I’M A SMALL figure trapped in a concrete esophagus. Train tracks stretch around a bend. Everything is metal and grey. I hear water running and dripping like there’s a river nearby. I’m below the depths of the city, in the network of rail tunnels that lie beneath the surface. I reach out and feel the sombre coldness of the wall. I pull my hand away and it’s black. I write my tag in the dirt. MODS. Tunnel tags. I feel enlivened. I want to yell out so my voice ripples through the underground.
I start to walk around the bend, following the tracks, wondering what I will see once I turn the corner. The gorillas must’ve given up. I look straight ahead. The next station will be Melbourne Central.
The bend goes on and on and I start feeling like I’m walking on a treadmill. The sound of water is loud and as I continue the noise increases. A little way up there’s a large hole in the wall covered by a piece of cardboard. A giant circle big enough to step through. The sound of the water is coming from in there. I approach the hole and push the cardboard away. A gasp of hot air smacks me in the face.
Washing lines are strung around from wall to wall like spiders webs, interlocking strands tied up to things that stick out. Clothes and other random shit hang from the lines. A small camping-style cooker sits off to the side with something cooking on it. The space is tight like a big warm ball. Parts of the concrete are carpeted, little rugs, and welcome mats are placed here and there. Things are clean in here. The sound of rushing water fills my head. Right in the centre of this world there’s a small hole, a torrent of water gushing through it.
I hear a voice. A man and a woman and two boys emerge from two tents on the other side of the hole. They look hectic, malnourished and keen on a stabbing. I can make out the sharp edges of their bodies through the dank light. I see one of the boys actually does have a knife held tight by his side. They look at me with heads cocked slightly. For some reason, the first thing I notice is that the whole family is wearing exactly the same, brand new, Nike TN trainers, and that the trainers are perfectly white.
I’m confused and intrigued and rushing like fresh madness. The boy with the knife steps forward. I don’t move. The hole of rushing water separates us.
‘Sup adlay, what’s doin cunt?’
The boy juts his head forward. I see a rat-tail swing out. I answer with the first thing that comes into my head.
‘I got chased by some guys and ran down here.’
He looks back at the rest of his family. I can tell they’re a family because they all look the same. Small eyes that dart around. Slim faces pinned to the skull. The dad must weigh about fifty kilos. The teenager steps closer.
‘Otgay itshay for the eshay fam or what! Give the goods, or give up ya life.’
I get it. I realise why they’re all wearing perfectly white Nike trainers. I look at the washing line. It’s populated entirely by Nautica Polo shirts, Nautica shorts, Ralf Lauren polo shirts and Ralf Lauren Shorts, Nautica Jackets, Nautica jeans, Nautica socks and Nautica jocks. This family that are living in the city loop are a family of Lads.
I’m familiar with some kids who rock out like this in Melbourne. My style of theft is also theirs and some of our clothes are similar, but that’s about all we share. These kids are hectic.
The cash I racked from the safe in the porn shop is stashed in my dacks. It might be safe, unless they search me. All I’ve got in my bag is some porn that came with the territory, a few tools and some gloves. I take off my bag and throw it to him over the hole.
‘It’s all good. I’ll just leave. I got lost and ended up hear. That’s it.’
The teenager gives the backpack to his Dad. Papa Lad’s trainers are the cleanest. His rat-tail is braided. He wears a chunky gold watch on a thin wrist. His short shorts are tight around wiry legs. He rummages around in the bag. He finds the porn and laughs. He pulls out the gloves. The family lean in. They look at each other, birds of prey over a fresh nest. Shifty as shifty can be.