Friday Night River (1) – A Magpie Tide

Friday arvo
with Magpies
by the river. 

Often on a Tuesday afternoon I park my car just outside the Kevin Bartlett Reserve in Richmond. Over the last month I have noticed that when I pull up to my usual parking bay there is always a white vehicle here… in my spot.

There is also a man, the same man each week. He stands leaning against the verge side of this car doing what seems to be very little – he draws upon a cigarette, it dangles precariously from the very edges of his lips, whilst looking out into the middle distance. I guess in thinking that he is contemplating things. Usually, he pays me a brief sideways glance before retreating inwards again.

I have not paid him much attention either, other than noticing the irony of us both having a parallel commitment to time and place. I have sensed that a curious, lingering gaze may be intrusive. So, I keep to myself and usually scurry off, over the road to join the riverside path. It is filled with an endless stream of Melbournian’s out for exercise and lockdown escapism.

I am here again today with the same routine. However, it is a Friday, and not a Tuesday, and I am later than usual. There is no white vehicle and no man standing beside it.

I get out of my car and walk around to the passenger side door to remove my heavy over-puffed winter jacket, to sort my car keys and to organise my earbuds. I want to run a solid distance upstream before it gets too dark. I have to detach from all the other stuff that is pedalling away in the back recesses of my mind so it takes a little time and a good drop of procrastination.

I turn back from my car so as to shut the door and in doing so, I gaze downwards to the grassy strip. There, right beneath my feet stand a swathe of magpies looking up at me; a flurry of little baby ones with still soft, tawny coloured feathers and creamy yellow beaks gaping, wide open, expectant.

They are flanked by larger, mature birds, decked out in their black and white regalia, they are friendly, inquisitive and guiding. Together, they chorale loopy, chirpy, warbling noises. I am caught by surprise when I suddenly realise that they are there to greet me.

The sight of this welcoming magpie tide is warm and delightful – it stops me in my tracks and I have to pause to take in the scene before me. I have to watch the magpies watching me.

Eventually, I turn back to scrounge about the footwells of my car hoping to find a remnant crust, or sandwich, but there is nothing more than empty coffee cup dribbles, a half eaten Cherry Ripe and a few fractured musk sticks, rock hard beneath the floor mat. I feel the need to give them something, whilst knowing that I probably should not.

And I am feeble in my attempt to connect, “Hello Maggies” I suggest. I notice the soft fall of shadows descending. I am no Dr Doolittle, nor am I the contemplative man in the white car.

I finally nudge the car door shut. I implant the earbuds, pocket my key and take off over the road to where I join the path and the rolling stream of fellow Melbournians parading along our meandering river.

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