It’s the end of semester, and I’m bloody tired. In fact, I’m probably looking forward to the school holidays even more than my son. Boy’s totally spent as well. He’s five and a half. It’s his first year at school and believe me, you can tell when the end of term is coming. The poor little critter has been absolutely smashed with tiredness come three thirty pick-up over the last week. He shuffles his feet out of school each afternoon babbling and incoherent, offering random nonsensical insights into various parts of his day.
Man has the kids’ weekends – so much of the week for me is the lunch-box-packing home-work-hassling dinner-bath-bed-out of bed-breakfast-dressed-school mayhem. So this afternoon I’m happy: wheeling nine-month-old Girl along the main street of our white-picket-fence suburb looking forward to the next two weeks of jama-clad French toast mornings, museum trips and non-school-assigned reading.
Fuck off, bitch.
The voice comes from behind me. And I’m thinking that exactly what I don’t need this afternoon is to be caught up in someone’s very public domestic.
Go on, fuck off, the voice says again. An uneasy feeling runs down my spine and I realise this isn’t some domestic: he’s talking to me.
And I’m unprepared.
It’s been maybe twelve months since I’ve been openly abused on the street by a total stranger (albeit only a week since I last encountered obvious racism from a random member of the public). And it’s never happened so close to my home.
His white ute draws level with me, slows down. It’s around two-thirty and the traffic on North road is heavy. The car behind him slams on its breaks.
Fuck off, you black bitch, he screams from the open window, Go on, fuck off. You make me sick you fucken black slut. Go drown your kid! You should go drown your fucken kid. Fuck off will you!
My baby daughter thinks it’s funny. She’s looking toward the road and chuckling, kicking her chubby legs in glee at the loud voice coming from the vehicle.
There’s nothing to do but walk on. At that moment I’m not thinking anything. My mind is blank. I’m in shock. My knuckles are gripping the pram so tightly that the two fingertips on my right hand, which I already haven’t been able to feel for almost twelve months, are actually starting to tingle.
I look straight ahead, trying not to pick up pace too much. The turn-off for Boy’s school is a couple hundred metres away. I can hear another car beeping, and assume it’s the motorist behind the ute driver. I know he’s a young bloke but I don’t want to look any closer, because that’s obviously part of what he wants.
Fuck off blackie! Why don’t you just piss off! Bitch! The voice screams, before he puts his foot on the accelerator and screeches off.
I round the corner and once off the main road, I stop the pram and sit down on somebody’s front fence. I can’t breathe and tears are streaming down my face.
I’m heartbroken. And I’m viciously angry – not just at the young ute driver – but at myself. For reacting this way, for balling my eyes out. For letting this upset me.
And then I’m thankful. That my daughter isn’t a few years older, and that my five-year-old wasn’t walking with me.
Because how can a mother answer questions like those …
And I’m also thankful the young bloke in the ute couldn’t see the baby: her beautiful caramel skin, her to-die-for medium brown eyes, and the light brown ringlet curls starting to dance their way across her little fat head. Because after last week’s episode in the cafe, I know that this too, might add fuel to the fire.
I compose myself. I have to. The school bell rings in five minutes and I have to make up time.
The mother of a gorgeous little red-headed boy in my son’s class falls into step with me. She asks me how my day’s been. I’m still slightly shaking and can’t answer her for a moment. After a pause, I tell her I’m sorry, that I’m a little bit in shock, that some guy in a ute just started yelling at me. That usually I’d be okay but it hasn’t happened for a while … and certainly not around here …
Just now? she says, On your way to school? What did he say?
She looks absolutely dumbfounded at the incident, and even more shocked when I tell her it hasn’t happened for a while.
I can tell she just doesn’t know what to say.
That’s horrible, she offers, I’m so sorry. I don’t know … The demographic is changing around this area …
I start wondering why I told her. I appreciate her reaction: it validates the behaviour I’ve just had to endure as unacceptable. Because when you have this kind of behaviour directed toward you on an almost weekly basis, you do start to wonder.
But I don’t want sympathy.
What I want is to un-hear what I just heard. To un-experience what just happened.
Because if racism is a disease of the HEART, then experiencing it is an affliction of the MIND.
The cumulative effect of these incidents is like a poison: it eats away the very essence of your being and, left unchecked, can drive you to the unthinkable.
It’s day five of the school holidays and I’ve only just left the house. We’ve had a couple of friends over to visit but that’s it. We’re all snuffly, and it’s miserable outside so I kid myself that this is the reason, but we’ve ventured out in worse form than this. I only went out because the fridge is bare and even then, I could only just manage to buy bread, milk and eggs.
People were looking at me, and I didn’t want to keep thinking about what they were thinking.
I’m supposed to take Boy to a theatre show tomorrow while Man has a day with Girl. Boy keeps asking me am I excited? He’s been looking forward to the show for over a month and even though he’s miserably bunged up, he musters a big grin every time he remembers about the upcoming excursion. The kids’ theatre show is, quite frankly, my idea of hell, and he knows it. Which is why he takes a giggly pleasure in continually asking me about it. He takes after his mother in that respect. I tell him, deadpan, that I’m so excited about the show I think I’m going to wet my pants. He falls over onto the carpet in hysterics and then rolls his eyes, asking why he has to have such a silly mother.
I do feel like I’m going to wet my pants.
I don’t want to go out of our flat.
We might sit next to somebody who racially abuses us under their breath. The usher who tears the ticket might wipe their hand on their shirt in disgust after their fingers brush mine. The snack-shop server might spit on Boy’s hot chips during interval. Somebody might tell me I should drown my own child.
And I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.