web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: 294 Essex Street
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Thursday, October 14, 2004
294 Essex Street

It's futile to relive your salad days, that's what we found out in Melbourne.

In 1987, when I was nineteen, I spent weekends and summer at Saiffuddin's house, which I suppose is okay to admit, now that I'm actually married to him and all that. (Papa, if you're reading this rest assured that the visits did not include carnal knowledge, although I have to say I am defining this in its strict legal sense)

294 Essex Street was de facto, our first matrimonial home. It was a wasabe-green clapboard single-storey, probably built in the late 50's, with a porch over the entrance, a fireplace in the living room, a steel bathtub and dunny at the back. Saiffuddin and I lived in the master bedroom up front, which had huge casement windows and no curtains. I once woke up to find my husband's Vietnamese friend peering in, and apparently he liked what he saw.

I don't care if Monday's blue
Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don't care about you
It's Friday, I'm in love..

My official address is Preston, a suburb close to my university. Every Friday, after my last tutorial, I would travel from Preston to Essex Street, which meant a tram ride to Flinders Street Station, and then a train to Footscray, and then a bus bound for Sunshine. It took nearly two hours and none of the routes are scenic -- mostly you would see old warehouses and delapidated homes by the railway tracks--but I would be beaming through-out, with The Cure playing the score to my journey.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Once school is out, 294 Essex Street lives like a frat house. People who don't want to keep paying rent over the summer months camped in our living room, sleeping by day and playing gin rummy by night. Summer is always unbearably hot, birds would drop dead in mid-flight and old people would drop dead in their front yard. The squatter-students, I suppose, had only wanted to preserve themselves. They formed a band around my husband's second hand drum kit -- at two o'clock in the morning we would hear their attempts at Knopfler or Clapton or Brian May, and I'm sure the neighbours did too. They would sleep wherever they would fall asleep, and stirred to life only late in the afternoon, when they would reach out for the TV switch to watch cricket and dog-races until someone figured out dinner.

Fortunately, Saiffuddin and I worked so there was always food on the table and milk in the fridge. He had a part-time job at a canning factory while I waited on tables at Selamat Datang, a Malay restaurant in Fitzroy. It was rehearsal for the marriage we eventually had - although at that time it seemed there was romance in everything - even in grocery shopping and laundry. On Sundays we would drive to the beach -- St Kilda or Brighton or Williamstown. We would sit on the sand with a gelati in hand and watch the crowd go by -- boyfriends and girlfriends, fathers and sons hoisting kites, Italian grandmothers swaddled in black despite the heat, keeping an eye on their bikini clad grandaughters.

We were horribly poor, but we thought we led a charmed life. The house at 294 Essex Street was the anchor, the venue, the stage on which I lived this dreamy existence -- dreamy really, because real adulthood, when life shows its patina of age, is a lot more complicated and decidedly less charming.

Last week, after seventeen years, we walked down Essex Street once more. I had the crazy idea of introducing ourselves to the current tenants, just so I could see the inside of the home we once lived in. I almost ran as I counted down the addresses : 242. 264, 290 ... and then 298 -- which looked like our house but was painted white. Where was 294? Did we get our address wrong? We retraced our steps -- and found the lot on which 294 Essex Street once stood was now a block of four self-contained units. They've torn our house down.


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