had answered a local paper advertisement promising superior commissions and hopes of making thousands of dollars – with full training provided.

He was selling solar power panels, which piqued my interest somewhat whilst at the same time the cautious side of me reminding me to not give too much away and to research before giving my personal information out.

Still, the transaction only interested me from the standpoint of poetic interaction.

I was psychoanalysing him in his every gesture, tone, body language, and sentences, but his heavy shoulders and tired voice were the most appealing to me.

I could smell a days work on him. He was exhausted and it showed in the folder he had opened with notes scribbled on there on scattered pieces of paper, with pamphlets stacked underneath. As he reached for one, I noticed he had a tally sheet in the traditional four straight lines with a stroke across them to mark the fifth. He had about 20 or more of those scribbled down. Was that all today’s work, or was it for the week?

I asked him to give me a contact number. I didn’t want to break him more with rejection, but perhaps leave a little hope that he was achieving some kind of milestone. I’ve tasted the bitterness of rejection, I’ve wallowed in the brokenness of wondering where the next dollar was going to come from to feed my children, to keep the electricity on, to put fuel in my car.

All I hope now is I can look up this company he supposedly represents and they are legitimate, and I can help Andrew make a dollar, or two and not have to worry for at least one week about food, electricity or fuel. To be able to go home and hold his children with conviction.

-empty

empty

-empty

there’s a cavity, that’s expanse
has no fill
like telling a waterfall
to be still
impossible is smiling
when presented with deaths
bitter pill

W.E.

First day back at work and a random stranger,
someone who I had never met,
walks into the store, pretentious, obnoxious and arrogantly barking orders at my co-worker and then once complete, shifts his attention to me.
He looks at me and with that smug look, yellow stained teeth, skin so damaged by the nicotine that hovers around his face all day, says “You should smile mate”.

I was neither frowning, nor upset prior. I was looking off into the atmosphere through the glass window of the store, my contemplating interrupted by someone who didn’t know, wasn’t taught, grew up detached from his conscience, or was just flat out abrasive.
Never mind what kind of a day that I was having, never mind what I had gone through up until that point during the week. Never mind that there was no level of intimacy ever shared between us for him to feel so comfortable wallowing in his new found philosophical philanthropy, he was Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Steven Covey and Napoleon Hill packaged conveniently into a sixty something year old who had never grown up.

Never mind that I had buried my father two days earlier, that I lay his head inside a grave as I stood inside over seven feet of dug earth. Never mind that for two years I had been preparing for that moment and still could not bare the weight of it. Never mind all the hurt, turmoil, fighting, running around, researching, attempts, pleading with my father and others, trying to figure out how I could curb the ill health my father was going through. None of that mattered, or was conceived of by this man who’s ego needed affirmation that it mattered, by all things, telling a stranger to smile.

Our insensitivity has reached an all time high, not that there is anything highly about it. Rather, we’re appallingly insensitive and lowly. By assuming we can throw buzz words and clichés at people and expect them to bend to our demand, respond in the light we ignorantly assume is the only way, disrespecting the myriad of issues the person may be facing.

Next time you tell someone random to smile, cheer up, or relax, stop yourself and consider what they are going through, it may just be way too much for your shoulders to handle, and you may have easily broken under the weight.

I stared are that man, I looked him in the eye, let an air of discomfort wallow in the air and hover around him until he shrunk, I stared him down like I was facing an opponent, I had a thousand things on the tip of my tongue waiting to grate his skin with and punish his ears with, but I smiled, changed my stare into a piercing gaze and said, “You’re right, I should, thank you”, and put on my most fake and mocking smile I could muster.

My co-worker sighed a breath of relief and the customer carried his tail between his legs and walked out.

-W.E.

The look of love

When I was a teenager, I would have to walk to the train station. There I’d wait to catch the train across five suburbs, then to walk about a kilometre to school. All up the eight kilometre trip from home was laden with a bag of books, lunch and other things you think are necessities.  Funny how much junk they make you think you need to live a day as a student.

All of that didn’t matter to me though, because there in the icy mist of mornings, the sun would fight through rusted beams holding the station platform above us and there at seven thirty,  I’d go to the same spot and wait, not only for the train but for a girl.

She had the darkest eyes that were the perfect shade of I don’t care, and her smile…. What a secret she kept! She wore braces so she hid them, barely exposing her smile. Somewhat scowling at the world, her creases vanished though as her long black hair would blow over and she’d walk into my vision. Her hair too long to be manageable by herself, someone definitely would comb it for her daily, well past her behind, long like the uniform skirts she wore at a time when girls were folding their minis at the waist as soon as they stepped out of home.

Fresh bread baked across the railway tracks in a Vietnamese bakery lane way shop, the smell of train brakes applied too hard, ever lingering amongst tracks and the suburban foliage fought for territorial rights amongst the scents every morning. Same battle, they had amnesia of the previous day’s outcome, that none of them ever won or lost, each had their rightful place and all were welcome by the morning commuters, especially myself and Ursula, but I only learned her name two years later.

She’d stand meters away from me, almost a dare for me to engage. You don’t dare an introvert if you like winning, you’d lose every time, they don’t engage.
Still, she’d do it, and me to her, stealing glances laced with smiles, sometimes engaging in staring competitions, pretending we were only looking over each others shoulders and not at each other, faking a re-focus and jolting our heads to vision, past each other’s eyes. We were both aware of the mental games, but blush on we did.

It was an unwritten agreement. Usually we’d get on the train and wait in the carriage stand up area, still stealing glance to glance. Occasionally it would change to one of us walking up or down to the seating areas, the other would follow and the glances would continue from a distance until each of us went our separate ways to our schools.

This continued for a year, perhaps two.
We never spoke on that train platform or on the train.
Then she wasn’t there any more.
But I’d still look forward to those mornings even though they weren’t the same. Rust and Iron, rocks and brake smell, bread and tree scents, the memories were all there. That’s all I needed.

Sometime later, I found her again. She was working at the local supermarket at the registers. That’s how I learned her name, from her name badge, still way too introverted to ask her, or to even say hi. She had developed though, she said,

“Hello, how are you?”

I didn’t know how to answer. Was she asking asking, or was she working? If she was working, I’d answer, if she was asking, I wouldn’t. Gutless, I couldn’t muster up the courage. This inner world has been my life for a long time. I decided to strike the safe deal and convinced myself it was for work that she was asking, part of customer service, so I replied,

“I’m well thanks”.

Sensing distance and insincerity in my tone, her smile turned into the scowl she wore on the train platform as she waltzed into view every morning and like a glacier, she turned to her register, bagged my items and it was if I was the Titanic, struck by her and that sinking feeling just overwhelmed me.

Tail between my legs, I walked out.
I returned back to the store several times over the next few months, but she would only glance once, polite acknowledgement and continue with her work, never a word spoken still.

Then she disappeared.

Many years later I was in a video store, before DVD’s were ever created.
As the smell of bagged stale popcorn and damp carpet overwhelmed my senses whilst searching for a flick to occupy my mind that day, a familiar sight appeared in front of me.
I had spent that much time immersed in observing her years ago that even with her back turned, she was unmistakable. It was Ursula.

In the pit of me, I begged God for her to turn around and confirm my gut feelings, ‘Turn around woman and don’t make my eyes liars’, and as if someone had tapped her on the shoulder she turned.

Two years or so studying her every feature, it was hard to mistake her, even though she had matured into a graceful woman.

My heart jumped out of me, like someone had pulled the Titanic out of the ocean floor.

She saw me and blushed the same blush she did when she was so much younger.
She grabbed an earlobe, rubbing her earing and smiled the same big smile she always did. The one that made her lips fuller because of the braces she once wore, now just perfect white teeth behind the same full lips.

I smiled back, but I looked down. I looked down because she was with her partner or husband. I’ve never been so brazen to step on another human beings rights. She was no longer my right and in that instant transformed into a beautiful memory.

But I smiled, and she smiled and it was all that I needed. We smiled because we resumed an affair even if it was but for a moment and it was more than enough.

Sometimes we can’t have the things we want so badly. But the love that can come from them can last for eternity, probably because it existed before you met anyway.

We have to learn how to love in separation, never discontent, never in despair from something beautiful we experience that we may never be able to have again.

Just because we are vulnerable once even if utterly shattered in that state, it does not mean we should develop barriers, put up walls, cage our hearts never to receive love again.

I put up walls to prevent people into my world because I pick and choose who I want, writing is a wall I have chosen to remove altogether to expose some of my vulnerabilities but I never look back and hate a person I loved once, no matter what. That is utter dishonesty, for what was I doing in their heart and they in mine in the first place if there wasn’t even remotely something attracting us to one another.

Find love in smiles, in scents, moments and in memories, it’s far more than the lust of flesh that love is. Find it in a look, a glance of acknowledgement, a glance of understanding, anything that settles your hearts affair but when you find it, take a snapshot and frame that with the most exquisite frame you can find to preserve the memory and not ever lose sight of how to love.

Like resuming a playground game you shared as an infant with a friend, let it pull you by the pinkie to where you need to be, don’t turn it into a closed fist of destruction.
It’s not ever that, ever.

I don’t love Ursula like I love my wife, it’s a different type of love. I haven’t shared moments with her as intimate, as lasting, as puncturing as I have with my wife, my children and family.

Be open to love and it will find you in a set of braces as a teen or the classic scent of a woman who’s body may change but pheromones remain the same.
It may be in your child’s eyes, it may be in a strangers gesture of good will.
It may even be in the hands of a baker on an icy morning, with the scent of train brakes, rusted iron and trees competing for your love. Receive them all whatever which way it comes.
-W.E.

Admit It, You’re Racist

racism

When was the last time you weren’t so racist?

Yeah, no use denying it, your pupil dilation gave it off when the man with the long beard walked inside the plane cabin. His eyes were lowered, he had a genuine warm smile but you discarded that because your heart has been soiled with media vitriol and your mind has joined in to redirect any inkling of denying.

No, you reason, that smile is fake, he’s not genuinely soft spoken you convince yourself as you hear him politely ask for help from the flight attendant. He probably beats his wife, no, he has four of them and oppresses them all. His daughters are probably already married off at fourteen, his son probably ready to plan a future attack on innocents. He probably hates me, liberated western woman so I will hate him first.

Oh no, he’s coming this way. Damn, he’s sitting right next to you. There’s that fake smile of his, “Good morning”, he says. You tried so hard to ignore him but you can’t let him sound better than you. “Err, good morning”, you say under your breath, matching his fake smile with one of your own.
“May I squeeze past please?”
“Sure”, you reply.

What’s that smell? Gee, he smells like curry…… oh, it was the food trolley going past, still, he probably does.

No, he wafts past you and that fragrance is familiar. He’s wearing something woody, something cedar and patchouli like. You’re mesmerised, very masculine you think to yourself, but what on earth is it, you know fragrances like the back of your hand.

“I’m Muhammad”, he puts out his hand and you notice the Patek Phillipe around his wrist.
“Louise,” you reply again noticing the label on his shirt collar as your eyes quickly brush up no further than his chin out of politeness you’re conditioned to reciprocate.

Hmm, his beard isn’t really that long, no longer than what hipsters are sporting today. Again, you can’t help but notice his fragrance. You steal another look, he’s dressed immaculately, something you’d wish your boyfriend would turn up in to your parents house.

“Nice to meet you Louise. Muhammad and Louise, maybe we can steal this plane and runaway together?”

Your heart skips a beat, it’s fear, you’re terrified, you’re about to call the flight attendant and he adds “It’s a joke…. it’s a joke, Thelma and Louise…. you know it right?”

You look over his way with anger and for the first time, you want to look him directly in the eye as you try and express your sternness to him and tell him it’s not funny, but you’re mesmerised. His eyes, hazel green with tinges of almond and his smile, white teeth like they were carved by God himself, you stumble and catch your heart on the way and burst out laughing instead, “Yes, I know it, it’s one of my favourite movies”.
“Phew, I thought you thought I was a terrorist or something. If you’d like the window seat, I’m happy to change with you”, he adds politely.

Kind, polite, smells nice, has impeccable taste, appears to be wealthy with beautiful masculine features, you know the ones so clichéd in your mind, tall dark and handsome, successful, funny ……but….. and it’s a big but, his name is Muhammad. You don’t want to know any more you decide, it’s only going to be down hill from here.

“So where are you going?” You blurt out uncontrollably.

His surprised expression brings awareness to your cheeks as you feel them warming up. You hope your blush doesn’t start to bubble up and blister. You’re fiddling with your ear lobe with one hand and your hair with the other. Control yourself woman, you think to yourself as you collect your hands and lay them in your lap.

“Are you nervous? Does my beard send off the wrong signal?”

Wow, he’s perceptive, self aware maybe. You feel rotten, your stomach twists in a knot for the preconceived ideas you had and allowing them to manifest as they all simmer in front of you clearly now. You think to yourself, ‘Damn Louise, you’re a fucking racist.’ Your throat feels like there’s a ball in it as you struggle to swallow your saliva. You feel like a school girl infatuated with a boy. Now you notice, his beard is actually no longer than half a centimetre. How on earth did you see it longer before? You also notice he has no wedding ring on. Shut up Louise you tell your mind as it takes a leave of absence from your usual common sense state.

“No, of course not”, half lie half truth now that you noticed his beard properly.

“Oh ok, I understand if it does, I’m used to it, I’m heading to a conference and you?” Again, his voice is so reassuring when you think about it.

You feel worse, you suddenly realise you’re an integral part of the reason why he feels bad. You held all these preconceptions from the minute he walked into the cabin, you’re one of many who buys the hype, you’re a piece and there is nothing you can do to remove yourself from that horrendous puzzle except to apologise.
“I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry. I’m a horrible person….”

He cuts you short, “Heeeyyy…. relax, it’s cool, don’t be upset, as I told you, I’m used to it.”

“No, it’s not ok, I’m sorry, please forgive me,” you say with hope of him reciprocating acknowledged forgiveness. “What conference if you don’t mind me asking?”

He smiles again and sends butterflies down to cure that knot you had in your stomach.

“I’m going to speak at the Australian women’s association conference against domestic violence.”

As if your heart couldn’t sink any further, it now falls to the floor.
“Wow, this is such a coincidence, that’s where I’m going”.

———————————————————————————————

If only a change in perception were that quick!

Obviously a fictional story but with elements of truth.
I come from what is considered a minority in this country (Australia)

Being a minority I thought would mean I am quite free from being the oppressor and ever being racist towards other people.

Whilst superficially, I haven’t ever expressed racist sentiments, taunts or vitriol at people through word or action, I caught my mind instead participating in what has become socially ingrained in us all whether we like it or not.

Muslims just happen to be the best targets today because they serve an agenda of capitalist greed, of geo-political colonial pursuit and of economic fear-mongering to maintain a profitable wheel.

The stereotypes of the Arab or Muslim serve to program your mind to operate a certain way.

Other types of stereotypes are trivialised into humour and done so often that even the persecuted become desensitised to their blatancy.

As I mentioned, I caught myself out with this desensitisation.

I began treating customers differently at work, I even justified my treatment with excuses like ‘you can never be too safe’ or ‘hey, it’s just business.’

What I am about to say may be trivial to some, but as Louise caught herself out and became self aware of her own prejudices above, so too did I become aware of small things which I thought were not small at all, but the seed of ignorance and perhaps a start to something even more detrimental if I didn’t keep them in check.

I noticed that I treated the average Anglo looking customer differently to darker skinned, or non Anglo looking customers when I took their money. It was a small thing but for me significant, and I blew it up bigger than the elephant in the room.

I managed one of the countries busiest outlets and when it came time to taking eftpos payments, I’d wait for approval on the terminal before I’d finalise the transaction on the screen for some people and not for others. I would just hurry through the whole process assuming they’re trustworthy or that they had plenty of money in their account and that they wouldn’t default on the transaction.

This subtlety was made manifest when a wealthy looking person actually defaulted and then ended up wasting a lot of time before they finally had money to complete the transaction. Nearly all of my other customers never ever defaulted.

This was enough to cause me quite a bit of anguish as I punished myself for weeks for thinking so badly. I boiled it down to my inner prejudices, preconceived, perhaps infused with so much media stereotype.

Granted, this was my small inkling which drove me mad because I do not watch TV, listen to the radio and my online activity is limited to work, my blog and very rarely social media only to engage in a hobby I enjoy. I still found myself taunted by these preconceptions.

This shit, and it definitely is nothing more than shit  takes a long time to remove from your mind, so this tiny inkling I saw, will serve to be a lifelong practise to stop myself in my own tracks, be self aware,  be perceptive of my own mind and heart and stop it ever creeping up in me again.

Now it’s your turn. Take a long hard look at yourself. Think of all the races, all the gender preferences, all the religions, all the beliefs of people, everything, and see how far you can work yourself back to removing tiny prejudices from your soul.

With love
Wes.E.