Saturday, September 6, 2008

Beverley George: ROADSIDIA

On an early morning walk through the streets of Christchurch, all is orderly. A row of restaurants opposite the river have left out chairs, tables, pot-plants overnight and the City Square is freshly swept.

I take a half day bus tour. The bus driver is knowledgable, political, outspoken. Shows the good with the bad, like the way the friable soil under a fashionable and expensive housing estate hollows into deep caves.

When I ask about an attractive tree with bristling foliage on the river bank, he answers instantly, “That’s a roadsidia.” Later he relents. “That’s roadside with ia on the end,” he says. “I don’t actually know. But people expect you to.”

He has plenty to say about the fallibilities of the legal system. “But it all looks so untroubled?” I say. “Restaurant furniture left out all night?”

“Oh it’s not your theft that’s the problem,” he says. “Twenty years for theft. It’s your murder—for drugs and alcohol – DandA – that’s your problem. Underfloor heating in the gaols and out after only four years cos you didn’t know what you was doing.”

He lets me off the bus where I am to meet haiku poets for lunch.

“Don’t forget roadsidia,” he insists, “put that in one of your poems.”

Where I have been invited to meet other haiku writers for lunch there is a demolition site—a hole in the ground. The poets are from other cities, obviously unaware of changes. I check with a receptionist two doors away.

“Burned down,” she says. “It didn’t reopen elsewhere but there is a vegetarian restaurant a few blocks from here.” She writes down the address.

In the City Square in front of an imposing Cathedral, a Japanese girl is taking a violin from its case.

violin, bagpipe
flute and didgeridoo
fight in the air

I find not one, but two, vegetarian restaurants. They are located in a streetscape of sex shops, varying only minimally in the inventiveness of their displays. Gas masks leer from an army disposal store. My friends are nowhere to be seen. They know where I am staying. Perhaps there will be a message back at the hotel.

I pass back through the Square. There is no sign now of the violinist or the flute player.

bagpipe music swells
the didgeridoo player
turns up his amp

The day is balmy; the sky cloudless. I approach a wide pedestrian crossing, humming. A car pulls up on the left. I am halfway across when a red sedan screams around the corner from the right nearly striking me. The driver’s window is open. “Slow down,” I yell.

I am almost across when I hear screeching and the car spins around in a u-turn. There’s no time to think but instinctively I dart into the open door of a newsagency. There is a man of about fifty and a youth behind the counter. Quickly I explain the incident. The older man glances out at the car. “Go and hide at the back of the shop,” he says. “Stay out of sight.”

I duck behind fixtures. Slip off my rust-covered coat which is all the man in the car and his female companion will have noticed. Time is slowed, unreal. One part of me sees the whole thing as ridiculous, the other that this is exactly how terrible things happen. Out of a clear blue sky.

I can partly see the car through the shop window. The passenger door opens and the female is thrust out onto the pavement. She staggers, then enters the shop I am in, stares around. Has she been sent on a mission to take care of me? She wanders out again. “Stay there,” the shopkeeper warns me.

I can see only the top half of the sedan. The passenger door is open and the driver is banging his head against the steering wheel. A few minutes later the woman re-enters the newsagency. This time she buys some drinks and takes them back to the car which screams off across the pedestrian crossing and around the corner.

“She was carrying a bag from the chemist shop,” the shopkeeper says. “Best not to get in their way though. You never know.” I am grateful that he has taken this uncertain situation seriously.

He follows me onto the footpath and taps my arm.

“Don’t let it spoil your day,” he says.

Back at the hotel there is no message from my friends.

On my floor, the maid is cleaning at the other end of the corridor.

“I got you your flat pillows you wanted, dear,” she calls. “I got you two. Will that be enough?”

by Beverley George
Pearl Beach, NSW, Australia

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Beverley – didn't know you'd had such a bad time.

At least you got a great haibun?