Joey is a little man, skinny, wiry, deeply tanned from his hours spent outside the supermarket chasing down trolleys from wherever they’ve been left or dumped. Some of them blocks away. Others submerged in the Richmond River mud. This doesn’t bother Joey, a job is what it is, a job, and for the three years I’ve known him he’s always worn a mask. Until today.
He’s a man of singular temperament is Joey – until today, the first day I’ve seen him without one.
‘Me Mum’s just died,’ he told me, ‘I’ve always worn one just in case I’ve got the Covid when I go and see her.’
We were in the carpark and Joey was twisting a piece of plastic in his hands as he spoke to me of his mother, twisting and twisting, talking and talking. Not at all like the man I’ve known for so long.
Telling me of his father, a violent man who beat his wife, gambled and spent his nights with prostitutes and criminals. Telling me how he tried as a boy to insert his small body between them to lessen the damage his father would wreak upon his mother on the nights he came home drunk and enraged by his gambling losses.
‘You know that airport strip they built out into the bay at Mascot?’ Joey asked, ‘the graveyard, the one Neddie Smith used for his bodies? My old man knew all about it.’
It took Joey about twenty minutes to tell me what he wanted of his life story and throughout the horrific telling shined this little man’s love of his mother.
Joey shares a rented caravan by the side of a muddied up creek west of the town that is probably full of mud crabs, not that he’s bothered. He rarely drinks these days, has given away the weed and has yet to miss a day’s work at the supermarket.
Sometimes he works the checkout. Other times he’s behind the counter selling smokes and newspapers. Mostly though his job is collecting and stacking trolleys. Even the ones left outside the camping ground where the Lismore families who have lost their homes in the flood are living in government supplied vans.
Joey calls me Bondi when he spots me.