Harry squinted in the bright afternoon sun. The air crackled with heat. The endless stream of traffic spewed noisome fumes into his flared nostrils. Harry’s tongue felt like sandpaper. He had to get out of this city. All around him office workers swarmed, desperate to cross Spring Street, get to the tram and get home.
Harry stepped back to let another briefcase push past. “Really going for it today, aren’t we?”
Harry was used to it. But familiarity didn’t alleviate his bemusement at the lack of concern that these people showed for one another as they bustled about, brimming with self-importance. They just didn’t seem to get it.
“Gotta get out of here”, Harry thought again, turning to take in the prim businesswoman shuffling impatiently next to him and screeching into her phone. The gleaming patent leather handbag swung erratically with her gesticulations, banging against the rounded shoulders of a withered old man. Oblivious to his scowl, she suddenly noticed Harry’s gaze. The businesswoman tightened her grip around her leather attaché and peered down her sculpted nose at Harry in disdain. He’d seen that look before.
“You think I’m disgusting?” Harry mused, scratching his ear. “Howling like a banshee into your Crackberry, pissing everyone off… that’s disgusting”. She tried futilely to maintain a bellicose sneer while wedging a designer cigarette between her inflated, cerise lips. Harry slowly opened his mouth and let a large glob of saliva splash over her Jimmy Choos.
“Shit!” she squawked, just as the pedestrian lights flashed green. The crowd surged around her, swamping her indignation. Harry felt Jack’s hand on his back as they pushed through the peak hour crush. People like that really gave him the shits. This city was full of them – tense and taut, the life wrung out of them by ambition and sheer thoughtlessness.
Harry sniffed the air. It was stale, sullied. Same as always. Harry sighed.
As they padded through the teeming flow of people, Harry cast his mind back to last night. A decadent reminder of how good life could be when you stepped outside of the stifling confines in which people are so keen to entwine themselves. Lived a little. Harry had spent the evening on a deserted beach with two sexy Danes he hooked up with once in a while. Under the stars they’d swum naked, then shagged senseless on the still-warm beach. His balls ached at the thought.
These drones were missing the point. Flogging themselves within an inch of their life all day, then rushing home to switch on the aircon and plant their arse in front of the new plasma, just in case the previous 10 hours spent sitting on it hadn’t sufficiently ensured its inexorable expansion. Work, buy, consume…an urban cycle that seemed to override even the seasons. “Must always be the same temperature in the home theatre”, Harry mused as they navigated through the hordes crossing the road.
Harry didn’t know what he’d do without Jack. Jack was a kindred spirit, always up for anything that involved getting out of the house. Jack was Harry’s lifeline in a hard-boiled world.
They’d reached the other side of Spring Street. The jarring screech of metal brakes signalled the arrival of their tram. Along the stop, workers eyed one another suspiciously as it pulled up. Champing at the bit for someone to push past them and give them a reason to unload some of the crap that had been dumped on them that day. A cloud of fine sand billowed out from under the tram as it ground to a halt on the glimmering tracks. Harry gazed up at the tram. It was chockers inside. Sodden armpits clutched at overhead grips, three apiece. It would stink in this heat.
The doors clattered open and a cascade of thrusting briefcases, handbags and shopping bags gushed over those milling around the tram doors. “Give them a bloody chance to get off, will ya?” Harry snorted as he stepped back, copping a shove in the back for his trouble. Finally the tide of exiting passengers subsided, then reversed, the tram inhaling the waiting passengers to the point of impossibility. Incredible that they could all fit on really.
“Bloody marvel. A real feat of engineering ingenuity”, Harry thought. He had a lot of respect for designers. Innovation. Individuality. That was what it was all about. Oh well, nothing for it, Harry lamented as he looked back to checked that Jack was with him. Jack gave him a nod and they stepped towards the tram. Individuality would have to take a back seat for the next half an hour at least. The inevitable crush inside the doorway was slowly abating as people reluctantly shuffled in to let those behind them in. Grumbling as they went. Harry and Jack waited outside for them to move in.
The driver’s blue shirt was saturated from the heat. He leaned around the commuters shuffling through the tram and yelled at Jack.
“Get on will ya! Haven’t got all bloody day”.
“Righto, righto”, Jack placated him, stepping back to let Harry step onto the tram. The driver pushed back the few remaining strands plastered to his bald, corrugated skull and looked Harry up and down distastefully.
“He’s not coming on”.
“Bastards”, Harry growled. Always the same.
“Come on mate, you know he’s got every entitlement to be here”, replied Jack wearily, thinking, “Don’t be ridiculous. Not in this heat”. Harry fumed as Jack stood in the shadow of the tram, earnestly reasoning with the driver. Why didn’t people just accept him for who he was? The driver was justifying his discrimination by reference to the heat.
“Listen sport, wait for the next tram”, the driver snapped, attempting to lever the doorway closed. Jack halted it with his foot.
“They’ll all be packed at this time of day”. Jack nodded towards the next wave of commuters already sweeping across Spring Street.
“Not my problem mate. Your friend there’s not welcome on this tram”, retorted the driver, again trying to close the door. The sensors wouldn’t let it close with Jack’s foot there. Jack wiped at his damp, shaggy brow and lowered his head. He looked like a man defeated.
“Piss off buddy!” shouted an irate passenger from the bowels of the tram. “Driver, get goin’!”
Jack looked up at a sea of angry faces, overwhelmed.
“Come on Harry”, he muttered, stepping back. Harry stood at Jack’s side, staring at the snarling driver and the scowling hellions behind him. He wasn’t going to take it any more. Harry marched onto the bottom step.
“You heard me mate, fuck off!” barked the driver. “You can keep standing there, but I’m driving this tram away. If you get hurt it’s on your head”.
“Harry, come here”, Jack hissed.
“Not this time”, Harry told himself as he continued forward. Society’s inequity would asphyxiate you only if you let it.
“You heard me, piss off you mongrel. You’ll get hurt!” shouted the driver, swinging his boot. Harry grunted at the heavy impact, staggering back down the black rubber steps before he caught his balance. Harry straightened his back and stepped up onto the top step.
Locking eyes with the driver, Harry squatted and laid an enormous, steaming shit.
Mayhem erupted. Harry scampered back down the steps, pulling Jack with him. With Jack’s foot gone, the tram door banged shut and the tram lurched forward, sending its inhabitants tumbling over one another. Shit went everywhere. Harry and Jack skipped across the road and onto the footpath. The packed tram careered down the street, trailing a torrent of screaming and abuse out its windows. Jack cracked up laughing.
“That was priceless. I just wish I could’ve seen the look on that bastard’s face”, he chuckled as they entered the Fitzroy Gardens. Jack leaned down to scratch Harry behind the collar. Harry glowed with pride.
Every guide dog gets his day.