An Hour in the Life: 6PM18 April 2016
The Germans have a word for it, I think. They call it Weltschmerz. It might translate as world-weary or maybe world-pain but I’m not sure. I just call it six o’clock. It seems a fitting word, Weltschmerz. It’s a suitable shade of grey, resounding with that distinctive Teutonic melancholy. It reeks of lonely bus stops, of the 401 crawling along Grattan Street. That smell of stale cigarettes lingering, confusing your nose, imitating the smell of – chips? Or maybe it’s just the taste of plain tobacco, light, unfiltered, low-tar and top-of-the-line, low cost. Maybe I just have a muddled sense of smell. Six o’clock sometimes does that to you. The 401 always groans as it rolls up to the stop.
On the outside it looks shiny and new, all pale white sheen and bright orange graphics. But on the inside, the bus is an old soul; aches and pains and rheumatisms. It’s tired, especially around six o’clock. Weltschmerz isn’t just for the humans, you know. The Myki machine beeps as you touch on (if you are so inclined). It’s a laboured and breathy sound. The words ‘thank you’ flash up on the screen, though it’s unclear how sincere that platitude is. A couple of pairs of glassy eyes wearily roll up at you and a dozen others remain on their Instagrams, wondering if Jenny really is in Europe.
Weltschmerz paints the evening sky periwinkle, or is it blue-grey, or maybe a hazy purple? It doesn’t matter, really. Though I like to think of it as a washed out grey, a watercolour paint mixed with too much water. The 401 knows that too. Grattan Street passes by just as it does every Thursday. Wreckyn Street comes soon after, like every other Friday. Between Arden and Dryburgh a thousand years pass but everything looks the same. Between Ireland and Abbotsford another thousand, yet still the sky remains watercolour grey.
As the 401 shuffles towards North Melbourne Station – all arthritis and fatigue – sighing with every bend and irregularity in the road, people begin to shuffle towards the exits, painted that same watercolour grey. The 401 stops. The Myki machine beeps a grumbled reply as each person touches off (or not). There is no rest for the wicked or the lime green. The 401 gratefully accepts this much needed rest with stoic weariness. As it sits on its haunches, momentarily at least, the 401 seems to ponder its surroundings with apathetic curiosity – the chain link fences, painted brick walls, the untouched blue bikes. The streetlights hurt its eyes. As its doors close, it returns to its Sisyphean task. The Myki machine beeps intermittently.
Platform Four feels much the same. Unlike the 401, it’s never had to cart us around. But much like the 401, it’s just as tired. Weltschmerz is infectious, if nothing else. The platform murmurs almost imperceptibly, in fact, you’d miss it if you weren’t listening. Its lamp posts flicker weakly, the glaucoma makes it hard to cast any substantial light. It’s a Herculean task, holding up so many exhausted, work-weary people. “The 6:44pm Sunbury train approaching on Platform Four,” sings a spritely voice from the intercom, “Sunbury train now approaching on Platform Four,” she repeats. It’s a little bit of a lie, though, as the train usually doesn’t make it to the station until at least 6:47pm. Blame it on the arthritis. But it’s only a little lie and perhaps even slightly endearing. It provides a little hope for everyone on the platform – even the platform itself. It’s worth a small smile, even in the face of six o’clock. Even in the face of Weltschmerz.
The Sunbury train creaks up to the platform. It’s an old train – all aches and pains and rheumatisms. It smells faintly of hot chips. Or maybe it’s just old cigarettes.