From a casual chat about good old rock’n’roll to COVID-19 bubble buddies, Big Issue vendor Jade and customer Hilary are dear friends.
I first met Jade several years ago. Jade has a regular spot selling the mag near my city high-rise office building, and I would occasionally buy the magazine. I was drawn to Jade as an unfailingly polite and gracious person, but also funny, loquacious and very smart. A bit of a raconteur with considered views on social inequality, government policy and the state of the world in general. Jade speaks three languages and has an intellectual sophistication I didn’t expect. I’m a middle-class woman with a PhD and Jade confounded many of my ill‑informed assumptions about Big Issue vendors. Jade says it* is my “compassion project”, which I guess is sort of true on one level, but our relationship is based on mutual respect and understanding, not charity.
After a while I started seeking Jade out for a chat. Jade offered me an oasis of sanity, an escape from the bourgeois inanities of the corporate world. I liked Jade and it made me laugh. I was hesitant about forcing myself upon Jade – maybe Jade just wanted to be left alone? – but not long before COVID struck I made Jade take my phone number in case it ever needed anything. I didn’t know much about Jade’s circumstances, except that if it was selling The Big Issue, its life had probably not been that easy. Some weeks into the first lockdown, when I was working from home, Jade called me, anxious about the virus and missing working at The Big Issue. We began meeting regularly. Jade invited me to its bedsit and told me stories about its amazing life, which has been rich and varied but also traumatic and challenging. The bedsit was not a peaceful place for Jade to be itself. I own a small flat I bought a few years ago with an inheritance, and I suggested Jade move in when the tenant’s lease expired. Jade’s been there several months now, and seems to like the place. Even though I’m 15 years older than Jade, we share a sense of humour and a love of 80s music (Jade’s impressed by my misspent youth at the Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda). Jade has become one of my closest friends. Jade’s a darling – courageous, wise and talented, with heaps of integrity. Jade’s taught me a lot and I’m grateful to The Big Issue for bringing us together. And Jade’s promised to give me Italian lessons.
On the surface, all we had in common was our love for great Aussie rock’n’roll from the late 70s and 80s, a shared appreciation for the Birthday Party, the Divinyls, and any decent band plying their trade back in the day on the live circuit. Our friendship has grown from strength to strength, and we’ve found other common interests and experiences that keep our caffeine or very mild alcohol-inspired conversations interesting. At first, I thought, Shit! I must remind her of a dead friend or relative who OD’d after a Hunters & Collectors gig in the 80s, but after learning more about Hilary, I realised she’s just got a big heart, empathy in the soul, and lives in a balanced, sane headspace – she obviously doesn’t blacken herself by casting others in a shit light. If I had one word to sum her up, it would be diamond, or gem. After knowing her a while, I began to open up about who I am, my traumatic experiences, basically the epigenetic traits that are now fully formed in my adult personality and behaviour.
Anyway, my future friend became a regular customer. She’d buy the magazine, and every now and again would fling me a pineapple, which would help enormously, especially in relation to my daily bread needs and forays into Footscray and/or Richmond. So this hello/thank you kind lady relationship went on till winter, when she rocks up with some warm winter undergarments for me. I mean, who does that shit? My core body temperature was grateful indeed. One day she rocks up with a copy of Boy on Fire, the story of young Nick Cave. You can imagine how I felt: I got that gulp thing of sad joy or joyful sadness when one’s presented with a random act of kindness.
So, all of a sudden we have this new reality: a mysterious new disease, kinda like a cover band with a shit name. Hilary, my COVID benefactress and sincerest of friends, one day lets me know she has a flat in a nice leafy part of town, and offers to rent it to me. I upgrade my life to a warm secure place to live, a steady diet and for future reference some regular exercise. Thanks for providing the one-bedroom flat at half the market value. To draw a poz from a neg: a more sane environment to finally get my shit together. Sorry for chewing your ear off during Big Lockdown 2 but you said you enjoyed being my bubble buddy. THANK YOU, KIND LADY.
* Jade prefers the pronouns it/its.
This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#652.