A few months ago, I submitted a two-line story about a nice thing someone did for me for one of the Kaldor Public Arts Projects in Sydney. I received an email two weeks ago saying my little story had been selected along with a few hundred others to be part of the project, officially called Acts of Kindness. The artist, Michael Landy, depicted the stories on puzzle pieces attached to street poles around the CBD — a version of the completed puzzle stands in the middle of Martin Place.
I scrolled through the pages of tales selected. Some were the generic “I helped an old lady cross the street” kind. Others were startlingly poignant, such as the stranger who stopped to hug a woman deep in the throes of depression and another who talked to a woman who’d just lost a child.
Brendan and I went on the hunt for my story the following Saturday. It took us a bit, but we finally located it on a pole outside the AMP building. My story, which is the
third fourth one down here, wasn’t one of the poignant ones, yet it held a significance to me not only for the kind act by a stranger, but also for the fact it occurred just hours before Brendan and I met for the very first time, on Feb. 6, 2010.
That afternoon, I drove to Bondi Beach with Brendan so he could take a surf lesson I’d bought him for his birthday in May. I planned to sit on the beach alone, but when his group of five surfers appeared in their wetsuits, I noticed one of their girlfriends was not surfing with them. Brendan summoned me along to sit on the beach and watch.
I said hi to the girl and told her my name. She was pretty, with long brown hair and kind eyes. She smiled and warned her English wasn’t very good.
I followed the group along and prepared to sit on the sand. The girl spread out her blanket and offered me a space next to her. I had trouble thinking of how to communicate with her given our language barrier. We sort of just smiled and watched the boys and their instructor, laughing at their first attempts to stand up on their boards once in the water. I had on jeans and a denim jacket, but the girl was in shorts and a T-shirt. She kept wrapping her arms around herself. The wind whipped our hair around our heads and I dug my toes into the sand to keep warm. The girl started shivering.
“It’s cold,” I said, rubbing my shoulders for emphasis. I pointed to the pavilion. “Would you like to go up there where it’s warmer?”
She nodded furiously and we walked up the beach to a slightly warmer cafe table. “Do you want coffee?” I asked, motioning like I was drinking. She nodded. I ordered her a cappucino and resumed my seat, a little uncomfortable still about how exactly we’d carry on the afternoon with the communication barrier.
Somehow, with a mixture of hand gestures, smiles and some English, we did pretty well. I finally got her name — Fabiana. She was in Sydney studying English. She thought it very expensive here. “One real equals 50 cents,” she explained in quite clear English. “We stay at the Backpackers, and it costs us $70 in real.”
She was traveling for the next week and then would return to her studies. She wasn’t sure if she’d return to Brazil after. We both laughed as she explained how she hadn’t found good Brazilian food in Australia and her attempts to recreate it at home were failing — she couldn’t cook. After she had drained her coffee cup, she asked, “Where do I pay?” “It’s OK,” I said waving it off. “No,” she said, looking bewildered. “It’s fine,” I said smiling. “No worries.”
We noticed the boys out of the water so we walked back down the beach to greet them. I caught up with Brendan and Fabiana walked with her boyfriend. I waited outside the surf shop as everyone got changed. I popped back in as Fabiana’s boyfriend and friends were leaving. “It was nice to meet you,” I said.
With a gleaming grin, she moved in for a hug. It wasn’t a loose hug, one of those obligatory ones you give relatives you don’t really like. She held tight and lingered for a few seconds.
“Thank you,” she said, still beaming, as she released me and floated out the door.