The hunter is hunched over in the morning fog, his shoulders squared by the chill and the years of bad living. It’s been a long time since he could stand up straight- decades since he lined up with his classmates outside the hall, lines shining on his blazer from when he tried to iron it once, proud.
He’s shaking slightly, the wind whistling through his dried lips onto his deserted cemetery of a mouth. Nobody else is around, and that’s good. It’ll give him a chance to get to the good stuff: the bottles, cardboard and other salvageables in the bins left out on the pavements for the garbage truck.
Lights are switched on and then angrily off again in the distance as sleeping dog owners are roused by their barking pets. An burglar alarm perhaps a kilometre away has been whining for some time.
He flips the lid on the wheelie bin. The stench had made the owner of the bin retch a little when he dragged it outside, but the hunter doesn’t notice it anymore. Oblivious to the leftovers wrapped in newspaper, the nappies and sanitary napkins folded in on themselves, he follows the clinking sounds all the way to the jars and bottles. Slips them into his sack. Holds one up to the amber of the streetlamp and coughs. Spits.
On to the next one. He’ll make a few bucks with this load. In his mind he’s mixing his fantasies- in one he’s buying bottles and bottles of cheap wine and throwing a party outside the furniture store where they’ve set up huge speakers and blast loud music on Saturdays. He’ll dance on the pavement and say funny things to the people who will sidestep past him into the road, frowning, not making eye contact. In another dream, he’s parking his car outside the pizza restaurant, going inside for pizza and beers, and then tipping the car guard with abandon, because, shame, the car guard probably comes from some hellhole of a country where he couldn’t be a radiographer anymore and had to flee with his family.
The glow of dawn brings him back to the street. The birds sound like they’re offering each other coffee up there in the trees. Coffeecoffeecoffeeteateatea, they cry.
He swings up the lid to the bin. Blinks. A doll’s hand wrapped in an old blanket has startled him. Then it twitches.
He drops the lid of the bin in alarm. Who to call? He tries to imagine who looks after babies in bins. Not the police, surely, the swaggering, barrel-chested men who have too often rolled him into their vans with unnecessary force. No. Too violent. Not the homeowners who scream at him to stop lying, stop drinking, to get a job. Not the hookers with their vacant faces, the only light in their eyes are drug-fuelled embers. He can’t call his mom or dad. They’re long dead. Down in the tangled grass amongst the other old bones, an unmarked wooden cross above them.
He thinks about running to the night shelter, but he’s not allowed there, either, since the confusion about the cold showers; he’d forgotten to check that it was the men’s turn- how the old woman with the endless folds of breasts and belly had gasped at him with her toothless mouth and clutched her facecloth to her body, as if it could have helped redeem her modesty.
There’s a rustle in the bush next to him, and a rat slips into the drain. He thinks about the children’s home nearby, and the kids in their massive jerseys and shorts, all cheekbones and gap-teeth. He considers the jail cells where he’s seen the kids become dead-eyed killers, slaves to the gangsters.
He thinks about life on the streets. The scraps, the pain the noise, and a trickle of snot dribbles out of his nose as he weeps for the baby and walks away, old wine bottles clinking against his hipbones.
The truck grinds and rumbles in the distance.