Reader, I went back.
On a cool and sunny Tuesday morning, I got back on my bike, literally, and rode to Richmond Station, but not before calling the Waverley Antique Bazaar to double check they were open.
‘Are you open today?’ I asked the young woman that answered, feeling embarrassed, knowing that the fact that she had answered the phone meant that yes, they were. ‘We’re open every day’, she said tersely. ‘Right, thanks. It’s just that I came last week and it was closed, so I wanted to double check’. ‘Well, that was Geoff’s funeral. But we’re open every day.’
I rode down St Kilda Road, turned right into Commercial Rd, past The Alfred Hospital, and ducked left into Fawkner Park. The avenues of elm trees looked so beautiful with their brown and yellow leaves blanketing the ground. An old woman took her morning walk in blue parachute pants. Staff from the hospital sat on benches looking at their phones.
At the bottom of Punt Road hill I got off my bike, not brave enough to tackle the incline and the traffic at once. As I walked along the footpath, I saw a nature strip garden in the side street on the left, bright flowers turning their faces to the sun. I love a nature strip garden. It seems like such a public spirited thing to do, growing plants on communal land, and also brave: aren’t they worried the council will come by and destroy it? Here, just a few meters from Melbourne’s busiest traffic thoroughfare, with all the impatience and fumes that rushed up and down it every day, this garden took on a special grace and beauty.
Richmond Station Platform 10 again, a woman dressed in black asked me directions to Swanston St. I told her she needed to take a train to Flinders St Station, but she stopped me: ‘No no, SWAN Street. SWAN Street.’ ‘Oh, sorry!’ I said. ‘It’s just down there.’ She thanked me warmly and made her way down the ramp.
I felt a slight smugness on the train to Glen Waverley, something to do with knowing exactly where to go, how to get there, and that it would, this time, be open. I rode down Myrtle St with confidence, tied my bike up in the carpark, and went through the glass doors. In the small entry foyer was a covered plate of chocolate cream biscuits with a sign saying ‘Please Take One’. I did.
As I walked into the warehouse and registered the sheer size of it, aisle upon aisle of stalls beckoning me in, I realised my mistake. I had not eaten enough breakfast. I was hungry, there was no food nearby, and a thousand interesting stalls to explore. How had I been so forgetful? I pushed away the hunger, crossly telling my stomach to think of the people that fast for days on end, and started my search. I would check every stall for biscuit tins and butter dishes, take an inventory, make my choice and then go and find food. I started from the back wall and worked methodically through each row and aisle, scanning for goods.
In one lonely corner of the warehouse, I saw a rough looking man sorting through some old tools, and suddenly felt scared. The place was huge, with so many nooks and places to hide, that it wouldn’t be difficult to grab someone and assault them. I immediately felt uncharitable for thinking that this man, probably having a nice afternoon off work to indulge his collecting hobby, could be a violent rapist. I moved on.
There were so many beautiful biscuit tins that I soon had a pile of them in my arms, one balanced on another on another. This was ridiculous. I saw a chair and placed my tin-pile beneath it, making a mental note of where it was.
An hour later, having found and photographed every butter dish in the warehouse, texting the photos to Steve for his opinion and getting no response, and searching everywhere for the pile-of-tins-under-the-chair to no avail, weak with hunger, I started to think that maybe this wasn’t worth it. I chose a butter dish, plastic, $7. I finally tracked down the tins and culled the pile down to four of the nicest ones and a large Tupperware container for transporting cake, and made my way to the front desk. The young woman on the cash register helped me pile the tins inside one another and then inside the cake container, like a Babushka doll. My backpack bulged at the seams. I snatched another free chocolate cream biscuit and left. My stomach groaned.
By the time the bowl of wonton soup arrived in front of me at Dumpling Empire the restaurant was empty of people. Before the food came, the waiter had asked me to pay for my meal at the counter as he and his colleagues were preparing to eat their own lunch. It must have been after 2pm. I slurped at the noodles, adding more chilli oil and vinegar, looking for the spicy taste of China that I missed. Flecks of broth spattered on to my library book. The staff sat together at the back of the restaurant, laughing and eating, watching videos on their phones, passing them around. It was just like it had been in China, restaurant staff eating together after the lunch rush and before the dinner prep began. They looked happy and collegial. I envied them.
At Balaclava Station, I wheeled my bike off the train and started down the ramp. The afternoon sun cast the rooves in light and shade, and I leaned my bike on the railing and took out my camera. The buildings looked soft and inviting, paint peeling, rusted iron glowing red. How lucky I am to live in this place, I thought. Glen Waverley felt far away. I rode home to my man and my cat, thinking of all the biscuits I would fill those tins with and the people I would give them to. This was my home. I had a butter dish now. I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.