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Sunset on the M4

Take a trip down the roads of South-West Sydney

Artwork: Eloise Myatt Artwork: Eloise Myatt

M4

Look.

There is the sun, see, setting over the M4.

Look at that pink, how it spills over the sky like strawberry milk—

Look at the amber seam of the pocket where highway meets horizon,

into which the sun slips, lower and lower.

And then there is you. You in your black Mazda, trundling down the road at a safe 90km/h with Hope 103.2 playing from the speakers. You are enraptured by the sky, wishing that Hao were here so he could take out his phone and capture this moment for you—those strips of glowing light low on the horizon.

You don’t realise you have drifted into the next lane until a car behind you blasts its horn, rousing you from your thoughts. You swerve back into your own lane. The other car speeds past you, into the distance.

Your heart thuds. You wonder what Hao would say if he were with you.

Parramatta’s towers rise up before you, serrated outlines against the sunset. They shine.

Hume Highway

There is Chan’s seafood restaurant, rising out of the dark. There is the Jolly Knight Motel, its sign garishly bright amidst the stretch of suburban houses. There is the Italian restaurant that is covered in fairy lights, the word Ristorante lit up in neon.

You remember a story Hao told you, once.

“Until I hit high school, I thought restaurant was spelt ristorante,” he’d said. “And it was ‘cause we always drove past the sign for that Italian place on the way to school. I was so confused when my teachers marked me wrong… But I kept thinking nah, they’re the ones who can’t spell, not me.”

Before you got your reds, Hao was always the one driving you home. The two of you would be in his white Toyota Camry, which always seemed to smell of fries. Last time, he took you to the drive thru at Maccas Liverpool South for a midnight snack. You accidentally left a half-open packet of sweet and sour sauce in his glovebox to congeal.

“Notice how I brake?” Hao had said that night, whilst approaching a red light. You had been sitting in the passenger seat, eating a melting soft serve off a plastic lid. “Notice how I leave myself enough time and space to slow down and come to a gradual stop? Did you feel that stop?”

“No,” you’d said reluctantly.

“My point exactly.”

Without Hao, the drive is calmer. You enjoy the quiet, and the lights, and the night.

The traffic lights coming up before you turn orange. You squeeze your foot down on the brake…just a little…a little more… now all the way down—

The car stops, and you jerk forward in your seat.

Camden Valley Way

It is raining. Your nails dig into the steering wheel until the stubs of your fingers feel raw. The inside of your car is fogging up and the windscreen wipers are going as fast as they are able. You can only sort of see.

Through the rain, your car slips sleek as butter down the hill towards Crossroads and Red Rooster. The taillights of the vehicle before you glow red and you slow down, stuttering to a stop and indicating right for Beech Road. You adjust the speed of the windscreen wipers and watch as the window clears, then dots with rain, then clears, then dots with rain again. Briefly, you marvel at the dark sky, all crowded with clouds.

Hao lives near here. When you got your reds after five years of putting off the test, you started doing most of the driving. Repayment, you’d said, for your two years of good service. You’ve taken him home via this route countless times.

Lightning flashes in the sky like a beacon. The lights change and you start forward, curving in a smooth arc onto the next road.

Punchbowl Road

Things Hao used to say to you when you were driving:

      Oh my God, did you just hit the curb?

      Are you serious? Did you not see that the light was red?

      Brake now!

      Not bad, not bad. You didn’t almost cause an accident today.

Things you do miss:

      The smell of fries in the car

      Singing along to Stan Walker

      The Great Debate: Livo South vs Moorebank Maccas

      Free entry to Costco Casula

The sky is pink. It’s another sunset, and this time you are watching it from the bridge on Punchbowl Road.

You used to work in a restaurant just off the next intersection. Hao would drop by sometimes, to see you and to try the shisha. You couldn’t drive yet then, so he would hang around and take you home afterwards.

You don’t work there anymore. And now, at last, you can drive.

The sky is a marvel, all orange light and flushed rosy clouds. You think of all the routes you know by heart now, the highways that no longer frighten you. This familiar slant of sun through the windscreen, dappling your hands.

Everything is warm.

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