I was in the office at 8 yesterday to attend a team breakfast for Christmas. We went to a groovy cafe in a cobbled laneway Melbourne is replete with. From outside there was nothing much to see, inside a converted warehouse made for industrial chic, which happily included excellent coffee and very good food.
The conversation at first was about work and the different projects ongoing. We’re a small team – just the 4 of us – but I tuned out during this. I wasn’t much interested in talking about work in such surroundings, and besides I had little to contribute. They were other people’s projects. I kept mum about mine. As time passed the conversation became more general, and with Christmas approaching, more personal.
Back in the office I attended meetings and worked on a flowchart I was hoping to get right before the end of day. You know what I did at lunch. In the afternoon I made more calls and polished off some docs I’d been writing, and completed the first draft of the flowchart.
I popped upstairs to have the flowchart quickly checked out by the girl I’d sat with to get the info. She’s a sweet-natured and enthusiastic type who thought my flowchart was “amazing”. All good then. I got back to my desk to find an email my manager had sent out to the managers and team leaders about a project I’d been working on. I’d done a ‘fabulous’ job, she wrote.
I’m happy to take credit when it’s due, but I knew I hadn’t done the job she claimed – I’d just done the job that had to be done. She’s a lovely woman though, very much a people person – she thanks us at the end of each day for the work we’ve done. Likewise I knew my flowchart was hardly amazing (though admittedly it can appear so to people who suddenly see their job so graphically represented). It was the simple result of close listening, persistent questioning, and good note taking.
I left work at a little before 5 and had a couple of beers with a colleague at a bar downstairs. He’s a guy I went through training with, smart, decent, hardworking. A top bloke. We talked of general things, but the conversation kept coming back to work. He’s still doing the job that I used to, and hates it much as I did. He’s more patient than me, “not as outspoken as you are” (his quote), but he is now fretting about the things I did – the utter inflexibility, the management style, the unreasoning rules, and so on. My manager is soon to become his, and I told him things would improve.
I caught a train then to Canterbury. I’d been invited to a birthday/Christmas party by mum’s closest friend. I see her 2-3 times a year, largely because I’m her last connection to the woman she adored.
I was early, so had to kill time. I dawdled down Maling road looking into shop windows. It was all familiar and well-known to me. Mum and my stepfather Fred had living within walking distance for near on 10 years. I had even lived there a while myself when I came back from my 2001 trip, homeless and unemployed just as 9/11 struck.
I walked by and towards the residential areas. Canterbury is a lovely suburb with beautiful homes and well-mannered, well to do residents. The broad streets are lined by great, sprawling trees that overarch into front yards and the street itself. The familiarity grew in me. It was as if I could close my eyes, retrace my steps and diverge just a little before knocking on a door and stepping into a different time, the smiling face of my mum greeting me.
I had stopped in front of a little shop in amid the houses. It was a Christmas shop, closed now, but with a window full of decorations and Christmas paraphernalia. This was new to me, but pausing in front of the window it made me think of the decorations of my youth. It was so vivid to me. It was a space of moments I felt tick by one by one as I felt in the midst of them. There was no-one about. It was just me remembering and looking into the shop window with a bag slung over my shoulder. The thought occurred to me that I had only to stick my tongue out and I would taste it, spicy and sweet.
Eventually I made it to the party and told my stories and listened to theirs. There were people there I hadn’t seen for 3 years, and 3 commented on how good I was looking, so I knew I had changed since then. It was a good night but I had to get home by train and feed Rigby, and that was an hour or more from the door. I left at about 10.45. On my way out I was waylaid by the hostess, and by another woman who had known and loved mum too. Let’s have a drink for her, they said.
To them I am my mum’s legacy. By being close to me they can be close to her. I understand that’s why I’m there (though I get on well with all), and I’m happy to give them that. It would seem cruel not to. I get something in return though. In a strangely parallel way they represent the last of mum to me, because they are the only people who have active, well nurtured memories of her.
On my way out a man stopped me, the husband of one of mum’s old work colleagues. “I looked at you,” he said, “and I wondered why you looked so familiar. But I can see now because you have the same bone structure as your mother. You’re just like her.”
I was surprised. Most people see my father in me, as I do myself. It was a kind thing to say nonetheless, and I was grateful.
I walked the empty streets back towards the station, bumping into someone I knew in Maling road. I waited and finally caught one train, then another, among the drunks and dissipated and the others lost in reverie.