I’m standing outside Sydney Eye Hospital smoking a cigarette in the no-smoking zone. Dad is upstairs having a cataract removed. It’s only an outpatient procedure but I said I’d come with him because he gets anxious about everything and because I just moved back in with him and Mum and I’m jobless and eating all their food and I feel guilty about it.
The Domain is across the road. I scrunch my face up at the car park entrances jutting out from the lawn like we’re all supposed to imagine that underneath this huge oval there isn’t a concrete void filled with cars bought on finance. In the park, a guy stands outside an old public toilet block tapping his phone, then he puts it in his pocket and brings his foot to his knee to peel off a leaf that was stuck to a fig that was stuck to the sole of his shoe, then he taps on his phone some more. A sweatless runner slows on his tippy toes and enters the toilet block. The other guy follows. I flick my cigarette into the gutter and cross the road.
Winner of the 2016 Viva La Novella Prize
The freshest writing to come out of Melbourne since Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.
Nick is treading water. No boyfriend. No career. Living in a granny flat in Coburg. On a whim he decides to travel with his twin sister, Amira, to Lebanon in search of their estranged father. Their mother, who has passed away a couple of years earlier, only ever referred to their father as the kalb – the dog – they know next to nothing about him. In Beirut Nick and Amira find family, a sense of belonging and surprising answers to questions they hadn’t known to ask.
With a razor-sharp wit, incisive social critiques and intensity of feeling, Populate and Perish announces George Haddad as an important new player on the Australian literary scene.
There are five men standing together at the trough, no sound of piss splashing against the metal. The oldest man doesn’t hide his erection. The others shuffle away from each other and I look to their crotches and grab mine, reassuring them that it’s okay to resume. The sunlight splurges through the spaces left between the bricks for ventilation. I whip my dick out so that it’s spotlighted by one of the squares of sun. The runner is to my right now, heavily after-shaved. He edges closer and puts his ginger hand around my flaccid cock and for some reason the disparity in the colour of our skin fills me with an inexorable urge to laugh, so I do. My ha-has bounce off the cold walls and out of the hand basins and around the rims of the toilets and everyone recoils, some scurry into the cubicles and lock the doors behind them. I finish pissing and laughing.
The runner is at the entrance to the loo. He follows me as I walk by him. Across the road, into the hospital, the lift, through to level three where Dad is waiting in a chair, dressed in a hospital gown holding a plastic bag, a patch over his eye. The nice nurse is squatting next to him going through some post-surgery care instructions from a sheet of paper. I squat next to her seamlessly and she makes a joke about Dad not having to mow the lawn for a few weeks and elbows me. I roll my eyes and look over my shoulder; the runner is walking back towards the lift.