At lunch yesterday I caught with some of the girls from the massage shop at a Thai restaurant in Lonsdale street. There were 3 of them there and it was great to see them more than 2 years on from ridding myself of the shop. We shared a good meal and caught up on things happening and happened and had plenty of laughs. I’d always remember because of the interesting times we shared, but I have a genuine affection for them too because they’re good people – hardworking, loyal, dependable, all of them with a gentle heart of gold. It pleases me that they still wish to see me.
I left just on 2 and started back to work. I went to cross Swanston street on a green light and had to abruptly halt as first one screaming car siren wailing then another came careening around the corner. The cars were unmarked, and not the usual dark colour but instead both sleek, cream coloured sedans. I watched them go by wondering what the fuck was going on.
I found out when I got back to work. All afternoon the TV had bulletins from the Melbourne CBD – where I work – about a crazy who had driven his car through the Bourke Street mall and deliberately into the crowds of people there, before going on.
At the time 3 were reported dead – now 4 – and 20 injured. It happened a block away from where I was, and where I might normally be spending my lunch hour. I’ve walked through the mall hundreds of times, if not thousands. It’s always busy, people everywhere crisscrossing the road taking care to avoid the clanging trams, people on their lunch breaks or out shopping, young families and grandparents and children. You hardly take any notice of them because it’s the familiar landscape. Yet, I thought, it’s those same people I blindly unsee who today were the victims of this. People going about their business with no thought that anything could happen to them. It’s the same all the time I guess, a single moment of the extraordinary elevates the routine to the tragic. Wrong place, wrong time.
There was a funny feeling in the office all afternoon. It was not just because it was so unexpected, it was because it was so close too. All of Bourke street was blocked off. They had apprehended the culprit, but it was now a crime scene.
I was due to catch up with a friend after work and we had agreed to meet at South Wharf. Normally I’d take a tram there, but the 96 tram I’d normally take ran down Bourke and had been cancelled. So to had the trams that ran across Bourke street, so I could not go from my end of the city to the other directly.
Like everyone, I made a wide detour. It was a strange feeling. The roads were blocked off and police everywhere. There were police cars and police tape tied across the roads and portable barriers holding traffic at bay. We walked in a pack, crossing major roads without having to worry about traffic. I made it there about 30 minutes after I started having to walk as far as Spencer street to get through.
I had a beer with JV while on the TV in the corner of the bar silently showed scenes from earlier in the day. We left and made our way towards Docklands. The eerieness went on. I know Melbourne very well, but we were drawn to a new part of town more recently developed that neither of us knew. There were impressive looking buildings on the continuation of Collins Street, but there was no-one to be seen, no traffic, not even any trams. It was like a movie set or a ghost town. We were about 800 metres from the bustling heart of Melbourne, yet here we walked down the middle of the road without having to worry.
Altogether a strange day yesterday.