Came here for the birds and the beach I did, ended up delivering food on a fookin’ bike. Jamie calls us in the dead of winter, bragging about the heat and all the bikinis and I’m thinking, well, I en’t had a proper job for more than a year and me Mam is getting on me nerves, me still living at home in Durham and that. She’s always hanging about, waving the kettle like it’s a shield, talking about Dad like he’s going to come back and Glen like he didn’t ever get on the gear and take off with all our money. Just me and Mam, the worst pair you’ve ever seen so help me God, sniping at each other, me spending more time at the pub, getting royally shitfaced and more often than not sleeping under the bar. Anyway, it’s one such morning, probably around three and I’m starting to talk pig Latin and good old Gary’s saying it’s probably well time for me to shuffle off then, when the phone beeps and it’s Jamie and lo, he’s by the water surrounded by fit birds in bikinis and if I wasn’t on the floor already my jaw would have well fallen onto it. All that is the long way of saying that you can see how I ended up in Australia.
Jamie’s been over for about a year, plum job in HR, whatever that is. Started on an airbed, now got his own place in Bondi, loads of friends and a coke habit. Stay on my floor, he says, it sounding a more like a threat than an offer, you’ll be on your feet soon. Me, I was trained as a carpenter and a labourer, brawn over brains and all that. It’s good lifting heavy things, keeps you fit, solid employment. Needless to say the entire operation here is stitched up by brutes with no necks or sense of humour and they haven’t forgotten the war or whatever else is up their arse but they’ve got no time for a green Pom turning beetroot in the November sun, no sir.
I haven’t called Mam in weeks, not wanting her to know how bad it’s going, how utterly fookin’ depressing it is to be in this paradise and having to eat microwave rice for dinner because en’t nobody hiring. Charlotte, who’s probably Jamie’s girlfriend on account she shags him more than her other boyfriends, is the only one to take pity on me. We’re drinking beer in the back, this circle of crates near the garage door that Jamie calls a garden but really, it’s just a bloody set of crates that the milkman probably wants back and she says “have you heard of Deliveroo?”.
I tell her no, but it sounds like a proper toss of a name so I’m not interested in whatever it is. But soon she’s all worked up and telling me that honestly it’s mint, that they have it in England too, posh places like London. Basic idea being rich prats order food and you cycle it to them because it’s faster than a car around here, it is. She said her friend Stacey started doing it not long ago and she makes 28 dollars an hour and sometimes tips on top of it all. Well, that gets my attention, it does. Next day I take the 333 to the city office and they give me a bike that’s not half-shite, a big esky box to put on my back and away I go.
To start I’m running food during the day, but any geezer can tell you it’s a damn fool’s errand, what with the temperature being well into the thirties by now and the sweat and grind not worth it even for someone like me used to all that bollocks. So because I’m fast and more people use the app nights, I start working after dark. City plagued with hills so that cooler breeze helps you forget your quads are absolutely shattered. Now, we’re s’posed to stop just before midnight, but cashed-up pricks like Jamie and his mates only start getting belted around then and lord knows every store closes here so early that ordering a pizza delivered by yours truly on two wheels seems like the only way to go. How many times I nearly get killed on Curlewis and Campbell I can’t even tell you, Sydney being so against bike riders they may as well have made a law for it. Those birds Jamie promised me, the fit ones with suntans and beach bodies, now behind the wheels of fookin’ monster truck SUVs that stop in the middle of the street without warning and wouldn’t know an indicator if it bit them on the behind. Few near scrapes but I’m a resolute lad, that’s what Dad always said before he nicked off into the ether, and I get by OK. Before you can say “Duchess of Cambridge”, I’m their star rider. My wage stays solid.
Law says deliveries after 12am are at your own risk, but I love a risk and also riding through Tamarama when there’s no cars on the road and the salt wind in my mouth, you know. It’s Friday night and my last job is close to two, a bunch of kebabs from down near my place. Night is warm and the house is at the top of a hill that would stop a marathon runner’s heart. There’s obviously a party happening, en’t have to be Einstein to figure that one out, and she answers the door drunk and now I am sweating even more than I’m already sweating and I am sweating a lot, chrissakes.
Ask for her name as I give her change for a fifty and she shuts the door in my face and I know I’m in love. Plenty of women I’ve had in my time, on account of my muscles from all the labouring and generally not looking ogre-like, but this is different. Sit down right there on her veranda, music pounding behind me and coloured light coming through the cracks and wondering how is a simple lad from Durham’s supposed to get in there. Lost so deep in thought that when she comes back out an hour later for a ciggy I don’t even notice her until she’s sitting down on the steps beside me, smoke billowing from them movie star lips.
“You’re persistent,” she says, smirking.
“I’m Danny, actually.”
Her face tells me that she has heard this line before. Blow me down if she hasn’t heard every line before, woman like that.
She likes my attitude. Too many boys around here posing as hard men, biceps and shite tattoos, she says. They shave all their body hair off. Look like tan Ken dolls.
“Can I take you out some time,” I’m asking, spite o’ myself, a lowly lad on a bicycle.
“On your bike?” Her voice all velvet and no telling if she’s laughing or not. "Can I ride on the handlebars?"
Stubs out the smoke and gets up to go back inside to her perfect life. Turn around to watch her leave when she stops and sighs, real movie-like.
“I’m Tamara. Tamara Quayle. Find me on Facebook, OK? You can buy me dinner instead of delivering it.”
“I’ll bring the Esky in case we have leftovers,” I’m saying as she shuts the door the second time. But this time she smiles.
Would think life changed when that text was coming from Jamie three years ago in the pub. But it’s Tammy from Tamarama, her real name after all, that turns it right round. Gets me off the bike for good, it being more like exploitation than exercise, she says. Start working for her brother, in construction, like the good old days but knock off in the afternoon to go surfing. Six months in and catching them all professional-like, top of the world. Most beautiful sight you’ll damn near ever see, Tammy barefoot down the steps from our place in a sarong, smiling a million watts as I ride the last one in.
Still like their old employee, Deliveroo do, on account of me being a good rider, so they’re happy to do me the favour. Damn nearly gives me a heart attack pulling it together, trying to keep it a secret from Tammy and Mam, 65, half blind, off her first ever international flight. Takes fookin’ co-ordination and that, nearly a hundred riders and Eskys hiding around the cul-de-sac. Little ninjas wearing aqua.
Dusk coming fast and I say “Tammy, let’s watch the sunset, Mam never seen it like this back home”. Texting the code word on the sly and praying to almighty Jesus they’re ready. Tammy saying “OK but only quick because dinner’s almost ready don’t want to burn it on Mams’ first night here”. Flicking her brown hair, always curly with seawater, moseying to the balcony with no idea and squealing like a baby. Mams up from her chair, always ready in a crisis she is, and the two of them looking down on the street and screaming, a hundred bikes, Eskys and riders spelling out “Marry Me”.