• Kat Johnston Sketch - dance like no-one's looking... even if there is!
  • Some days are just not worth chronicling – many are just like the one before it, steeped thoroughly in a sense of overbearing tedium. This was not one of those days.

    I awoke to the pleasant sound of my husband entering the room, reminding me in case I had forgotten that I was to meet him in the city, in order to pick out frames to replace his old ones. Rising at this early hour, for there was no justification to continue in my rest, I slipped downstairs and started my daily routine on the computer as the husband left for his day. When 10 o’clock rolled around, I locked the door behind me, and strolled towards the station.

    Met there with a gaggle of older teens, already I could tell that the day was not to be a great one. The thought hit: ‘Ahh… school holidays still…’ and the thought was not a comforting one. I entered the bus after it rolled to a standstill, handing my money over to the gruff driver after ordering my ‘Adult, off-peak daily, thank-you.’ Only a few weeks ago my fare was by half of what it is now. So far, it was not feeling off to a great start.

    With a lumbering lurch, the bus jumped forward a few feet, before properly setting a trundling pace. A few stops later, the bell dings – the bus stops, but not one passenger disembarks. ‘Who wanted this stop?’ growls the driver, as if stopping is not something he is generally inclined to do. An apologetic voice piped up, a hesitant ‘I’m so sorry, I really needed the next stop, I was confused.’

    The doors snapped closed, almost a perfect reflection of the annoyance so barely contained by our disgruntled mass-chauffeur. It trundled to the next location, the doors flinging wide – the blush-cheeked woman stepped down daintily from the step, holding her vivid blue dress by her knee so that the edge didn’t brush against the floor. Two passengers entered in her place.

    A hunched over figure gabbing to some person on his mobile summarily ignored the driver, brushing by to the startled voicing of ‘Hey, you,’ which the man blankly ignores. I can only assume it to be his wife, also with a cell stuck to her ear, who entered after him. Barely breaking from her conversation, she shoves a crinkled five dollar note towards the driver, proffered in her grubby paw. ‘He’s with me, two concessions, one way,’ she mutters, before quickly returning to that seemingly important talk she must be having with whoever it was engaging the bulk of her attention. The driver took the money, printing out two tickets and handing them to the woman, who soon plonks into her own seat.

    One would think that the drive between my home and the city, which is only really about ten minutes, would feel about, ohh, ten minutes long. It didn’t. It dragged. A bawling child screeched by the back of the vehicle as the two across from me sat absorbed on their phones – she sporting lanky dark hair and oft-scratched legs, he with a five-o’clock shadow, over-sized shades and much-worn thongs. We finally reached Roma Street, the bus slowing to a halt, and once again the doors fairly burst open as if to express some barely contained rage in reflection of the driver’s own psyche. The mobile couple left and the bus scoots forward again, but only by the length of a bus. Drawing alongside the one just in front of us, the driver again flings those doors open, bellowing as he honks his horn. ‘Drive up to the next bay, you’re not meant to stop there.’ I mentally added ‘you bloody wanker’ to the end, though it was not really said.

    When finally I made it to my stop, I was quite eager to leave. It was quite obvious to anyone with half a sense about them that the driver was in no mood to be at work today, and the contents of the bus still left a lot to be desired too. I quickly fled with a timid ‘Thank you,’ setting foot upon pavement like a sea-sick sail passenger must put foot to dry land. I’d escaped.

    Suddenly I’m drawn into the flow of people, finding myself trying to suppress my own growing sense of annoyance with the day. Before me, 70% of the path is taken up by people moving so slowly that an eager snail could quite easily overtake them. The other 30 was quite full of people coming in the other direction – a sea of fashionistas and self-appointed glamazons, primping and preening as they babbled together about the mundane things that somehow fill their vacant little heads.

    I dipped and weaved – scooting around pensioners and turning to the side to squeeze past business-men in their doubtlessly expensive designer suits. Half-skipping, half-jogging, I make my way towards my target – an optometrist on Edward Street, which contained my darling love. On the way I am assaulted by a sales person, eager to offer the deal of a life-time. ‘Excuse me, what do you usually pay for a hair-cut’ he asks, while shoving a brochure under my nose. After two minutes of polite listening, I make my excuse and say I’ll think about it, backing away with all the care a person might exhibit when they say ‘Listen, we tried all we could… but he won’t make it.’ Turning, once again, I raced down the street. I had somewhere I needed to be.

    Finally I arrive at my destination, consulted with my husband on all things spectacles and picking out what would be the best of the lot – he signs the credit card receipt and we are away. A few bare bites of substandard sushi later, and we make our goodbyes, hugging fondly before he must return to his office of intrigue, I to whatever meandering I might decide to do to fill the rest of this so-far fairly bleak day. The sushi, at least, had made things a touch better – the pickled ginger too. I nabbed $35 from his hand, and we parted ways.

    I’d decided to sketch to fill the afternoon – to find a place somewhere along the Queen Street Mall, and just sketch people as they passed me by. After perusing each free area of seating, the prospect seemed less enjoyable. The people I was passing made the thought not much better either. To the left – a forty-something with a cigarette dangling between her fingers, lifting it a moment later to her already pursed lips, soon to suck on that encapsulation of sweet, sweet nicotine as if somehow it might help her escape for two minutes more from the mundanity of every-day living. To the right, a bunch of thirteen year old girls, all ripely developed for their age and none of them looking as if they’d be out of place in some sort of teenie magazine, displaying themselves, as they were, with such an air of innocence while hiding under twenty-seven layers of foundation, eye-shadow and cherry coloured lip-gloss.

    I persisted, finally finding a seat shaded from the almost-midday glare and lowering myself to its curved wooden surface, when suddenly I hear something just further along the street. ‘Interesting,’ thought I. I looked to my seat, hard-won after so much looking, and almost reluctantly stood to continue further, sketch-book clutched in my hand. A smile tugged at my lips as I passed a stand making balloon animals for eager, sticky-handed children.

    I approached the crowd and dipped between people until I could see who was set up on the stage. A full band, all percussion, a sweet and joyous sound breaking through my self-imposed semi-depression. I couldn’t help it – I smiled. A seat sat clear directly in front of the stage – with care, I picked my way through and sat… then I sketched. Three songs were played, each one seemingly a celebration of life itself, the musicians enthusiastically banging on the instruments with such a primal passion that I could not help it… I was tapping my toe.

    To my right, a young girl danced, bouncing from side to side, exuberant and joyful, moving to the centre in front of the stage before that set was through. ‘That’s it for the first set,’ proclaims the leader of the group at the mic, the mic itself squealing too. ‘We’ll be back in about 30 minutes.’ There were three sets planned, a result of the council’s take on entertainment for children over the break. I sat. I waited. I sketched, and they returned.

    Once again they took up their instruments, playing music incredibly infused with what seemed to me to be the absolute essence of joy, of happiness, of all the things that cry out of the things that go right. Behind the stage, someone tapped their foot, to the side, someone clapped their hands. After the third song, the set was ended. Once again it was announced, ‘That’s all for now, we’ll be back in half an hour, you can buy our cd today for twenty dollars down the front’. I haven’t bought a cd in a very long time, but I picked up that one just then. I sat down again, I sketched and I waited for the third set to start.

    They regained the stage, taking their places once more to sing and play their tunes. Right in the front again I sat, a smile plastered across my face, drawing pictures of happy faces as I tapped my toe and bobbed my head. The third song came, but this time, there was a difference. ‘We love it when people dance,’ says Fatima (by then I knew her name). ‘We love it when they dance, but hardly anyone comes up front. Children, they aren’t ashamed to dance, they have less inhibitions than we seem to. Tell you what. Anyone who comes up to dance in this set gets a free cd. Anyone adult that is – and if you’re wearing a suit, even better! Although we offer this a fair amount, hardly any-one ever actually does.’

    The song starts and a lone girl of five of six bops along to the music on the lip of the stage. A little while passes, and another dancer approaches – this time a mother, it would seem, willing to risk it to get a free cd. A blonde bounces up and lasts about 15 seconds before she starts to duck back towards her place at the sidelines. It’s then that I decided. I stood. Tossing my bag to the edge of the stage, where I could keep an eye on it, I started dancing along too.

    You know that old saying? Sing as if no-one’s listening, dance as if no-one’s watching, and all the rest? I can’t say that I danced as if no-one is watching – I have too many wobbly bits, and I doubt that most of the gathered crowd wanted to see what I might do if no-one was watching at all… but I did dance as if there were only a few people around, instead of hundreds. Another girl bounces over – a gorgeous creature in a dove-grey dress, head topped with a mass of red dreadlocks held in place by an over-sized flower. We smiled at each other as we spun around, trying to urge someone else to join in this exuberant fray. The lady who had left sidled back to the front, and with a laugh, joined us again, bouncing around and flinging her arms skywards to the percussive beats of the marimba band.

    The song ended and I dropped to my seat, certain that a warm blush effused my cheeks as I took a tired breath. Fatima announced that those who had danced could go and grab their cd, but I did not join them. I’d already paid my twenty dollars, and I felt it was quite an investment well made. I danced simply for the joy of dancing, and needed no bribe to bring me forth after someone else had broken the ice. I can’t say that it is something I would do every day, but for today it was just right.

    When they played the next song, I danced then too, along with the red-haired beauty who had come up before. When the final note faded, I knew at least that I could hear them again once I had gotten home, with their cd tucked away carefully inside my bag.

    The crowd dispersed, and I along with them, wandering down the street with a smile still upon my face. I wandered past a stairwell, with a sign at its base – ‘Health Club Plus, Please Go Upstairs’ was written on it in bold green letters. I laughed to myself, quite thinking that it seemed like some sort of health-club initiation – if you’re serious about your health, you’ll mount the stairs… if not, you might as well wander by.

    Finally I made my way over to the state library, plonking down in a chair and reading a children’s book… one of the things that I so love to do when I want to feel a sense of happiness that sometimes otherwise eludes me. Enjoying the way the illustrations captured the essence of each word so neatly typed upon each page, I turned each one until I had read it through. It wasn’t really all that long of a book. I set it back in place and left, noting as I did the schedule of events for the month to come.

    Coming to the place where I must have my lunch, if in the city, I ordered something I had not yet tried – Mo-Po Tofu. ‘That’s not vegetarian,’ said the diminutive Asian woman behind the counter, to which I reply that that is quite fine indeed. I had hopes that this food would eclipse the sushi of earlier, which had left my palate so disappointed. My number was called and I fetched my food, steam curling from the dish, wafting upwards with the delicious scent of savoury. Taking it to an empty table, I have to say, it tasted like a food of the gods. Eating slowly, almost reverentially, I finished the bowl, a deep satisfaction seeming to find its way into every last single inch of me, from top to toe.

    Thus my day was concluded. I came home. And here I sit now, listening to the cd with a goofy grin on my face, thinking of how fun it’s going to be dancing with the cat to it later, while my husband beside me listens and tells me that I’m some sort of crazy lady. You know what? Every now and then, its fun to be a little crazy!

    Just to let you know, the people playing today were Jambezi, a marimba band based on the Sunshine Coast. Check them out!