Budget travel brings an unavoidable level of intimacy. Oversharing in extremis. De-briefings requested and given after each visit to the toilet.
I turned the corner to come nose-to-nose with a decapitated camel, hanging grimly outside a butcher’s shop. A hook through the underside of its jaw.
You’re unaware your arm is resting up against a boiling kettle. The skin is burning but you can’t feel it. When and how do you realise? When you smell your skin crisping up like pork crackling?
It’s a Sunday evening in January 2011. I’m sitting with 6 strangers in a house in Paddington. There’s an uneasy silence. We’re waiting to get started…
My tour was interrupted by an old lady who seemed to know everyone. She took my and warmly between hers. Not letting go.
We ‘upgraded’ to the suburbs when I was 7 years old. The school I left behind was an austere Victorian building with separate entrances for boys and girls.
When I woke I touched the side of my head gently. Dried blood. The pain was intense. Like a visit by the mother of all hangovers.
Wearing only a paper gown tied at the back, I climbed onto the cold radiography table. I rolled onto my side into the foetal position as instructed.
‘Must feel good to be going home?’ The ambulance driver chatted cheerfully as he wheeled me out through the sliding doors of the hospital.
A man with the demeanour (and the tape measure) of an undertaker appeared at my bedside. After 3 months I’d finally be getting out of my hospital bed.
I was part-way through my secondary school exams. The culmination of 2 years of study. My future academic and employment prospects would be determined by the result. That was all gone now.
‘There was a beautiful white Azalea in this garden. Where has it gone? Do you live here?’ An elderly, smartly dressed, woman has stopped me. Outside my house on Alice Street.