Consumed by Fire

A migrant's happiness is built on many circumstances but ultimately depends on oneself. Remembrance of past faces and places is unavoidable, life being a unity with continued progress formed by constant change, whether staying or settling abroad.

Consumed by Fire
Fernando García Izquierdo
There must have been an infinite number of bush fires in the unknown southern continent for thousands and thousands of years, and much before the first humans came to inhabit the land. The fires were followed, as a matter of course, by long periods of restauration and readapting to new conditions, new ways of life. But Nature, invariably, had to follow its course. That is to say, always, always, after long periods of intense destruction leading to absolute desolation and death, which might have extended at times for hundreds of square miles, resulting in the disappearance of great extentions of primeval forests, all gone to ashes and sparks, the forest once again had come alive. Nature’s triumphal rebirth.
Australia, though known in history as the newest continent, is however, geologically speaking, the oldest, most ancient chunk of our planet Earth. It is as a rule a very dry land, which surely appears, at first time, quite lifeless, an arid desert. The chunks were green verdure appears, along the coasts, specially the east coast, facing the Pacific Ocean, are quite different, of course; but even there the soil is not fertile. It would have been a mistake, however, to term even the most arid regions of the interior as a lfeless desert. For life of course exists in abundance, everywhere, even if it is not what one would expect to see.

With very few exceptions, there are no rivers, nor water, in a word, the way we expect to see it; though there are sporadically torrential rains practically all over the continent. At the beginning of the colonisation, during the nineteenth century, many explorers tried to find the expected immense inland sea, which was in everybody’s dreams. Nothing, not even a small lake was found; and when the explorers, in the torrid sun of the desert, percieved what was simply a mirage, in the distance, the lake they were seeking, a big extension of water, at times, which in effect looked to exhausted men and beasts like an interior sea, a terrible surprise followed. They advanced, men and accompanying beasts, and found nothing, only salt: a new immense, most dangerous desert. The unfortunate explorers were trapped in an infinite extension of mineral soil, large as could be one of the minor countries in Europe. Some of the most courageous travellers and explorers perished in their attempt to find, peharps, a less arid land, some water.
It did not take long for the European settlers to reach the natural conclusion: the country inland is uninhabitable, too dry and too arid a continent. Not for humans. But the Aborigenes lived there, have lived there for thousands of years. Even in the most arid regions of central Australia there were human settlement, even if only small nomadic groups. They were able to find water, small patches of vegetation, though sometimes not a drop of rain fell there for years. It is the case of Alice Springs, where a town was founded in the nineteenth century, in the very centre of the continent, where people of all races now live peacefully and as happily as elsewhere.
All or most of the living matter existing on the continent at the time of the Europeans’ arrival, flora and fauna, was different from that of other continents. Life in our planet, as everbody knows, is the most fantastic thing ever to happen in all the extension of our universe, with no parallel in any other of the planets or stellar bodies in what is known as the solar system.
During the long dry periods, under the torrid sun, many fires ravaged the forest almost as a current feature. There is however a quality appertaining only to many Australian trees, particularly the eucalyptus, and which has something of the miraculous in it. After the fires have consumed all the vegetable existing in any given area during the hot season, the forest does not die, far from it. When the next rainy season arrives, the seemingly exterminated trees revive after all the burned undergrowth has been turned into mud and mire. And in due course the whole forest reappears, becomes alive again.

Malgorata and Luis went out one day to see the effect of the bush fires. They drove south one Friday evening, slept in Cronulla, and went on for an hour along the highway early the following morning. After parking the Holden, they walked on the side of the road for some time, already feeling in their nostrils the effects of that immense desolation, the rests of the fire that had been raging in the area for about a fortnight or more. They were walking in what had been the beautiful Royal National Park, a landscape of desolation. Every scrap of vegetation had been consumed by fired. Hillock after hillock of precious forest had been turned into cinders. The green, the red, the then florid undergrowth, where they had once seen flowers of a variety of shapes and colours, abundant vegetable life, had been converted into an enormous grey sheet of dust and dead matter; and on that extensive sheet, which reached right and left and in front till the very horizon, there filtered, sticking out in the intensely blue atmosphere, near and far away, an infinite number of black sticks, bars and spears, thin and long, an absolutely frightening vision. There, the now burned trees and ferns and other formerly living matter which wanted to remain there as witness of having existed, and a wish no doubt to exist again at some time in the future.
‘Dead, dead, everything is dead!’ Luis cried.

‘Luis!’ Malgorata shrieked, obviously frightened.
As they were making their way to the bottom of a ravin, among the calcination, some unextinguished fire, ashes and sparks. A not-too-small surface was covered by a sort of white dust, whiter at first sight than the rest. Luis could now see some orangy embers, so brilliantly alight and shiny in what was dull, dusty snow-white terrain.
‘Don’t worry, dearest,’ he said. ‘There is no vegetation around for mile after mile. It will burn itself out, be consumed and gone forever.’
‘It ain’t that, it ain’t that,’ she screamed almost hysterically. ‘Look again!’
Strange little insects, like long beetles, were scrambling out through the cinders and crawling about the dusty snowed terrain.
‘They are living in the fire!’ she cried.

The spot where the insects came out had suddenly become a fantastic glittering yellow-red. Luis couldn’t believe his eyes. Another insect came out, and another.
‘Come, let’s see,’ he said, holding his girfriend by her hand.
He got hold of a rather big flat stone, managed to lay one of the beetles on the flat surface of the stone, and gave a severe bang on the little thing… and the beetle flew out and landed back upon the cinders, its little gauzy wings glittering the while. Into the burning embers it crawled.
*

Because of the importance of the day, Christmas Eve, the staff were given leave to go away at lunch-time or, as stated in Mr.Kim Hutchkinson’s note, as soon thereafter as the work in hand was completed. In the morning, at breakfast, Luis had received, through his German friend, an invitation from Hildegard to come and spend the evening with them. She wanted very particularly (Heribert had said) to see Luis Galvao in order to apologise for not having helped him ‘the other day’, when he was in Sir Reginald’s claws. Luis was not thinking now of the invitation which he had in principle rejected in his mind, for he hated that sort of party, as matter of fact, and the novelty of having it at sea did not entirely convince him. All the same, there was still a lingering doubt, of another kind. That woman was a magnet to men: that sneering look, those inviting red lips, that prominent breast and majestic walk. Mr. Greene’s Corporation was letting the members of the staff celebrate Our Saviour’s Birth on one of the Manly ferries, and the thought of strolling on the deck at night with the handsome Valkyrie would have pleased him very much. He pondered what to do, wandering around the piers for a while, undecided, before taking at three o’clock the way back to Ultimo.

When he reached the point in the street where he now parked his car, he found Malgorata sitting on the passenger-seat.
‘How come, my darling, waiting for me?’
She simply made a bow. Coming nearer, he saw there was a hamper with a picnic meal, complete with a bottle of ‘Barossa Pearl’.
‘Whooh,’ he sang, standing on her right, ‘sparkling wine? Marvellous. I was going to buy some wine myself. Of course we’re going to celebrate on the sands. Now,’ he went on, opening the door and inviting her to climb down, ‘you’ll drive. Where are we going, Madam?’
‘Parsley Bay,’ she answered.
They drove right to the South Head, where the sea entered the harbour, parked the car on top of a cliff, turned round and climbed down a narrow path to a beach on the harbour side. It was a rather small cove with a natural reserve all around and a little rivulet (which must have been a brook long ago) at the bottom. Some residential properties were perched on top, on either side of the reserve. The sun was hitting fiercely upon the earth as they began the descent, carrying between the two an ice-box, the hamper, a beach-umbrella and other beach implements. They sipped the wine and nibbled at some goodies, sitting on a large colourful towel on the sand. Malgorata, still wearing a pair of dark sunglasses she had put on for the drive, looked into Luis’s eyes, murmuring: ‘My dearest, please, love me always.’
He adored her, he said. He loved to see her specially now, he thought, after having thought of going to a Christmas-Eve party with Heribert and the Greenes. Malgorata was the woman he loved, such a pretty face; even with sunglasses she was incomparably prettier. He was sure he had loved that woman all his life, the blond short hair, her lips, her little round ears, those rosy cheeks… Getting hold of her glasses, he kissed her eyelids.

‘Luis, will you take me away one day?’

He took hold of her hands, still gazing at her tearful eyes without replying: they were different in colour, those eyes, but so very attractive. He knew she was thinking of one day playing in an orchestra with her friend Anna. London! He was torn, didn’t know what to do.
‘Luis!’ he heard her call. ‘Let’s go for a swim’.
He stood up directly, still quite confused, and stumbled on the towel, careful not to step on her sunglasses. She was wearing a one-piece swimsuit, dark, soft and very well adjusted to her pretty body. She smiled (as though telling him how much she appreciated his Christmas present); in the twilight of the summer evening blond Malgorata appeared to him gorgeous in her dark-blue apparel. Conscious of the fascination she aroused in her lover, she came forward, putting out one hand, which he took. And they entered the water together, still holding hands. They swam very slowly the whole length of the narrow stretch of water, until they reached a tall barrier (made of big interlocked steel rings) where the cove joined the waters of Port Jackson. Slimy black algae clung about some of the rings, specially those on the water’s surface. The two lovers remained for a while holding on to the steel barrier, making jokes about voracious monsters coming to eat them: since it was known that part of the harbour was the line of passage for hungry sharks in search of a meal farther west around the docks.

‘If we could be just like we are now, all our lives!’ romantic Malgorata suggested.
‘We would die of inanition,’ Luis joked.
Without heeding, she went on: ‘How nice if we had met in another world.’
‘Paradise?’
‘Naughty. I’m serious, and you’re jesting all the time,’ said she in a rather sad tone.
He apologised with a rather prolonged kiss on her pretty, dreamy face.
‘I mean in a place,’ she went on, still very sad, ‘where life… was without complications. You and me… faraway. Our home. Oh, I don’t know what I’m saying. It was so easy when I was young.’
‘Aren’t you young now?’
‘I mean overthere,’ she said, meditatively. ‘Why ever… why should one complicate… When I was overthere. I was a young girl when I left.’
‘But you hadn’t met me yet,’ said Luis, feigning to feel sad. ‘Am I an unimportant thing in your life?’
‘It isn’t that, it isn’t that!’ she protested, ‘but we might have met when I was in England, in Manchester. You spoke of it the other day… And we would have stayed there. And we’d have become rich.’
‘Darling, you don’t know what you’re saying. Now, did you or did you not want to escape from communism, after all,’ he said.
‘I don’t mean that, and you know it. But if we could go… where I could play, I’m sure. I mean, we could live in a nice house like those up there,’ she went on, ‘you understand?’
‘You would not even look at me,’ he rejoined. ‘Gosh! playing in a big orchestra, and all that. When I hear you practising nowadays, sometimes I say to myself: ‘Bye-bye my love. Poor me!’
‘But I would look at you, I like looking at you, your green eyes, your black hair,’’ she exclaimed, holding on to him.

After a moment, he said, ‘Come, let us go back, I’m freezing’
‘Yes, let’s come out, but not yet to the sands, darling’ she answered. ‘We’ll have a look at the harbour first. O.K?’
They paddled all the way along the safety-net, sometimes holding on to the steel rings, sometimes losing hold of the net and playing together and chatting and kissing, then swimming again towards the shore on the right. They clambered up onto a narrow stony footpath with buffalo grass on the sides; then, jumping from rock to rock, they reached a long narrow point from where they could have a partial view of the harbour, the waves breaking at their feet: for they were near the ocean entrance on the right; here and there, they could see, in the distance, some concentrated points of light coming from the northern suburbs, beyond the immense surface of the harbour; these glowing spots were alternating with some big chunks of black land, probably forests. The town of Manly was on the right, the Harbour Bridge on the left, but they could not see the latter. Nor could they have the slightest glimpse of the City, the bay having so many waterways this way and that, little coves, beaches, ports and subsidiary harbours, almost unendingly.
On a small platform at the farthestmost rocky point they could reach, the two necessarily stopped, at the very edge of the water, where at length Luis sat down, while his girlfriend stepped aside, looking for a patch of grass where to sit without ruining her new precious swimsuit. The sky was partly cloudy. Luis glimpsed some bright spots very far away, the lights of the city (he thought) which were being reflected on the smooth surface of the water far away towards the west; and somewhat nearer there were plenty of illuminated craft: some of the Sydney ferry company. A number of Sydneysiders, he guessed, were celebrating the Birth of Jesus in them. Soon one of the boats was gaily steaming this way, towards the east, perhaps trying to reach the Heads and the open sea?

Feasts and celebrations were being held all over the bay; and he could easily imagine the varied entertainment going on everywhere: the abundance of everything on board would be on a grand scale, as in a big hotel, the bright neon-lights, those summer dresses, gorgeous ladies, plenty of jewels. The electric bulbs which were now reflected on the surface of the bay would be there imitating the light of day. All over Greater Sydney, one of the most spread-out cities of the world, money was flowing and freely circulating at all moments in festive celebrations. He recalled other, past festivities in his life; and also the present: the wonderfully lit streets of the city. Such explosions of light and colour. And in the past, Madrid, London, Manchester. All was here, in his mind, all quite visible, ‘Oh, yes!’
Some music was now heard; festoons and colourfully lit decorations of an approaching craft. For some reason he thought of Hildegard, and glanced up at the sky, which was now overcast, threatening rain. The waves were rippling at his feet, splashing at times. The ferryboat was coming nearer: people moving about in great tumult: a real floating cabaret with little coloured bulbs and twinkling signs, ‘Happy Christmas’, extending from funnel to funnel, a gift to the eyes. The music was still in his ears, when the craft did a U-turn and began moving away. There was dancing on the boat. He had seen the movement of the people celebrating, the couples jerking, twisting, waltzing under a canopy, in case it rained. ‘Ils tournent, tournent les personnages… He knew the tune. Or they were strolling on the deck, now in the distance. Some had been leaning on the railing, heads turned down to the dark sea below, couples close together, one arm on the railing, each of them, and the other two around each other: man and woman in love; enjoying the warm summer breeze. Another piece of music reverberated from time to time.
… I didn’t want to do it!… I didn’t want to do it!… You made me love you!
He guessed rather than heard the orchestra playing. ‘Oh, my God!’ he thought. ‘how many happy memories that particular song brings to my mind… and heart!

‘Luis, have you had many sweethearts, I mean before me?’ he heard Malgorata, who had come up and was standing near him.
‘I’ve only loved one woman,’ her boyfriend replied, also standing up, ‘until I met you,’ he went on, kissing her on one cheek.
She had put some perfume on, from a present he had also bought for her the day of the shopping spree, and the smell was still strong.
‘How did she look?’ she asked, bending her head backwards.
‘Actually, very much like you,’ Luis answered, caressing her chin with his lips, ‘I think I’ve already told you,’ Luis said. ‘Only a bit… well, a tiny little bit more weight.’
‘You find me too thin, do you?’ she said cajolingly, ‘tell me. I shall eat and eat to put on weight to please you.’
‘Malgorata, darling, you’re perfect as you are,’ he said, getting her in his arms.
She snuggled in his embrace, and curtly asked. ‘She Spanish?’
‘No. English. Actually from Manchester. You already know about her.’
‘So what happened?’
‘I was no good,’ he said sadly, ‘I let her down. But let’s drop it, please.’
They remained silent for a moment. She was holding him tight by the waist, as if afraid he might slip away and disappear.

‘Luis,’ she gasped at length, ‘let’s go far away… to London. Yes? Or to America, you and me, to live there, and have a family. Nobody’ll find us.’ A tear came coursing down her cheek. ‘And we’ll forget all about Ultimo and be happy forever.’
They had talked about London often these past few weeks. He trembled as he answered: ‘Just a moment, dearest darling. For the time being I can’t. There’s Mr. Hutchkinson. You know I’m trying to become a registered patent agent. I can’t let him down. Also, my whole career’s there. Wait, darling, let us be patient. I’ll soon be a fully-fledged attorney. We shall then be able to travel and go to London… New York perhaps. Where no one will find us.’
‘I said London,’ she said, humbly, ‘but if you prefer New York it’s a rich metropolis. Yes, we can find something, both of us, overthere.’
They made their way back, jumping from rock to rock, then along the narrow dirt path and to the rustic steps by the sea; and into the water, this side of the net, Luis jumped, splashing about. Standing with one foot on the bottom rung of the ladder and another already in the water, Malgorata suggested: ‘Let’s go in and swim in the nude.’ And without waiting for a reply, she stripped herself of her light silken swimsuit, which she rolled up and made herself a turban to put on her head. He did something similar with his swimming-trunks and they swam very slowly, in order not to disturb the glowing suavity of the sea under the moonlight, coming sometimes together ever so gently for a cuddle, and again swimming slowly toward the beach. Once she protested that they were going to drown, if he insisted on kissing and was not careful. And playing and swimming, after a few minutes, they reached the now deserted tiny beach. For a long time Luis lay on his back, contemplating some flying clouds overhead, traversing the still prussian-blue sky; lovely Malgorata had glued her warm supple body to his side, fondling and kissing his left shoulder and ear; and kissing him she fell asleep. She had stretched out one of her shapely legs, covering him in a sweet, clammy embrace, letting his right hand gently caress her knee.
‘My Luis,” she murmured under her breath, already half asleep, “I love you!, do not forsake me, my darling!’
*
He had got up that morning meaning to go out for a drive alone. By six o’clock he had finished his breakfast in the kitchen and went up to his room, listening for a while whether some moaning or other sound came out of the door of the big room. For some reason he was quite worried. Christmas was over, and Luis and Malgorata were not now so sure of themselves as they had felt furing the festivities. He knew from experience that, from a lovely girlfriend, she could change without warning into a young woman full of fears almost on the brink of a breakdown.
There had again been some terrific bush-fires down south in the Royal National Park, and Luis had decided to go there for a drive, crossing Sydney, then along the highway, and stop wherever it was not possible to go any farther. He was also feeling nervous and ill-at-ease, and it was surprising, for a person like him, to have thought of visiting the Park to observe the firemen and volunteer workers fighting the flames, unless he intended to offer his services to the fire-fighting as a volunteer, which was not at all in his nature. As he was coming down the stairs, with the haversack (thinking to fill it with some food and be gone), the street door was flung open, and Leonidas Krappov darted into the house growling, on seeing him, some sounds that Luis Galvao took to mean: ‘’Good day!’’ or ‘’Good morning!’’, or perhaps even ‘’¡Buenos días!’’, as the man spoke Spanish. He saw him leave his jacket and helmet on the peg by the entrance and then race like a lost soul into the bedroom downstairs. Luis for his part proceeded to the kitchen to fill the haversack when a most terrifying scream reached his ears. Almost at once the sound of an object being smashed against a hard surface was heard, accompanied by a discordant musical note or two; and after that, only a sigh and a whimper. Next Malgorata stumbled into the room. She looked wan and unearthly as she made her way to the adjoining laundry, where she first lit the copper-boiler, then busied herself for a few minutes with a wicker basket and some clothes, before returning to the kitchen. Luis was paralysed, his hands on the open haversack, his head bent and the glasses hanging on his nose: for his girlfriend was sitting at the table. By then the landlord too had entered the room. As he proceeded to the table, a little black cat walked to meet him only to have the man give her a tremendous kick on the stomach, making her fly, yelling, all the way to the yard. Malgorata ran howling to the door, but the cat was gone, and she returned to the table. Krappov picked up vodka from the table, pulled out the cork with his teeth and, applying its nozzle to his lips, took a good swig at the bottle, gurgling the while. He was all the same keeping an eye on his wife.
‘My breakfast! Double quick!’ he ordered.
Luis got hold of the girl’s hand. Malgorata pulled away, and proceeded to prepare her husband’s breakfast, hobbling between the fridge and the cooker.
And Luis Galvao lived next some infernal moments of doubt and despair; for he knew what he had to do, grabbed hold of a knife and… it was his back luck or natural pusillaminity… static like a statue! He saw the man he hated so much, those tiny grey eyes darting on hers, the grey bushy eyebrows that almost obliterated his narrow forehead and the cruel mouth surrounded by his scraggy blond moustache. On his khaki working-clothes there was a green badge, on one of his breast-pockets, displaying a trade-name, in white, ‘Portland’.
Eventually Malgorata served the master his breakfast, which he began to devour like the beast he was, growling, bullying the very sausages he was eating. He now poured vodka into a glass, and lifted it to his mouth with his hairy hand, and tossed it off at once. He refilled the glass, and went back to his breakfast, bending over, pricking his fork most fiercely in the big fat Russian sausages, splashing grease and blood over his moustache, his mouth wide open, like an ogre about to devour his victim.
Malgorata was standing by, heaving from time to time a deep sigh, but repressing all other signs of agitation. There was only one purpose in her: to carry out the man’s wishes even before he had had the time to express them. It was like slavery. Luis could not understand why the young woman averted her eyes every time his glance encountered hers, bowing down her head like a martyr. He loved her, and he knew he was acting cowardly. It hurt and diminished him to think he was there doing nothing. He would have liked to act; but what was there to do? Even to exchange a few words with her was impossible! She persisted in ignoring him entirely… or else she had lost her mind, as he would lose his pretty soon.
The copper-boiler in the corner had begun throwing up steam, and although the netted door and windows were open, a sickly smell now pervaded the whole place, even though the landlord and lady did not seem to perceive it. The former went on eating his breakfast and drinking his vodka, with an occasional leer to the lodger, and Malgorata continued to ignore the latter most disturbingly. He heard the sweet slave addressing herself to the master in a stifled tone of voice which told of her state of mental anguish, and he was paralysed. He felt the pounding of his own palpitating heart. What was there left for him to do? He could not simply slip away and disappear. Yet, what could from now on be his life, his role in this household, a convict-built cottage, in a place named Ultimo, where he had landed running away from oppression at home; where he’d found the woman he loved? Nothingness and despair were ever his twin destinies.
When at length he stood up in order to clear up his side of the table and be gone, something happened which caused him to stop stock still and glare at Krappov. Indeed he believed the man had uttered some words in Spanish which, if addressed to him (as they logically were), constituted an unsufferable insult. ‘’¡Hijo de puta!’’ Krappov repeated, glaring back at the lodger. There was not a feature in that ugly, square-shaped countenance which was not expressive of hatred and murder.
Even before Luis Galvao, who was now standing, had the time to react by way of word or deed, a frightened Malgorata quickly stood up and placed herself behind her husband’s chair under the pretence of lifting some dish from the table. She at once fixed her melancholy eyes on Galvao, entreating him with a silent motion of her lips not to do anything rash.
Strong sunlight was streaming in, though on the portion of the kitchen near the laundry a sort of mist had risen, and Malgorata now looked, in the resulting haze, like a vanishing angel, silently beseeching him to stay put. But Galvao could not choose to ignore the man’s insulting words.
‘Now then,’ he shouted in a tone that shook Krappov. ‘What are you up to, nazi bastard?’
Whereupon Malgorata uttered a cry of grief, and the monster, looking wildly round, clutched her by the wrist, bringing her forward to confront the lodger. ‘Son of a bitch!’ he growled with a deadly look at Luis Galvao, ‘¡Sí, hijo de puta!’ He had stood up, still holding Malgorata’s wrist. ‘Come on! ¡Vamos!’ he went on, ‘have you been makin’ love to my wife?’
Only a groan was heard in reply, coming out of the young woman’s throat.
‘Dog! Take her, come on!’ the landlord went on, laying his free hand upon Galvao’s shoulder. ‘Take her now we’re lookin’, not on the sly, you coward.’
In a moment Galvao fell upon his enemy with a boldness and passion which made him draw back in surprise. ‘You bastard, nazi scoundrel,’ he screamed, catching hold of Krappov’s throat, ‘you traitor, you valiant torturer of defenceless women and children, foul murderer!’
But the Ukrainian was a giant of a man, and he easily got rid of his attacker and at once threw himself upon the Spaniard, pummelling him with all his might, and finished driving him against the wall, where he would have strangled him had not Malgorata placed herself between the two, screeching like a person possessed. Her husband, without looking, hurled her to the floor with a powerful backhand. Then he grabbed the bottle from the table and turned to Galvao once more, grunting and foaming; he stumbled, going for him. The other swiftly moved aside, and Krappov fell with a crash upon the floor, where at once he dropped off into a drunken slumber.
All this had been witnessed from the passage by the German lodger, who happened to be going out of the house at that very moment; he now stepped forward to kick the fallen drunkard, until the body was lying face upwards, and it was discovered that it was stained with blood, for the bottle had been smashed to pieces on the floor.
A commotion was heard on the stairs and soon Manuel rushed into the room in a state of terrible agitation. ‘Oh, dear me!’ he wailed crouching, tenderly stroking the landlord’s cheeks. ‘Oh, no! Leo, Leo!’ He looked at the ceiling. ‘The Coroner now, absolutely. Oh Jesus!’ The others ‘d turned to look, dumbfounded; while Manuel, addressing himself to Galvao and lifting his now blood-stained hands in despair, screamed: ‘Madman! It’s all your doing. Tell me, what d’you think‘s going to happen now?’ And embracing his friend in tears, he went on: ‘Oh Luis, dear boy, you’re in great danger, absolutely. Be off at once! There’s a commando come from the bush, stopping at the Toxteth. They want to teach you a lesson, I’ve heard.’ And turning to Heribert: ‘Oh, please, take this dear crazy man away at once. There’s going to be murder in this house, oh, my God, oh my God!’
Luis had in the meantime turned to Malgorata and was now holding her in his arms, intending to remain with her, come what might.
‘Sweetheart, let’s go away, directly!’
‘Wait!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘Luis, it’s you who must escape, directly! I’ll hide her. He’s moving now, coming to. Oh, look!’

Heribert and Manuel, coming together, addressed him manu militari, and the German dragged him from a screaming Malgorata, who kept clinging to her lover’s hand, struggling, calling him, her face full of tears.
‘Go Luis, Go!!’ Manuel ordered.
As Heribert was pushing him out into the street and towards Pyrmont Bridge Road, Luis could still see through the sitting-room window how Malgorata was struggling to get free, calling Luis to come back, not to forsake her, not to forsake her. But the vision lasted only a few seconds and was gone. He was a defeated man. Another vision had come like a flash to call his attention; another place, another time.
A door opened down the road, and a woman appeared in the street, calling: ‘Has anything happened to Malgorata?’
‘Aye!’ Heribert shouted back. ‘Go and see Manuel. Yes?’
Certainly, Luis Galvao was now a finished man, and he must have been conscious of it, as he jerked along following his German mate the length of the street, the white smoke of Pyrmont Power Station in the background. He recalled the pure fresh air of a morning, in Madrid, coming from the Guadarrama Mountains those days. The classes at university, the walks in the park along the avenues with the beloved one. And the student protests, the riots, the hopes and many battles lost… and there the beloved he lost a first time: the same result. Alas! losing was his lot, now and forever, the terrible destiny of a discontented fellow, no doubt a stupid man, roaming about, not knowing what he was looking for… a woman who might have given sense to his life.
They reached the bridge that spans the two sides of a small cove called Darling Harbour. There they rested their arms on the iron railing and remained silent for a while, facing the wharves on either side, in full activity as always. Through his tears Luis Galvao saw the cargo ships being loaded and unloaded at the various docks; the busy cranes and other fix and mobile machines; trucks and vans, the boats static and approaching the jetties, and the very many wharfies already labouring hard, noisy and full of energy; the smooth surface of the sea, full of living and dead matter: pure dirt. The ‘Harbour-Police’ and other professional launches were crossing swiftly from one side to the other of the narrow bay, disturbing the suavity of the water, while other small craft, probably anglers or somethng, were going out into the main bay of Port Jackson, the immensely rich harbour of an immense prosperous metropolis.
‘What d’you intend to do now, yes?’ he heard the German ask.
‘I don’t know. I know what I should have done.’
‘What’s that?’
‘I should have killed that bastard of a Krappov.’
‘Damn him!’ Heribert exclaimed. And after a pause, pointing towards one of the wharves where a P&O ship was seen: ‘Take my example, mate. One of these days I’ll be sailing away on one of them liners, see?’’
‘I know,’’ the other said, ‘I’ve seen you crossing out the dates on that calendar of yours. A returning migrant.’
Heribert gazed at one the wharf, Pyrmont 13. ‘A returning migrant,’ he repeated.’ He knew what was going on. He had worked for two years on all the wharves. Luis was not looking, bent on the railing as he was, but if he had looked, he would have seen tears had come to the German’s little eyes. He was glancing absentmindedly all the time at the sea below, a long line of floating dirt, coursing under the bridge. His head, too, was full of melancholy thoughts.
‘’Yes, the day is approaching,’’ Heribert said dreamily, ‘’and when I leave I’ll heave a big, big ‘Oof!’ No parting tears, I assure you.’ But both his looks and the sound of his voice belied his enthusiasm.
Galvao said nothing.
‘Come on! Don’t fret,’ the German said, rousing up. ‘Now, are you going to cry like a baby, yes?’
Still Galvao said nothing. He was holding the iron railing, shaking and biting at the same time his lips.
‘Friend, pull yourself together!’
‘But he’s going to murder her!’
‘Not at all. Haven’t you seen Silwia, our Polish neighbour? Manuel too wants to save your girl. Silwia will hide her. Yes.’
Luis Galvao again lamented himself, acting like a possessed person.
‘You’ll need some mettle and all your strength when you confront the monkey tonight,’ his friend said. ‘Remember he doesn’t leave till Monday.’
‘And what does it matter now, whether he goes to the bush or stays. I’ve lost… oh, lost…’
‘Lost what?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I don’t know what’s to be done, how to go back to Malgorata… or what to do, now or in the long run, really.’’
‘Well, about the long run, I don’t know either. But listen to me, you intend to go back, yes? You must go back, if only to collect your things, and you must think about tonight, come on! And never mind that ugly monkey. He was dead drunk when we meted out that... he won’t remember a thing.’’
‘But he’s got his chums in the Toxteth Hotel, didn’t you hear?’
‘Bah! Inventions!’ said Heribert, swaying his pear-shaped head meditatively. Don’t pay any attention. I’ll tell you what. We shall confront him together, Krappov, I mean, both of us together. We’ll shut him up, bloody Ukrainian bastard, and liberate pretty Malgorata from his grip, yes. Look here, I finish at six tonight, make sure you don’t go back before seven. We’ll meet outside the house, at Silwia’s, yes?’
Galvao was now swaying backwards and forwards, leaning over the edge of the railing, rather sick and deadly pale, his eyes fixed on the murky water below. His friend held him with one arm round the shoulders, saying:
‘Cheer up, my friend! You’ll soon get over all this; as will she, I’m sure. I’ve told you, damn him, damn them! Hang the whole bloody lot! Why, mate, you’re not contemplating suicide, eh? For I tell you, nothing exists in this fucking world worthy of such a step.’
‘You see,’ murmured Galvao,’ when one tries and tries, and changes course and starts again, and nothing comes out of it but failure and much pain and sorrow, honestly, what is there left to do?’
‘Pull yourself together, yes?’
‘How? I’ve to accept defeat with resignation, the game is over for me, my friend.’
‘Oh, I know that feeling. Poor me, poor little me, damned be the whole world which doesn’t understand me.’
‘Exactly.’
‘And so what? We’re losers, Luis. We are reduced to an atom. The wind blows you somewhere and you miss the things you left behind. You love a woman, and in the due course of time you lose her to someone else. It’s destiny. Life’s a perpetual change. Winning or losing means nothing. We all die in the end.’
‘You’ve said it.’
‘But enough of it, Luis. I must now be on the move. So long. And remember, at ten to seven; I’ll be waiting for you outside the house.’
After that the two friends parted company, Heribert going down left towards the docks, and Galvao turning right along the bridge, then left into Sussex Street. For a while he plodded alongside an array of factories and warehouses, until he reached an open space, facing the fine natural harbour of Port Jackson. The sun was still low in the east, and the surface of the sea glittered like a mirror full of tiny brilliant specks. In the middle of a streak of sunlight that reflected upwards from the water he saw the bluish silhouette of a man enjoying the bliss of solitude. The pier loomed out black into the sea, shiny water all around, and the static figure of the man at the very end, an angler on a folding stool holding a rod surrounded by a light-blue sky.

Galvao moves forward to talk to the man. ‘Hullo, mate! Are they biting this morning?’
The long slightly curving rod firmly in both hands, his gaze still fixed on the glittering surface of the sea, a floating cork, the man vaguely replies: ‘I mike the best ov it.’ The intruder puts out another question, short and to the point. And after due consideration, ‘My word,’ he utters.

And again, the noise of Galvao’s clanking boots on the wooden planks of the long solitary jetty. He stops in the midst of an animated crowd, a crew of Salvation Army officers in their light-grey summer uniforms and fluttering red ribbons. They are blowing their trumpets and trombones, or banging drums big and little, shaking tambourines and singing. ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride on a one-horse open sleigh...’ A perfect semicircle of a perfectly disciplined troop of Christian Soldiers, with lady-conductor, lieutenant or major. They are asking for alms, and the sympathetic crowd responds, dropping some coins inside the big wicker basket in the middle. And all the Sydneysiders’ hearts are filled with bliss; for it is not right that in this wealthiest of all promised lands some of God’s own creatures should suffer discomfort and actual indigence.
Luis Galvao has reached Circular Quay by now. Moving among the varied crowd in a very rich atmosphere, the colour, the movement, the sound of many voices all about, he cannot but feel somehow the emptiness of his own life. Every twenty yards or so there is a bus-stop, and now and then, a double-decker bus arriving, the square fills with new people from the suburbs. The railway line (under the flying highway) also brings in more distant dwellers. The jetties hardly visible through the grey cement columns under the station have ferryboats waiting, twelve different destinations, the northern beaches: the new arrivals rush to catch the ferry to Balmoral, Taronga Park, Fairlight, Manly… the pretty girls in scanty apparel, displaying handsome brown thighs, shapely calves and beautifully sun-tanned arms and shoulders; their male companions in Bermuda-shorts and T-shirts (they have already smeared their noses with zinc-cream against the rays of the sun); exquisite young mothers swinging beach baskets followed closely by the kiddies, while the husbands behind them carry heavy ice-boxes with lots of food, soft drinks and cans of beer. The happiness of wafting across the bay under a blue sky all together; while others trail alone along the waterfront.
Luis Galvao has been drawing away from the multitude, in very low spirits, making his way among boxes and big containers. At length he comes out of the Quay and moves among a dozen cranes, bulldozers and big machinery of another kind. For he has inadvertently entered an enormous building site full of holes and concrete columns of another kind only half-made. He moves towards the shoreline, seeking a line of rocks, stones, cement blocks, and more unfinished columns, suffering the abuse of two guards who push him away and call him a madman. He changes course and finds his way onto a green promontory with trees, shrubs and flowers. Some yachts are seen on the water, their nylon sails inflated like balloons.
He is exhausted through and through when he arrives at the park he was aiming for. He lies down on the grass in the shade of a leafy tree of gigantic proportions. And a misty veil spreads overhead as he stretches out on his back, his head resting on his intertwined fingers, covering the previous vision of trunk, black branches, dark-geen leaves, and some points of light here and there between the leaves.
…a most uncommon very subtle tissue expertly woven with all the hues and colours, and many brilliant dots of pure light besides: sunbeams filtering through the many free spaces between the leaves of a very large fig-tree.

… at the end of a ray of sunlight upon which he has particularly fixed his gaze, he sees a young woman moving away from him, then turning her sweet face round… oh, yes! he does know her… and he feels hot tears streaming down his cheeks…
… when he again looks up to the leafy mass above, the girl has vanished shrouded in a whitish mist. ‘Do not forsake me!’, he heard her cry. ‘Sweetheart, my beloved, have I not kept my vow ?’
… millions and millions of microscopic specks dancing in a ray of sun, coming directly from a tiny hole between the leaves… when he expects to hear the sweet accents of her voice again, only the cry of a rook reaches his ears... a long quivering noise like that of an engine… rung…rung…un, run, run, rooon!
… a bear of a man is dragging a female prisoner, lifting her forcibly onto a motorbike; the engine is running. The laughing bird is watching. That awful cry once more. Hooh, hooh, hah! Hooh hah, hooh, hah, hawwwwww!’’
… the kookaburra is perched on one of the higher branches overhead. He struggles with the vision quite in vain, for he doesn’t know he just has to submit, pretend he understands the world as it is. Nothing besides this here shit exists.

… the sea, the sands, the cabin where they have been living and the leafy trees around… they’re no more. Life is a dream. Here and in another place, another time, the same girl… A shriek has destroyed the vision and his life.

… they are taking away the woman he loves. A score of trained thugs, (guardia-civiles or bush-rangers,) already driving off. Strapped into the sidecar, my love, next to that awful vision.
‘Oh, dearest love!’ He opens his eyes.
*
The last rays of the setting sun are shining the length of the street and on the horizon, above the grey chimneys of the power house, two black lines of cirrus-clouds on the background. He runs into Harris street, trembling with fear and out of breath. Further up the street, six or seven big men on motorbikes scudding away back to the Australian bush.
‘Dago!’ he hears a screech, coming from on high. ‘They’s takin’ yer girl awiey!’, and sees old Amy gesticulating, on the protruding balcony above the corner store.
‘Bastard!’ he shouts and hastens on.
Just then, a door opens on the right, and a man of great bulk in black comes out upon the pavement. (‘Monstrous Krappov, fascist! hijo de puta, son of a bitch!’) The man’s carrying a struggling Malgorata over his shoulder. A piercing shriek is heard.
‘Luis! Oh Luis, my love!’

Near the still open door, on the roadway, there is a huge bike with the engine running, and Krappov straps Malgorata into the sidecar. He jumps upon the saddle, and… run! run!... ruuun, speeds away, after the half-dozen rangers, already out of sight.
Whereupon Luis Galvao stops short and breaks into sobs. A woman has come out of the house, the same open door. She is blond, beautiful, about forty, and seems to know the Spaniard, whom she now approaches, but the latter is moving on, and she stops on the pavement, also crying. Luis Galvao enters the place where he lodges, two houses down the road. He comes across a really hysterical Manuel, pacing up and down the whole length of the drawing-room, which is unlit, and the televison set is on. Galvao can hardly hear what the other is trying to convey.
‘Leonidas is furious, absolutely, I’ve… never seen him in such a state,’’ mumbling on, throwing his arms around Galvao’s neck. ‘’Oh dear! Worse than… a calamity! You’ve brought all this upon us. You, you you! He’s selling the property. What am I going to do now?’’
Galvao pushes his friend into a chair, and it’s only then that he sees Heribert lying full length on the sofa. Falling on one knee, he gets close to the German, who appears to be badly hurt.
‘We… we agreed to meet… at ten to seven, yes?’ he hears a feeble voice.
Luis instinctively lifts his left arm and looks at his watch. To no purpose. His cognisance is no longer operational. ‘So… so… so sorry, Heribert,’ is all he is able to utter, devastated. He perceives the presence of the the blond lady, touching him: he had forgotten altogether about Silwia, who is now bending next to him, ready to attend to the German’s wounds, whose wrist she has taken in her hands.
‘But… what’s happened?’ Luis asks the woman.
It is Manuel, from his chair, who answers for the lady.
‘Oh, he lost his mind. You ought to have seen him, struggling in vain! Seven against one. We all are crazy in this house!’ Manuel was clawing his temples with his fingers. ‘A man in his senses… oh, he should’ve minded his own business, absolutely. And this is the result.’

‘What made him do that?’
‘You did not know he was in love with Margaret,’ the woman whispered in Galvao’s ear, ‘he tried to save her. They entered in my house like a gang of bandits.’
Heribert had fallen into a swoon. It was Luis who, hopping round to the kitchen, brought the bandages, hot water, ointments and other necessaries. And the woman, with his help, brought the German to. She dressed his wounds, and talked to him, whereupon he began to appear alive. Among the three, they seated the wounded fellow on the sofa. And they waited for a while, talking and reanimating the chap.
‘Oh, it was really… bad,’ Heribert mumbled, his eyes half-closed, ‘but I’ll be al… alright!’ He sounded ever so tired and out of sorts. ‘No bones broken, yes. Now you tell me,’’ Heribert went on, opening one red eye and addressing Galvao, ‘why the… the hell didn’t you come back sooner, as agreed. Shit, a thousand times Scheisse!’
‘Awfully sorry, Heribert, please forgive me!’ Galvao cried, red in the face and in a terrible state of shame and mental agony.
The two Spaniards led Heribert upstairs and into the bedroom, where after taking some tablets which Manuel had provided for him, the German fell into a peaceful sleep. Luis Galvao, for his part, unable to withstand the sight of his own room any longer, consumed by remorse and trying to overcome his own fatigue, said goodbye to his Spanish friend and went down to the lounge, where the woman was no longer. He took his jacket from a hook, put it on, and went out into the street.

His steps led him back to the City. He shuffled aimlessly, racked with deep despair, through the streets where there was still full lighting, stopping before the shop-windows watching, in a vain attempt to get rid of a very bleak idea that had entered his mind of a sudden. Only a few last stragglers were left in the rich, prosperous metropolis, moving most of them, like himself, under the overhangings full of neon lighting, windows, commodities and a score of pretty colours. In other words, he was avoiding the spaces of total darkness. Once a big obese man with unsteady step came jerking as if wanting to talk to him, and Luis, wishing to avoid the encounter, crossed to the other side of the street where the shops were not lit; the pubs, restaurants and other eating houses having all closed for the night.

Eventually he reached Circular Quay. Twelve, fifteen, twenty long cement platforms (with the sign of ‘Bus-Stop’), and nothing else on the whole extension of the immense plaza. All the bus-stops were deserted, save one where a drunkard, more dead than alive, was holding unsteadily onto the sign and singing quite loudly a country ditty, something like this: ‘O hip… Ned Kelly… he wos caught an’ led to the… hip or hips… to the gallows!’
A very fine drizzle did not cause any change in the temperature; but Luis Galvao, who was drenched in sweat, dashed all the same in an attempt to reach the cement high-road supported by a few scores of cement columns, where he arrived out of breath and shivering. He was standing under the Cahill expressway, listening to the rather mysterious sound of the traffic overhead and looking back at the square, the luminous advertisements on high, as though hanging in the air, the murky sky above, and the odd luminous outline, like a stroke in an oil-painting, all along the roofs of lower buildings, feeling immensely sad. When the rain stopped, he got on the move again, proceeding rather cautiously for a while, still underneath the high-road because he knew there were two or three taxi-stands somewhere thereabout, and although he did not detect any black shadow of a waiting cab, he hoped that one would arrive soon and he would ask the driver to take him to a hotel still open for the night.
It happened however that as he was coming out of that dark space from among the columns (where he had hoped to find shelter in the station for the rest of the night), a face seemed to appear as if by miracle very near and almost touching his own. He caught such a fright at the thought of finding a bed of vice, he who had never known a prostitute in his life, that he trotted away from the streetwalker, recovering all his energies and never stopping until he was back in George Street.

Suddenly he hears the sound of a police siren and sees the Black Maria, coming swiftly from the waterfront. Frightened by the noise and by the black jail-van now in the middle of the square, he darts off into a side-street, where he hides in a telephone booth. There is a public house on the opposite pavement, long closed for the night. After a while he sees the police van arrive round the corner and stop by the hotel, where the bodies of two drunkards can be seen in the multicoloured neon light. Two policemen alight from the van, get hold of the drunks, hurl them into the van like two rag-dolls, and a moment later the Black Maria disappears in the distance, as noisily as it has arrived.
Though the little side-street is not overilluminated, he now hates the idea of being anywhere near the last remaining lights, and starts running again, fleeing from all the strange shadows he sees or imagines he sees, now fleeing even from his shadow. In his mind he’s blaming his bad luck for everything disastrous that is happening to him; he loathes the Australians, he loathes his present state, he loathes the low ambition which once led him to university, to politics and caused him to spend so much time studying and going to college again, which turned him into a useless stupid man, always working to no purpose and made him ultimately travel beyond the seas… roaming, roaming, roaming… all the places that he was to discover!, the millions he would earn! All false ideas and to no purpose! A free man indeed! Throughout his life he had taken the wrong decision, had made the wrong choice, studies, politics, women… His fault!, he chose, and chose and chose again all for nothing! nothing came out of it but failure.
As if bad luck would have it, his boss had arranged, quite some time ago, that Galvao was to be in attendance the whole day at the office (with two other young attorneys, another lawyer and a patent engineer) precisely that coming Monday. Mr. Kim Hutchkinson was engaged in a most important public-relations operation. For months he had been working, in fierce competition with other Australian law firms, in order to make sure the Hutchkinson and Whyte partnership would become the representatives in Australia of a very big Japanese corporation, reputed to be the largest in a country now emerging as a great international industrial power. An operation which had taken Mr. Hutchkinson to Tokyo and other Japanese cities several times during the last six months or so. The Japanese were coming to Sydney. It was tomorrow, then, today, the culmination of those great expectations.

… and he was dressed like a tramp, all dirty and cvered with sweat. How could he present himself before the senior partner and the other members of the firm for an interview with the all-powerful Japanese in such state and apparel? Not even when he worked in the Sussex Street factory was he dressed in such a horrible manner.
He saunters on along a narrow street, not far from that factory precisely. And soon he finds, looming before his poor tired body, high above, in the dark, the building where he works, Caltex House. He breaks into sobs. Not far from there, in a little square lined with trees and other vegetation, there is a hotel, however. He sees the green illumination along the terracotta roof, and the sign, also green, ‘Wentworth Hotel’. If he can put up there for the remainder of the night! he would have at last at least a few hours rest before deciding on his next move. For a long time he’s undecided. “Wentworth Hotel,” he reads again. It’s an old hotel, five stars, probably very expensive, and much of the night has already gone. It is one of the oldest remaining hotels of the colonial era, the reason perhaps why it’s so expensive, almost a national monument. And after some hesitation, he finally decides to go and see. He books in for the night. They give him a room facing the little wooded square, excellently green with the reflection from the lights of the hotel. For a while he paces up and down the room, clenching his fists. Then he stands by the window and looks across the square at the opposite line of houses, one of them Caltex House, that dark narrow tall brick building. And all the rest either in absolute darkness or illuminated, here and there, by some neon advertising still left on. It has begun to rain in earnest. In bed, later on, with the window wide open because of the extreme heat and sultriness that has been reigning in Sydney the whole day, he follows the reverberation of the green lights of the façade, coming right up to the ceiling of his room. Definitely something has been torn very deep inside him. He cannot go to sleep, and he is paying so much for this. He is thinking that in an hour or two he’ll go and ask the night watchman to lend him some shaving soap and a razor. He will then have a shower, and will be ready to rush out at nine, to reach DAVID JONES at opening time to buy himself a new suit of clothes and still be able to reach Caltex House before nine thirty.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

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