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Image by Linda Xu

Under the Clocks

(c) Linda Hutchison August 2017

I farewelled my colleagues and commenced my daily walk to Flinders Street Station. I rarely took a train anywhere; my life was too entwined with this city. I looked up at the façade of the station, to the clocks beneath the dome. I guessed that the station had seen many changes over the years, even if the façade had stayed the same. Ever watchful; this iconic building said one word to me. Home. I remembered when I was young and eager, arriving on the 8:15am every weekday morning, skipping down the steps under the clocks, and then hurrying to my office. I was driven then and so much less aware of the people around me. Especially the old ones, who were over 30. These days, I savoured people like I used to savour wine. I looked around, waved hi to a few regulars, and then took my usual spot on the worn bluestone stairs.
It was my habit to sit under these clocks each day and wait. I never knew quite what I was waiting for, or what to expect, but I knew my place was here. Some days the answers came quite early. Other days, no answers came at all. I accepted these slow days as ones of rest. Days for contemplation and people watching. I had learned a lot through silent observation, and occasional conversation. Fortunately, I had one of those open, inviting faces that said, “Have a chat with me,” so I was never short of interaction. I considered this a great gift, because it allowed people to see past my not-so-stylish clothing. I’d always thought it was strange that people judged you by how fashionable you were – as if it reflected your depth of interest to them – but I’d come to see it as another human weakness that was worth overlooking.
Of course, it was entirely my grandfather’s fault that I came here. It was his legacy, my devotion to these stairs. A resident of the slums of Adelaide in the 1920’s, he’d handed down a commitment to living close to the streets; a commitment to the family of rough sleepers that inhabit a busy city such as ours. He and my grandmother had met great characters who’d chosen to have no fixed address. They called them the journeymen; people who stayed in one place as long as it suited them, then moved on to greener pastures as they desired, not trapped by mortgages, nor by golden handcuffs of high salaries. They’d also met, as I regularly did, the lost and fragile; broken by life’s circumstances and not sure if they were brave enough to face tomorrow. They’d met those new to the streets – still stunned by the wave of personal events that that tossed them onto an unfamiliar shore – staring around themselves blindly as they sought to make some sense of where they’d landed. The journeymen, the lost, the fragile, and the stunned. These were my people.
She walked up Flinders Street towards the stairs with slight hesitation. I spotted her instantly; today’s answer. Her hair was dyed several shades too dark, her brown eyes framed by sad, grey shadows, and she clutched a pink bag to her chest like a favourite teddy bear. I smiled warmly towards her, but initially she looked away and changed direction. I waited. This was normal. I was very patient. She walked around the corner into Swanston Street, towards the bridge, as if she had somewhere to go, or someone to meet. But today she would meet me. It’d be a better outcome for her. Overhead the clocks ticked away. They too were patient, marking each second as evenly as the one before. They marked out the time it would take for her to return. Together, the clocks and I waited.
As the day drew in, and cold started to settle on the city, I saw her moving slowly back along the station wall to the entrance where I sat. She paused and looked longingly at the hot pies in the café, but clearly, she had no money to buy one. Finally, she reached the foot of the stairs and looked up. Our eyes met again, and this time, she smiled shyly back. I patted the stair next to me, and she walked up and took a seat. At this point, the value of my clothing was beyond measure, because it told her I was safe. My Salvation Army uniform was handy that way.
“How’s your day been?” I gave her my warmest, kindest smile – the kind that shared my heart.
“Okay, I guess,” she replied, her eyes looking guardedly into mine.  
“Let’s go find you something to eat.”
She relaxed and stood with me; her answer had arrived too. The clocks struck 6:00pm as we left the station.

Under the Clocks: Work
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