On my way to work, lost in my own thoughts as whatever latest new release â or, at my age, new rerelease â was blaring through my headphones, I was about to step over the threshold into the foyer of my building when I was startled back to attention by a solid CRACK!
It must have been loud: coming from the other side of the noise-cancelling headphones with sufficient un-cancelled noise to more than merely cut through the music, it made me jump as well.
I looked around, no idea what I expected to see. The glass awning over the doorway was still intact, and although I still picture it vibrating, as I type this, from some kind of impact, that's my memory playing tricks.
What I do remember is gazing up at surrounding buildings and seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
Again, no idea what Iâd expected, but there were no rifles laying idle against railings while a sniper's last silhouetted elbow disappeared behind an air vent; no slingshot-bearing kids smirking at the sight of the fat bastard shitting himself as a result of their prank; nothing.
But in that moment, my mind unearthed a sudden, shuddering recollection of an event, long since buried:
I must have been in Year 6 - so, about 12 - making my way from my classroom past the main school building to the art block with two other boys. I donât know who was in front, but I was definitely behind, and dancing around like a fool (the sort of thing I did as a kid) when Iâ¦ well, at the time, I thought... I heard the snap of solid twig underfoot, the solid CRACK that means youâve stepped on a piece of fallen branch, or the more painful thing you often mistake for stepping on a piece of fallen branch, twisted your ankle. I was certain it was the former because there wasn't any of the intense pain that accompanies the latter.
Not for me, anyway.
One of the other guys ahead let out a roar and clutched his right should with his left hand. Turns out there was no twig snapping or ankle twisting. It was an air rifle. Apparently.
I was still dancing around like a fool, but more purposefully, slowing down a little and moving in closer. The kid neither clutching his back and roaring, nor dancing around foolishly, said, âDid you hear that? Heâs been shot.â
Now I'll be honest, this friend was prone to melodrama. One time, another mate was upset and was crying a lot. No idea why. We were kids. Some kids are a bit sookier than others and go to water easily. But mister 'did you hear that he's been shot' described it, when we went to tell Mrs Tobin, the Head of Primary, our concern for our mate who couldn't stop blubbering, as "he's having a nervous breakdown!"
"He's just having a bad day," Mrs Tobin explained. Or, you know, had lost his pocket money, hadn't done his homework, was busted doing something embarrassing, something earth shattering like that. So I thought the 'smoking gun' theory was a little dubious. But then I noticed the... 'victim', if you will... writhing in pain, hand still at shoulder trying to locate and remove the source. He couldn't quite reach the epicentre, however, visible in the form of a tiny hole in his white school shirt, bruised skin visible through it, broken in an incomplete circle that had started to spot with blood.
Just back-da-f*ck-up, right?
You thought I was making this up. Youâd definitely know if thereâd been a high school massacre in my local, personal history. Iâd have spoken of it before now.
There wasnât one.
Not in Australia, in New South Wales, in a suburban school in Sydneyâs Northern Beaches.
There wasnât some chick leaning out her window, taking potshots at kids in a playground cos she didnât like Mondays and needed to liven up her - and our - day.
But someone did lean out a window and take a shot.
âOne of the guys in my brotherâs year brought his air rifle to school,â the non-victim said. I looked up to the classroom window that would best correspond to 'book depository' and noticed a bunch of guys from his brother's year. Looking down at us. Two of them caught my school bus home each afternoon. One of them disappeared from the window and materialised before us faster than any laws of physics should have allowed. Turns out, he was the one who'd brought the air rifle. Why, I've no idea. But I knew him well. Knew his family. He was in the school band, like me. Foolish fat clown of a kid, also like me. Only, older; fatter; more of a clown - not that there was any correlation, necessarily.
âThey took it out of my bag,â he said, not explaining who 'they' were, why theyâd 'take' it of his school bag, or why, indeed, 'it' was in there and at school in the first place - without ever naming 'it' for the air rifle it was.
Who brings an air rifle to school?
It was the age before lockdowns and massacres and he not only brought an air rifle to school, people had fondled and caressed it before class. And, between classes, while waiting for the next teacher to replace the one who had just departed, theyâd taken it out again to fondle and caress it some more. For some reason, someone had seen some kids walking past in the playground below and decided to fire a shot at them.
Good thing it was only an air rifle. Clearly, the victim was going to live. By the time heâd been helped to sick bay, me and the other guy were babbling our version of events to Mrs Tobin.
"...and someone took it out of his bag..." we said, repeating his story.
Turned out, that was a lie. The foolish fat clown of a kid who'd brought the air rifle to school had indeed been the one to take it and fire it between classes. What had he been thinking?
We never thought to ask him. Rather, the more popular question, after he'd returned from his suspension (yes, they'd let him back) was how had his folks reacted? His reply was to mime a bunch of slow-motion punches to his own head, accompanied by explosive sound effects. I suppose enough time had passed for black eyes, swollen lips and other lumps and bumps to have subsided over his period of suspension. I wonder, though, if my father were the time to punch me in the head for misbehaviour/discharging a firearm/social embarrassment, perhaps I'd also be wont to carry a weapon to school.
He'd had to go to the victimâs house and apologise to the parents. âHis dad and my dad used to run a petrol station," he explained. "In Mittagong.â No idea why the location of the business partnership was pertinent. Mittagong was a town we always seemed to pass through on the way back from a school excursion that involved sleep over in Canberra or Hill End or Goulburn. As I got older, I learned to recognise it as a 'nearly home' long distance journey marker, but I've no idea if it was ever a mitigating - or Mittagonging - factor in this incident.
Even then, however, I thought it incongruous to aim a gun at a guy youâd virtually grown up with. A guy whose dad was your own dad's colleague for a significant period of time
What struck me at that point, some 30-odd years after the event, was a disturbing realisation. Bringing up the rear and dancing around like a fool... not having a father who'd been in business with his father in a servo in Mittagong... not having a brother in his year... It was most likely me that'd been the intended target! Somehow I'd - ahem - dodged the pellet.
But I'll never got the chance to ask the foolish fat clown why Iâd been chosen. I never saw him again. School holidays soon followed the event and his subsequent suspension and return. And when classes resumed, neither the air rifle nor its foolish owner were to be seen at the school.
But it wasn't the air rifle that had gotten him expelled.
According to rumour - very strong rumour - it was an incident involving his fatherâs car. Taken for a spin. Spotted by cops. Who gave chase. And called for back-up. Who lay in wait down the street. Where he proceeded to sideswipe their car.
Idiot. I bet even the cops punched him in the head for that one.
All of this came flooding back as I looked around to see what had struck the awning hard enough to jolt me from my reverie.
No nasty boy, nor fatter more foolish one hanging from windows or on rooftops.
What it was, I discovered, was a rainbow lorikeet. It must have flown full pelt into the glass awning, or an upper storey window, with a great deal of force because it not only produced a loud CRACK, it had bounced back to the ground quite a few metres away from the door. There it lay, head, body, wings and feet arranged in quite an uncomfortable looking manner. I was certain it was dead, until it looked up at me with glazed eyes, limp neck, weak squawk. (Merely resting; it had been stunned; etc.)
It was certainly scared.
What should I do, I wondered. Snap its neck and toss it in the bin? Would I be doing it a favour? Not likely. But even if Iâd wanted to, it had the good sense to scamper out of reach as best it could, under the big paper bin next to the doorway of our building.
âStrange thing just happened,â I announced to my colleagues as I entered the office, explaining about the bird. âIâve no idea what to do.â
âMaybe call WIRES?â one of them helpfully suggested.
âI will,â our lovely office manager offered.
âWIRES says, theyâll tend to be stunned for a while after theyâve flown into a window,â she told me a little while after, having made the call. âIf you leave them, when theyâve recovered, they fly away.â
âMaybe I should go down and checkâ¦?â I offered half-heartedly.
But sheâd anticipated me. âI have. Itâs gone.â
Later on I went for a walk to grab a coffee. Straight away, there was no mistaking it, next to the paper bin: cartilage attached to a couple of bones and some tail feathers of what was once the rainbow lorikeet.
So what was with the whole "WIRES says it'll fly away, I've checked, it's gone" routine, you're wondering.
I've given it some thought and I can only assume:
The office manager ate it.