by Callum B. Downes
The fisherman sat across from me, wearisome and blue. Perhaps he mused on love lost or just his empty basket. In any case, he surely was defeated, for even the glistening waters rushing by the carriage window, as calm as they were, couldn’t animate his soul and blackness was in his eyes. It was a sort of hopelessness that is begotten and assaults your senses once stumbled upon, pulling your hand to wallet with an invisible limb. This time I swatted that forceful arm away and just stared awhile, trying to catch the gist of his endless muttering.
He was a curious sight after all, with a braided beard, cork hat and a brown, oversized leather bomber. Structurally, he was quite gaunt, but sturdy none the less. His hands were a testament to past time, purple and calloused from hours reeling line, now clasping a crucifix on a golden chain. More noticeable, however, was his scent. Sometimes, when the carriage doors swung wide and wind gusted through, it was a dull fishiness accompanying a prominent waft of urine. When the draft died down, a constant fragrance of cigarettes hung dominantly beneath the nostrils.
The train slowed gradually to a standstill, and as if struck by lightning, the fisherman shot up, pocketed the jewellery and gathered three tinnies from his esky. A raucous cackling stormed down the stairs, painting a grin upon the fisherman’s face in hearty strokes, something which only moments ago seemed preposterous. “Well fuck me dead, have a go at these no hopers!” His statement was met by either learned avoidance or disapproving glares from disgruntled passengers, and on the other hand, the warm embrace of pungent arms, mostly of stale sweat, reuniting him with long lost pals. “You’re joking! Pip, look who’s here to feel you up ya big poof!” yelled the old friend into the sleeve of the fisherman.
“Jesus Christ, it’s you ya mongrel!” called Pip, who consequently fell down the stairs to cling to his mate. The cuddle almost knocked him flat on the floor with a force clearly aided by intoxication.
Gathering his composure the fisherman cleared his throat and motioned forward as if to address a crowd of thousands before a rousing oration. “Now listen here ya mugs. I went through hell and high-water to pinch these here beverages, so ya better fucking savour the moment!” Visibly proud of his achievement and satisfied with the introductions, the fisherman cracked open the stolen beers and invited his guests to take a seat, handing over the loot. “Who am I kidding? You ungrateful bastards probably never even thanked your own mothers. If you’d ever knew ’em!” The insult was acknowledged by great uncontrollable belly laughs, which inspired the voluntary ejection of half the carriage’s patrons. Yet I remained, apparently enthralled by the unfolding rapture and sincerely interested in the pending interaction. Surely it must have been the gusto they embraced one another with, or the genuine fondness that oozed from their every gesture toward each other that pinned me to my seat. It was an obvious bond that would be almost enviable if it weren’t for the abominable poverty that proceeded them and so I chose to stay.
“Anyways, welcome to my pad fellas.” He continued excitedly. I’ve been crashing this joint for a few days now. If it weren’t for the junkies haunting the loo and the fucking transits dropping in uninvited, I’d stay forever.”
The sweaty one wiped the contents of his nose onto his overcoat before responding. “How do you stand the lights, mate? I’d be stumbling ’round like an insomniac on this tin can, harassing pensioners for sleeping pills and shit of a morning, eh!”
“You should pay your elders a little more respect, son. Just last night, a whole swag of ’em dished me up a solid feed.”
“What, down at the salvos?”
“Nah mate, they call themselves hope street or somethin’. Invited me in to babble on to the big fella and everythin’. They be throwin’ their arms in the air and laying hands tryin’ to heal me of me afflictions and shit.”
“Truly?” Inquired Pip.
“Fucking oath, mate. Had me saying me prayers in me Sunday best,” he bragged whilst pointing out his current attire. “Problem was I was slurring me confessions at best. By the end, the priest was prodding me out of a slumber and helping me stumble me pissed ass past the pews!”
The anecdote had all three of them bent over in rambunctious fits of laughter. Once settled, they proceeded to offer each other more serious advice on exploiting the various homeless shelters and charitable churches dotted along the train line. Amongst others, hot topics included where to get the best roast, how to dodge questions of spirituality, and how best to turn down offers of employment. The conversation then turned to their favourite sob stories to plunder the pockets of over zealous christians, which mainly included tales of vicious torment inflicted upon them as children of the street. Any funds they managed to accrue were blown on pokies, beers and grass.
After a while, my passive observing morphed into visible outbursts of moral outrage. Here were three seemingly fit and strong men, well fed, enjoying a fine day of fishing and pursuing leisure on the backs of honest, hard working followers of their almighty creator. My fists clenched, piercing my nails into skin until I bled. I began to sweat and physically tremble. My throat was tight. I bled some more. I swore under my breath, secretly hoping they’d overhear so I could break their noses on the seat handle, crushing their pride and their deceitfulness and their lies.
But they didn’t. So they continued in their stark debauchery for all to pity until the sweaty one and Pip dealt a hug and farewelled their friend at Redfern station. A switch was flicked and the fisherman slumped once more into a gloomy posture by the carriage window. He removed the necklace and held it heavenward, sobbing in great heaves. I managed to string a few of his unceasing ramblings into coherency.
“Oh please dear God, help me catch a big one. If I catch a big one I’ll follow you for the rest of my days.”
Without noticing, I’d joined with him in prayer. Repeating the plea right there and then on the 8:55 to Central station. “Yes God, may he catch a big one and follow you”. Blood trailed down my open hands, which were now raised above my head and I no longer trembled. I felt compelled to help him, to reach out to him, or perhaps offer him a heavier spool of line. I could resist that ghostly limb of generosity no longer. But he’d gone.
I sat motionless and pondered my current situation. When all else fails and man has no options, when he bleeds from anger and sees no way ahead, he seeks one greater who may light the path and reel in a fish greater than he ever imagined, lest he self destruct.