Migrants' Homesickness

Migration is no sentimental journey. Settling in a new country homesickness often follows, causing migrants to gather together. Australia has always received newcomers, and has had migrants who return. What will going back to the old country imply?

Migrants’ homesickness

Fernando García Izquierdo

Like other living beings, humans feel attached to the medium in which they live and thrive, the earth from whence they came. Migrants, too, feel that attraction, which in their case is twofold, the old and the new country. They feel at present a pain for what they have lost, the old, the irretrievable past. That is, the things and the people that were essential to their existence before are no longer there. Their lives have been cut into two. At the same time the things and people now present are extraneous, do not belong to the immigrant, nor he to them. In some cases the immigrant hardly knows the language; the customs, religion, physical appearance are likewise different. In a word, you are an alien.
It is not only that the migrant feels often disappointed, contemplating the reality before his eyes, which does not correspond to the promised paradise of his dreams (though there is as well a lot of this.) The main thing is that the migrant feels torn, deep inside him, which causes him to see the new reality with distorted eyes. There is a vacuum inside. ‘Adieu, my native home! Adieu et pour toujours! For, in principle, there is no going back.
Lately, during the last forty years or so, many things have changed in our modern world, but not so much as some may imagine. Generally speaking, distances have been shortened (with the use of air navigation), but the fundamentals remain. Because flying, for ordinary mortals, will be prohibitively expensive. Besides, for the long-distance migrant, the purpose of ‘going home’ cannot be ‘just-a-few-days-visit, and the cost will never be irrelevant. A Portuguese in France (for instance) makes the journey as any holiday-maker going to a nearby beach; but for a Portuguese who has settled in Australia it is different. A trip to visit family and friends back home would require months of tumultuous preparation; too much work is involved (not to mention money spent)… unless the status changes, from migrant (visiting) to returning-migrant.

Dickens, who travelled a good deal, and twice visited America, has left many wonderful pages about returning migrants. Most immigrants in America then came from the British Isles, as is well known.
‘After boarding up,’ he writes about these migrants, ‘and borrowing, and begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had gone out to New York, expecting to find the streets paved with gold, and found them paved with very hard and very real stones. Enterprise was dull, labourers were not wanted; jobs to work were to be got, but the payment was not...
And in the same book, he goes on: ‘They were coming back even poorer than they went.’
Of these returning migrants he writes, with the good heart and superb knowledge that characterises him (‘American Notes’) of a man who, after crossing the Atlantic, just upon fixing his gaze on the promised land from the deck of the ship, on board which he had just arrived, was so overcome by panic that he decided, then and there, to return at once to the country where he was born, where all his life had been spent until then, where his people lived and his ancestors had been buried. He did not even set foot on the land to which he had come, so full of hope. Difficult to imagine for some. After having experienced a number of calamities and other difficulties on board, perhaps risking his life during storms at sea and leading an altogether hard life those days of difficult sailing... he was supposed to have attained his goal. He owns nothing, not a penny (that is why he sailed out in the first place), and what is worse, not the slightest possibility of survival back in his fatherland of ‘the industrial revolution’. A stowaway returning home? Like committing suicide.
For those days poor voyagers depended for their sustenance on the food and even the water they could embark with them. Yet, in that same ship he is determined to return home. And he does: coming out of his hole only at night. It is really a painful history Dickens relates.
The exploited people who are banished from their native land and out of sheer misery go in search of a better life elsewhere.
This particular returning migrant (we are told) ‘was discovered nearly at the end of the voyage, not before, – for he kept his secret close and did not court compassion – had had no sustenance whatever but the bones and scraps of fat and remains he took from the plates used in the wealthy voyagers’ cabins, when they were put out to be washed.’
There are and have always been returning migrants like this one, preferring to return and end their miserable lives in the old land, where their ancestors were buried, than roam about in search of what, for some unfortunate mortals anyhow, will always be nothing but a chimera.

*
There is a man who has made the trip back from Sydney (whereto he had emigrated long ago), strolling along the paths and avenues of a small but beautiful park situated on the west-side of the capital and called, because of that, Parque del Oeste. He has been treading these once familiar ways, it would appear from his tired looks, for sometime. It is now midday.
When he was young, he used to cross this selfsame park, nearly every working-day during the season, in order to reach the centre of his studies. He lived in that part of the city near the park, which then constituted the outermost suburb of the capital. That is to say, only uncultivated fields, stones, dust and dirt-roads existed beyond.
Back in Australia he had thought often of this park, quite dreamily and sometimes with tears in his eyes. He is easily moved, poor fellow, and tears do not take long to appear coursing down his cheeks. Those days, when he walked alone and some sudden impression came to remind him most forcibly of the past, it was a representation of this park that mostly filled his mind.

He is now ambling with neutral regard on these once very familiar parts and ways: sometimes an ironical smile is playing on his contracted lips. Impossible to know what it signifies. His mind is a blank. The walk goes on.

He is probably thinking of those days long gone by, for he has been muttering some sentences, and has used his mother tongue. Who knows? He soon changes into English, no doubt visualising now scenes from that other past life (the new country left behind.) The blue ocean which always marvelled him when he was overthere. An immense extension of water, right and left, as far as his eyes could reach, up to the very horizon.
He recalls to his mind those days, that landscape: the playful waves, ever following one another. He particularly remembers he has been many times there with his girlfriend, on a cliff, both overcome. It is in his ears now, that furious roaring; the colour combination in his retinas, the intense blue hues with a streak of green. And wonderful above all things, the long white rollers, many of them, advancing over the whole surface of the ocean until they broke, one after the other on the already castigated sand. That terrific thud. And the sound of the continuous battering on the rocks down below.

He is distracted from his reverie by the appearance of a very elegant woman passing by. And he thinks of those days, when in Spain women suffered so much. The misery and utter poverty in which everybody, but particularly the working-classes, lived under the boot of fascism. This one is obviously a highborn lady. She is walking quite elegantly on the sandy track, with high-heeled-pointed shoes, a dark but colourful dress, with a pretty pattern combination of yellow, red and orange flowers; a little white cloak on her shoulders and a silk scarf around her long neck. She is accompanied by a big dog, frisking by her side; sometimes the dog runs up and down the hilly ways.
The solitary man laughs at this novelty, remembering yesterday’s sheer poverty. Of course today’s wealthy citizens will have pets, to imitate their French neighbours in the north, the country having just been admitted into the concert of the civilised nations.
He now turns onto a narrow dusty path, going down to the deepest ravine in the park. Many tall trees are here, the lofty dark oak, the silver birch, acacias, and even one proud old elm, which is one of the trees (he tries to remember) which resisted total destruction during the war. In almost all the trees the leaves are just turning yellow or pale-green or brown, save the evergreen conifers, of course; and one or two of the trees he is gazing at have already shed nearly all their leaves; but not many of these dead leaves are spread along the paths or cover the green lawns: a crew of municipal gardeners see to it every morning.
But the one tree the man likes best still has a full round top or crown of small leaves, a tall ash. Golden in the blue sky! He stops short to contemplate this wonder, its numerous little glittering leaves all over.

He had often in the past strolled down these ways with friends, university pals, those days of June nearing the exams, when they were worried about results and constantly exchanged impressions. But once or twice he also walked with a couple of girls, all moving slowly together, each with a briefcase full of text-books, towards the east exit. There was an underground-station in Argüelles, the near-outer suburb, which the students were intending to reach. But not he, who lived precisely in Argüelles.
During the republic, that short period of democracy in the thirties, it had come to pass that a portion of those empty spaces beyond this park had one day been visited by construction firms and engineers, then building building materials were brought on, and a multitude workers, who began to work with rather simple machines. Some buildings were soon to appear all over. And the future university had begun to appear little by little. Some red-brick buildings, some marble façades, modern edifices of cement and glass, plazas, trees and avenues. The old Madrid University had been transferred little by little there, outside the city. And afterwards all had been destroyed by the war, the park included.
His heart leaps contemplating now the whole extension of the park. He starts going down to the bottom of the ravine. Glorious to look at under the immense blue sky. He remembers having sat on one of these benches with a Lancashire girl several times: an English student who had come to learn Spanish: blond, blue-eyed, always smiling. He also remembers how she blushed the first time they walked together, recollecting in her mind (she explained) what they had told her back home. And the young man who had invited her today (looking now in his eyes) was a dark Spaniard, perhaps a fiend. And he now recalled how they had fallen into each other’s arms, laughing.
Beneath a broad tree, then, he now sits, this autumn morning in the park. Its leaves, still on, are pure gold. He half-closes his eyes. The warmest part of the afternoon has just commenced. It is the sun which will eventually dry the tears behind his hanging glasses. A long slumber. For he is very tired, weak and prematurely old. The noise and rattle of the city faraway, the murmur of the cataracts on the rivulet passing by, the smell of plants and flowers, the twittering of so many birds… all forming part of his reverie, send him by and by into a most profound sleep…
So many associations. As a child (when he arrived with his parents and brothers from Valladolid) he soon found himself running with other children up and down these hills (new friends all of them, and all of them very poor indeed: he had never seen such utter misery); the city had been left without resources after the war. The authorities had temporarily closed the access to all these parts, surrounding the park with barbed-wire, but children will be children, and they did not care, and jumped, and crawled… unsuspecting there was imminent danger, they were actually risking their lives. During the war the front line had run precisely there, and those hills and ravines now so beautiful were then full of unexploded shells and shrapnel.
He had explained all this (those days, while students) to that adorable new girlfriend, his Margaret. And she had listened with great interest. Oh, beautiful blond girl, his life then so clearcut and now… for him, everything so confused…
All his existence was there, in his dream… and particularly those moments when he was about to embark, the girl already gone from his life. A healthy strong fellow, alone, with his head full of ideas: he then was young and handsome and, oh! so full of hope.

*
The friendship between Manuel and Luis did not break up when the latter left Harris Street, Ultimo, to go and live in Kirribilli, a northern suburb by the harbour. They met at regular intervals in the Toxteth Hotel, a public house in Glebe, one of Sydney’s inner suburbs. They spent there an hour or two together, perched on high stools by the bar, chatting over some drinks and refreshments.
Manuel had been trying for sometime to requalify his veterinary degree in Sydney University, reputed to be one of the best in the world for veterinary studies. Yet, to hear him talk, these days, one would have thought he had but one interest in life, the Spanish Club, which had been lately inaugurated in Liverpool Street, quite in the centre of the city.
‘A chunk of our Spain in the Antipodes,’ he said solemnly to his friend, ‘the pride of any Spanish heart beating on Australian soil. Much better than The Italian Club, at Leichhardt, and the envy soon of the Portuguese, you’ll see.’
‘Well, I don’t know about all that,’ Luis replied, ironically.
Yet, the fact was that, many more Spaniards having migrated during the last two years and settled in New South Wales, the club would probably have a future, and quite a number of prospective members and visitors.
Some busy-bodies among those who had settled long ago had jumped on the idea; and they all had convened a meeting and insisted on building ‘the Club’.
‘Our Club!’ they cried and began to make projects, visiting banks, even at the risk of entering into debt at once.
Luis Galvao was pleased to learn that Manuel Suárez was one of the four founding members. The infrmation came to him as a surprise; for he had not had any contact with any other Spaniard for some time.
He also learned in one of these meetings at the Toxteth, that it was Manuel that did most of the paper work in the constitution of the Club, being among the founders the only Spaniard of long standing with a university degree. He was also the one who succeeded in bringing the Embassy at Canberra and the Consulate in Sydney into the project: ‘This chunk of our Spain right in the heart of the Antipodes,’ he had repeated to all of them, enthusiastically.
‘The vice-consul is now a personal friend of mine: he was instrumental in the forming of the club, though not a member,” Manuel informed his pal, rubbing his hands quite excitedly. “I tell you, Luis, you too should also meet him; I’m speaking of Artemio, the vice-consul. So very handsome a young man! He studied in Madrid, Law Faculty. That may interest you. Come with me to the Consulate. He is sort of blond, Nordic, you see,’ Manuel went on, combing parsimonially his shiny black hair with his right hand as he spoke. ’As a matter of fact, he rather looks like a Scot sort of thing. I got his backing right from the beginning, exactly. Now, next Saturday morning?’
‘Easy, my friend, have you forgotten I’m antifascist,’ uttered Luis, rather savagely.
’Oo! oo! Easy yourself. What an antidiluvian element you are, dear boy. This is different. Don’t you see that we aren’t performing a guerilla warfare against Franco or in fact anybody… here, twenty-two thousand kilometres away from El Palacio del Pardo.’
‘Never mind El Pardo now.’
‘That’s why, boy. Let’s leave politics behind, that notion of a Fascist Dictatorship sort of thing. Times are changing. Be pragmatic, my pretty!’
Stopping his friend with the palm of his hand, Galvao reverted to the old arguments.
‘Fascism all the same’ he said. ‘And when you say the Spanish Consular Authorities are behind it, I revolt. What I suspected, I say. Why, all right, Manuel. Good on you. No, no, let’s close the subject.’
‘Oh dear, dear!’ Manuel said, rather disappointed, for he did not expect to see his friend getting into a temper for nothing.
‘Twenty-four years!’ Luis exclaimed.
‘You mean the war? and if you do, you bloody stop it!’ the other said, shaking his head rather sadly.
But Manuel’s sadness only lasted a few minutes. He got his ‘Benson & Hedges’ packet out and began to smoke. ‘I know you don’t smoke, Luis’ he said quite ceremoniously, and added: ‘Have you ever met a fellow called Murphy, an Irishman? He came to the inauguration… mentioned you, that’s why.’
‘An artist?’ Luis asked.
‘That’s right. A painter. Oils,’ the other answered, blowing his smoke to one side.
‘Joe Murphy, yes. They call him Paddy. Realist Writers’ Group. I thought he was a communist.’
‘Shut up! What has that got to do with it?’
‘Well, he fought in Spain for the Republic, during the war.’
‘Forget about the war, and forget him, oh dear!’ Manuel said, quite abruptly, this time. ‘Gosh, it is you, all through! Can you not start a conversation without introducing such concepts as peace and war, good and evil, red and white?’
‘Dialectics.’
‘Dialectics my foot! Those conflicts no longer exist. No wonder you often feel so bitter. Talk of the embassy offering us some help. Now! As a lawyer you’d have a lot to gain cultivating that sort of relations. Consider please, consider.’

  • The next time they met, Manuel exclaimed, as he was getting his big leather-wallet out of his blazer’s inside pocket: ‘That is me, your friend Tom Terrific. And what a success that inauguration business was. You don’t know what you’ve missed.’ The picture was taken on Twelth Night, a rather large colour-print. Luis got hold of the photograph, and saw a Father Christmas in red, complete with white fringes on the hood and around the hems of the tunic, as well as plenty of snow-flakes glued on the shoulders; he wore a big snowy-white beard and seemed to be very happy. About a dozen children were pressing around him. ‘The Day of the Kings of Orient, as they call in Spain the sixth day of January, actually,’ Manuel explained, pointing a finger. ‘Some of those kiddies have just arrived, from all over Spain, by the way, country, the coast, the towns and even the capital. See what I mean? Quelle grandeur! There’s the Spanish Club for you. Absolutely.’
    Luis said nothing, and Manuel went on: ‘Of course, much still needs to be done: I’m talking of the Club. Nomination of a managing board, inter alia. There are going to be elections next week.’ Luis did not show the enthusiasm the other had expected. Besides, when he answered, he did so ponderously, as if it cost him a great effort or were thinking deeply: ‘Well, well! You say… As for me, well I’ve spent the whole holiday studying, since I left Harris Street… Case Law principally. You probably have forgotten… I’m consolidating…’ ‘What nonsense! Consolidating what? You should have visited the club. Full stop. We sent you an invitation.’ ‘Well, if you had let me finish,’ Luis shouted back. ‘My position in the firm… It’s certainly much easier in Australia to get a good post, but I still… there is a trial period. The conclusion is at hand. I must succeed… It requires concentration. That’s why you haven’t seen me. Nobody has.’ ‘My dear boy, it’s perfectly clear what you’re saying. And I’m interested all right, as a friend I love you. Naturally, a good job comes first. But are you telling me that a buddy (‘compatriot’ at that) can’t spare a few minutes. And then the Club is the Club, ain’t it?’ ‘Yes!!’ ‘Let me finish,’ the friend cut Galvao, rapping his right hand. ‘Besides, you aren’t as consistent in your behaviour as you think you are. Concentration, my foot. Not so long ago you were fully concentrated on a subject which brought you (I repeatedly warned you then) nothing but trouble. You know what kind of subject I’m referring to?’ (pinching Luis’s cheek) ‘Don’t come to me saying that you now do nothing but studying.’ ‘You are unfair. You know you’re hurting me, now, hurting me deeply.’

*
The next encounter took place in a restaurant in the City. Manuel did not refer at the outset to the Spanish Club this time, as he had done the time before, and as Luis had expected.
‘Say, Luis,’he began, ‘have you had much to do with Heribert Wormser since you left Harris Street.’
‘I met him once. At the Pyrmont Hotel, near the docks. And I chanced to see some of my old mates from the soap factory. It was fun. Pity we will not seen much of him.’
‘Then you know he sails back. To Europe. A bloody returning migrant?’
‘How am I not going to know? We shared the same room. He had made himself a special calendar, counting the days. He came assisted-passage.’
‘So, we won’t see him again. Bizarre.’ Manuel sounded strangely melancholy.
‘Who knows?’ Galvao said. ‘By the way, changing the subject, the last time I saw you, you were expecting to get onto the Board of Directors. I am referring to the Spanish Club. Are you the treasurer already?’
‘Bah!’ murmured Manuel, rather despondently. ‘It was simply a whim. ‘Now, I would prefer to talk of other things. I have some news to impart.’
‘News, for me?’
‘Yes, for you. Very important. Personal news. That is, about an important person.’

‘What news? Tell!!’ asked Luis Galvao, rather violently. He had become suddenly rather worried.
‘You naughty boy,” Manuel said, pinching his cheek again, “You have guessed. I’ve seen in those beautiful green eyes of yours that you’ve guessed what I’m going to talk about.’
‘Stop that silly theatre: you know I don’t like it.’
Unluckily for Galvao he had to calm down without knowing for the moment what that piece of news was.
A waiter had come to serve them a drink, and there was now a long pause. Luis had to learn how to master his impatience, and when his friend was ready to restart the conversation, other waiters came to their table. There followed an unending set of conversations between Manuel, who insisted in knowing everything about the menu and la carte des vins with the waiters.
‘Well, tell me,’ Luis began when all the queries had been answered about the wines, and the problems with the meal and Manuel’s digestion had been solved, ‘tell me. What?’
‘Oh, yes, I see! I knew it would interest you. So, I guessed rightly. And you’ve guessed what the piece of news I’m bringing is.’
‘Well, go on.’
‘No, no chance I will omit the information. It’s about women, what d’you think? One woman in particular.’
‘Get on with it, hell! Don’t play that stupid game.’
‘I knew the subject would interest you,’ Manuel Suárez went on, playing his game disgustingly slowly. Or at least, the other thought so.

Luis had taken off his glasses in order to wipe them with his handkerchief and in his agitation, he almost broke them, what contributed to make him more furious. He opened his eyes spasmodically, as he heard the other say:

‘Yes, Malgorata.’
Luis got red in the face. However, he didn’t open his mouth.
‘I’ve been to Bathurst, you see,’ the other articulated, ‘not because of your Malgorata, of course. There is a Greek fellow wants to buy the property. I took him to Leonidas.’
‘And… what about her?’

‘Nothing more and nothing less than this,’ Manuel went on, drawling, ‘Malgorata has vanished.’ It was obvious he was enjoying himself.
‘But what do you bloody mean?’
‘Well, disappeared, gone, if you’re looking for a better word…’
Galvao did not let him finish the sentence: ‘The scoundrel!’ he shouted, raising his arms in the air. ‘Bastard of a Krappov. He has done away with her. One of the rangers. Nazi murderers!’
‘Don’t be too rash, my dear fellow,’ Manuel said, holding his friend with both hands. ‘Consider, oh please!’
‘Don’t touch me!” Luis screamed.
‘Dear me! Luis, please, calm down,’ Manuel whispered into the other’s ear. ‘Lord! I shouldn’t have brought you here.’ (Trying to be very friendly in order to stop the other’s shouts), “you aren’t yourself today. Pray, be reasonable. Oh, my! why did it ever occur to me to mention that woman?’
Luis got free from Manuel’s clutch, who tumbled back in his chair, taking his hands to his face in great despair. His friend, on the contrary, appeared to have calmed down. After a while, he mumbled some apology.
‘This is a restaurant where I often have my lunch,’ said Manuel. ‘Luis, please. Everybody is looking. You should have realised. Sure they’ve guessed we’re Spanish. What d’you think you’re doing? What kind of public relations you suppose this is going to be in relation with our Club? Please, be rational and don’t open your mouth any more while we are in this place.’
Luis Galvao had already shut up, as it happened, and as was evident in his looks, there was in his eyes, specially, an expression of repentance and shame, which he was at pains to occult. In fact, he did not know what to do with himself or how to hide his embarrassment (he would have given all he had to rub off the last half-hour from his memory.) He tried to be friendly, being this time the first to speak: and again he put his foot on it.
‘Tell me about the elections: are you now the treasurer, or what?’
It was the turn for Manuel to get furious. He first bent his head down over his meal, and had become uncharacteristically quiet, after the row. He looked at his friend who, on the contrary, was beginning to become serene, and was calming down.

‘I mean…the Club, you’ve said,’ Luis continued, nudging his friend. ‘What about those elections? You know, president, vice-president, the consulate… Are you now the treasurer, or what?’ he repeated.
It was now Manuel’s turn to show frustration. ‘No, bloody hell!’ he said, ‘and good riddance! Their loss, not mine. All the posts of the board went to… have been taken by the Chivas brothers, Salvador and Edmundo, you know them, and other members of their gang. If you had been there… I had nominated you for the presidency, you may remember I told you I had. Being a lawyer and that sort of thing, not the slightest doubt you’d have been chosen. And we would have made a team. We would have won, mate! At the time, Martin and Vendrell were with me. I counted with their votes. And with you. And I would have been elected. But, without you the others failed me, shit! I was alone,’ he wailed, and repeated: ‘Well, good riddance!’
Luis tried to say something, but his friend stopped him: ‘Well, never mind. They are liars, all liars!’
‘Lying comes naturally to us,’ Luis started, pensively and rather out of the subject. ‘It is the main trait of the Spanish character. With jealousy.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ answered Manuel, who never had uttered an evil word about the home country before. ’And, as for me, perhaps you were right the other day in the Toxteth, when you said… Better to devote all your free time to developing your career, developing your brain sort of thing. In other words, employment, studying and climbing up the ladder when possible. That, to tell you I’m going to spend all my free time from now on to study in order to become a qualified Aussie vet.’
Luis was still uncouth enough to add, rather in a singing tone: ‘Sour grapes.’ It was rather his sense of humour.
‘Why sour grapes? You don’t seem to understand that, as I told you, my only interest in the Spanish Club was the wellbeing of the newly arrived Spanish migrants, to foster…’
‘Let them help themselves,’ Luis said, standing up. ‘It serves no purpose to try and help someone. I have to get back to work.’

‘I’ll foot the bill,’ Manuel said also rising. ‘You’ll pay next time.’

*
The place, Pyrmont 13. The hour, 7 p.m. The scene, a typical one. A liner is about to depart, ‘S.S. Himalaya’. 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.

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… for ever? So many emotions experienced over the years: the arrival in the new country, the initial difficulties, the easy life among these friendly if somewhat sullen people, 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 and turning my back on so many opportunities. After yearning for this return to the old country for so long, suddenly doubt has entered my poor heart and mind.
Why are you doing this to me? wails a lonesome man that had at last found a girl for his companion, who now goes away from him. I can’t understand! You leave, and I’m staying behind; we part company, my friend, oh sadness! And we shall pass the rest of our lives away from one other. Maybe the remembrance will remain.
Soon I’ll be back in the old country; 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 a misery more profound than anything I’ve experienced before! 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 order to discover new places and people… and to conquer!
On the quay, a multitude of raised hands, Australian flags and waving handkerchiefs. 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 thei friends on shore doown 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. Likewise those on the ship do try to catch hold of the end of unrolling streamers coming their way from down below. 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 end of a streamer now held in every hand: from the fingers of one who is about to leave to those of a dear one standing on the shore. A woman sighs, a man responds smiling. ‘Behold, beloved one! our last tangible contact, this feeble paper link.’ 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. Moving, moving, 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? No matter. A lonely returning migrant on one of the upper decks, contemplating the scene, the din and tumult, asks himself with sad eyes, ‘What then?’ He was brought Down Under as a child, and now he doesn’t know why he’s leaving, really. Perhaps adventure. ‘In a month or two I’ll be overthere; shall I find what I’m looking for? How long will I take, I too, to be homesick… the other way round?’ If she had 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 shall 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 and which so generously had received them in the first place. Whatever has now made them decide to go back home to suffer a fresh, perhaps fatal, disappointment?
… when I was a little boy, one summer, my father took us all to a port in the north of the country. Once there, my brother took me of an evening to see the liners arrive from Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, New York. I delighted on those little walks. Oh, to see those beautiful women descending from the boats, so different and so much better dressed that those in Spain! One evening we saw a different scene, and stayed longer (my father severely beat my brother then.) On the quay there was another sort of people and I was impressed. We watched them from behind the wiring. ‘They’re emigrants,’ someone muttered, nearby. It was a crowd of miserable people. They had been there since the morning (our informant added), around a pile of boxes and other luggage. I wanted to run away, but my brother stopped me. There was a ship in the port just arrived. There were children, of my age and more, playing around the baggage. The ‘emigrants’ were very poorly dressed. It was very dark; one of the two funnels must have had, tied to it, a whistle. However it might be, we suddenly heard 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, and one or two mothers had a babe-in-arms. Through my tears (I had not a clue why the tears were running down my cheeks) I saw the gangways full of dark shadow climbing up, climbing… My brother asked one of the people, standing with us this side of the barrier, if he please knew the time? ‘A quarter past nine,’ the man replied. And we ran and ran and ran, and I did not stop crying.
‘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 doing, 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! And renewed suffering, as he gazes back at the deck full of people, still trying to rush down the gangways. He had seen the Calabrian fellow, noticed 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 peasant fellow 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…!’’
In the meantime the loudspeakers once more are calling: ‘’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 gazes amorously at a large young man seen on the lower deck above the shoulders and heads of other returning migrants. ‘’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. He recalls their last few hours together, near the window, in the room upstairs, facing Harris Street. That was on Sunday. They have made a solemn promise to remain in touch; but the Sicilian can hardly write, so that how they will keep in touch is quite a mystery. No, no, it can’t be! Palermo, what’s he going to do there? That witch of a Nónna will come to the village, of a Saturday, with girls of his age, Nino’s. ‘Bene, bene! Túa cugina!’ And the young girl-cousin will say, grabbing him by the arm: ‘Andiamo Nino, il passéggio.’
Manuel 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.
After a while, Manuel 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 has come down to say goodbye to Heribert Wormser, who is leaving on the same ship.
He has a long journey back, the German has. From Southampton another boat to the Continent, the the train to Cologne, Köln, as Heribert liked to say.
He fixes his eyes on the liner. The decks are so crowded now that he cannot see the friend who for more than nine months was his room-companion. Perhaps two months before that fellow sets foot in Cologne (he thinks.)
And thinking of the German friend the City of the Rhine again comes to mind, and his journeys in Western Europe…, little by little he forgets about his friend, the ship and the tumult around him, to concentrate on his thoughts: his student days, hitch-hiking… and he falls in a sort of reverie.
… precisely, Cologne was a city which I got to know fairly well in my student days. I arrived there in the spring of 1954. The city was still thoroughly destroyed from the war, like many other German cities, west and east, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden. However, much construction was going on, and it was easy to find work. In Cologne all the monuments, museums and official buildings had been bombed; bridges on the Rhine, the cathedral, or Dom, too. There was only one street, wholly standing, and that one, narrow and short, was ghastly, hideous colours, combined most hideously everywhere, ugly materials and even the abundant advertisments and lights were offensive to the eye. A thorough passageway always full of pedestrians.
… I first slept in the Jungerherberger, only the reglamentary ten-days. Afterwards I lived with students, in Köln-Lindenthal, the university, a Studentenheim. It was wonderful. But the first ten days were hectic. The Youth Hostel warden used to wake us up at six. He was a frustrated artist, a musician, and used to walk the length of the corridors playing his violin, Mendelssohn and Brahms. I walked every day to town, to work. The hostel was in the south of Cologne, on the very edge of the river Rhine. There was a tunnel which took pedestrians and traffic from the waters’ edge to the centre of the city. All was very dark once you embarked upon the final section of the expedition. You had already walked on the river promenade for half an hour, and on the right, you found an elevation. The city was on the other side. You had the tunnel. There was no public lighting in it, and the headlights with the continuous flow of motorcars and utility vans filled the inside of the tunnel with lines of light which gave the place a mysterious atmosphere. We, the pedestrians, marched along the sides, on the footpaths. In great discipline, this side into town, the other side out of town, like the vehicles in the middle. All was black around, despite the glow of the headlights. The exit, at the other end, was the pedestrian goal, on either side. It was for us like a semicircle of open sky, cut in what could be said to be a black canvas: an explosion of pretty, glittering, natural light.
… as I marched onward, the semicircle of light grew bigger. There was the crouching figure of a man, sitting on a stool at the end of the tunnel, on the city side, that changed as you advanced, not only because it became larger, but also because it transformed him into a musician, even if at first his music mingled with the noise of the traffic. You saw him all the time in silhouette, static, or almost static; with a rather roundish, small-rimmed hat, and beside this, you saw a beard and a big nose; he wore a dark-blue duffle-coat. Only his right arm moved (you noticed this as you advanced further along the footpath.) It was then that you began to hear the music, deadened at the beginning by the noise of the engines passing by.
… then you heard it more clearly. The man was holding a violin, very nice romantic music (I only remember one piece.) Once in the street you saw a little girl, not very well dressed, although not in rags. It was his little grandchild. She was asking for alms and singing. ‘Oh mein Papa, zu mir Du warst so wunderbahr!...’

The blast of a hooter from the liner puts an end to poor 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 are visible on the floor of the pier, trampled by the already-leaving mass of people.
‘Heh!! Oh, dear!,’ Luis Galvao hears (still dreaming, somehow), 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 magnificent Harbour Bridge, heading towards the mysterious (elusive for the early explorers) gate of Sydney’s harbour, the two promontories called the Heads, and out into the Pacific Ocean.
The two Spaniards walk together to a nearby parking lot. ‘’That bloody bloke,’’ Manuel resumes the interrupted conversation. ‘’He’s acted like a pig. 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 keep the store open than to kiss him 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 arrived at the parking lot as evening was closing in. Each one started going to his own car.
‘Luis, why don’t we dine together in town?’’ Manuel called out, turning to his friend. ‘My treat.’
‘All right,’’ Galvao shouted back. ‘’Where d’you want to go?’’
‘Anywhere we can park the cars.’’
‘Then follow me.’’
They drove into town, parked in Kent Street, where Galvao had his office, and began the walk down to George Street. Most unlike himself Manuel Suárez looked depressed and silent.
As they passed along the little wooded square where the ‘Wentworth Hotel’ was situated, they caught sight of a group of Japanese, all men, standing at the entrance of the establishment; they were talking animatedly in their squeaky language, all very elegantly attired.
‘A group of tourists,’ Manuel suggested, ‘they’re waiting for a minibus to take them to Doyle’s, a first-class restaurant by the sea. Have you ever been there?’
The presence of the men had raised his spirits, and he hooked his friend’s arm with enthusiasm, and whispered in his ear: ‘Come on, I’ll take you to a pretty good restaurant, too.’
‘Get away with you,’ Luis rejected Manuel, pushing his arm away. ‘What are they going to think?’ he added.
‘Who?’
‘Everybody, hell!’
They went on walking. Manuel was still thinking of the men at the door of the Wentworth. ‘Those Japs, what d’you think they’ve come to do in Sydney?’
‘Forget them.’
‘You may have noticed, too, they were all fairly young, and one of them very handsome, by the way. They’ve flown to Sydney to enjoy themselves. On the booze! Yes, yes, it seems the Japs are becoming wealthy. Nothing is too expensive for them. Yes, that’s what it is. Follow me?’
‘Yes. But I tell you. These are not tourists, nor are they going on the booze. Full stop.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because I know. These are business men. Full stop.’
They had by now reached the main thoroughfare, and turned right. Manuel forgot about the Japanese, and again came close to his friend to say, full of nostalgia:
‘This is what beats me. Voilà the capital of a state, and hardly a few stragglers in the streets now. Oh yes! don’t contradict me now, amigo, nine o’clock and there is practically nobody. Overthere, the Madrileños, hell! you must remember, overthere in the autumn, this corresponds to our October, northern hemisphere, isn’t it? the fall as the Americans say. And look! I assure you, the streets in Madrid are full of lights all night, with this weather. What do you say?’
‘I say that this street and the others in the city are full of lights, You’re talking of lights. Well, these are better, plenty of neon lighting still in the shop windows and the advertisements…’
‘Stop, dear!’ Manuel said, rapping the fingers of the other. ‘Now, hold it! I’ve said lights and people. Have you forgotten, Calle Preciados, Echegaray, Puerta del Sol… full of taverns and bars, men constantly going in and going out, the taberneros and bar-attendants serving drinks and tapas till midnight. What am I saying? till the first hours of the morning. Some tapas!
‘No wonder you are so fat. Anyhow, you exaggerate, my pal, as always. And as for your famous Madrid nights, you can keep them. Nights are meant for sleeping.’ Luis had by now got rid of Manuel’s on-and-off embrace, and taking the opportunity that they were in Martin Place, had got an airmail envelope out of his pocket.
Manuel was going to say something.
‘Excuse me,’ Luis stopped him, ‘I’ve got a letter to post.’ He climbed up the steps to the G.P.O.
‘No, but it isn’t only that,’ Manuell resumed the conversation when they were together again. For this is an anglosaxon land. Do you know about the six-o’clock swill, have you heard the expression at all?’
‘No. But let us leave it. There’re more important things to do.’
‘Not in your life, Luis. You now listen to me. Well, before you came, much before in fact, there was a law… and in Victoria it’s still in force, I believe… The public houses had to be shut by 6 p.m. Now, can you imagine? Funny, anyhow. But it was still funnier the fact that in every pub, half an our before closing-time, the publican shouted a few words… I forgot which, sure funny ones, announcing the coming tragedy, the closure if you prefer. Come on, boys, come on! All the men in the establishment were thus warned, and what d’you bet, my dear? Being, as they were, legion, in every pub, they dashed, to a man, carrying their glasses in their hands… all to the bar, all nudging one another, and each one drinking, drinking, continually non.stop… well gallons of beer in half an hour, you can imagine. The publican and the barmaids, you’ve seen them, those strong arms, they had to pull most of them, mates, dead-drunk on to the street. Ha! ha! ha! ha!’
Galvao did not find the story so funny, and Manuel, rather annoyed, slapped him on the shoulder. They had begun walking to Pitt Street. Manuel mentioned again a famous Chinese restaurant he knew well, he said. As the other did not express any opinion to the contrary, he got hold of Galvao’s arm once more and, turning right, they proceeded along Pitt Street.
‘Here we are!’ said Manuel, stopping short after a while, ‘this is the place I had in mind. Come on, let’s go in!’
It was a long and narrow place which rather looked like an old-fashioned railway carriage with a series of uniform wooden benches, and broad Formica planks for the corresponding tables between the benches. A row of windows on one side, and on the other a very long mirror which covered the whole wall. On it there were some embossed Chinese characters with 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 sporting parasols. All very well made, perfectly ornamented, and at the same time quite cosy.
On the left side, the wall with the windows, all looked equally good and cosy. There was in fact one single long window, divided into ten by as many standing bars, with gauze curtains, which were entirely drawn. The street lights were still on, but few people passed.
They were seated at one of the Formica tables, opposite one another. Manuel was the first to speak.
‘And how are you getting on in your new place?’ he asked, drawling.
‘So so. I still find it difficult to have a long restful sleep. Otherwise it’s alright. Quite roomy in any case.’
‘You need a companion to share the flat with.’
‘Oh yes, a lady companion.’
‘The Margaret on the airmail envelope?’ asked Manuel with a queer quizzical look in his eyes.
‘What d’you know?’ exclaimed Galvao in astonishment.
‘Well, wasn’t it Margaret, the addressee of the letter you’ve posted at Martin Place?’
‘I see, you fucking devil!’ 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 she look at me? I looked handsome,didn’t I?’ and once more Manuel passed his hand through his hair.
But Luis was not looking. His eyes had followed the waitress. He saw her talking to a young lady who had her back to him. The lady’s short hair was blond and wavy. He now hears her asking some questions and the Chinse waitress replying. Both have delicious voices. The blond girl’s accent is Northern English, Lancashire, no doubt, Manchester, perhaps. Now, if he could start a conversation with her? What was to be done? She seemed too quiet, but still... Difficult for him. And with Manuel by his side. What? If she had noticed their presence at all, what might not she have thought?
‘Luis,’ he hears his friend’s voice, ‘what’s the matter?’ and feels that soft touch on his left hand.
‘Ah, nothing! Sorry,’ he replies, withdrawing his hand.
Their dinner had been served, complete with Chinese tea, ‘Lapsang Suchong.’

Making an extraordinary fuss about the different chunks of meat or chicken and bits of vegetables, which he insisted on naming, and giggling all the while, Manuel handled the chopsticks, then served the tea into some little ceramic pots. Afterwards he began to pass some elements from one dish to the other, asking some questions about preferences and giving instructions with explanations about different kinds of pepper and so on. Once these preliminaries completed, he again advised Luis to make use of the chopsticks, as he himself was doing. ‘Like this, don’t you see?’

But Luis does not seem to care, or in fact notice anything. For he is lost in thought. He had begun thinking of Malgorata.
… She was so sweet. I did not then live alone, my Malgorata. Why did I lose you, darling, oh! my darling. You had become a portion of my life, I loved that tenderness, your body, the superior knowledge and your art. Amongst the creatures I’ve come to know, you were the most adorable… with Margaret, also you, my English girl so beautiful. She smiled and seemed to be the most essential aspect of my life. I should have married her, and instead nothing, a sad relic of departed Love. I always was afraid of losing her… those days, when both together prepared what should have been our union, and fought against the Tyrant, then. Did I not see that glow in your face, the young blue eyes. Why did I leave? Was it the fear of confessing. Was that what made me run away… a coward and a poltroon.
‘’Oh dear!’’ Luis Galvao hears, with a simultaneous nudge on his elbow. ‘’Eat your meal, Luis. What’s happening to you now?’’ And after a pause: ‘’Why, I see, you feel attracted to that girl. How disgusting you are! Always the same type of blonde, how boring! Boy, you know what my motto is?
‘No,” Luis replied, quite abruptly.
To which rude remark, the other replied in a sing-song voice:
‘Le droit à la difference. That’s my motto, absolutely.’
Of a sudden the young lady at the nearby table rose from her seat. Luis saw her, as she got ready to leave.
Now, could it be true?
And as she passed by the Spaniards’ table without a glance, she inadvertently dropped the piece of paper which the waitress had handed to her; Galvao immediately stooped to pick it up, and when he straightened up saw very near a most attractive face, somewhat pale, but with delicate rosy cheeks and a pair of luminous eyes which were questioning him.
‘Your bill,’’ he said, handing it to her.
The girl merely smiled, and as she did so, a dimple appeared on her left cheek.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

Migrants’ homesickness

Fernando García Izquierdo

Like other living beings, humans feel attached to the medium in which they live and thrive, the earth from whence they came. Migrants, too, feel that attraction, which in their case is twofold, the old and the new country. They feel at present a pain for what they have lost, the old, the irretrievable past. That is, the things and the people that were essential to their existence before are no longer there. Their lives have been cut into two. At the same time the things and people now present are extraneous, do not belong to the immigrant, nor he to them. In some cases the immigrant hardly knows the language; the customs, religion, physical appearance are likewise different. In a word, you are an alien.
It is not only that the migrant feels often disappointed, contemplating the reality before his eyes, which does not correspond to the promised paradise of his dreams (though there is as well a lot of this.) The main thing is that the migrant feels torn, deep inside him, which causes him to see the new reality with distorted eyes. There is a vacuum inside. ‘Adieu, my native home! Adieu et pour toujours! For, in principle, there is no going back.
Lately, during the last forty years or so, many things have changed in our modern world, but not so much as some may imagine. Generally speaking, distances have been shortened (with the use of air navigation), but the fundamentals remain. Because flying, for ordinary mortals, will be prohibitively expensive. Besides, for the long-distance migrant, the purpose of ‘going home’ cannot be ‘just-a-few-days-visit, and the cost will never be irrelevant. A Portuguese in France (for instance) makes the journey as any holiday-maker going to a nearby beach; but for a Portuguese who has settled in Australia it is different. A trip to visit family and friends back home would require months of tumultuous preparation; too much work is involved (not to mention money spent)… unless the status changes, from migrant (visiting) to returning-migrant.

Dickens, who travelled a good deal, and twice visited America, has left many wonderful pages about returning migrants. Most immigrants in America then came from the British Isles, as is well known.
‘After boarding up,’ he writes about these migrants, ‘and borrowing, and begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had gone out to New York, expecting to find the streets paved with gold, and found them paved with very hard and very real stones. Enterprise was dull, labourers were not wanted; jobs to work were to be got, but the payment was not...
And in the same book, he goes on: ‘They were coming back even poorer than they went.’
Of these returning migrants he writes, with the good heart and superb knowledge that characterises him (‘American Notes’) of a man who, after crossing the Atlantic, just upon fixing his gaze on the promised land from the deck of the ship, on board which he had just arrived, was so overcome by panic that he decided, then and there, to return at once to the country where he was born, where all his life had been spent until then, where his people lived and his ancestors had been buried. He did not even set foot on the land to which he had come, so full of hope. Difficult to imagine for some. After having experienced a number of calamities and other difficulties on board, perhaps risking his life during storms at sea and leading an altogether hard life those days of difficult sailing... he was supposed to have attained his goal. He owns nothing, not a penny (that is why he sailed out in the first place), and what is worse, not the slightest possibility of survival back in his fatherland of ‘the industrial revolution’. A stowaway returning home? Like committing suicide.
For those days poor voyagers depended for their sustenance on the food and even the water they could embark with them. Yet, in that same ship he is determined to return home. And he does: coming out of his hole only at night. It is really a painful history Dickens relates.
The exploited people who are banished from their native land and out of sheer misery go in search of a better life elsewhere.
This particular returning migrant (we are told) ‘was discovered nearly at the end of the voyage, not before, – for he kept his secret close and did not court compassion – had had no sustenance whatever but the bones and scraps of fat and remains he took from the plates used in the wealthy voyagers’ cabins, when they were put out to be washed.’
There are and have always been returning migrants like this one, preferring to return and end their miserable lives in the old land, where their ancestors were buried, than roam about in search of what, for some unfortunate mortals anyhow, will always be nothing but a chimera.

*
There is a man who has made the trip back from Sydney (whereto he had emigrated long ago), strolling along the paths and avenues of a small but beautiful park situated on the west-side of the capital and called, because of that, Parque del Oeste. He has been treading these once familiar ways, it would appear from his tired looks, for sometime. It is now midday.
When he was young, he used to cross this selfsame park, nearly every working-day during the season, in order to reach the centre of his studies. He lived in that part of the city near the park, which then constituted the outermost suburb of the capital. That is to say, only uncultivated fields, stones, dust and dirt-roads existed beyond.
Back in Australia he had thought often of this park, quite dreamily and sometimes with tears in his eyes. He is easily moved, poor fellow, and tears do not take long to appear coursing down his cheeks. Those days, when he walked alone and some sudden impression came to remind him most forcibly of the past, it was a representation of this park that mostly filled his mind.

He is now ambling with neutral regard on these once very familiar parts and ways: sometimes an ironical smile is playing on his contracted lips. Impossible to know what it signifies. His mind is a blank. The walk goes on.

He is probably thinking of those days long gone by, for he has been muttering some sentences, and has used his mother tongue. Who knows? He soon changes into English, no doubt visualising now scenes from that other past life (the new country left behind.) The blue ocean which always marvelled him when he was overthere. An immense extension of water, right and left, as far as his eyes could reach, up to the very horizon.
He recalls to his mind those days, that landscape: the playful waves, ever following one another. He particularly remembers he has been many times there with his girlfriend, on a cliff, both overcome. It is in his ears now, that furious roaring; the colour combination in his retinas, the intense blue hues with a streak of green. And wonderful above all things, the long white rollers, many of them, advancing over the whole surface of the ocean until they broke, one after the other on the already castigated sand. That terrific thud. And the sound of the continuous battering on the rocks down below.

He is distracted from his reverie by the appearance of a very elegant woman passing by. And he thinks of those days, when in Spain women suffered so much. The misery and utter poverty in which everybody, but particularly the working-classes, lived under the boot of fascism. This one is obviously a highborn lady. She is walking quite elegantly on the sandy track, with high-heeled-pointed shoes, a dark but colourful dress, with a pretty pattern combination of yellow, red and orange flowers; a little white cloak on her shoulders and a silk scarf around her long neck. She is accompanied by a big dog, frisking by her side; sometimes the dog runs up and down the hilly ways.
The solitary man laughs at this novelty, remembering yesterday’s sheer poverty. Of course today’s wealthy citizens will have pets, to imitate their French neighbours in the north, the country having just been admitted into the concert of the civilised nations.
He now turns onto a narrow dusty path, going down to the deepest ravine in the park. Many tall trees are here, the lofty dark oak, the silver birch, acacias, and even one proud old elm, which is one of the trees (he tries to remember) which resisted total destruction during the war. In almost all the trees the leaves are just turning yellow or pale-green or brown, save the evergreen conifers, of course; and one or two of the trees he is gazing at have already shed nearly all their leaves; but not many of these dead leaves are spread along the paths or cover the green lawns: a crew of municipal gardeners see to it every morning.
But the one tree the man likes best still has a full round top or crown of small leaves, a tall ash. Golden in the blue sky! He stops short to contemplate this wonder, its numerous little glittering leaves all over.

He had often in the past strolled down these ways with friends, university pals, those days of June nearing the exams, when they were worried about results and constantly exchanged impressions. But once or twice he also walked with a couple of girls, all moving slowly together, each with a briefcase full of text-books, towards the east exit. There was an underground-station in Argüelles, the near-outer suburb, which the students were intending to reach. But not he, who lived precisely in Argüelles.
During the republic, that short period of democracy in the thirties, it had come to pass that a portion of those empty spaces beyond this park had one day been visited by construction firms and engineers, then building building materials were brought on, and a multitude workers, who began to work with rather simple machines. Some buildings were soon to appear all over. And the future university had begun to appear little by little. Some red-brick buildings, some marble façades, modern edifices of cement and glass, plazas, trees and avenues. The old Madrid University had been transferred little by little there, outside the city. And afterwards all had been destroyed by the war, the park included.
His heart leaps contemplating now the whole extension of the park. He starts going down to the bottom of the ravine. Glorious to look at under the immense blue sky. He remembers having sat on one of these benches with a Lancashire girl several times: an English student who had come to learn Spanish: blond, blue-eyed, always smiling. He also remembers how she blushed the first time they walked together, recollecting in her mind (she explained) what they had told her back home. And the young man who had invited her today (looking now in his eyes) was a dark Spaniard, perhaps a fiend. And he now recalled how they had fallen into each other’s arms, laughing.
Beneath a broad tree, then, he now sits, this autumn morning in the park. Its leaves, still on, are pure gold. He half-closes his eyes. The warmest part of the afternoon has just commenced. It is the sun which will eventually dry the tears behind his hanging glasses. A long slumber. For he is very tired, weak and prematurely old. The noise and rattle of the city faraway, the murmur of the cataracts on the rivulet passing by, the smell of plants and flowers, the twittering of so many birds… all forming part of his reverie, send him by and by into a most profound sleep…
So many associations. As a child (when he arrived with his parents and brothers from Valladolid) he soon found himself running with other children up and down these hills (new friends all of them, and all of them very poor indeed: he had never seen such utter misery); the city had been left without resources after the war. The authorities had temporarily closed the access to all these parts, surrounding the park with barbed-wire, but children will be children, and they did not care, and jumped, and crawled… unsuspecting there was imminent danger, they were actually risking their lives. During the war the front line had run precisely there, and those hills and ravines now so beautiful were then full of unexploded shells and shrapnel.
He had explained all this (those days, while students) to that adorable new girlfriend, his Margaret. And she had listened with great interest. Oh, beautiful blond girl, his life then so clearcut and now… for him, everything so confused…
All his existence was there, in his dream… and particularly those moments when he was about to embark, the girl already gone from his life. A healthy strong fellow, alone, with his head full of ideas: he then was young and handsome and, oh! so full of hope.

*
The friendship between Manuel and Luis did not break up when the latter left Harris Street, Ultimo, to go and live in Kirribilli, a northern suburb by the harbour. They met at regular intervals in the Toxteth Hotel, a public house in Glebe, one of Sydney’s inner suburbs. They spent there an hour or two together, perched on high stools by the bar, chatting over some drinks and refreshments.
Manuel had been trying for sometime to requalify his veterinary degree in Sydney University, reputed to be one of the best in the world for veterinary studies. Yet, to hear him talk, these days, one would have thought he had but one interest in life, the Spanish Club, which had been lately inaugurated in Liverpool Street, quite in the centre of the city.
‘A chunk of our Spain in the Antipodes,’ he said solemnly to his friend, ‘the pride of any Spanish heart beating on Australian soil. Much better than The Italian Club, at Leichhardt, and the envy soon of the Portuguese, you’ll see.’
‘Well, I don’t know about all that,’ Luis replied, ironically.
Yet, the fact was that, many more Spaniards having migrated during the last two years and settled in New South Wales, the club would probably have a future, and quite a number of prospective members and visitors.
Some busy-bodies among those who had settled long ago had jumped on the idea; and they all had convened a meeting and insisted on building ‘the Club’.
‘Our Club!’ they cried and began to make projects, visiting banks, even at the risk of entering into debt at once.
Luis Galvao was pleased to learn that Manuel Suárez was one of the four founding members. The infrmation came to him as a surprise; for he had not had any contact with any other Spaniard for some time.
He also learned in one of these meetings at the Toxteth, that it was Manuel that did most of the paper work in the constitution of the Club, being among the founders the only Spaniard of long standing with a university degree. He was also the one who succeeded in bringing the Embassy at Canberra and the Consulate in Sydney into the project: ‘This chunk of our Spain right in the heart of the Antipodes,’ he had repeated to all of them, enthusiastically.
‘The vice-consul is now a personal friend of mine: he was instrumental in the forming of the club, though not a member,” Manuel informed his pal, rubbing his hands quite excitedly. “I tell you, Luis, you too should also meet him; I’m speaking of Artemio, the vice-consul. So very handsome a young man! He studied in Madrid, Law Faculty. That may interest you. Come with me to the Consulate. He is sort of blond, Nordic, you see,’ Manuel went on, combing parsimonially his shiny black hair with his right hand as he spoke. ’As a matter of fact, he rather looks like a Scot sort of thing. I got his backing right from the beginning, exactly. Now, next Saturday morning?’
‘Easy, my friend, have you forgotten I’m antifascist,’ uttered Luis, rather savagely.
’Oo! oo! Easy yourself. What an antidiluvian element you are, dear boy. This is different. Don’t you see that we aren’t performing a guerilla warfare against Franco or in fact anybody… here, twenty-two thousand kilometres away from El Palacio del Pardo.’
‘Never mind El Pardo now.’
‘That’s why, boy. Let’s leave politics behind, that notion of a Fascist Dictatorship sort of thing. Times are changing. Be pragmatic, my pretty!’
Stopping his friend with the palm of his hand, Galvao reverted to the old arguments.
‘Fascism all the same’ he said. ‘And when you say the Spanish Consular Authorities are behind it, I revolt. What I suspected, I say. Why, all right, Manuel. Good on you. No, no, let’s close the subject.’
‘Oh dear, dear!’ Manuel said, rather disappointed, for he did not expect to see his friend getting into a temper for nothing.
‘Twenty-four years!’ Luis exclaimed.
‘You mean the war? and if you do, you bloody stop it!’ the other said, shaking his head rather sadly.
But Manuel’s sadness only lasted a few minutes. He got his ‘Benson & Hedges’ packet out and began to smoke. ‘I know you don’t smoke, Luis’ he said quite ceremoniously, and added: ‘Have you ever met a fellow called Murphy, an Irishman? He came to the inauguration… mentioned you, that’s why.’
‘An artist?’ Luis asked.
‘That’s right. A painter. Oils,’ the other answered, blowing his smoke to one side.
‘Joe Murphy, yes. They call him Paddy. Realist Writers’ Group. I thought he was a communist.’
‘Shut up! What has that got to do with it?’
‘Well, he fought in Spain for the Republic, during the war.’
‘Forget about the war, and forget him, oh dear!’ Manuel said, quite abruptly, this time. ‘Gosh, it is you, all through! Can you not start a conversation without introducing such concepts as peace and war, good and evil, red and white?’
‘Dialectics.’
‘Dialectics my foot! Those conflicts no longer exist. No wonder you often feel so bitter. Talk of the embassy offering us some help. Now! As a lawyer you’d have a lot to gain cultivating that sort of relations. Consider please, consider.’

  • The next time they met, Manuel exclaimed, as he was getting his big leather-wallet out of his blazer’s inside pocket: ‘That is me, your friend Tom Terrific. And what a success that inauguration business was. You don’t know what you’ve missed.’ The picture was taken on Twelth Night, a rather large colour-print. Luis got hold of the photograph, and saw a Father Christmas in red, complete with white fringes on the hood and around the hems of the tunic, as well as plenty of snow-flakes glued on the shoulders; he wore a big snowy-white beard and seemed to be very happy. About a dozen children were pressing around him. ‘The Day of the Kings of Orient, as they call in Spain the sixth day of January, actually,’ Manuel explained, pointing a finger. ‘Some of those kiddies have just arrived, from all over Spain, by the way, country, the coast, the towns and even the capital. See what I mean? Quelle grandeur! There’s the Spanish Club for you. Absolutely.’
    Luis said nothing, and Manuel went on: ‘Of course, much still needs to be done: I’m talking of the Club. Nomination of a managing board, inter alia. There are going to be elections next week.’ Luis did not show the enthusiasm the other had expected. Besides, when he answered, he did so ponderously, as if it cost him a great effort or were thinking deeply: ‘Well, well! You say… As for me, well I’ve spent the whole holiday studying, since I left Harris Street… Case Law principally. You probably have forgotten… I’m consolidating…’ ‘What nonsense! Consolidating what? You should have visited the club. Full stop. We sent you an invitation.’ ‘Well, if you had let me finish,’ Luis shouted back. ‘My position in the firm… It’s certainly much easier in Australia to get a good post, but I still… there is a trial period. The conclusion is at hand. I must succeed… It requires concentration. That’s why you haven’t seen me. Nobody has.’ ‘My dear boy, it’s perfectly clear what you’re saying. And I’m interested all right, as a friend I love you. Naturally, a good job comes first. But are you telling me that a buddy (‘compatriot’ at that) can’t spare a few minutes. And then the Club is the Club, ain’t it?’ ‘Yes!!’ ‘Let me finish,’ the friend cut Galvao, rapping his right hand. ‘Besides, you aren’t as consistent in your behaviour as you think you are. Concentration, my foot. Not so long ago you were fully concentrated on a subject which brought you (I repeatedly warned you then) nothing but trouble. You know what kind of subject I’m referring to?’ (pinching Luis’s cheek) ‘Don’t come to me saying that you now do nothing but studying.’ ‘You are unfair. You know you’re hurting me, now, hurting me deeply.’

*
The next encounter took place in a restaurant in the City. Manuel did not refer at the outset to the Spanish Club this time, as he had done the time before, and as Luis had expected.
‘Say, Luis,’he began, ‘have you had much to do with Heribert Wormser since you left Harris Street.’
‘I met him once. At the Pyrmont Hotel, near the docks. And I chanced to see some of my old mates from the soap factory. It was fun. Pity we will not seen much of him.’
‘Then you know he sails back. To Europe. A bloody returning migrant?’
‘How am I not going to know? We shared the same room. He had made himself a special calendar, counting the days. He came assisted-passage.’
‘So, we won’t see him again. Bizarre.’ Manuel sounded strangely melancholy.
‘Who knows?’ Galvao said. ‘By the way, changing the subject, the last time I saw you, you were expecting to get onto the Board of Directors. I am referring to the Spanish Club. Are you the treasurer already?’
‘Bah!’ murmured Manuel, rather despondently. ‘It was simply a whim. ‘Now, I would prefer to talk of other things. I have some news to impart.’
‘News, for me?’
‘Yes, for you. Very important. Personal news. That is, about an important person.’

‘What news? Tell!!’ asked Luis Galvao, rather violently. He had become suddenly rather worried.
‘You naughty boy,” Manuel said, pinching his cheek again, “You have guessed. I’ve seen in those beautiful green eyes of yours that you’ve guessed what I’m going to talk about.’
‘Stop that silly theatre: you know I don’t like it.’
Unluckily for Galvao he had to calm down without knowing for the moment what that piece of news was.
A waiter had come to serve them a drink, and there was now a long pause. Luis had to learn how to master his impatience, and when his friend was ready to restart the conversation, other waiters came to their table. There followed an unending set of conversations between Manuel, who insisted in knowing everything about the menu and la carte des vins with the waiters.
‘Well, tell me,’ Luis began when all the queries had been answered about the wines, and the problems with the meal and Manuel’s digestion had been solved, ‘tell me. What?’
‘Oh, yes, I see! I knew it would interest you. So, I guessed rightly. And you’ve guessed what the piece of news I’m bringing is.’
‘Well, go on.’
‘No, no chance I will omit the information. It’s about women, what d’you think? One woman in particular.’
‘Get on with it, hell! Don’t play that stupid game.’
‘I knew the subject would interest you,’ Manuel Suárez went on, playing his game disgustingly slowly. Or at least, the other thought so.

Luis had taken off his glasses in order to wipe them with his handkerchief and in his agitation, he almost broke them, what contributed to make him more furious. He opened his eyes spasmodically, as he heard the other say:

‘Yes, Malgorata.’
Luis got red in the face. However, he didn’t open his mouth.
‘I’ve been to Bathurst, you see,’ the other articulated, ‘not because of your Malgorata, of course. There is a Greek fellow wants to buy the property. I took him to Leonidas.’
‘And… what about her?’

‘Nothing more and nothing less than this,’ Manuel went on, drawling, ‘Malgorata has vanished.’ It was obvious he was enjoying himself.
‘But what do you bloody mean?’
‘Well, disappeared, gone, if you’re looking for a better word…’
Galvao did not let him finish the sentence: ‘The scoundrel!’ he shouted, raising his arms in the air. ‘Bastard of a Krappov. He has done away with her. One of the rangers. Nazi murderers!’
‘Don’t be too rash, my dear fellow,’ Manuel said, holding his friend with both hands. ‘Consider, oh please!’
‘Don’t touch me!” Luis screamed.
‘Dear me! Luis, please, calm down,’ Manuel whispered into the other’s ear. ‘Lord! I shouldn’t have brought you here.’ (Trying to be very friendly in order to stop the other’s shouts), “you aren’t yourself today. Pray, be reasonable. Oh, my! why did it ever occur to me to mention that woman?’
Luis got free from Manuel’s clutch, who tumbled back in his chair, taking his hands to his face in great despair. His friend, on the contrary, appeared to have calmed down. After a while, he mumbled some apology.
‘This is a restaurant where I often have my lunch,’ said Manuel. ‘Luis, please. Everybody is looking. You should have realised. Sure they’ve guessed we’re Spanish. What d’you think you’re doing? What kind of public relations you suppose this is going to be in relation with our Club? Please, be rational and don’t open your mouth any more while we are in this place.’
Luis Galvao had already shut up, as it happened, and as was evident in his looks, there was in his eyes, specially, an expression of repentance and shame, which he was at pains to occult. In fact, he did not know what to do with himself or how to hide his embarrassment (he would have given all he had to rub off the last half-hour from his memory.) He tried to be friendly, being this time the first to speak: and again he put his foot on it.
‘Tell me about the elections: are you now the treasurer, or what?’
It was the turn for Manuel to get furious. He first bent his head down over his meal, and had become uncharacteristically quiet, after the row. He looked at his friend who, on the contrary, was beginning to become serene, and was calming down.

‘I mean…the Club, you’ve said,’ Luis continued, nudging his friend. ‘What about those elections? You know, president, vice-president, the consulate… Are you now the treasurer, or what?’ he repeated.
It was now Manuel’s turn to show frustration. ‘No, bloody hell!’ he said, ‘and good riddance! Their loss, not mine. All the posts of the board went to… have been taken by the Chivas brothers, Salvador and Edmundo, you know them, and other members of their gang. If you had been there… I had nominated you for the presidency, you may remember I told you I had. Being a lawyer and that sort of thing, not the slightest doubt you’d have been chosen. And we would have made a team. We would have won, mate! At the time, Martin and Vendrell were with me. I counted with their votes. And with you. And I would have been elected. But, without you the others failed me, shit! I was alone,’ he wailed, and repeated: ‘Well, good riddance!’
Luis tried to say something, but his friend stopped him: ‘Well, never mind. They are liars, all liars!’
‘Lying comes naturally to us,’ Luis started, pensively and rather out of the subject. ‘It is the main trait of the Spanish character. With jealousy.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ answered Manuel, who never had uttered an evil word about the home country before. ’And, as for me, perhaps you were right the other day in the Toxteth, when you said… Better to devote all your free time to developing your career, developing your brain sort of thing. In other words, employment, studying and climbing up the ladder when possible. That, to tell you I’m going to spend all my free time from now on to study in order to become a qualified Aussie vet.’
Luis was still uncouth enough to add, rather in a singing tone: ‘Sour grapes.’ It was rather his sense of humour.
‘Why sour grapes? You don’t seem to understand that, as I told you, my only interest in the Spanish Club was the wellbeing of the newly arrived Spanish migrants, to foster…’
‘Let them help themselves,’ Luis said, standing up. ‘It serves no purpose to try and help someone. I have to get back to work.’

‘I’ll foot the bill,’ Manuel said also rising. ‘You’ll pay next time.’

*
The place, Pyrmont 13. The hour, 7 p.m. The scene, a typical one. A liner is about to depart, ‘S.S. Himalaya’. 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.

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… for ever? So many emotions experienced over the years: the arrival in the new country, the initial difficulties, the easy life among these friendly if somewhat sullen people, 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 and turning my back on so many opportunities. After yearning for this return to the old country for so long, suddenly doubt has entered my poor heart and mind.
Why are you doing this to me? wails a lonesome man that had at last found a girl for his companion, who now goes away from him. I can’t understand! You leave, and I’m staying behind; we part company, my friend, oh sadness! And we shall pass the rest of our lives away from one other. Maybe the remembrance will remain.
Soon I’ll be back in the old country; 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 a misery more profound than anything I’ve experienced before! 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 order to discover new places and people… and to conquer!
On the quay, a multitude of raised hands, Australian flags and waving handkerchiefs. 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 thei friends on shore doown 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. Likewise those on the ship do try to catch hold of the end of unrolling streamers coming their way from down below. 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 end of a streamer now held in every hand: from the fingers of one who is about to leave to those of a dear one standing on the shore. A woman sighs, a man responds smiling. ‘Behold, beloved one! our last tangible contact, this feeble paper link.’ 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. Moving, moving, 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? No matter. A lonely returning migrant on one of the upper decks, contemplating the scene, the din and tumult, asks himself with sad eyes, ‘What then?’ He was brought Down Under as a child, and now he doesn’t know why he’s leaving, really. Perhaps adventure. ‘In a month or two I’ll be overthere; shall I find what I’m looking for? How long will I take, I too, to be homesick… the other way round?’ If she had 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 shall 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 and which so generously had received them in the first place. Whatever has now made them decide to go back home to suffer a fresh, perhaps fatal, disappointment?
… when I was a little boy, one summer, my father took us all to a port in the north of the country. Once there, my brother took me of an evening to see the liners arrive from Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, New York. I delighted on those little walks. Oh, to see those beautiful women descending from the boats, so different and so much better dressed that those in Spain! One evening we saw a different scene, and stayed longer (my father severely beat my brother then.) On the quay there was another sort of people and I was impressed. We watched them from behind the wiring. ‘They’re emigrants,’ someone muttered, nearby. It was a crowd of miserable people. They had been there since the morning (our informant added), around a pile of boxes and other luggage. I wanted to run away, but my brother stopped me. There was a ship in the port just arrived. There were children, of my age and more, playing around the baggage. The ‘emigrants’ were very poorly dressed. It was very dark; one of the two funnels must have had, tied to it, a whistle. However it might be, we suddenly heard 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, and one or two mothers had a babe-in-arms. Through my tears (I had not a clue why the tears were running down my cheeks) I saw the gangways full of dark shadow climbing up, climbing… My brother asked one of the people, standing with us this side of the barrier, if he please knew the time? ‘A quarter past nine,’ the man replied. And we ran and ran and ran, and I did not stop crying.
‘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 doing, 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! And renewed suffering, as he gazes back at the deck full of people, still trying to rush down the gangways. He had seen the Calabrian fellow, noticed 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 peasant fellow 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…!’’
In the meantime the loudspeakers once more are calling: ‘’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 gazes amorously at a large young man seen on the lower deck above the shoulders and heads of other returning migrants. ‘’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. He recalls their last few hours together, near the window, in the room upstairs, facing Harris Street. That was on Sunday. They have made a solemn promise to remain in touch; but the Sicilian can hardly write, so that how they will keep in touch is quite a mystery. No, no, it can’t be! Palermo, what’s he going to do there? That witch of a Nónna will come to the village, of a Saturday, with girls of his age, Nino’s. ‘Bene, bene! Túa cugina!’ And the young girl-cousin will say, grabbing him by the arm: ‘Andiamo Nino, il passéggio.’
Manuel 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.
After a while, Manuel 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 has come down to say goodbye to Heribert Wormser, who is leaving on the same ship.
He has a long journey back, the German has. From Southampton another boat to the Continent, the the train to Cologne, Köln, as Heribert liked to say.
He fixes his eyes on the liner. The decks are so crowded now that he cannot see the friend who for more than nine months was his room-companion. Perhaps two months before that fellow sets foot in Cologne (he thinks.)
And thinking of the German friend the City of the Rhine again comes to mind, and his journeys in Western Europe…, little by little he forgets about his friend, the ship and the tumult around him, to concentrate on his thoughts: his student days, hitch-hiking… and he falls in a sort of reverie.
… precisely, Cologne was a city which I got to know fairly well in my student days. I arrived there in the spring of 1954. The city was still thoroughly destroyed from the war, like many other German cities, west and east, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden. However, much construction was going on, and it was easy to find work. In Cologne all the monuments, museums and official buildings had been bombed; bridges on the Rhine, the cathedral, or Dom, too. There was only one street, wholly standing, and that one, narrow and short, was ghastly, hideous colours, combined most hideously everywhere, ugly materials and even the abundant advertisments and lights were offensive to the eye. A thorough passageway always full of pedestrians.
… I first slept in the Jungerherberger, only the reglamentary ten-days. Afterwards I lived with students, in Köln-Lindenthal, the university, a Studentenheim. It was wonderful. But the first ten days were hectic. The Youth Hostel warden used to wake us up at six. He was a frustrated artist, a musician, and used to walk the length of the corridors playing his violin, Mendelssohn and Brahms. I walked every day to town, to work. The hostel was in the south of Cologne, on the very edge of the river Rhine. There was a tunnel which took pedestrians and traffic from the waters’ edge to the centre of the city. All was very dark once you embarked upon the final section of the expedition. You had already walked on the river promenade for half an hour, and on the right, you found an elevation. The city was on the other side. You had the tunnel. There was no public lighting in it, and the headlights with the continuous flow of motorcars and utility vans filled the inside of the tunnel with lines of light which gave the place a mysterious atmosphere. We, the pedestrians, marched along the sides, on the footpaths. In great discipline, this side into town, the other side out of town, like the vehicles in the middle. All was black around, despite the glow of the headlights. The exit, at the other end, was the pedestrian goal, on either side. It was for us like a semicircle of open sky, cut in what could be said to be a black canvas: an explosion of pretty, glittering, natural light.
… as I marched onward, the semicircle of light grew bigger. There was the crouching figure of a man, sitting on a stool at the end of the tunnel, on the city side, that changed as you advanced, not only because it became larger, but also because it transformed him into a musician, even if at first his music mingled with the noise of the traffic. You saw him all the time in silhouette, static, or almost static; with a rather roundish, small-rimmed hat, and beside this, you saw a beard and a big nose; he wore a dark-blue duffle-coat. Only his right arm moved (you noticed this as you advanced further along the footpath.) It was then that you began to hear the music, deadened at the beginning by the noise of the engines passing by.
… then you heard it more clearly. The man was holding a violin, very nice romantic music (I only remember one piece.) Once in the street you saw a little girl, not very well dressed, although not in rags. It was his little grandchild. She was asking for alms and singing. ‘Oh mein Papa, zu mir Du warst so wunderbahr!...’

The blast of a hooter from the liner puts an end to poor 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 are visible on the floor of the pier, trampled by the already-leaving mass of people.
‘Heh!! Oh, dear!,’ Luis Galvao hears (still dreaming, somehow), 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 magnificent Harbour Bridge, heading towards the mysterious (elusive for the early explorers) gate of Sydney’s harbour, the two promontories called the Heads, and out into the Pacific Ocean.
The two Spaniards walk together to a nearby parking lot. ‘’That bloody bloke,’’ Manuel resumes the interrupted conversation. ‘’He’s acted like a pig. 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 keep the store open than to kiss him 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 arrived at the parking lot as evening was closing in. Each one started going to his own car.
‘Luis, why don’t we dine together in town?’’ Manuel called out, turning to his friend. ‘My treat.’
‘All right,’’ Galvao shouted back. ‘’Where d’you want to go?’’
‘Anywhere we can park the cars.’’
‘Then follow me.’’
They drove into town, parked in Kent Street, where Galvao had his office, and began the walk down to George Street. Most unlike himself Manuel Suárez looked depressed and silent.
As they passed along the little wooded square where the ‘Wentworth Hotel’ was situated, they caught sight of a group of Japanese, all men, standing at the entrance of the establishment; they were talking animatedly in their squeaky language, all very elegantly attired.
‘A group of tourists,’ Manuel suggested, ‘they’re waiting for a minibus to take them to Doyle’s, a first-class restaurant by the sea. Have you ever been there?’
The presence of the men had raised his spirits, and he hooked his friend’s arm with enthusiasm, and whispered in his ear: ‘Come on, I’ll take you to a pretty good restaurant, too.’
‘Get away with you,’ Luis rejected Manuel, pushing his arm away. ‘What are they going to think?’ he added.
‘Who?’
‘Everybody, hell!’
They went on walking. Manuel was still thinking of the men at the door of the Wentworth. ‘Those Japs, what d’you think they’ve come to do in Sydney?’
‘Forget them.’
‘You may have noticed, too, they were all fairly young, and one of them very handsome, by the way. They’ve flown to Sydney to enjoy themselves. On the booze! Yes, yes, it seems the Japs are becoming wealthy. Nothing is too expensive for them. Yes, that’s what it is. Follow me?’
‘Yes. But I tell you. These are not tourists, nor are they going on the booze. Full stop.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because I know. These are business men. Full stop.’
They had by now reached the main thoroughfare, and turned right. Manuel forgot about the Japanese, and again came close to his friend to say, full of nostalgia:
‘This is what beats me. Voilà the capital of a state, and hardly a few stragglers in the streets now. Oh yes! don’t contradict me now, amigo, nine o’clock and there is practically nobody. Overthere, the Madrileños, hell! you must remember, overthere in the autumn, this corresponds to our October, northern hemisphere, isn’t it? the fall as the Americans say. And look! I assure you, the streets in Madrid are full of lights all night, with this weather. What do you say?’
‘I say that this street and the others in the city are full of lights, You’re talking of lights. Well, these are better, plenty of neon lighting still in the shop windows and the advertisements…’
‘Stop, dear!’ Manuel said, rapping the fingers of the other. ‘Now, hold it! I’ve said lights and people. Have you forgotten, Calle Preciados, Echegaray, Puerta del Sol… full of taverns and bars, men constantly going in and going out, the taberneros and bar-attendants serving drinks and tapas till midnight. What am I saying? till the first hours of the morning. Some tapas!
‘No wonder you are so fat. Anyhow, you exaggerate, my pal, as always. And as for your famous Madrid nights, you can keep them. Nights are meant for sleeping.’ Luis had by now got rid of Manuel’s on-and-off embrace, and taking the opportunity that they were in Martin Place, had got an airmail envelope out of his pocket.
Manuel was going to say something.
‘Excuse me,’ Luis stopped him, ‘I’ve got a letter to post.’ He climbed up the steps to the G.P.O.
‘No, but it isn’t only that,’ Manuell resumed the conversation when they were together again. For this is an anglosaxon land. Do you know about the six-o’clock swill, have you heard the expression at all?’
‘No. But let us leave it. There’re more important things to do.’
‘Not in your life, Luis. You now listen to me. Well, before you came, much before in fact, there was a law… and in Victoria it’s still in force, I believe… The public houses had to be shut by 6 p.m. Now, can you imagine? Funny, anyhow. But it was still funnier the fact that in every pub, half an our before closing-time, the publican shouted a few words… I forgot which, sure funny ones, announcing the coming tragedy, the closure if you prefer. Come on, boys, come on! All the men in the establishment were thus warned, and what d’you bet, my dear? Being, as they were, legion, in every pub, they dashed, to a man, carrying their glasses in their hands… all to the bar, all nudging one another, and each one drinking, drinking, continually non.stop… well gallons of beer in half an hour, you can imagine. The publican and the barmaids, you’ve seen them, those strong arms, they had to pull most of them, mates, dead-drunk on to the street. Ha! ha! ha! ha!’
Galvao did not find the story so funny, and Manuel, rather annoyed, slapped him on the shoulder. They had begun walking to Pitt Street. Manuel mentioned again a famous Chinese restaurant he knew well, he said. As the other did not express any opinion to the contrary, he got hold of Galvao’s arm once more and, turning right, they proceeded along Pitt Street.
‘Here we are!’ said Manuel, stopping short after a while, ‘this is the place I had in mind. Come on, let’s go in!’
It was a long and narrow place which rather looked like an old-fashioned railway carriage with a series of uniform wooden benches, and broad Formica planks for the corresponding tables between the benches. A row of windows on one side, and on the other a very long mirror which covered the whole wall. On it there were some embossed Chinese characters with 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 sporting parasols. All very well made, perfectly ornamented, and at the same time quite cosy.
On the left side, the wall with the windows, all looked equally good and cosy. There was in fact one single long window, divided into ten by as many standing bars, with gauze curtains, which were entirely drawn. The street lights were still on, but few people passed.
They were seated at one of the Formica tables, opposite one another. Manuel was the first to speak.
‘And how are you getting on in your new place?’ he asked, drawling.
‘So so. I still find it difficult to have a long restful sleep. Otherwise it’s alright. Quite roomy in any case.’
‘You need a companion to share the flat with.’
‘Oh yes, a lady companion.’
‘The Margaret on the airmail envelope?’ asked Manuel with a queer quizzical look in his eyes.
‘What d’you know?’ exclaimed Galvao in astonishment.
‘Well, wasn’t it Margaret, the addressee of the letter you’ve posted at Martin Place?’
‘I see, you fucking devil!’ 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 she look at me? I looked handsome,didn’t I?’ and once more Manuel passed his hand through his hair.
But Luis was not looking. His eyes had followed the waitress. He saw her talking to a young lady who had her back to him. The lady’s short hair was blond and wavy. He now hears her asking some questions and the Chinse waitress replying. Both have delicious voices. The blond girl’s accent is Northern English, Lancashire, no doubt, Manchester, perhaps. Now, if he could start a conversation with her? What was to be done? She seemed too quiet, but still... Difficult for him. And with Manuel by his side. What? If she had noticed their presence at all, what might not she have thought?
‘Luis,’ he hears his friend’s voice, ‘what’s the matter?’ and feels that soft touch on his left hand.
‘Ah, nothing! Sorry,’ he replies, withdrawing his hand.
Their dinner had been served, complete with Chinese tea, ‘Lapsang Suchong.’

Making an extraordinary fuss about the different chunks of meat or chicken and bits of vegetables, which he insisted on naming, and giggling all the while, Manuel handled the chopsticks, then served the tea into some little ceramic pots. Afterwards he began to pass some elements from one dish to the other, asking some questions about preferences and giving instructions with explanations about different kinds of pepper and so on. Once these preliminaries completed, he again advised Luis to make use of the chopsticks, as he himself was doing. ‘Like this, don’t you see?’

But Luis does not seem to care, or in fact notice anything. For he is lost in thought. He had begun thinking of Malgorata.
… She was so sweet. I did not then live alone, my Malgorata. Why did I lose you, darling, oh! my darling. You had become a portion of my life, I loved that tenderness, your body, the superior knowledge and your art. Amongst the creatures I’ve come to know, you were the most adorable… with Margaret, also you, my English girl so beautiful. She smiled and seemed to be the most essential aspect of my life. I should have married her, and instead nothing, a sad relic of departed Love. I always was afraid of losing her… those days, when both together prepared what should have been our union, and fought against the Tyrant, then. Did I not see that glow in your face, the young blue eyes. Why did I leave? Was it the fear of confessing. Was that what made me run away… a coward and a poltroon.
‘’Oh dear!’’ Luis Galvao hears, with a simultaneous nudge on his elbow. ‘’Eat your meal, Luis. What’s happening to you now?’’ And after a pause: ‘’Why, I see, you feel attracted to that girl. How disgusting you are! Always the same type of blonde, how boring! Boy, you know what my motto is?
‘No,” Luis replied, quite abruptly.
To which rude remark, the other replied in a sing-song voice:
‘Le droit à la difference. That’s my motto, absolutely.’
Of a sudden the young lady at the nearby table rose from her seat. Luis saw her, as she got ready to leave.
Now, could it be true?
And as she passed by the Spaniards’ table without a glance, she inadvertently dropped the piece of paper which the waitress had handed to her; Galvao immediately stooped to pick it up, and when he straightened up saw very near a most attractive face, somewhat pale, but with delicate rosy cheeks and a pair of luminous eyes which were questioning him.
‘Your bill,’’ he said, handing it to her.
The girl merely smiled, and as she did so, a dimple appeared on her left cheek.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

Migrants’ homesickness

Fernando García Izquierdo

Like other living beings, humans feel attached to the medium in which they live and thrive, the earth from whence they came. Migrants, too, feel that attraction, which in their case is twofold, the old and the new country. They feel at present a pain for what they have lost, the old, the irretrievable past. That is, the things and the people that were essential to their existence before are no longer there. Their lives have been cut into two. At the same time the things and people now present are extraneous, do not belong to the immigrant, nor he to them. In some cases the immigrant hardly knows the language; the customs, religion, physical appearance are likewise different. In a word, you are an alien.
It is not only that the migrant feels often disappointed, contemplating the reality before his eyes, which does not correspond to the promised paradise of his dreams (though there is as well a lot of this.) The main thing is that the migrant feels torn, deep inside him, which causes him to see the new reality with distorted eyes. There is a vacuum inside. ‘Adieu, my native home! Adieu et pour toujours! For, in principle, there is no going back.
Lately, during the last forty years or so, many things have changed in our modern world, but not so much as some may imagine. Generally speaking, distances have been shortened (with the use of air navigation), but the fundamentals remain. Because flying, for ordinary mortals, will be prohibitively expensive. Besides, for the long-distance migrant, the purpose of ‘going home’ cannot be ‘just-a-few-days-visit, and the cost will never be irrelevant. A Portuguese in France (for instance) makes the journey as any holiday-maker going to a nearby beach; but for a Portuguese who has settled in Australia it is different. A trip to visit family and friends back home would require months of tumultuous preparation; too much work is involved (not to mention money spent)… unless the status changes, from migrant (visiting) to returning-migrant.

Dickens, who travelled a good deal, and twice visited America, has left many wonderful pages about returning migrants. Most immigrants in America then came from the British Isles, as is well known.
‘After boarding up,’ he writes about these migrants, ‘and borrowing, and begging, and selling everything to pay the passage, they had gone out to New York, expecting to find the streets paved with gold, and found them paved with very hard and very real stones. Enterprise was dull, labourers were not wanted; jobs to work were to be got, but the payment was not...
And in the same book, he goes on: ‘They were coming back even poorer than they went.’
Of these returning migrants he writes, with the good heart and superb knowledge that characterises him (‘American Notes’) of a man who, after crossing the Atlantic, just upon fixing his gaze on the promised land from the deck of the ship, on board which he had just arrived, was so overcome by panic that he decided, then and there, to return at once to the country where he was born, where all his life had been spent until then, where his people lived and his ancestors had been buried. He did not even set foot on the land to which he had come, so full of hope. Difficult to imagine for some. After having experienced a number of calamities and other difficulties on board, perhaps risking his life during storms at sea and leading an altogether hard life those days of difficult sailing... he was supposed to have attained his goal. He owns nothing, not a penny (that is why he sailed out in the first place), and what is worse, not the slightest possibility of survival back in his fatherland of ‘the industrial revolution’. A stowaway returning home? Like committing suicide.
For those days poor voyagers depended for their sustenance on the food and even the water they could embark with them. Yet, in that same ship he is determined to return home. And he does: coming out of his hole only at night. It is really a painful history Dickens relates.
The exploited people who are banished from their native land and out of sheer misery go in search of a better life elsewhere.
This particular returning migrant (we are told) ‘was discovered nearly at the end of the voyage, not before, – for he kept his secret close and did not court compassion – had had no sustenance whatever but the bones and scraps of fat and remains he took from the plates used in the wealthy voyagers’ cabins, when they were put out to be washed.’
There are and have always been returning migrants like this one, preferring to return and end their miserable lives in the old land, where their ancestors were buried, than roam about in search of what, for some unfortunate mortals anyhow, will always be nothing but a chimera.

*
There is a man who has made the trip back from Sydney (whereto he had emigrated long ago), strolling along the paths and avenues of a small but beautiful park situated on the west-side of the capital and called, because of that, Parque del Oeste. He has been treading these once familiar ways, it would appear from his tired looks, for sometime. It is now midday.
When he was young, he used to cross this selfsame park, nearly every working-day during the season, in order to reach the centre of his studies. He lived in that part of the city near the park, which then constituted the outermost suburb of the capital. That is to say, only uncultivated fields, stones, dust and dirt-roads existed beyond.
Back in Australia he had thought often of this park, quite dreamily and sometimes with tears in his eyes. He is easily moved, poor fellow, and tears do not take long to appear coursing down his cheeks. Those days, when he walked alone and some sudden impression came to remind him most forcibly of the past, it was a representation of this park that mostly filled his mind.

He is now ambling with neutral regard on these once very familiar parts and ways: sometimes an ironical smile is playing on his contracted lips. Impossible to know what it signifies. His mind is a blank. The walk goes on.

He is probably thinking of those days long gone by, for he has been muttering some sentences, and has used his mother tongue. Who knows? He soon changes into English, no doubt visualising now scenes from that other past life (the new country left behind.) The blue ocean which always marvelled him when he was overthere. An immense extension of water, right and left, as far as his eyes could reach, up to the very horizon.
He recalls to his mind those days, that landscape: the playful waves, ever following one another. He particularly remembers he has been many times there with his girlfriend, on a cliff, both overcome. It is in his ears now, that furious roaring; the colour combination in his retinas, the intense blue hues with a streak of green. And wonderful above all things, the long white rollers, many of them, advancing over the whole surface of the ocean until they broke, one after the other on the already castigated sand. That terrific thud. And the sound of the continuous battering on the rocks down below.

He is distracted from his reverie by the appearance of a very elegant woman passing by. And he thinks of those days, when in Spain women suffered so much. The misery and utter poverty in which everybody, but particularly the working-classes, lived under the boot of fascism. This one is obviously a highborn lady. She is walking quite elegantly on the sandy track, with high-heeled-pointed shoes, a dark but colourful dress, with a pretty pattern combination of yellow, red and orange flowers; a little white cloak on her shoulders and a silk scarf around her long neck. She is accompanied by a big dog, frisking by her side; sometimes the dog runs up and down the hilly ways.
The solitary man laughs at this novelty, remembering yesterday’s sheer poverty. Of course today’s wealthy citizens will have pets, to imitate their French neighbours in the north, the country having just been admitted into the concert of the civilised nations.
He now turns onto a narrow dusty path, going down to the deepest ravine in the park. Many tall trees are here, the lofty dark oak, the silver birch, acacias, and even one proud old elm, which is one of the trees (he tries to remember) which resisted total destruction during the war. In almost all the trees the leaves are just turning yellow or pale-green or brown, save the evergreen conifers, of course; and one or two of the trees he is gazing at have already shed nearly all their leaves; but not many of these dead leaves are spread along the paths or cover the green lawns: a crew of municipal gardeners see to it every morning.
But the one tree the man likes best still has a full round top or crown of small leaves, a tall ash. Golden in the blue sky! He stops short to contemplate this wonder, its numerous little glittering leaves all over.

He had often in the past strolled down these ways with friends, university pals, those days of June nearing the exams, when they were worried about results and constantly exchanged impressions. But once or twice he also walked with a couple of girls, all moving slowly together, each with a briefcase full of text-books, towards the east exit. There was an underground-station in Argüelles, the near-outer suburb, which the students were intending to reach. But not he, who lived precisely in Argüelles.
During the republic, that short period of democracy in the thirties, it had come to pass that a portion of those empty spaces beyond this park had one day been visited by construction firms and engineers, then building building materials were brought on, and a multitude workers, who began to work with rather simple machines. Some buildings were soon to appear all over. And the future university had begun to appear little by little. Some red-brick buildings, some marble façades, modern edifices of cement and glass, plazas, trees and avenues. The old Madrid University had been transferred little by little there, outside the city. And afterwards all had been destroyed by the war, the park included.
His heart leaps contemplating now the whole extension of the park. He starts going down to the bottom of the ravine. Glorious to look at under the immense blue sky. He remembers having sat on one of these benches with a Lancashire girl several times: an English student who had come to learn Spanish: blond, blue-eyed, always smiling. He also remembers how she blushed the first time they walked together, recollecting in her mind (she explained) what they had told her back home. And the young man who had invited her today (looking now in his eyes) was a dark Spaniard, perhaps a fiend. And he now recalled how they had fallen into each other’s arms, laughing.
Beneath a broad tree, then, he now sits, this autumn morning in the park. Its leaves, still on, are pure gold. He half-closes his eyes. The warmest part of the afternoon has just commenced. It is the sun which will eventually dry the tears behind his hanging glasses. A long slumber. For he is very tired, weak and prematurely old. The noise and rattle of the city faraway, the murmur of the cataracts on the rivulet passing by, the smell of plants and flowers, the twittering of so many birds… all forming part of his reverie, send him by and by into a most profound sleep…
So many associations. As a child (when he arrived with his parents and brothers from Valladolid) he soon found himself running with other children up and down these hills (new friends all of them, and all of them very poor indeed: he had never seen such utter misery); the city had been left without resources after the war. The authorities had temporarily closed the access to all these parts, surrounding the park with barbed-wire, but children will be children, and they did not care, and jumped, and crawled… unsuspecting there was imminent danger, they were actually risking their lives. During the war the front line had run precisely there, and those hills and ravines now so beautiful were then full of unexploded shells and shrapnel.
He had explained all this (those days, while students) to that adorable new girlfriend, his Margaret. And she had listened with great interest. Oh, beautiful blond girl, his life then so clearcut and now… for him, everything so confused…
All his existence was there, in his dream… and particularly those moments when he was about to embark, the girl already gone from his life. A healthy strong fellow, alone, with his head full of ideas: he then was young and handsome and, oh! so full of hope.

*
The friendship between Manuel and Luis did not break up when the latter left Harris Street, Ultimo, to go and live in Kirribilli, a northern suburb by the harbour. They met at regular intervals in the Toxteth Hotel, a public house in Glebe, one of Sydney’s inner suburbs. They spent there an hour or two together, perched on high stools by the bar, chatting over some drinks and refreshments.
Manuel had been trying for sometime to requalify his veterinary degree in Sydney University, reputed to be one of the best in the world for veterinary studies. Yet, to hear him talk, these days, one would have thought he had but one interest in life, the Spanish Club, which had been lately inaugurated in Liverpool Street, quite in the centre of the city.
‘A chunk of our Spain in the Antipodes,’ he said solemnly to his friend, ‘the pride of any Spanish heart beating on Australian soil. Much better than The Italian Club, at Leichhardt, and the envy soon of the Portuguese, you’ll see.’
‘Well, I don’t know about all that,’ Luis replied, ironically.
Yet, the fact was that, many more Spaniards having migrated during the last two years and settled in New South Wales, the club would probably have a future, and quite a number of prospective members and visitors.
Some busy-bodies among those who had settled long ago had jumped on the idea; and they all had convened a meeting and insisted on building ‘the Club’.
‘Our Club!’ they cried and began to make projects, visiting banks, even at the risk of entering into debt at once.
Luis Galvao was pleased to learn that Manuel Suárez was one of the four founding members. The infrmation came to him as a surprise; for he had not had any contact with any other Spaniard for some time.
He also learned in one of these meetings at the Toxteth, that it was Manuel that did most of the paper work in the constitution of the Club, being among the founders the only Spaniard of long standing with a university degree. He was also the one who succeeded in bringing the Embassy at Canberra and the Consulate in Sydney into the project: ‘This chunk of our Spain right in the heart of the Antipodes,’ he had repeated to all of them, enthusiastically.
‘The vice-consul is now a personal friend of mine: he was instrumental in the forming of the club, though not a member,” Manuel informed his pal, rubbing his hands quite excitedly. “I tell you, Luis, you too should also meet him; I’m speaking of Artemio, the vice-consul. So very handsome a young man! He studied in Madrid, Law Faculty. That may interest you. Come with me to the Consulate. He is sort of blond, Nordic, you see,’ Manuel went on, combing parsimonially his shiny black hair with his right hand as he spoke. ’As a matter of fact, he rather looks like a Scot sort of thing. I got his backing right from the beginning, exactly. Now, next Saturday morning?’
‘Easy, my friend, have you forgotten I’m antifascist,’ uttered Luis, rather savagely.
’Oo! oo! Easy yourself. What an antidiluvian element you are, dear boy. This is different. Don’t you see that we aren’t performing a guerilla warfare against Franco or in fact anybody… here, twenty-two thousand kilometres away from El Palacio del Pardo.’
‘Never mind El Pardo now.’
‘That’s why, boy. Let’s leave politics behind, that notion of a Fascist Dictatorship sort of thing. Times are changing. Be pragmatic, my pretty!’
Stopping his friend with the palm of his hand, Galvao reverted to the old arguments.
‘Fascism all the same’ he said. ‘And when you say the Spanish Consular Authorities are behind it, I revolt. What I suspected, I say. Why, all right, Manuel. Good on you. No, no, let’s close the subject.’
‘Oh dear, dear!’ Manuel said, rather disappointed, for he did not expect to see his friend getting into a temper for nothing.
‘Twenty-four years!’ Luis exclaimed.
‘You mean the war? and if you do, you bloody stop it!’ the other said, shaking his head rather sadly.
But Manuel’s sadness only lasted a few minutes. He got his ‘Benson & Hedges’ packet out and began to smoke. ‘I know you don’t smoke, Luis’ he said quite ceremoniously, and added: ‘Have you ever met a fellow called Murphy, an Irishman? He came to the inauguration… mentioned you, that’s why.’
‘An artist?’ Luis asked.
‘That’s right. A painter. Oils,’ the other answered, blowing his smoke to one side.
‘Joe Murphy, yes. They call him Paddy. Realist Writers’ Group. I thought he was a communist.’
‘Shut up! What has that got to do with it?’
‘Well, he fought in Spain for the Republic, during the war.’
‘Forget about the war, and forget him, oh dear!’ Manuel said, quite abruptly, this time. ‘Gosh, it is you, all through! Can you not start a conversation without introducing such concepts as peace and war, good and evil, red and white?’
‘Dialectics.’
‘Dialectics my foot! Those conflicts no longer exist. No wonder you often feel so bitter. Talk of the embassy offering us some help. Now! As a lawyer you’d have a lot to gain cultivating that sort of relations. Consider please, consider.’

  • The next time they met, Manuel exclaimed, as he was getting his big leather-wallet out of his blazer’s inside pocket: ‘That is me, your friend Tom Terrific. And what a success that inauguration business was. You don’t know what you’ve missed.’ The picture was taken on Twelth Night, a rather large colour-print. Luis got hold of the photograph, and saw a Father Christmas in red, complete with white fringes on the hood and around the hems of the tunic, as well as plenty of snow-flakes glued on the shoulders; he wore a big snowy-white beard and seemed to be very happy. About a dozen children were pressing around him. ‘The Day of the Kings of Orient, as they call in Spain the sixth day of January, actually,’ Manuel explained, pointing a finger. ‘Some of those kiddies have just arrived, from all over Spain, by the way, country, the coast, the towns and even the capital. See what I mean? Quelle grandeur! There’s the Spanish Club for you. Absolutely.’
    Luis said nothing, and Manuel went on: ‘Of course, much still needs to be done: I’m talking of the Club. Nomination of a managing board, inter alia. There are going to be elections next week.’ Luis did not show the enthusiasm the other had expected. Besides, when he answered, he did so ponderously, as if it cost him a great effort or were thinking deeply: ‘Well, well! You say… As for me, well I’ve spent the whole holiday studying, since I left Harris Street… Case Law principally. You probably have forgotten… I’m consolidating…’ ‘What nonsense! Consolidating what? You should have visited the club. Full stop. We sent you an invitation.’ ‘Well, if you had let me finish,’ Luis shouted back. ‘My position in the firm… It’s certainly much easier in Australia to get a good post, but I still… there is a trial period. The conclusion is at hand. I must succeed… It requires concentration. That’s why you haven’t seen me. Nobody has.’ ‘My dear boy, it’s perfectly clear what you’re saying. And I’m interested all right, as a friend I love you. Naturally, a good job comes first. But are you telling me that a buddy (‘compatriot’ at that) can’t spare a few minutes. And then the Club is the Club, ain’t it?’ ‘Yes!!’ ‘Let me finish,’ the friend cut Galvao, rapping his right hand. ‘Besides, you aren’t as consistent in your behaviour as you think you are. Concentration, my foot. Not so long ago you were fully concentrated on a subject which brought you (I repeatedly warned you then) nothing but trouble. You know what kind of subject I’m referring to?’ (pinching Luis’s cheek) ‘Don’t come to me saying that you now do nothing but studying.’ ‘You are unfair. You know you’re hurting me, now, hurting me deeply.’

*
The next encounter took place in a restaurant in the City. Manuel did not refer at the outset to the Spanish Club this time, as he had done the time before, and as Luis had expected.
‘Say, Luis,’he began, ‘have you had much to do with Heribert Wormser since you left Harris Street.’
‘I met him once. At the Pyrmont Hotel, near the docks. And I chanced to see some of my old mates from the soap factory. It was fun. Pity we will not seen much of him.’
‘Then you know he sails back. To Europe. A bloody returning migrant?’
‘How am I not going to know? We shared the same room. He had made himself a special calendar, counting the days. He came assisted-passage.’
‘So, we won’t see him again. Bizarre.’ Manuel sounded strangely melancholy.
‘Who knows?’ Galvao said. ‘By the way, changing the subject, the last time I saw you, you were expecting to get onto the Board of Directors. I am referring to the Spanish Club. Are you the treasurer already?’
‘Bah!’ murmured Manuel, rather despondently. ‘It was simply a whim. ‘Now, I would prefer to talk of other things. I have some news to impart.’
‘News, for me?’
‘Yes, for you. Very important. Personal news. That is, about an important person.’

‘What news? Tell!!’ asked Luis Galvao, rather violently. He had become suddenly rather worried.
‘You naughty boy,” Manuel said, pinching his cheek again, “You have guessed. I’ve seen in those beautiful green eyes of yours that you’ve guessed what I’m going to talk about.’
‘Stop that silly theatre: you know I don’t like it.’
Unluckily for Galvao he had to calm down without knowing for the moment what that piece of news was.
A waiter had come to serve them a drink, and there was now a long pause. Luis had to learn how to master his impatience, and when his friend was ready to restart the conversation, other waiters came to their table. There followed an unending set of conversations between Manuel, who insisted in knowing everything about the menu and la carte des vins with the waiters.
‘Well, tell me,’ Luis began when all the queries had been answered about the wines, and the problems with the meal and Manuel’s digestion had been solved, ‘tell me. What?’
‘Oh, yes, I see! I knew it would interest you. So, I guessed rightly. And you’ve guessed what the piece of news I’m bringing is.’
‘Well, go on.’
‘No, no chance I will omit the information. It’s about women, what d’you think? One woman in particular.’
‘Get on with it, hell! Don’t play that stupid game.’
‘I knew the subject would interest you,’ Manuel Suárez went on, playing his game disgustingly slowly. Or at least, the other thought so.

Luis had taken off his glasses in order to wipe them with his handkerchief and in his agitation, he almost broke them, what contributed to make him more furious. He opened his eyes spasmodically, as he heard the other say:

‘Yes, Malgorata.’
Luis got red in the face. However, he didn’t open his mouth.
‘I’ve been to Bathurst, you see,’ the other articulated, ‘not because of your Malgorata, of course. There is a Greek fellow wants to buy the property. I took him to Leonidas.’
‘And… what about her?’

‘Nothing more and nothing less than this,’ Manuel went on, drawling, ‘Malgorata has vanished.’ It was obvious he was enjoying himself.
‘But what do you bloody mean?’
‘Well, disappeared, gone, if you’re looking for a better word…’
Galvao did not let him finish the sentence: ‘The scoundrel!’ he shouted, raising his arms in the air. ‘Bastard of a Krappov. He has done away with her. One of the rangers. Nazi murderers!’
‘Don’t be too rash, my dear fellow,’ Manuel said, holding his friend with both hands. ‘Consider, oh please!’
‘Don’t touch me!” Luis screamed.
‘Dear me! Luis, please, calm down,’ Manuel whispered into the other’s ear. ‘Lord! I shouldn’t have brought you here.’ (Trying to be very friendly in order to stop the other’s shouts), “you aren’t yourself today. Pray, be reasonable. Oh, my! why did it ever occur to me to mention that woman?’
Luis got free from Manuel’s clutch, who tumbled back in his chair, taking his hands to his face in great despair. His friend, on the contrary, appeared to have calmed down. After a while, he mumbled some apology.
‘This is a restaurant where I often have my lunch,’ said Manuel. ‘Luis, please. Everybody is looking. You should have realised. Sure they’ve guessed we’re Spanish. What d’you think you’re doing? What kind of public relations you suppose this is going to be in relation with our Club? Please, be rational and don’t open your mouth any more while we are in this place.’
Luis Galvao had already shut up, as it happened, and as was evident in his looks, there was in his eyes, specially, an expression of repentance and shame, which he was at pains to occult. In fact, he did not know what to do with himself or how to hide his embarrassment (he would have given all he had to rub off the last half-hour from his memory.) He tried to be friendly, being this time the first to speak: and again he put his foot on it.
‘Tell me about the elections: are you now the treasurer, or what?’
It was the turn for Manuel to get furious. He first bent his head down over his meal, and had become uncharacteristically quiet, after the row. He looked at his friend who, on the contrary, was beginning to become serene, and was calming down.

‘I mean…the Club, you’ve said,’ Luis continued, nudging his friend. ‘What about those elections? You know, president, vice-president, the consulate… Are you now the treasurer, or what?’ he repeated.
It was now Manuel’s turn to show frustration. ‘No, bloody hell!’ he said, ‘and good riddance! Their loss, not mine. All the posts of the board went to… have been taken by the Chivas brothers, Salvador and Edmundo, you know them, and other members of their gang. If you had been there… I had nominated you for the presidency, you may remember I told you I had. Being a lawyer and that sort of thing, not the slightest doubt you’d have been chosen. And we would have made a team. We would have won, mate! At the time, Martin and Vendrell were with me. I counted with their votes. And with you. And I would have been elected. But, without you the others failed me, shit! I was alone,’ he wailed, and repeated: ‘Well, good riddance!’
Luis tried to say something, but his friend stopped him: ‘Well, never mind. They are liars, all liars!’
‘Lying comes naturally to us,’ Luis started, pensively and rather out of the subject. ‘It is the main trait of the Spanish character. With jealousy.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ answered Manuel, who never had uttered an evil word about the home country before. ’And, as for me, perhaps you were right the other day in the Toxteth, when you said… Better to devote all your free time to developing your career, developing your brain sort of thing. In other words, employment, studying and climbing up the ladder when possible. That, to tell you I’m going to spend all my free time from now on to study in order to become a qualified Aussie vet.’
Luis was still uncouth enough to add, rather in a singing tone: ‘Sour grapes.’ It was rather his sense of humour.
‘Why sour grapes? You don’t seem to understand that, as I told you, my only interest in the Spanish Club was the wellbeing of the newly arrived Spanish migrants, to foster…’
‘Let them help themselves,’ Luis said, standing up. ‘It serves no purpose to try and help someone. I have to get back to work.’

‘I’ll foot the bill,’ Manuel said also rising. ‘You’ll pay next time.’

*
The place, Pyrmont 13. The hour, 7 p.m. The scene, a typical one. A liner is about to depart, ‘S.S. Himalaya’. 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.

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… for ever? So many emotions experienced over the years: the arrival in the new country, the initial difficulties, the easy life among these friendly if somewhat sullen people, 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 and turning my back on so many opportunities. After yearning for this return to the old country for so long, suddenly doubt has entered my poor heart and mind.
Why are you doing this to me? wails a lonesome man that had at last found a girl for his companion, who now goes away from him. I can’t understand! You leave, and I’m staying behind; we part company, my friend, oh sadness! And we shall pass the rest of our lives away from one other. Maybe the remembrance will remain.
Soon I’ll be back in the old country; 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 a misery more profound than anything I’ve experienced before! 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 order to discover new places and people… and to conquer!
On the quay, a multitude of raised hands, Australian flags and waving handkerchiefs. 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 thei friends on shore doown 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. Likewise those on the ship do try to catch hold of the end of unrolling streamers coming their way from down below. 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 end of a streamer now held in every hand: from the fingers of one who is about to leave to those of a dear one standing on the shore. A woman sighs, a man responds smiling. ‘Behold, beloved one! our last tangible contact, this feeble paper link.’ 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. Moving, moving, 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? No matter. A lonely returning migrant on one of the upper decks, contemplating the scene, the din and tumult, asks himself with sad eyes, ‘What then?’ He was brought Down Under as a child, and now he doesn’t know why he’s leaving, really. Perhaps adventure. ‘In a month or two I’ll be overthere; shall I find what I’m looking for? How long will I take, I too, to be homesick… the other way round?’ If she had 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 shall 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 and which so generously had received them in the first place. Whatever has now made them decide to go back home to suffer a fresh, perhaps fatal, disappointment?
… when I was a little boy, one summer, my father took us all to a port in the north of the country. Once there, my brother took me of an evening to see the liners arrive from Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, New York. I delighted on those little walks. Oh, to see those beautiful women descending from the boats, so different and so much better dressed that those in Spain! One evening we saw a different scene, and stayed longer (my father severely beat my brother then.) On the quay there was another sort of people and I was impressed. We watched them from behind the wiring. ‘They’re emigrants,’ someone muttered, nearby. It was a crowd of miserable people. They had been there since the morning (our informant added), around a pile of boxes and other luggage. I wanted to run away, but my brother stopped me. There was a ship in the port just arrived. There were children, of my age and more, playing around the baggage. The ‘emigrants’ were very poorly dressed. It was very dark; one of the two funnels must have had, tied to it, a whistle. However it might be, we suddenly heard 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, and one or two mothers had a babe-in-arms. Through my tears (I had not a clue why the tears were running down my cheeks) I saw the gangways full of dark shadow climbing up, climbing… My brother asked one of the people, standing with us this side of the barrier, if he please knew the time? ‘A quarter past nine,’ the man replied. And we ran and ran and ran, and I did not stop crying.
‘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 doing, 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! And renewed suffering, as he gazes back at the deck full of people, still trying to rush down the gangways. He had seen the Calabrian fellow, noticed 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 peasant fellow 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…!’’
In the meantime the loudspeakers once more are calling: ‘’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 gazes amorously at a large young man seen on the lower deck above the shoulders and heads of other returning migrants. ‘’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. He recalls their last few hours together, near the window, in the room upstairs, facing Harris Street. That was on Sunday. They have made a solemn promise to remain in touch; but the Sicilian can hardly write, so that how they will keep in touch is quite a mystery. No, no, it can’t be! Palermo, what’s he going to do there? That witch of a Nónna will come to the village, of a Saturday, with girls of his age, Nino’s. ‘Bene, bene! Túa cugina!’ And the young girl-cousin will say, grabbing him by the arm: ‘Andiamo Nino, il passéggio.’
Manuel 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.
After a while, Manuel 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 has come down to say goodbye to Heribert Wormser, who is leaving on the same ship.
He has a long journey back, the German has. From Southampton another boat to the Continent, the the train to Cologne, Köln, as Heribert liked to say.
He fixes his eyes on the liner. The decks are so crowded now that he cannot see the friend who for more than nine months was his room-companion. Perhaps two months before that fellow sets foot in Cologne (he thinks.)
And thinking of the German friend the City of the Rhine again comes to mind, and his journeys in Western Europe…, little by little he forgets about his friend, the ship and the tumult around him, to concentrate on his thoughts: his student days, hitch-hiking… and he falls in a sort of reverie.
… precisely, Cologne was a city which I got to know fairly well in my student days. I arrived there in the spring of 1954. The city was still thoroughly destroyed from the war, like many other German cities, west and east, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden. However, much construction was going on, and it was easy to find work. In Cologne all the monuments, museums and official buildings had been bombed; bridges on the Rhine, the cathedral, or Dom, too. There was only one street, wholly standing, and that one, narrow and short, was ghastly, hideous colours, combined most hideously everywhere, ugly materials and even the abundant advertisments and lights were offensive to the eye. A thorough passageway always full of pedestrians.
… I first slept in the Jungerherberger, only the reglamentary ten-days. Afterwards I lived with students, in Köln-Lindenthal, the university, a Studentenheim. It was wonderful. But the first ten days were hectic. The Youth Hostel warden used to wake us up at six. He was a frustrated artist, a musician, and used to walk the length of the corridors playing his violin, Mendelssohn and Brahms. I walked every day to town, to work. The hostel was in the south of Cologne, on the very edge of the river Rhine. There was a tunnel which took pedestrians and traffic from the waters’ edge to the centre of the city. All was very dark once you embarked upon the final section of the expedition. You had already walked on the river promenade for half an hour, and on the right, you found an elevation. The city was on the other side. You had the tunnel. There was no public lighting in it, and the headlights with the continuous flow of motorcars and utility vans filled the inside of the tunnel with lines of light which gave the place a mysterious atmosphere. We, the pedestrians, marched along the sides, on the footpaths. In great discipline, this side into town, the other side out of town, like the vehicles in the middle. All was black around, despite the glow of the headlights. The exit, at the other end, was the pedestrian goal, on either side. It was for us like a semicircle of open sky, cut in what could be said to be a black canvas: an explosion of pretty, glittering, natural light.
… as I marched onward, the semicircle of light grew bigger. There was the crouching figure of a man, sitting on a stool at the end of the tunnel, on the city side, that changed as you advanced, not only because it became larger, but also because it transformed him into a musician, even if at first his music mingled with the noise of the traffic. You saw him all the time in silhouette, static, or almost static; with a rather roundish, small-rimmed hat, and beside this, you saw a beard and a big nose; he wore a dark-blue duffle-coat. Only his right arm moved (you noticed this as you advanced further along the footpath.) It was then that you began to hear the music, deadened at the beginning by the noise of the engines passing by.
… then you heard it more clearly. The man was holding a violin, very nice romantic music (I only remember one piece.) Once in the street you saw a little girl, not very well dressed, although not in rags. It was his little grandchild. She was asking for alms and singing. ‘Oh mein Papa, zu mir Du warst so wunderbahr!...’

The blast of a hooter from the liner puts an end to poor 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 are visible on the floor of the pier, trampled by the already-leaving mass of people.
‘Heh!! Oh, dear!,’ Luis Galvao hears (still dreaming, somehow), 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 magnificent Harbour Bridge, heading towards the mysterious (elusive for the early explorers) gate of Sydney’s harbour, the two promontories called the Heads, and out into the Pacific Ocean.
The two Spaniards walk together to a nearby parking lot. ‘’That bloody bloke,’’ Manuel resumes the interrupted conversation. ‘’He’s acted like a pig. 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 keep the store open than to kiss him 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 arrived at the parking lot as evening was closing in. Each one started going to his own car.
‘Luis, why don’t we dine together in town?’’ Manuel called out, turning to his friend. ‘My treat.’
‘All right,’’ Galvao shouted back. ‘’Where d’you want to go?’’
‘Anywhere we can park the cars.’’
‘Then follow me.’’
They drove into town, parked in Kent Street, where Galvao had his office, and began the walk down to George Street. Most unlike himself Manuel Suárez looked depressed and silent.
As they passed along the little wooded square where the ‘Wentworth Hotel’ was situated, they caught sight of a group of Japanese, all men, standing at the entrance of the establishment; they were talking animatedly in their squeaky language, all very elegantly attired.
‘A group of tourists,’ Manuel suggested, ‘they’re waiting for a minibus to take them to Doyle’s, a first-class restaurant by the sea. Have you ever been there?’
The presence of the men had raised his spirits, and he hooked his friend’s arm with enthusiasm, and whispered in his ear: ‘Come on, I’ll take you to a pretty good restaurant, too.’
‘Get away with you,’ Luis rejected Manuel, pushing his arm away. ‘What are they going to think?’ he added.
‘Who?’
‘Everybody, hell!’
They went on walking. Manuel was still thinking of the men at the door of the Wentworth. ‘Those Japs, what d’you think they’ve come to do in Sydney?’
‘Forget them.’
‘You may have noticed, too, they were all fairly young, and one of them very handsome, by the way. They’ve flown to Sydney to enjoy themselves. On the booze! Yes, yes, it seems the Japs are becoming wealthy. Nothing is too expensive for them. Yes, that’s what it is. Follow me?’
‘Yes. But I tell you. These are not tourists, nor are they going on the booze. Full stop.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because I know. These are business men. Full stop.’
They had by now reached the main thoroughfare, and turned right. Manuel forgot about the Japanese, and again came close to his friend to say, full of nostalgia:
‘This is what beats me. Voilà the capital of a state, and hardly a few stragglers in the streets now. Oh yes! don’t contradict me now, amigo, nine o’clock and there is practically nobody. Overthere, the Madrileños, hell! you must remember, overthere in the autumn, this corresponds to our October, northern hemisphere, isn’t it? the fall as the Americans say. And look! I assure you, the streets in Madrid are full of lights all night, with this weather. What do you say?’
‘I say that this street and the others in the city are full of lights, You’re talking of lights. Well, these are better, plenty of neon lighting still in the shop windows and the advertisements…’
‘Stop, dear!’ Manuel said, rapping the fingers of the other. ‘Now, hold it! I’ve said lights and people. Have you forgotten, Calle Preciados, Echegaray, Puerta del Sol… full of taverns and bars, men constantly going in and going out, the taberneros and bar-attendants serving drinks and tapas till midnight. What am I saying? till the first hours of the morning. Some tapas!
‘No wonder you are so fat. Anyhow, you exaggerate, my pal, as always. And as for your famous Madrid nights, you can keep them. Nights are meant for sleeping.’ Luis had by now got rid of Manuel’s on-and-off embrace, and taking the opportunity that they were in Martin Place, had got an airmail envelope out of his pocket.
Manuel was going to say something.
‘Excuse me,’ Luis stopped him, ‘I’ve got a letter to post.’ He climbed up the steps to the G.P.O.
‘No, but it isn’t only that,’ Manuell resumed the conversation when they were together again. For this is an anglosaxon land. Do you know about the six-o’clock swill, have you heard the expression at all?’
‘No. But let us leave it. There’re more important things to do.’
‘Not in your life, Luis. You now listen to me. Well, before you came, much before in fact, there was a law… and in Victoria it’s still in force, I believe… The public houses had to be shut by 6 p.m. Now, can you imagine? Funny, anyhow. But it was still funnier the fact that in every pub, half an our before closing-time, the publican shouted a few words… I forgot which, sure funny ones, announcing the coming tragedy, the closure if you prefer. Come on, boys, come on! All the men in the establishment were thus warned, and what d’you bet, my dear? Being, as they were, legion, in every pub, they dashed, to a man, carrying their glasses in their hands… all to the bar, all nudging one another, and each one drinking, drinking, continually non.stop… well gallons of beer in half an hour, you can imagine. The publican and the barmaids, you’ve seen them, those strong arms, they had to pull most of them, mates, dead-drunk on to the street. Ha! ha! ha! ha!’
Galvao did not find the story so funny, and Manuel, rather annoyed, slapped him on the shoulder. They had begun walking to Pitt Street. Manuel mentioned again a famous Chinese restaurant he knew well, he said. As the other did not express any opinion to the contrary, he got hold of Galvao’s arm once more and, turning right, they proceeded along Pitt Street.
‘Here we are!’ said Manuel, stopping short after a while, ‘this is the place I had in mind. Come on, let’s go in!’
It was a long and narrow place which rather looked like an old-fashioned railway carriage with a series of uniform wooden benches, and broad Formica planks for the corresponding tables between the benches. A row of windows on one side, and on the other a very long mirror which covered the whole wall. On it there were some embossed Chinese characters with 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 sporting parasols. All very well made, perfectly ornamented, and at the same time quite cosy.
On the left side, the wall with the windows, all looked equally good and cosy. There was in fact one single long window, divided into ten by as many standing bars, with gauze curtains, which were entirely drawn. The street lights were still on, but few people passed.
They were seated at one of the Formica tables, opposite one another. Manuel was the first to speak.
‘And how are you getting on in your new place?’ he asked, drawling.
‘So so. I still find it difficult to have a long restful sleep. Otherwise it’s alright. Quite roomy in any case.’
‘You need a companion to share the flat with.’
‘Oh yes, a lady companion.’
‘The Margaret on the airmail envelope?’ asked Manuel with a queer quizzical look in his eyes.
‘What d’you know?’ exclaimed Galvao in astonishment.
‘Well, wasn’t it Margaret, the addressee of the letter you’ve posted at Martin Place?’
‘I see, you fucking devil!’ 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 she look at me? I looked handsome,didn’t I?’ and once more Manuel passed his hand through his hair.
But Luis was not looking. His eyes had followed the waitress. He saw her talking to a young lady who had her back to him. The lady’s short hair was blond and wavy. He now hears her asking some questions and the Chinse waitress replying. Both have delicious voices. The blond girl’s accent is Northern English, Lancashire, no doubt, Manchester, perhaps. Now, if he could start a conversation with her? What was to be done? She seemed too quiet, but still... Difficult for him. And with Manuel by his side. What? If she had noticed their presence at all, what might not she have thought?
‘Luis,’ he hears his friend’s voice, ‘what’s the matter?’ and feels that soft touch on his left hand.
‘Ah, nothing! Sorry,’ he replies, withdrawing his hand.
Their dinner had been served, complete with Chinese tea, ‘Lapsang Suchong.’

Making an extraordinary fuss about the different chunks of meat or chicken and bits of vegetables, which he insisted on naming, and giggling all the while, Manuel handled the chopsticks, then served the tea into some little ceramic pots. Afterwards he began to pass some elements from one dish to the other, asking some questions about preferences and giving instructions with explanations about different kinds of pepper and so on. Once these preliminaries completed, he again advised Luis to make use of the chopsticks, as he himself was doing. ‘Like this, don’t you see?’

But Luis does not seem to care, or in fact notice anything. For he is lost in thought. He had begun thinking of Malgorata.
… She was so sweet. I did not then live alone, my Malgorata. Why did I lose you, darling, oh! my darling. You had become a portion of my life, I loved that tenderness, your body, the superior knowledge and your art. Amongst the creatures I’ve come to know, you were the most adorable… with Margaret, also you, my English girl so beautiful. She smiled and seemed to be the most essential aspect of my life. I should have married her, and instead nothing, a sad relic of departed Love. I always was afraid of losing her… those days, when both together prepared what should have been our union, and fought against the Tyrant, then. Did I not see that glow in your face, the young blue eyes. Why did I leave? Was it the fear of confessing. Was that what made me run away… a coward and a poltroon.
‘’Oh dear!’’ Luis Galvao hears, with a simultaneous nudge on his elbow. ‘’Eat your meal, Luis. What’s happening to you now?’’ And after a pause: ‘’Why, I see, you feel attracted to that girl. How disgusting you are! Always the same type of blonde, how boring! Boy, you know what my motto is?
‘No,” Luis replied, quite abruptly.
To which rude remark, the other replied in a sing-song voice:
‘Le droit à la difference. That’s my motto, absolutely.’
Of a sudden the young lady at the nearby table rose from her seat. Luis saw her, as she got ready to leave.
Now, could it be true?
And as she passed by the Spaniards’ table without a glance, she inadvertently dropped the piece of paper which the waitress had handed to her; Galvao immediately stooped to pick it up, and when he straightened up saw very near a most attractive face, somewhat pale, but with delicate rosy cheeks and a pair of luminous eyes which were questioning him.
‘Your bill,’’ he said, handing it to her.
The girl merely smiled, and as she did so, a dimple appeared on her left cheek.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

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