New Australians Dream

In Antiquity a whole people migrated, but massive individual migration started in 19th century, crossing oeans. Settling meant losing own country and compatriots, while new country and inhabitants were totally unrelated, migrant remaining an alien.

New Australians Dream
Fernando García Izquierdo

In my time migration meant crossing the ocean on a liner, and once the journey completed, having arrived in a new country, you settled there for good. This did not necessarily mean that you did not come back to the old country at all. But going back remained a sporadic experience which only a few enjoyed.
As a rule migrants are workers who remain at the bottom of the social scale and waste no time in travelling about for the sake of visiting places or similar considerations; the more so as finding employment in the new country is easy, and that was what the migrant went looking for in the first place. There is no need or inclination to cease working and leave the new country for some time in order to waft on the blue surface just to carry out some sentimental design. It would take too much time. For this kind of journey was always done then by sea. ‘The sails were filled, and fair the light winds blew,’ as the poet said.
Of course, there are always exceptions, for there have been among the migrants those who changed their minds, in the course of time, ‘and then of his wish to roam repented he.’ They are called returning migrants. Their story is easily told. There are two parts in the adventure, quite distinct from one another, and yet the migrant experiences each time the same suffering. One goes out looking for a promised paradise and, still doubtful, comes back, and always finds that, ‘In his bosom slept the silent thought.’ Going out and coming back, both times, the plight is identical: homesickness. For migrants must always feel homesick, some more and some less, but always there is that silent thought. Strange though it may sound, the place of abundance which disgruntled New Australians railed about then, is now sorely missed when back home. An inescapable longing is always there, deep in your heart: when first settling and when returning home. That feeling of regret, that ever fear of an approaching storm, which you felt Down Under then and you feel again back home. One cannot escape regretting now to have abandoned that generous new country, those people who came to be part of your existence in the course of time.
Whatever then is that homesickness feeling? It is an attachment. All living beings feel attached to the earth, the land on which they live and which nourishes them, Earth-creatures one and all. And it follows that when you roam about, away from home, and settle down in a new country, crossing mountains, deserts and seas (and then repeat the experience) you always lose something and gain something. Eternal Matter, destroyer and preserver. You knock about, you cut your roots and grow new ones. That is life. No need to panic. ‘Nor from his lips did come one word of wail, while others sate and wept.’ (Byron)’.
*
There is an awful whining noise to the left and to the right, on and off and on again; Galvao can plainly hear the parasitic elements, though only dimly glimpse their presence: to the left, to the right, persistent, stubborn. ‘Basta!’
A world of visions and sounds, a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of matter, mingling up together in his mind. Then a new sudden brutal noise is heard. He opens his eyes. The dead of night. Then light again.
At length Luis Galvao sits up, moves slightly on the side of the bed, his feet on the carpet and his elbows on his knees. There is a ray of light in the room, which otherwise is surrounded by darkness. A door opens. The figure of a woman. And all turns into nothingness. He feels so weak that he lies down again, closes his eyes, opens them towards the line of light; the image of a woman persists, holding the doorhandle, and the vision vanishes; only the wailing of mosquitoes remains. ‘Is it you, Margaret? where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’
Deep in his soul that ghostly presence remains. The night, that line of light, that mysterious image, a woman. Not for me! Why, what tender secret dwells in my heart? Am I very ill? If you see me why is your heart not responsive to my call? There is no life anymore for me without you. I am suffering, my angel, don’t go, wait! I’ve sought you so dearly, Margaret. And you did come to stay, and next moment were gone. Can it be true, my dearest, gone?
And then that narrow strip of light again, shining from top to bottom when the door opens wide, and the shadow this time of a little woman approaching.
But he is suddenly forced to close his eyes tight, for the room is flooded with sunlight. He can make neither head nor tail of what is happening. He manages at length to stand up and lurches towards the window; resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill he looks out. The clear sky, the dark outline of a large tree far away, the wooden palings and somewhat nearer the roof of a shed full of tools, an outside toilet; a rusty old car without tires, and nearer still two perlargonium plants, one on either side of the yard growing against the palings separating this property from the neighbours’.
No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!
He turns back jerking his way once more towards the bed. Except that he is too weak to go on; he rests his hands on a dressing-table with medicines and other things. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror, himself. But oh! he looks so thin and old and haggard. He cannot believe his eyes. Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if he were about to grow a beard.
‘Bless my soul!’ he hears a call, someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. Then, turning round and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened? Am I ill? What does this all mean?’
His friend also takes a seat, hard by. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; but you of course know that already, I guess. Now let me look at you,’ he adds, gently getting hold of his friend’s unshaven chin. ‘You’re fair dinkum now, my boy, I assure you.’
‘Tell me,’ Luis goes on, standing up and trudging to his bed, ‘what’s wrong with me? Am I dreaming? I’ve seen so many things… and I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence for he has thrown himself back on the bed. ‘I simply don’t understand. What kind of illness?’ he wails. ‘Why… why am I a different type of man, not like the…?’
‘Not an ordinary mortal, you mean? We all are different, my boy.’
‘I’ve been seeing… oh, terrible places, you know… fantastic winding streets, up and down all the time. A never-seen-or-imagined labyrinth, ah, ah!!’ Luis has laid the palms of both hands on his face, his head back upon the pillow.
‘Surry Hills, you’ve seen. Perfectly natural.’
‘Natural, you say. I’ve seen a temple full of Spaniards. Then, without knowing why or wherefrom, it was full of Italians…and… and it wasn’t true.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘I wasn’t there. I was nowhere. Alone and fainting away. Yet jerking on and on. When I came to, well, I was going down those stone steps, remember? and without you… we had gone to mass together, hadn’t we?’
‘Sorry, Luis, I’m sorry.’ Manuel said, getting red in the face.
‘Why was I coming out of… sacred mass? I never go to church. Oh, I felt so weak! First sitting on a bench… and in the same instant Italians were pouring out of the Spanish church. Am I not telling the truth? I turned round and round, hoping to see you, Manuel. Nobody! Now could you, could somebody tell me what happened?’ Luis cried, ‘Oh, I am always alone.’
‘You must calm down,’ said Manuel, full of compassion, ‘and stop, amigo, feeling sorry for yourself. As for myself, believe me, I feel so sorry.’ He touched his friend.
For a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, sitting on a chair. ‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. Maureen Kirilenko, she introduced herself, I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez, she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Eventually, thank your secretary,’ repeats Manuel. ‘Forget the rest.’
‘Good heavens!’ Luis exclaimed, sitting up and once more hiding his face in his hands. ‘Gosh, gosh! A world of madness and visions, that is it… what I saw.’
‘’I see you’re crying, oh dear!’’ says Manuel, and after a pause, ‘’Luis, as I’ve already pointed out, you’ve been poorly, very much so; in the true meaning of the word poorly. Hospitalised. And you must now try to get better, absolutely. What I say to you at this moment of time is, calm down! Now, if you ask me, have I been delirious, I’ll answer you, correct, most of the time. I mean, most of the time you’ve been here, which is as far as my personal knowledge goes. But don’t distress yourself. You’re getting better.’
‘But please, tell me. What on earth does this all mean, I’ve never, I’ve never…’
‘Stop speculating. It doesn’t matter now. It wasn’t your fault. What I mean to say, that’s what happens, most of the time, my dear pretty boy. Visions you say. You’re too keen, always observing, ready to criticise everything. No good, amigo. And you were exhausted. Again, sorry I took you to Surry Hills.’
Manuel, who had got rather nervous, went on for a few more minutes, but his friend, quite typically, was not listening.
‘But I must know,’ he said. ‘Manuel, have I gone crazy… an attack of madness? Callan Park? For how long… I mean how many days or weeks have I been…? What’s the date?’

‘Hold your tongue, my dear, will you? Ta, ta, ta, ta! I’m quite willing to answer all those questions, but all in good time. You’re getting excited, poor Luis, so very nervous, to start with. Now, that won’t do, you know. High blood pressure, that sort of thing. And you don’t know the troubles we’ve gone into, in order to reduce that temperature. Besides, I’ve many important things to communicate. About the date, by the by,’ Manuel said, standing up, ‘today’s the seventh of April of a most delicious Indian summer afternoon of 1959. Wait! You now rest for a while. I’ll come back.’
Manuel hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand. ‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. Visions you say. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among the things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’ He handed an airmail letter to his friend.
Luis, who had seen where the letter came from, opened the envelope with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh. ‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’
‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959. Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go out of curiosity to the old flat afterwards, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. For it happened that a former colleague – not that one I went to visit, but another one - now rents the flat, our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954! But going back now, dearest love, to that day I spent in London, I went to Green Street, yes, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course. Anyhow, all is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief those days of bad memory in Madrid. In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall never forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you! They hated, the savage fascist regime, the fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret?… the hazards of history maybe, oh, poor enslaved country! but even if horrible things had come to pass, they both had been wounded and he had thought he’d lost her for ever… Oh love!
… she is coming. Oh, Margaret! What a long separation. Taken away by the civil guards; I saw she was screaming: ‘Luis, Luis, do not abandon me!’ And I was in chains, and then in jail, the Blue Mediterranean, that castle and always the furious sea battering the rocks: only the cormorant was flying free, up to his barred window sometimes.
… oh my adorable sweetheart! you and me again together. The old dear images will come to life. Our encounter, that first afternoon in the lorry which took us to the volunteer agricultural camp; our arrival in the camp at the same time as another lorry coming from Newcastle, students from Uppsala, so blond, the girls’ long hair fluttering in the evening breeze.

… Yorkshire, that moonlight night on the grass, near an abandoned canal, our first kiss, and our first glorious moments of complete unalloyed happiness. That summer ’53.
… and those walks in the streets of old Madrid, about three years later. In ‘la Puerta del Sol’, celebrating the birth of 1956. That long walk in the narrow streets and alleyways, ‘la Taberna del Sordo’, a pasodoble. ‘You can’t dance.’
… a few days later, the demonstrations against the regime, starting in the law faculty, the riots that followed in town. ‘La Plaza de la Moncloa’, that June 1956. Oh, Margaret, they were taking you away! I could do nothing but weep, my angel.
‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. I knew I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly? I’m dying to hear those wonderful words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we? your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together. As you’re getting better, let’s talk a little longer.’’
‘’I’m quite ready,’’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘’By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point unless she comes soon I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’’
‘’Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’’
‘’Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’’
‘’You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your exclamations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your mama ever tell you?’’
‘’But then, I mean… what?’’
‘’Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘’Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things have been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather in a sad tone; then, he went on in a sing-song tone of voice. Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill.’’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied. ‘Such as?’’
‘’Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet! Now, what d’you say to that?’’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’’
‘’Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the Csiro. Yes, a good job, absolutely, and… I’m leaving for the outback. That’s what I mean.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’’
Manuel got hold with one hand of his chair, between his legs, and drew nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody, Luis said, ‘and you deserve it. How shameful of me, selfish all right, to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid! Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend looked at him, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on that Saturday at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’’ He drew nearer, sitting on the side of bed with his feet on the carpet.
‘’Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Dark surrounds him but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him. Only the wailing of the parasitic elements left: this way and that, coming and going. The dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I?’
‘Of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty, merry and for her age quite young and pretty. She takes his wrist in her hand and after a moment declares, in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly. Quite a healthy person, one can see.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well he’s treated you. With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better soon.’ She smiles, and there was a grain of irony in her voice. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, washing you, helping you…’
At that Manuel came in. ‘… to pass motion, changing pyjamas once a day,’ he cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body, dear boy, that sort of thing.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and ironically.
‘I know. He told me all, yes! this wonderful fellow, here,’ Luis Galvao said, then wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about her,’ Manuel said, and now turning to point his inverted hand at her, ‘my dear Melina, married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you. The days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘You had better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I have done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head-bed.
‘And about you making up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had wanted to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense, my dear. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. For she was obviously a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently and fearlessly (one could see that.) Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. Melina must have been at least six years older and the mother of five. ‘Attractive all right, all the same… never seen him interested in women.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth; her eyes large and vivacious.
‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He was thinking of his friend and the landlady, wondering in his mind whether there could exist an affair between the two; and he tried to anwer his own question. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ He knew, because his friend had told him, that he was the eldest of a numerous family, and that his Castillian mother (he came from the same province as Galvao) was like this Greek woman, belle, small and hardworking; as indeed was Luis’s own mother and most women in Spain at that time.
The day before the doctor had found Galvao so well that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one now had to add Manuel Suárez, who stayed all day long at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new Csiro post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head. He thought of Margaret’s letter and, by a series of interrelated ideas, came to think of Malgorata as well.
… that first night coming home from the Pyrmont Hotel, about a year ago; how he had found her alone, so different from the flaxen-haired person who had opened the door of the house to him two days earlier. Still despondent-looking, but beautiful. He had thought he was seeing his own English sweetheart.
He was awakened by a noise. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. There she was, entering the room. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid.
The rays of a late autumn sun were flooding into the room. Melina left Galvao’s breakfast on his knees and moved about, tidying the place. He followed her with his eyes. She looked tired and haggard this morning.
Just at that moment Manuel came in, bouncing and smiling . ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, somewhat maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office! Remember who is wafting across the seas, and we know you, my dear, an indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers, yellow in the centre. With plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe it,’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding her pretty hand in his.
It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of electricians in charge of building and repairing the lines somewhere. He entered the room when Melina was winning the fight. This was received with much applause from the husband.

The three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went to the window and began arranging things that side of the room. She folded in the corner a stretcher which had been there for some days and was no longer needed.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies and subsequent application (to the Csiro) as a researcher, Manuel had been waiting for the moment he would be called to start the job and spent nearly all day at home, helping Melina in the cleaning and cooking, taking sometimes the two young boys to the school and playing the rest of the time with the two toddlers when they were not asleep. When Dimitri was there, and there was some repair work to do, the two stayed together working, talking and smoking. As the bad weather was approaching, they tried to do some work outside, on the roof, or in the garden generally. There was always in the backyard (sometimes in the house too) an array of empty glasses and bottles of beer, which the poor wife had to collect later and wash or throw into the dustbin outside, in the yard.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances one would have thought were competing for the same woman. In fact they were working together like two mates. The poor outside observer, always trying to put meaning to things and reasons for the conduct of humans, could not come out of his astonishment. What was going in the old house of Harris Street? If that Polish woman, friend of Malgorata’s, who then lived in the street, had still been there, he would have gone and obtained her considered opinion. But Silwia, he was informed, had married a Hungarian widower, a dancing master, and was now living in Glebe.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. Melina had taken the younger boys to school, while the little girls were still asleep; as for the eldest Becosipopulos boy, he had gone to school by bus before eight
So the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, as in the old days. When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which she cleverly turned into an enquiry about the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. The property and its inhabitants. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was a great artist. She had heard (she said) she was playing the violin in Riga. The three spent the morning in continuous conversation, interchanging individual knowledge, for Melina seemed to know everything. At times the two set to effecting domestic chores in the kitchen and the adjoining laundry while the talking went on. Luis Galvao watched from his seat. The old copper-boiler was gone and in its stead there was a modern electric washing machine, and there was in a corner a cabin for a shower.
Manuel was doing the washing and Melina, who was helping, got red and suffocated, specially around the cheeks and nose. She took a rest and leaned against a wall, outside the laundry. Manuel quite solicitous came to offer his help. But she ran away and again was springing about.
‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ Manuel asked, approaching his friend.
‘Sure,’ is all an embarrassed Galvao could reply.
For she had heard and was coming along pulling pinafore and skirt more tightly down on her attractive plump body.
‘Tell me about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? Now you tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia. Have you heard from Heribert, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would had thought, so glad to return home! If only to tell how well he was faring. Don’t they say, Deutschland Überalles? Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected. Disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, bit your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘Arriving Sydney SSArcadia twentyfour May stop love Margaret’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she was touching him, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse; as she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her pass and take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartly.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm of the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the back door.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However he did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair. As he looked around, he recognised the old place, all changed. The sofa where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objets were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which, as there was some wind that day and the window was open, were ballooning in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and on the backgound the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down the littlest ones of the family, hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising tiny eager hands. Galvao picked up the rosy things and sat each on one knee. He told them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little twins scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room. The elder boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him whether he missed the old country at all, a question he had already asked on a previous occasion. In the end he left the boy to his studies and went back to his chair. The two other boys came up wanting, as well, to be told stories. Until they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot of eating and drinking, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed with surprise that everybody talked and laughed, inclusive the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised he was no longer used to contacting people, specially children, and was sorry for the change. Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected; neither did he smile or laugh as before; indeed, compared to what he had been just a moment before in the kitchen with the lady, Luis would have sworn his friend was rather sad and confused.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, along New South Head Road, towards The Gap, a cliff facing the ocean. The two friends found a place to park the car and then wandered in some scrubland; they walked in the end along a very narrow path and sat on the buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. As the other was not looking and in fact seemed to be very sad, Luis fell into solitary meditation gazing at the prospect, right and left: miles of cliffs and long sandy beaches.

… the advancing headlands looked more and more diffuse each time, as he extended his angle of vision, until in the end they were just like vertical pencilled strokes in the misty distance.
… at sea, towards the horizon, the white tops of innumerable rolling waves, coming to break against the large boulders on the shoreline down below, spattering foam in every direction; and simultaneously an awful thumping sound that seemed to increase the emptiness and threat of the black mass of rocks at his feet. As the afternoon advanced, the shadows along the coast became more profound, the darkness in the holes and caverns down below more complete.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky layer some twenty yards away from the cliff barrier. ‘I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel said with a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I know. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then.’
‘Let me show you something else, first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the dark blue mass of water all around.’ He stood up. ‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction, seeing the lovely sweeping surf beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, as if you just have to step back, jump over and go down and fly, fly… and become eternal.’ He stopped short, becoming more natural: ‘Now, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, moving away and sitting on the grass further on. The other joined him, and he went on: ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s happened to your hair in the short time since I went back to Kirribilli? I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours was always so beautifully black, and now, all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, sitting down heavily, near his friend. ‘Have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘But when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking. No need to get so angry, man.’
‘I can’t put up with this. Now that I change my appearance! This is insufferable. Stop it! And don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’ Manuel exclaimed in a squeaky voice. ‘An angry man is what I am. This is unbearable! Now, is this why you asked me to come out for a drive with you?’ And as the other, to pacify him, kept quiet, he added, raising his voice: ‘Hell, I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty.’
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it. His friend was nearly three years older than himself.
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘I agree, but you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright?’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Common, explain.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, and pursued, half jokingly: ‘Morgan’s Pomade, of course. I’ve been using it for years. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied. ‘But I had to give it up, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. You cruel boy, wait until I dye it again.’
‘Why, I thought… Haven’t you just said you are not going to use that pomade any more, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid! I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by, swaying and cooing. His gaze fixed on two of them as they soared up into the darkening sky, he opened his mouth… he closed it. He was again lost in thought. Margaret was coming!
The two friends stood apart on the rocky platform overhanging the sea. For they were concentrated on their own thoughts. For a while neither of them spoke. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were fixed on the distance. Again, he watched the unbound ocean, furious and rather dark, the clearer foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering in the last rays of sunlight… and the horizon.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence. He heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth you were saying. What a life! Laughs and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals, those long walks in the avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria, the interesting chats. You say,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you. How can you not remember… forget? So many friends lost, real friendship. Not now. When you are young and struggling to get a profession, studying. Now tell me, my boy, can there be a substitute for that? We talked and laughed, and loved one another, living together.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved,’ Luis echoed, ‘and then… Apart he stalked in joyful reverie… and from his native land resolved to go… and visit scorching climes beyond the sea…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Ha, ha! Byron, my friend!’ Luis exclaimed, somewhat sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, sweet home gone!’
‘University pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land. We met overhere… New Australians.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more.
‘Irretrievably is the word.’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a brief pause.’ We were going to change the world. All finished now. And where has our youth gone? Oh, what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, that’s what you’ve said. What have I done for you? Always the same, dear Luis. What I did, what you did, how awfully commercial you are.’
‘Why, I am not,’ Luis defended himself,’ materialistic.’
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, silvery and green.

The cliff was now full of gulls and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge all kinds of marine birds were seen, all filling the air with their cries and horrible screeches, so that it came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another. They started to feel the chill of the evening.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ Manuel concluded, in a tone of carelessness. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road towards Woolloomooloo and could already see the light of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat.
‘My dear Luis,’ he heard all of a sudden, ‘did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then, overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, you mean,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘You know there were very few female students. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts faculty, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, trying to reply the question, ‘a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. Son of a civil servant. I took her once to the cinema and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you? Did you have a sweetheart… in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis knew he had made a mistake. He was entering the city, the lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you?’ Manuel sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay. Eh bien, two years earlier, I had to esape. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. I wouldn’t go to jail so I ran away for all I was worth, a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already,’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. I’ll be okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… he thought of the days when he was a young man in Madrid. His friend, Bustamante pulling him by the arm, called: ‘Look! Read! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ Last term at the law faculty. Vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps in England for Foreign students. Not enough farmhands in the land. Many had died at war. Others had left for the factories in towns.
… he dreams of those days, Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls. That walk with Margaret along an abandoned canal, resulting in their making love on the grass In the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed him to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of a piano, and then the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solvej’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I love it, but I know nothing about music, my love.

… and just as he is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting on her course towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. Many fluttering figures overcrowding the decks, coming migrants, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… ‘Oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’
… two red-and-black tugs, now pulling the liner, their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. Sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, Margaret is one of the number!’
… and he finds himself clinging to the metal barrier. The words ‘Custom House’ on the building beyond the fence. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable girl! Oh, you have never been more beautiful.
… he feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches trying to wave, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. A glimpse of the beloved one now makes him recover all his former optimism. ‘Margaret!’
… she is coming, my precious, she is in my arms and we are kissing, and we love one another so. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply, already in his embrace. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really way and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed. Noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe; and where they had met again, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists, specially in veterinary science. I thought you might feel lonely over in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are one-to-ten that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our species,’ Manuel said, becoming tragic. ‘Homo sapiens, indeed! This here country of ours will be the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, wars, all that sort of thing, understand?, and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life of some species out there. Anyhow, in the outback or bush…’
‘There are sturdy trees and animals,’ Luis muttered. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life!’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to invest whatever I can of my own little person in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever is worth preserving, and which is quickly disappearing… too quickly. Yes, my good pal, there’s a great opportunity awaiting me out there.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here…’
‘Well, in La Perousse you can…’
‘And, what’s the use of coming Down Under, of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land already – say – thirteen thousand years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘Yes, Abbos and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel without looking; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, what bright boys, the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind? Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs, ‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, dear Luis,’’ Manuel went on after a pause, ‘’have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll send me one from every port of call,’’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those changes of mood in Manuel’s character which his friend had not noticed before, a sort of ingrained sadness.
‘Lucky fellow,’ he heard him say, receiving a friendly pat on his shoulder, and again detected a marked tinge of sadness in his voice. ‘Yes, you are fortunate, smart boy. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most, the ocean) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do. And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he went on, nevertheless, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… why don’t you too. Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manuel, a boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chap I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed, and then said: ‘’I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen I’m very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing,’ he sighed; ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Perhaps, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart? Impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of that subject! What’s the use?’ Luis had also stood up; they approached the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the suitcases to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from the restaurant.
They entered the station and found the platform. It was an exceptionally chilly night at the end of April, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a gabardine and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and in passing to detract attention from his greying hair. Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again. By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist, got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘’Manuel,’’ said Luis somewhat didactically and quite impertinently, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘’in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’’
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing. In the approaching evening, he rather looked like an American star (in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon light of the platform ‘A Humphrey Bogart,’ Luis thought, ‘in the mysterious misty night of that film.’
‘Well, Manuel?’ he asked hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder. ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Sure I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Is that what you’ve asked? I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… Who knows.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his and pressing it with love.
‘Well, yes. Somehow… if one works…’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, recognition as you say.’
‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ Manuel began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life.’ He paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you had in mind when you talked of a possible job in here. I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it, miss it sorely; this is now my city, my home so to say. Nevertheless,’ he paused again.
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly as he was wont to. ‘Anyhow, I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot of the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away. Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend. The train was now advancing fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as they passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact has disappeared), now stopped short. A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, as if about to grab a hand and kiss it –‘bye Luis!- just an instant. A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time imagined he was still seeing his comrade’s handsome face glued to the window-pane, in the distance, and the tears welling abundantly out of his large black eyes. Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects, and the places and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land! - that district so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, the walks we took together of a Saturday to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck!
fg.izquierdo@yayoo.es

New Australians Dream
Fernando García Izquierdo

In my time migration meant crossing the ocean on a liner, and once the journey completed, having arrived in a new country, you settled there for good. This did not necessarily mean that you did not come back to the old country at all. But going back remained a sporadic experience which only a few enjoyed.
As a rule migrants are workers who remain at the bottom of the social scale and waste no time in travelling about for the sake of visiting places or similar considerations; the more so as finding employment in the new country is easy, and that was what the migrant went looking for in the first place. There is no need or inclination to cease working and leave the new country for some time in order to waft on the blue surface just to carry out some sentimental design. It would take too much time. For this kind of journey was always done then by sea. ‘The sails were filled, and fair the light winds blew,’ as the poet said.
Of course, there are always exceptions, for there have been among the migrants those who changed their minds, in the course of time, ‘and then of his wish to roam repented he.’ They are called returning migrants. Their story is easily told. There are two parts in the adventure, quite distinct from one another, and yet the migrant experiences each time the same suffering. One goes out looking for a promised paradise and, still doubtful, comes back, and always finds that, ‘In his bosom slept the silent thought.’ Going out and coming back, both times, the plight is identical: homesickness. For migrants must always feel homesick, some more and some less, but always there is that silent thought. Strange though it may sound, the place of abundance which disgruntled New Australians railed about then, is now sorely missed when back home. An inescapable longing is always there, deep in your heart: when first settling and when returning home. That feeling of regret, that ever fear of an approaching storm, which you felt Down Under then and you feel again back home. One cannot escape regretting now to have abandoned that generous new country, those people who came to be part of your existence in the course of time.
Whatever then is that homesickness feeling? It is an attachment. All living beings feel attached to the earth, the land on which they live and which nourishes them, Earth-creatures one and all. And it follows that when you roam about, away from home, and settle down in a new country, crossing mountains, deserts and seas (and then repeat the experience) you always lose something and gain something. Eternal Matter, destroyer and preserver. You knock about, you cut your roots and grow new ones. That is life. No need to panic. ‘Nor from his lips did come one word of wail, while others sate and wept.’ (Byron)’.
*
There is an awful whining noise to the left and to the right, on and off and on again; Galvao can plainly hear the parasitic elements, though only dimly glimpse their presence: to the left, to the right, persistent, stubborn. ‘Basta!’
A world of visions and sounds, a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of matter, mingling up together in his mind. Then a new sudden brutal noise is heard. He opens his eyes. The dead of night. Then light again.
At length Luis Galvao sits up, moves slightly on the side of the bed, his feet on the carpet and his elbows on his knees. There is a ray of light in the room, which otherwise is surrounded by darkness. A door opens. The figure of a woman. And all turns into nothingness. He feels so weak that he lies down again, closes his eyes, opens them towards the line of light; the image of a woman persists, holding the doorhandle, and the vision vanishes; only the wailing of mosquitoes remains. ‘Is it you, Margaret? where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’
Deep in his soul that ghostly presence remains. The night, that line of light, that mysterious image, a woman. Not for me! Why, what tender secret dwells in my heart? Am I very ill? If you see me why is your heart not responsive to my call? There is no life anymore for me without you. I am suffering, my angel, don’t go, wait! I’ve sought you so dearly, Margaret. And you did come to stay, and next moment were gone. Can it be true, my dearest, gone?
And then that narrow strip of light again, shining from top to bottom when the door opens wide, and the shadow this time of a little woman approaching.
But he is suddenly forced to close his eyes tight, for the room is flooded with sunlight. He can make neither head nor tail of what is happening. He manages at length to stand up and lurches towards the window; resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill he looks out. The clear sky, the dark outline of a large tree far away, the wooden palings and somewhat nearer the roof of a shed full of tools, an outside toilet; a rusty old car without tires, and nearer still two perlargonium plants, one on either side of the yard growing against the palings separating this property from the neighbours’.
No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!
He turns back jerking his way once more towards the bed. Except that he is too weak to go on; he rests his hands on a dressing-table with medicines and other things. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror, himself. But oh! he looks so thin and old and haggard. He cannot believe his eyes. Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if he were about to grow a beard.
‘Bless my soul!’ he hears a call, someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. Then, turning round and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened? Am I ill? What does this all mean?’
His friend also takes a seat, hard by. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; but you of course know that already, I guess. Now let me look at you,’ he adds, gently getting hold of his friend’s unshaven chin. ‘You’re fair dinkum now, my boy, I assure you.’
‘Tell me,’ Luis goes on, standing up and trudging to his bed, ‘what’s wrong with me? Am I dreaming? I’ve seen so many things… and I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence for he has thrown himself back on the bed. ‘I simply don’t understand. What kind of illness?’ he wails. ‘Why… why am I a different type of man, not like the…?’
‘Not an ordinary mortal, you mean? We all are different, my boy.’
‘I’ve been seeing… oh, terrible places, you know… fantastic winding streets, up and down all the time. A never-seen-or-imagined labyrinth, ah, ah!!’ Luis has laid the palms of both hands on his face, his head back upon the pillow.
‘Surry Hills, you’ve seen. Perfectly natural.’
‘Natural, you say. I’ve seen a temple full of Spaniards. Then, without knowing why or wherefrom, it was full of Italians…and… and it wasn’t true.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘I wasn’t there. I was nowhere. Alone and fainting away. Yet jerking on and on. When I came to, well, I was going down those stone steps, remember? and without you… we had gone to mass together, hadn’t we?’
‘Sorry, Luis, I’m sorry.’ Manuel said, getting red in the face.
‘Why was I coming out of… sacred mass? I never go to church. Oh, I felt so weak! First sitting on a bench… and in the same instant Italians were pouring out of the Spanish church. Am I not telling the truth? I turned round and round, hoping to see you, Manuel. Nobody! Now could you, could somebody tell me what happened?’ Luis cried, ‘Oh, I am always alone.’
‘You must calm down,’ said Manuel, full of compassion, ‘and stop, amigo, feeling sorry for yourself. As for myself, believe me, I feel so sorry.’ He touched his friend.
For a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, sitting on a chair. ‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. Maureen Kirilenko, she introduced herself, I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez, she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Eventually, thank your secretary,’ repeats Manuel. ‘Forget the rest.’
‘Good heavens!’ Luis exclaimed, sitting up and once more hiding his face in his hands. ‘Gosh, gosh! A world of madness and visions, that is it… what I saw.’
‘’I see you’re crying, oh dear!’’ says Manuel, and after a pause, ‘’Luis, as I’ve already pointed out, you’ve been poorly, very much so; in the true meaning of the word poorly. Hospitalised. And you must now try to get better, absolutely. What I say to you at this moment of time is, calm down! Now, if you ask me, have I been delirious, I’ll answer you, correct, most of the time. I mean, most of the time you’ve been here, which is as far as my personal knowledge goes. But don’t distress yourself. You’re getting better.’
‘But please, tell me. What on earth does this all mean, I’ve never, I’ve never…’
‘Stop speculating. It doesn’t matter now. It wasn’t your fault. What I mean to say, that’s what happens, most of the time, my dear pretty boy. Visions you say. You’re too keen, always observing, ready to criticise everything. No good, amigo. And you were exhausted. Again, sorry I took you to Surry Hills.’
Manuel, who had got rather nervous, went on for a few more minutes, but his friend, quite typically, was not listening.
‘But I must know,’ he said. ‘Manuel, have I gone crazy… an attack of madness? Callan Park? For how long… I mean how many days or weeks have I been…? What’s the date?’

‘Hold your tongue, my dear, will you? Ta, ta, ta, ta! I’m quite willing to answer all those questions, but all in good time. You’re getting excited, poor Luis, so very nervous, to start with. Now, that won’t do, you know. High blood pressure, that sort of thing. And you don’t know the troubles we’ve gone into, in order to reduce that temperature. Besides, I’ve many important things to communicate. About the date, by the by,’ Manuel said, standing up, ‘today’s the seventh of April of a most delicious Indian summer afternoon of 1959. Wait! You now rest for a while. I’ll come back.’
Manuel hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand. ‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. Visions you say. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among the things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’ He handed an airmail letter to his friend.
Luis, who had seen where the letter came from, opened the envelope with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh. ‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’
‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959. Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go out of curiosity to the old flat afterwards, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. For it happened that a former colleague – not that one I went to visit, but another one - now rents the flat, our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954! But going back now, dearest love, to that day I spent in London, I went to Green Street, yes, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course. Anyhow, all is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief those days of bad memory in Madrid. In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall never forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you! They hated, the savage fascist regime, the fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret?… the hazards of history maybe, oh, poor enslaved country! but even if horrible things had come to pass, they both had been wounded and he had thought he’d lost her for ever… Oh love!
… she is coming. Oh, Margaret! What a long separation. Taken away by the civil guards; I saw she was screaming: ‘Luis, Luis, do not abandon me!’ And I was in chains, and then in jail, the Blue Mediterranean, that castle and always the furious sea battering the rocks: only the cormorant was flying free, up to his barred window sometimes.
… oh my adorable sweetheart! you and me again together. The old dear images will come to life. Our encounter, that first afternoon in the lorry which took us to the volunteer agricultural camp; our arrival in the camp at the same time as another lorry coming from Newcastle, students from Uppsala, so blond, the girls’ long hair fluttering in the evening breeze.

… Yorkshire, that moonlight night on the grass, near an abandoned canal, our first kiss, and our first glorious moments of complete unalloyed happiness. That summer ’53.
… and those walks in the streets of old Madrid, about three years later. In ‘la Puerta del Sol’, celebrating the birth of 1956. That long walk in the narrow streets and alleyways, ‘la Taberna del Sordo’, a pasodoble. ‘You can’t dance.’
… a few days later, the demonstrations against the regime, starting in the law faculty, the riots that followed in town. ‘La Plaza de la Moncloa’, that June 1956. Oh, Margaret, they were taking you away! I could do nothing but weep, my angel.
‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. I knew I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly? I’m dying to hear those wonderful words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we? your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together. As you’re getting better, let’s talk a little longer.’’
‘’I’m quite ready,’’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘’By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point unless she comes soon I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’’
‘’Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’’
‘’Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’’
‘’You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your exclamations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your mama ever tell you?’’
‘’But then, I mean… what?’’
‘’Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘’Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things have been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather in a sad tone; then, he went on in a sing-song tone of voice. Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill.’’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied. ‘Such as?’’
‘’Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet! Now, what d’you say to that?’’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’’
‘’Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the Csiro. Yes, a good job, absolutely, and… I’m leaving for the outback. That’s what I mean.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’’
Manuel got hold with one hand of his chair, between his legs, and drew nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody, Luis said, ‘and you deserve it. How shameful of me, selfish all right, to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid! Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend looked at him, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on that Saturday at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’’ He drew nearer, sitting on the side of bed with his feet on the carpet.
‘’Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Dark surrounds him but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him. Only the wailing of the parasitic elements left: this way and that, coming and going. The dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I?’
‘Of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty, merry and for her age quite young and pretty. She takes his wrist in her hand and after a moment declares, in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly. Quite a healthy person, one can see.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well he’s treated you. With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better soon.’ She smiles, and there was a grain of irony in her voice. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, washing you, helping you…’
At that Manuel came in. ‘… to pass motion, changing pyjamas once a day,’ he cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body, dear boy, that sort of thing.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and ironically.
‘I know. He told me all, yes! this wonderful fellow, here,’ Luis Galvao said, then wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about her,’ Manuel said, and now turning to point his inverted hand at her, ‘my dear Melina, married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you. The days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘You had better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I have done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head-bed.
‘And about you making up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had wanted to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense, my dear. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. For she was obviously a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently and fearlessly (one could see that.) Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. Melina must have been at least six years older and the mother of five. ‘Attractive all right, all the same… never seen him interested in women.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth; her eyes large and vivacious.
‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He was thinking of his friend and the landlady, wondering in his mind whether there could exist an affair between the two; and he tried to anwer his own question. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ He knew, because his friend had told him, that he was the eldest of a numerous family, and that his Castillian mother (he came from the same province as Galvao) was like this Greek woman, belle, small and hardworking; as indeed was Luis’s own mother and most women in Spain at that time.
The day before the doctor had found Galvao so well that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one now had to add Manuel Suárez, who stayed all day long at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new Csiro post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head. He thought of Margaret’s letter and, by a series of interrelated ideas, came to think of Malgorata as well.
… that first night coming home from the Pyrmont Hotel, about a year ago; how he had found her alone, so different from the flaxen-haired person who had opened the door of the house to him two days earlier. Still despondent-looking, but beautiful. He had thought he was seeing his own English sweetheart.
He was awakened by a noise. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. There she was, entering the room. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid.
The rays of a late autumn sun were flooding into the room. Melina left Galvao’s breakfast on his knees and moved about, tidying the place. He followed her with his eyes. She looked tired and haggard this morning.
Just at that moment Manuel came in, bouncing and smiling . ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, somewhat maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office! Remember who is wafting across the seas, and we know you, my dear, an indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers, yellow in the centre. With plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe it,’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding her pretty hand in his.
It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of electricians in charge of building and repairing the lines somewhere. He entered the room when Melina was winning the fight. This was received with much applause from the husband.

The three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went to the window and began arranging things that side of the room. She folded in the corner a stretcher which had been there for some days and was no longer needed.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies and subsequent application (to the Csiro) as a researcher, Manuel had been waiting for the moment he would be called to start the job and spent nearly all day at home, helping Melina in the cleaning and cooking, taking sometimes the two young boys to the school and playing the rest of the time with the two toddlers when they were not asleep. When Dimitri was there, and there was some repair work to do, the two stayed together working, talking and smoking. As the bad weather was approaching, they tried to do some work outside, on the roof, or in the garden generally. There was always in the backyard (sometimes in the house too) an array of empty glasses and bottles of beer, which the poor wife had to collect later and wash or throw into the dustbin outside, in the yard.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances one would have thought were competing for the same woman. In fact they were working together like two mates. The poor outside observer, always trying to put meaning to things and reasons for the conduct of humans, could not come out of his astonishment. What was going in the old house of Harris Street? If that Polish woman, friend of Malgorata’s, who then lived in the street, had still been there, he would have gone and obtained her considered opinion. But Silwia, he was informed, had married a Hungarian widower, a dancing master, and was now living in Glebe.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. Melina had taken the younger boys to school, while the little girls were still asleep; as for the eldest Becosipopulos boy, he had gone to school by bus before eight
So the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, as in the old days. When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which she cleverly turned into an enquiry about the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. The property and its inhabitants. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was a great artist. She had heard (she said) she was playing the violin in Riga. The three spent the morning in continuous conversation, interchanging individual knowledge, for Melina seemed to know everything. At times the two set to effecting domestic chores in the kitchen and the adjoining laundry while the talking went on. Luis Galvao watched from his seat. The old copper-boiler was gone and in its stead there was a modern electric washing machine, and there was in a corner a cabin for a shower.
Manuel was doing the washing and Melina, who was helping, got red and suffocated, specially around the cheeks and nose. She took a rest and leaned against a wall, outside the laundry. Manuel quite solicitous came to offer his help. But she ran away and again was springing about.
‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ Manuel asked, approaching his friend.
‘Sure,’ is all an embarrassed Galvao could reply.
For she had heard and was coming along pulling pinafore and skirt more tightly down on her attractive plump body.
‘Tell me about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? Now you tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia. Have you heard from Heribert, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would had thought, so glad to return home! If only to tell how well he was faring. Don’t they say, Deutschland Überalles? Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected. Disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, bit your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘Arriving Sydney SSArcadia twentyfour May stop love Margaret’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she was touching him, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse; as she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her pass and take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartly.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm of the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the back door.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However he did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair. As he looked around, he recognised the old place, all changed. The sofa where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objets were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which, as there was some wind that day and the window was open, were ballooning in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and on the backgound the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down the littlest ones of the family, hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising tiny eager hands. Galvao picked up the rosy things and sat each on one knee. He told them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little twins scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room. The elder boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him whether he missed the old country at all, a question he had already asked on a previous occasion. In the end he left the boy to his studies and went back to his chair. The two other boys came up wanting, as well, to be told stories. Until they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot of eating and drinking, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed with surprise that everybody talked and laughed, inclusive the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised he was no longer used to contacting people, specially children, and was sorry for the change. Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected; neither did he smile or laugh as before; indeed, compared to what he had been just a moment before in the kitchen with the lady, Luis would have sworn his friend was rather sad and confused.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, along New South Head Road, towards The Gap, a cliff facing the ocean. The two friends found a place to park the car and then wandered in some scrubland; they walked in the end along a very narrow path and sat on the buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. As the other was not looking and in fact seemed to be very sad, Luis fell into solitary meditation gazing at the prospect, right and left: miles of cliffs and long sandy beaches.

… the advancing headlands looked more and more diffuse each time, as he extended his angle of vision, until in the end they were just like vertical pencilled strokes in the misty distance.
… at sea, towards the horizon, the white tops of innumerable rolling waves, coming to break against the large boulders on the shoreline down below, spattering foam in every direction; and simultaneously an awful thumping sound that seemed to increase the emptiness and threat of the black mass of rocks at his feet. As the afternoon advanced, the shadows along the coast became more profound, the darkness in the holes and caverns down below more complete.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky layer some twenty yards away from the cliff barrier. ‘I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel said with a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I know. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then.’
‘Let me show you something else, first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the dark blue mass of water all around.’ He stood up. ‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction, seeing the lovely sweeping surf beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, as if you just have to step back, jump over and go down and fly, fly… and become eternal.’ He stopped short, becoming more natural: ‘Now, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, moving away and sitting on the grass further on. The other joined him, and he went on: ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s happened to your hair in the short time since I went back to Kirribilli? I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours was always so beautifully black, and now, all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, sitting down heavily, near his friend. ‘Have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘But when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking. No need to get so angry, man.’
‘I can’t put up with this. Now that I change my appearance! This is insufferable. Stop it! And don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’ Manuel exclaimed in a squeaky voice. ‘An angry man is what I am. This is unbearable! Now, is this why you asked me to come out for a drive with you?’ And as the other, to pacify him, kept quiet, he added, raising his voice: ‘Hell, I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty.’
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it. His friend was nearly three years older than himself.
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘I agree, but you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright?’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Common, explain.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, and pursued, half jokingly: ‘Morgan’s Pomade, of course. I’ve been using it for years. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied. ‘But I had to give it up, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. You cruel boy, wait until I dye it again.’
‘Why, I thought… Haven’t you just said you are not going to use that pomade any more, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid! I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by, swaying and cooing. His gaze fixed on two of them as they soared up into the darkening sky, he opened his mouth… he closed it. He was again lost in thought. Margaret was coming!
The two friends stood apart on the rocky platform overhanging the sea. For they were concentrated on their own thoughts. For a while neither of them spoke. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were fixed on the distance. Again, he watched the unbound ocean, furious and rather dark, the clearer foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering in the last rays of sunlight… and the horizon.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence. He heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth you were saying. What a life! Laughs and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals, those long walks in the avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria, the interesting chats. You say,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you. How can you not remember… forget? So many friends lost, real friendship. Not now. When you are young and struggling to get a profession, studying. Now tell me, my boy, can there be a substitute for that? We talked and laughed, and loved one another, living together.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved,’ Luis echoed, ‘and then… Apart he stalked in joyful reverie… and from his native land resolved to go… and visit scorching climes beyond the sea…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Ha, ha! Byron, my friend!’ Luis exclaimed, somewhat sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, sweet home gone!’
‘University pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land. We met overhere… New Australians.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more.
‘Irretrievably is the word.’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a brief pause.’ We were going to change the world. All finished now. And where has our youth gone? Oh, what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, that’s what you’ve said. What have I done for you? Always the same, dear Luis. What I did, what you did, how awfully commercial you are.’
‘Why, I am not,’ Luis defended himself,’ materialistic.’
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, silvery and green.

The cliff was now full of gulls and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge all kinds of marine birds were seen, all filling the air with their cries and horrible screeches, so that it came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another. They started to feel the chill of the evening.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ Manuel concluded, in a tone of carelessness. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road towards Woolloomooloo and could already see the light of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat.
‘My dear Luis,’ he heard all of a sudden, ‘did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then, overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, you mean,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘You know there were very few female students. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts faculty, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, trying to reply the question, ‘a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. Son of a civil servant. I took her once to the cinema and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you? Did you have a sweetheart… in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis knew he had made a mistake. He was entering the city, the lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you?’ Manuel sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay. Eh bien, two years earlier, I had to esape. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. I wouldn’t go to jail so I ran away for all I was worth, a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already,’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. I’ll be okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… he thought of the days when he was a young man in Madrid. His friend, Bustamante pulling him by the arm, called: ‘Look! Read! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ Last term at the law faculty. Vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps in England for Foreign students. Not enough farmhands in the land. Many had died at war. Others had left for the factories in towns.
… he dreams of those days, Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls. That walk with Margaret along an abandoned canal, resulting in their making love on the grass In the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed him to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of a piano, and then the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solvej’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I love it, but I know nothing about music, my love.

… and just as he is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting on her course towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. Many fluttering figures overcrowding the decks, coming migrants, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… ‘Oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’
… two red-and-black tugs, now pulling the liner, their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. Sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, Margaret is one of the number!’
… and he finds himself clinging to the metal barrier. The words ‘Custom House’ on the building beyond the fence. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable girl! Oh, you have never been more beautiful.
… he feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches trying to wave, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. A glimpse of the beloved one now makes him recover all his former optimism. ‘Margaret!’
… she is coming, my precious, she is in my arms and we are kissing, and we love one another so. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply, already in his embrace. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really way and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed. Noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe; and where they had met again, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists, specially in veterinary science. I thought you might feel lonely over in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are one-to-ten that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our species,’ Manuel said, becoming tragic. ‘Homo sapiens, indeed! This here country of ours will be the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, wars, all that sort of thing, understand?, and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life of some species out there. Anyhow, in the outback or bush…’
‘There are sturdy trees and animals,’ Luis muttered. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life!’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to invest whatever I can of my own little person in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever is worth preserving, and which is quickly disappearing… too quickly. Yes, my good pal, there’s a great opportunity awaiting me out there.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here…’
‘Well, in La Perousse you can…’
‘And, what’s the use of coming Down Under, of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land already – say – thirteen thousand years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘Yes, Abbos and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel without looking; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, what bright boys, the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind? Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs, ‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, dear Luis,’’ Manuel went on after a pause, ‘’have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll send me one from every port of call,’’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those changes of mood in Manuel’s character which his friend had not noticed before, a sort of ingrained sadness.
‘Lucky fellow,’ he heard him say, receiving a friendly pat on his shoulder, and again detected a marked tinge of sadness in his voice. ‘Yes, you are fortunate, smart boy. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most, the ocean) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do. And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he went on, nevertheless, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… why don’t you too. Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manuel, a boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chap I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed, and then said: ‘’I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen I’m very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing,’ he sighed; ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Perhaps, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart? Impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of that subject! What’s the use?’ Luis had also stood up; they approached the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the suitcases to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from the restaurant.
They entered the station and found the platform. It was an exceptionally chilly night at the end of April, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a gabardine and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and in passing to detract attention from his greying hair. Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again. By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist, got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘’Manuel,’’ said Luis somewhat didactically and quite impertinently, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘’in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’’
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing. In the approaching evening, he rather looked like an American star (in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon light of the platform ‘A Humphrey Bogart,’ Luis thought, ‘in the mysterious misty night of that film.’
‘Well, Manuel?’ he asked hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder. ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Sure I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Is that what you’ve asked? I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… Who knows.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his and pressing it with love.
‘Well, yes. Somehow… if one works…’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, recognition as you say.’
‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ Manuel began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life.’ He paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you had in mind when you talked of a possible job in here. I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it, miss it sorely; this is now my city, my home so to say. Nevertheless,’ he paused again.
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly as he was wont to. ‘Anyhow, I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot of the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away. Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend. The train was now advancing fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as they passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact has disappeared), now stopped short. A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, as if about to grab a hand and kiss it –‘bye Luis!- just an instant. A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time imagined he was still seeing his comrade’s handsome face glued to the window-pane, in the distance, and the tears welling abundantly out of his large black eyes. Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects, and the places and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land! - that district so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, the walks we took together of a Saturday to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck!
fg.izquierdo@yayoo.es

New Australians Dream
Fernando García Izquierdo

In my time migration meant crossing the ocean on a liner, and once the journey completed, having arrived in a new country, you settled there for good. This did not necessarily mean that you did not come back to the old country at all. But going back remained a sporadic experience which only a few enjoyed.
As a rule migrants are workers who remain at the bottom of the social scale and waste no time in travelling about for the sake of visiting places or similar considerations; the more so as finding employment in the new country is easy, and that was what the migrant went looking for in the first place. There is no need or inclination to cease working and leave the new country for some time in order to waft on the blue surface just to carry out some sentimental design. It would take too much time. For this kind of journey was always done then by sea. ‘The sails were filled, and fair the light winds blew,’ as the poet said.
Of course, there are always exceptions, for there have been among the migrants those who changed their minds, in the course of time, ‘and then of his wish to roam repented he.’ They are called returning migrants. Their story is easily told. There are two parts in the adventure, quite distinct from one another, and yet the migrant experiences each time the same suffering. One goes out looking for a promised paradise and, still doubtful, comes back, and always finds that, ‘In his bosom slept the silent thought.’ Going out and coming back, both times, the plight is identical: homesickness. For migrants must always feel homesick, some more and some less, but always there is that silent thought. Strange though it may sound, the place of abundance which disgruntled New Australians railed about then, is now sorely missed when back home. An inescapable longing is always there, deep in your heart: when first settling and when returning home. That feeling of regret, that ever fear of an approaching storm, which you felt Down Under then and you feel again back home. One cannot escape regretting now to have abandoned that generous new country, those people who came to be part of your existence in the course of time.
Whatever then is that homesickness feeling? It is an attachment. All living beings feel attached to the earth, the land on which they live and which nourishes them, Earth-creatures one and all. And it follows that when you roam about, away from home, and settle down in a new country, crossing mountains, deserts and seas (and then repeat the experience) you always lose something and gain something. Eternal Matter, destroyer and preserver. You knock about, you cut your roots and grow new ones. That is life. No need to panic. ‘Nor from his lips did come one word of wail, while others sate and wept.’ (Byron)’.
*
There is an awful whining noise to the left and to the right, on and off and on again; Galvao can plainly hear the parasitic elements, though only dimly glimpse their presence: to the left, to the right, persistent, stubborn. ‘Basta!’
A world of visions and sounds, a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of matter, mingling up together in his mind. Then a new sudden brutal noise is heard. He opens his eyes. The dead of night. Then light again.
At length Luis Galvao sits up, moves slightly on the side of the bed, his feet on the carpet and his elbows on his knees. There is a ray of light in the room, which otherwise is surrounded by darkness. A door opens. The figure of a woman. And all turns into nothingness. He feels so weak that he lies down again, closes his eyes, opens them towards the line of light; the image of a woman persists, holding the doorhandle, and the vision vanishes; only the wailing of mosquitoes remains. ‘Is it you, Margaret? where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’
Deep in his soul that ghostly presence remains. The night, that line of light, that mysterious image, a woman. Not for me! Why, what tender secret dwells in my heart? Am I very ill? If you see me why is your heart not responsive to my call? There is no life anymore for me without you. I am suffering, my angel, don’t go, wait! I’ve sought you so dearly, Margaret. And you did come to stay, and next moment were gone. Can it be true, my dearest, gone?
And then that narrow strip of light again, shining from top to bottom when the door opens wide, and the shadow this time of a little woman approaching.
But he is suddenly forced to close his eyes tight, for the room is flooded with sunlight. He can make neither head nor tail of what is happening. He manages at length to stand up and lurches towards the window; resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill he looks out. The clear sky, the dark outline of a large tree far away, the wooden palings and somewhat nearer the roof of a shed full of tools, an outside toilet; a rusty old car without tires, and nearer still two perlargonium plants, one on either side of the yard growing against the palings separating this property from the neighbours’.
No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!
He turns back jerking his way once more towards the bed. Except that he is too weak to go on; he rests his hands on a dressing-table with medicines and other things. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror, himself. But oh! he looks so thin and old and haggard. He cannot believe his eyes. Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if he were about to grow a beard.
‘Bless my soul!’ he hears a call, someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. Then, turning round and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened? Am I ill? What does this all mean?’
His friend also takes a seat, hard by. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; but you of course know that already, I guess. Now let me look at you,’ he adds, gently getting hold of his friend’s unshaven chin. ‘You’re fair dinkum now, my boy, I assure you.’
‘Tell me,’ Luis goes on, standing up and trudging to his bed, ‘what’s wrong with me? Am I dreaming? I’ve seen so many things… and I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence for he has thrown himself back on the bed. ‘I simply don’t understand. What kind of illness?’ he wails. ‘Why… why am I a different type of man, not like the…?’
‘Not an ordinary mortal, you mean? We all are different, my boy.’
‘I’ve been seeing… oh, terrible places, you know… fantastic winding streets, up and down all the time. A never-seen-or-imagined labyrinth, ah, ah!!’ Luis has laid the palms of both hands on his face, his head back upon the pillow.
‘Surry Hills, you’ve seen. Perfectly natural.’
‘Natural, you say. I’ve seen a temple full of Spaniards. Then, without knowing why or wherefrom, it was full of Italians…and… and it wasn’t true.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘I wasn’t there. I was nowhere. Alone and fainting away. Yet jerking on and on. When I came to, well, I was going down those stone steps, remember? and without you… we had gone to mass together, hadn’t we?’
‘Sorry, Luis, I’m sorry.’ Manuel said, getting red in the face.
‘Why was I coming out of… sacred mass? I never go to church. Oh, I felt so weak! First sitting on a bench… and in the same instant Italians were pouring out of the Spanish church. Am I not telling the truth? I turned round and round, hoping to see you, Manuel. Nobody! Now could you, could somebody tell me what happened?’ Luis cried, ‘Oh, I am always alone.’
‘You must calm down,’ said Manuel, full of compassion, ‘and stop, amigo, feeling sorry for yourself. As for myself, believe me, I feel so sorry.’ He touched his friend.
For a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, sitting on a chair. ‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. Maureen Kirilenko, she introduced herself, I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez, she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Eventually, thank your secretary,’ repeats Manuel. ‘Forget the rest.’
‘Good heavens!’ Luis exclaimed, sitting up and once more hiding his face in his hands. ‘Gosh, gosh! A world of madness and visions, that is it… what I saw.’
‘’I see you’re crying, oh dear!’’ says Manuel, and after a pause, ‘’Luis, as I’ve already pointed out, you’ve been poorly, very much so; in the true meaning of the word poorly. Hospitalised. And you must now try to get better, absolutely. What I say to you at this moment of time is, calm down! Now, if you ask me, have I been delirious, I’ll answer you, correct, most of the time. I mean, most of the time you’ve been here, which is as far as my personal knowledge goes. But don’t distress yourself. You’re getting better.’
‘But please, tell me. What on earth does this all mean, I’ve never, I’ve never…’
‘Stop speculating. It doesn’t matter now. It wasn’t your fault. What I mean to say, that’s what happens, most of the time, my dear pretty boy. Visions you say. You’re too keen, always observing, ready to criticise everything. No good, amigo. And you were exhausted. Again, sorry I took you to Surry Hills.’
Manuel, who had got rather nervous, went on for a few more minutes, but his friend, quite typically, was not listening.
‘But I must know,’ he said. ‘Manuel, have I gone crazy… an attack of madness? Callan Park? For how long… I mean how many days or weeks have I been…? What’s the date?’

‘Hold your tongue, my dear, will you? Ta, ta, ta, ta! I’m quite willing to answer all those questions, but all in good time. You’re getting excited, poor Luis, so very nervous, to start with. Now, that won’t do, you know. High blood pressure, that sort of thing. And you don’t know the troubles we’ve gone into, in order to reduce that temperature. Besides, I’ve many important things to communicate. About the date, by the by,’ Manuel said, standing up, ‘today’s the seventh of April of a most delicious Indian summer afternoon of 1959. Wait! You now rest for a while. I’ll come back.’
Manuel hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand. ‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. Visions you say. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among the things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’ He handed an airmail letter to his friend.
Luis, who had seen where the letter came from, opened the envelope with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh. ‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’
‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959. Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go out of curiosity to the old flat afterwards, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. For it happened that a former colleague – not that one I went to visit, but another one - now rents the flat, our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954! But going back now, dearest love, to that day I spent in London, I went to Green Street, yes, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course. Anyhow, all is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief those days of bad memory in Madrid. In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall never forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you! They hated, the savage fascist regime, the fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret?… the hazards of history maybe, oh, poor enslaved country! but even if horrible things had come to pass, they both had been wounded and he had thought he’d lost her for ever… Oh love!
… she is coming. Oh, Margaret! What a long separation. Taken away by the civil guards; I saw she was screaming: ‘Luis, Luis, do not abandon me!’ And I was in chains, and then in jail, the Blue Mediterranean, that castle and always the furious sea battering the rocks: only the cormorant was flying free, up to his barred window sometimes.
… oh my adorable sweetheart! you and me again together. The old dear images will come to life. Our encounter, that first afternoon in the lorry which took us to the volunteer agricultural camp; our arrival in the camp at the same time as another lorry coming from Newcastle, students from Uppsala, so blond, the girls’ long hair fluttering in the evening breeze.

… Yorkshire, that moonlight night on the grass, near an abandoned canal, our first kiss, and our first glorious moments of complete unalloyed happiness. That summer ’53.
… and those walks in the streets of old Madrid, about three years later. In ‘la Puerta del Sol’, celebrating the birth of 1956. That long walk in the narrow streets and alleyways, ‘la Taberna del Sordo’, a pasodoble. ‘You can’t dance.’
… a few days later, the demonstrations against the regime, starting in the law faculty, the riots that followed in town. ‘La Plaza de la Moncloa’, that June 1956. Oh, Margaret, they were taking you away! I could do nothing but weep, my angel.
‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. I knew I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly? I’m dying to hear those wonderful words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we? your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together. As you’re getting better, let’s talk a little longer.’’
‘’I’m quite ready,’’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘’By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point unless she comes soon I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’’
‘’Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’’
‘’Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’’
‘’You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your exclamations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your mama ever tell you?’’
‘’But then, I mean… what?’’
‘’Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘’Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things have been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather in a sad tone; then, he went on in a sing-song tone of voice. Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill.’’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied. ‘Such as?’’
‘’Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet! Now, what d’you say to that?’’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’’
‘’Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the Csiro. Yes, a good job, absolutely, and… I’m leaving for the outback. That’s what I mean.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’’
Manuel got hold with one hand of his chair, between his legs, and drew nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody, Luis said, ‘and you deserve it. How shameful of me, selfish all right, to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid! Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend looked at him, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on that Saturday at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’’ He drew nearer, sitting on the side of bed with his feet on the carpet.
‘’Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Dark surrounds him but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him. Only the wailing of the parasitic elements left: this way and that, coming and going. The dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I?’
‘Of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty, merry and for her age quite young and pretty. She takes his wrist in her hand and after a moment declares, in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly. Quite a healthy person, one can see.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well he’s treated you. With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better soon.’ She smiles, and there was a grain of irony in her voice. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, washing you, helping you…’
At that Manuel came in. ‘… to pass motion, changing pyjamas once a day,’ he cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body, dear boy, that sort of thing.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and ironically.
‘I know. He told me all, yes! this wonderful fellow, here,’ Luis Galvao said, then wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about her,’ Manuel said, and now turning to point his inverted hand at her, ‘my dear Melina, married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you. The days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘You had better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I have done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head-bed.
‘And about you making up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had wanted to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense, my dear. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. For she was obviously a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently and fearlessly (one could see that.) Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. Melina must have been at least six years older and the mother of five. ‘Attractive all right, all the same… never seen him interested in women.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth; her eyes large and vivacious.
‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He was thinking of his friend and the landlady, wondering in his mind whether there could exist an affair between the two; and he tried to anwer his own question. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ He knew, because his friend had told him, that he was the eldest of a numerous family, and that his Castillian mother (he came from the same province as Galvao) was like this Greek woman, belle, small and hardworking; as indeed was Luis’s own mother and most women in Spain at that time.
The day before the doctor had found Galvao so well that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one now had to add Manuel Suárez, who stayed all day long at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new Csiro post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head. He thought of Margaret’s letter and, by a series of interrelated ideas, came to think of Malgorata as well.
… that first night coming home from the Pyrmont Hotel, about a year ago; how he had found her alone, so different from the flaxen-haired person who had opened the door of the house to him two days earlier. Still despondent-looking, but beautiful. He had thought he was seeing his own English sweetheart.
He was awakened by a noise. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. There she was, entering the room. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid.
The rays of a late autumn sun were flooding into the room. Melina left Galvao’s breakfast on his knees and moved about, tidying the place. He followed her with his eyes. She looked tired and haggard this morning.
Just at that moment Manuel came in, bouncing and smiling . ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, somewhat maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office! Remember who is wafting across the seas, and we know you, my dear, an indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers, yellow in the centre. With plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe it,’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding her pretty hand in his.
It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of electricians in charge of building and repairing the lines somewhere. He entered the room when Melina was winning the fight. This was received with much applause from the husband.

The three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went to the window and began arranging things that side of the room. She folded in the corner a stretcher which had been there for some days and was no longer needed.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies and subsequent application (to the Csiro) as a researcher, Manuel had been waiting for the moment he would be called to start the job and spent nearly all day at home, helping Melina in the cleaning and cooking, taking sometimes the two young boys to the school and playing the rest of the time with the two toddlers when they were not asleep. When Dimitri was there, and there was some repair work to do, the two stayed together working, talking and smoking. As the bad weather was approaching, they tried to do some work outside, on the roof, or in the garden generally. There was always in the backyard (sometimes in the house too) an array of empty glasses and bottles of beer, which the poor wife had to collect later and wash or throw into the dustbin outside, in the yard.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances one would have thought were competing for the same woman. In fact they were working together like two mates. The poor outside observer, always trying to put meaning to things and reasons for the conduct of humans, could not come out of his astonishment. What was going in the old house of Harris Street? If that Polish woman, friend of Malgorata’s, who then lived in the street, had still been there, he would have gone and obtained her considered opinion. But Silwia, he was informed, had married a Hungarian widower, a dancing master, and was now living in Glebe.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. Melina had taken the younger boys to school, while the little girls were still asleep; as for the eldest Becosipopulos boy, he had gone to school by bus before eight
So the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, as in the old days. When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which she cleverly turned into an enquiry about the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. The property and its inhabitants. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was a great artist. She had heard (she said) she was playing the violin in Riga. The three spent the morning in continuous conversation, interchanging individual knowledge, for Melina seemed to know everything. At times the two set to effecting domestic chores in the kitchen and the adjoining laundry while the talking went on. Luis Galvao watched from his seat. The old copper-boiler was gone and in its stead there was a modern electric washing machine, and there was in a corner a cabin for a shower.
Manuel was doing the washing and Melina, who was helping, got red and suffocated, specially around the cheeks and nose. She took a rest and leaned against a wall, outside the laundry. Manuel quite solicitous came to offer his help. But she ran away and again was springing about.
‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ Manuel asked, approaching his friend.
‘Sure,’ is all an embarrassed Galvao could reply.
For she had heard and was coming along pulling pinafore and skirt more tightly down on her attractive plump body.
‘Tell me about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? Now you tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia. Have you heard from Heribert, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would had thought, so glad to return home! If only to tell how well he was faring. Don’t they say, Deutschland Überalles? Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected. Disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, bit your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘Arriving Sydney SSArcadia twentyfour May stop love Margaret’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she was touching him, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse; as she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her pass and take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartly.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm of the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the back door.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However he did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair. As he looked around, he recognised the old place, all changed. The sofa where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objets were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which, as there was some wind that day and the window was open, were ballooning in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and on the backgound the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down the littlest ones of the family, hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising tiny eager hands. Galvao picked up the rosy things and sat each on one knee. He told them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little twins scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room. The elder boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him whether he missed the old country at all, a question he had already asked on a previous occasion. In the end he left the boy to his studies and went back to his chair. The two other boys came up wanting, as well, to be told stories. Until they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot of eating and drinking, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed with surprise that everybody talked and laughed, inclusive the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised he was no longer used to contacting people, specially children, and was sorry for the change. Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected; neither did he smile or laugh as before; indeed, compared to what he had been just a moment before in the kitchen with the lady, Luis would have sworn his friend was rather sad and confused.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, along New South Head Road, towards The Gap, a cliff facing the ocean. The two friends found a place to park the car and then wandered in some scrubland; they walked in the end along a very narrow path and sat on the buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. As the other was not looking and in fact seemed to be very sad, Luis fell into solitary meditation gazing at the prospect, right and left: miles of cliffs and long sandy beaches.

… the advancing headlands looked more and more diffuse each time, as he extended his angle of vision, until in the end they were just like vertical pencilled strokes in the misty distance.
… at sea, towards the horizon, the white tops of innumerable rolling waves, coming to break against the large boulders on the shoreline down below, spattering foam in every direction; and simultaneously an awful thumping sound that seemed to increase the emptiness and threat of the black mass of rocks at his feet. As the afternoon advanced, the shadows along the coast became more profound, the darkness in the holes and caverns down below more complete.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky layer some twenty yards away from the cliff barrier. ‘I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel said with a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I know. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then.’
‘Let me show you something else, first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the dark blue mass of water all around.’ He stood up. ‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction, seeing the lovely sweeping surf beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, as if you just have to step back, jump over and go down and fly, fly… and become eternal.’ He stopped short, becoming more natural: ‘Now, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, moving away and sitting on the grass further on. The other joined him, and he went on: ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s happened to your hair in the short time since I went back to Kirribilli? I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours was always so beautifully black, and now, all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, sitting down heavily, near his friend. ‘Have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘But when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking. No need to get so angry, man.’
‘I can’t put up with this. Now that I change my appearance! This is insufferable. Stop it! And don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’ Manuel exclaimed in a squeaky voice. ‘An angry man is what I am. This is unbearable! Now, is this why you asked me to come out for a drive with you?’ And as the other, to pacify him, kept quiet, he added, raising his voice: ‘Hell, I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty.’
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it. His friend was nearly three years older than himself.
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘I agree, but you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright?’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Common, explain.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, and pursued, half jokingly: ‘Morgan’s Pomade, of course. I’ve been using it for years. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied. ‘But I had to give it up, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. You cruel boy, wait until I dye it again.’
‘Why, I thought… Haven’t you just said you are not going to use that pomade any more, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid! I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by, swaying and cooing. His gaze fixed on two of them as they soared up into the darkening sky, he opened his mouth… he closed it. He was again lost in thought. Margaret was coming!
The two friends stood apart on the rocky platform overhanging the sea. For they were concentrated on their own thoughts. For a while neither of them spoke. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were fixed on the distance. Again, he watched the unbound ocean, furious and rather dark, the clearer foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering in the last rays of sunlight… and the horizon.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence. He heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth you were saying. What a life! Laughs and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals, those long walks in the avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria, the interesting chats. You say,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you. How can you not remember… forget? So many friends lost, real friendship. Not now. When you are young and struggling to get a profession, studying. Now tell me, my boy, can there be a substitute for that? We talked and laughed, and loved one another, living together.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved,’ Luis echoed, ‘and then… Apart he stalked in joyful reverie… and from his native land resolved to go… and visit scorching climes beyond the sea…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Ha, ha! Byron, my friend!’ Luis exclaimed, somewhat sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, sweet home gone!’
‘University pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land. We met overhere… New Australians.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more.
‘Irretrievably is the word.’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a brief pause.’ We were going to change the world. All finished now. And where has our youth gone? Oh, what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, that’s what you’ve said. What have I done for you? Always the same, dear Luis. What I did, what you did, how awfully commercial you are.’
‘Why, I am not,’ Luis defended himself,’ materialistic.’
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, silvery and green.

The cliff was now full of gulls and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge all kinds of marine birds were seen, all filling the air with their cries and horrible screeches, so that it came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another. They started to feel the chill of the evening.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ Manuel concluded, in a tone of carelessness. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road towards Woolloomooloo and could already see the light of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat.
‘My dear Luis,’ he heard all of a sudden, ‘did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then, overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, you mean,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘You know there were very few female students. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts faculty, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, trying to reply the question, ‘a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. Son of a civil servant. I took her once to the cinema and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you? Did you have a sweetheart… in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis knew he had made a mistake. He was entering the city, the lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you?’ Manuel sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay. Eh bien, two years earlier, I had to esape. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. I wouldn’t go to jail so I ran away for all I was worth, a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already,’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. I’ll be okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… he thought of the days when he was a young man in Madrid. His friend, Bustamante pulling him by the arm, called: ‘Look! Read! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ Last term at the law faculty. Vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps in England for Foreign students. Not enough farmhands in the land. Many had died at war. Others had left for the factories in towns.
… he dreams of those days, Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls. That walk with Margaret along an abandoned canal, resulting in their making love on the grass In the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed him to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of a piano, and then the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solvej’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I love it, but I know nothing about music, my love.

… and just as he is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting on her course towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. Many fluttering figures overcrowding the decks, coming migrants, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… ‘Oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’
… two red-and-black tugs, now pulling the liner, their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. Sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, Margaret is one of the number!’
… and he finds himself clinging to the metal barrier. The words ‘Custom House’ on the building beyond the fence. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable girl! Oh, you have never been more beautiful.
… he feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches trying to wave, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. A glimpse of the beloved one now makes him recover all his former optimism. ‘Margaret!’
… she is coming, my precious, she is in my arms and we are kissing, and we love one another so. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply, already in his embrace. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really way and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed. Noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe; and where they had met again, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists, specially in veterinary science. I thought you might feel lonely over in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are one-to-ten that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our species,’ Manuel said, becoming tragic. ‘Homo sapiens, indeed! This here country of ours will be the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, wars, all that sort of thing, understand?, and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life of some species out there. Anyhow, in the outback or bush…’
‘There are sturdy trees and animals,’ Luis muttered. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life!’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to invest whatever I can of my own little person in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever is worth preserving, and which is quickly disappearing… too quickly. Yes, my good pal, there’s a great opportunity awaiting me out there.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here…’
‘Well, in La Perousse you can…’
‘And, what’s the use of coming Down Under, of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land already – say – thirteen thousand years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘Yes, Abbos and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel without looking; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, what bright boys, the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind? Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs, ‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, dear Luis,’’ Manuel went on after a pause, ‘’have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll send me one from every port of call,’’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those changes of mood in Manuel’s character which his friend had not noticed before, a sort of ingrained sadness.
‘Lucky fellow,’ he heard him say, receiving a friendly pat on his shoulder, and again detected a marked tinge of sadness in his voice. ‘Yes, you are fortunate, smart boy. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most, the ocean) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do. And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he went on, nevertheless, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… why don’t you too. Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manuel, a boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chap I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed, and then said: ‘’I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen I’m very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing,’ he sighed; ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Perhaps, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart? Impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of that subject! What’s the use?’ Luis had also stood up; they approached the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the suitcases to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from the restaurant.
They entered the station and found the platform. It was an exceptionally chilly night at the end of April, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a gabardine and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and in passing to detract attention from his greying hair. Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again. By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist, got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘’Manuel,’’ said Luis somewhat didactically and quite impertinently, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘’in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’’
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing. In the approaching evening, he rather looked like an American star (in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon light of the platform ‘A Humphrey Bogart,’ Luis thought, ‘in the mysterious misty night of that film.’
‘Well, Manuel?’ he asked hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder. ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Sure I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Is that what you’ve asked? I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… Who knows.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his and pressing it with love.
‘Well, yes. Somehow… if one works…’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, recognition as you say.’
‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ Manuel began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life.’ He paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you had in mind when you talked of a possible job in here. I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it, miss it sorely; this is now my city, my home so to say. Nevertheless,’ he paused again.
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly as he was wont to. ‘Anyhow, I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot of the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away. Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend. The train was now advancing fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as they passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact has disappeared), now stopped short. A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, as if about to grab a hand and kiss it –‘bye Luis!- just an instant. A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time imagined he was still seeing his comrade’s handsome face glued to the window-pane, in the distance, and the tears welling abundantly out of his large black eyes. Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects, and the places and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land! - that district so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, the walks we took together of a Saturday to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck!
fg.izquierdo@yayoo.es

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