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the hat and the beard

Surfers are proud of their feet. Their colour the product of countless barefoot hours lying in a sunny corner of a north coast dune between sessions. Proud too they are of the symmetry of their toes, all in order down there, not showing signs of having spent years crammed into shoes, odious signs with toes misshapen and bent and crowded in on each other like malformed and eyeless white worms. Malodorous worms.

Surfers’ toes are muscled-up, used to the call when asked to dig into the deck when a little extra purchase is needed to push through the top of an overhanging and thick lip. Functional as well with a good distance between the big toe and its neighbour made necessary in order to maintain a solid grip with cheap Indo rubber thongs because a surfer who cannot run fast over wet rock wearing cheap Indo rubber thongs is not worthy.

Toenails. Surfers never trim their toenails with scissors because the one task required of them whilst they laze in the dunes is to do a little overgrown toenail trimming with their equally sturdy fingernails whilst keeping in mind the necessity of leaving enough nail for such emergencies as mentioned previously. This is because as creatures of the wild and billowing oceans we are prone to the dictates of physical evolution.

Surfers remain a primitive race.

Babalino’s Bakery, Ballina.

Two men. One a sun-blackened, lean, long-haired and bearded veteran whose ancient ute sits on the road outside the shop with a couple of dimpled surfboards lying in the tray, the other wearing checkered Tommy Bahama cargo shorts, a brightly coloured T and wide-brimmed straw hat and whose wife sits at a nearby table.

Both men are barefoot, both are waiting on their orders. There was a perverse symmetry here impossible for an onlooker to ignore.

Then the beard spoke to the hat.

‘Hey, mate!’

The hat looked over at him, a glimmer of apprehension in his eyes.

‘You need to do something about your feet.’

The hat looked down at his feet. His white, hairless feet. Then he looked back at the beard.


‘Your feet, mate, they’re white!’

The hat looked down at his feet again, then looked up at the beard again.

‘I only retired from work last month,’ he said, ‘but I was at the beach this morning.’

The beard was unmoved. His lined face a slab of weathered granite.

‘Like I said, you need to do something about them, ok?’

Then the beard took his meat pie and tomato sauce from the lovely behind the counter and departed for his ute as the hat took his cream bagels and caffee moches over to his wife.

And if he hadn’t been looking at the beard’s ute as it rumbled its way down River Street he would have seen her smile.

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