Chasin’?

I must have looked out of place. I must have looked like a tourist, looking around with too much curiosity. Yesterday afternoon I was in Springvale, a long way from my usual neighbourhood. I was approaching the bus stop for Nunawading, walking slowly towards it, looking up at the funky (and not quite working) electronic sign saying when the bus was due. A nondescript man listening to a walkman was walking slowly past, staring at me. I ignored him and kept walking, and stood, waiting at the bus stop.

A voice behind me muttered something. I looked around to see the nondescript man had sauntered past me again. Nobody else could have said it.  He had said it like some of the announcements you hear on public transport – so indistinct you can only understand it if you already know what has been said. In the period while my brain was interpreting what it was, and its possible meanings, I almost said "What?" back. Then I worked it out. He’d said "Chasin’?"

Ask a Melburnian, and he or she will tell you that there are two Springvale clichรƒยฉs: Vietnamese people and shops (many of which I could see on the street around me) and heroin dealers. I had just encountered one of the latter.

I had heard that "Chasin’?" is what they say.Chasing the dragon. In fact a friend of a friend (I don’t even remember which friend) whose name is Jason, told the story of walking down a street somewhere, and being asked in a similarly indistinct way, "You chasin’?" He thought he’d been asked "You Jason?", so he replied, in a loud steady voice "Yes, I’m Jason". And for a minute there was much confusion.

I looked at the nondescript man. He had walked on a few metres, then looked around, avoiding my gaze, as if to surreptitiously work out if I was interested. I looked away. He turned and kept on walking away.

While I waited a few more minutes for the bus, I saw him stroll back again, ignoring me this time. He’d given all the signs he would give. The bus arrived, I boarded, and as it drove away, I saw him coming back down the street again.

It’s probably happened to me half a dozen times but I never noticed it before.

Later in the day on a tram I saw a woman (with a baby) who was the spitting image of a girl I had a crush on in high school. It brought memories flooding back. Now I wish I’d had the courage to go up and ask if it was her.

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