And There It Was…

How much time is the average wait at a red light? One minute? Two?

This morning I was on my way to work and found myself in a queue of cars waiting to turn onto the freeway. This particular instersection is one of Perth’s busiest, apparently and they have recently upgraded it, adding in more lanes and re-organising the traffic to make it less congested and it has worked. Travelling along the main road, I eased right into the slip lane and was the second car at the lights ready to go.

The car in front of me was a small grey hatchback and I looked through its rear window to see two straw hats displayed on the back shelf of the car. I say displayed, because it seemed to me that there was no reason that someone would have them perched and sitting side by side, unless to make a point.

They were quite different. The one on the left was wide brimmed. It had been bought at Bunnings, a large chain of hardware stores which sell the odd bit of branded gear (including very good umbrellas for the price). It still sported its green branded ribbon and the natural gaps in the weave had been punctuated violently at the front where it looked as if someone had pinched the hat too roughly picking it up off a head, leaving two thumb-sized craters.

On the right was a trilby styled one. Almost as if the occasional gardener could arrive at his car, take the work wear hat off, don a casual but smart replacement and glide on to the next engagement. I thought of the sort of person that would have these two hats in their car. How they might pride themselves of being able to act down to earth one minute and aloof and sophisticated the next. I expect it ws a student who had worn either or both hats at one time at a cheese and wine party.

I am not sure quite how far into the back story of this student with two hats I got before I was aware that the driver of the car had turned around and his face was in profile. He was in his late thirties, with an already receding hairline giving him a slightly older appearance. He was frowning slightly as he tried to sort something out.

As he turned towards the back seat, my eyes suddenly seemed to come into focus at what was beyond the hats. There was a baby seat in the back of the car and the man was putting something over the baby who was obviously sitting there, a toy that had fallen onto the floor. Then I noticed the tall round shape of the woman’s head sitting beside him as he did this.

In that split second, the set up in front of me had become transformed. It was not longer some carefree youth who inhabited two distinct roles – displaying the hats to let the world know that they could glide effortlessly between them, it was a father, slightly stressed and keeping an eye on his family as he and his wife travelled to their destination. I saw him wearing the trilby hat while she took the battered straw one, which he used to wear when they were first going out and which was slightly too big for her. I reasoned that the two hats on the back shelf were actually there so when they took the baby to the park, they could reach in and each have a hat to protect themselves from the sun as they played with their child on a rug on the grass.

It a tiny moment, and a tiny movement one complete set of assumptions had been replaced by another – and then just as quickly the lights changed and we moved on. Seconds later, I had lost them in the traffic and they were gone.

Straw hats in a car
Student art, until the man turns
Now a family.

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