CONTENT WARNING: MENTIONS OF SELF-HARM, MENTAL HEALTH
Night jasmine blooms along the Redfern run, Alan tells me. It’s that crisp, honey-like scent that hangs in the air and doesn’t go away.
I notice it then—an acute cloying fragrance, strange and tart. We hurry across the intersection before the light goes red. I recognise it, I tell Alan. What does night jasmine look like? Where does it grow?
I’ll point it out to you next time, he says.
The year is a strange one. I do a strange job, labouring away on a weekly newspaper with nine others. We haunt the airless hallways of the SRC until unholy hours of the night. I catch the N40 Nightrider every Sunday, spend time laughing on a cake-stained carpet, hear the team’s small stories and begin to tell my own too. We have evening meetings on Mondays and Thursdays, and after they end, Alan and I walk through the fire escape and down towards Redfern Station. Bob joins us often too, playing lo-fi music in the rain, and Jess comes along when she’s not catching the bus. Sometimes, the scent of night jasmine follows us along Lawson Street and right up to Redfern Station, dissipating only after we’ve tapped on with our Opal cards and entered the station gates.
This year I think often of the sky when I was nineteen, oddly brighter and wilder and wider. I didn’t cut myself for a full seven months, then. Three years have passed since, and now bright pink keloids mar my chest and upper arm. During summer, I feel more deeply mired in shame than I ever did during high school. I scroll through old selfies and Snapchat stories and feel sad that I have ruined that girl.
In autumn, I tell the doctor, I’d like to make a mental health plan, if that’s okay? She sighs and tells me I smile so much and asks me what could possibly be wrong.
I feel like the worst possible version of myself, I type into my Memo app. Amelia sends me a poem called You Up? by Rachelle Toarmino. It makes me smile when I read it under the desk at work. “Why are people who love each other still sending each other heart emojis when there’s the shooting star emoji?”
I graduate in spring, before the jacarandas bloom. I spend the ceremony quietly worrying that none of my friends will come, but smile in immense relief when I exit the Great Hall to see Joe and Liam waiting with tulips. My living room smells of flowers for the next fortnight.
I walk to Redfern alone one time, early one Monday morning after a long night of layup. I’m catching the 4.45 train to Wolli Creek, where I switch to the T8 line. I disembark at my station to see the sky lightening against the dark of the overhead wires. It’s five-something and the mouth of the sky is beginning to blue, yawning watery light over still-sleeping streets. The muted sun stains my hands with scales of dull light. Wind singes my cheek like a punch as the train pulls away.
God I’m tired, but we have a meeting at night. An ibis guards the station exit, and dew stars the grass along the footpath. I won’t bother showering, I decide. I’ll hit the bed the moment I get home. I’ll set an alarm for 2pm and force myself not to snooze it. I’ll go to the meeting and then to dinner with my team, and listen to more of their small, lovely stories. Maybe Nell will bring chocolate scruffles. Maybe Carrie will retell the tale of the time she was in a coma.
There are only a few weeks left. Only a handful of walks to Redfern Station to make with Alan and Bob and Jess. The end of this job will be the end of uni for me. The Unibros chips that Pranay brings to meetings will be some of my last meals on campus.
Our term will finish at the end of November, on the very cusp of summer. The weather will be warm and I’ll be self-conscious about short sleeves again. I hope Alan and I get to walk to the station together after our last ever meeting. Perhaps the night jasmine will be blooming then, staining the air with its acidic scent. I’ll try and remember to ask him what the flowers look like and where they grow. Perhaps at long last, he’ll point them out for me—and I can tie that thread up in my heart. And then I will catch my train, and leave them behind for the last time.