Juliet with the wicked smile

I decided not to go anywhere that summer and stayed mostly in the Eastern Suburbs. I'd like to say sun-drenched Eastern Suburbs, but it rains a hundred days in a year in Sydney.

Still, I drove to Bondi the few days a week I wasn't working at the Legal Centre. I sat mostly at one of the cafes on Campbell Parade. One of those that charged a cutthroat $3 for a cappucino. (The going rate for a cuppa in those parts was $1.80). One cappucino for the arvo, and a good book. Usually one of Paul Theroux's. Oh, and a notepad, because I wanted to be like Theroux, sitting in a cafe, making word-caricatures of people in the cafe.

I would've pasted what I wrote about Juliet if I had kept my notes. I probably wrote about how she walked, and how she had a slight hint of haughtiness, and how she, by the third time she saw me at the cafe, had given up on giving me the menu, and just smiled (or was it smirked) as she turned to the kitchen hand and asked him to make a cappucino, double, stat, for ze leetle guy with ze book.

That third visit started my Bondi days, most of which were spent at that cafe, save for the time I took Juicy Lucie (Nguyen) to the beach (when a giant wave knocked us both off our feet, and which also took her bikini top off).

One quiet and typically rainy Bondi day, as I pored intently through 'Picture Palace', a sachet of sugar hit me in the face. Startled, I looked up over my book and at Juliet looking at me.

'You like Paul Theroux huh?'

'You read him too?'

'No, and what are you writing?'


'I know! About what?'

'People in the cafe'.



'Let me see'.


'Fine... little guy'.

And the blonde ponytail bounced away to the kitchen while I went back to the Picture Palace.

It must have been an hour or so later, when it was still quiet at the cafe, when I looked up again and Juliet was sitting across from me.

'What's your name?'



'Yes, and yours?'


'You're French?'

'Ow can you tell?',
she snarked, dropping the 'H' mockingly.

'I'm from Randwick, can you tell?'

'No. I finish at 6. Wanna go and have dinner?'


'You drive?'


'You decide'.

The blonde ponytail bounced away again, and for the rest of the afternoon, Picture Palace wasn't as interesting as it had been before.


There was a pair of sneakers strung up on one of Campbell Parade's dim lampposts, and there were still shirtless skateboarders on the recreation area tearing up and down the arena built for that purpose. We must have run out of places to drive to, and I found myself in my car, Juliet next to me, fish and chips on our laps, parked next to the Surf Life Saving Club, eyeballing the seagulls perched on the car's bonnet who were eyeballing our fish and chips.

'How old are you, Benjamin?'

'Twenty nine'.

'I'm twenty three, old man'.


Then she lunged over and planted a kiss on my lips that so startled me I spilled chips all over the car's dashboard, startling the seagulls, who went berserk and started squawking and pecking the windscreen.

'When I first saw you, I thought you were a Japanese surfer. But Japanese surfers don't read books and write notes in cafes. So I thought you were a Japanese writer.'

'I'm not Japanese'.

'Then you are Chinese'.

'No, I'm Jewish, I have a Hebrew name'
, which was one of my favourite dodo throwaway lines.

She leaned forward and kissed my nose, and said, 'that's not a Jewish nose'.

We would've kept on kissing in the car, in the car park next to the SLSC, with the seagulls waiting for a crack in the windows, till the skateboarders tired and went home, till the hoons and petrolheads turned up to make donuts on Campbell Parade. But for some reason, the strap on Juliet's pretty blue dress slipped off her shoulder and she asked, 'Do you live near here'?

Hell, yes I did. Coogee's just a small stone's throw from here.


'Did you get bitten?'

'Yes! It's very itchy. What are those insects?'

I didn't know how to tell her we had both been bitten by fleas from the garden behind the courtyard of my flat. Nothing a dose of cortisone-based cream wouldn't relieve in a week or so.

So I gave her the cream and didn't mention the fleas for fear of spoiling what I thought would be a nice romantic notion of making love under the moon, the sky and beneath the Southern Cross. (Not to mention also, in the moonlit shadow of the Hills Hoist).

We sat on the sofa and cuddled, scratching the small welts on our legs.

'You write very well', she said while I aimlessly switched channels on the tv.

'You read my things?' I said, even though I had hoped she would read the stuff I left lying around.

'You printed them and you left them lying around'.

'You read my things?!'

'I like the barbershop story, and the story about your family and the poems about love - the cafe story was not so nice'.

'The cafe story is not complete'.

'Your stories sound sad even when you make them sound funny'.

'They're not supposed to be funny'.

'Your stories make me want to kiss you'.

Then she kissed me and looked at me intently. Then she smiled.

Or was it smirked?


Juliet didn't have a mobile phone, and it was near impossible to get a hold of her if she wasn't with me or if she wasn't already at the cafe. The rest of that lazy summer, I'd wake at eleven, drive to Bondi and look for her at the cafe. If she were there, I'd have a cuppa, then I'd walk around Bondi, sit on the promenade at the Swiss Hotel, make some more notes, sometimes take a few idle photos of the crazed seagulls pecking at remnants of other people's fish and chips.

I liked this life. Sure I was already thinking of what other challenges I should've begun giving myself, like following up on the UN and World Bank internships, like seriously considering a job at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, like taking up my supervisor's offer of a research job at the Communications Law Centre.

But a fair summer's day takes down all that resolve. And there were many fair summer's days.

On one of those days, I ambled down to the cafe again and looked for Juliet. I wasn't too fussed that she wasn't there. But Joe the chef saw me as he walked out of the kitchen at the end of his shift, and said, 'Wow, you're still here. You sad that Juliet's left?'



Dearest Benjamin,

I am having a great time in NZ. I hope you are not upset I didn't say goodbye. I think it's more surprising (?) like that? Keep writing, and maybe again write the cafe story. Keep in touch. I want to read your book when it is finished.

Your little blonde girl with a ponytail.