It had been thirteen years since I last saw Simone so I knew things would be different. She had a husband and three kids now, a far cry from our single student days. As a mother and wife, she’d have different priorities but I was looking forward to meeting the important people in her life.
It was a surprise to discover that the most important things in Simone’s life appeared not to have been made out of love between the sheets on three separate romantic evenings by her and her husband Dean, but made on a production line at the Samsung factory.
When I arrived in Australia, very early on a Tuesday morning, ridiculously excited to be there and not quite believing that I was, I felt a bit nervous going through the doors after customs. It’s scary, the prospect of seeing someone again after thirteen years. What if we don’t get along anymore?
The correct question should have been: What if she’s not there to meet me?
I scanned all the faces. Couples clinging to each other with excitement at the thought of seeing the loved ones they were about to greet. Other people already reunited, squealing and hugging. And the impassive faces of the drivers sent to collect people. Names now displayed on iPad screens, not clipboards. Technology gets everywhere.
But no Simone.
It was okay. It didn’t matter. I was in Australia and I was incredibly happy. On the plane I had been too excited to sleep for even a second. I spent 24 hours looking out the window and literally watched the world go by, even when an angry air hostess told me it was sleeping time and motioned that I should close the blind. Now I found a sunny spot outside the building, connected to the airport wifi and sent a WhatsApp message to tell Simone where I was. This was the start of an eight month adventure and it felt amazing. Simone would turn up eventually. What was it the Aussies said? No worries.
Clearly “no worries” did not apply to all Australians as Simone turned up with a face like thunder and a mobile phone clamped to her ear. Undeterred by the stoney expression I jumped up and raced to hug her. She reciprocated with the arm that wasn’t holding the phone and carried on talking.
“Yeah, but what you’ve got to remember is that Dunstan’s a dick. He’s always going to be a dick. Nothing you can do will ever stop him being a dick.”
She turned and motioned for me to follow her to the car park. “Yeah well Shaun’s a dick too,” she said, taking large strides ahead of me whilst I trotted behind with my giant suitcase. It wasn’t the most enthusiastic welcome I’d ever had.
“Sorry hun,” she said. “But I’ve just got Caz from the airport.” I thought perhaps she was going to say that she needed to end the call so she could talk to me seeing as we hadn’t seen each other for thirteen years, but instead she said “And I can’t remember where I’ve parked the car…. well because I was talking to Bec when I got out the car so I wasn’t paying attention. Yeah, no I don’t even know what level it’s on. Caz we’re looking for a grey Carnival.”
Whatever one of those was.
“Yeah well, Malachi is a feral feral bogan,” Simone told her caller. “Anyway, he’s not even coming on Saturday… what? But Han said she wasn’t inviting him, oh well that’s going to go down well with Brody.”
Saturday? Simone had told me I had to stay with her for the whole weekend because she was planning some fun stuff for us to do together. Hanging out with dicks and feral feral bogans did not sound like my idea of fun. We made our way around the multi-story car park going up and down slopes to different levels, Simone remained glued to her phone slagging off the guest list for whatever was happening on Saturday and I tried to keep up with her. The famous stripy suitcase that would accompany me around Australia and New Zealand was packed inside an equally gorgeous but far more cumbersome turquoise and blue case which I was going to leave at another friend’s house for most of my travels and then bring back to England no doubt full of souvenirs and surf branded clothing at the end of my stay. It was hard work to keep up with Simone and manoeuvre the case up and down the slopes of the car park without annoying all the drivers or getting myself run over.
After going as far as the sixth floor, we found the car back on the second level and Simone finally ended her call. “Sorry,” she said. “Welcome to Australi… oh I better phone Dean and tell him you’re here.” We got in the car, Simone spoke to her husband to tell him we were leaving the airport and then we were on our way. Time to talk at last?
“It’s so exciting to see you,” I ventured.
“Yep. Hang on. I just need to… I don’t know which lane…”
I didn’t know which lane either so I thought I better save the reunion until she worked it out. But then the phone – now set up to hands free – rang and Simone answered it straight away.
“Jess, just to let you know you’re on speakerphone. Say hi to Caz.”
“Hi Caz,” said Jess.
“Hi Jess,” I replied.
“I just got Caz from the airport,” said Simone. “She’s over from England. Talk to her whilst I work out what lane to be in.”
“Oh okay, so Caz, what are you doing in Australia and how do you know Simone?” asked Jess.
“It’s okay,” said Simone before I could answer. “I’m sorted. So tell me. What’s wrong?”
“We’re not getting the deposit back,” said Jess. “And they’re trying to claim another six hundred bucks.”
“Well that sucks,” said Simone. “Did you tell them where to stick it?”
“Just say you didn’t do it. They haven’t got any proof.”
“Hun, Josh has written his name on their table in permanent marker. They know we had a kid called Josh there.”
“So? It’s circumstantial. Loads of kids are called Josh. Maybe the cleaner has a kid called Josh and he wrote his name on the table whilst she was cleaning the apartment.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“Josh isn’t even your kid. Get Tanya to pay.”
“Yeah, that’s going to go down well. Tanya, I stole your husband, I took your kid on holiday and now I want seven hundred and fifty bucks because he ruined a table.”
“Why do they need seven hundred and fifty bucks for a table?”
“It was an expensive table.”
“Who puts an expensive table in a holiday let? Tell them to go to IKEA.”
“And Josh broke a socket as well.”
“How the hell did he break a socket?”
“He weed in it. Half the apartments got shorted out.”
“Seriously Jess. That kid. Tanya and Malachi need to sit round a table and work out what to do with him.”
I wondered if this was the same Malachi that Simone had labelled a feral feral bogan in her last phone call. How many people called Malachi can one person know?
And so it went on. After Simone finished talking to Jess, there was a call from Mel who was convinced that Deb wasn’t talking to her, and then Em who didn’t want to organise Gem’s hen weekend any more because Gem was being a controlling cow. Simone started all her conversations with “What’s wrong?” and I wondered if she’d had a career change and now worked as a telephone counsellor or agony aunt and was currently on shift and all these callers were her clients. Although I was fairly sure that counsellors and agony aunts weren’t supposed to use the words “dick”, “drongo” and “stupid head” quite as much as Simone did. And then Gem called to announce that Em was being flakey and indecisive and please could Simone take over the hen party arrangements instead and I figured that Simone probably did know these people because as far as I was aware counsellors and agony aunts didn’t usually organise their clients’ hen parties.
We arrived at a house and Simone motioned for me to go in. “I just need to finish talking to Gem,” she said.
I got out the car and approached the house feeling slightly apprehensive to be going in alone when I hadn’t met any of the occupants yet, but I needn’t have worried.
“Aunty Caz! We’re so excited you’re here!”
Three small children came racing out of the house and threw their arms around me.
“We’ve been waiting all day,” announced the oldest child. It wasn’t even half past eight yet.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” I said, enchanted by these three little people who were so pleased to see me.
“Come and see your room.”
“No, come and see my room.”
“No, come and see my dog.”
“It’s not your dog, it’s my dog.”
“It’s everyone’s dog.”
“Aunty Caz, do you like Paw Patrol?”
“Aunty Caz, do you like chocolate?”
“Aunty Caz are you scared of spiders?”
“Aunty Caz do you know that now I can sleep in a big girl’s bed?”
“Aunty Caz because do you know I’m not scared of spiders.”
“Yes she is.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes she is. Yes you are a little bit.”
“Well maybe a little bit. But Aunty Caz did you know that spiders can bite you when you’re asleep?”
And so I was bundled into the house and taken to see toys and bedrooms and big girl beds, the dog, a dead spider in a jar and the doll’s house by three excited children, who spoke more words to me in thirty seconds than their Mum had in the entire car journey back from the airport. It was at least 40 minutes before Simone emerged from the car and by that point I was well acquainted with all three of her children even if I hadn’t said a proper hello to their Mum yet.
With the phone still attached to her ear, Simone shouted at the children and told them they shouldn’t be playing with me because they were supposed to be brushing their teeth and if they didn’t get in the bathroom right now she was going to take all their toys and throw them in the bin. After the hasty brushing of teeth Simone frog marched everyone into the car for the school run whilst simultaneously giving over the phone parenting advice to someone called Vick.
We dropped the five year old off at school in the “kiss and ride” layby – although he didn’t get the kiss, just the ride. And then as we drove off, the already far too familiar sound of Simone’s phone started to ring again and Mel was back on the phone again.
How come she gets to come back for a second chat when I haven’t even had one chat yet, I thought as Mel tearfully confirmed that Deb definitely wasn’t speaking to her.
I know the feeling, I thought and wondered if I’d have more chance of a conversation with Simone if I got my phone out and rang her even though she was sitting next to me.
“Anyway,” sniffed Mel tearfully. “Tell me about you. How’s your day?”
“Oh awesome,” said Simone. “Caz just arrived from England. She’s like one of my best friends from uni. We’re just driving around catching up, she’s met the kids, yeah no, we’re having the best time.”
“Oh nice,” sniffed Mel. “That sounds amazing.”
Yeah, it does, I agreed silently. Shame it’s not actually true.