A quest for peace and quiet

The ephemeral swish of trees, cars, and compressed air from the doors of the bus breaks the silence, but within the cacophony of noises, it’s still quiet.

Art by Ella Thomas

It’s a regular Tuesday afternoon. The sun is blazing away, a stark contrast from what felt like a year of perpetual rain, courtesy of her majesty La Niña.

I’m on my way back home from uni. The trusty 440 is my steed of choice today. I look around me at the other passengers, all completely absorbed in their own worlds. AirPods in, faces to the window. It seems strange that all these people can sit in such proximity to one another in complete silence.

The ephemeral swish of trees, cars, and compressed air from the doors of the bus breaks the silence, but within the cacophony of noises, it’s still quiet. For most, including myself, this is a rare moment of personal solitude. In a world constantly harangued by incessant pings, buzzes, and brief flashes of meaningless conversations, the repetitive shuddering moan of the engine is balm to my overstimulated brain.

Noise seems to rule our lives. TikTok is only a swipe away from infinite hours of sped up B-list pop songs, and Spotify seems to have the world in its grasp. In a world full of sound, where can we find a bit of peace and quiet?

I find myself constantly in pursuit of this, somewhere where I can sit back, cold beverage in hand, and survey my surroundings completely by myself. No planes going overhead, no knocking on my door from my housemates asking me how to remove the washing machine filter. Despite my  noise canceling headphones, I can’t ever seem to  escape the constant noise of the world.

As our pursuit for silence pushes us further away from the city, I think back to the moments where I think I’ve found true peace — camping in rural NSW, with no noise but the steady sizzle of a snag on the portable gas stove, sleeping bag zipped all the way up to my chin, Dad snoring on the other side of the tent. I remember late-night dunny dashes marked by the tentative unzipping of the tent, fearing I’ll alert the rest of the campsite to my nocturnal ablutions.

The bus makes its way up Parramatta road. I bask in the momentary quiet I’ve managed to snatch from the hands of the city. As the blur of faded shop fronts continue, I shut my eyes and allow the sounds to blend into white noise; is this as close as I can get to peace and quiet?

The stillness of those camping nights seemed to extend forever. I wish it could stretch as far as the city, but that would be asking too much — something will always alert you to the fact that you share this space with millions of bustling bodies.

The 440 reaches my stop, and I’m quickly whisked off the silence of the bus back into a world of sound. As I walk back home, I take a minute for the squawk of the magpies and the sound of heated conversation, as the mechanics argue about the price of spark plugs next door.

The clang of the front gate echoes behind me as I go inside. Tony Soprano’s voice fills the living room. I lie on my bed trying to muster up the courage to open Canvas, but I notice a local pigeon cooing next to my window. The extractor fan is on in the kitchen and dinner is on its way. All these small sounds make up a rich tapestry. I feel happy and at home as the gentle hum of the dehumidifier lulls me asleep.

The rousing tinkle of the “By the seaside” alarm fills my room. My ears prick up, and back to the real world we go.

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