[Red Peaks flag]
Last night was the opening of the world cup (rugby I think). This of course was a complete nonevent for me, the anti-fan. I couldn’t think of anything worse than watching men the size of ants run around and touch each other. It was hegemonic masculinity at its most extreme, and caused my eyes to glaze over at its slightest mention. Stepping on to the bus, however, I thought that I might be the only person in Auckland who felt that way.
Normally a quiet commute, the 7.15 am bus was full. There was the unmistakable waft of bourbon breath in the air and multiple sports fans in various stages of sobriety. Nestled amongst them were some sympathetic workers who appeared to have stayed up late too, but had managed to pull it together in time for their Saturday shifts.
“Clear off, make way!” slurred a loud, red woman from the back of the bus as I squeezed my way in.
A few of those seated around her rolled their eyes, and rubbed at their temples. Glances were exchanged; eyebrows were raised in disapproval. Clearly the woman was a more than a few drinks in and the effects hadn’t worn off with the morning sun. She was clad in gold and green, a novelty wig flattened beneath her sandaled foot.
I kicked aside an empty can of Cody’s and wedged my back pack securely between my ankles, not thrilled by the possibility of it sliding down the beer-soaked aisle. Next to my feet was an army green Che Guevara satchel with two pins attached to the strap. The first I recognised as the ‘Red Peak’ flag design, and the other stated ‘NO TPPA’ in bold black on white.
“It’s all a distraction tactic, but I like the design anyway.”
I looked up, surprised to see that the owner of the bag was a pretty girl, about my age. Despite her sweet-looking face she showed some marks of rebellion. She wore a small black ear stretcher and had dreadlocks scattered around her head at random intervals, two of which I could see stemming from the back of her neck.
“I like that one, too,” I said, trying to recall some Facebook article I had read about the cover-up conspiracy.
“It’s all a bit convenient, don’t you think?”
I nodded loosely in response.
“I mean, total smokescreen. We’re all here complaining about the cost of the thing and giggling about a fucking laser-eyed kiwi while the Trans Pacific Partnership is being negotiated. Idiots.”
I couldn’t entirely keep up with the tirade. This was the kind of conversation that I wished I had something to contribute to, but the girl was completely city-side: the sort of politically aware, fringe personality I could only dream of being. I bet she actually attended Greenpeace protests and didn’t just like their pages on Facebook.
“But the Red Peak flag,” she continued, “that’s different. Power to the people and all that. If they’re going to change it, then it should be to something that we’ve designed - not something they chose back in 2013. Democratic process my ass.”
“Already chose?” I asked unintelligently: politics and sports, two lobes of my brain that had never developed.
“Yeah! One of the flags was shown in some Vietnamese hotel years ago.”
“Really? That’s pretty weird,” I said. I didn’t entirely trust the information, but I couldn’t help admiring the confidence with which it was being expressed.
“It was one of the ugliest ones, too,” she said matter-of-factly, arms folded across her chest.
“I really don’t like the red and blue one, you know, with the fern?” I was relieved to have at least seen the final designs.
“That’s the one they had up! I bet they’ve chosen it already but I’ve still signed the petition for Red Peak. Some of my classmates want to start a march. You should come!”
I nodded my head in what I hoped was a convincing way.
“Sure, I mean if they are going to change it at all, I would hope it would be to that one. The rest look like …” I suddenly paused, aware of the people I was surrounded by and who I might offend.
“Sports Paraphernalia, I know,” she said in a low, conspiratorial tone.
“Exactly.” We shared a smile, recognizing ourselves as the only two people on the bus, maybe even in the entire country, who hated sports.
Glancing around to see if any of the face-painted, jersey-wearing patrons had heard us, I noticed that the crowd had thinned. Many of those who had been swaying from the hand rails or dozing on the seats in front had made their way home, presumably to sleep it off. All who were left were a couple of retail assistants I recognized, the red woman, the semi-political activist and myself.
Despite the fact the many seats were now available, the red woman remained standing. Her legs were set wide, bracing her large body against the constant braking of the bus. She muttered to herself, then laughed abruptly, startling the other passengers. I caught eyes with a cute guy from Dick Smiths. Our respective stores were next to each other and occasionally we would smile in acknowledgment as we waited for the shop doors to open each Saturday morning.
“Are you girls talking about the flag?” he said shyly, leaning across the aisle.
I looked towards my neighbor who was nodding enthusiastically, her eyes lighting up at the prospect of someone new to inform.
“It’s a great Idea, I think," Dick Smith stated. “Our flag looks too much like the Aussies’!”
I opened my mouth to agree but was cut off by a strange strangled sound emanating from the back of the bus. Turning around I saw that it had come from the red woman, whose hand was now clutched to her chest in a display of patriotism.
Proudly and defiantly, she began singing the Australian anthem. It started loud, yet somehow continued to build until she was hollering the words with all the slurred conviction she could muster. She began making her way down the rows, wrapping her swollen fingers around the edge of each seat, one heavy foot fall after another. Some tensed in their seats anticipating disaster, others put in their head phones and focused their attention on their portable devices.
Making it to the row opposite ours without incident, she began spluttering ‘Waltzing Matilda’ into the face of Dick Smith, who could only shield himself from the spray. I sat completely still, mouth open and slightly frightened while my neighbor rocked with laughter in the seat next to me.
Suddenly traffic came to abrupt halt, sending the woman flying towards the front of the bus.
Drunk enough and suitably padded, she managed to relax into the fall and lay splayed between the seats. The driver’s eyes flicked to his rear vision mirror at the sound, and seeing what would have looked like some kind of overturned beetle flailing its legs, pulled over and moved unenthusiastically to her aid. Those seated nearby offered some help and attempted to haul her from the narrow passageway in which we was now wedged, legs in the air.
Once she had clambered her way up, unharmed but embarrassed, the collective silence turned to hushed sniggering and eventually broke into loud fits of laughter.
“Have a good laugh, why don’t you?” the red woman huffed and swayed, flicking her wrists in the direction of the crowd. “Go on, go on! Laugh it up!”
Even redder than before, she plonked herself down in the nearest seat and the bus resumed its service. She continued to curse and mutter until her head lulled and her heavy breathing became an obnoxious snore.
As the atmosphere in the bus calmed and the sense of community that had developed began to dissipate, all the remaining passengers returned to their own business.
Still chuckling softly, however, my neighbor turned to me and whispered: “Now THAT was something I could watch.”
It didn’t think it had been an experience I particularly wanted to repeat, but I had to agree with her. It had been much more entertaining than a rugby game.
© Rochelle Gosling
[Rugby World Cup 2015]