The Melbourne Cup makes all of Australia come to a standstill. Literally, a standstill. Considered the richest “2 mile handicap” in the world, the horse races are sponsored by… wait for it… Emirates Airlines (no surprises there), and start at 3pm on November 1.

The whole continent is attentive, and I have yet to understand why. No matter what part of Australia people live in, they come dressed up as if they were planning on having tea with the Queen herself (who inexplicably still is the Queen of Australia). Hats have been bought months in advance, women are tottering on heels, which in Sydney is as close to a death wish as one can’t get, and then everyone proceeds to getting tipsy during the long Melbourne Cup lunch. Clearly, the charm was lost on me.

November 1st dawned and I had totally forgotten about the Melbourne Cup. After a mixture of a disastrous weekend and overwhelmed with exam report cards to fill, Tuesday found me in my usual kurta, thankfully ironed within an inch of its life and my usual shalwar, not hats no dresses. A desi thinking of her “des”, completely oblivious to the hoopla. I proceeded to grade papers, write some extremely long letters to Karachi, and resisting the urge to DHL my heart back home (because DHL from here costs 97 dollar and I need to stop spending so impulsively).

Walking back to the office after lunch break, lost in my thoughts of Karachi, a skeleton case was waved under my nose. “Sweepstakes Bisma, for the Melbourne Cup?” I was asked.

I knew I had forgotten something! Resisting the urge to say my staple “no”, I acquiesced. I took a gamble! Four dollars poorer, I was now the proud owner of horses number 13 and 4 running in the Melbourne Cup; Heartbreak City and Bondi Beach respectively. Heartbreak City especially struck a cord with me- I would bet on this horse just as I had bet on this city to be my home for a few months till Karachi drew me back like a magnet.

Students dismissed 5 minutes before 3pm, everyone gathered around the TV. Billions of dollars are bet throughout Australia and outside. Every office in Australia has elaborate sweeps, best-dressed prizes, the afternoon off for lunches, drinks, the works! It is really traditional for the Australians to make a day of this, and here I was, giving them a sermon on how gambling is a terrible habit with my sweepstakes raffle sticking out of my pocket. Collective groans of “Really Bisma!” keep following as we watched the races.

The game started, alternating between excited groans and shouts or groans and ended with my horses lost in a blur. “Alright, race over, awesome, see you guys!”

“Hold on Bisma, what number did you have?” one of my colleagues waved the result at me.

“Heartbreak and Bondi,” I muttered, not particularly caring as neither was even on the top five.

“Your horse came second!” He was amused beyond imagination. And so was I, the unwilling gambler!

Fifteen dollars richer, I walked out of work, elaborate plans afoot about how to spend my “hard earned loot.”

There are six weeks left before my Sydney sojourn comes to an end. All I can really think about is about what is happening in my home town, but I am reminded that Heartbreak City may still have a surprise or two it could throw at me!

Travelling is a means to live life away from life. But I have come to realise that some memories never age. As I add my earnings to the 97 dollar fund I need to post stuff to Karachi, my thoughts are melancholy:

“So that’s how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the thing that’s stolen from us—that’s snatched right out of our hands—even if we are left completely changed, with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw ever nearer to the end of our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deeds of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immeasurable emptiness.”