Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So I'm in the taxi, and the driver is saying his mate used to be in the SAS and now he has a job as a cleaner. But they also consult him on security.

Because obviously that's what you do. When you want to consider security, you ask the office cleaner for his views.

So this afternoon, there's a knock at the door and I go, and it's an old friend of Mrs Zen's, although I have to say I didn't realise that until she said who she was.

So she is having marriage problems and she wants to know whether she can stay or does Mrs Z know of anywhere she could stay. So obviously I'm all sorry to hear about your marriage, and thinking oh fuck. So she's saying yes, he's a very bad man. He has abused her some, and is aggressive and mean to her, but is nice as pie in front of the children and outsiders.

That's a bit odd, because I think if you are angry with someone it's not just cunning, but somewhat sociopathic to bottle it up until there's no one else around.

So she says he had girlfriends and he's into drugs. And here's the thing, he's connected with bike gangs, and she's afraid he will get bikers to kill her.

I am beginning to wonder whether the stress of a bad breakup may not have disturbed this woman's equilibrium, if you know what I mean.

And I think you do.

So I ask her in and it's all very sad. I want to help but I want to be helpful, not just nod and go oh dear.

The police are surveilling him, she is saying.

Oh, I say.

Yeah, they are going to trap him, and when that happens I can get the kids.

Why don't you have the kids now? You are the mother. The court would give you them.

Court? They don't talk to me. My daughter thinks I'm psychotic.

I am thinking that perhaps having her to stay might be problematic in some ways.

So you've seen the police? I say, thinking that if she had seen them, she might contact them. I am beginning to think that possibly there is more than meets the eye.

Well, okay, obviously there's more than meets the eye, but I am thinking that perhaps she has something to fear from the police herself.

So she says she has been hiding, in Melbourne and Sydney, but now she had come to Brisbane because it's the last place he would think she would be. She is utterly convinced that he will hurt her if he can.

And the police have been following her in each place. How do you know it was the police? I say.

You wouldn't understand, she says, you're a man. A woman would get it. It's intuition. A feeling.

My feeling is that she is entirely bonkers. I don't like to be judgemental but she continues to tell me that she put a keylogger on his computer. And a virus. And then had someone retrieve deleted files.

But she doesn't know whether they have evidence of the girlfriends she believed he had or of his drug dealing, because the hard disk is at her parents', where she can't go, but she knows it's there because she felt the computer guy was being shifty.

So the plan is to stay in hiding until the police arrest her husband. I ask her how long she would be doing this before giving up. She doesn't know. Six months? I say hopefully. She doesn't say anything.

So, I say, look, I'm not making a judgement but have you considered the possibility that because you have a stressful situation with your husband, you really really want the police to sort it out for you.

You're saying I'm paranoid, aren't you? she says.

No, I say, I'm not saying anything. I'm saying you have a bad situation and of course you need to resolve it. But sometimes people feel they cannot resolve situations on their own. They turn to external sources. Some turn to God. So maybe you really needed the police? And of course I mean that she may have invented the police who she believes are gathering evidence on her old man and will haul him off when they have whatever they are trying to get. She has no idea, it seems. Just drugs. (Which is weird; she never names a drug. She says she thinks he's addicted to something but doesn't even take a stab at what. See, this is what distinguishes the truth from a story: it's the detail that is not constucted. If someone is really doing drugs, you likely know which ones. If not which particular drug then the type. But when you have a story in which the addiction is incidental, there is no particular drug. He's just addicted to something.)

They're there, she says.

Yes, but how do you know?

It's intuition. You men don't understand.

I understand you have a bad situation, I say, and whatever the truth of the whole drug thing, you have to resolve that. You need to get your children back.

But, you know, I'm being all sensible and practical, which is fucking annoying for her because she just wants someone to go you poor thing.

She weeps a little. I am strongly convinced she is a nut, but I am thinking she doesn't need to have been a nut before her breakup. So when I'm asking her whether there's anything she could think that she would find difficult in a family court, I'm asking whether she has been on medication or whatever. She pretends not to understand what I mean.

And I worry some that it is reasonable to believe that her story is entirely correct (and there was more, including her feeling that an interstate biker network was hunting for her, an unexplained inability to go to her parents' house, her knowledge that people were coming and going from her house on drug business without her ever actually seeing even one of them, and ditto girlfriends) so maybe I should have just done that.

But I'm a writer, fuck it, at heart anyway, so I want to know the story.

And the taxi driver is telling me that the Spanish flu, he's read a lot about it, and people who died of it were mostly malnourished. But I read the other day that it killed the most healthy because it created a cytokine storm -- in which your immune cells overreact to a reaction and are overproduced and destroy your own healthy cells. He will have none of that bullshit. He has read several books.

I've only read this and that, so I drop it, and we chat contentedly about the role of sickness in winning wars, and he is very content to have an informed yet willing to listen rather than talk audience, which I am, and I'm able to half-listen and make the occasional encouraging comment or question, while the quiet streets of our suburbs roll past me.

Most -- I'd say all, but I think I can remember one or two who didn't -- taxi drivers will talk here. An older guy tells me about his son's urging him to get a reverse mortgage, so that he have a comfortable retirement. Yeah, I say, better to enjoy it now. But he wanders into a financial wasteland of chat and i'm able to tune him out because I know finance and I can be pretty sure of the map ahead.

The shy Indian guy tells me he lives in Aspley. That's odd, I say, because there's a ton of Indians on the southside and not so much in the north. So he laughs some because I mention Sunnybank, where there are a lot of Indians, and Chinese too. So much so that I'd doubt Sunnybank is majority white. But in Mansfield there are a lot of southern Indians and Sri Lankans. The southern Indians are mainly Christian, as far as I know.

There are no Christian Indians in Aspley, he tells me in a way that makes Aspley sound much more like the North-West Frontier than it in fact is.

He is telling me about his village. Five thousand people and he knew them all. Here he knows no one at all. He is sad about it.