My work involves visiting many different people in their homes, it is part of why I love the job so much.
I have had afternoon tea on the elegant verandah of a multi-million dollar home at Hunters Hill, looking out over the Lane Cove River and been offered a bong by some bikies looking to sell some china once owned by the mother of one of them. This visit involved stepping over sleeping ones of their number in order to reach the place where the goods were stored. “Don’t worry, they are out for the count” was the reply when I offered the view that we might wake them.
Tonight I visited a north western suburb of Sydney to see a man who wanted to sell “lots of collectables, a house full, rabbit traps, old railway lamps, you name it”.
It was getting dark as I drove slowly up the unsealed road trying to find the house. Felt somewhat nervous as I realised it was not within screaming distance of the next house, but as usual I tried to bury any anxiety. The front yard was ‘cobbled’ with pieces of concrete, broken up and laid as a sort of path.
Calling at the door, I resisted the temptation to go back to the car to ring and say I was sick and couldn’t come. But once inside I was glad I hadn’t. The occupant didn’t have anything worth buying or even worth looking at, in fact the railway lamps didn’t exist and the rabbit traps weren’t there either, nor the collectables.
What he did have though was loneliness and loss, his wife had left five weeks ago and his mother wasn’t answering his calls. Did I know where she was? No, sorry I didn’t. He explained he had been going to a local church, “I don’t believe in god, but they are so nice there and I’ve felt better in the last few days since I’ve been going there.” Aha, the church is a short walk from my shop, so I am figuring it out a little better, this lady will come to your house if you have things to sell, another shoulder, another person to listen to the story.
So to the house, four small rooms, and I mean small, maybe each the size of a bathroom in the modern homes I visit. Lined with sheets of………well I’m not sure……..cardboard maybe, or Masonite? The lounge room where we sat was wall to wall decorated with all manner of things, but the fairy castle toy sat alongside a sign with a swastika, near the toy cars and the hand lettered signs “Andrea loves Mike” (names changed of course). “What other man’s wife paints signs like that with glitter and all?” he said. True I thought.
The bedroom I didn’t enter, but saw enough through the open door to be sure I didn’t want to. The enclosed back verandah seemed to be the wardrobe, the clothes piled high in a corner were taller than I am, two large plastic bags on the floor had drying marihuana plants sticking out of them. “Oh yeah, that’s the marihuana” he said casually.
We ventured into the back yard on the off chance that it held something saleable, past the hand lettered sign “YOU ARE ON CAMERA CUNT” set to deter burglars who were desperate enough to try to steal his meagre possessions. But sadly there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that was worth a cracker. But it wasn’t money he was looking for.
I had noticed a number of large plastic containers of butts around the place and thought plastic was an odd choice as an ashtray. It soon became apparent why they were there, for as we talked, he began unselfconsciously opening the butts one by one, retrieving the ends of tobacco to roll a new cigarette.
“I can’t find her anywhere” he said. “She is a terrible gambler, picks up every coin I put down, but even the pubs and clubs haven’t seen her. And why isn’t my mother answering the phone, I can’t find her anywhere either.”
I entered anxious, I left sobered.