M had time before her Zumba class, so she decided to walk. It was a fair walk, the best part of an hour, up Anzac Parade. Morning visitors to Long Bay were filing off the bus on the other side of the road. What a bunch. An old barefoot bloke stood in the middle of his lawn, his garden hose drooping, smiling as she passed. His arms looked like coir cotton mats. Her lemon cardigan was off barely ten minutes in, peeled from her sticky body, but then the sun slinked behind cloud and she may as well have been naked in winter. Back on went the cardigan. Off, on. One of those days. The strap of her duffel bag nipped at her skin as she heaved it back over her shoulder. She smiled at an old lady at the bus shelter near Duffy’s Corner. The sweet thing wore a cloche hat and a silver crucifix, clutching her handbag tight, twined hairs sprouting from a mole on her jowl. The lady did not smile back. Glancing at M’s duffel bag, she said, ‘Coming up from La Perouse, are we?’
‘Oh, Chifley actually,’ she replied with cheer, slowing but not stopping. ‘Not quite that far.’
‘No,’ said the lady, ‘I was being rude, dear.’
M didn’t know what to say to that. She wished her a good day and kept walking. It was 20 metres further on that she stopped and gnawed on a knuckle. La Perouse. She turned and walked back to the bus stop.
‘Sorry, were you implying I was Aboriginal?’ M asked the lady.
‘Yes dear,’ she said. ‘A quick one, aren’t we?’
‘And how is that “being rude” exactly?’
‘Work it out, love.’
M resumed her trip without another word to the woman. She reached the next intersection. But seriously, what the fuck was that back there? She’d love to see how an actual person from La Perouse took a comment like that. They wouldn’t have walked away, that’s for sure. And what was so bad about being Aboriginal, for Christ’s sake?
At the Junction she looked at her skin. Someone once joked it was like coffee with too much milk in. She was boring old Scotch-Irish, nothing exotic. She should have said something back. But it would have been pointless to pick a fight with an old woman. People like that were rusted in their ways. And anyway, she thought, the old bigot would be dead soon enough.