Belgrave is a long way from where Madame Olga lives, but it is on a train line — the end of the line in fact, so she can attend the aptly named, ‘Big Dreams Market’.
Madam Olga has her favourite markets, and she always travels by train, sometimes having to change trains.
She carries all she needs on a trolley designed by Tony, her neighbour (more about him a bit later). The fold-up table is her largest burden, but Tony designed and built her a surface that folds up into a more manageable shape. Even so, she struggles with it if there are stairs or a steep incline.
The ‘Big Dreams Market’ is about half a kilometre from the train station in Belgrave, and all of it is uphill — one of the steepest hills in Melbourne. In the 1950s, Vauxhall cars tested their vehicles on Terry’s Avenue. Handbrakes and clutches were put to the test.
No one knows how old Madame Olga is and to be accurate, which is always important, she isn’t sure herself. Many moons and many men have passed since she was born, somewhere in eastern Europe. She came to Australia after the war, when we welcomed migrants (or New Australians, as we were taught to call them). These days our leaders are teaching us to distrust people from other lands — sadly, this is something that we take to readily.
Getting her belongings up the hill took Olga almost half an hour — folded up table and box of jars and an old wooden chair. She stopped many times. The tiny park that marks the spot where an original homestead once stood is a welcome rest stop. The big old house is gone and in its place is a large blacktop carpark, complete with white lines and the occasional tree. A supermarket chain bought the land from the homesteader’s descendants and the Anglican church back in the day when non-Catholic religions were dying.
Churches traditionally gained the high ground — closer to God, or were they just showing the people where the power is?
‘Big Dreams Market’ is held in the expansive grounds of the local Catholic church — they occupy the highest point on one side of the valley, and on the other side, the Catholics occupy the other peak with an all-girls high school.
There is a market very near to where Olga lives, but she cannot go there anymore — someone complained. She does not know who complained; she only knows that Mr Character, the secretary, told her that they didn’t have space for her anymore.
“You have lots of space. Your market is never full,” said Olga in reply.
Mr Character hesitated before answering. He wanted her to understand his predicament. He liked her very much, but the decisions of his organising committee bound him.
“You’re right; I should have been honest with you. You are too successful, too different and there are people in this world who are afraid of ‘different’, and more to the point, they are afraid of those who do not seem to care what others think of them. That’s you Madame Olga, and I’m sorry. I love your elixir, your ‘Imagine’. I hope you will sell me more when I run out?”
“I have lived a long time, and I understand small minds. I will go,” said Olga. She wasn’t exactly sad, but this market was so convenient, so close to home.
The first monthly market after Olga had been excluded, it rained.
People remarked that it had been a very long time since it had rained on market day, and that was all that was said.
There were other markets, of course, but when you do not drive, there are other considerations. Olga could drive, and she had driven, but not since her Vance had died. She didn’t feel confident without him by her side.
The tiny market at Laburnam was her favourite. It is right next to the station, tucked into a small carpark near a group of shops. Very quiet except for the occasional passing train, way up high.
Box Hill market is her most lucrative. It’s enormous, and the largely immigrant population come from parts of the world where strange things are commonplace, so she does not seem out of place.
“You make good stuff,” said the old lady of Chinese descent, “my grandma used to make potions — make you fall in love, whether you like it or not.” The old lady laughed, and Olga smiled as well.
“Love is good, but potions wear off,” said Olga.
“Not the way my grandmother made them. How do you think I got to be born? My father not have a chance.” The old lady laughed again and moved off unsteadily with her small glass jar with the gold top.
A bored teenage girl was working her way up and down the aisles giving out leaflets when someone told her to stop. An argument broke out.
“I’m just doing what my dad told me to do,” she said.
“If you want to hand out leaflets rent a stall like everyone else,” said the tall man with the strange haircut. The upset, previously bored, teenager disappeared only to reappear with a short man with very little hair. A new conversation broke out with lots of arm-waving, but the man with the bad haircut stood his ground and told them to leave. They did, but not before throwing the remaining leaflets up in the air.
They rained down like A5 pieces of snow, fluttering on the gentle breeze. Small children cheered, and adults brushed the leaflets from their clothes and bags and prams. A particularly chubby baby sucked furiously on a leaflet that her distracted mother had missed.
After this moment of distraction, shoppers and stallholders returned to their duties.
Big Dreams Market, every last Sunday of the month, St Somebodyorother’s church grounds, Belgrave. 10 am till 4 pm. Come, and make your dreams come true.
Olga folded the flyer and put it in her pocket. Something told her that this knowledge might come in handy.
Olga’s first ‘Big Dreams Market’ was held in May and the established stallholders remarked on her lack of an awning.
“This is The Hills luv. If it’s gonna rain anywhere, it will rain here first. You are gonna need a cover,” said the man who was setting up his wife’s pottery stall. He seemed like an organised bloke. He knew where everything was, and he laid it out, ‘just so’.
Olga looked at the sky. The clouds were leaden, threatening, full of moisture.
“It not rain while market is running,” she said.
The pottery husband laughed.
“You a bit of a soothsayer luv?” Olga didn’t answer. She unfolded her table, laid out her embroidered table cloth and stacked up the tiny jars. She placed the old wooden chair very close to the edge of the pottery stall. The man looked at her with a look that said, “Don’t let that chair venture on to my wife’s area.”
Despite the threatening weather, there was a continuous flow of market shoppers. Small children and young couples with and without prams. Older couples in colourful scarves and giggling teenagers trying not to look as though they were checking each other out.
Customers react to Olga’s Elixer in many different ways, but on this day, there was a lot of ‘flying’.
Late in the day, Olga was distracted by a loud bang, and as she turned, she knocked over the jar of toothpicks. It was almost empty, but the remaining toothpicks spilled onto the ground. Olga groaned. Getting down that far was very difficult for her and picking up the tiny shards of wood was a lot to expect of her ancient fingers.
“I’ll pick them up for you lady,” said a boy of some twelve years. His jeans were clean but well worn, and his jumper was a hand knit. His dark hair was long and brushed back.
“Thank you, young man,” said Olga.
The boy quickly retrieved the picks and the unbroken jar. He placed them on the table and smiled at Olga.
“Your mother loves you very much, but she is also sad. This will pass, but you need to be patient and hug her a lot. Don’t worry if she is quiet. She is not upset with you. Grief shows itself in different ways. I know you feel it too, but you are able to smile,” said Olga and tears appeared in the boy’s eyes.
“I try to make her happy, but nothing works,” said the boy, brushing something away from his eye.
“It not your job to make her happy. It your job to love her, no matter what. Do not be afraid. Let her lean on you when she needs to. And you lean on her as well, when you need to. She won’t break, “said Olga.
The boy gave half a wave, brushed something else from his eye took a few steps back and moved away.
“You were right,” said the pottery husband as they packed up, “it didn’t rain.”
“It is good to listen to Olga when she speak of weather,” said Olga.
The pottery husband laughed. “How did you go today?”
“Well,” said Olga, not wanting to give too much away, “and your wife, she sell much?”
“Never as much as she would like but enough to buy more clay and stuff.”
With everything securely strapped into place (Tony taught her how to tie especially strong knots), Olga faced the daunting task of getting down the hill to the station.
She put the trolley behind her after having it nearly drag her down the hill.
Her legs and her back ached by the time she reached the ramp that led to the station. She must have looked a sight as she staggered down the hill. Passengers in passing cars staring at her as though she might suddenly break into a gallop and topple down the steep incline.
Finally, she got to step onto the waiting train, where she made herself comfortable, catching her breath.
The journey home was uneventful with the occasional passenger having to step around her trolley.
Olga was satisfied with her first day at ‘Big Dreams’.
As the train pulled out of the station, she noticed the man who had been one of her customers. He was with his large family, only now he was with an old dog — the dog she had seen with a small boy. The dog’s lead was a piece of string. The dog looked happy, and so did the older man, but it’s hard to judge happiness from a rapidly accelerating train.