I think the term Life-Extras came from a Seinfeld episode. In a small town like Bendigo, it’s likely you’ll have a few Life-Extras – people you don’t actually know, but see regularly in day to day meanderings. They hover around the periphery of your life, and you begin to feel like you do know them.
Over my twenty-five years in Bendigo I’ve chanced upon a few extras. Of course there’s Claude, but he’s everyone’s extra, so I won’t claim him.
There’s the speed walking woman who traipsed five or six hours per day, all over Bendigo. Her waist moved in a circular motion. Over the years she developed a slight limp. As she reached middle age, despite the exercise, she plumped up. Occasionally, she took to her bike, I assume to manage the limp which gradually became more pronounced. She stood up on her bike, and loped from side to side, favouring the good leg. After a few years she was only ever on the bike, and these days I no longer see her.
For many years, every morning, a rotund man wearing stubby shorts and a blue bonds singlet sat on the bench on the corner of Mitchell and Wills streets. His face was Bert Newton round and if it was raining he wore a thin blue raincoat. As I zoom in on Google maps I’m disappointed to not see him there, indelible on the bench.
There are others, but the extra that has stayed with me in heart and mind hovered in my outskirts for more than twenty years. When I first came to Bendigo, I frequented the showgrounds market on Sundays, and there was one man I saw regularly. He was very striking, I couldn’t miss him. Perhaps you have seen him too? Very tall – 6’3”or 4”, lanky, tanned, dark brown hair. He browsed up and down the aisles for hours, as I did, and bought fruit, vegies and the odd trinket.
Once, I saw him in Safeway, Golden Square. Then in the CBD, briskly on his way to somewhere. But always at the showgrounds market. He began to bring an elderly man with him to the market. I assumed it was his father, for their relationship seemed intimate but at the same time, aloof: passing bags to each other, standing close, minimal manly words.
A few years passed and I did not see him. Then one day, there he was again, at the market. He seemed unwell, slightly stooped, grey spikes populated his brown hair. He had aged more than the years that had passed.
Then on a crisp morning, in an outer suburb, on a quiet street we moved by each other like trains on tracks that never meet. His gait was uneven. He mumbled. He was drunk.
After that day, I regularly saw him in the CBD, usually drunk, often pacing the streets. Never at the market anymore. He began wearing the same clothes from one week to next and they became tousled and dirty. Over time he became more stooped and developed a strange crick to his neck as though frozen to holding his head in shame.
In all these years, twenty or so, I saw him maybe thirty to forty times. Our eyes never met. Not so long ago, on a sunny midweek lunch hour, I saw him hunkered down in the alcove of a closed shop wearing a thick army coat, talking to himself. Unshaven, and so far from the man I first laid eyes on so many years ago.
I imagine a scenario of events in no particular order: his marriage broke up; he lost his job and was unable to gain another; he lived with his father; his father passed; he had no home; he drank; he developed a mental illness.
I haven’t been able to shake the sense that he was placed in my awareness for a reason, I was his extra too, and I failed him.
It could happen to any of us.