Returning Migrants, edited
Emigrating is serious step to take, leaving places, things, people intimately linked with you and end up connected to others relatively alien. Result can be homesickness. Migrants returning by ship in 1959; separations Overseas Terminal a new thorn?
Goodbye, returning migrants!, edited
Fernando García Izquierdo
After the war Australia received with open arms all the European migrants desiring to come, the government often paying for their passage, encouraging them to take the step of crossing seas and oceans in newly-built liners, starting from various large ports, Southampton, London, Vigo, Genoa, Naples and other ones.
The immigrants were enthusiastically received Down Under and given assistance in finding accomodation and jobs, while others were admitted to residence in well-organised “Migrant Camps”. Full families and many solitary young men constantly arrived in ports in Australia, specially Sydney and Melbourne. For single, independent females, marriageable girls, those long sea voyages could hardly be so contemplated.
Many an otherwise successful young migrant returned to the old country as he had come, alone. There was of course the problem of homesickess which in that case was intimately linked to loneliness. It is hard to put on paper the idea of the solitude of a sentimental male migrant, who seeks in an immense (for him) empty continent that essential task among humans, which is how to form a family.
Luis had at last become a fully-fledged lawyer in the new country and was no longer dissatisfied with his professional life: and that meant a lot. It had to be said, of him, that he was intrinsically a discontented man, but nobody could expect his changing this aspect of his character. He was always observing, analysing and finding fault. Never mind! he would correct, he thought, that defect as he was getting older, perhaps. What was sure was that he would be working more. Just at this moment the partner, with whom he had more closely collaborated these last few months, was returning to New York, and had passed on to him about a dozen new files to handle.
It was in the fact that he was still thinking of her, of her beautiful body, the perfect soul of an artist, where the danger lay. In a word: Malgorata, that only love he had suddenly lost in Ultimo, identical to the love for Margaret, his previous girlfriend so beautiful, lost in the fight and tumult of Madrid, years ago. He felt at times so lonesome, so very sad and dejected. Those moments however passed rapidly.
He was revising some on his new files, in a rather taciturn mood, thinking of this and that, when Mr. Sheldon Pariente entered his office to say goodbye.
The two men sat opposite one another, in the lawyer’s new office of Caltex House, with a big window facing Kent Street and the City.
‘Time flies,’ Sheldon said, ‘who would have thought, when we were purchasing that Neutral Bay property, which I’ve just put in the hands of The Prudential Trustees Limited, we would be leaving so soon?.’
‘I know,’ Galvao answered, ‘Helena told us, Kurraba Road, facing the little cove full of yachts. She loved the place’.
Pariente said that in the end it was decided they could not be bothered with agents. We’ve to leave now, and let the trustee company deal with it.
‘Yes,’ Luis said, ‘specially… the partnership in New York needs you.’
‘Well, it’s done. Luis, I came to say, we’re leaving on Saturday. Perhaps you’ll make it to New York one day. I won’t say any more. I know there is a blank in your life at this moment. We both understand your suffering and sympathise with you.’
‘How is Mrs. Pariente?’ Galvao rushed to ask.
‘Helena is okay. These are hectic days for both of us. I wouldn’t have believed it. We have disposed these days of so many things. Sending the luggage by ship, of course. Enough to fill a container. Exhausting. Then it’s always sad to leave. Why, Sydney is a beautiful place, and we’ve made many good friends.’
It was then that Luis Galvao made his first mistake, though he did not notice it straight away. Just going on to shop talk, he said: “So, the Crscuzov’s file is closed: the State Department’s taken over,” and asked. “to Tel-Aviv’s satisfaction, I suppose”.
Pariente did not like the remark, but being a genius in the matter of saving difficult situations, he said nothing, immediately changing the subject. ‘Luis I’d like you to say goodbye to Helena,’ he said, ‘she loved Malgorata, as you of course know.’
‘Would it be alright if I went to the airport?’
‘Of course. My wife, you see, can’t come down, so very few days left. She’ll like to talk to you, I’m assured. The plane leaves very early on Saturday morning.’
‘I shall be there.’
‘And now, my friend, let me give you a piece of advice,’ Pariente went on. ‘Luis, I’ve noticed a certain tendency in you to worry about things that do not concern you at all. Remember this, my boy, concentrate. Business, only business, my boy.’
‘I understand,” said the other hastily.
‘What I mean, your duty is towards your employers. As simple as that. Okay!, I know you worry, you ask yourself, point out about injustices. Luis, listen to me: that’s too broad and too abstract a subject.’
‘Of course Sheldon, perhaps I… the sort of childhood…’ Luis mumbled.
‘The world is as God made it. There has always been… you talk of suffering. Luis, there is a war! my dear boy. Between our civilisation and communism. Be practical, Luis. Show loyalty to the firm and to our clients; and you’ll succeed.’
As soon as he was left alone, Luis Galvao began writing a letter to Manuel Suárez, who had no access to a telehone line at work. For it so happened that his Spanish friend had invited him to a tavern meal in a public house at Haymarket on Saturday. He explained in his letter that a friend of his was leaving from Mascot that same Saturday, early morning. ‘I am writing,’ Luis concluded in his letter, ‘in case there is an unexpected delay, but I shall try to be there in good time.’
Then Luis went out with the letter in his pocket and down to George Street; there he turned right towards Martin Place, he strode quickly through the crowded square, thinking of what Mr Pariente had said about loyalty to his employer and to the system, and looking at the pretty girls that walked by, trying to calm his nerves and not think about anything in particular.
But he could not stop thinking. “Then, am I a fellow-traveller,” he said to himself. “Is that what I am? condemned as a communist because I seem to disagree with their ideas, those who think of nothing but maximising profits.”
Certainly Sydney was a most interesting place at lunch hour.
“All these people,” he thought, embracing in his look as many as he could, “are they seeing in me a possible enemy?”
He posted the letter at the G.P.O. and retraced his steps along the thoroughfare and nearly bumped into Sean O’Shanahan, a engineer and patent agent at the office. The man laughed heartily at the near-collision and Luis laughed too.
“Anything worrying you, Luis?”
“No, nothing. Well, Sean, see you at the office.”
Sydneysiders were going in and out of little shops and big stores in a shopping spree, as usual at lunch-hour, WOOLWORTHS, COLE’S, KNOCK & KIRBY’S, etc. He too went into a shop and bought a packet of sandwiches and a ‘Golden circle’ pineapple drink, in order to have lunch in his office.
On Saturday, when the taxi from the airport left Galvao on Little Pier Street, he found himself in a busy working-class district of low cottages, with no front garden or area-railing, some with an added bay-window, newly painted brick façade, fibro-cement-covered verandas, and a lot of smokeless chimneys.
To his surprise, Luis saw his friend in heated discussion with a handsome tall policeman, who held a notebook ready in his left hand, a biro in the other. Manuel was protesting and touching the policeman, which put him into a bad temper. Luis Galvao went up to them to see what was happening, while making his presence known. Manuel said the policeman wanted to make him pay a fine for no reason; and turning round to face the man again: ‘Sir, I assure you,’ he said, one finger on his chest, ‘the Ford Falcon’s perfectly parked.’
To his friend’s annoyance Luis advised him to pay the fine and be done with it. It was only a few bob.
It had to be said, in favour of the policemen, that all that district was full of parked vehicles and station-waggons, without counting the movement of the crowd, the number of wooden boxes and other containers piled everywhere.
‘He says I’ve parked badly,’ Manuel insisted, lifting one arm and puffing.
In the other hand, he now held a paper which he read out aloud. ‘Not parallel to the pavement. Now, what d’ye say to that? And he doesn’t even know how to spell parallel.’ Pointing with his finger to the fine. ‘Goodness me!’
‘Sir,’ the man interrupted nervously, also getting red on the face, ‘and not only that. Your car is two feet away from the pavement. You’re occupying too much space, on a market day.’
Luis noticed the Ford’s backseat was full of fruit and vegetables, indicative of the fact that he had being doing his shopping in the market, nearby. He repeated his advice, gripping his friend’s arm and pushing him on, away from the officer. ‘This happens to all car proprietors,’ he said, patting his friend. Soon they stepped into the public house where the tavern meal was to be had.
Manuel ordered some beer and they sat close to an open window. He lay at once his packet of cigarettes and a golden lighter on the table.
‘Dear Luis, why don’t you too try to smoke one of these?’ he suggested.
‘No, thank you,’ said Luis who was looking out of window.
‘I see you’re still depressed. How is life treating you at Kirribilli?’
‘The home-unit is alright. Roomy, in any case.’
‘You need a room companion.’
‘Correct! A girl-companion.’
Manuel laughed and lifted his arm to call the waiter, who brought a large jug of cold frothing beer. ‘I called you,’ he began, after the drink, ‘because I’d like you to say bye-bye to my dear Nino; I know you aren’t fond of him, but he likes you, you never made an effort to understand the dear boy. But let me first ask you about yourself. How did it go, this partner leaving from Mascot?’
‘Well, why do you ask?’
‘I’ve heard you speak of this American friend,’ Manuel replied caressing him, ‘those are the kind of friendships you ought to cultivate, instead of meeting those commies Murphy and Norman, who’ll ruin your career if you’re not careful.
The waiter, a tall guy of nordic complexion was watching, Manuel made sign with his hand, the guy came and took their order.
‘Dear Luis. You’ve come to Australia, like everyone else, to make money. Forget about politics…
He was stopped from giving advice by the waiter coming back with two large greasy dishes loaded with big T-bone steaks, each one with a fried egg on top, the whole surrounded by scores of shiny ultra-green peas.
During the meal Manuel brought out a series of papers he passed little by little to his friend, telling a story about a set of Spanish migrants wanting to found a Spanish club in Sydney, himself being in the group. His friend did not show as much enthusiam about a Spanish Club, and after another effort to demonstrate that “our countrymen” had the same right as the Italians and the Greeks to have a national club, where to meet, organise outings together, celebrate special occasions, play, sing and dance, and make friends, spending the weekends like Spaniards, he gave up, and they left the pub talking about the weather.
Once in the street, Manuel Suárez got quickly into his Ford-Falcon, and asked if he could give him a lift.
‘Oh, no!’ Luis replied, ‘I’ve nothing much to do for the rest of the day, and adore ambling about.’
‘Okay,but before you go, let me raise the matter about the Club again. You see, there are going to be elections to coveted posts. If you join now, as a founding member… in a word, you could help me to become the president.’
‘I’ll think it over,’ said Luis, ‘I’ll give you my reply on the thirtieth, when our returning migrants are sailing away, on the S.S. HIMALAYA.’
He watched his friend driving away in his Ford and turning Hay Street corner; then he moved among the now diminishing crowd coming out of shops, tea-rooms and pubs, all closing now one by one. Towards the Ultimo horizon he saw a small grey factory with a thin brick chimney he recognised as belonging to BUSHELL’S CO., tea merchants.
A wonderful day altogether, with a blue sky and little clouds, so round and fluffy as to make him think he was glancing at a flock of ultra-white tender lambs. He was now walking with a slight swing, no longer depressed.
‘New South Wales! Wonderful climate, wonderful atmosphere,’ he mused. Still in Haymarket, he was nearing the city, with Chinese restaurants “CHINESE AND AUSTRALIAN MEALS”, many tea-rooms and cafés, corner-stores and tiny workshops for repairs to watches, clocks, electic mowers, “Sunbeam” cookers and home-appliances, and army disposal stores, for amateur tradesmen, selling a variety of drilling and other machine-tools, work-clothes, dufflecoats and yellow waterproof clothing for fishing at high sea, and angling. And here all the establishments were still open.
And thus, striding along cheerfully and observing persons, places and things he eventually came to the City, less congested than on weekdays, less interesting that the last time he saw it. The weather got warmer and more windy as the Saturday advanced. At Central Railway, he caught a bus which took him down to an ocean beach he knew well. Lately he had often gone with Malgorata there. They had even gone at night once there to sing carols in candle-light.
Happy, but with his mind full of contradictory desires and resolutions, he stood alone and away from where the crowds were forming, watching the sands and the thumping of the breakers, the long bands of the advancing rollers crowned with lines like snow, and the horizon, that pure blue ample sky, the little cotton lambs, only bigger and more numerous with every hour that passed.
… a beautiful family, perfect manifestation of the “pairing cell”, love and sex of which Rousseau must have thought when he was beginning the idea of a social contract which he never explained well enough.
… they were flying a kite, a young married couple in their very brief swimmers, with two children in likewise apparel. The elder one of these, a blond girl of about twelve, was holding the cord, but her younger sister grumbled, it seemed.
… there was a small altercation, the little girlio grabbed the cord in her hand and ran with unsure step towards the water’s edge, gazing at the precious object.
… beautifully flying higher and higher… With such bad luck that she tripped over a stone or small rock half-hidden in the sand and the water surging with the tide. The toddler fell, letting the kite fly freely with the clouds into the cobalt blue.
… such is life. She was now crying desperately and the family came forward, watching overhead how the kite went even higher on its way no doubt to New Zealand and other Pacific islands. The man kissed the pretty woman.
Luis Galvao was leaving his office on the seventh floor of Caltex House, when he heard Bill MacNiven, patting him on the shoulder. ‘Hello, Luis, why so fast?’
‘No, nothing. I say, congratulations, Bill.’
They entered the lift with some others from their floor. William M. MacNiven had just passed some examinations in the Patent Office, Canberra, and was expected to join the partnership. He was accompanied in the descent to the ground floor by his secretary, Rose Poulet, a rather exotic beauty with pretty Asian eyes and rosy French face (her parents had run away from French Indochina, but she was born in Australia.)
The three crossed the revolving glass-doors at the same time, and stopped short chatting for a minute or two.
‘Here, Luis, do me this favour, please, buy me two tickets for the Opera Lottery, seeing you’re going to the Quay.’ The other said ‘aye! with pleasure, and saw the new Patent Agent going away with his secretary up in the direction of the Observatory Hill (it was rumoured in the office that Bill was planning to marry his secretary when taken on as a partner in Hutchkinson and White’s.
Luis had often had his lunch in the Observatory park, a small hill full of primeval trees and other vegetation, among them a large Moreton-Bay fig-tree. At length, he reached Circular Quay, bought the lottery tickets and went on his way on the promenade in front of the ferryboat jetties. Peddlars and vendors of many kinds. It was a lovely autumn day, with a cloudless sky.
He wore a light flannel suit and no hat, perfectly white shirt and shiny black shoes. He strode towards Bennelong Point, turning his eye right and left as if looking for someone or something (which he was not), carrying in his right hand a big black attaché-case, which he balanced forwards and backwards as he went on. At length, he sat on the buffalo-grass watching the ferries going to the north side of the harbour and, after a little while, he placed the atttaché-case on his knees, opened it with a little key and got out a packet of sandwiches and a thermos full of tea; a most convenient place to spend the lunch hour, not far from the rocks and the bay and the sea. Good that he worked in one of the City skyscrapers. Except for the noise which you had like in all cities, and nowadays construction. There had been lately plans to build an opera house exactly here, and these last few days, nearby, a deep big hole had been dug out and there were labourers with bulldozers, tractors and other machinery and raw materials all around.
He had made good friends with some off his fellow-workers, in the office, and often came out together with Maureen and Bill MacNiven and Nina Poulet, his secretary. They went of a Saturday evening the four to a nightclub in Kings Cross called THE CLUB, where they danced and drank ‘Champagne’, and had lots of fun together. The men felt sad at closing time, too early for their liking, and the girls laughed when all finished with the song “Oh, welcome, welcome to the Club!” And there Luis’s doubts and anguish began, because he was obliged, of course, to bring his pretty hot secretary, back from King’s Cross in his Holden, and never dared drive her to Kirribilli. On the contrary, when he reached Park Street, corner George Street, he turned left pretty quickly and hit the road to Parramatta. Maureen Kirilenko was still a minor, and he would not ruin his career finding himself one day before a court of justice.
He left her near her house, at the end of a small terrace, saw her half-stumble into the property, and drove back to the city, hitting the Bradfield Highway and crossed the bay. At long last he reached his home-unit, at Kirribilli, sweaty and extremely tired. But he did not sleep the whole night. In his armchair, by the big window, contemplating the harbour by night, he listened to the musical poem “Peer Gynt” and cried when a blind Solveig sang her Song. She had been faithful to her man all her life and now was dying, sitting alone at night at her cabin’s door; the terrifying solitude of a scene of far way, a deep long fiord.
He was seeing all this on the record-cover he held in his hand. The bleak marvellous scene, the left corner of the record, a desperately ill returning migrant, Peer Gynt, the grand traitor.
O’Shanahan was different sort of man, and just as friendly. He had asked him quite surprised one day: “Why don’t you come to the Marble Bar any more for a chat over a glass of beer?” “I hate that sort of social gathering,” Luis had replied. “Come and join us this Friday at the Toxteth, in Glebe. You’ll find it another kind of reunion.”
He really met different men that Friday night at the Toxteth. A set of certainly genuine people, all social classes mixed, all with the Aussie fibre in them, the descendants of the men who built Australia, transformed the New South Wales and Victoria coast lands previously nearly uninhabitable into a new chunk of land, working people of all categories, who call one another mates.
Real Aussies and happy to be, coming together every Friday evening in Glebe the wonderful Toxteth Hotel, in Glebe, meeting, chatting, swearing eternal friendship, over a glass of beer.
Third-generation Australians, some of them, which is the most anyone can claim in this young country, the populated areas of the coast; the desert with the aboriginees being worlds away. Galvao now in Glebe, with O’Shanahan, McRoss, Paddy, MacGregor, Barry, Kelly, Johnny, Johnston, Murphy, Bruce.
‘Australia’s as good as any country an’ much better than many!’
‘We receive newcomers with open arms.’
‘There’s the devil overthere’: ‘war, destruction, famines and communism.’
‘Italy, Spain and Greece, and plenty of Eastern Europeans. Much hunger and poverty.’ ‘And now become New Australians.’ Freedom and plenty of jobs.’
‘Hold it! And the assisted passages, who pays for them, you tell me.’
‘And our ancestors, who paid for their passage? Now you tell me! Transportation.’ ‘Wait! We too. It was thanks to the Royal Authorities then in London, as once they decided to send out all our ancestors.’
‘An’ bring’em over here. The New Country. And glad to be.’
‘I’ve been in Paris, mate.’
‘Oh, tell us! I’d like to hear ‘bout I’m told the streets of Paris are full of women of easy living.’
‘About the birds, you say? I’ve been told of boulevards full of birds o’ease living.’
‘Hey, mate! don’t blow yer smoke in my face.’
‘And you, bastard! respect age.’
One afternoon Luis Galvao received at his office the visit of a friend, Heribert Wormser, who was accompanied by a dark-eyed gentleman he thought he recognised but could not attach a name to the face, until Wormser said: ‘Sir Reginald Greene!’
Among other things, the celebrated Rose Bay multibillionaire was a qualified engineer and famous inventor. He wanted Luis Galvao, and particularly his New York principals, to help him to maximise results on the exploitation of one of his recently registered patents in the field of exploration.
‘I have still eleven moths for extending registration world-wise. I need some financial help. Your principals in New York might help to find a partner.’
He said this in a loud voice, and Luis Galvao knew at once that what he wanted was to play with his invention, maximise results.
In the sphere of international finance, interest-rates were high and the dollar just as good as gold, according to the conventional wisdom of the time. Innovation (a word currently used) was a pretext to secure profits.
In a world of currency-circulation control, two sets of financiers in different countries often got together to ‘exploit’ their patents the way one squeezes a lemon: to extract all the juice from one’s possessions.
A patent is an intellectual property and therefore rare are the individuals that can attach exact prices to it. Financial activists (not engineers, chemists or physicists) knew how to act. Galvao, observing his new client while he spoke, knew what that look meant. A set of celebrated crooks in Manhatan together with bigger crooks in other parts, could pass on, with great formality, millions of dollars double-quick from one end of the planet to another, chasing devaluations, interest rates and God knew what Satan put into action. Economists call it ‘les capitaux flottants’, floating capitals, etc.
When the discussions had been completed, arrangements were made for Mr. Greene to fly to New York. As the two were leaving, Luis turned to his German friend and said, smiling: ‘Well, Heribert, are you happy? A returning migrant. In a few months, back in Köln. Is that what you wanted?’
The German said yes with his eyes. A moment later, as the two visitors were getting in the lift outside the office, Luis said to Heribert: ‘Well, Pyrmont 13, on the thirtieth? I shall be there. Give me a call to let me know your cabin number.’
In all circumstances Manuel Suárez was a good man and a very good friend of Luis Galvao, who was to meet him, on the thirtieth day of April so that the two could go together down to the Pyrmont Overseas Terminal. He was seen that day entering Caltex House, looking with curious eyes at the many office-workers coming at that hour out of the lifts into the ground-floor hall: girls from different typing-pools and the rest: professionals and practitioners of several arts and sciences, agents, partners, clerks and other executives and the senior ladies, as important some of them as the men. All were there, down to those who in the offices and dependencies prepared and served all day those urns of tea and jugs of milk, with biscuits: “Arnolds”, “Peak Freens”, etc.
The lifts were arriving all the time; twelve or thirteen people scampered out and about, mixing among those who for some reason were standing, waiting perhaps for someone to descend to the hall.
Manuel now rushed to embrace and kiss his Spanish friend, who had just set his foot on the marble floor of the ample hall.
Luis at once felt furious at being so kissed and cuddled in the middle of the moving crowd. His normally pale face became red like a tomato. “Most indecent bastard!” he thought, “In public!” The truth was that he was thinking of one other person. He hated the idea of her having seen her boss being kissed on the mouth by such an odd man. He knew his secretary had been descending in another lift at the same time.
‘I was passing the time with a friend who brought me by car from uni,’ Manuel was saying. And his friend was not listening. To think that Maureen was there, Lord Above!! He would not have minded half as much if it were not that his pretty girlio was there… seeing everything. Had the whole world seen the scene, he would not have minded half as much.
They began the descent to Circular Quay arm-in-arm, and as they were turning the George Street corner, Manuel abruptly parted company from his friend. “Wait a mommo. I wana buy some New Zealand kiwis. My Nino adores ‘em,” he called.
The Quay always was full of people, at all times: street vendors with hand-carts or other vehicles, newspaper boys frisking and shouting out the evening news, and other kinds of traders.
The two friends soon joined steps striding towards the concrete columnade. ‘I’m so glad you’ll come to his cabin in the Himalaya, oh yes! you see Heribert Wormser first. Now, you know? Nino adores you, but you’re such a disgraceful bloke. I wonder how people can put up with you, old Mate, or why I love you so much.’
‘Countrymen meeting in the antipodes, that must be it. Both from Madrid.’
They reached the taxi-stand, having agreed to share the fare; and minutes later they were being expertly driven through back streets and avenues to the waterfront, for the city was impossible. They crossed the bridge over Darling Harbour and the taxi left them in Pyrmont, right down to a region of many single wharves, Pyrmont 1, Pyrmont 2 up to number thirteen, which was the main international or Overseas Terminal, where the majestic liner they were going to visit (S.S. HIMALAYA) was berthed, newly painted, already smoking, big and beautiful. They saw “her” in the distance, striding along, increasing their pace all the time. Her silhouette was cut beautifully in the evening sky, the last rays of a reddish sun reflected brightly over her entire length.
It was a celebrated spot of an expanding metropolis, named Pyrmont 13, the hour, 7 p.m. The scene was a typical one. A liner is about to depart. On the quay and on the decks of the ship many noisy excited people of all ages. Some are leaving, some are staying behind. Most of them have this in common, they are sad and agitated. The moment of separation has arrived; for in about two hours, S.S. Himalaya will have sailed under the Harbour Bridge, gone the length of the bay to the Heads and on to the ocean.
When shall we see one another again, oh dear, oh dear? So many moments of shared happiness, so many things done in common these last two years; now I follow the voice which calls me back to the land of my birth, and leave this wealthy world, this liberty, your friendship.
… oh gosh! now caught by this sense of mental fatigue, constant contradictions, this weariness, almost like old age: I see this beautiful land, almost surely for the last time. The easy life among these friendly if somewhat sullen people.
… while you stay. So many emotions experienced together over the years: the arrival, the initial difficulties, a style of life I came to cherish, the rich surroundings.
… and, since the decision to leave, I’ve had no peace of mind. I’m forsaking so many things and friends, turning my back on so many opportunities. Yearning for this return and suddenly this remorse.
After one hour on the liner, now on the quay alone in the midst of a crowd. Metamorphosis. Transformed into the eternal outside observer, poor Galvao! ‘Oh, blind Fortune! Why are you doing this to me?’ wails a lonesome man by his side, who had just left his love, fleeing from the wrath to come. His angel now gone (lately found in the Italian Club) he cannot understand why she goes away from him and he’s staying behind, oh sadness! that we shall pass the rest of our lives away from one other; for that promise of in one year’s time meeting again in Napoli will never be fulfilled, we both know that: maybe the remembrance will remain.
Another returning migrant thinks that soon he’ll be back in the old country and still feels sad, why? ‘A thorn is about to come out, and perhaps a bigger one will penetrate my flesh still deeper and much more painfully…
‘A chill that will send me into wretchedness more profound than anything I have experienced so far.’
For now our best years are left behind, and nothing will replace that energy, that youthful enthusiasm with which we once embarked upon that great adventure; that wonderful enterprise, visiting foreign parts, that wish to roam the earth, sweet home left well behind – in the first place; discovery of new places and different climes, multitudes, people speaking other languages, a tall girl for me with firm step, those intense blue eyes, long auburn hair, you a Mediterranean always ready to conquer.
On the quay there is a multitude of raised hands, Australian flags and waving handkies. A profusion of streamers displayed all over and specially above the crowd of visitors saying goodbye on the shore. Off in all directions fly the streamers, from the hands of those on the ship, unrolling down to the keen fingers of those on the pier and viceversa. Some passengers have paper bags full of streamers; they get one out, hold the end of the paper ribbon tightly between thumb and finger, raise their hand and with a skilful flick of the wrist hurl the unwinding serpentine towards their friends on shore down below. ‘There it goes!’ ‘Jump!’ ‘Catch it!’ Multicoloured paper threads, crossing and recrossing each other’s trajectory, more and more of them all the time, all over. Those on the ship trying to catch, bend forward… or hold now the end of unrolling streamers going away… Hey, there! coming this way another one, this way, that way, circling high in the air, from down below, everywhere, everybody sharing in the fun; while on the wharf and on the decks vendors move about, yelling out, ‘Oh, streamers, streamers! Who’ll buy my streamers?’ Until a mesh is formed which rather looks like a vault of interwoven paper threads, the ends of a thousand threads of coloured paper with each one… the fun and the heat made them so very happy… the paper vault starts to disintegrate.
From the fingers of one who is about to leave, a returning migrant, to those of a dear one standing on the shore… very soon nothing will be left. But the outside observer does hear a woman sigh by his side. A man responds smiling. The land where they found employment they shall never leave. Behold dear wife (thinks another one), will this not kill our love, our last tangible contact, this feeble paper link? Are we not lying to ourselves? Goodbye, forever.
An elderly couple returning to Europe after a long stay in New South Wales visiting a son and daughter-in-law who migrated so far away years ago, and getting to know a crew of Aussie grandchildren. Poor oldies! They are quieter than usual. All has passed and gone so very quickly! ‘It’s the last time we see them,’ the old man murmurs, and his little wife, clutching his hand, responds, ‘Time does wear wings.’
Time does fly. And matter turns round and round, passing on, eternally changing, transforming itself into a new kind of energy… it was… it seemed to be durable, quite essential and… it’s gone, it’s gone.
‘What does life come to?’ a lonely returning migrant on one of the upper decks asks himself, contemplating with sad eyes the scene, the din and tumult, which will every moment increase, from now on.
‘What then?’ asks a young man; he was brought Down Under as a child, and now he doesn’t know why he’s leaving really. Perhaps adventure, to get to know places; and now ‘la patria.’ In a month or two I’ll be overthere; shall I find what I’m looking for? How long will I take to be homesick… the other way round?’ If she, the girl he leaves behind… had he known… he’ll miss so many things, this atmosphere, this exuberant life…
The loudspeakers are heard: Gangways about to be lifted! Visitors ashore!
For there are still a good many non-travellers on the ship, mainly in the cabins of departing friends. Bottles of sparkling wine ‘Barossa Pearl’ are being opened in profusion to wish ‘bon voyage’… to drink and celebrate God knows what. They are forgetful, the visitors are, they’ve heard the official calls inviting them to leave the liner, and although they know it will cost them dear if they overstay their visit and have to return to port with the pilot in his little boat, they fail to heed the order. ‘Never mind!’ ‘To hell with everything!’ ‘Drink, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.’ ‘Come on!’ A final embrace, a hug, a big kiss. ‘When shall we meet again?’ There follows the usual exchange of blessings, messages to be passed on once overthere, mutual promises soon to be forgotten, sudden fears, regrets, expressions of grief and shouts aplenty, cursing fate and destiny. ‘Damn it all!’ ‘What will the future reserve us?’ ‘What shall I do without you, my love?’ They already feel, returning migrants, that once in the native land, solitude once more will be their daily lot, that overthere they will miss the new country tremendously, the Australia they have been railing against for years. Going back! to suffer a fresh fatal disappointment?
… when I was a little boy, one summer, my father took us to a port in the north. One day, my brother took me to see the liners arrive from Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, New York. Beautiful women descending the gangways … one night, on the quay there was another sort of people. We watched them from behind the wire fence. ‘They’re emigrants,’ someone muttered, nearby.
… it was a crowd of miserable people. They had been there since early morning (our informant added), around a pile of boxes and other luggage… I wanted to run away. There was a ship in the port, just arrived. There were children playing around the baggage. Suddenly, two terrible hoots in the air, coming from the ship, and at once the ‘emigrants’ stood up and began to trail, each one carrying a box or two, suitcases or whatever: the children too carried things.
… through my tears (I had not a clue why the tears were running down my cheeks) I saw the gangways full of dark shadows climbing up, climbing… my brother asked one of the people, standing with us, if he please knew the time? ‘A quarter past nine,’ the man replied. And we ran home.
‘Gangways about to be lifted! Visitors are requested to leave the ship immediately!’ Luis Galvao heard the loudspeakers going on.
There is tumult and confusion on the ship; people rushing out of crowded cabins, hustle and bustle in the corridors and passages; friends and relatives galloping away… and parting lovers are still holding hands near the crowded gangways, those that go and those that stay, so many trembling fingers that cling desperately to the flesh of other hands. A man parts from his wife, a lovely Calabrian girl taking the ‘bambino’ to the ‘nónna’ in their native village. ‘I’ll soon be back, my darling, we shall work together, make money, and perhaps one day… She cannot finish the sentence for tears are choking her, large salty tears: like those of her sturdy husband with a foot already stepping down the gangway.
Numerous are those already stumbling down the ship’s gangways, some of them quite drunk. As if there had been anything to celebrate. Coming down, the ‘visitors’ are still singing or blowing some whistles and paper trumpets: like in a party, for that is what had been going on in some of the cabins.
And the now furious call, coming from the loudspeakers: ‘We repeat, visitors are requested to leave the ship immediately… we repeat, im – media – te – lyyyyyyy!’ And the man from Calabria now moving rather mechanically, following those that like himself are climbing down to the quay. Everybody has something to do. But Galvao has not moved at all these last few minutes. He has been thinking deeply. The moment of his departure, back in fifty-six. The thought is brought back to him with renewed bitterness: so many associations with things past. Why can’t he be like the rest of humans. Oh, forgetfulness! Won’t it come at last one day?
Luis Galvao gazes back at the deck full of people, still trying to rush down the gangways. Again, he sees the Calabrian fellow, notices how he has stopped short in the middle of the descent, gazing at his beloved, with the bambino, that pretty peasant woman waving … Till when? the husband is probably thinking. Will not something change the course of our life? Arrivederci, amata mia!
A group of fair-haired youngsters have succeeded in climbing upon a platform by the Customs’ Office overhanging the pier, they are making a deafening noise, singing in their German language (they are standing on a concrete surface, at the height of the lower deck.) They’ve just hurled up into the air a grotesque sort of streamer made up of old nylon stockings, which they have tied one to another, like a unending string of ‘chorizo’ sausages… unrolling, flying down to the eager fingers of another German youth on the ship. ‘’Catch it !’’ ‘’Well done, Dieter!’’ ‘’Now then, smile !’’ ‘’Goodbye, Dieter!’’ ‘’Have a good trip !’’ And all at the same time, with the full strength of their lungs: ‘’Auf… wieder… sehen, Dieter’’ And a loud shout, ‘’Bye-bye Gunther, Richard… ‘’Auf.. wieder… sehennnnn!’’ ‘’Good luck to you, dear Dieter, goodbye!’’ ‘’See you in Hamburg, Willy…, Helmut…!’’ With them is the most handsome Walkiria ever seen. “Goodbye, Heribert, my love!!”
‘’We repeat…. Last call…. Gangways about to be withdrawn… All visitors ashore… Visitors are requested to leave the ship im-media-tely, we repeat, im – medi – atelyyyyyyy!’’
There is pandemonium: the pangs of hearts torn asunder; a last-minute feeling of repentance – in some cases cries of utter despair – from those who are no longer sure of anything; the mutual promises at cruel partings; the new prospects ahead; the regrets of those who now think they should have stayed a bit longer, to give Australia a real chance, and perhaps Australia would have reciprocated.
Oh, so many, many doubts and misgivings… and the impossibility of turning the clock back! By now the gangways are thronged with people coming down from the liner SS Himalaya. The railings along the decks facing the pier become still more crowded: bodies bending over, heads above other heads and shoulders, arms outstretched, lifting hats and handkerchiefs, hands still clutching the ends of streamers. And similarly a multitude of friends and relatives ashore just as excited and agitated.
From the shore Manuel Suárez gazes amorously at a large young man seen on the lower deck above the shoulders and heads of other returning migrants. My!! Oh, my good boy, my dear dear good boy!! ‘Nino, don’t forget!’ he shouts, cupping his hands around his mouth. He doesn’t know whether to smile or to weep. Smoothing his sleeky hair with the palm of his hand, still waiting for Nino’s reply, he sees the big boy waving sloppily and shouting something which he cannot catch. A last streamer comes to his hands, whirling, whirling round. He catches it. He doesn’t know where it comes from. For Nino hasn’t moved. And when they were together in his cabin, eating kiwis, the same. Almost as if he were not alive.
He feels the tears welling up, and makes an effort not to give way to despair. He passes discreetly one hand over his brows. He would like to look manly today of all days, so that his boyfriend may take as good an impression of him as possible. He turns to Galvao and says sadly: ‘Luis, it’s not only that I feel a sense of loss, a gnawing pain in my heart, that sort of thing. But the way we’ve been forced to part company! Absolutely disgusting.’
‘I know. I mean, I guess your grief,’ says Galvao, who for his part is trying to trace Heribert Wormser in one or other of the main decks.
The decks are so crowded now that he cannot see the friend who for more than nine months was his room-companion.
The blast of a hooter from the liner puts an end to Luis Galvao’s reveries. He turns to Manuel, who is blowing a kiss to the young Italian. Another hoot, and the imposing ‘’Himalaya’’ begins to move away, pulled out by two steaming tugboats. Bits of many-coloured paper ribbons are now seen fluttering on the side of the liner; confetti and bits of streamers visible on the ground of the pier, trampled by the already-leaving mass of people.
‘Hey!! Oh, dear!,’ Luis Galvao hears Manuel say. ‘Heribert is making signs at you!’
‘Heribert, old fellow,’ he thinks, as he at last catches sight of his friend waving from the upper deck, ‘’may you find back home all the fine things you have been missing these last two years in Australia!’
Another blast of a hooter from the liner. And he sees the ‘Himalaya’ drawing away between the two tugboats: filling the air above them with black smoke.
‘Arrivederci!’ Manuel murmurs, quite moved and still waving, although it is obvious that nobody from the liner sees him.
‘So, Nino has now left,’ Galvao comments.
‘It was his father, the bloody greengrocer,’’ Manuel replies, choking. ‘’He claims I was corrupting his son.’
Galvao was watching the liner, already in the middle of the harbour. For a moment it seemed as if time had stopped still and the ship would after all not go away. For she is stockstill where the smaller bay joins the waters of Port Jackson harbour. At length another blast is heard, the little tugs once more pull away most forcefully, throwing up long wreaths of black smoke. Then the ‘’Himalaya’’ too begins to throw smoke out in great quantities. And for the visitors the whole ado is over. The returning migrants, for their part, will soon be sailing under the Harbour Bridge, heading towards the mysterious (elusive for the early explorers) gate of Sydney’s harbour, the two rocky promontories called the Heads, so very near the one from the other… and out into the Pacific Ocean.
The two Spaniards walk together in good camaraderie, past one of the parking lots, towards an open gate. They pass by the massive Goods Yard, climb up a narrow lane to the height of the Pyrmont Power Station. Two important, though not main, roads join there.
‘He’s acted like a pig,’ Manuel resumes the interrupted conversation when they saunter along a short road called Union Street. ‘Fucking greengrocer! Nino had to return to Palermo as a matter of course. Shit! To live with his granny, he said. Now, talk of corrupting the youth. Why, they are destroying by their act their own child! You understand? He’ll go crazy over there, poor Nino. He’s never lived in Sicily, you know. It’s not his country. For they brought him over when he was just a babe-in-arms. Now, what is he going to do, alone… without me; what’s he going to do overthere with an old hag he doesn’t know and whom he’s not going to understand at all? Ludicrous, I tell you! Gosh, they treat him like a bambino, a lad of nineteen!’’
Galvao said nothing, and Manuel, passing the palms of his hands over his brow and eyes, exclaimed: ‘’Oh, how I love that man! Going to miss ‘im terribly!’’
‘I know, ‘’ Galvao uttered, ‘’he was ever so attached to you.’’
‘The dearest boy! And they’ve not even come, as you’ll have noticed, to see ‘im off, their only son. They talk! It’s more important for them to sell, keeping the store open than to kiss him my Nino goodbye. Making money, that’s what it is. The all-important business. Fifteen hours a day, that sort of thing. That’s all that counts, the greedy-guts. Much they care about my Nino. Why, they had abandoned him. Absolutely. It was me, Luis, that taught‘im everything he knows. That’s why the bloody father had to meddle. Jealousy, my dear Luis, I’m certain of that!’’
They reached the bridge, they mixed with the crowd and, as if by magic, all his sadness vanished in a minute. Without saying a word, he ran to the zebra crossing, strode to the opposite pavement (in the light of the two contiguous spherical yellow beacons on tall poles) and there he called out, surprisingly, cupping his hands around his big lips: ‘I say, Luis, why don’t we dine together in a restaurant tonight?’
‘You’ll have to cross back,’ Galvao shouted.’
Next moment they both were running along Pyrmont Bridge, for a double-decker bus was coming, the one going to North Sydney, which Luis woud have caught in any case. They both got off at the Kent Street stop. And down they went striding to the City. A group of Japanese, all men, was standing at the entrance of the Wentworth Hotel, near a small coach. ‘A group of tourists,’ Manuel commented, hooking his friend’s arm, ‘they’re taking them to Doyle’s or some other first-class restaurant by the sea.’
‘Get away from me,’ Luis yelled, pushing his friend’s hand off with fury. ‘And those Japs, if you want to know, what they are in Syney for is not for booze and fun, but business… Japan is becoming one of the wealthiest countries in the world.’
At George Street, turning right, Manuel again changed the subject: ‘This is what beats me. We are in the centre of a big rich metropolis, full of light – it’s just like daylight where we are and hardly a few stragglers!’
‘So, what do you want?’ Luis replied. ‘Okay, overthere you’d have had the madding crowd… late spring there now. Irrational!’
‘Hell Luis! you must remember, overthere in the autumn, this corresponds to our October sort of thing, I assure you, the streets animated all night, with this weather. Don’t you like that?’
‘I say, now shut up! I need to find my way to the restaurant I’ve mentioned,’ said Luis, getting out of his jacket pocket an airmail letter, which he posted at the G.P.O. dashing up and running down the stone steps.
And on they went for a while arm-in-arm until Luis stopped short at a corner in Pitt Street, looking at his friend and saying: ‘This is the place.’
It was a long, narrow establishment which he had described to his friend Manuel some mlnutes before, on the double-decker bus they boarded at Pyrmont Bridge as “typical Chinese restaurant”. Rather like a Buddhist Pagoda and a carriage (with neon light) of the dead and gone Oriental Express. Apart from ornaments, it consisted of a series of wooden benches and broad Formica planks for the corresponding tables inbetween, with a long corridor in the middle. There was an equally long window on one side, and on the other a wide mirror with embossed Chinese characters and the translation, ‘Australian and Chinese Meals’ and the design of pagodas, stylised birds and some almond or cherry trees, misty clouds and delicate Oriental ladies holding parasols.
Manuel was the first to speak. He asked something he had already asked in the bus. ‘Now, tell me dear, in detail, how are you getting on in your new place? I’ll pay you a visit one of these days, if you raise no objection to my visit.’
‘Need not bother, for the time being,’ Luis said curtly, ‘there’s so much to do.’ ‘Solitude is a bad companion, you know.’
‘Yes, I feel it more directly now, living in a skyscraper.’
‘You need a room-companion.’
‘Assuredly! A girl companion.’
‘Her? the Margaret on the airmail envelope?’ asked Manuel with a queer quizzical look in his eyes.
‘You bastard, what d’you know?’ exclaimed Galvao in astonishment.
‘Well, wasn’t it Margaret, the addressee of the letter you’ve just posted at Martin Place?’
‘I see, you bloody bastard!’ Galvao smiled. ‘You’re as curious as a cat. Sticky beak.’
Just then an elegant almond-eyed waitress came to their table, holding a pencil and a note-book in her hands. Pushing his hair back with one hand and holding the menu in the other, Manuel went over all the listed items, reading the English names, wondering at the Chinese characters, entering into conversation now and then with the Asian waitress, who obviously thought him handsome and interesting.
When the meal had been ordered and the waitress had passed on to another table, Manuel asked, somewhat coquettishly. ‘Now, did you notice how she looked at me? I looked handsome, didn’t I?’ and once more Manuel passed his hand through his hair.
Luis did not answer. His eyes, conscience and all his being perhaps were now concentrated on the person now engaged by the waitress some feet ahead.
… oh, my precious golden-haired sphinx, what may your secret be!… that you were once in Madrid?… that we were going to get married, is that it? tell me, is that it… at uni, the riots, ‘antidisturbios’ setting us asunder…
… I see a young lady now so near, giving her back to me, the woman I loved? I love and desire; her short hair so blond and wavy and that perfectly straight-up back… always elegant, agile, an enchanting figure.
… to hear just now once more her melodious northern voice: a still older remembrance. Six years since that first kiss, that abandoned canal, Yorkshire’s East Riding. Six years have passed.
‘Luis,’ he hears his friend’s voice, with a simultaneous nudge on his elbow, ‘what’s the matter?’
Their dinner has been served, complete with a pot of Lapsang Suchong tea and two small ceramic containers with colourful gravy. Making an extraordinary fuss about the different chunks of meat or chicken and bits of vegetables, which he insists on naming, and giggling all the while, Manuel serves plenty of gravy all over, pours the tea into similar ceramic bowls. Afterwards he begins to pass some elements from one dish to the other, asking some questions about preferences and giving instructions about sauces and different kinds of pepper or mustard or God knows what. Once these preliminaries completed, he advises Luis to make use, as he does, of the chopsticks. ‘Like this, don’t you see?’ he insists and even touches caressingly his hands.
At length, after again exchanging some words with the waitress, the young woman who had so much intrigued Luis Galvao rose from her seat, turned and stepped forward to pay the bill. One elegant step forward.
… oh, divine image of his loving girl! “Margaret!!” and he saw the golden sphinx in all her splendour.
As she passes by, her blue eyes fixed on him, she inadvertently drops a piece of paper she was holding in her hand. And he quicky stands up. ‘Your bill,’ he exclaims, picking it up and handing it to her.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered; and as she smiled, a dimple appeared on her left cheek.
On April the first, during the lunch hour, Luis Galvao found himself sauntering along the streets of the city, searching into the face of every blond woman he came across, blaming himself for having let the adorable girl of Pitt Street last night pass by, without saying another word to her, without explaining that he has been wanting all these years to come to her again, that he needed her.
At Martin Place he turned right into Pitt Street and went on until he entered the Chinese restaurant and sat down at one of the formica tables, which he shared with a middle aged lady of rather severe aspect.
A girl of Oriental aspect served him his lunch, which he ate with his spoon to avoid difficulties and complications, and this absence of etiquette caused the woman to look at him with suspicion: she had an ugly wart on her chin, which seemed to be pointing at him.
After eating his lunch, he rose from his seat and went to the Chinese waitress to pay his bill, and as he was going away, he asked rather awkwardly if a blond young lady who spoke with a northern English accent was a regular client. He had come there with the hope of seeing her. She did not know anything; in fact she did not understand him at all.
Retracing his steps to Caltex House, he spent the afternoon alone in his office. Alone again at night in his home-unit. In the dark, by the window, facing the harbour. Watching the diminishing maritime traffic, the work being performed by the wharfies on some of the docks, the lights of the City some two miles away.
He was buckling his haversack on his back, having just had breakfast, with his friend Manuel at a Chinese tea-room in Lackey Street. All the streets and alleyways around Paddy’s Market were full of people, parked vehicles, wooden boxes and other containers. A bulldog had just made a jump over a collection of containers and was barking at a wooden cage full of pigeons. ‘Com-o-on, here!!’ was whistling and shouting his master, a rather rough character.
The two friends went around Harbour Street, entering Paddy’s Market through the main gate.
An immense closed space, one of the largest single-roof structures Luis had seen in his life. Voices in English, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Maltese and other languages. Farmers and cattle-breeders have come with their produce from Parramatta, Orange, Mudgee, Murrumbidgee River Valley, Katoomba and other near and faraway places. All over one can see the men and their wives singing out, calling, offering, bawling: ‘there! Come back! Twoerbob, twoerbob!’ ‘What d’ee say to that? Come on! Take the lot!’ ‘Here! if you mike me an offer!’ ‘Cheap, cheap!’ Box upon box full of goods like towers everywhere. And everywhere the pungent smell of fresh fruit and veggies recently gathered in small and large farming properties alike; the aroma of many different plants, and mixed with it all the enervating odour of sea food, oysters and other molluscs and all kinds of fish and meat, and live animals both domestic and wild: the most varied of fish, and the best beef in the world, and mutton, poultry and salted bacon; cages with rabbits and birds, fowl to eat or ornamental to keep; four-legged familiar pets as well as tortoises big and small, and lizards, guinea pigs… you name it!
The air is moist and grey. One can hear the tapping of the persistent rain on the corrugated iron roof, which is seen from the ground at some distance overhead, murky and unattractive. Flying about or perched on the many wrought iron beams and girders, pigeons cooing, sparrows diving from time to time to catch some goodies on the ground. Nor could the white silky seagulls be missing in a place like this.
On the ground another bizarre population of living beings, engaged in essential commercial transactions. Market economy. Vendors and purchasers. The ones singing the praises of wanted or unwanted commodities. Here is where he excels. ‘Now here, my jolly mates everyone of you, come and buy my apricots, sweet apricots! Try one!’
The others looking for bargains. Just now they are listening. ‘Ten bob a case! Ten bob a case!’ ‘Now, wot’d you say for the lot? No? I’ll throw a whole marrow on top!’ ‘Shilling a bunch! Shilling a bunch!’ ‘Two-a bob! a dozen for six bob!’ ‘A pound, fifteen shillings, five bob? No? Wot’ll you give?’ ‘Hey, mate, I really am ashamed of you. Come an’ buy me lettuces!’ ‘No, ma’am, you won’t ave’it for one bob, or I’d rather give’t to you.’ ‘Come ‘eer Missus, don’t go!!’ ‘Two shillin’, a shillin’, who says a pawpaw’s expensive at a shillin’ a piece?’ ‘Come on! Come, I’ll tell’ee wot! I’ll throw in a big water melon!’ ‘Two a bob, two a bob! Come!’ ‘Two bob, one bob, ten pence, come on!’ ‘There now! What d’ee say for both?’ ‘This is a fantastic offer!! This is me, me, Johnny Brown, from Parramatta!’ ‘Here, come back, come back! I’ll tell’ee what I’ll do for you! You buy the box an’ I’ll throw in some extra oranges!’ ‘Hey! Don’t go away!’ ‘Buy my grapefruit!’
And along the aisles the purchasers moving on, screwing their necks right and left, spying out for big bargains. ‘Carmela, veni qui!’ ‘Oranges! I need them. Hurry up Jack!’ ‘Damn you, you’ve torn my stockings with your trolley!’ ‘No, Missus, I haven’t!’ ‘You bleddy well have!’ ‘Why, you should’ve walked faster!’ ‘An’ you shouldn’t bring them bleddy things in a crowded place like this.’ ‘Shut up! Where am I supposed to carry me shoppin’, you tell me!’
‘A bob! Sixpence! Only sixpence for a bunch of celery!’ ‘Anybody wants?’ ‘Come! What you offer?’ ‘Fresh! Fresh! Get yer greens here!’ ‘Three bob! Wot d’ee say at this splendid offer? Come on, don’t be shy!’ ‘Here, I’ll throw in a bunch of parsley.’ ‘Oranges! Who wants a box? Here, missus, say two quid, say one quid, say ten bob, nay nine bob, hey! nine bob for the bloody lot! Givin’em away! Nine shillin’ for a crate of best South Australian oranges!’ ‘Here, lady! Chuck this pumpkin into your bag!’ ‘You say two-n-three, mate? No, you shan’t have the lot for two-n-three!’ ‘Free, free, free, giv’em free! Two-n-sixpence. Who wants ‘em?’ ‘Come here, don’t go away!’ ‘Now, my lords and ladies Aussies and New Australians all! I’ll let you into a secret: sweet bananas, from Queensland’.
‘Bloody hell! You’ve no manners, man! Pushing!’ ‘Madam, you should’ve kept on moving.’ ‘And you, knocking people about! Is that what you come here for?’
‘There, now, come back! Two a bob, you find that dear? Three a bob, missus, what d’ye say? Don’t go, don’t go, make me a offer… She’s gone! A case of oranges: two bob, one bob sixpence. Ye say one bob sixpence, okay, mate, here it goes, take care. Them oranges from my orchard.” ‘’Sixpence for the lot. What d’you say now, madame? Come, sixpence too much? Pawpaws like these?” “Stop! I’ll find you a bigger one. Here, Queensland pineapples! Sweet Queensland pineapples! Sixpence, who wants ‘em? Hey I’m giving the things away. This is me, Mario from Brisbane land.’’ ‘’Hey, don’t run away ma’am, come here, have ‘em all for three shillin!’ ‘Dear you say? Well then, I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. I’ll heap ‘em all in your cart. Here they are!’ ‘Only one bob, only one bob.’ ‘From Murrumbidgee! Fresh, fresh!’ ‘I hav’em golden! I hav’em golden!’ ‘Grannies, beautiful grannies from Tasmania!’ ‘Oranges from the Riverina Valley! Navels, five shilling’ the big box!’ ‘Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes!’ ‘Marrows, marrows, look at ‘em big! Ha, ha!’ ‘Bag o’ onions! Quick, quick I’m givin’em away!’ ‘Case of cucumbers!’ ‘Sweet melons, make yer choice, one-n-three a piece!’ ‘Sugar bananas from Queensland!’ ‘Sixpence! Wot d’ee say now?’ ‘Come on, come on, take ’em all away!’ ‘A bargain, a bargain!’ ‘This is me, givin’ the stuff away!’ ‘You won’t? Well then, I’ll tell you what, take the lot for ten shillin’!’ ‘Now lookee ‘ere, cheap and good!’ ‘Careful, mister, yer crushing me pears! No fingers, please.’ ‘Here, pineapple, mate! You’ve never seen such a one in all your born days!’ ‘Make yer choice, nothing better in the whole wide world!’ ‘Take it, you won’t find better anywhere in the market and you may do worse.’ ‘Fresh! Take my word for it!’ ‘Look’ee, ma’m, come and try my passionfruit!’ ‘Ice-cream, couple-or-one!’ ‘Have some refreshments!’ ‘Antonio! Gelati!’ ‘Andiamo! Andiamo!’ ‘Shillin’ now, shillin’ now!’
An impressive picture, if ever there was one: shade and light, colour and dimness, and sound. A moving feast, heavy saltry atmosphere, and human sweat. Vitality everywhere. A real spectacle, with actors and public all together, the latter strolling around. Bright colours, and noise. Joy, sympathy. Nothing is missing to make an observer happy.
But Luis Galvao, who was never known as entertaining company, these days is acting like a real moron, while his friend is filling his wicker-basket with all kinds of goods.
‘What did I tell you?’ Manuel was saying, ‘cheap everything. Did I lie?
For Galvao images pass before his eyes like in a cinefilm. Only the persistent rain seems real, conveys some meaning to him.
The electric lights up there are not on. As for the people on the ground, the dancing vendors on the platforms, and the produce they offer… he is definitely going through a period when the view of crowds depress him instead of giving him that strength of character he so badly needs. And he feels cold, almost feverish.
‘What an abominable young man you are,’ Manuel says, rather playfully. ‘I don’t know why I like you so!’ He hooks his hand through his friend’s arm and pulls him on.
Stopping before one of the stands, he picked up a ripe red plum and has daintily taken it to his mouth, just a nibble between his handsome thick lips, sucking the faintest amount of the juice, then passing it on to his friend, whose cheek he pinches with the other hand.
‘Stop it, please,’ Galvao says, drawing away. ‘I can’t. I’m not hungry in any case !’’
‘Why, it’s no use trying with you,’ the other complains, sadly. ‘Come, let’s see you buying provisions. Onward Christian Soldiers! Here, the money and the basket. Fill that sack of yours, come on!’
Shuffling through the crowd along the well-marked aisles and alleys, upon which the different stands are set, they march. The whole immense enclosure is crossed and recrossed by these alleys.
‘All for three bob!’ ‘Right you are!’ ‘Fair dinkum, mate!’
Luis walks on, hears the vendors, and sees the silhouettes of their healthy enterprising wives as his mind floats in a sort of reverie.
‘Come, Luis. Cheer up!’ he hears Manuel. ‘Why don’t you listen? I still had to say… yes, I’ve been telling you… a lot has happened since you left Harris Street, you know. Oh, dear! You seem interested only in your own things.’
‘Alright, tell me. And excuse me, Manuel,’ Galvao utters with a moan.
‘Okay! Don’t worry, but on the contrary, cheer up. About your ex-girlfriend, I’ve heard nothing; well, not that, nothin
s known for sure… yet, take my word for it… a catastrophe… nuclear explosion…’ let’s buy lemons!!’
‘Yes, I read it in the papers. There was a crew of Aborigines walking about, not far from the US base, wiped away, burned out of existence. Read it in the papers.’
‘Poor Abbos, what a pity, absolutely. Collateral damage. But about Leonidas. He’’s dead, for certain. The Harris Street house’s been put up for sale. Ultimo is a good district now, quite in demand. Perhaps you’ll help me with the mortgage. There’s a Greek fellow as wants to buy the property. His wife’s guilty. Trust women.’
‘You’re inventing. Once a liar, always a liar.’
‘And you Simple Simon, believing in eternal love, silly stuff… she’d hardly left Ultimo and already with another man… returned to the Soviet Union, Manuel laughs loudly. ‘Oh, here
Luis Galvao sees his friend fly away towards another stand.
There is a long dusty window very tall and narrow, where Manuel Suárez is purchasing his lemons. Though the weather is cold and grey and outside it is raining hard, in the still dimmer atmosphere inside, where the electric lights are not on, there is a bright ray of light coming from that window right to the stand where Manuel is buying his lemons. There is an adorable Blond girl there, buyig some oranges
In the din and tumult of that extraordinary place, his tired eyes open wide. He
has ben following a sunray coming from the window down to one of the quays, precisely where the girl stands… the shrill litany of the vendors, their shadowy multitude of human bodies stirring one way and other and the glowing figure of a young woman rushing away and… she is no more.
Luis bounds to the lateral lane that cuts across the cement platforms, his brow burning, his heart beating fast. He enters the next aisle, elbowing his way through the thickening crowd, and arrives just in time to see the silhouette of the girl going out into a cul-de-sac full of stationary vehicles, lorries, utility trucks, cars and cats, people and one or two stray dogs.
Again he catches sight of her, now moving beyond a row of badly parked vehicles of several kinds. He crosses to the other side of the street. She has just opened a pink nylon umbrella which adds a rosy tint to her rather pale and mystic face. Turning up the lapels of his coat, adjusting the straps of his haversack,he runs towards the main road, where the girl has arrived. He follows her in the midst of the crowd, ready to quicken his pace if necessary. The city’s thoroughfares are thronged with people and traffic, everybody finishing their Saturday morning’s shopping, which causes him to lose sight of her twice in the multi-coloured crowd of umbrellas, and twice he sighs with relief on finding her again. They enter George Street and for a minute or two their bodies nearly touch. All the umbrellas disappear as the crowd moves steadily under the overhanging where the neon lights have been lit. In Campbell Street, he sees the pink umbrella again. He only wants to know where she lives, before accosting her. Thoroughly drenched by now, he stops at every corner, then dashes on to reach the next one before she has the time to disappear in the next street.
So then, they enter a district of short lanes and little one-storeyed terrace house with no front garden. He sees the girl fumbling in her basket at the entrance of one of them. She has produced a little leather purse. He breathes with relief taking careful note in his mind of everything, every detail.
With a set of keys she’d got out of her purse, she opens the door, and walks into the place, folding her umbrella as she enters.