No Sick Penguins at St Kilda Pier17 July 2018
I take Hannah down to the foreshore to see the penguins. It is midday. I say that there may not be penguins. I can’t say there won’t be because once there was a sick penguin under a rock next to a small container of cloudy water, so I just say that there may not be penguins.
The wind is biting and the pier is empty. Too windy for photos and conversation. We skip down the steps to the boardwalk. I point at a gap in the rocks.
“That’s where the sick one was.”
“There might be another sick one, just have a look.”
We walk slowly. There are no sick penguins. At the end of the boardwalk, a bent old man fishes with a string. He watches us from under a greasy cap as he slowly reels his line in. A hook fashioned out of a paperclip glints in the sun.
“Oi, see!” He has a thick German accent. He leans down and pulls a hunk of bread from a loaf in his bag. For a moment I worry he will try to feed us. Instead, he hunches down on his heels beside the rocks and I get excited. Maybe he is going to procure a sick penguin.
“Hugo!” the man shouts, his accent affecting the H. “Hugo! C’mon, c’mon!”
We wait. He looks up at us with a gap-toothed smile. He shakes the bread. “Hugo!”
There is a scurry between the rocks. A whiskered face appears. Its nose twitches.
“It’s a water rat,” I say to Hannah, but she probably already knows that. The rat pulls itself up onto the boardwalk and rests its little hands on the hunk of bread. Its stomach bulges. Hugo takes a nibble and then drags the bread down into the rocks. The white tip of his tail flashes.
“He’s a baby one,” the rat whisperer says, straightening. His knees crack.
Hannah and I both smile. A couple rugged up against the wind descend the stairs holding hands, eyeing the rocks for penguins.
“Thank you for showing us,” Hannah says as the man turns back to his fishing bag. He swats her thanks away with a flick of his hand. We climb back up the stairs to the pier. Behind us we hear “Hugo! C’mon!” as the couple holding hands wait patiently for the appearance of the water rat.
Hannah and I watch as the man feeds more bread to the spoilt rodent. I wonder if he will manage to catch any fish today.
“Sorry there were no sick penguins,” I say to Hannah, and we walk against the wind towards the tram.