I long for a peaceful night of sleep. But I’m awake again at four a.m. At six I go upstairs and make fruit salad from organic papaya, rockmelon, blueberries, lime and mint. I eat the fruit salad. I drink a cup of organic tea with organic soya milk. Samantha and the girls still slumber. It is dark. What am I going to do now? Smoke a cigarette. But I’ve run out.
I drive to the nearest petrol station in Rose Bay. They’re just unlocking the door as I arrive. “What time does the car wash open?” I enquire. “Seven a.m.” I buy the cigarettes.
I drive back up the winding S bends to Vaucluse and then down to Nielsen Park. This place has become central to my life. Australia’s smallest national park runs down to the harbour where there is a small sandy beach with a netted swimming area. The bay itself is properly called ‘Shark Bay’. I’m grateful for the netting. The foreshore is grassy, shaded with Banksia trees and magnificent Moreton Bay Figs. In the middle of the promenade is a simple but elegant building housing a café and restaurant. I come here frequently to swim, to walk, to read books and to meet friends.
I sit on a bench and smoke one of the cigarettes. I feel less than virtuous. A soft pinkness is beginning to infuse the darkness. A ferry slides across the harbour with all its lights aglow, heading for Manly. It seems that I could almost reach out and touch it. I am surprised to find that I am not the only person here. Figures waft here and there in the gloom. Each person seems to be enclosed in his or her own cocoon of silence, alone.
Who goes swimming in the dark at 6.30 in the morning? These are not the body conscious babes and beautiful boys of Bondi Beach. A silver haired lady breast-strokes gently by. As I sit I hear a shuffling noise approaching. It is a man who has obviously had a stroke. He slides his feet in small, mincing steps. His right arm does not swing as he walks to the water. A handsome blonde man swims toward the shore. But as he emerges I notice that he has a withered leg. A single girl does yoga stretches on the sand. The dawn frequenters of Nielsen Park are the old, the crippled, the damaged and the broken. The people who really embrace life. The people who find true peace and freedom in the sea. People like me.
I walk back to the car, don my swimming costume and slip quietly into the water. I feel like I belong here.