We are the wise ones
[Content Warning: Drug/Alcohol mention, Violence mention.]
I went to watch a play but the interesting thing happened walking home.
Cops don’t even look at me. I love the train line, because it’s dark and out of bounds. You never know if you’re going to be bashed or make a friend. It’s a magnet for misfits.
Up ahead, near Maylands Station, some figures are moving around in the dark.
They seem erratic and disorderly; I hear bottles clanging.
I cross over to their side of the road.
A young man emerges into the streetlight and holds up his hand to high five me.
His face is a bit like a tomcat’s ears.
“We are the wise ones!” he announces.
I try to make conversation but he is rambling and will only speak in riddles. He keeps running around the street with an open beer carton; he seems to be investigating things I can’t see.
There are two other guys. One is a little old red-faced man with long, white hair and a moustache. He wears glasses and has a missing eye. The socket is closed together and weeping.
I can’t get a word in with him either: riddles and nonsense. He holds a walking stick in his tattooed hand, a chunky gold ring on one of his fingers.
The third guy is standing aloof, hands in pockets, fixated on the brightly lit tavern across the road.
“Are you paying attention Ron?” asks the man with the missing eye.
Ron nods but doesn’t look.
“I’m trying to teach you Ronald!”
Ron is staunch and avoids my eyes. Strong jaw. ‘SKRAM’ is written on one of his shoes. I’ve seen that tag all over Perth.
Between spectacles the other two pause to ‘teach me’, proclaiming my inferiority. They are so close I feel flecks of their spit on my face.
“Sorry! You cannot understand!”
They offer me cigarettes and a drink from their seedy bottle.
“I haven’t drunk in 2 years,” I tell them, “because I don’t think…”
They cut me off.
I start to notice a poetry to their lingo. It’s jumbled up like they’re pulling sentences out of a hat: totally unpredictable and at times profound.
I realise they are not going to listen to me unless I speak in riddles too.
“What day is it?” I ask High Five.
“Everybody knows it’s Thursday.”
It’s actually Friday.
High Five runs across the road to the tavern car park and starts pissing all over a car.
The bouncers come out and watch him with their arms folded.
The Eye shuffles into the street without his stick and starts yelling at the bouncers.
“God forbid,” this and that. “Don’t you ever question who you are! Mmmm,” he says, his head thrusting with every syllable.
They ignore him.
A bottle flies overhead and smashes in the car park. The bouncers don’t move. A man comes out and sweeps up the glass and goes back inside. More glass smashes inside the wall of the beer garden and people are yelling. I see the leaves of a small palm tree shake over the top of the wall.
A whole bunch of people have come out of the pub and are now standing in the car park: invalids, a priest, and there’s a dog barking like mad.
Barely any cars have driven past since I’ve been here and I can’t believe no cops have come.
I say to Ron, “I’ve hitchhiked through 10 countries, and I haven’t seen anything like this.”
“Yeah,” he says, “these two are mad as cut snakes.”
A fool from the pub walks over. He has a puffy, bristled face and is wearing a faded work shirt.
He calls out to Ron, “What are you doing letting Uncle walk around without his walking stick? You’re supposed to be looking after him.”
“He looks alright to me,” responds Ron in stern apathy.
The Fool snatches the bottle from High Five and repeatedly asks me if I can box. He is obsessed with it.
“You look like you can look after yourself,” he says.
The Eye yells, “Don’t give me confidence in a man, give me dignity and contour!”
The Fool slurs and tries to intimidate his pub friends.
He cracks High Five on the back with The Eye’s walking stick.
The others are mad but they wouldn’t hurt me. The Fool is something else.
He sways over.
“You’ve got a problem with me.”
I eyeball him.
Typical impairments of the paranoid fringe dweller, I think.
He says that I’m conspiring against him, then says to High Five, “He’s trying to see if I’ve been a dog to you tonight.”
I raise my brow.
Paranoia sometimes isn’t paranoia.
The Eye calls out to High Five, “Niiiige.”
Now I know High Five’s name is Nigel.
Nigel shrinks disapprovingly.
“I wasn’t being your uncle,” reassures The Eye. “I was being…”
“Diminutive,” I say.
“Yes!” approves The Eye. “You’re learning.”
“Do you know why they are scared of us?” he asks me.
I knew exactly why people were scared of them. For the same reason I’m fascinated by them.
I tell him, “It’s the normal people that scare me.”
The Eye keeps referring to ‘The Father’, which makes me question his intelligence.
“I’m forced to live in your world, I have to suffer for you!”
He says something about me being blind and ignorant.
I ask him how someone could be wise and drunk at the same time.
He turns his head on its side and looks up at me through one magnified lens on his glasses. I look right into the dark slit of the socket.
“We will be wiser drunk than you will ever be sober.”
He turns his back on me.
They stop talking to me. I feel embarrassed that I’m still hanging around, like a pest. They don’t want me here. But I want to study them. I want their photo. I want to know if they’re on drugs and if that’s what gives them the power.
“WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE?!” yells The Eye.
“I can’t help it,” I say. “You’re too interesting.”
“I have given you a fire to walk through, boy!” He exclaims.
I ask them if I can take a photo, but when they pose, it doesn’t feel right so I don’t take it.
I notice the trainers Nigel is wearing. They are brand new. It’s hard to tell they are even Nikes because
the tick is the same colour as the rest of the shoe.
Which is good.
“Those shoes man, they’re stealth!”
Nigel models as we admire them.
“I prefer my shoes dirty though,” I say.
Ron is standing next to me and I ask him if that’s his tag on his shoe.
“I got these from a friend.”
We look up and see Nigel across the road with his shoes off. He’s rubbing them in the dirt and scratching them up.
I look back to Ron and say, “That… is fucking cool.”
We share a moment of silent appreciation.
“What a legend,” I say.
“He is,” agrees Ron.
I ask him how long he’s known these guys.
“Just met them today.”