I sighed,and looked around me. This crappy city was looking smaller, dirtier and more provincial (in a bad way) every bloody day. People were suspicious and unhelpful. Directions to anywhere were muttered with unwillingness, as if the simple fact of me being a stranger was disgusting.
“Fucking country town!” I said out loud.
“Tell me about it, love!” came a voice behind me.
I spun around. A young man – Pakistani? – in a ridiculously gaudy uniform shirt smiled at me from the news-stand.
“Shit of a place,” he said cheerfully. “They think I’m a fucking Indian, you know? And they treat me like crap whatever they think, because I’m an – immigrant! Bloody hell, my grandparents were here before most of them, the dicks!”
I snorted. “Why the hell do you stick around this dump?”
He shrugged. “Money’s OK – I’m saving for a move to somewhere with class and a uni degree.”
I nodded. “Fair enough.”
I wandered closer to his stall. I hadnt done my daily newspaper-reading yet, so I grabbed one – and a couple of Mars Bars to get me through the crappy task. I flipped the kid a $10 note.
“Keep the change, ‘love’,” I said, “Add it to the Get the Hell Outta Here Fund, k?”
He grinned and waved as I headed for the only other thing open – a Maccas with (thank God) a McCafe attached. Quality it aint, but caffeine it is – and drinkable.
So I sat at a Maccas table, on a nasty hard seat, and checked out the paper.
Fuck. That had ‘Pete’ written all over it. I read the first couple of paragraphs. Yup, the body of a man of 30-something pulled out of a river – it’d been wrapped in bubble wrap before being set afloat and sent down the rapids.
I sighed, and sunk my head in my hands. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I was too late. What the hell had I thought I could do, anyway? Convince the nasties that he was really an alright bloke? This whole trip had been ridiculous, and now Pete was dead, because I’d failed him. Poor bloke.
A bucketload of tears later, I raised my head and fished around under the newspaper for a napkin. I looked up – and saw the entire population of the Maccas staring at me curiously.
“Just fuck off,” I said, tired. “My friend just died, OK? Leave me alone.”
Instantly every head turned and studied something more interesting. Except one. The girl at the cafe counter stared at me a few seconds longer, looking almost sympathetic. Then she turned away and busied herself at her coffee machine.
I blew my nose loud and long. These people had given up all right to consideration, in my book.
“Here you go, looks like you could use these,” a voice said above me. The girl from the cafe counter was placing a new coffee and a caramel slice on the table next to mine. I grabbed my purse to give her some money, but she shook her head.
“On the house, darl,” she said, “just because, OK?”
I nodded. It was about all I could manage, what with the shock. Two nice people in the space of an hour – maybe there was a god looking after me after all. Pity it hadn’t been looking after Pete as well.