Beads of sweat trickle in constant stream down the centre of my back as I move into the tram to head home. The doors seal behind me to leave the dry heat and baking tar outside. City pollution can’t linger in this heat – even my eyelashes feel as though they’re melting.
I find a seat towards the back of the tram and plonk beside a young woman. She’s flicking through the pages of a thick book of readings, similar to mine in my bag that I just used to teach in the tutorial. I’m glad to see she’s reading them.
The coolness within the tram grips me and is in stark contrast to the saturation of 40°C (104°F) heat outside. The relief is more than wonderful. As the tram eases away from the stop and we head towards the CBD, I ease into the coolness. My faint reflection in the tram window reveals strands of hair that have fallen from hairpins. They dangle as moist rat’s tails with ends that stick to my neck.
A squeaky scrape over the tracks jars me and I tune into the chuckling speech of two middle-aged women sitting diagonally opposite.
‘I wake him at 7.30,’ says the round-cheeked woman as she nudges into the side of her taller friend. ‘And then I go back at quarter to eight, and then at ten to eight, calling him, Ge-rald,get up!’ She giggles with her friend as a cheeky, little schoolgirl, and catches me watching her. She smiles warmly to welcome my stare, in.
‘Sometimes, mine asks me to wake him at 5.30 so he can get to work early,’ says the tall friend as she heaves a bunch of red curls up from her neck. ‘Stan-ly, it’s time to get up, I call.’
Their giggles grow sassy.
‘Ger-ald, get up, I keep calling,’ sings the round-cheeked woman. ‘And then I finally yell, get in the shower, Gerald! And he does.’
The two are in full laughter and I can’t help but tune in to them. Some passengers attempt to look everywhere but at the two women, while others have growing smiles they tuck into tilted heads. I feel the skin on my cheeks stretch and I realise I’m on the verge of giggling with them. I shuffle in my seat and look out the window at the busyness in the heat haze.
‘Stan-ly, get up, I call,’ says curly haired woman, and I immediately swing back to them. ‘And finally he’s up, sometimes two hours later!’ She drops her head into her friend’s arm and laughs into it.
‘And then after twenty minutes,’ the round-cheeked woman snaps back through her raucousness, ‘I have to yell, Gerald! Get out of the shower.’ The woman squints to furrow her brow, creating tiny, slit-shaped eyes. ‘You’ll be late for work!’
Curly-haired woman lifts her head and laughs hard. She’s barely able to ask her friend, ‘What do you do in the shower for twenty minutes?’
‘Ger-ald!’ mocks her friend.
‘Stan-ly!’ snaps back curly-haired woman.
‘It’s like I have three kids!’ The two laugh in rapturous ripples that come from the depths of their bellies.
I can’t help but laugh with them.
The round-cheeked woman sees me and asks through her cackling, ‘You’ve got one too haven’t you, an extra kid.’
I brush the strap of my dress that’s slipped from my shoulder, back up. I smile and wink at her.
My stop approaches and I stand up to walk to the door, clasping my satchel in hand. They slide open and I step down from the tram back into the heatwave that began ten days ago. My rat’s tails instantly cling to my neck as before but this time, I’m smiling a smile I can’t remove.
I begin to cook through to my middle as I stride a block to the train station. Beads of wet leak from my porous skin, as words that can melt as ink and leak from a page.