“No one ever talks about religion here. It’s like a taboo subject in Australia.”
We’ve been driving around for a week in our Hyundai i30 with the driver’s window wound down. Not because of the weather. Not because of the chance to tan one arm. Not because we can yell at people more efficiently as they drive so badly as they do here in Perth. No. We’ve been driving around with the window open because it won’t wind up.
The glass came out of the tracking last week, collapsing down inside the door where it stayed resolutely stuck, the winding motor moaned and churned helplessly, like a stricken wildebeest in a mudhole.
I managed to wheedle the glass up, but no amount of propping up the glass made it stay up. I’ve tried. How have I tried. I folded that A4 piece of paper eight times at least and jammed it between the glass and the sill to no avail.
It’s had its upsides. Jill has arrived at work with that wild hair look that says “Don’t mess with me”, and I’ve been doing bog laps around the suburb with some doof-doof music, earning some serious credibility and a visit from the cops.
So today, sick of parking the car hard against walls and getting out through the other door, sick of a car full of mosquitoes first thing in the morning that feast on my freshly showered ankles, and sick of the thought of driving the car on Friday with the window down when it’s going to be 40 degrees C, I got it fixed.
I phoned the first place. It didn’t sound promising. Small kids yelling in the background. He hasn’t left home yet, I thought, and it’s already 9am. What kind of operation does he run?
“It’ll be a time thing. So could be 110 bucks.”
“Cool,” I said.
“Could be the whole mechanism. 440.”
“Not so cool,” I didn’t say, but thought.
Phoned a few others, they didn’t get back to me. Checked online how much available cash I had, juggled a few funds then drove down. Please don’t be 440.
I walked in to a nondescript factory unit in a nondescript row of factory units. Two little girls, around three and one, looking up as I came in, turning from their toys scattered across the floor. A young Indian lady, their mum, quietly greeted me and called her husband from the workshop.
The unit was sparsely furnished, but had a play pen, one of those white plastic cubby houses with the blue roof that I know from experience will probably survive a nuclear holocaust, and a whole bunch of toys scattered over the floor. It became immediately obvious that this was a whole family affair and that the kids were a full-time feature in the unit.
“It’s the whole system. i30s have a problem with it,” said Craig, the owner and husband of the young lady, “Happens all the time.” He was Indian also, but with an Aussie accent.
“So 440 I guess.”
“Well, I did one a week ago and you can’t buy the small part you need without needing the whole unit. But there’s a part we didn’t use from last week’s, and I think I can fix it for you.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
And with that he was gone. Back out into the workshop, whilst I sat on that cheap low vinyl lounge you get in these types of places. For two hours. I started to read. To email. To FB message. Smart phones were made for occasions such as these. How did we cope before?
The kids sidled up. Showing me toys. Then one of them rolled a plastic ball towards me. Then the other one did. We spent the next half hour rolling those plastic balls back and forth. They laughed. Every time.
Their mum sat discreetly behind the high counter, working on a computer or something. The ball flew over the counter top courtesy of the older girl. Mum laughed. I said something about that being on purpose. It happened a couple of times more.
And then it clicked. Don’t know what. But I decided to talk to the mum. Decided that emails and FB messages could wait. Decided to ask about their business, about how old the kids were, about why child care was so expensive. And that’s when the shyness started to drop away.
She came from Oman. I’d probably never heard of it she assumed. I assured her I had. She seemed surprised. She’d been living in Perth for five years, coming over after marrying her husband who had gone to school with her back in Oman.
And she’d left a job as an airline hostess. Had travelled the world, Europe mostly. Had studied back in India. Then found herself living in Perth, renting in an expensive city, working six days a week with her hubby and having Sundays off with the kids – the one day they didn’t spend up to ten hours in that factory unit.
We talked about what life was like as a migrant. She was smart, intelligent, well thought out. I told her what Perth had been like in the 70s, compared to what it was now. And then I asked her what she found hard about Perth.
“No one talks to anyone,” she said, “Everyone keeps to themselves. There’s no community life and everything closes so early.”
“What about the other unit owners?” I asked, looking out the window as a couple of shaven headed big bearded blokes took a smoko.
“No one really says anything. I miss the way everyone back home talked to each other.”
We talked about her family – all back in Oman and who rarely visit. She asked me what I did. That’s always a doozy.
“Really? No one ever talks about religion here. It’s like a taboo subject in Australia.”
“Tell me about it!, I laughed, before adding as an afterthought “Are you religious?” I expected Hindu.
“I’m from a very strong Catholic family. But I don’t go anymore. Dad was so hard on us, making us go. I went for a while when I left home, Christmas, Easter, Lent, but not since coming here. Dad just made it too miserable.”
“Doesn’t sound like Jesus would have wanted it like that,” I observed.
“No,” she laughed, “And I want to get back into something, you know, for the girls sake.”
I looked over at the three year old quietly playing games on her mum’s phone. The other one was fast asleep. Bombed out in the bassinet in the side room.
We talked a bit more about Jesus, and what he might think about stuff like people not talking to each other, and how he didn’t intend church to crush us. I invited her to a meal we’re having at church soon. She asked if we did a midnight Mass at Christmas. Nope, but we have a Christmas morning service. She might come.
We talked about doing community life around meals and how that made things feel different, and how Jesus did life like that. She seemed wistful, sad, as if life had shrunk from the jet-set life of the Middle East and Europe to this small factory unit in a working class suburb of a city on the edge of a lonely continent.
“Would you go back, to Oman, I mean?”
“My husband has a fourteen year old son here too. That makes it impossible.”
Her world suddenly shrunk that little bit more. I could almost hear the “cachunk” as the walls closed in with a jolt.
I heard my car start up. Job done.
The workshop door opened and her hubby came in with a smile.
“Sorted,” he said triumphantly, “I was able to re-configure the parts left over from last week’s job. I’ve tested it and it works fine.”
“Great. How much do I owe you?”
“Well I quoted you 110.”
“That took more than two hours. How about 150?”
He remonstrated. I insisted. In the end they took it. The flash windscreen place down the road would not have thought twice about ripping out the whole unit and charging me like a wounded bull.
We shook hands. I said goodbye. Reminded them they were welcome to come at Christmas. Got into the car and drove off. With the window up. And with a fresh sense that God is so close in situations such as that it’s right in your face. I’m gonna pop in before Christmas with a Colin Buchanan CD for the girls and some Christmas biscuits for them.
Sometimes the sparks of the Incarnation flicker and spatter so hard around this planet some two thousand years after the event that you can almost feel it.
This post originally published on stephenmcalpine.com
Photos: Jason Meaden (head), acroamatic (body); flickr