On the last days of winter, Canberra blooms with the yellow of wattle and the pink and white of cherry blossoms. Public servants and consultants dressed in black scuttle past having bought their morning coffees and now heading off to work. I sit in a Max Brenner drinking thick hot chocolate to ward off the chill before driving home to my own distant office.
I have met my team for the first time in at least five years, members flying up from Melbourne, down from Brisbane and driving, like me, from Sydney to visit the largest group of us in Canberra. It is good to see some again and meet others for the first time.
The drive from Sydney is mostly unremarkable, traffic thinning out as I leave the city. My only stop is by Lake George, to briefly marvel at the flat fullness of the water before continuing on. I could have flown, but travel policy means taking the cheapest fares and that is on a Link Airways Saab 340 turboprop. If I was to fly I want a little luxury and not run the risk of raising fears for my upcoming flights to Korea.
Past the wattles, the rows of cherry trees, in contrast to the brown and grey bareness of the other deciduous plantings of this planned city. I turn into our offices opposite the university I studied most of my degree at.
It is an enjoyable day, talking work, exploring the engineering behind a modern lab building and watching a bushfire experiment in a custom built wind tunnel.
When I drop my colleagues at our hotel I discover that there are no carparks available there and the others are all four hour maximum stays. I have to park near the top of the Canberra Centre, a dollar cheaper than the hotel, but a twenty minute walk away. I pass them heading out for dinner as I walk back to check in and drop off my things.
Dinner is at Akiba, a sixty dollar per head tasting menu that is interesting but not entirely to my liking. It’s loud, making conversation a bit difficult, and I am tired. Yet when I return to my hotel room I struggle to sleep, then wake up too early.
By the end of the second day I can barely keep my eyes open. It is fortunate that we end early in order to take the interstate visitors to their flights home. It’s raining outside and when Alex calls me, having had to come home alone, he tells me there is a loud storm over our house. Once again I am thankful that I did not choose to fly.
I drive back to the Canberra Centre and park, taking the time to wander through the shops, buy some Lego omiyage for the rest of the family at home, dream of an Apple computer. Though it is still early I decide to eat dinner and save myself a later walk. Pappa Rich has $10 nasi lemak meals to celebrate Malaysian independence day. It’s nice, their satay is okay, but their hot Milo is a pissweak disappointment.
Back at the hotel I relax in a way I cannot do at home. I switch on the television, watch Hard Quiz, watch the latest episode of Ahsoka on my iPad, do some language practice, some slow kata. Shower, relax, go to bed early. But while brushing my teeth I see myself in the fogged up mirror. My eye colours are inverted, glowing yellow dots surrounded by black rings and a white annulus. A poorly rotoscoped image of a possession.
Although I cannot sleep in, I get up late, read a chapter of a book, snuggle in bed and take my time. My only breakfast is that hot chocolate, then it is time to return to the car for the drive home.
The traffic is not bad on the highway, not so many idiots at this time of day. I think about taking my time and stopping along the way, but I do want to get home.
When I reach our house there are tradesmen installing the shower screen glass and a mirror that is hopefully free of possession. There are doors to repaint and a son who is desperate to finish building a catapult for a school project. Should I go early to karate to help? No, kid needs help at home. Life is back to normal after another too-short break.
The blossoms are already wilting.