An Indian Summer
What prospects were there in Australia for European male migrants fifty years ago? Men coming alone found work but became homesick. What possibility had they to overcome their solitude and find Australian girlfriends, these being proportionally few?
An Indian Summer
Fernando García Izquierdo
One way for me to think of Australia, the country where I emigrated half a century ago, is to recall those trips by road, of a Sunday afternoon, with Frank Kelsey, a migrant likewise, just arrived Down Under, who might have taken pity of my solitude those days of the late autumn of 1959, and invited me to his house in Fairlight, where he lived with his wife.
‘Don’t you worry at all, or ever get homesick, my friend,’ he said. ‘Come, we’ll take you up Condomine Street, and you will see, the gardens, nice properties, clear air. And we’ll go on, from there, if you agree, up to Bobbin Head, you know. Then way up to Ku-ring-gai. You’ll doubt no longer. Australia is a most beautiful country, I’m convinced of it.’
My head now heavy with remembrances, I think of Frank and Gladys, my dear English friends, just a few years older than me. He was making good money, at the time, and his wife too had an excellent profession, a teacher. They had purchased a house straight upon arrival, plus a big new car. It was the Kelseys that made me see Australia or, to be precise, a large piece of the land around Sydney, for the first time.
And on my chair, an old man now, elbows on a desk full of papers and pens and pencils, my face on the palms of my hands, I once more see that chunk of Australia as if it were passing before my eyes. Those six or seven Sundays I went to Fairlight, after lunch, to meet my friends. I had to catch the bus first, then the Manly ferry at Circular Quay. They were on the jetty at Manly, waiting for me, and took me to their pretty house. They did take me to places which I saw with great emotion, like a child at the pictures. It’s fine now to remember those moments, long past. So many happy memories…
… all those beautiful things and visions; and hopes, because one cannot behold such fantastic beauty without optimism: that wonderful feeling, which I can renew now, these days, with my love. Hope, happiness, love, oh Margaret!
… contemplating such immense colourful land, Sunday after Sunday, I saw a new prospect (as we went) from the passenger’s seat, thanks to Gladys’s amability. A short period that was, the fall that year (for unfortunately life soon separated us), but it was enough to help me frame in my mind a new sense of life. Each one of those Sundays constituted for me a real divination. Starting always with a slow drive up that broad avenue they liked so much, with a band of lawn, buffalo grass, on either side of the road, parallel to the cement footpath near those excellent properties, with their ample gardens, flowers of all hues and forms, exotic plants that I had not seen anywhere else before, the fine odours too, the fragrance of the frangipani and other flowers whose seeds had probably been brought from South Pacific Islands (for native Australian flowers, although very beautiful in extreme, are generally odourless.)
… many flowers were in those gardens, almost an exaggeration: some flowering trees and bushes, shrubs, flower-pots on the area-railings. And constantly watered lawns. Then we saw small groves of lilacs, purple and white; a variety again of plants of various sizes. And as we came out of Condomine Street (too soon to my liking) going into the country, and on both sides of the road again many kinds of trees with the most interesting little buds imaginable (I have forgotten whether they were English flowers, or Tahitian or native Australian. They were exquisite.
… one or two poinsettias, to be sure. There is nothing comparable to this tree (Gladys gave me the name.) It was the first time I saw it: those clusters of leaves turning red like the flames of small fires, with bits of yellow in the middle of each one.
One Sunday we went farther away than usual (I think it was the last one of the series) and I saw yonder towards the horizon some reddish hills, almost all around me was of the same colour, a great extension of land, on which I saw in the distance a score of gum-trees, standing separately from one another, tiny trees twisting their branches rather pale, like suffering souls. In a moment, curiously enough, we came across a sort of manor house with a big garden. I don’t remember now whether I saw people in the house or not; but I recall the bluish-mauve jacaranda, a most beautiful tree; and a very broad leafy oak (or a fig-tree of that variety called Moreton Bay) and some eucalypts. And in such cases when the building of a great landowner came into sight, there always was an enormous tank of water, corrugated iron all the cylinder and the roof, and almost always a pond with some water. And soon, once more, scrub land with many small shrubs and bushes and abundant undergrowth. Some of the plants I saw were, until then, unknown to me.
And always that luminosity about! always those intense colours, if not so many different hues! From a glowing red to a dull brown, and even at times snow white. Little flowers innumerable. If it had rained the night before, flowers appeared sometimes covering the whole ground, flowers which I hesitate to call daisies, though that was what they looked to me, margaritas. There were emerald-green blades of grass, and little red balls beside. The unforgettable waratah, a sheeny scarlet flower, standing singly high above the lesser shrub and grass, solemn and heavy on its long solid grey stem.
And suddenly I felt what was undoubedly a false enthusiasm. Like I was harebrained. My art! ‘Should I leave everything, buy myself an easel, canvas and oils, and set up as an artist? I do not really care for the law,’ I said to myself, ‘I much prefer poetry, art.’
By chance, it hardly ever rained those days and, specially, never on Sunday. When we came back to Fairlight, late afternoon or early evening, the sky always looked like an immense blue canvas to me, on my seat, next to Frank. That blue and perfectly uniform sky like an enormously extended blackboard up there: only not black, cobalt, which would soon be dotted with stars, without ever becoming completely black.
At a quarter past nine, on Tuesday, Miss Squire, the staff manager, came to inform Mr. Galvao that Mr. Whyte desired to see him. Luis stood up at once and, accompanied half way by the lady, went up the corridor in a state of agitation; for he suspected the woman was harbinger of bad news. ‘The first of March,’ he said to himself, ‘three months exactly.’
He reached a misted-over glass door with the name of ‘Mr. R. Whyte’, knocked and went in. It was a large office, next to Mr. Hutchkinson’s. Galvao, who rightly suspected the matter was about the confirmation or not of his position, had been biting his nails as he moved on.
He would have prefered to deal with the other boss, Mr. Kim Hutchkinson, with whom he had had sometimes a friendly conversation, mostly about Yorkshire. But the senior partner was hardly in the office those days.
To Galvao’s surprise Mr Whyte turned out to be a rather pleasant person, quite the opposite of what he had imagined; and talkative too, even if he had hardly exchanged a word with the junior lawyer during the three months the latter worked in the firm. In a cloud, Luis Galvao heard that the partners were quite pleased with what he had accomplished in the nearly ninety days he had been working with them, and that the other members of the firm (he had noticed) had obviously got on well with him and seemed to like him. That was very nice too to behold, he said, good relationships always created a healthy atmosphere and would generate efficient group work. And, in short, the partner said that it had been decided to offer him a full-fledged contract and he hoped that Galvao would agree to the new terms. A further promotion was envisaged for before the end of the year.
It was a most beautiful early-autumn day, end of March. Mr. Luis Galvao was sitting in an armchair, this side of the partner’s desk, facing him. He was listening to what the latter had to say in absolute silence, pressing his hands together, trying to keep calm. In his state of mind, for he had been fretting with impatience all these days, having now received the good news, he fell to thinking. He saw the man’s silhouette, cut against the blue sky outside (an oblong space within the ample aluminium-framed window), and tried to absorb the meaning of what he was just hearing… and feeling: the landscape in the distance of the important port of Sydney and the northern suburbs beyond. He fell into a reverie.
He suddenly heard a slight noise behind him, and turning his gaze round, saw the tea-lady pulling her chariot in. Stopping at the desk, she served them one cup each of white-tea, with biscuits.
Galvao followed the young woman with his eyes, as she pushed this time her chariot out. The partner meanwhile, intending to move his cup on to his right side, spilt some tea; he rushed to get hold of his biscuits and sugar with five fingers, and with the other hand poured the spilt liquid back into the cup.
‘We’ve been thinking to ask you,’ the partner said, resuming the interrupted conversation, ‘are you satisfied with your secretary?’
‘Oh, yes! Maureen is good, and very efficient.’
‘She’s an intelligent girl. Very young; but we thought, as you’re just starting, better a person without marked traits which may turn out difficult to correct. You see, if you get an older person, your personal secretary, I mean, you may find at times, she has some habits acquired from a previous boss.’
‘That is, Mr. White, what I think, too.’
Luis Galvao was in fact only half-listening. He was thinking he liked the second partner vey much. A good man, uncommonly natural. One could not have found so informal a boss in Madrid, perhaps not even in London. He probably was wealthy, Mr. Whyte was: such a high professional person. And sure, he certainly was not boastful, pretentious. Nor by any means arrogant.
Outside, on his right Luis saw the Observatory Hill, quite green: an immense dark grey Moreton-Bay fig tree in the centre. He fixed his eyes on this tree (he always had been interested in trees) and lived the next few minutes like in a cloud, knowing that some extraordinary event that concerned him was happening: and thinking, calculating, making plans, he who had never been a calculator or excessively interested in money, he rejoiced. With his hands together, on his knees, he now took an important resolution: he would have to stop thinking of poetry, literature, art. The law exclusively!
Though he replied correctly, and talked amiably with a surprisingly talkative Mr. Raymond Whyte, his soul was not there. For him a new life had commenced, and he was trying to find out in his mind where this crucial event in his life, would lead him. ‘Where, when, how much?’ he thought, and his whole body trembled with emotion.
They must have been talking together for more than one hour (he thought), for the sky outside had been gaining luminosity all the time and it now looked white rather than blue. Moving discreetly his wrist, he peeped at his watch. Midday nearly. Mr. Whyte looked now more like a silhouette than ever. It was good to have two such good bosses. Yesterday evening, in Kirribilli, he had been making alternative plans, in case something went wrong, for him, at the Hutchkinson and Whyte firm. A man in Crows’ Nest was offering him a post in his real estate agency, with a prospect of soon becoming a partner. Commission. Good money. But Luis had never been interested in business or, excessively, in money. The law was what he liked (he had by now completely eradicated from his brain the idea of art.) Anyhow, some intellectual employment.
He came out at lunch-time in a state of elation. His first intention was to turn right and pay a visit to his friend Alexander Scziadovo in his office in Barrack Street. Lasek would feel very pleased about his confirmation in the job. But on second thoughts he felt it was not a good hour to visit anybody. He might have gone out for lunch already. Another time. He would ‘phone him from the office tomorrow morning. So he turned left instead. His feet led him to a district nearby he had hardly visited these last three months, and never before joining Hutchkinson and Whytes’. He reached Argyle Street, and went up some steps on to the old Garrison Church, a little square with some trees. ‘One of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life,’ he thought (in reality because the rather concealed square recalled to his mind another one in Madrid.) ‘Should I go into the church?’ he asked himself.
Still thinking of Madrid, he remembered that, when a student, old enough to have known better, he had often rushed to kneel before the Santo Cristo to thank Heaven for a boon he had received…, a difficult exam passed, or a lesson well learned, or a medal won at volley-ball.
Poor Luis Galvao wandered for a while, viewing the solitary figures he came across from time to time in that historical part of the city. An unexpected outburst of melancholy: for no evident reason. And this change of mood worried him. ‘These are not my people’.
He thought of the solitude in which he lived in Kirribilli, of which suburb he could now have a glimpse at the other side of the water: those skyscrapers: that piece of land near the Harbour Bridge where North Sydney reaches the water’s edge. For he had now reached the highest point of The Rocks, a very old district of Sydney where, in colonial times, the English settlers sought refuge in moments of danger. He turned round and began sauntering again along the narrow streets of the district. ‘I shall now not be able to return’ the strange thought persisted in his head, and it frightened him. ‘I shall now embark upon a prosperous career, one rung after another up the ladder of materialistic success: a distinguished Australian barrister (or who knows what), well-loved and respected by everybody, perhaps a partner of the firm, a high-standing individual in a society where Money’s all… And I shall never be able to leave, travel abroad, to make a journey to Europe at the risk of losing my position in society, always tied to a firm, a corporation, the power elite… Until, perhaps, upon retirement, an old man already…’
And the reaction. ‘What?’ he thought, ‘what is this stupid mood? acting so irrationally!’ He sneered. ‘Forget, Luis, forget all this nonsense, and accept, once and forever, that you are one of many, that’s all. And try to make money, accumulate it. Isn’t that why you emigrated in the first place?’
He looked at the trees in a little public garden, where he had come back. He stood for some minutes, absorbed in the comtemplation of colourful leaves, then moved along one of the narrowest little lanes, and saw flower-pots on the window-sills and on the ground sometimes, by the doorways. ‘Cute little houses,’ he thought, ‘purely Australian working-class live here; freshly-painted some of these windows and doors.
The buildings had, besides, the particularity of being two-storeyed on the front, that of being three-storyed on the back, for they were on the edge of a cliff facing the harbour; probabbly the first place where white Australians built properties. Luis saw some people walking into one of these small houses: as they opened the door (he saw) they walked down some wooden steps, the beginning of a staircase going down to the basement. ‘Perhaps the lounge is there,’ he thought. ‘Never seen a thing like this.’
And again the thought of Old Madrid came to his mind. ‘Of a Sunday afternoon those days… we went to the Taberna del Sordo. We entered the small dear tavern like four conquerors, and began playing cards, sharing a bottle of wine and munching some chips which we had bought in a smoky shop nearby: a large, torn-up, greasy bag of paper which we lay on the table as we came in.’
Luis Galvao had begun his descent back to the City on the abrupt side of the Rocks, thinking he would go back to the office directly, through George Street, when he found his way barred by a rusty iron-railing, half hidden among shrubs and boulders. A few steps forward to the left, and he came across a flight of stone-steps.
He reached the main street. In its confluence with a smaller one there was a big pub of greenish-white façade and a row of sash-windows. The name of the establisment (‘Australian Hotel’ in big black letters) was on top. A few men were going in and coming out under the sturdy overhanging which divided the row of windows from the ground floor. After glancing warily right and left, he crossed the street quickly and went inside. He had hardly ordered a drink and some refreshments, when a tall blue-eyed, grey-haired man came to talk to him at the bar. It was Joe Murphy, an artist. Galvao had known him at a meeting of the Realist Writers’ Group, of which he himself was a member. The man appeared to be sharing a table with two others, and at once invited Luis to join them; and then helped to transfer the Spaniard’s lunch over. Luis joined the party after having been introduced to the other two. They worked on the wharves, and the three belonged to the Australian communist party. Having the two wharfies learned that the introduced person came from Spain, the conversation turned to the subject of the generals’ putch in ‘36. Murphy and one of his mates had been ‘Brigadists’, fighting to defend the Spanish democratic republic.
‘Those were the days,’ the friend said, ‘when real democrats stood up and gave their lives in defence of freedom.’
‘The International Brigades,’ Galvao exclaimed, with solemnity. ‘The greatest example in modern times of international solidarity. Pity that international reaction, in its turn, forced the different so-called democratic governments to withdraw that help.’
The other wharfie, a much younger man, somewhat uncouth and inexperienced, thought to add, perhaps for the sake of saying something: ‘It’s always the same. Wot I mean-ta-sye… I believe t’was Churchill who first said. Why, every country deserves the kind of government it has.’
Luis took this remark as a great impertinence and as a personal offence in the circumstances. And Murphy, noticing his friend’s displeasure rushed to intervene, in order to prevent a quarrel.
‘Easy, Johnny boy’ he exclaimed, ‘hold it! What d’you fucking know about dictators and the war of Spain? You were not bloody born, then?’
Luis had stood up. Johnny blushed and Murphy rose from his chair and patted his Spanish friend on the shoulder. There was an attempt at changing the subject of conversation on the part of the other wharfie; but Joe Murphy touched him on the shoulder, saying he had to hurry back home. Jane’s lunch was getting cold.
‘Now, Rootsey,’ he said, ‘pass us a biro, double quick! I’ve to give my address to our mate here.’ He got the biro offered, wrote the address on a paper napkin, and passed it on. ‘I live up here in The Rocks. You now have the address. You must pay us a visit.’ Luis, in his turn, offered him his card. ‘Oh, no way, boy, keep your card and just give us your ‘phone number.’
Which the other gave with regret, as he had no telephone at home and hated to give the office number. Murphy crouched to write the number on a cardboard box, with some Chinese characters on, that had been on the table all this time.
‘Come here, boy,’ he said, taking his friend by the elbow, ‘I’ll show you one of my paintings.’
On a wall at the furthest end of the large semi-circular pub there hung a big oil-painting with about a dozen smaller ones. In it a winsome ginger-haired woman was hugging a horse’s neck; a sneering green satyr was staring from behind the animal.
‘It’s Jane, my sweet wife. Oh, she’s a good one! I call her Calamity Jane. The other day she threw her lunch over my head: the box, you see, burst open, and my face was covered with the slimy stuff,’ he screamed. ‘She said the bloody rice was cold!’
They came out into the street together. Soon Murphy turned right, clambering upon the same stone steps Luis had come down half an hour before.
‘Luis, boy, don’t forget!’ he called. ‘Up on the top, as I’ve noted on the paper. Pay us a visit on Sunday!’
‘I shall try, I promise,” Gavao shouted back.
He went straight ahead, in the main street, back to his office As he entered the premises, he noticed that a sympathetic Ivy threw him a knowing glance, and there was a beautiful smile on her lips.
‘Young blue eyes always smile,’ he thought, and he knew that Miss Smith had been chatting with her friend Mrs. Meredith, the head of the mailing department. ‘And now everybody knows,’ he comcluded, with an arch smile.
In effect, he had hardly sat at his desk, when Maureen entered the little cubicle. She did not carry with her this time the usual bundle of sharpened pencils and her block, and merely stood at the door, letting him no doubt admire her pretty athletic figure in her new light-blue cotton dress.
‘I just want to congratulate you, Mr. Galvao,’ she said curtly.
He would have liked to be called Luis, but it was not to be. In the office everyone respected hierarchy and age. For a moment her eyes were fixed on him, as though she were scrutinising her boss in his new status.
‘You´ll be pleased, Mr. Galvao,’ she insisted, saying the obvious.
Galvao thought she looked lovely in blue, the more so as the suntan on her arms was gloriously rosy.
‘Well, I am,’ he answered.
Naturally timid, she was today blushing all the time, causing her whole face likewise to look very sweet.
‘Sit down, all the same,’ he said, taking his seat, ‘please.’
‘Oh, no! I haven’t brought my…’ she hesitated, taking her little finger to her mouth.’ But she sat on the edge of her chair, belying her own words.
Her boss responded with a silly smile, for he was particularly nervous this afternoon.
Taking both hands to the hem of her dress, under the table, she discreetly pulled it down over her knees, as if trying to hide her legs. ‘All the girls in the typing-pool are pleased,’ she said.
Galvao had some letters to dictate. But the girl, not having brought her pencils with her, made to go. And he changed his plans, picked one of the files on his desk and handed it to his secretary, also standing up.
‘Please, Maureen, take this file with you,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow morning you type a letter of acknowledgement and tell the client I’m going to consider the matter further.’
And as she picked the file, their hands touched, and she smiled casting her eyes upon her boss, who blushed markedly, like a child.
It was twenty past three when Luis sat back in his armchair, but he found he could not work at all that afternoon. He stayed at his desk a long time doing nothing, considering whether he should go now to Kirribilli and have a rest. He had drunk, besides, far too many middies at lunch-time, in the pub, and now felt really heavy and even sleepy.
At four he rang his friend Manuel. He would be studying (he knew) as he never went out these days in the afternoon, and only worked in the mornings.
He heard his friend at the other end of the line. ‘Hello?’
‘It’s me, Tom Terrific!’ he answered, and at once knew he was being silly, trying to using the other’s jokes and not succeeding. ‘I’m calling from the office… to tell you…’
There was a shout of pleasure at the other end of the line, ‘I know what you’re going to say, my pretty boy. Congratulations!!’
‘Yes, that is it. It is not much,’ said Luis, trying to sound natural, but again without success. ‘Why, it is a minor step forward…’
‘Stop, stop!’ Manuel cut him, ‘what do you mean? minor what? On the contrary, it is grand, grand! Boy, boy, I’m going to tell them, in the Club. You know the Chivas Brothers like you very much. You’ll be made honorary president one of these days. Can you guess who’s on the board?’
‘Your friend Alexander Scziadovo.’
‘Of course, Luis, of course. But you must devote yourself entirely to the law now. And specially, no more girls…
‘What girls are you talking about?’
‘And those poems of yours… Boy, turn to something more substantial, absolutely. Be pragmatic. And tell me, have they raised your salary?’
‘Yes, doubled it. And… Wait! Listen to this, a lump…’
‘Bravo! You’ll be getting your own office too, I guess.’
‘That too, and… I was going to tell you, I’ll receive a lump-sum for past work, I mean, these two months. As from the start of the year and they’re going to revise my salary every three months, isn’t that great?’
‘Great, supreme, sublime! Good on you, pretty boy.’
‘Don’t know what I’m going to do with the money.’
’Don’t you worry: we shall celebrate it together.’
‘With some girls? Spanish beauties: are there many single young women coming now?’
‘None. But tell me, boy, how about meeting tonight.’
‘Sure. Tell me where?’
‘Spanish Club. I’m not trying to make you spend that dough; but if you cease to be the mingy fellow you are… Only wish to embrace you, honest fair dinkum!’
‘Thank you,’ Luis said. ‘Don’t have much in my wallet, just now.’
‘Liverpool Street, then. After seven, whenever you want.’
‘Okay. Let me wind up things here.’
‘Aye!’ said Manuel, blowing a kiss though the line. ‘See you later alligator.’
‘In a while, crocodile.’
Luis Galvao remained in his armchair for a few more minutes, his elbows on the desk, his face in his hands, thinking. At length, looking at his watch he stood up and left the little box. Five o’clock. The last office workers leaving were passing by in the corridor. As they left the office, the neon-lights went off and only the pilot-lights remained on.
Instead of turning right to the reception room, like the others, and taking the lift, he moved slowly towards Miss Smith’s office, which was an open room (no partition, no entrance), shared between the staff manager and her two assistants.
Luis approached the large window and looked outside, clasping his hands together behind his back. He observed down below how the last stragglers for the day, office-workers and shop-attendants, were scampering in all directions. He was facing the piers of Darling Harbour (the room was at the back of the building.) The factory where he had worked over five months, Sussex Street, was quite visible from his observation post; but no one was seen around: manual workers had stopped and left long ago.
Night was drawing on, and he watched with some interest the lights on the Pyrmont quays switching on, one by one. A freighter was moving along, left to right, out into the big harbour of Port Jackson, passing now under the Harbour Bridge.
As the minutes went by, the hustle and bustle of the prosperous metropolis was being transformed into a trickle of rolling metal: motorcars speeding along, some left towards Pyrmont Bridge; most of them right, trying to reach the expressway and onto the bridge towards the northern suburbs.
… and again I thought of Madrid, I would not know why. Maybe I was recollecting that conversation I’d had with Murphy the artist, his big painting at the Australian Hotel. And my brain had spontaneously switched on to another artist.
… a friend of mine was exhibiting a few of his oil paintings in a famous art gallery of Calle Serrano, a very long street in a posh district of the capital. I had not realised at the beginning of our walk that it would take so long to reach the gallery.
… I was, of course, taking Margaret with me. It all went very well: Cestero was a famous artist. But when we came out into the street again, the evening was gone. There was no time to go to the theatre as we had planned. She flew into a temper, and I shouted back at her. The first and only time we had a quarrel.
… I bought some flowers to make it up to her, in the same Calle Serrano, and presented them to her. Margaret, the English girl, adored flowers!… How little we knew, when we caught the bus to Rosales (our flat), that those beautiful roses would be delighting our eyes only two days!
Suddenly the light was switched on, putting an end to Luis Galvao’s reveries; and from the reflection in the black window-pane, and still facing the night outside, he saw a woman enter the premises. It was Marya, the cleaning lady, coming to dust the desks and empty the waste-paper baskets, etc. Because of his interest in literature (he wrote better alone, in the office) they had had opportunities in the past few weeks of becoming acquainted.
He did not turn round until he saw the woman near him. She was coming to do the Hutchkinson & Whyte law firm, one of the several offices she did every working day.
Standing up a few minutes side by side, they talked, as usual, of their respective countries. They both were Reffos of a different kind, the one had escaped from communism, the other from fascism. Yes, it was from communism that she ran away with her husband and their child. The woman spoke of a revolution. In Budapest, 1956, she explained.
Sometimes Marya came to do the cleaning with her offspring, now a prim Australian schoolgirl of thirteen, who wears well her school uniform, a snug beige blouse that lets Luis visualise the incipient bosom, and white socks and pleated maroon skirt. She holds a cute beige-plus-maroon hat too; but never wears it on the premises.
And that is what’s happening today. Bringing the daughter. Here she is! Tall for her age, and much thinner than her handsome mother, with long suntanned legs, fresh arms, and that endearing moonface of hers, where the wide cheek-bones have the delicious glow of ripe peaches. But what the Spaniard most admires in the tender creature is her hair. Irresistible. So very blond. Carole Lombard, la rubia platino. Better. That dangling pony-tail of hers, tied on top of the head with a cute little bow!
Marya’s hair, on the contrary, looks scraggy, and her blue eyes are dull and very sad, as she explains in her faulty English how they escaped.
‘We were fed up with communism. You see, Mister, no freedom overthere. Not the human rights. We poor people. Understand? Nothing to live on, if you call that Life. Nothing, you know. No cars. No toilet paper, imagine! No private property. I mean, no nothing, Mister. See what I mean? No privacy. Only bureaucracy. Maybe you know – the difference! - no private ownership of the houses. No free choice. Had to buy what the communism offered. And the habitation, ay, ay!. Only a small flat to live in. Just one little room, like this office (the two Reffos had moved into Galvao’s cubicle, where he was tidying his things.)
‘A family of three, more the granny! A seventy-seven woman and we two and a kid, you see. They stifle your personality, the communism. The individual, I mean. Not allowed to hear the Radio Free, you know, Voice of America I mean. Red terror and red tape, understand? That’s what the communism is. I’m telling you. Now, here in the new country good incentive; but overthere no incentive: the individual freedom don’t exist. No incentive’s terrible, yes? Always work and no free competition, no dollars to buy things, yes? All planned for you. State. From cradle to tomb. Or grave, I forgot. And the terrible repression, you follow me? No allow to dis… dissent. Dissent. all those things. Democracy. It is Party which does it. Party is horrible. You understand purges, yes? Well, that sort of things. Husband always good worker, the engineer. But no money, no dollars. I’ve told you.
And they watch and don't let you live, no free elections, you see. I, laboratory job, follow me? State-owned, you see, and the same: poorly paid, no dollars to buy things. Little money, that was all. No market democracy. Impossible to travel abroad. Here big television. Big Holden car. The property. Garden. House with the mortgage. Bank account. I mean, overthere, nothing. Here, good future for the children. The children nice uniform. Overthere no future. Now listen here, Mister. Just to tell an example. And that tells everything. Look here (bringing the girl forward by the arm) this here child, you see. I mean my Marianna, sir, the poor soul! Why, never until we arrive Australia had she seen a banana, I swear! I mean a banana which here, you know, we have plenty. Now you understand. Never ever in her life back home seen a single banana. Right? Never seen, never mind tasting it! Now you see what country we’ve escaped from. There!’
All the while the two ex-Hungarians were bustling about the office, propping up blinds, and moving small pieces of furniture, dusting the place, emptying waste-paper baskets; and one of them (the child, today) pushing the vacuum-cleaner up and down with determination and expertise. Quick, quick! for the poor things still had to do two other offices in the building.
And Luis Galvao, who has all the time followed the little blond beauty with his lusty eyes, admiring the elegance of her movements and the exquisite suntan of her long legs, the way she bends her back as she pushes the heavy vacuum cleaner forward with an effort, letting that pretty golden hair flutter in the air with the turning of the head here and there, leaves the building that evening more downtrodden than ever.
All the way to Liverpool Street, he is thinking that it was in fact quite unjust that such a model of a girl should have ever lived in Budapest, being deprived of so many things: and particularly that she should not have been able overthere to taste a sweet banana, in five years; that she not have been able to introduce the exquisite fruit in that most sensual mouth. How unlucky! And all that horror due to the existence of that totalitarian system that had succeeded in enslaving all the Eastern European nations.
One Sunday Luis Galvao was having his breakfast, in his flat, when there was a loud ring, coming from the intercom at the downstair-door. He dashed to pick up the ‘phone and shouted:
‘Hallo! Who’s there?’
‘Hallo! It’s me,’ came the reply from the street.
‘Ah!’ Luis exclaimed in surprise. He had recognised Manuel’s voice. ‘Come in,’ he said, pressing the opening device. ‘Take the lift to the tenth floor.’
It was an unannounced visit. And Luis wondered how on earth his friend had got hold of his address, for he hadn’t passed it on to anyone so far. He had been in great doubt about the flat, all these days, whether to put it on the market for sale, since Kirribilli had turned out to be a noisy district, with continuous traffic on the bridge nearby.
He waited on the landing, wondering what his visitor might have to say. A minute later he had him in his arms, Manuel kissing him. He grabbed him by one elbow, himself leading the way into the lounge.
‘Hey! You haven’t shaved, Luis you pig,’ he cried.
‘Not yet,’ was the reply. ‘I don’t intend to go out, you know.’
‘And why not?’
‘I don’t feel like it. Have had a bad night. This horrible traffic!’
Manuel bounced about the room, half-listening to his friend and frowning. ‘My dear Luis,’ he said, ‘it’s a perfectly lovely morning; and you still in bed, sort of thing. Not even washed yourself, I gather. Ugly as ugly can be. I don’t want to look at you.’
‘Why, don’t look, what do I care. Listen, have you already had your breakfast?’ he asked his friend, who had by now gone into the kitchen and already sat at the table. ‘Or can I offer you coffee or something.’
‘Thanks. You go on with what you’re doing. For we must be off in half an hour.’
‘How so? You must be mad. What’s the matter? I’ve just told you…’
‘What’s the matter with you, my friend? That is the question.’
‘Me? Nothing. Do you see me going about, of a Sunday, ringing at doors and frightening people?’
‘Of a Sunday, you say. Now listen to me. Why, my pretty, precisely: Sunday mass. I have my car downstairs. Come on!’ Manuel now was pacing about the tiny kitchen.
‘Going to mass, how ridiculous!’
‘What else did we do overthere? Didn’t you belong to Catholic Action? Come on! We must be there at ten o’clock,” Manuel said, in a most authoritative manner. He sat back on the chair and drummed the five fingers of one hand on the table.
‘We shall see,’ said Luis sitting down opposite his friend (having brought his breakfast upon the table.) ‘Going to mass? I am glad to say I’ve finished with all that rubbish. Weren’t we agreed, at Ultimo, that religion is pure superstition, the opium of the people, as Lenin said?’
‘Pooh-pooh. As for religion, what I said when we had those, for me, instructive talks at Ultimo, was that the church, not religion, was corrupt. The individual members, my dear, not the teachings of the Lord, which are eternal. Have you forgotten the dogmas of the Santa Fe.’
‘My foot. Santa Fe shit! if you want to know. A bunch of lies. You too, always telling fibs. Like all Spaniards, of course.’
‘You, too, are Spanish, my dear Luis. Whether you like it or not.’
‘Do you know what Mr. Whyte, my Australian boss told me the other day? Mr. Galvao, you are the most un-Spanish Spaniard I’ve ever seen.’
‘Pooh-pooh!’ Manuel puffed again. ‘You’ve more of the Iberian in you than you think.’
‘Anyhow,’ Luis stammered; for he had got very nervous by now, ‘Let… let’s leave it at that.’
‘Come on, then. You stop that nonsense and get ready.’
‘You’re still at it?’ Luis protested, getting rid of Manuel’s embrace.
‘And you too. Hurry! Make yourself presentable, my fellow. And first and foremost that ugly stubble. Go into the bathroom and have a good wash and a shave.’
Strangely enough, Luis did not now offer any resistance to his comrade’s imperious manner. He stood up and moved on, though as he entered the bathroom, he turned round and asked:
‘Tell me, am I going to be introduced to a young lady?’
‘Come on!’ Manuel screamed.
Luis obeyed, and when he came out, washed and smelling of after-shave, Manuel, quite thrilled, stood up and kissed him on both cheeks. He had been smoking a cigarette while his friend was having his shower.
‘You’ve opened the window,’ Luis said, frowning.
‘To blow the smoke out.’
‘There is air-conditioning.’
‘I see. That’s why it cost me such an effort to open. I found a screw-driver.’
The dim roar of the traffic upon the Bridge had intensified as the morning advanced. Luis got hold of the screw-driver and shut the window. Manuel had approached his friend with an apologetic expression on his face. Luis was standing with his back to the window, and Manuel fixed his eyes on the recently shaven chin. A smile of pleasure passed across his lips. The other frowned again.
‘My dear fellow, what’s happening to you?’ Manuel asked. ‘So handsome and sulking. You must look happy, amigo, in order to clamber up the altar, don’t you remember? Corpus Iesus Christi custodian animam tua in vitam eternam Amen.’
‘So, now communion! That too?’ said Luis with a sneer. He had a notion that he was being had. It always happened with types like Manuel Suárez, he thought, rather sick. A real pain in the neck, that Manuel, whose hand was now on his shoulder, pushing. ‘Okay,’ he shouted, ‘I’ll go for the drive, to please you; but if you think I’m going to church you must be mad. We’ll go in two cars. I’ll see your friends, and come back, veni, vidi, vici.’
‘Nothing of the kind, you stubborn ass. I’ve told you, I have my car down below.’
Luis still put up some resistance, giving so many reasons for not going out that morning that his friend laughed outright.
‘Nonsense, my dear. You’re as fit as a fiddle. Let’s be moving,’ and he went on in a sing-song voice, Onward Christian soldiers, great in love as in religion… Hurry up! Don’t be lazy.’
Luis closed the door of the bedroom from inside, and while he prepared himself to go out, his friend shouted at the door: ‘It’s the old country you’re going to meet, dear. Many migrants newly arrived.’ He banged at the door: ‘Hurry up! You’re going to feel at home…’
After that, a hepful Manuel rushed to the kitchen, put a pinafore on and did the washing up in a moment. Then, he placed everything in its place, and stood before the window, his elbows on a wooden stand with a drawer for the cutlery. Then, for a while, the visitor contemplated the thick traffic down below along the Harbour Bridge. ‘Hurry up!’ he shouted again, without turning round.
At length, Luis Galvao got ready, and a moment later, they both were waiting on the landing for the lift.
‘Oh, wait a momo,’ said Manuel, quite of a sudden, ‘I’ll go in for a pee, the last one… for the journey,’ he laughed.”
Luis let his friend go into the flat and waited for him on the landing, holding the lift-door. When the other came back, he smelt aggressively of after-shave lotion.
‘Oh, you stinker!” Luis cried, “sure you’ve emptied my special Alpine Lotion. Queer fellow!’
Manuel entered the lift giggling. The two went to his car, parked a few hundred yards outside the building. During the journey, crossing the Harbour Bridge and then the City, on their way to the suburbs, Manuel spoke to Galvao.
‘You’d have never guessed what I’m going to tell you now.’
‘Leonidas has been murdered.’
‘Well, this is a big surprise. How come?’
‘Apparently he had a big quarrel. It was his best pal that killed him.’
‘Poor Krappov!’ Luis exclaimed, feigning sympathy.
‘But why was he killed?’
‘Jealousy,’ was all Manuel answered matter-of-factly.
They were entering the suburb of Surry Hills. Manuel drove now very slowly, looking right and left. They parked near the catholic church, in Albion Street. As they were climbing out of the car, Luis asked, trying not to sound too interested.
‘It seems she has settled down with her blond lover. At least that’s what one of the rangers told me.’
‘That’s a lie; she’s had no lover but myself,’ Luis shouted.
‘Hold it! hold it!’ Manuel shouted in turn. ‘As for lovers, you’d better look out; and I won’t mention… you remember Heribert Wormser. No! No! Let me finish. And as for the handsome Blond, well! She’s entered the Soviet Union with a man. Of that I’m sure. Riga. And what’s Riga capital of. Now, wasn’t he a Latvian? Do I lie? Riga is the Latvian capital. And, don’t I know there was a Latvian? Friend of Krappov?’
‘Liar! You spoke of a Cossack, that yes.’
‘Well, you see, Latvian or Cossack, what difference does it make?’
‘Who can believe you?’
Manuel did not bother to answer, for the bells were chiming, and they were climbing the flight of stone steps. They entered the temple through the back door. The priest was nearly fully dressed for the mass, save the golden chasuble, which a little altar boy was helping to put on over his head. The operation ended, he pressed the shoulders of the young boy, against his body, at the same time turning round.
‘Oh, my Manuel!’ he exclaimed, leaving the accolyte and running to embrace his friend.
‘My Jaume!’ Manuel exclaimed, laughing.
‘I can’t stay,’ the priest apologised. ‘Come on!’ he said to his acolyte, and both disappeared inside the church.
Manuel, who had forgotten to introduce Luis to the priest, now said to his friend, as they were going out through the sacristy door: ‘What did I tell you, handsome, ain’t he?’
‘Very. A real Catalan. I mean, the accent.’
They made their way round to the main entrance, on the top of the flight of steps, and rushed into the church, which was full to bursting point. The priest was already at the altar, giving his back to the congregation, his hands pressed together in an attitude of prayer, his head bent down and his eyes very probably closed.
The two friends proceeded along one of the lateral aisles. For Manuel had seen a vacant seat on the second row of benches. And towards it he directed his steps, Luis following him. At once, they heard the complaints of those sitting on the two continguous benches, as they squeezed their way through knocking with their knees on the legs of the faithful on the one side, and on the other disturbing the ladies’ hairdoes with their hands and elbows.
For a while after they sat down the murmuring and complaints went on, all in the Spanish language, from what Galvao gathered that all or most of the faithful were Spaniards. On his knees, the acolyte, near the priest, shook his right hand in a circular motion producing the music of half a dozen little bells like an enchanting chime. Luis listened to the music, his head full of remembrances, squeezed into a small space between his friend’s generous bottom on the left and an old grumbling hag on the right. He felt rather nervous, biting his nails, as he used to do in similar circumstances in Madrid when he was full of fervour.
At the gospel the priest climbed the steps to the pulpit, where clearing his throat he began, alarmingly bending forward and grabbing the railing with both hands.
‘You would be wrong, my parishioners, if in this land of wealth and magnificence you were to forget Dios Nuestro Señor. Go and tell those who have not heeded the Command that they cannot expect to go to Paradise after death if they forget that Sunday is His day. We take notice of every absence. Take note, oh young men, solitary shadows stalking Sunday in those Sitios de Pecado. God’s Eyes are on you, disolute men. We have Our Church whose precepts must be repected. The beaches are places of worldy deviation. Lust! For I tell you, it is what we have most to dread. But it you come to church, with the help of Nuestra Santa Madre Iglesia, you will be free from sin.’
Luis Galvao had heard from another member of the Spanish Club that there had come a great quantity of single men (both married and unmarried), and now understood the Church was trying to make sure those men were not lost to religion.
‘And, if we have noticed,’ the priest went on, ‘how much more our God, who is all powerful, will have noticed… and noted in His Books whether our young men respect the Ten Commandments… and has marked it for the Day of Judgement… the situation here is not to judge the quality of other religions, and I make this remark… information has come to my ears that Yugoslav women are attracting our young men for themselves and for their religion. But in our turn… watch for the wellbeing of our own folks. And don’t think that any one in a foreign country can attain happiness and be satisfied with life without Divine Help.’
Luis Galvao knew he was not right. It might be his head, nerves. Wash out. Or it might be influenza. He was falling asleep in his seat.
‘Thank you, my God, for helping me to walk straight in a Society full of Danger. Thanks to the religion which we have inherited from our fathers at our mothers’ breasts… institutions to which we are attached will perdure. And if we act according to the teachings of our Holy Mother the Church… your guidance and She will lead you, solitary young men to the true felicity and love you deserve. Instead of being condemned to solitude which always leads the sufferer to homesickness and madness, Callan Park. God has established His Own Religion on earth, and disobedience to the Divine Will is the seat of all misery to men. Go, seek them out and tell them that they will feel in here the Triumph and Joy which Jesus Christ always gives to the faithful. ¡Tu me mueves, Señor, muéveme ver Tu Cuerpo tan hermoso…’
Luis Galvao had been falling on the shoulder of the black hag on his right. She pushed him back towards Manuel Suárez. Luis turned his head round towards the entrance of the church: about a score of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, dressed in their Sunday best, were quietly contemplating the temple’s ceiling. ‘Most probably a good proportion of them,’ he thought are newly arrived and don’t know what to do with their souls.’
The priest’s sermon bored him solemnly. He pressed both arms together on his chest to get warmer, and closed his eyes.
‘It relates to what will happen in the recollection of those moments,’ he heard, ‘those years spent… fatherland, which you miss so sorely when you are alone. Don’t be alone!… sense of happiness which God always gives to the faithful… feel the measure of our attachment to the Heart of Jesus, el Sagrado Corazón de Jesús… spending your weekends in Sydney in amusement and vice… the Way of the Lord, el Camino del Señor. Here is where they must spend every Sunday morning. For they will commit a deadly sin if they miss the Holy Mass, la Santa Misa.’
‘Spanish people of all states and all walks of life, migrants in a new country… now essential that we stay together in the Body of Christ… Divine Truth, we shall have moved in life, without any fear… God became Man to help mankind, the feeling… strong spirit, opposed to our surrendering to body pleasures… the accumulation of worldly treasures… resist the temptations of the flesh, while… in the Body of Jesus we find… spiritual pleasures… the Holy Body of… Jesus Christ… Christ… Chriseee…’
Luis Galvao was awakened from a sort of reverie by the perfume of a woman passing by and the friction of some cotton or nylon material ruffling his hair. And the simultaneous shaking of one of the benches with which he was in physical contact. Then, the alarming sound of footsteps nearby. As he opened his eyes, he saw, between the silhouettes of two persons on the bench in front, the moving figure of the priest, at the altar, then turning round with his hands together holding the chalice on high.
‘Missa ditta est!’
Luis glanced around him. Manuel was no longer there. No one sitting next to him. Men were now trudging along the aisle on the right, towards the exit. Standing up in turn he began to push his way out, slightly touching the shoulder of an old woman preceding him, who growled her displeasure. Two other women and a man, who were trying likewise to reach the lateral aisle, also complained. Presently they all joined the file of silent people towards the door, slowing up everybody’s pace. The women in the row were by now chatting in subdued tones. Luis heard them praise the strong terms employed by the Father in his oration; which made him think of the solitude of the men now trudging beside him: ‘They migrate thinking of the money they’ll earn, and find solitude instead: and the priest, to boot, insults them ‘cause they try to get a woman for the weekend.’
He crossed his arms over his chest as he came out into the open, for he had suddenly felt cold and shivery. ‘Calm down, Luis!’ he said to himself. He stood upon the small parvis at the entrance of the church: the odour of incense wafted past as he contemplated right and left the entire working-class district of Surry Hills.
A landscape of buildings, big and small, of a variety of colours, forms and sizes; due to the topography of the terrain the houses appeared at times as if they were situated one on top of another. Some of the bigger ones had been transformed into home units. He closed his eyes, feeling dizzy.
… I see a landscape of hills and ravines full of forests, big eucalyptus trees, and a small group of Aborigines walking about.
… walkabout, that was to be their destiny, since the arrival of the First Fleet, one hundred and seventy years ago.
One could see in the structure of the houses now occupying those hills, the keen hands of European migrants, who probably spent entire weekends painfully labouring in what had become their new habitations. Buildings built a century ago in what must have become, later, a residential area. All’s changed nowadays: Luis visualises whole families arrived from Sicily, Spain, Greece or Yugoslavia; the purchase of a big old house (with a mortgage); coming to live together, love and company; the men henceforward working outside of a weekend, while their pleasant handsome wives prepared the Saturday (or Sunday) a paella, pizza, pasta, gulash, whatever… and bottles of South Australian red and white wine.
He wonders. These big houses used to have elegant area railings with filigree cast-iron work on the sides and under the gable-ends. All of them have now been transformed, making the beams of the house shake. Additional extensions with fibro-cement boards have been added and carefully painted; of many different colours. Planks and boards now also cover the very beautiful iron-filigree, that had perhaps been the greatest embellishment of the habitation of soldiers and officials in the times of the colony. If there was some of this cast-iron work that remained it has certainly been covered by several coats of thick paint.
Luis was the last person to clamber down the flight of stone steps, slowly, one by one, stopping to observe something here, some further detail there, looking for the vitality he’d have expected to find in a purely ‘Mediterranean’ town. And he reached the wide pavement, now plainly illuminated by the rays of a most splendid midday sun.
There were several groups of noisy Spaniards lingering on in Albion Street, as happened apparently every Sunday. Mostly there were men in the street, and of these mostly young ones, between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. They seemed to know one another well. Whether they had met in church, or at work or had come together from the same village or town back home, Luis could not say, or could by a simple regard determine.
… I rememberd doing my military service in the mountains near Madrid: rough times and rough conditions; we all felt lonely, treated by the officers as animals, living and sleeping together in tents.
Most probably these young men had come Down Under, each one on his own, and had met in the Surry Hills catholic church. They constituted the biggest group of loiterers in Albion Street today. Luis learned, on joining the group, that two of the men, who weren’t so young, had left their wives and children back home. ‘Until I’m sure emigration does pay, amigo,’ one of these told Galvao. ‘And where in Spain you come from?’ (The man had commenced by saying he was Madrileño.)’ ‘Born in Old Castile… but yes, I come from Madrid, like you.’ (Galvao answered.) ‘¡Oh, Madrid, qué hermosura!’ intervened a very young man who had been looking for an opportunity to join in the conversation. He too was from the capital. And the subject then turned into an enthusiastic praise of the old streets and plazas of the dear city back home: la Puerta del Sol, Montera, la Cuesta de San Bernardo, so many bars and taverns, so many souvenirs. Hearing the word Montera, another man recalled that in the Calle de la Cruz there was a most fantastic whore house.
Luis soon lost interest in the conversation and fell into looking at another group of Spaniards nearby. Two married couples, obviously, with a crew of children accompanying them, and amongst these, there was a tall teenage girl. Luis was struck by the beauty and maturity of her manners and figure; for she seemed at the moment to be teaching something about the language to her little brothers or whatever. ‘A fair specimen of Andalucian beauty (he thought), slight and graceful, and that raven-black hair of hers.’
She must have noticed she was being watched, for of a sudden her round cheeks became deliciously rosy. The man that must have been her father called her to him, and embraced her dearly. ‘A typical Andalucian character, so cheerful and happy-looking,’ Luis said to himself.
The man called his daughter ‘Sara!’ And Luis remembered there had been a Sara Castro in his class at university, whom he found quite interesting. Not that the Sara of New South Wales looked at all like that young woman.
‘A fine young woman,’ he thought with regret, still glancing at the pretty one. ‘Shy, too.’ And he felt a sudden desire to go and talk to her.
In the meantime, the subject of the conversation in his group had turned to the atmosphere of the streets back home, ¡El Paseo!
‘The vitality of Spanish cities is proverbial,’ said another young man, who came from Barcelona. He was a smoker, who passed his packet around. Nudging Luis, who was not listening, he offered: ‘Take a cigarette. Virginia.’
‘No,’ said Luis, lowering his gaze. ‘No, thank you.’
At this the priest appeared upon the flight of stone steps at the entrance of the church. He asked his parishioners to disperse, find their parked cars and disappear: the neighbours had complained that Spaniards were too noisy. Besides, another mass was about to commence.
As a matter of fact, the bells were now chiming, and a trail of new parishioners was now seen climbing up the stone steps. The Italian language was heard.
Luis Galvao now perceived the presence of his friend Manuel at the temple’s entrance, immediately behind the priest. Both disappeared together inside, with the new set of parishioners.
The Spaniards on the pavement began, in effect, to disperse, and Sara’s proud papa shouted to the young men in Galvao’s group: ‘Come with us for a picnic. Follow us if you have your own car. Otherwise, 7, Brown Street, Paddington. It’s very near.’
Three of the young fellows accepted the invitation. They learned that he owned a house with a garden. His wife was going to prepare a big paella, and he would put some music on. ‘I’ve brought a collection of records with me, including Lola Flores.’ Unfortunately others had to refuse, for they worked in the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, and would have to drive back up to the mountains, starting not later than three o’clock.
… as for me, I began to step away from the group, still turning my eyes from time to time to view that fresh beauty called Sara, her glittering black eyes, her protruding red lips. And then she was gone!
… and I felt at that very moment (though it was not the first time) that I was a stupid lonesome creature. Still worse, I knew I had begun to age rapidly. I would be thirty next November.
Seeing that Manuel and the Catalan priest had definitely gone, Luis Galvao knew he now had no option but to go back home by public transport. He now really felt feverish; he should have stayed in his Kirribilli flat. He would have to hurry up.
He had an idea there was a bus-stop at the bottom of the street, where he could catch a bus to Central Railway or Circular Quay. In either case, at the terminus, he would be able to catch another bus and go back to North Sydney.