The punishment and the crime

My friend offered to drive me to a meeting in Fitzroy on Saturday morning. She knows the area well and took us several streets away from the planned meeting place where the council offers four hours of free car parking.

We pulled up alongside a high black van. I noticed this van in part because my friend took a while to get out of her seat and I went across to her side of the car to wait. When she finally opened her door, it slid ever so slightly against the side of the van, which was not only large and black but also very new in appearance.

As my friend came towards me after she had closed her door, I saw the tiniest fleck of white on the otherwise pristine black wall of the van. I had no time to mention it to her nor was I certain that my friend’s car door had caused the fleck of white on the otherwise perfect exterior of the black van though I imagined it might.

My friend was busy talking to me about the events of her life and given we were engrossed in conversation we walked away without a second thought until we reached the corner and were about to move out of sight of the van and her car when a disembodied voice called out from behind us


‘What was that?’ I asked my friend.

‘Just some rudeness,’ my friend said, and we walked on up the street, but in my mind’s eye I could see the owner of the van kick in the door of my friend’s car or slash her tyres or some other act of revenge.

The day took off from there, begun with an uneasy thought that we had done something wrong and that we might be punished.

It was a full day of meetings followed by lunch and another meeting and although my friend observed shortly before we began our afternoon meeting and people were rushing out to put more money in the meters for their cars parked nearby,

‘I’m being an optimist and trusting I won’t get a ticket.’

Only then I realised we’d parked in a four-hour zone. My friend parked there regularly she said, and so far, so good. She had not yet suffered the pain of a parking ticket.

By days end, I was relieved to find there was no white ticket on the dash board of my friend’s car. But after my friend reached my house and we pulled into the curb on the side street nearby I urged her to park closer to the kerb for fear of losing one of her side mirrors as can happen in narrow side streets.

She re-parked then and got out to check her mirror. The mirror’s rear protective covering was gone, she said. ‘It was there this morning,’

I told her then about the man in the van and she seemed to have registered his presence. My friend said nothing other than it was bad luck. Maybe she was trying to save face in view of a bad experience but for me the memory has stayed.

It seemed a cruel response to a tiny fleck of white paint, if indeed that was the cause, but it’s hard to think about it in any other way. I did not catch a glimpse of the man in the van. Nor did I have the presence of mind to take down his number plate. And what good would it have done? How could anyone prove this road rage?

That evening, I toyed with driving back to the parking place alone to search the gardens nearby in the hope I might recover the rear of my friend’s side mirror. I still might be there, both as proof of the black van driver’s wrong doing, and also to fix a broken car.


May the punishment fit the crime

My husband hides his mother’s chopping board in his sock drawer for safekeeping.

Soon after his mother’s death, this chopping board found it’s way into our house and we used it for a time until one day my husband realised, it was wearing away.

All those years of use, close to one hundred years, and he decided the board was past its use-by date, but needed preserving.

It’s been a ‘temporary’ resting place for the past ten years or so, at the bottom of the sock drawer until one day when we leave this place and my husband will most likely pass the board onto one or other of his daughters or grandchildren as an heirloom.

I hope they appreciate its significance.

All the loaves of bread that have been chopped on this board; all the onions sliced and diced, all the meat slivered.

Which brings me to another matter of less significance but a new understanding for me this week – at least it’s something I’d never really considered before though looking at it now, I’m amazed I have not.

The other day, my youngest daughter still at home, asked that we keep aside one chopping board to be used exclusively for the chopping of fruit. This way the watermelon does not get infused with the taste of onion.

An excellent idea and one we have now put in place.

And for more significant events this week, I went to post a letter one day, and pulled my car up at the edge of the red post box in a ‘no standing’ zone.

I know it’s against the law, but I had only intended to stop as long as it took to slip the letter into the box.

As I leapt out of my car, letter in hand, a man stopped at the lights in the middle lane on the road, and well clear of my car, which I’d parked alongside at the front of a long row of cars just before the traffic lights. He had his side windows down and called out to me.

‘You fuck head.’  He repeated this several times for good measure on the top of his lungs. ‘You fuck head. Can’t you read the sign?’

Of course I could.

I half apologised, ‘Only posting a letter,’ but he didn’t hear.

My fellow driver, of the shiny white ute, with tools poking out the back, seemed to have found an excellent opportunity to let off steam or get rid of whatever awful feelings assailed him by passing them onto me.

‘You fuck head,’ he repeated several more times and I had the urge to ask him, was he so pure. Had he never once stopped at a no standing zone for two minutes to drop off a child; post a letter; use his phone?

Had he never sinned?

But it was pointless, and the lights changed in the time it took him to hurtle more abuse, to drive off, and for me to post my letter.

I live not far from this letterbox and as I pulled into my driveway minutes later, I could still see his car in the distance ahead, stopped at the next set of lights and wondered whether he felt any better.

Certainly I felt worse. Bad feelings that come back to me even now as I write. Like someone has tipped a bucket of shit over my head.

But that’s the intention, isn’t it?

And I can’t really complain, can I? Because I broke the law.

All of which leads me to ponder the significance of discrimination.

Not all crimes and misdemeanours are the same, not all deserve to go to the chopping block.

From the safe bubble of his car, this man saw fit to pass judgement on me because I was in the wrong.

Or was it because I’m a woman? A soft target?

On the other hand, this man might be one of those obsessives who hate people who don’t abide by the law to the absolute letter.

Somehow I doubt this.

I suspect it’s more like the sight of me, choosing to do something so outrageous as to stop where I should not stop, infuriated him, and he became the self-righteous parent who feels better passing all his unwanted feelings onto the errant one.

Self righteous in his arrogance, while I cringed under the weight of his abuse.

Needless to say, I won’t park there again.