The Company of Strangers

A very visible Christmas tree and practically invisible passengers.

The thing I missed most on arriving in Perth was people. I’m sure there isn’t a street in any Indian town that has less than ten people on the pavements at any given time – not including the cobbler, the coconut seller, the newspaper vendor, the chaiwalla, and the odd beggar. You also have the company of a couple of stray dogs or a masticating cow that believes it has the right of way. I never thought I’d actually miss Mumbai’s maddening crowd.

Perth is quite empty of people – both human and otherwise. In fact, I was advised to be wary of strangers. This is rather unnerving for someone like me who is used to sharing the sidewalk with a crowd. There’s something comforting about the thought that if you fall over, there are probably half a dozen people behind you who will stop to help you up. At least, that’s what I hope will happen – in a city like Mumbai it’s just as likely that you will be trampled and trodden over by the said dozen.

Perth is apparently a dangerous place if you decide to take to the streets. One well-meaning person warned me to have a finger on the mobile phone while walking home and to watch out for ‘abos’. I nearly went cross-eyed during the first two weeks, trying to keep a lookout for suspicious characters. Was the person clip-clopping behind me a would-be mugger?

Also startling was the way cyclists and old people on go-carts whiz by without warning. The pavements of Perth may be free of the dangers of dung and dog poo, but you’re more likely to get run over by a pensioner.

Still, the strangers in Perth often turn out to be quite friendly. I was studying the Christmas decorations and historical displays in Perth International airport’s departure hall when I was politely accosted by a blue-eyed blonde. Horror and panic – on my part, I’m not used to being thought Interesting by five-year-olds.

Still, after polite introductions Lina and I studied a model DC aeroplane, and old photographs of the airport. It used to be an airbase during the Second World War. We also admired the towering Christmas tree.

The next step was the baggage check, of course. Lina examined the contents of my bag. I was carrying Sharpe’s Revenge(not interesting because it had no pictures), a hat (which we decided she still needed to grow into), and sunnies (that looked better on her, than her mum’s sunnies did on me). In all we had a good time admiring each other’s possessions. Of course, her pink bag with white bunnies and white dress with pink flowers was MUCH better than my faded jeans and leather handbag.

“Where are you going?” asked Lina, as I packed my camera and prepared to go.

“Well, I must get on a plane and go home to MY mum,” said I.

“When will you come back?” she asked anxiously.

“In a month’s time, if you’re still waiting here.”

I waved off her mum’s thanks and bid a disappointed Lina goodbye. I was going to spend the next 24 hours in the company of more strangers, and it was rather nice that at least one wanted me to stay in Perth.

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