It is raining. The grey slanting drizzle is given its angle by an unwanted breeze. The seemingly sheltered pavement is visited by these blown-in raindrops and soon goes from bone dry to shiny wet.

Umbrellas in a riot of colour are held like bulging shields across the lower trouser legs in a futile attempt to keep the cuffs dry. Overhead is a welcome awning. Outside, a youth without protection scampers crablike between sidewalk tables and chairs, holding a book over his head.

It is Jude, the Obscure a work by Thomas Hardy whose sturdy words are entrusted with combating this incessant elemental weeping. Under the awning, furthest up, a man attired in a long smoky coat with matching hat stares straight ahead, his gaze penetrating the showery veil as though in search of something beyond.

He is so statue-like he may have fallen into a trance. Only a constantly moving muscle in his jaw, seen in profile, gives any indication he's one of the living, breathing, sheltering masses.

Beside him, an Oriental woman, slim as a rake, alabaster skin complementing the ivory shirt, open at the neck, which in turn complements a pair of denims, darkish blue. She is smiling, but it isn't in appreciation of the weather. It is in response to something the child at her side is saying.

The child's hand is in hers. The young one - a girl with bushy eyebrows - has moved one stage past a smile and is laughing. Perhaps she has told a joke. Whatever it is, they both appear cheered, prepared to wait.

Mild discomfort

The girl tosses her plaited hair from one shoulder to the other which, although not wet, causes the man next to her mild discomfort for he turns and gives her the full force of his unsmiling visage.

This man, carrying a blue-and-white striped umbrella is, no doubt, already unhappy about something because he keeps glancing at his watch.

It appears he'd like to tick the young girl off, if he could, to counterbalance in some way the ceaseless ticking of the seconds. Tick, tick.

Beside the impatient man stands a bearded gent wearing a maroon turban in the Sikh tradition. He looks the type that, if he were asked how he was today would readily reply, like one of Rushdie's characters, Sab kuch tick-tock hai.

He wears his profession on his jacket - a big badge proclaiming City Rail. Perhaps he drives a locomotive. My father drove many. Perhaps there's a level of conversation waiting to take place.

"Which part of India are YOU from?" And, "Anglo-Indian? Really? I studied with a guy named Jones. My father played hockey with guys named Carr and Cleur. The Sikhs and the Anglos dominated that game at one time."

Indeed, they did. Now there's a Sikh and an Anglo perched on a pavement in Australia and nobody's playing anything. It's like the ref has blown a whistle for time out.

On my right is a woman with a mobile phone clamped to her right ear. Her head, too, like the rain is angled and when I turn momentarily it's as though she's taking me in. But her eyes are really where her ears are: With the speaker. Evidently, a child.

"I am not buying another tub of ice cream so soon," she says.

The Sikh turns and looks at both of us. Perhaps at first he thought the woman and I were together and she was admonishing me.

"I am most certainly not," she says into the phone with finality, stopping only to add, "I will not have your tonsils playing up again."

End of conversation.

The rain, in a weird synchronicity, ceases weeping as well. For a split second everything seems set, like sprinters seconds before the gun.

Then, in a flash, the umbrellas are lifted, feet step out, left, right, across and an impromptu moment, an unlikely communion of individuals that perhaps will never recur, is brought to an end.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.