As any person who works in a public library will tell you, libraries and trams are the last refuges of the desperate and the demented.
Some tram lines appear to have more than their fair share of passengers that are, to put it bluntly, quite crazy, and if you regularly use the No. 19 tram from the city to North Coburg you will no doubt encounter some of them.
I was returning from the city to Brunswick on the tram one day when a Chinese man in his early twenties came to sit next to me. He was shortish and slightly tubby and he had a McDonald’s take-away carton in his hand. There was nothing in his appearance or gait that gave me any indication of what was to come.
Opposite me sat a middle-aged Greek woman who looked into the middle distance and avoided eye contact with us, as is the normal form on trams.
When the young man sat down he turned to me and, with a friendly smile, asked me: “What is your name?”
Slightly taken aback, I said: “Tim.”
“Where do you live?”
A sudden apprehension began to descend on me. “In Diamond Creek,” I replied.
“Can I go home with you and can I live in your house?” he asked, quite cheerfully. The Greek woman did not blink an eye and continued to avoid eye contact with either of us.
I hate telling lies and will only do so in quite desperate situations. This was clearly one such occasion. “I live in someone else’s house,” I lied. “The house is full of people. There isn’t any room for anyone else.”
“How many people live in the house?” he wanted to know.
“Nine,” I said, without missing a beat. He was quiet for a while, contemplating this response. Then he suddenly changed tack, completely and seamlessly.
“Can you give me 10,000 dollars?” he asked. “I need to go on a holiday. You can come along too,” he added generously.
“The only $10,000 dollars I’ve got are in debts,” I countered, desperately attempting to hide the fact that I was more than a little unnerved by now.
He was quiet again, while he unwrapped his McDonald’s burger. He took a couple of slow bites out of it and savoured them. Then he turned to me, holding it out to me. “Have some of my burger,” he offered.
An edge crept into his voice: “Why not?” he demanded to know.
The Greek woman opposite us spoke up unexpectedly: “He’s a vegetarian,” she told him. “He’s not allowed to eat burgers.”
“Oh!” he said, nodding his head in understanding. Then he suddenly jumped up. “I’ve got to get off at the next stop. Bye,” he added cheerfully.
The tram stop was outside the Brunswick Town Hall, near where I had parked my car and where I had also meant to get off. He stepped off the tram, clutching his half-eaten burger, and headed towards the library. I remained in my seat as the tram took off.
The Greek woman looked past me into the middle distance, her face devoid of any expression.