The Broady Line
The smell of old urine in the upholstery of the seats is something you just can’t get used to on the Broadmeadows line. From the moment I get on the train at Broady, until I sight the clocks of Flinders Street Station, I hold my nostrils in suspended animation. I hate riding the train.
On Monday, I pay my way through the sliding doors at the cold and dirty Broadmeadows station and line up with gloomy faced commuters. It strikes me as I look around and try to find a gum-free spot to lean and wait, that all the faces look the same. The same glum looks all sadly facing the tracks and a week, which already seems too long. On Monday the weekend is over. The drinks have been drunk and the parties had. Monday means back to work and back to the grind. I’m sure I look the same on Mondays too.
The sad little soldiers and I sweep onto the 7:15 train at Broady right on time – an unusual thing. The old man in the blue suit looks almost proud today as he signals the all clear to the driver. The train doors beep closed and we are shut inside, silent captives on a common mission. As we shrug along towards Jacana, I wonder why we don’t talk to strangers.
The train jerks to a stop at the station and rocks me out of my daze. I smell dim sims amidst the ever-present urine. Who on God’s earth eats dim sims before 9am, I wonder. I mean really, there are limits to what your fellow commuter can politely handle. I should say something. I look around to see a young guy with a greasy paper bag, dripping soy sauce as he scans for a seat. He looks like a smackhead who has shot up all his money for the week and is eating the only meal he can afford. This is probably not far from the truth, I think, as I see him pick up a ciggie butt and wipe it carefully on his crusty jeans. He continues up the carriage in my direction as the train moves on to Glenroy.
An empty sear draws the attention of a waddling old lady at the same time as the dim sim guy spots it. She’s struggling with one of those little shopping carts on her way to do the weekly groceries and he’s pretending not to notice. The guy keeps coming. He won’t, I think. He couldn’t be that rude. I really should say something. He takes the seat.
The lady and her purple rinse waddle on, defeated. I clear my throat loudly and glare at him, but say nothing of course, not about his offensive smell or his lack of common manners. We don’t do that on the Broady line. I just look at his arms for a minute, looking for the telltale signs of snail trails and pock marks and then look away again.
We don’t interact a whole lot on the train, us commuters. Even the people traveling together talk in hushed voices as though someone will overhear and reprimand them. The only exception to this is the twice-daily ambush of high school girls, who take over the 7:15 and 4:15 with the aggression of a pack of wild beasts. I call them the Giggling Piranha. Three get on at Glenroy, there will be more. They will cling to one another, like new migrants settling in a commission estate, chattering in high-pitched voices. Apart from this noisy intrusion, there is little said over the monotonous train-track clickety-clack.
The train stops and starts with great effort a couple more times. As I look around at my kindred travelers, I think about an ad for the public transport system that recently ran on telly. It shows a man singing the old ‘My Baby Takes the Morning Train’ track. Then, in clock-like synchronicity each member of the train carriage begins to join him in song. The ad made me laugh, but copped a lot of flack for misrepresenting the true nature of our public transport system. It was about as realistic as the acting on the Jerry Springer Show.
Last week I heard a story about a curious individual that hummed the tune one morning in a train carriage on the Broady line between Glenbervie and Moonee Ponds stations – two young boys kicked him unconscious for his efforts.
The platform sign reads ‘Essendon’ and a different breed of commuter gets on. I can smell a better class of perfume and more expensive mouthwash and cigarettes. The train takes off with a jolt and I suddenly feel a horrible urge to hum. A little girl picking her nose catches my eye and stops me, thank God. She’s almost elbow deep in her own nostril, intently scraping and digging at the things that grow there. I feel like telling her to stop. I feel like telling the complacent mother beside her to teach her daughter some manners. She would only glare at me for interfering. I just turn back to the window in time to catch the first glimpse of Ascot Vale station coming into view. See, we just don’t know how to communicate here on the train.
By the time we hit North Melbourne, four more Giggling Piranha, a young turk in imitation Tag Heuer Sunnies and a businessman have crowded my personal space even further. The nose-digger and dim sim junkie are out of sight for now, but unfortunately not out of smell. I listen to the new and improved voiceover girl repeat the upcoming stations and travel times. The idea is borrowed from the horny ‘Mind the Gap’ girl’s voice on the Tube in London – apparently she does wonders in keeping the masses calm. I’ve always thought the concept to be wasted on the Broadmeadows line. Especially as her nasal twang sounds more like an out-of-tune guitar than it does a British porn actress.
As we enter the City Loop, the blue-toned lights buzz on and the mother, who had previously sat ignoring the nose pickings of her child, is screaming. I crane my neck around the businessman blocking my view to see the little girl on the floor, very still. The train is packed and moving fast, The mother looks crazed, slumped over the little body on the floor, yelling.
‘Oh my God! My baby!’
‘I don’t know what’s happening to her? Oh help!’
‘Someone, help, please.’
‘Oh shit! Please someone. Something’s happening to her. She’s turning blue. Please someone help’
No one is talking. The Piranha have stopped their quacking and the young turk has taken his headphones out. The businessman folds his Age and nervously looks over to the unfolding scene. The child is dying. She is very blue.
I don’t know what to do. I look around for a sign that someone does. Still no one moves. We are all looking and staring, not making any sound, not talking. This makes it all the more horrible when the dim sim boy runs up and starts to scream.
‘What the fuck is wrong with you people? Isn’t anyone going to help?’ Then he snaps into action. ‘It’s alright, I’m a first aider. What’s wrong with her?’
‘I dunno, I dunno!’
‘Clear some room. Can you hear me little girl?’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Sheena, can you hear me?’
‘Does she have asthma? Diabetes?’
‘No, no…I don’t know what’s happening.’
‘Is she going to be alright, mister?’
Oh God, please breathe.
The young dirty bloke blows huffy dim sim breaths into the little girl in sets of five. He breaks this up by pumping gently on her little chest with the tops of the fingers of his tarnished hands. Me and the businessman, the giggling girls and the granny, we all stand and watch.
The train rolls into Flinders Street station at the same time life comes spitting and spurting back into the little girl’s body. The dim sim guy rolls her gently on her side as the doors beep open, and an amazing thing starts to happen. People start to talk. A mobile phone is asked for. An ambulance is called. The mother is offered a warm coffee from someone’s thermos flask as she sits on the floor with her daughter between her legs. The young turk and the school girls start clearing a path loudly as station staff flood the carriage. As I listen to the approaching sirens wail closer and the murmuring crowd starts to disperse, I wonder if this will change the way things are on the Broady line.
An award winning published short story about the infamous Broady Line