Bananas21 May 2018
Written in wide chalk letters on the footpath beneath her flat above the pharmacy were the words,
I SAW YOUR BOOBS
Sophia almost choked on her toothbrush. Toothpaste fell from her mouth and dribbled on the carpet. She had a bad habit of brushing her teeth in the living room. Rushing back to the bathroom, she spat out foam. She walked back out to the living room.
The living room looked out over Elgin Street. Her flat was flanked by an Indian restaurant and a car park. The boobs the chalk were referencing could only be hers. She flung open the window and leant out, as if the scent of the chalk writer still hung on the air and she could sniff them out.
There was a groan from the bedroom. Mark had already snoozed his alarm twice. He walked, bleary, into the living room and leant out the window, reading the graffiti slowly.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go clean it off before I get ready for work.”
“Okay. Anything for breakfast?”
Sophia pulled the straw broom out from beside the fridge. She had bought it when she first moved in just in case she ever needed to shoo away stray cats that might hang around the bins out the back.
“There’s bananas. I haven’t been shopping.”
The morning was cool and light and grey. Summer wafted down the street sporadically. Sophia swept the footpath furiously. Chalk dust rose and clung to her bare legs. She stood back and leant on the broom handle. The words were gone, just pale smudges on the dirty concrete. With a nod to herself, she rushed around the back to the stairs. She hesitantly poked the bins with the broom. No cats.
Mark was dry retching over the kitchen sink when Sophia let herself back in. She dropped the broom and rushed over. She rubbed his back.
Mark’s arms were braced on either side of the sink. His whole body heaved. There was a half-eaten banana lying on the table.
“Do you want some water?” Sophia leant around him and filled a glass from the tap. Mark shook his head and convulsed.
“Are you choking?”
Mark took gasping breaths. His knuckles were white. Sophia checked the time. She was going to be late. She rushed into the bedroom, pulling on her black jeans and the café’s checked button down shirt. Mark was turning green when she returned. He turned towards her, his eyes wide. He hacked, like a cat coughing up a fur ball from too much licking, and spat into his hand.
Cradled in the palm of his hand and swathed in saliva was a tiny pair of pyjama pants. The tiny pyjamas had tiny blue and white stripes and a tiny elastic waistband. Sophia peered at the tiny pair of pyjamas pants.
“Why were they in your mouth?”
“They were in the banana.”
Sophia glanced at the banana lying smooshed on the table and snatched her keys from the bone china bowl she had snagged from a stall at the Fitzroy Markets.
“I’m going to be late for work.”
She slammed the door, leaving Mark standing in the kitchen with the tiny pair of pyjama pants.
On her way home, weary and smelling like burnt coffee, Sophia stopped at Coles and picked up a basket. Letting it swing in the crook of her arm, she filled the basket with sweet potato and bread and spinach and beans and a few tins of crushed tomatoes. She hesitated at the pyramid of bananas, trying to remember if she had dreamt the pyjama episode that morning. She shrugged to herself and bought a hand of greenish bananas. She splurged on two avocados to have on toast and wandered down the street to her flat.
Mark was sitting on the lounge, still wearing the boxer shorts he had worn to bed..
“Did you go to work?”
Mark didn’t respond. He was slumped, staring at his hand.
“Mark.” Sophia put the groceries down and sat beside him. He turned his palm slowly to face her. A tiny blue and white striped pyjama shirt was neatly folded in his hand.
“Yes. Can you make dinner? I haven’t eaten all day.”
“Didn’t you eat the banana this came out of?”
“I had a mouthful.”
Sophia went into the kitchen and saw the two bananas going brown on the table. She threw the bananas into the compost and made avocado on toast with cracked pepper. They ate on the lounge, Mark eyeing the pyjama set on the coffee table.
“We could frame them,” Sophia suggested.
“We’re not framing them. That’s absurd.”
Later that night, as Sophia was falling asleep, Mark turned to her.
“I need to show someone. Maybe I’ll take them to the museum in the morning. Or the uni. The uni is probably a better bet.”
The next morning Mark was up before his alarm. He wrapped the tiny pyjamas in a tissue and placed them carefully in the interior pocket of his jacket. He flew down the stairs, swung a leg over his bike and pedalled off towards Parkville, not noticing the chalk letters on the pavement.
Sophia woke to a cold bed and brushed her teeth in the living room. She peered out the window.
I SAW YOUR BOOBS.
She screamed, but it came out as a gurgle of toothpaste. She rushed outside and scratched frantically with the broom. The little old man who owned the pharmacy below her flat waved as he flipped the sign on the door from CLOSED to OPEN.
Sophia poked at the bins on her way back up the stairs. No cats. She called Mark but it went straight to voicemail. She got ready for work, pulling the curtains tightly across her bedroom window as she hooked her bra and buttoned her shirt. She called him again and didn’t leave a message.
She spent the morning at the café burning milk and misspelling names on coffee cups. On her lunch break she messaged Mark.
The chalk was there again this morning. Was it there when you left? Xx
Mark replied two minutes later,
NOBODY AT THE UNIVERSITY WILL LOOK AT THE PYJAMAS. TAKING THEM TO THE MUSEUM NOW.
Her phone buzzed again,
Can you pls buy Chinese for dinner?
And make sure you get prawn chips.
The kitchen bench was covered in bananas. Green bananas, organic bananas, perfect yellow bananas and splotchy brown bananas. Sophia pushed a bunch of impossibly straight bananas to the side and placed the containers of Chinese food in a stack.
“Mark?” she called. A grunt of acknowledgement came from the bathroom. Mark was gently washing pyjamas in the bathroom sink. His shirt sleeves were pushed up around his elbows.
“Babe? Did you go to work today?” Sophia flipped the toilet seat down and sat. Mark massaged a shirt gently.
“No, I told you. I went to the uni and then the museum but no one would believe me.”
“You didn’t go to work after that?”
“No, I went to the Queen Vic markets, and South Melbourne markets, and Preston markets. I need to prove these pyjamas are coming from bananas.”
Sophia leant her head back against the wall. “I bought Chinese food. Leave the pyjamas for a bit and come eat.”
Mark sat, his eyes heavy with exhaustion.
Sophia split the food between two plates.
“I was talking to the girls at work and they think I should report the chalk to the police. Invasion of privacy and all that, potentially harassment. What do you think?”
“Huh?” Mark was pushing a piece of sweet and sour pork around his plate.
“Should I report the chalk to the police?”
“It’s probably just a kid having a laugh.”
The smell of ripe bananas was overwhelming the next morning. Gagging, Sophia reached for the bottle of perfume on the windowsill and sprayed perfume on her finger so she could hold it under her nose. It was the bottle Mark had bought her when they got engaged. It was almost empty. She leaned out the window.
She tore down the stairs, broom in hand and attacked the footpath. A cyclist pedalled past and dinged at her in her silk nightie. She flipped him off and fought off tears. She didn’t even think to check behind the bins for feral cats. Inside, Mark was still snoring. She checked her watch. She had enough time to make it to the police station before work. She got dressed crouching under the kitchen table and slammed the door when she left.
The police officer took Sophia’s details down slowly. She had to repeat her mobile number three times. The officer nodded and told her he would send out a patrol that way.
“In the morning? Between one and seven?”
“Yeah, sure, we’ll see what we can do.”
Sophia hesitated as if she had more to say, but instead thanked him and pedalled towards work. A tram whooshed past her and she wobbled dangerously. She steadied herself and pedalled on.
Sophia walked into the apartment and straight into a tiny pyjama shirt dangling across the doorway. She shied away from it as if it was a bat or a pigeon.
“Mark? What the– ”
Strung across the apartment were rows and rows of pyjamas pegged onto what smelt like mint flavoured dental floss. The pegs were tiny and wooden and coloured, the sort used in scrap booking. Sophia reached up and ran her hands through the pyjama garlands.
She ducked under the makeshift clotheslines and made her way to the bedroom. Mark was sitting cross legged on the bed. His stomach bulged over the waistband of his pants. Banana peels were piled high on her pillow, spotty and pungent. Mark was chewing softly. He looked up at Sophia standing in the door.
“So many pyjamas. Did you see them?”
Sophia stood, mouth agape. There was a smear of banana across Mark’s chin. It was going brown.
“You didn’t go to work today.”
“Fuck, Sophia, how do you expect me to go to work?”
Sophia shook her head. She crossed the bedroom and pulled her pillow out from under the mound of bananas skins. She tugged at the doona. The bananas bounced. She pulled harder. Mark jerked and tried to gather the tiny pyjamas to him, like a hen collecting her chicks. Banana peels scattered everywhere as Sophia wrenched the doona free from the bed.
Sophia glared at Mark and draped the doona around her shoulders like a cape. She turned and left.
“Sophia.” Mark called after her. He glanced around the room and spying the glass bowl of potpourri, tipped the leaves out on the floor. He filled the bowl with the pyjamas and placed it back on the sidetable.
Mark followed Sophia out into the loungeroom. She was curled up on the floor in front of the big window, cocooned by the doona. She was staring down at the street below.
“You’re not going to sleep there.”
“No, I am going to catch whoever it is who is writing on the footpath.”
Mark ran a hand through his hair. ”C’mon, come sleep in the bed.”
Mark got down on his hands and knees and brought his face down to hers. He moved to kiss her, but she screwed her nose and turned her head. His lips smeared across her cheek.
“Your breath stinks.”
Mark scrambled back to his feet. “Why don’t you see how important this is?”
Sophia kept her lips pursed tight and her gaze on the footpath. Mark stalked back to the bedroom and slammed the door. The bed was covered in tiny crumpled pyjamas and softly rotting bananas. He flicked off the light and crawled across the bed. Folding the pillow tightly under his head, he scooped the banana peels over himself. Under his makeshift blanket, he lay awake, anger pulsing at the sides of his head.
Sophia awoke with a start. The sun was tinging the sky. She checked her phone. Almost six. There was a slow, methodical scratching coming from outside. She sat up, pressing her face against the window.
On the street was a man, bent in half at the waist, a jumbo piece of chalk clutched in his hand. He was halfway through drawing the O in YOUR. Sophia lunged across the room, shedding the doona. She threw open the window.
The man ignored her. He scooped a U onto the footpath. He stood and stretched, his back to Sophia, and bent again to draw an R with a flourish.
“Oi, stop that!”
This time the man turned. He looked up at the window, and seeing Sophia framed by the light, smiled. He flicked his fingers in a slight wave. Sophia’s stomach flipped. The man turned back to his work and started tracing over each letter methodically.
Sophia thought about grabbing her straw broom and shooing him away like a stray cat, but stray cats always come back. What he needed was a good clear photo of his face to take to the police. She shouted at him again, her phone ready, but he kept his back to her.
She glanced around the loungeroom. It looked like a laundromat for tiny, sleepy people with all the clotheslines of pyjamas strung up. She pulled them down and bundled them together into a messy ball. The tiny pyjamas were very soft. Mark must have used fabric softener when he washed them.
Sophia shouted again, a wild scream that came from somewhere deep inside her and hurled the ball of pyjamas out the window. It caught in the early morning breeze and began to unravel. By a stroke of luck, or miracle, the pyjamas landed on the man, tangling around his head and shoulders. He jerked as if he had walked through a spider’s web, but the jerking only made him more tangled. He began to howl, panicked. Sophia pressed record on her phone.
Behind her, Mark emerged from the bedroom. Bananas skins clung to his bare chest like starfish.
Sophia pulled down another string of pyjamas and tossed them out the window. Mark yelled and crossed the loungeroom in two long strides. He groaned as if in physical pain as he looked out the window. The man was writhing across the footpath. Pyjamas lay scattered and crumpled. Some were floating with cigarette butts in the gutter.
“What– You’re tossing science out the window!”
Mark took off towards the stairwell and ran barefoot in his boxers to the chalk graffiti artist. He reached for the strings of pyjamas still snarled around the man’s head. The man shied away, hesitated and then bent quickly to pick up his chalk. He took off towards Brunswick Street, his legs a cartoonish blur. Mark roared and chased after him, bits of banana flicking off as he ran.
Sophia watched them run until they were out of sight. She walked across to the door and slid the deadbolt across. It settled with a satisfying clunk.