So where do I start?
Probably Queensland back in 2002 and a town called Cairns, since that was the first time that I actually saw a person disappear.
On that occasion, the lady in question was an Aborigine and lets be honest. Since Australia has been home to more than a few strange happenings over the years, I just accepted it as being the normal kind of aboriginal weirdness.
Over on Abbott Street, there’s a bar called the Cairns Courthouse Hotel. It’s an expansive old, single story building with large recreational area in front and a big outdoor movie screen in the far corner. Back in the day, they used to show classic 80’s music videos until nine, followed by a fairly recent film so I spent many happy evenings on that holiday propped against it’s fence. Free movies and the warm night air were a great combination.
On the night in question, I was standing in my usual place when a group of old but still quite robust Japanese gentlemen walked by. They moved quite slowly, chatting amongst themselves and were obviously on their way somewhere but in no great hurry to get there. But then, just before they drew level with me, I saw the girl..
She was a young Aboriginal woman, probably in her early twenties whose skin was noticeably paler than that of the others I’d seen. She also walked in a very curious way, as if her legs were on some kind of autopilot, full of purpose and well aware of where they had to go, but the upper half of her body was just being passively carried along. In fact as her legs wove their way through the Japanese men in a kind of s-curve, the top half of her body seemed to loll back and slightly to one side as if reacting to the sudden changes in direction. It was at this point, as she passed me that I had a sudden, inexplicable urge to talk to her.
In truth, this had never happened to me before. I don’t approach strange women in the street. In fact a polite hello when the situation calls for it is about as people friendly as I get. But just as I turned to follow her, I noticed that my shoelace had somehow come undone. I knelt, tied it and she had to have been out of my sight for perhaps five seconds at the most. I immediately looked up – and she was gone.
It was very obvious from her speed and movement where she should have been, in fact given the geography of the area, it was impossible for her to have gone anywhere else. The next building along was the Cairns Regional Gallery. Not only was it closed, but back then, the façade that bordered Abbotts Street was effectively a long, featureless wall that extended down to the nearby crossroads. Furthermore, Abbotts itself was two dual lane roads separated by a tree lined division so if she’d turned and started cross it, she’d still have been more than visible.
It was then that the realization hit me. “That girl just disappeared”
Knowing full well that she hadn’t turned left or right, I broke into a startled run. But even if she’d suddenly flown down to the crossroads at high speed, she’d still have been stopped by the crossing itself – and lets be honest, how much ground can a person cover at walking speed in five seconds? Twenty feet? Twenty five? The crossing was a lot further down and as I reached it, I looked up one side, down the other and across to the other side. Nothing. The fact is that Shields Street is just as wide as Abbotts so the view across that entire crossroads was expansive to say the least. She was literally just not there.
So what did I see that night? To be honest, I just accepted it in my stride. As I’ve said, Australia is home to all manner of weird happenings so I just assumed that I’d seen some bonafide Antipodean weirdness and let it go at that. However, the odd thing was that a few years later, it was to happen again, this time back in the UK.
I’d paid a visit to Stratford and was standing by the station having just taken a photo when a man noticed my camera and struck up a conversation. He’d apparently come over from New Zealand but had once been a local boy and this was the big visit back to the days of his youth. He wasn’t altogether happy with what he’d seen either. We talked the talk for a while covering a number of different topics, but then he suddenly grew serious. It was then that he mentioned the recent earthquake over in Christchurch that claimed 185 lives. His New Zealand accent suddenly became more pronounced and soon after that, we said our goodbyes and parted. Then a split second after he’d continued on his way, I turned and realized that he wasn’t there anymore.
This time, it was a far easier deduction. We were on the hill, just beside the bridge overlooking the station. There was quite literally no way that he could have turned right because he was blocked by a long embankment. If he’d turned to cross the road, we were on the edge of a huge roundabout and given the short distance he could have covered, there’s no way that I could have missed him. Once again, I found myself running, trying to catch up with an apparently vanished person, and finding nothing but a wide expansive car park and yet more proof that even though he’d only been out of my sight for a few seconds, he was just nowhere to be seen.
But a few days ago, this incident had an odd postscript . It took place about four years ago, but last Wednesday, I found myself once again walking past Stratford station. I’d long since put the incident out of my mind when suddenly, my brain seemed to have an odd twitch and my eyes were drawn up to the bridge. There was nothing of note up there, but suddenly, I became very aware of a presence standing beside the lamp post that I was about to pass. Not only was it’s energy very apparent, but I could also sense that it was the same person as before, even down to what I think was the same coat. It’s as if he wanted me to know that he was there. I’m also aware that there was something to his right. I’m now pretty certain that he was holding the handle of a door and the tall thin part (which almost as high as he was) was it’s edge.
I have none, only I do wonder if that land besides the station has some kind of significance to him. Possibly a youthful connection or memory? As he stood beside that lamp post, it was almost as if he somehow ‘belonged’ there. But it also prompts the question that if this man was indeed a ghost, possibly of somebody who died in that earthquake, was the Aboriginal girl one also?
Answers on a post card…