I’m very blessed, to move so easily through the world. I forget that this is a blessing, or rather that this is something given to me at the expense of others. This isn’t me talking about my white guilt or anything of the sort – it’s me remembering that my cousin’s don’t experience this. That I can’t take the train with my cousin without her getting in some kind of trouble.
See this: once, the pair of us were on a train, and I’d forgotten to tag on. I hadn’t taken the train in awhile – must have only been fourteen or so – and it was one of those trains were you don’t have to walk through a gate and sign on, there’s just a pole in a specific place and you have to tag on there. So at the other end, where you have to tag out I go ‘Oh shit!’ and realise I never tagged on.
I go up to the transit guard and explain the situation, and clearly state that I’m more than happy to pay the fee as I did the wrong thing, the way Mum always told me to. Rather than making me buy a ticket or giving me a fee, the officer just says ‘No problem, just make sure you don’t do it again.’
On the other side, my cousin with her blue black skin that speaks to anyone with half a brain that she is Yolngu is trying to wade through a sea of irritated professionals that don’t have time for teenagers.
And then she’s pulled over by another officer.
I’m stuck, waiting past the gates and hovering near her as the officer questions her.
“So where are ya going?”
She looks at her feet, the way that our mothers taught us to. “Into the city.”
“Mmm,” the officer says. “You got a ticket?”
The group of tourists behind her, blonde and blue eyed shifted as they waited for their tickets to be checked, only to be waved past her, all a foot taller and pressing against her shoulders as they stepped out onto the seat.
My cousin dug in her bag for the ticket, carefully kept inside of the purse Aunty made her before she left for the city that was worn from her coins sliding around in it and rubbing the fabric, and presented it to the officer.
“Hmm,” he said. “You come from the end of the line?”
She shook her head. “No sir. I came from that station.”
“You meeting someone here?”
“No sir,” she shook her head again and pointed at me. “I’m here with my cousin.”
The officer looked up and at me, and I stepped forward. “You know her?”
“Yeah. She’s my cousin.”
He wanted to ask the questions that people normally ask, but instead he let her go. It always has stuck with me that one encounter. That my ability to move freely and have my mistakes forgiven because I don’t appear black comes at the expense of others. Even my own family members.