South Yarra Station connects to Melbourne Central via the city loop train that runs only from platform five. It goes first to Richmond, then Parliament, then to Melbourne Central. There is more than one way to get from South Yarra to Melbourne Central by this train, the ways variable as all the ways one might take a coffee, maybe more. They do not all take it the same way, because people do what they want. To make their own way, after all, is often the most human thing one can do at any given moment.
Chi walks a walk that is measured in priorities and time. Being a precise human, but also a usually late human, she is precisely almost-late to the morning 10.25 am train when she takes it to uni. She rushes down the ramp and enters the first train door that she sees, and bags down for a better ride. She will pat her coat pocket absentmindedly, to check that her breakfast banana is there.
In the late afternoons after class, Chi will take the train from Melbourne Central to South Yarra, because it is a Tuesday. Tuesday is ballet class day at New Beginnings Studio on Chapel Street, from 6.15 to 7.15 pm. If she has the time, she will walk to the end of platform two of Melbourne Central, because then she can get out at South Yarra closest to the exit. This is the most efficient way. Chi walks to the end of the Melbourne Central platform two, by the perforated metal benches. They gleam with an intensity reserved to entice only the most tired of legs. She is not so tired, she thinks, because she is still so young. One cannot be young and tired. She stands by the metal benches, waiting for the train.
The train comes, and Chi goes with it willingly. She knows she is being carried away by electric currents, both of the direct and alternating nature. She likes the way they sweep her away, how they carry her without question. It is a trait she admires, both in people and in things, though she doesn’t know many people who can carry her like that. Sometimes in her ballet classes, when there is an errant young man, her teacher will clap her hands and seize the opportunity for the young women to practice their lifts.
She must tell the young man to hold her, and touch her only exactly how she would like to be touched. Hands here, and here. Her assertiveness makes her feel heavier than she is. He nods bravely, a good sport. Hands on her hips, his sweaty palms dampen her leotard. Though he tries to hide it, she senses his self-doubt. This young boxer, who came to learn how to be light on his feet. This is more than he bargained for. Before her feet leaves the ground, Chi knows each time that he might drop her, but she’s okay with that. He might crack – but she won’t.
The train approaches Richmond Station, rolling onto a curved track, and lurches as if it will give way. For a split second Chi wonders if it’ll finally happen. Upon the curve, the carriage of a train will crack open like an egg, and the two jagged halves of the train will cleave against one another, tossing her from side to side, as if to dislodge an unneeded egg yolk. Will she be binned, or become batter? One consequence is more appetising than the other. She will attempt to hold on to something. Hands here, and here, but not there. Hands on the gritty handrail that she is gingerly holding on to. Hands off other humans. There are right things to hold on to, and then there are wrong things.
The train slows to a stop and the doors beg to be opened. An older Asian man shuffles away from the doors to let the others out, one hand pulling tight the knot of a maroon tie. Caught between the beeps of the closing doors, he closes his eyes and leans back, his head rapping softly on the trembling window as the train pulls away from the station. This human thinks this man looks different than she remembers. Hair a little greyer, but he looks well. She’s glad. The train begins to lurch anew, dislodging her fingertips from the rail. She stumbles and attempts to collect herself, but the pennies of her thoughts have fallen into the Yarra below, collecting elsewhere.
Chi’s swimsuit felt tight and cold, her waterlogged pigtails floating behind her as she doggy paddled toward him. She opens her mouth to call him, sputtering instead as the pool water gargles in. By now she is close enough to commence an ambush. He stands with his back to her, fingers trailing eddies in the current.
“Daddy!” she screams, and jumps feet first onto the backs of his calves, hands grappling at his neck. With a start, the man attempts to dislodge her fingers, and startled, she lets go. He winces and turns around questioningly, one hand pressed deep into his lower back.
“Oh, it’s you, darling. If you wanted to be carried, you should’ve just asked.”
Dad. The word drops into her head. It clunks, like a coin rolling round inside an arcade game. There is no grace to it, only gravity, in the way it promises to be important when said. But when she tries it out silently, tongue grazing teeth, she is left wanting.
“Dad?” Add more credits. She has so many questions. She wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her jersey. The tears run clear, but are not empty, nor wasted. The man, with his head still juddering against the window, is staring at her.
She sees him mouth her name from across the train. Chi? Her head moves imperceptibly, ticking over nervously of its own volition. Each movement speaks, and in repetition they cluster, forming a difficult voice. No, no, no. Each word is a lashed gong. He walks toward her, hands out in front. Whether it is to steady himself or to show he comes in peace, Chi does not know.
He stands before her, fingers twisting fingers into knots that grow upon the tongue, tying it tighter than his tie.
I’m sorry, he says. That things ended the way they did, between your mother and I. I had no choice. Up close, his bald spot is tenuously close to showing, as he nervously scratches his head. Chi looks away. As the train slows, her father stumbles, the weight of his laptop resting uneasy on his shoulder, and he exhales, an oldness clouding his features. Chi puts out her hands. Whether it is to steady him, or to tell him to stay back, she does not know. A challenge rises behind his eyes, a rebuttal he had only just thought of. He thinks he finally knows now, how to make her understand.
“If you wanted me to stay, you should’ve asked,” he says.
Chi slings on her backpack. Her muscles scrunch, under the weight of her textbooks. She feels the twinge in her lower back, the genealogical weakness that tells her that she is his daughter. An inability to carry, that has carried, and that will stay.
“You should’ve just stayed,” Chi says, and makes for the doors. The man does not follow.
The train has now arrived at South Yarra Station. The train thanks Chi for riding with PTV. She arrives at the part of the platform which is closest to the train station exit. She touches the train doors open, and walks up the ramp, does not look back until she is out of the station, and can see the seven-eleven on Toorak Road. The train will carry her father express to Glen Waverly. She will carry herself to New Beginnings.
Janelle Koh is a writer and law student from Perth, who is currently based in Melbourne. She enjoys writing non-fiction and poetry, and her work has been published in Rambutan Literary, Pencilled In, and Art Ascent Magazine. You can find her on twitter @writeforwhat.