‘You’re too smart to be a barista,’ my boyfriend says, not meaning any real slight to the noble profession; he thinks I’m floundering up here in Queensland, after following him up here for lack of anything much better to do in Adelaide, and I am really. I did kind of enjoy pouring patterns into espresso for slick business people in the city though, in a weird way. It was repetitive, safe even. Like boxing fries at the fast food job I persisted in for years while I finished high school and chipped away at my bachelor’s degree. What else can you do with an Arts degree, anyway? I was living the joke.
But this didn’t feel safe; it was all new. I tried to shrug off the feelings of discomfort before I left the house, by posting a selfie on Instagram with the caption ‘My “I have to go socialise and meet new people on a weeknight?” selfie’. With the knowledge that my skeptical expression had been shared (and my confidence bolstered by the 21 likes and encouraging comments from my fellow social media junkies), it was time to face the music, to bite the bullet, to put my best foot forward. All the clichés.
I stood hesitant at the bridge’s entryway, staring along its length in momentary awe and wondering what I would encounter on the far side. I pulled my smartphone from my back pocket and took another photo, catching the swirling clouds that blocked the late afternoon sun and feeling all the more like a stranger, like a tourist, for doing so. But I’d been accepted; I was enrolled; I am a postgraduate student. And I’m too smart to be a barista.
I walked on, attended the meet-and-greet, and met Joe, whose quirky painted-on eyebrows and amiable nature won me over right away. We chatted eagerly, not so much about academic program content, but about our mutual love of Star Trek: Voyager. With a few minor changes to my timetable, we had every class together that first semester. Security blanket, thy name is Joe.
It felt as though I’d spent just as much time with the bridge during my first year as I did in class. I would march breathlessly to my tutorials in the heat after a long day at work, irritated by the rhythmic creak of my bag strap’s buckle, then trudge back across the river at night to the sound of crickets purring and bus engines whirring, so eager to see my boyfriend’s blue hatchback waiting to take me home that I almost got into the wrong car on two separate occasions. Only sometimes, when the haste and hurry didn’t seem so pressing, I took the time to appreciate the calm waters shimmering under the orange light of the dozen or so street lamps across the river, and realised that really, I had it pretty good.
Jenna Birbeck, Master of Arts 2016, Brisbane.