ZW14 – First Place

Shirley Le

7AM on a Monday. Elizabeth and I are standing on Platform One at Bankstown Station, waiting for a train into the city. We’ve been sitting next to each other in the same criminal law tute for the past eight weeks, but we’ve never bumped into each other outside uni. There’s an awkward silence as we realise that we’re both the type of people who sleep in and then do their make-up on the train.

‘You know, you don’t look like you’re from Bankstown. You look like you’re from Hornsby or something.’ Elizabeth gazes at me behind her thick rimmed glasses and warms her hands on a steaming cup of coffee.

Another train, one of those goddamn “Special” ones that doesn’t stop, rushes past as she says this. So I mishear. Instead, I thought she said, ‘You know, you don’t look like you go into town. You look like you’re not horny or something.’

Errrrr. I raise an eyebrow but then shrug. A bit unfair of her but I guess she isn’t too far from the truth. I’d just survived an all-nighter and had nearly left the house in my furry pig slippers. Mẹ spotted me, yelled out ‘Trời ơi!’ and shoved my boots and a banana at me. Even if I’d left the house in my pig slippers, I wouldn’t have turned back. All that mattered was getting to the submission box in time. Thirty percent of my life depended on it. I imagined angels chorusing when I arrived.

Anyway, after we cleared up that Hornsby-not-horny misunderstanding, Elizabeth explained that despite having lived in Bankstown my whole life, I didn’t look like I was from ‘round here because I didn’t really dress like a “ganga”. It was actually the first time in twenty years that I’d ever heard the word “ganga”, so I got her to explain it to me.

‘You know those girls with the GHD straightened hair, acrylic nails, fake eyelashes and tight workout pants that show off their buns of steel?’

I sigh and I think about all the mesmerising “buns of steel” that I’ve seen swaying out of the Fitness First on Chapel St. My Facebook feed is also regularly clogged with memes urging girls to squat and lift every day. The only things I’m lifting are hundred page case notes and hypothetical situations. I either need to make more time to get buns of steel or I need to go on a defriending spree. Bit of both perhaps.

‘Ohhh… Yeah, I’ve seen the type of girls that you’re talking about. I mean, you don’t dress like that and you’re from Bankstown.’

It’s Elizabeth’s turn to shrug. She’s dressed in a pencil skirt and blazer from Cue. Her thick wiry brown locks are bleached blonde and tightened into a bun. She’s already managed to nab a clerkship at one of the top tier firms in Martin Place. She sips on her coffee, her mind ticking in six minute billable intervals. She wants money because she’ll know what to do with it. First thing she’s gonna buy is a house for her parents. Second thing is a car that doesn’t make a sound like it’s dry heaving.

Five more minutes ’til the Lidcombe to City service.

‘Ew.’ Elizabeth wrinkles her nose. It was more of a deflated ew than a hysterical one.

She points at something off the platform, near the steel train tracks where sprigs of lilac plug flowers spurt from the soil. A skinny stray ginger cat lurks among the petals, its bony ass waving in the air. I squint at where the cat is staring. I could just make out a palm sized tuft of brown fur scurrying away.

‘My brother has a pet rat.’ More nose wrinkling. I notice that Elizabeth doesn’t have any freckles on her ivory complexion. The first day we met, she’d already sussed out what type of Asian I am but then I couldn’t suss out what type of non-Asian that she is. She smiles like Mona Lisa.

‘Don’t you mean a pet mouse?’
‘Mouse. Rat. What’s the difference? Four paws, a few whiskers and a wormy tail. Same shit, different smell. Don’t ya reckon?’
‘Well that one over there might be a mouse. It’s a tiny thing!’
‘Yeah, okay, whatever.’ She shudders, ‘Blergh. This station always has rats running around everywhere.’
‘I see just as many rats out at Town Hall Station every time I’m out there. They’re bigger, as big as my face even. You just don’t see them because they’re the same colour as the soot covering the tracks.’

‘I guess I don’t see them because I don’t expect to.’ She gulps down the rest of her coffee and crushes the styrofoam cup in one clench of her fist.


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