The crumbling building above our heads used to be a motel, and the cave I share with five families used to be its basement. Time, and multiple housing crises have made fools of us all. My two sons shriek excitedly as they dart among rows of mattresses on the dusty floor, playing a game they made up. My wife sits on the big mattress that forms the center of the cluster of all our stuff. We're over in one corner of the cave, near a pile of old tables. My wife is knitting, her long auburn plait of hair trailing on the ground beneath her. She looks like a princess-but I doubt princesses were that fat, or had bristles on their chin.
My daughter sits away from the others, near the crumbling space where a window was. The moonlight falls upon her white blonde hair and skinny frame- a fairy waif lost in her own world. I walk over to her, and see that she is using a low bench as a desk, and is drawing a picture. It shows five stick figures outside a huge, Grey building.
“What're you doing, Soph?” I ask
“I'm just drawing a picture of us”
“What's the big building meant to be”
“The government housing office” she says, with a blank expression on her face.
I kiss her on the top of her head and walk back to the mattress.
Suddenly, the children become more excited than usual, and sure enough I can see a blue glow descending the staircase: the Angel has arrived. I can never get over how weird those things look, and quite frankly I have no idea what the welfare office was thinking. Is it so much to ask to just send one of the office ladies over with food?
It levitates into the center of the room, bathing the grubby stucco walls in pale light. It resembles a legless female mannequin, and is a soft pastel green in colour. Its eyes are huge and blue, like the Japanese cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. It has no mouth, and its hair looks like glowing blue fiber-optic cables.
“Stand back, children” the Angel intones in its tinny, train-station-announcement voice. The children oblige, and it showers them with a multicoloured rain of candy. As the children scrabble for them in the dust, the Angel deposits its care packages in the center of the room. I pick mine up and open the lid, and the usual contents stare back at me: instant noodles, eggs, and cans of tuna.
Later I lie on the mattress, unable to sleep. Sharon senses my discomfort and puts a plump hand on my shoulder.
“What's wrong babe?”
“I'm thinking about going to the housing office tomorrow”
“What's the big deal? We just fill in some forms and they put us up in another motel for a week”
“What if they knock us back, Shar? Have you ever thought about that?”
“There's no sense in being paranoid about this kind of thing, its not constructive"
I sigh. “Maybe I am. I just keep thinking about how they put Tom out on his arse”
“For Christ's sake Tony, he got caught cooking meth in the bathtub. Not even housos will stand for that. You're miles away from being that bad.”
“Thanks” I say and roll over, but its still another hour before I can sleep.
The buggy makes a choking sound and fails to start. I swear under my breath and pop the hood. Dad taught me a few things about engines, but I was only willing to pay so much attention. Sure enough, my clumsy carburettor adjustments prove futile, and the buggy splutters again and falls silent. The years haven't been kind to my waistline, so hoisting myself into the engine cage is something that involves a lot of grunting and more swearing.
“Dad, why do we have to take all our stuff with us?”
My son's voice startles me, and I bang my head on the iron bar above me.
“Fuck!..Joe, just put your bags in the back. I'm a little bit busy right now”
Sharon is waiting for with the kids in the motel driveway, her head in her hands. I wanted to get there early, so we wouldn't have to wait in line with bored kids behind angry junkies. So much for that.
“What's the matter, Tony?” I recognise Johnny's voice and look up to see him walking down the driveway. Tony Ferrera: longtime fellow houso and (when we could scrape together enough for a bottle of bundy) drinking mate. He was a skinny Filipino guy, with a ratty mustache and plaited rat-tail. I'm pretty sure he used to be in the Triads. Sometimes his family of eight would be with him, and other times they seemed to simply vanish.
“The fucking engine keeps flooding. I tried adjusting the carburettors, but its just not working”
“Lemme see, bro” I hand him the wrench, and in five minutes he's done. I try the engine again and it roars triumphantly into life, belching black smoke. I get out of the buggy and vigorously shake Johnny's hand.
“Mate, I cannot tell you how grateful I am”
“No problem bro”
I notice his luggage beside him “You off to housing as well?”
“Nah man, finally got my own place”
“That's great. We'll miss you though”
“Come round sometime, ey”
“Sure thing, mate. Take care”
And with that he climbed into his rusty Nissan Skyline and drove off.
“HOW THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO FEED MY FUCKING KIDS? YOUSE ARE A BUNCH OF FUCKING TIGHTARSES” This is literally the first thing I hear as I walk through the amber tinted revolving doors. A stick thin woman with multiple piercings, track pants and ugg boots screams this in a ragged, nasal voice at the prim Vietnamese woman behind the counter. Her calm attempts at explaining the complexities of Family Assistance forms are swept away in another torrent of abuse. I hate the FamilyCare building, and I've been here since I was a kid-way back when it was called Centerlink. The place is like an oven in the summer heat, and the carpet smells weird. The ambient lighting needs fixing, and flickers irritatingly. Holographs about disclosing changes of details scroll along the walls, the looped announcements talking over the anxious mutterings of families huddled by coffee tables piled with ancient magazines.
The wait is mercifully short “Hello sir, how may I help you today?” the prim Vietnamese woman asks with a plastic smile.
“Uh, good. I'm here for a housing re-application”
“Okay. Could I just get you and your wife's subcutaneous scan please?”
We place our wrists against the glass pane until a chime sounds.
“Tony Habib and Sharon O'Dwyer?”
“Go right in. Do you know where Mr Mohammed's office is?”
Post a Comment