By Bodhi Schier-Paine
Riding into school in Adelaide a while back, I saw a guy sitting on a city bench eating cereal out of a bag. I’m certain it was cereal because the bag had that shape that cereal bags have when you pull them out of the box, like they’re inflated from the bottom at an inexplicable source, and the plastic was that opaque sort of plastic.
Other revealing details: he was scraping milk off his face with a spoon, there was milk filling in the spaces between the bits of what were absolutely cereal in the curiously inflated bag, there was a bottle of milk beside him on the bench, he was delighted.
I had been riding too fast on the way into town that day, without any actual reason to be hurrying, and as I rode through the South Parklands, I remembered how my friend Jen likes to ride that path real nice and slow because the scenery is beautiful. So I had spent the rest of my commute going slowly enough to notice the trees, and now the cereal guy.
I eased off the pedals, did an awkward sort of double-take-with-too-much-brake manoeuvre, smiled, and this is when he called out, “Morning!”
I was far enough away that I shouldn’t really have been able to hear him over the street noise, but somehow his greeting not only reached me, but touched me in a way that left me feeling more connected to humanity than I generally feel at even the most intense moments of communion with close friends.
Somehow, I knew the greeting was directed at me, offered to me, the weirdo on the bike who was smiling at this other weirdo on the bench. I had to get eyes front and around the corner ahead, but I threw another big smile back, then wobbled around the corner and wept laughter.
This guy was not some sort of hobo: he was well dressed, well groomed, he looked fit, healthy and happy, and he looked entirely composed. The way he called out to me seemed as though I had walked into the lounge room of the sort of share house where eating out of crockery, at the dining table, is the weird thing to do.
This brief, delightful exchange with a stranger struck a chord in me that I could not hear properly or understand until I got to school and sat down with a coffee and a cigarette to think about this remarkable fellow I had greeted on the way.
What made this beautiful weirdo so remarkable?
He was sitting on a city bench eating cereal out of a bag like it was the most natural thing in the world. It was tempting to assume he was destitute, so was eating all that he could get, but he was too well-dressed and composed to be destitute. Perhaps he had run out of time for breakfast at home, but then why would he be just chillin’ on the bench with a big bag of cereal instead of scurrying like me and everyone else around me to get to work on time and eat at his desk like a good loyal robot.
What made him remarkable is he seemed to be doing this just because he could. That was the impression I got. That he was maybe experimenting with how it felt to eat breakfast on a city bench.
So next time you’re hustling for no stupid reason, ask yourself: what would the cereal guy do?