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You’re waiting again. This time under a blue-tinted light, plants hanging about your head from the ceiling, the walls. You’re inside and outside at the same time, somehow. The decor is rainforest cafe meets mimosa brunch, with Converse trainers and vaping allowed. Almost required. You look around at the other patrons, all relaxed with a soft buzz from summer beers, a contrast to you anxiously nursing an orange juice, trying not to stand out.

Fat chance. Black girl, curvy, sporting a short afro that prompted an Aussie friend from work to label you Afrocentric. You’ve been called vibrant before, but tonight you feel invisible, lost in this woolshed bar conversion dropped in the middle of an open parking lot in Brunswick. You think about your arrival, how you rushed out the house frantically and skipped past Anstey station in a sweat, the street art along the train tracks turning into the blur of a rainbow in your haste. You were worried.

I can’t be late.

Still, you wanted to have a moment to take it all in—this new life, the frankness of Melbourne. You pushed down how much you missed the London accent, the muddy green of Hyde Park, the chewing gum-stained streets of Camden Town, street food and punks and yummy mummies and bad gyals. What were you really without all those things?

A visitor, belonging nowhere and looking to reinvent yourself, like everyone else.

You sip through your straw and look back at the bartender. Bearded in a Hawaiian shirt. They’re always bearded, with soft eyes and soft accents, trying to guess your order before you’ve said it. Like how he knew you wanted something with zest, reached for it before you had finished speaking. You weren’t looking for the hard stuff tonight. Perhaps through the layers of makeup and a dewy glow of sweat he could see you were hungover.

Or maybe he just saw the words first date taking shape in your mouth, your anxiety and bubble of excitement the only true markers. You were grateful for it, for the drink and the time to catch your breath. You let in relief when you entered the bar and saw that your date hadn’t arrived yet.

Others were there, though—silhouettes just like his. Tall bodies with a slight heft, carrying themselves like surfboards. Something in them spoke to being outside on the weekend, enjoying the fresh air before the rapid deterioration of everything natural was complete. They climbed mountains, kayaked down rivers, hiked through forests.

You often wondered what feats you could achieve if you only stepped out further than the day before. You were too used to being trapped in comfort and routine back home, until you came here. Your first act of daring was getting on that plane, dreaming about being surrounded by trees. There’s a kindness to communing with nature, letting its peaceful warmth be the thing you try to absorb. But once you arrived, you grasped desperately for the familiar again, sinking into the slow simmer of it. Now you think about the heat of your date.

A friend of a friend. You had discarded the introduction apps months ago; the last time was a precursor to nothing. When you met the one black guy you had so far found online, he was only a familiar face on a stranger. He carried your shopping home after one coffee and you fucked him on the sofa where your flatmate had strummed his way through ‘Yellow Submarine’ the night before, the twang of the guitar keeping you awake as you lay in bed in the next room.

Afterwards the man didn’t want to stay, and you didn’t want to be friends. It left you with a meaningless gape. You sauntered down to Sydney Road and bought a Lebanese pizza and too much baklava and ate your weekend away.

What was it about being both invisible and under a spotlight at the same time? You had never wanted to hide your black skin until you came here. Where boys, the whiter ones, wanted to prove how open-minded they were by engaging you. Blond-haired bachelors pumping closed fists against their chests in a crowded bar, two times, as a greeting just for you. Brunette-moustachioed whisky lovers sending explicit messages on Tinder that reference your dark exotic hue as reason and rhyme for seduction purposes. And the redhead sending up-to-the-minute texts, until you bumped into him with his mother on Flinders Street and watched him turn her around so she wouldn’t witness your shared eye contact, or witness you.

You had begun to question whether you were tired of getting half of everything. Was it time to go home? Time to get back to more faces that looked like yours, yet still somehow with less options to be understood because you were still just you?

Maybe, except for that guy. The one that was always sweet to you. Always held doors open and greeted you friendly when he spotted you in the lift. He had a shy smile and a very handsome face that he was oblivious to. The one who said, Hey, we should hang out before you go.

Before you go.

So you waited until the last minute, the last week, when there was no room for possibility except for a faint whiff of something that you could muse over on the plane. You always do this—wait until the last second before pulling the trigger, not willing to deal with the fallout, good or bad.

You knew he was special in the way that made you uncomfortable, like a slightly too tight dress. Maybe it was his attractive contradictions of self-deprecation when he spoke of work ambitions and the unmitigated confidence he displayed when getting a job done. You imagined all the things he could fix to a working order with just his hands. But he had a sensitivity too, a cautious word about the things he cared for. He told you about travelling to Morocco, how much fun it was, how it was no place for a woman on her own.

You were group-deep then, surrounded by work friends, trying not to make too much eye contact with him. You nodded along to a conversation about an Australian television show you had never seen. That happened a lot—things you didn’t understand shaping the world around you as you tried to find where you fit into the puzzle.

You had other things to worry about anyway, like why security guards would surreptitiously follow you around the shops on Bourke Street. Or why your boss’s boss would fist bump you every time he saw you but shake everyone else’s hand. And of course why you barely got any swipes right when you were still on the apps, unless it was someone wanting to tell you all the reasons why they’re only interested because you are

A black.

You laugh it off now because it doesn’t matter and you’re going home and no one here seems to know what a microaggression is and the whole country sort of feels like one big microaggression anyway.

You’ve almost finished your juice. A pool of melted ice has gathered at the bottom of your glass and you wonder if you’ll ever pluck up the courage to learn how to swim. You’ve promised yourself for the last eleven months and twenty days that you would get lessons, but here you are, still not a water baby.

You shift in your seat and place your phone on the table. As if on cue, it buzzes with his apologies for having to work late and being on his way. You smile, in spite of yourself. At least he let you know you’d be waiting.


He made it to your place, the date over and done with, a box ticked off, hopefully with a satisfying conclusion. Standing at your kitchen sink, he picks up your favourite cup and asks about it, his journey around your apartment having ended at the drying rack. The ceramic face has a cartoon of Lionel Richie on it, with the words: Hello, is it tea you’re looking for?

What more is there to explain? You tell him it was a leaving gift from work. He chuckles nervously and places it back down on the kitchen counter as if it were delicate china. He turns to face you properly and you share a smile that speaks of something more than just small talk in a kitchen at 10.28pm.

The date went just as you’d hoped it would. He was unchanged since the last time you’d seen him, finally arriving in a white T-shirt and chinos, wearing socks with his loafers, which you breathed a sigh of relief about. His eyes had flicked up and then down for a couple of seconds before he hugged you. You felt pleased that you were pleasing to his eye.

He had intrigued you, made a joke about wanting to publish a diary of his globetrotting, painfully aware that the world doesn’t need any more stories about the struggle of the straight, white male and that was all it took. You wanted woke and you got it, even though the word had long since grown tiresome. It was still relevant, though, still mattered.

You brought him home because when you went to say goodbye he squeezed your waist ever-so, a subtle hint that something more awaited if you wanted it.

You questioned it, walking back to your apartment with him, wondering what your girlfriends back home would say about your white boyfriend. They probably wouldn’t care, but you would always sleep beside him certain that the rest of the world did. You didn’t want him to become just another bump on the mosaic of your dating life because it was starting to form a picture and you were afraid that what was emerging was just an image of you, alone.

It didn’t stop you, though. You thanked him for walking you home, asked if he wanted another drink when you got there—his yes escaped before your sentence had ended. His eagerness didn’t grate on you, not like it had in the past with other men. This was a good sign. You were playing it cool but now that he was inside, his frame somehow taking up the whole living room, you didn’t know how to play a thing.

He runs a hand through his newly cut hair, just a few inches long, dyed almost silver to embrace the premature greys rather than hide them. You wish to run your fingers through it too, certain it’s soft to the touch, clean-smelling and perfect for nuzzling. He seems to read your mind and moves towards you on the other side of the room, by the balcony. He meets you where you stand, hesitant.

He sighs and looks down at you from what now feels like a great height. His face is a sad smile, his eyes the deep blue of new denim, a dimple in his left cheek.

Are you okay?

You are not expecting the question, or the way it creeps into your chest and unravels you from within. Your eyes make you a liar as you smile and nod in reply. But his face is full of concern now.

Do you want me to go?

Your head shakes, but your eyes glisten and you know what’s coming, what’s building up inside of you, trying to find the eager spout of your mouth.

No, please stay. I…want this, please…

Your words are too scattered for the moment, all romantic options pierced with the quiet whine of you pleading with him. You expect him to back away, to run quickly to the door and out of your life forever. But he just stands there, confused but also pensive, trying to solve you.

What a puzzle.

You remember him telling you how much he loved a challenge. He gestures to you to sit down with him on the sofa, as if he lived there and not you. You drop yourself down, heavy and exasperated, and he moves closer to you still. You think a big conversation is coming, something epic that defines who you are and who you’ve been for the last twelve months—and who you’ll be when you get home. Your emotions are high but suddenly acutely clear. You turn to him and ready yourself for new revelations, but his face is a serene moment, giving away little.

He just stares at you, waiting for something, for you to speak? Shout? Explain your thinking? Any indication is lost in a tension that’s been building since you arrived at the bar and heard the thump of R&B in your bones. So you press your lips against his without thinking and feel him react immediately, pulling you against him until you can feel the vibration of his heartbeat against your throat. Is this what it feels like when the waves come?

You are an aimless wanderer in your own mind as you feel his fingers gently lift the bottom of your shirt and connect his bare skin with yours. You pause, reminding yourself of no more going away in your head, no more waiting until it’s over, recounting it later by yourself when you can feel everything and it makes you cry.

That’s what you had wanted to say, to explain. The way connecting always feels painful. How you are not yourself when you’re unclothed and vulnerable. How you saw something else in him that could make you feel different—powerful and safe at the same time. How you’ve felt this way before but it has always disappointed you. How you’re leaving next week and this goodbye had to be a good one, otherwise what was the point of coming in the first place?

But silence hounds you like it birthed you from the jump, as it covers your trauma and relabels it experience. The way it shuts you up when you want to howl. You serve it—not the other way around.

So of course you’re naked now, and he’s still there, or someone like him is still there, doing the run down of kisses and tender touches, while you play along with a writhing body. All the while feeling like you’re waiting for something. Waiting to let something out, finally.

Read more from New Australian Fiction 2020, or buy a print or ebook copy.