Pavle Radonić ~ On the Street (Linda)

On the cor­ner adja­cent stood the bank, the super­mar­ket diag­o­nal­ly oppo­site and bus stops the oth­er side of the street. The planned new shop­ping precinct where Forges had been since Federation had stalled well before Covid. Despite the locks and hoard­ings, the street peo­ple gained access some­where from the rear.

Faisal said Linda had been found in the laneway, but lat­er the Tamil-Fijian main­tained it had been in the open space with the earth­en floor, behind the chained front doors.

Faisal said OD, while the Fijian heard a fire had been lit and per­haps it had been smoke inhala­tion. Thinking on his feet a lit­tle fur­ther, the lat­ter agreed smoke was unlike­ly there with the open­ing behind.

Though no one on the street cor­rob­o­rat­ed at that stage, the Fijian was adamant two Sudanese had died togeth­er with Linda.

Faisal re-enact­ed Linda’s attempt­ed snatch of a fifty at his front counter a few months before, his clasp of her wrist and warn­ing, fol­lowed by Linda’s dis­claim­ing and then her dance steps with the undu­lat­ing arms both sides, like the Hindu god­dess­es. That was Linda alright, odd as it was to have Faisal pre­sent­ing her like that.

A cou­ple months back she had sport­ed a new chalk & navy COLOURING BOOK hood­ie from the Op Shop. There had been some­thing else on the racks that day that she didn’t hate, Linda report­ed, before she found the Colouring.

The next day the lads in the bank con­firmed it was three casu­al­ties; two oth­ers beside Linda. No details were known to them, not even that of Linda, a dai­ly fix­ture on the oppo­site pave­ment there and around in Nicholson.

The tall fel­low with the gui­tar & dog who was king hit a few weeks before and often busked in Yarraville—not Footscray, he underlined—immediately bowed his head at the men­tion of Linda and impro­vised a ges­ture on his chest.

Rest her soul.

The man knew of the African pair, but not which ones they had been.

The JP Ken had­n’t heard of the mat­ter. Instead he told his own sto­ry of anoth­er Sudanese inside the Hub cou­ple months before, who man­aged to be revived.

Predictably, the soft-heart­ed Ethiopian accoun­tant Adib, with plen­ty to mourn just then on the Horn, felt the hurt. Like all the reg­u­lar Africans, Adib always spoke respect­ful­ly to Linda and the First Nation guys too.

The news struck big Barak the Sudanese. After he had ini­tial­ly been told, Barak returned twen­ty min­utes lat­er to recon­firm both Linda and the two Africans.

Between times, and not the first exam­ple on that street, there came that strangest of beg­gary one encoun­tered there pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly. Barak again the case in point. In this instance, the scale of the thing almost made you laugh.

Barak, or Brek, as some of the Africans called him, always car­ried a leather brief­case. His father had been the first pres­i­dent of South Sudan, they said, assas­si­nat­ed it seemed. A year or two at Deakin may have been respon­si­ble for  Barak’s tor­tu­ous lock­jaw English, when speak­ing to whites at least. Barak would com­mon­ly cite Balkan his­to­ry and remark on dif­fer­ences among the var­i­ous com­po­nent peo­ples there. Judging by his ref­er­ences, at home there was reg­u­lar BBC listening.

Mid last year Barak had been con­fined some­where a cou­ple months, dur­ing which time he had been missed by many. Occasionally Barak approached ask­ing for coin, almost invari­ably a par­tic­u­lar denom­i­na­tion. That morn­ing for his pur­chase at the bottle‑o adja­cent Faisal’s café, it had been five cents that was needed.

Only five cents, Barak repeat­ed, as the coin was fished out.

Twenties and fifties had been request­ed ear­li­er by var­i­ous peo­ple, recent­ly depart­ed Linda includ­ed, along of course with the com­mon ones & twos. Usually it was a mea­sured, hon­ourable mat­ter there among the street guys, who always thought in terms of the imme­di­ate need, and noth­ing more.


The unsea­son­able cool had the Ethiop Chaplin pulling his jack­et tight. Strangely, for some rea­son eagle-eyed Faisal main­tained this chap didn’t drink. Passing to-and-fro all day as he did, Faisal must have been fooled by the lol­ly coloured bot­tles. This lad came from a rich fam­i­ly in Addis, which for a busi­ness­man like Faisal, who had an estranged nephew fall­en into the drug net, exam­ples such as those were espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult to fathom.

Springy curls from beneath his black base­ball cap and big eyes this man. Softer, more round­ed than Charlie, nat­ter­ing to him­self qui­et­ly, scroung­ing cig­gies & coin from the men at the tables.

I need a hol­i­day. I’m sick and tired of this.

At the pass in the morn­ing it had been unclear whether or not that had been a quip.

After five or six months of sight­ings, the virus rag­ing, this chap had revealed that he too was a writer.

As usu­al, the man ignored the smiles with the nod­ding hel­loes. Little squeezed smiles the lad could occa­sion­al­ly flash, but nev­er receive. Even in what appeared con­ver­sa­tion with his fel­lows, the Ethiop seemed to com­mu­ni­cate only by ges­ture and expres­sion. What had hap­pened to Linda and the oth­er two could not have escaped the man’s notice. Still, you won­dered. You would have liked to have seen his face when he first heard the news; the Ethiop had been in Linda’s com­pa­ny as much as any of the others.

It couldn’t be helped, the reflex came auto­mat­i­cal­ly. One need­ed to relay these mat­ters like oth­ers did in like circs.


A few weeks before Faisal had sur­prised sug­gest­ing the guy drink­ing by the bins was Muslim. Faisal know­ing any­thing about that par­tic­u­lar man was unex­pect­ed, though he did talk to some of the street peo­ple, who were of course not his customers.

The man’s name was Huss. Hassan prop­er­ly, from a Lebanese father.

Huss would know that brown litre bot­tle many of the guys favoured. It was not to be found on the super­mar­ket shelves, or the reg­u­lar liquor out­lets. Some time back min­er­al turps used to be sold in bot­tles of that shape and size.

To be cer­tain what we were talk­ing about, Huss went into the shop and came back out with a sam­ple rasp­ber­ry flavour­ing. There were lots of oth­er options, Huss explained. It was cheap plonk, usu­al­ly $7.99. Elsewhere it was priced around $11, Huss said.

On Linda again, Huss con­firmed two African fel­low casu­al­ties. Sudanese probably.

Linda was a smart lady. Huss seemed to sug­gest she had made sure the pair took the same they were sell­ing her.

So, three casu­al­ties alto­geth­er. (Faisal’s broth­er Fausi had cast doubt on the oth­er two. At the time Black African ODs were still rel­a­tive­ly uncom­mon in Footscray.)

In a rapid, slid­ing segue, Huss sud­den­ly men­tioned a man who had decap­i­tat­ed his mother.

The mat­ter was con­fused at first, though the cen­tral event was clear.

It was a Sudanese in ques­tion. The case had briefly been in the news a year back; Huss was not mak­ing things up.

Inside soon after, Huss con­tin­ued, the fel­low, this man who had killed his own moth­er, had asked the author­i­ties what he was doing there.  Only when the evi­dence was pre­sent­ed to him did the man realise what he had done. Later, he sui­cid­ed. In the cell, yes, Huss confirmed.

Enemy…That’s what was before him. Whatever he had taken.

Again, rapid and leav­ing one lag­ging behind. The oth­er street guys often talked in this same abrupt kin­da cut-off.

The things they had seen over there, Huss con­tin­ued a moment lat­er by way of expla­na­tion

It seemed Huss had heard plen­ty of the African ordeal direct from the young men around the streets, per­haps even from that par­tic­u­lar mat­ri­cide. There had been great treks across the con­ti­nent last­ing many months, with wild ani­mals, mili­tias and star­va­tion to con­tend with. Snatches of this flight emerged every now and then from one or two quar­ters on the street, from the mid­dle-aged gen­er­a­tion. The elders rarely spoke of the tri­als endured. Huss must have heard more of it than most of us white guys.

There was a group of the African men vir­tu­al­ly every day at the bench near Faisal’s and by the bins out­side the bottle‑o. Four or five young men in their thir­ties or ear­ly for­ties, slumped and heaped togeth­er on the Khartoum seat­ing, or else the bench or bus stop around in Paisley Street. When one first chanced upon them the group appeared like a kind of the­atri­cal troupe, rem­i­nis­cent of the piled tramps in the old silent flicks. It was impos­si­ble to tell whether one or two of these might be miss­ing now.

The mat­ri­cide must have been from these same streets. Huss had crossed paths with most of the hard cas­es. The street guys always looked out for each oth­er, shar­ing cig­gies and often bottles.

Huss main­tained con­tact with his daugh­ter, who was at uni­ver­si­ty now and occa­sion­al­ly came to see dad on Nicholson there. Huss didn’t like meet­ing on the strip, but occa­sion­al­ly he was caught there by the girl. Some of the guys like Huss were able to retain ties even from the street. Linda too had spo­ken of an aca­d­e­m­ic father, who still seemed to be part of her life. Or at least in her men­tions it was a warm mem­o­ry that was retained.
                                                                           Footscray, Melbourne


Pavle Radonić is an Australian writer of Montenegrin ori­gin who spent nine years liv­ing in SE Asia. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary mag­a­zines, includ­ing most recent­ly QU Literary Magazine, Of Zoos, Airplane Reading, The Wrath-Bearing Tree and Superpresent Magazine.