And a new life was just commencing
A new migrant in Australia finds air pollution, arrives in Ultimo, a poor Sydney suburb. He had left his wife in Europe and now repents. An intellectual obliged to accept manual work, he is a macho Spaniard, fails to find his place in new country.
And a new life was just commencing
Fernando García Izquierdo
On the expressway, and in his mind, the sound of twenty thousand vehicles on the move broke the great stillness, with the unbearable accompanying heat, the smell of gas, the taste of pollution, his sweating brow and hidden anguish. “I don’t belong!” he cries.
Overhead he sees the infinite blue expanse, tries to breathe and thinks again. “It all was different back home.” A more genuine azure. He fixes his eyes on the rocks, the silky white seagulls, the prussian blue of the ocean, that magic swirl with streaks of green and white and black. And all those flocks of maritime birds he sees crossing the sky, and other birds resting on the weedcovered rocks.
When the taxi enters the Royal Botanic Gardens, always on the same expressway (which now goes on underground) Luis Garsao catches sight of a platinum blonde who looks at him when their two cabs travel parallel. He gets agitated, moves his hands, calls to the girl, but the driver has closed the windows and it serves no purpose to shout. The vision has vanished, and the sun blinds him, besides, when the taxi comes out of the tunnel. The traffic seems to have doubled in no time, simply by spontaneouus generation; he covers his eyes with two hands, like crying in infinite solitude, and when he opens them once again, always complaining and making comparations, the taxi and a few hundred cars more are scudding towards the city of Sydney.
At length, in his cab, with another hundred vehicles, he reaches what appears to be an important thoroughfare. Luis leans forward to ask the driver: “Are we well on our way?”
A stupid question, of course, but even so he expects a reply. He is a newly arrived migrant, and wants to know, seeks company, warmth and sociability. On the other hand, motorcars. There was the lark! Was not cars one of the things that had made him choose Australia, rather than emigrating to Venezuela or Argentina, as most Spaniards did? For it was well known that, after the two North American countries, Australia was the country with proportionally more people owning their own cars, in some cases two for each family.
Not having received a reply, Luis looks at the cab-driver, an elderly man. By instinct Garsao is an outside observer, not personal. Though he is rather taciturn, he would like to communicate with his fellow human beings. Sometime ago, he was a talkative man. But if he should now have to shut his mug, he will have to adapt himself to the circumstances. He is now twenty-eight. Another twenty-eight years, and he will already be an old man.
“Strange, all the same!” he says aloud, not exactly knowing what he means, why the driver does not answer or give the slightest sign of having heard. “Very well,” he thinks, shrugging his shoulders, “it’s all one to me.”
It is only the second time he has been in the city, at which he now looks in admiration. Sydney, with its combination of old and new: houses of an ancient colonial epoch and skyscrapers with glass façades; and not many people knocking about. He recalls that the previous time, he slept one night, precisely on this spot, in a massive, square cheap hotel called The People’s Palace. But on that occasion the place was full of people; cars and double-decker buses clogged the roads, the pavements and alleyways were full of people, little barrows with kiwis from New Zealand, pine-apples from Queensland: the newspaper-boys shouted “A M’RNIN ‘ERALD…
”What has happened? On a Sunday and nothing doing. Overthere in cities and towns on Sunday always great joy, tumult, festivity and love.
The taxi goes on along a series of commercial avenues and Luis again thinks of asking the driver for information. What was that and that? What was the meaning of that monument, tower, statue, that large restaurant with stylised drawings of dames with parasols, AUSTRALIAN AND CHINESE MEALS. Everywhere in shop-windows and passage-ways he always sees the same sign, hanging everywhere: CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED.
“Dreadful solitude,” he remarks, again leaning forward, but now no longer expects to hear the man say anything. A few years ago, living in London, he had already observed that the English did not display on Sunday as much exuberance as the Spaniards, but this was worse. “Hell!” he says, “how come I’ve stubbornly been trying for the last half an hour to exchange some thoughts with this old driver, to no avail; shut-up is the word!”
However, he does not learn. He sees some people trailing along. “Is that the Protestant or the Catholic Cathedral?” he asks?.
The old fellow does not give the slightest sign of having heard. Luis resumes his watch of the street. He refuses to accept that his isolation is due to his bad English accent.
“I’m a foreigner,” he says, apologetically.
“Ye’re not a foreigner, sir,” the other says. “New Australian’s what you are.” The man has spoken. Luis fails to understand and gets depressed, trying to hide his anger with a sneer, but the taxi-driver is not looking. Luis Garsao follows the shadow of a man strolling on the pavement. He feels the stroller is a migrant like himself.
All the commercial avenues seem to be together in this city, or very near one another; the department stores being near to each other; the impression in Garsao’s mind is one of tremendous waste, rather than wealth. And so much display of neon light, for only the odd staggerer you see from time to time. Such a very big show of electricity, on one side and the other of the street. He tries to read the unfamiliar names, STERN’S, NOCK & KIRBY’S, BEARD WATSON, WOOLWORTH, DAVID JONES’, BEBARFALDS’, ANTHONY HORDEN’S…
A sudden jerk, and he is flung forward. “Look out, bastard!” he hears the driver, and sees an individual lurching drunkenly in front of the car, then edging in and out of the traffic.
“So very drunk,” comments Luis rather for the sake of saying something. “And on the Day of the Lord, too!”
At a tram-stop he sees a bearded young man trying to light a cigarette. Then a pretty platinum–blonde leaning her back against a large hoarding with the figure of a cowboy, SMOKE A MARLBORO. Some cypress trees in the precinct of a protestant church, JESUS IS LIGHT, and a little old lady stepping on the gravel-walk, holding her bonnet with both hands. In effect, the weather seems to have changed and now it is very windy. After a while, the cab takes a right turn, and they enter a district of winding lanes and alleyways, a confused muddle of narrow houses with here and there an open shop, a small dark creature, squatting inside in the twilight.
A glimpse now of a lonesome young woman at the window of a Chinese coffee-house, gazing at the traffic. “Oh dear, dear! what’s amiss my pretty maid? Shall I come down and kiss that charming frown?” It is hot and there are very few places with shade.
Loneliness more than ever is now invading his soul. He knows he is no longer in the city, and instinctively addresses himself to any girl he sees on the streets. Always with the heart of an exile, today with the conscience that it serves no purpose to fight against fascism and for change. He feels this specially as he passes by a long fence ornamented with grafitti, REFFOS GO HOME, NO MORE MIGRANTS… as well as some bills pasted over electoral propaganda, COMMIES OUT!
“Harris Street!” he hears a grunt. “Where shall I drop you?”
His heart sinks as he beholds the deserted street, the miserable dwellings and the filth, stray dogs passing by and cats under parked cars, an overturned garbage bin, some coils of dust and all the Sunday papers twisting and twirling in the wind as if performing a ritual dance.
“Pray, drive slowly,” he answers, “I have an idea it must be one of those houses.”
“I’ll drop ye by them houses,” the man says, and without waiting for a reply he brings the car to a standstill and looks round. Garsao pays him. They both alight. The driver opens the boot and waits. Slowly, wearily Garsao gets hold of his cases and moves on, while the other gets back into his cab and drives away.
It may be only an impression, but to him the houses look shabby. Built in a row, with no front garden or area railing, they would have resembled the wall of an old fortress but for the windows and doors and the portion of roof that can be seen from the pavement. No name or number anywhere, for wherever there is a brassplate or engraving, the message is half-obliterated by the weather. The doors are black or dark-green or maybe navy-blue; the paint is too old to tell. In every house a dusty sash-window by the door and two more upstairs of same shape and just as dusty. A rusty iron pipe from the roof to the ground separates each dwelling from the next: in some places this pipe is altogether gone, leaving a brown vertical stain in its stead. The flower-pots still standing on the window-sills are empty, or with some soil or mere dirt oozing out through the cracks.
“Hullo!” he cries. Something is moving over there at the entrance of the corner store. They may be able to help. But no, only a sheet of wrapping paper floating in a whirlwind by the double glass-door. Hanging within from a colourless rubber sucker there is a notice, NOW OPEN. He gives a scornful laugh: someone forgot to turn the notice round when they closed the shop for the weekend.
Leaving the cases in the middle of the pavement he approaches the store, presses his nose against the glass, between two stickers advertising some goods, and peeps inside. A film of dust seems to cover the lot, from the packets of breakfast cereals and jars of jam and bottles of cordial on the shelves to the brooms and kitchen utensils on the floor. There is a tin-and-copper cash register and a multitude of little wicker baskets with commodities on the counter. The whole place looks untidy, positively dirty and seemingly abandoned for good.
He steps back, still gazing, sees his reflexion on the glass door: unkempt and haggard, dark, bespectacled, weak. Torture in Franco’s jails and now nearly two years on the run have impressed a heavy toll upon his previously elegant appearance, and he knows it.
Of a sudden, just as he bends down to pick up his cases, he hears an angry voice. “Hey! Wot can I do fer ye?” On the protruding balcony above the store, half-hidden by a weather-beaten board of VINCENT’S WITH CONFIDENCE, two rows of rotten teeth. “Sye, wot d’ye bloody want?” The wind has died down, and a few isolated drops of rain now fall on Galvao’s glasses as he mumbles: “Madam, can…. could you tell me if…”
The ugly creature cuts him short. “Chrissake! Can’t mike out wot th’hell you’s sayin’!” and disappears, producing a sound like the rattling of glass in a disjointed window.
Extremely tired and depressed he limps on along the row of houses, hoping to see someone gazing out. Suddenly he catches sight of a pair of castanets hanging from the latch of one of the sash-windows, inside. Decidedly he goes to the door, plies the knocker. Nothing happens. On the neighbouring cottage, the door opens, and a pleasant young woman appears one moment, then disappears. And he is left alone.
It is not that there are no people at all in the street; it is rather that he feels so lonely that he fails to see. For suddenly something happens he sees as a pure miracle: the door, which would not open when he plied the knocker, opens and a platinunm blond head peeps out.
“Excuse me, I am looking for a Spaniard called Man…”
The vision vanishes without uttering a word. Pushing the door open Luis steps inside. In the twilight of the small corridor he sees an army jacket and a steel helmet hanging on the wall. There is an archway at the end of the passage and a subdued bluish light coming from the room beyond. Suddenly the sound of a rifle shot is heard, and as he crosses the threshold he perceives a queer acrid smell. Two men are sprawling in armchairs; next to them sits the female who opened the door, as quiet and still as if she had never moved from her stool.
“Manuel!” Luis Garsao calls in a whisper.
One of the men turns to look round and stands up. Just then another rifle shot is heard. The man stands still for a moment, watching the scene on the set with great attention, then comes to Garsao. “Aha! Here you are at last.” He gets hold of one of the suitcases and motions with his eyes to a flight of steps by the passage. Sitting at the foot of the stairs appears an awfully large figure. “Sorry!” Garsao mutters, stumbling. But the figure does not stir: only his jaws seem to be active. The newcomer perceives two fatty fingers going in and out of a paper cone from where that weird smell he noticed as he entered emanates.
“What do you bring in here?” Manuel asks, proceeding upstairs.
“Nothing, some books.”
The two men stop at the landing. Manuel opens a door and they pass into a badly-aired room with a bed and some other small pieces of furniture. Manuel opens the window.
“Well, dear,” he says, touching Garsao’s cheek. “I hope you like it.”
Then both sit down on the bed, to talk. “Yes, I like it here” says Luis, not too convincingly. “Who is the lady by the T.V.?”
“She‘s his wife. The landlord’s, you’ve seen him, too, also watching.”
“The landlord? I thought the property…, why, you told me that… that I could lodge at your house.”
‘’Did I though? Now, as I recall it, what I told you, when I’d the pleasure of making your acquaintance at the York Street Labour Exchange, was that, assuming you’d nowhere else to go, I knew of a very cheap place, my own house: that is, the place where I lodge. Though if you really want to know, I manage the place for him. You shall know why by and by. It doesn’t affect you, old chap, either way.”
Manuel has said all this with great affectation, showing his white teeth, and smoothing now and then his Brylcreemed hair with the palm of his hand. He now stands up and goes to the door to switch the light on. Coming back he sits beside his friend. ‘’Come on,’’ he says, laying one of his hands on Garsao’s knee. “Don’t pull such a face, or you’ll no longer look pretty.”
Luis moves so that Manuel’s hand slips off. “It will do for the time being,” he mutters without looking; for he is polishing his glasses with his handkerchief. “And the other one?”
The one with the fish and chips?”
“Oh! the dear,” Manuel says smiling, “Nino doesn’t live here. He’s the greengrocer’s boy round the corner. Comes to watch television.”
“I see,” Garsao mutters. He has been observing the small room all around, and his eyes are now fixed on a framed snap on the wall. “Is he a weight-lifter?” he asks.
“That’s not him.”
“Oh, dear! No. I’ll take it with me, when I go.”
For some reason Luis has, all the time in the house, been getting nervous. The conversation has little by little come to a halt. At length, Manuel stands up “Now, you’ll excuse me…. the Sunday programme, you know?”
“Of course, of course,” Garsao answers, also standing up.
As soon as Manuel had taken his leave, Luis threw himself down on the bed, rested his head on one arm on the pillow and remained still for a long while, watching the murky sky outside. It had begun to rain and the water was producing a pattering noise on the corrugated-iron roof, not unlike the rattling of a machine gun. The light was off and as Luis gazed out into the dark, images from the past came vividly back to him.
His fight against fascism, the impression now that all his friends had laughed at him for not learning how to adapt himself to circumstances, those defeats he could have avoided, the months spent in Cadiz Jail, his having caused his father so much suffering – he had set so much store on his Luis.
And all the others, too, had suffered; his poor mother, who used to say: “¡Oh Luis, mi Luisito, tú eras un niño tan guapo!” Handsome! Religious! Good!
No longer! A changed man. And that while all the others around him…on the contrary, adapted themselves, bent their heads, sought for comfort. “Un puesto en la Administración.” Oh, Dear Dad!
The rain, the rattling on the roof, thunder in the distance now and then, the hooting of a boat in the harbour. He gets up to lower the sash, for the rain is coming in through the window. And he goes back to bed.
In his dream he saw “los Altos de Miranda”, with Miguel, two big boys, on a crowded tram going to the Piquio Gardens and the sea. Father had become Santander Gobernador’s bodyguard, and the family was spending the summer in that important port of the North, profiting from all kinds of advantages… and fascism.
“No, no!I did not want to do it,”, someone cried, coming in.
He woke up. “But… but !” he cries aloud. “I did want to do it!” somebody mumbled back.
A simple reverie! That his country was suffering, under the awful shadow of fascism. Oh, sad hour! And he enjoying a good easy life in the wonderful country of Australia.
“That I should have given up the fight so soon! And now a run-away seeking shelter in foreign parts.”
…an exile, without a proper name. Bah! Who cares about me? at any rate, that better world I sought has turned out to be a fallacy, for me, only this solitude is real. A professional revolutionary once, an escapee, then, a migrant, refugee, what?
… rather a poor man with recollections of those younger years, when I believed in a revolution that never came or which I failed utterly to understand. “O, Mister Gershow, come this way, you’ll like it!” And Garsao has come. Only fears and regrets are left.
He was awakened by some strange noises like the recital of a prayer right under his bed. It turned out to be a conversation between a man and a woman in the room below in a language he did not understand.
There was a beam of light coming from a chink in the wooden floor and it was through this chink that the sound of voices filtered in. It was the man who did most of the talking, an old shaky voice, while the woman only whispered a monosyllable or two, after which a prolonged moan was heard.
Casting his eyes around in the now almost clear air of the room, he noticed that the door was just then being closed from outside. He thought to remember having closed it when he first threw himself on the bed, though not with the key. At any rate, – fucking hell! -somebody must have been observing him while asleep.
He became very nervous. What business had anyone to spy on him: he was a nobody. So depressed and sick at heart had he felt of late that at times he felt like shouting, banging his fist against the walls, weeping lke a child. Hell his reasoning power had descended to zero.
Perhaps he was ill. He will go to see a doctor: sneezing all the time, his nose running; but no fever. The worst was his head, “la cabeza”. His mind was clouded with doubts, and this journey on the road had been calamitous; never in his life had he been submitted to so much petrol poisoning. In fact, he ended up being overtaken by a feeling of nausea; he sprang up and rushed out of the room. At the far end of the landing there was a flight of two steps and an open door. He tumbled up the steps, switching on the light. Legions of cockroaches scampered about on the checker-patterned vinyl floor, in all directions. He was sick for a few minutes.
As he was trudging back to his bedroom, he was stopped short by a shrill and piercing shriek, followed by a roar of laughter, both coming from the floor below. He peered down over the banister. Through the kitchen door, slightly ajar, white neon light poured out, and with it, the smell of burnt meat. Down he went, almost flying this time, towards the light. Pushing the door wide open he stepped inside. From an electric clock on the near wall he saw it was ten past five. There were two persons inside, a man and a woman.
Having muttered a subdued “Good morning!”, which received no reply, he was overcome with a sense of pessimism, almost ingrained in him, never a brave fellow, filled at times with fear and timidity.
He proceeded, however, towards the cooker, stopped short, reached a big communal cupboard, stopped again. He seemed not to know what he wanted. Nevertheless, he searched gropingly for a couple of minutes in the large cupboard, thinking perhaps he might not have the right to do what he was doing.
He brewed himself a cup of tea and went with it to the table, and all the time was hearing the woman weeping behind him.
The kitchen-table was massive, the man was sitting at it. The woman was serving him his breakfast. He recognised the blond woman who let him in the house the previous afternoon. She was much younger than the man, who was all the time drinking vodka. As for himself, when he had drunk his cup of tea, he stood up and went to fetch himself another cup, feeling a sense of guilt. Manuel should have explained this to him, when they met in York Street, and he would have come with some provisions. It is only just now he has understood: the idea of the communal fridge, everything having a tag on with a name on it. Nevertheless, a quarter of an hour later, he sits down at the table with two fried eggs and bread, opposite the landlord.
The woman avoids Garsao’s gaze every time she approaches to serve her master, who starts shouting he is going to be late for work: after a while he stands up. .And a big bear of a man he was. He grabbed the bottle which was standing on the middle of the table, served himself a tumbler of vodka and tossed it off at one go. Whereupon he left the company without saying a word.
The Spaniard rose from his chair but did not leave the room. He heard the sound of an engine in the strreet which grew fainter and died out.
Luis turned to the landlady, who was now slouching along the wall with the clock, as if possessed by a strong fear of being touched by her lodger, who was confronting her.
‘’Don’t go, please,’’ he whispered, holding her: her hand was trembling. She stood still, piercingly staring into Garsao’s eyes. It was then that he saw, in the brightness of the morning light, now entering through the window, the very blue eyes of the woman had loved overthere… in Madrid.
The girl was crying in is arms. He pressed her against himself. She loved his caresses, while crying. “Please, don’t!” he whispered again. For she had burst into a torrent of tears, which he tried to wipe with his lips. Without opening her mouth, her hand still in his grasp, she gave a sudden pull, scuttled out of the kitchen and vanished.
Luis Garsao looked quite perplexed at the door through which she had gone, then sat down. From the clock on the wall he noticed it was ten to six and through the open window now saw a clear sky, though not blue.
He heard the sound of music and paused for a minute, his head on the palm of his hand, his elbow on the table.
“Goodness gracious!” he hears a man coming in.
It is Manuel, whom in fact the newcomer to the house does not know at all: two Spaniards, a casual encounter when loooking for new employment (one of them looking, besides, for accommodation.
“A nice place, considering the price,” Lus says, trying to be nice “an odd couple,” he adds.
“They are not a couple.”
“His daugter, then?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You called her last evening ‘the landlady’.”
”Oh! Did I?” Manuel smiles.
“Have you tried to sleep with her?”
“Bless my heart! I?”
The music had now ceased. “Was she the one playing the violin just now?” asks Luis.
“Oh, yes! She was a good professional once, in the Soviet Union. A child prodigy,” Manuel says unconcernedly. He is a well-dressed, prim man, nice-looking and smelling of eau-de-cologne, always with a sugary smile playing on his rather sensual lips.
“Ah, well!” Luis exclaims, “None of my business.”
For some reason Manuel laughs. “Oh dear, I see what you mean!” he says and changes the subject of conversation. “When do you start that new job of yours?”
“Today. Well now.”
With extraordinary elegance and a lot of generosity, working alone by the cooker, Manuel fries some eggs and sausages, brews some tea, while the other remains on his seat by the table, gazing. At length, they both have breakfast, Manuel leaves and Luis goes back to his room.
It is still raining, but just now not too hard, so Luis decides to go walking to work. In the conjunction of Harris Street and Pyrmont Bridge Road, which also is joined by Union Street, there is the imposing Pyrmont Power Station: two roundish white chimneys like two mountains throwing out two long serpents of snow-white smoke, and in between, a thin metallic chimney, with a long red and yellow flame on top.
Turning his back on the big station, he walks towards the City with the crowds. On the middle of the bridge he stops to look at Darling Harbour, full of docks, and sees the huge bay of Port Jackson in the distance. Following the crowd again, he turns left into Sussex Street, before going farther into the City. Sussex Street is a rather broad road which at present is full of lorries and utility-vans, and at the end of which there is the factory where he works to earn his daily bread.
The rain goes on, ceaselessly, monotonously. He cannot figure out how many hours he has been doing this movement of his hands. The air is grey, and there is the added monotony of a dozen large machines in full swing. His gaze is fixed on a long conveyor-belt rolling in the middle of the scene. An immense open space. A factory, premises, machines and variable capital, capitalism, gold and absolute maximising, Four or five men are lurching about, mere appendages to the machines, instruments themselves. Big objects are coming from the far end to the near end, a conveyor, like a miniature expressway. From where he stands it is difficult to see if the figures are alive and active. They seem quite static to him, those in the distance, all wearing gloves. Nobody talks and only the noise of machines is heard, logically. In perfect combination with the tapping of the rain on the iron roof, it makes music that breaks the great monotony of his life.
Luis has become rather static. Stomach-ache, and just at that moment with a snuffling nose, a crumpled handkerchief in his right hand; fragments of broken flasks and glass containers are scattered on the floor at his feet. He should already have done something about them. One of the cardboard boxes going quickly down the conveyor had landed on the cement floor unexpectedly; the cardboard container tearing apart, a dozen glass-containers have smashed into a thousand pieces on the cement floor, spreading the chemical about. For a while, he has been pressing his crumpled handkerchief to his face, sneezing, sneezing, sneezing.
“Luigi amico,” he half-hears someone nearby.
He goes on sneezing, gazing around him with dizzy eyes. It is the voice of someone working near him, holding a broom and a scoop. Calming down a little, he now sees on the conveyor belt, at a short distance from his corner, that rows of cardboard boxes are coming like moving elements in a parade or march of some kind. The silhouettes of two men in overalls next to machines where the conveyor belt ends, lift the boxes which are constantly arriving. On either side, the men are performing some operations which Galvao analyses with sickly curiosity. Industrialisation. The boxes constantly arriving, the two workers mechanically operate some contrivances, now lifting one arm, one with a long steel-band or wire, the other one sealing the box with apparatus which makes a sudden unbearable noise; now together rapidly piling the box on a wooden tray which, when complete, is carried away on a tiny electric vehicle to the lorries waiting outside in the rain. There is a constant draught all around.
“Stanco, amico?” he hears his mate’s compassionate voice.
He is a small white-haired man, leaning at present on a broom, like himself, and trying to say something in Italian, in the middle of the horrible, noisy atmosphere.
“I’m alright!” Luis pronounces rather loudly.
The old man had begun telling Galvao something the latter cannot hear or understand, but when the machines stop, all of a sudden, the man’s treble voice sounds unnaturally high…, “alora Lei cognosce l’Italia?” Floating shadows shamble past the two cleaners like phantoms in the moist twilight. “Stop jabbering!” one of them shouts, a man, and the others chime in, “Stop yer bloody lingo!” But without rant or malice: they are giving a piece of advice to two recalcitrant New Australians who do not adapt themselves to the ways of the inhabitants of the land.
Luis Garsao goes out at lunch-time, dashes to a nearby, perfectly red telephone booth, protecting his head from the rain with the back of his jacket.
“ Hallo! I’m ringing in connection…”
“What’s that, what’s that?” comes the voice of an asthmatic person at the other end of the line.
“I was saying I am ringing regarding your advertisment in The Herald…”
The same asthmatic voice breaking in: “Can’t catch a word of what yer saying.”
“Right,” Garsao articulates, “Warren and Warren Law Offices?”
“That’s right,” the person, a man, confirms.
“I am a graduate in law ringing in connection with this morning’s ad in The Sydney Morning Herald about a legal clerk. Garsao is the name, G. A. R….”
He is interrupted by a few loud coughs, and then: “Say that again!”
“I was spelling my name, G.A.R… “
New interruption: “Hang on, will you?” and at the same time a noise of banging; then the old man’s muffled voice: “Bobby… a New Australian… Herald…”
Next, another voice, a young man’s this time. “We’re sorry, sir. There must be a misunderstanding. Very sorry.” And the sound of the phone being hung up.
It is his third attempt at finding a decent job since his arrival from Wollongong. Still holding the receiver in his hand, and gasping in despair, he starts kicking the walls of the cabin like a madman. There is the rattling of glass, the cabin being made up of little square glass-panes, red bars and wood-panels.
An elderly gentleman stops outside the cabin, where Luis is now weeping. “Look here, bold chap,” the man shouts, “will you?” Garsao comes out, makes a cone with the newspaper, sets it upon the old man’s pate, shouting in turn, “For the rain, mate!” The Spaniard at once turns round and runs back to the factory.
There is a good canteen for the workers in the factory; but Garsao does not know it; he has to find his own nook in the warehouse, where he hides from the others during the lunch break. Terribly nervous and depressed, sitting on a cardboard box full of goods, he opens a packet of sandwiches and starts eating, a thermos flask at his feet. He is shaking all over and, after a while, stands up and paces about between lofty walls made up of cardboard boxes which are fitted up, on top of one another, like the big stone-blocks which were used in ancient times to build walls and fortresses. But there is the smell of chemicals around, and he is sneezing all the time.
When he left the factory that day the sky was bright and blue, with red and yellow streaks of light in the distance, where the sun was setting. He knew there was a river there called Parramatta. The word sounded to him Spanish
He moved with his mates towards Pyrmont Bridge. There was old Bruno and Peter and Barry, Vicent and others, all silently trudging along, heads bent down and arms hanging limply, not because they were tired, for in Australia employers are fine. Nobody exploits anybody.
Lorries were moving to and fro; factories and workshops were throwing out their workers, now men, some times women: some of the latter still wearing long jackets with tags identifying where they came from, their employment.
Garsao’s group, trudging towards Pyrmont, were thinking of a glass of frozen beer. They met on their way other groups of workers who also had the same thought, icy beer. On the right were the docks, lorries were coming out.There was a line of redbrick buildings on the left, receiving at that moment the rays of the setting sun, causing the sash-windows generally on the top floors to glitter, with a reddish shine. But windows and doors everywhere were locked, and on the façades of these buildings there appeared some big electric signs, trade names and trade marks: VINCENT’S, BUSHELL’S, ARNOTT’S, PEEK-FREANS’, UNCLE TOBY…
On his right, now alone, he had another experience as an outside observer: he saw the façades, like big stone-block buildings, of another kind, lofty and grey, with no windows. Only big gates, and triangular frontispieces displaying the names in black, of ancient shipping firms, carved in white stone. Names now forgotten, corresponding to ancient aristocratic families. These are now very old warehouses. Perhaps nobody knows where modern capitalism is here hidden. The Australian nation had always been in need of this. Darling Harbour is on the other side of these imposing long dark old constructions.
The street lamps were at that moment unlit, and in most cases the enormous wooden gates of these ancient pieces of capital accummulation were closed and locked, sometimes with big steel chains and padlocks. But when by chance one of these gates is still open, Luis caught a glimpse of the sea in the distance (Darling Harbour) after a more or less shadowy inside, followed by a second big opening, the smell of the sea is there, and the vision of a big vessel or two. In fact that near-suburb is full of navigation, cargo ships and even liners, with red and black chimneys and funnels. Some bid curls of smoke flying high. The balancing silhouettes of the dockers, and the many jetties, the figures of British or foreign sailors. Garsao sees all that so much in the distance! Sometimes his own imagination builds new worlds, not as remembrances from the past, but as visions from the present. Oh, it is all so mysterious. Night is always coming on so very fast in Australia!
He begins to cross the iron bridge, stops short for a moment, and contemplates the same vision of a minute before from Sussex Street. On his back, now, the dense traffic, double-decker buses and the Juggernaut lorries, which at that hour fill the narrow roadway, causing the whole structure to tremble, and he holds instinctively onto the grimy iron rail, gazing at the smooth dark surface of the water below, dotted with the reflection of the many yellow lights of the docks, all in full activity at that hour. His eyes turn upon the now foggy stretch of sea passing under the bridge, going on to join the bigger bay of Port Jackson, hardly visible now in the distance. Here and there a HARBOUR POLICE launch, speeding across and little boats splashing noisily cause the now shiny surface of the water to ripple. Behind him, a denser multitude, the voices and the steps of heavy working boots, the shouts of men and the giggles of some young women (nobody as a rule is working after five o’clock.)
Nice-looking young women indeed, going across on this side or on the opposite pavement, in both directions. Suddenly he bumps into Bruno the Italian, the friendliest of the workers from the factory, who was waiting for him.
“Oh, there you are!” The Italian says, grabbing him by the arm. Luis makes to cross the road, but his mate holds him back. There are no traffic lights on the bridge, only the big spherical yellow lights. But there is a zebra crossing and still
dodging the traffic, they successfully cross the bridge. They enter a public house, PYRMONT HOTEL written in luminous neon lights.
A hall full of light and tobacco smoke, and that curious smell of decomposed liquor associated with fun in public houses. Only men, each holding a glass and most shouting or laughing. Along the wall on the right an abundant array of electronic machines where some quiet figures are gazing at circles and numbers, a mug of beer in one hand and the other activating a lever.
Bruno has led him to a crowded bronze-and-walnut bar. A redheaded woman serves the Italian. “Thank you, my pretty!” he says and moves away.
Garsao goes to the bar and shouts for a beer. A dyed-blond voluminous barmaid shouts: “Can’t mike out wot you’s syin’!” One of the men touches Galvao’s arm and whispers, “Sie a middy.”
“A middy, please!’’ he shouts, holding out a half-crown coin.
With a glass of foaming beer in his hand, leaning against a far wall under some modern oil paintings, he still looks at the appetising dyed-blonde behind the counter, probably standing on a wooden platform, for her fine body looms above the men.
… I talked to my lovely girl already in my arms at the station. We would get married in Madrid, now she had come. On New Year’s Eve we went with the Madrileños to the Puerta del Sol, to hear the chimes of the Ministerio clock welcoming 1956 in. A stroll in the old city followed and we stopped before a small decrepit house with a tavern on the ground floor, listening to the music from a barrel organ. Some couples were dancing between the tables. We went in, I took her divine body in my arms, and we danced. A month later the regime was sending thousands of workers and students to jail.
“Si sente malatto, spagnolo?” Luis hears and startled replies: “No, Bruno, nothing the matter. I must go.”
He staggers along under the persistent drizzle and as he reaches the bifurcation, turns into his own street, pressing his wet unshaven chin against his shoulder. The stone façades of the houses look grey and damp, some of the windows are open and, where the curtains are propped aside, he perceives inside that brownish-blue light denoting the existence of a television set. The commodity being quite new in Australia, some human shadows are always seated quietly around the square box. He enters the boarding-house and proceeds into the lounge, where there is the usual bluish-brown light. Manuel and Nino are watching ‘Perry Mason’, holding hands and giggling. Leaving his wet jacket and proletarian cap on the coat-stand Luis Garsao passes on into the well-illuminated kitchen, where the landlady is having her dinner. He steps up to the fridge and gets hold of a plastic box with some letters on a bit of elastoplast, then sits down, facing the young woman. She at once rose from her seat with the obvious intention of making a dash to the door; but Garsao clasped her trembling hand in his, saying: “Please, do sit down and finish your meal; I’ll only stay a minute.” She quickly returned to her seat, tossing her short blond hair as she did so. Then, but for her hands and wrists, she did not move at all. Suddenly and unexpectedly she pronounced in a fine musical voice: “Is that what you always have for dinner?”
“Oh no, not always. I intend to do some cooking, you see, once I set myself on the right track.
She only nodded.
“Or I might go to a restaurant,” he added, seeking her hand, and her sympathy turned into enmity.
He sought a second hand.
She raised her eyes to his face once again, and this time she rose from her chair and left the room.