Most of the time I move through life encountering the usual sorts of things: queues, washing up, email checking, walking to the bus stop. Sometimes moments of strangeness or difference appear. Whenever they do I get the feeling that this is the kind of thing that happens to me in particular, although this is surely not the case. But there are particular stories that those who know me identify as Vanessa stories. This is one of them.
I was on a train going over the Harbour Bridge. The train continued on to Wyong but I was only going to St Leonards. I was thankful for the crisp air conditioning, and could feel the blush of heat dissipating from my cheeks. Behind me a woman was conducting a phone conversation in which she was reporting on the health of a friend or family member. “She’d just had the gastric band so we only had to buy one serving and we shared it.” I looked forward to the time when the train would go into the tunnel after North Sydney station and her phone would drop out. There’s a black hole in reception at that point and every time I’ve caught the train through it, someone seems to not know this, and has their call drop out. This time I regarded it as punishment for inflicting tales of gastric banding on me.
As the train approached my stop I stood up and walked down the stairs to the train doors. On the side of the stairs I noticed a green and brown stick insect, clinging to the moulded white plastic of the stairway wall. I looked up at the people in the carriage I had just left, who were about to watch me pick up the insect and rescue it. I struggled with self consciousness, but the thought of the stick insect dying on the Wyong train, or worse, being squashed under the foot of a business-suited man, was too horrible.
I picked up the insect and put it on my hand. It was so light it was like picking up nothing. No one seemed to notice what I was doing, or didn’t care, which suited me. With the stick insect on my hand I got off the train at St Leonards. I considered putting it in the garden bed on the station, but that was only a small patch of fake-looking tough grass. While I paused, deciding what to do, the people who had alighted from the train cleared away and the station was momentarily quiet.
What would you do with a stick insect like this?
We went up the escalators, through the ticket gates, out past all the people rushing home from work. I held my hand in front of me to protect the insect, which was starting to explore up my arm with tiny pinprick footsteps. The creature was a perfect and complex arrangement of thin limbs, driven by instinct, a beautiful thing too delicate for these surroundings. I would walk until I found a suitable place. Although I had a large insect on my hand, few people seemed to notice. A family even asked me directions to the hospital without noticing my passenger. I wondered how far I could go before someone said something.
I slowed down so I was walking behind the family, and followed them as they turned into the path that leads to the hospital. There is a garden here, with trees and bird’s nest ferns. I tried to dislodge the insect onto one of these ferns, but it clung resolutely to my hand. It preferred the nest of dried leaves covering the ground. It wrapped its front legs around a stick, crawled off my hand and was immediately camouflaged within a patchwork of green and brown.
Update: As suggested by one of my readers, I asked Dave Britton at the Australian Museum what kind of stick insect I had found. Here is his reply:
It was a ringbarking vandal, commuting to the central coast!