Summer was approaching.
I had a hankering for cider, so I caught the bus downtown and walked the kilometre northwards to the liquor store.
After several minutes of waiting in line - it was busy - I placed two cans of Mercury on the counter.
"The six-pack would be better value per can, sir. Are you sure you want these cans?"
"No, thank you. I was recently in hospital and the doctors advised against any heavy lifting."
Her face clearing, she smiled and nodded, seeming genuinely glad.
With my cans in hand, I departed the store, amidst the pouring rain.
I was studying professional writing and editing at Bendigo TAFE, and it had been going well - I completed the certificate and seven of my short stories got published in Painted Words, a yearly anthology that's released by the TAFE and distributed to the national libraries of Melbourne and Canberra.
The TAFE Campus was conveniently located, as I lived just outside a bus stop that took me a few minutes walk to reach it. So it came as a disappointment when construction got underway there and while studying the diploma I'd have to take two buses to reach a different campus.
And this campus was very hilly, and being out of shape, by the time I reached the classroom, I was always gasping for breath. I know this sounds pathetic. But I had a double lung transplant many years ago and their capacity aren't as strong as they used to be.
Still I gradually got stronger, in my legs especially. And I was happy studying again. But I had to stop because the course was more expensive than my family anticipated. One of my teachers even said it'd be cheaper than the certificate year, but that wasn't the case.
So I stopped studying, and since then I've been home, lying in bed playing video games. I haven't been doing much more than that for the past two years.
I want to go out again, I know it'll make me happier. But I can't do it. Last time I went out was two months ago, for a lung function test.
This is the first bit of writing I've done in ages, so I'm glad to do this. Lately whenever I've attempted to write anything, I've given up, feeling I have nothing worth saying.
I'd just relocated to the countryside. The fast-paced city lifestyle wasn't for me; I felt burnt out. Belmoral was tiny, with only one main street and a population of 3,000.
On my second night, after moving in, I decided to go for a stroll down Piper Avenue, where everything could be found.
Feeling hungry, I entered the restaurant Cheerful Hippo. It was packed, families occupying tables everywhere.
Awkwardly, I sat alone at the back, towards the kitchen, where I could hear loud voices barking instructions.
After ten minutes, a waiter arrived at my table, notepad and pencil in hand.
'Apologies Mister, we are very busy tonight,' gesturing around at the packed room.
I smiled. 'No problem. I'd like to order fettucinne carbonara, thank you.'
'Water will be fine.'
I was the only solo diner in the restaurant. It was something I'd gotten used to, back when I lived in the city; there were places I'd discovered that were more accommodating for the solo diner than others.
The meal was delicious, but after paying at the front desk, I decided I likely wouldn't be back as I'd detected mutterings from nearby diners regarding the fact I was the only solo diner in attendance.
Two days later, 12pm. I was relaxing on a bench in Rosewood Park, which was just a couple blocks down from my apartment. Smartphone in hand, I was also looking for any potential job openings, but after half an hour I gave up.
The park was close to Piper Avenue, like everything in Belmoral. Being lunchtime, it'd be easier to find a spot more accommodating to the solo diner.
I passed by Cheerful Hippo, feeling awkward, possibly because I doubted I'd be returning, and knowing I'd have to walk past there many times in the future.
Eventually I came upon a tiny Japanese eatery called Bententei, who specialized in bento boxes.
I opted for bento box A, which included karaage chicken, gyoza, a nori roll, and salad.
Given the time, the place wasn't as busy as I expected, but at least I could eat undisturbed.
The food was delicious, and I left a happy customer. I'd definitely be back again.
As I mentioned, Belmoral was tiny, so there wasn't much to do. There was a school, a post office, a park, a supermarket, the Cheerful Hippo and Bententei, and not much else.
So I walked back to my apartment and opened Instagram, then performed a search for Solo Dining Adventurers.
You may be surprised, but there's a lot of people who, even if they don't choose to at first, eventually embrace the idea of dining alone. So they check out different restaurants, cafes, bistros, and document their experiences online as a solo diner.
While living in the city, I got into solo dining as a way of finding peace and time for myself. When you're dining alone, there's no one to bother or rush you, you can go at your own pace, and it quickly became my favourite manner of dining.
I didn't have many friends in any case.
The following day, once more Bententei was my lunch spot of choice. I discovered they offered okonomiyaki, Osaka-style savoury pancakes. The ingredients consisted of shredded cabbage, egg, spring onion, and topped with a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, powdered nori, and Benito flakes.
If that wasn't enough, the lady serving me asked if I'd like any additional ingredients, such as crispy bacon or karaage. I said yes to the latter.
While waiting, an older lady entered the eatery and proceeded to order the exact same thing as myself: okonomiyaki, with extra karaage. Trying not to look surprised, I kept my eyes locked on my table.
A few minutes passed, and I received my order. As I made my first bite, I felt somewhat self-concious, hoping the woman wouldn't notice I was eating the same thing as her.
Upon finishing, my mouth felt dry, so I bought a Mount Franklin spring water to quench my thirst. The lady was almost finished with her okonomiyaki when I returned to my table and had a sip of water.
I paid at the front and when I turned to leave, the lady was standing in my way.
'Oh, sorry,' I stammered. It had long since become instinctual for me to apologize to people.
'No need,' she said, smiling slightly.
I stepped past her awkwardly, and outside to Piper Avenue. As before, I couldn't think of anything to do, so I decided to head home.
Before I could, though, the door from the eatery opened behind me, and I saw the woman appear from it.
'First time I've seen you around,' she said to me, totally casual.
I blinked. What should I say?
She smiled. 'This is a small town, as I'm sure you've gathered. When there's someone new around, they're easy to spot.'
I cleared my throat. 'The food here is good.'
'Agreed. And it seems we have similar taste.' She winked.
The sky was dark and overcast, and as forecasted the rain began to tumble down. The lady waved goodbye, and we turned in separate directions, my mind full of various thoughts.
Bententei wasn't open tomorrow, unfortunately. I spent the day indoors, listening to the steady pounding of the rain.
The day after, the rain had stopped at last, though the weather was very cold. I wondered if Bententei made miso soup? It would really be ideal on a day like this.
Stepping inside, I asked them as much, and the owner confirmed that yes, they do make miso soup. Tofu or no tofu? Tofu, please, I replied. I hoped it'd be especially chunky tofu like they served at a place I went to in the city.
Bententei was busier today, and it was soon filled to capacity. There was still a chill in the air, though as my soup was served, I could see the sun breaking through the clouds.
It was around this time that the lady entered the eatery. She quickly noticed me, and walked towards my table.
'What did you order? Miso?'
I nodded. 'Seemed ideal on a day like this.'
She smiled. 'Agreed.'
Walking up to the counter, the lady ordered herself a bowl of miso soup, then noticed the place was completely packed.
'Can I sit here?' she asked, placing her hand on the chair across from mine.
I smiled. 'Of course.'
'My name's Meredith.'
It's raining here too. I'm not complaining, though it's unfortunate for those who've planned the Parade down in the city today - I'm not sure if it'll be cancelled, or if it'll go ahead with a lowered attendance.
Here in Bendigo, every Easter a Chinese Dragon dances through the city streets. I loved th8s spectacle as a child, especially the firecrackers going off alongside the dragon.
Why a Chinese Dragon? A few hundreds years back, Bendigo had a gold rush, in fact the city was once the wealthiest in the world, apparently. Many folks from around the world flocked here, including the Chinese. Some decided to stay, and their influence is still felt today.
You can find a Chinese cemetery in Bendigo, and many superb Chinese restaurants, though I suppose that's not such a surprise.
Branches and leaves, this sight of nature is a comfort, especially when the rain comes. My neighbour has an extensive garden which he takes good care of, currently the flowers and vegetables are under a thick green cover to protect them, why, I'm no gardening expert, so you'd have to ask him, but I'm sure he has good reason. I just checked the weather forecast, and unfortunately there's little to no rain to come for the coming week. My neighbour does have sprinklers, though, so his garden will get the required nutrients regardless.
Thoughts on pride
I haven't accomplished a lot in my life, still there's some things I feel prideful for. A few years ago I got seven short stories published in an anthology that was then distributed to three libraries across Australia.
It's a smaller matter, but I'm quite a good Tetris player, or more specifically, Tetris 99, a more modern varient of the classic puzzler which was released three years ago. Some people struggle to win a single match; I've claimed over a thousand.
I'm not accustomed to hearing others say that they're proud of me, and when such an event does occur, it's in my nature to doubt their words.
I feel a lot of pride for family and friends, in particular my brother, who's overcome many hardships and has worked so hard to end up where he is today. I wish I was as strong as he is.
I actually cut my nails today. They'd gotten so long, I'd ended up with a number of scratches across my chest and face. For a while now, I've been depressed, and I've neglected simple things like my personal hygiene - almost four months into the year, and I've only showered a handful of occasions. The same with shaving - I'll let my beard grow until it's enormously thick and bushy, uncomfortably so, so I end up scratching it with my also neglected fingernails.
Four years ago my family left the city for the countryside. One of the benefits since coming here is discovering all the different restaurants and cafes nearby, and in particular there's this pasta dish which blew me away, and whenever I returned, it was all I'd ever order, along with some Moscato. The pasta in question is called spanner crab, and the only shame is that I'd wolf it down so quickly, the experience was over too quickly.
So that would be my final meal. Anything Italian to be honest. I had pizza last night, and for breakfast too.
Can I take it?
I was doing a creative writing course, and part of that course involved workshopping each other's stories. One of my classmates, during a ZOOM class, told me I should do more showing, less telling. She had some other suggestions, but this stood out.
It really stung, and at first I found it hard to accept; I was sure I'd submitted a brilliant story beyond critique. What a big head I've got.
Of course, my classmate was only trying to help and improve my work, but inwardly I felt resentful.
I realized how stupid I was behaving when I edited her story, and her reaction was so much more mature than my own, as she thanked me for pointing out a few areas needing improvement.
I was doing well not long ago - I'd received the certificate for professional writing and editing at the nearby TAFE, which is an educational institution here in Australia, if you don't know.
I was supposed to continue the course by doing the diploma, and I did start it, but unfortunately we changed campus as the one in the city was undergoing construction.
This new campus was difficult to get to for me, transport wise. And only a few months into the diploma portion of the course, I stopped.
And so began my slump. Since I stopped studying, I've rarely left the house, except when necessary, such as blood tests. And last year my father passed away.
It would be more accurate to say that I rarely left my bed. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and a Nintendo Switch, and those never leave my side from morning to night. I'm living the life.
I began to neglect myself. My personal hygiene. The other day I showered, and I can't remember the last one I had. My hair is dirty and caked with dandruff, and my diet is awful...
I had a blood test this morning. Normally I'd go to the pathology lab in person, but for the past year I've been receiving in home visits. The lady who came is so lovely though. To be honest, I've got a crush on her.
What does that have to do with this piece? Nothing really.
I just felt like writing something, I suppose because it makes me feel a bit more productive. At least I'm not just playing video games or watching streamers play video games on Twitch.
I would like to go back to TAFE, but I don't think my family can afford it currently. There are cheaper writing courses available elsewhere, which I'm considering.
There was a massive thunderstorm last night. I enjoyed it. They help me relax.