A bloody fingerprint on my credit card made the store clerk hesitate for a moment, but I guess he wanted to finish his shift with a minimum of fuss because he put through the transaction, handed back my card and wished me a good day, all without a single change in facial expression.
My facial expression, on the other hand, could be described as a grimace. Not the bloke in the McDonald’s commercials, but the one where you are in a lot of pain and it has to show somewhere, even though you don’t want it to.
There was a chance that a bloody fingerprint was a part of everyday life for this bloke. Maybe, he even kept a chart of how many he encountered in a shift.
There it goes again — my mind.
Probably a side effect of losing so much blood.
It’s difficult to think clearly. Fortunately, a lot of thinking is not required. All I have to do is slow down the bleeding enough so that I am still alive at this time tomorrow. The meeting isn’t far from here and no one takes any notice of a slightly disreputable character in this part of the city.
Melbourne is good that way; ‘big money’ and ‘down and outs’ mix freely, as long as they don’t get in each other’s way.
The bandages and gauze were enough to cover the wound, but at some stage I was going to have to find the courage to stitch it; was not looking forward to that.
It was Sunday and the tourists were out in force.
Lots of kids, and mums and dads.
Cameras and carry bags, giggling teenage girls and puffed up teenage boys, none of them interested in me.
Twenty-four hours is not a long time in most people’s lives, but it was to me, especially since I acquired that hole in my side.
Once it was over, if I was still standing, I was going sort out the bloke who perforated me, but till then I needed a quite place to sit.
I turned down one of the myriads of laneways that criss-cross Melbourne and I come across a sign that said the Conan Doyle Society was meeting for an afternoon of mediumship. The sign gave a start time, but I had no idea what time it was because my wristwatch was lying in pieces not far from where the fight started.
There seemed to be a bit of activity so I entered.
The building was ancient and I passed through an open doorway — crafted about hundred and fifty years ago.
The walls were brick and there was a faint smell of dust in the air.
“Don’t worry about the dusty smell. It will dissipate in a little while. The building only gets used on Sundays. Ghosts play here during the week.” The lady who told me this was about sixty years old with a smile that suggested that she had left a trail of broken hearts in her wake in her younger days, and now, for all I knew.
The windows of the building were vaulted and filled with clear leadlight. The floors were Baltic Pine and the plethora of humanity that had trodden on them had sculptured them into hills and valleys around the tight knots in the wood.
Timeworn padded chairs were being laid out in rows by helpers who looked as old as the building itself.
A tiny lady, who was not much bigger than the chair she was carrying, said to me, “Sit here young fellow. You’ll get a good view. You look like you could use a good ‘sit down’. You sit here and I’ll get you a cup of tea.”
“You haven’t got something stronger than tea, have you lady?”
“No, but I know how you feel. I could go a good snort myself.”
I laughed and my side hurt.
The cup of tea had milk and about four sugars in it. I didn’t mind.
The chairs continued to come out through a small door, the same door that the cup of tea had come through and I wondered how many more rooms there were to this place.
Within a little while, the hall filled up with people and soon, none of the forty-odd chairs were empty.
Before the cup of tea and the kilo of sugar, I had been feeling quite sleepy, but now I was wide awake.
The lady running the show stepped to the microphone, which I had not noticed and welcomed us all.
She gave a particular welcome to all the ‘newcomers’ and looked directly at me. She introduced the two people seated behind her and gave their names, but I was not taking much notice.
She mentioned that this group had been meeting for about one hundred and twenty years, under various names, and that its current name dated from a visit by the renown author at the turn of the previous century.
A few people nodded and the tiny lady who had supplied my cup of tea said something out loud and the woman at the microphone agreed with her.
Things were getting interesting.
The lady sitting next to me didn’t seem to mind that I looked like I’d been in a fight; which I had.
The speaker introduced one of the people behind her, a Trevor someone, and he spoke to the assembled crowd.
He walked across to one side of the hall and asked a woman if she would like a reading. She said yes, and the fun began.
Trevor described a man in fine detail and asked the woman if she recognised this person. She promptly burst into tears and a box of tissues appeared out of nowhere. Trevor gave her a moment to compose herself and then he went on with a bit more description and ended with a message. “The gentleman wants you to know that it is okay with him if you want to get married again, and could you please make sure that the rose bushes get pruned.”
The proceedings went on for more than an hour and the two people on the platform took turns to read for various members of the audience.
I was enjoying myself, but the ‘over the counter’ painkillers were beginning to wear off and I had a monster headache.
I was feeling sorry for myself when I realised that this Trevor character was speaking to me. “May I come to you, sir? Yes, you, the gentleman with the coat and the upturned collar.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Can you speak up sir, so the audience can hear you, also I’m a bit hard of hearing.”
“YES, I GUESS SO. Knock yourself out.”
“Thank you, sir. May I have your name?”
“Thank you, Sam. I have a woman with me; she’s presenting in her late sixties wearing men’s work clothes, and she has grey hair. Can you place such a person?”
“Not at the moment, but I had a girlfriend who looked like that a few years back.” I enjoyed the laughter from the audience, but Trevor only smiled.
“She’s carrying an AK47 in one hand and a banana in the other. Can you place that?”
A cold shiver went down my back.
“Yes, I think I can.” I was in shock.
“She’s wearing Army boots and one of them is laced with string. She says that she always carried a banana because she never knew how long it would be between meals. She wants you to know that the wound in your side will result in your death if you don’t have it seen to today.”
Trevor stopped talking and every eye in the hall turned in my direction.
Trevor continued. “This lady is telling me that killing people is not the way. Even though she was defending her country against invasion, nothing good came of killing the soldiers that came under her sights. She says that she has met up with them, ‘over there’ and they have made their peace. The soldier who killed her has done the same. She wants you to know that love is the only way. If you try to hold out, without treatment, to make that meeting tomorrow, you will die from your injuries. Oh, and she said that you should eat more bananas and ring your dad once in a while. Can I leave that with you, Sam?”
“Yes, you can, and thank you.”
I’m not sure why I thanked him; it just seemed like the right thing to do.
The meeting disbanded and food appeared out of nowhere and conversation broke out in several places.
The chairs disappeared as fast as they had arrived and we all stood around eating cake and drinking tea.
I was probably half dead at this stage, but I have to say that those were the best scones and jam and cream I have ever tasted.
I found Trevor and told him about my ancestor who had valiantly and vainly fought the Soviet invasion of her country in 1956. I wasn’t born yet, but family legend had her name up in lights. My ancestors were mostly ordinary people living ordinary lives, except for the convicts who started our line here in Australia; and then there was Maria, the freedom fighter.
Sixty-three years of age.
She could field strip and reassemble an AK47 in the dark.
The AK47 was, and still is, the weapon of choice of the freedom fighter, but for all its virtues, it is not very accurate at range, but somehow Maria became the best sniper in her group.
Sadly for Maria, the Resistance was not able to hold out for very long. It was all over in a couple of days, and at the end of it all, there were only broken dreams and a family legend.
Things got a bit fuzzy after that, but I do remember waking up in the emergency ward at the Alfred Hospital.
I had become quite a celebrity.
Apparently, a diminutive older lady had carried me in on her back, saying that I needed attention for a knife wound.
She disappeared, but not before she rearranged the chairs in the waiting room.
“You’ll get more people in if you spread them out like that.”
The Triage Nurse was okay with the new arrangement and she didn’t think that any of it was particularly strange.
I guess nurses get to see some weird shit in the course of a day.
I was laid up for a while and I had to spin an interesting tale to get the cops off my back, but eventually they said I could go home.
The following Sunday I went looking for that laneway, but the doors were closed and there was no one about.
I’m not discouraged, though; I’ll go back next week and see what happens.
I get the feeling that I’ll never look at a banana or an AK47 in quite the same way, ever again.