Almanac Life: Friday Night Rivers

Black Cloud


It is late on a Friday afternoon and I unexpectedly find myself beneath a huge black cloud. I am driving along Dandenong Road when the cloud seems to appear from nowhere… well, from somewhere behind me, which is in itself, unusual because my internal weather radar usually dictates that all Melbourne weather should come in from the west.


This black cloud, it seems to be stalking me from the south east and it is threatening to unleash a deluge of rain, that will dampen my plan to run along the river and thereby disrupt the rhythm of my weekly routine. I don’t mind getting wet, but I do mind being disrupted.


As I approach High Street from Kooyong Road the weighty cloud finally explodes and releases the pent up moisture. Huge rain drops splash across the car and then, quite suddenly, the windscreen fogs up and I can see only a grey blanket of fog. I can’t see a thing in front of me! I have to pull over to turn the de-mister on. The hot blast of dry air clears the screen.


With my vision restored I rejoin the steady stream of traffic. The rain continues to pour as sheets of water gush across the road filling the gutters and choking the unsuspecting drainage outlets. The rain seems relentless and logic would suggest that I should turn back, and that my plans are doomed to be thwarted.


Instead, I am hopeful and I am a Melbournian. I continue on. I’m sure it’s just a temporary outburst, a petulant tantrum sent from the heavens. I make a quick phone call to my brother. He skips the pleasantries by answering his phone with a deadpan


“You want a weather report Kate?”


“Correct, Tom”


Without any delay he responds,


“Well, I can see a black band sitting over Oakleigh, moving north… hang on, the screen is just refreshing….oh, yeah its getting larger, and blacker and it’s stretching out to Richmond and St. Kilda.”


“It’s bucketing here Tom… I’m in Toorak heading down to the river, do you think it will last long?…. What’s it like where you are?” I ask


“Dry here Kate, not a drop” he says.


Tom is on the north side of the Yarra and he’s now given me the very technical meteorological information that I wanted to hear; that it is dry on the other side of Melbourne’s great dividing river.


I float down St. Georges road and navigate the Grange Road roundabout amid the now swirling greasy spray of fuel infused spring rain. I cross the river at the Mac Robertson Bridge having decided not to turn back.


Runners, joggers, and walkers still stride along the shrubby riverbank path in the rain as I seek out my usual car park along the empty boulevard. I stop, engage the handbrake and I set about organising myself, lightening the clutch of car keys and removing the ear pods from their case.


As I prepare to get out from my car I throw a quick glance into the rear view mirror to check the status of the large black cloud … and to check for the passing cyclists. Instead, I see a car pull in behind me. A white car.


A man alights from his vehicle and places a cigarette between his lips as he wanders around to the curb and leans against his car. I am stunned, for weeks I have thought that this mysterious man who leans contemplatively against his car (parked in my spot on the empty boulevard) must think that the woman in the black car, parking right behind his, is stalking him. This afternoon the situation is reversed.


I send the man a curious look as a multitude of magpies appear immediately before the him. He crouches down on his haunches on the grassy nature strip. The animated birds come right up to him and fuss about when I seem to encroach and take his attention away from them.


He looks towards me, we are strangers to each other yet we nod and laugh with a mixture of both mutual recognition and familiarity. He is the mysterious man that leans by his car each week. He appeases the squawking maggies and encourages me to look and watch them. For the next few random moments a quirky roundabout of looking and listening circles between the three of us – between myself, the man and the magpies.


It is a strange collision of time and place in which we muse on our shared commitments to various routines and rhythms. We agree that they offer some respite and certainty in these uncertain times. He tells me a bit more about the magpies and how they seem to recognise him. I told him of my own delightful encounter, just a week or two ago, when in his absence, the birds flew down from the surrounding tree tops to greet and surround me by my car door.


My phone rings and I click it on to silent. Seeing the time I look up and notice that the black cloud that has been stalking me has now lightened in colour and weight. It’s done with its petulant downpour and it is already moving ahead quickly up the river in a north-north easterly direction.


I cross the road and hit the meandering riverbank path. I am free to run.


Read more from Kate Birrell here.


Check out Kate’s art work here.


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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved the story Kate, reminded me of the following. During the late 60s early 70s I would catch the No 48 tram from Kew to the city for work. As expected you’d see the same regulars most days. There was one guy, around my age, who boarded before my stop and always would be standing in the same spot. Occasionally you’d give a nod but that was as far as it went. I was living in London in 1974 and regularly commuted by train from Acton into the city. Catching the train one morning, lo and behold, there was the guy from the 48 tram on board! We nodded, chatted and ended up going for a beer. Had to travel half way around the world before we chatted, small world sometimes!

  2. Kate Birrell says

    That’s a fabulous story Colin.

    Thanks for reading it.

  3. A descriptive tale indeed, Kate. Thanks.

  4. Very much enjoyed every aspect of this, Kate.

  5. DBalassone says

    Magical story Kate. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks Kate great story telling as always updates on future encounters ?

  7. Thanks Rulebook , I will keep you posted.
    And thanks Smokie and ER and DB.

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