A man without ambition
A migrant to Australia is lonely without a woman, but is successful in other respects. This makes him surly. At weekends he goes alone to a sandy beach. At N.S.W. University one Friday he falls in love with pretty student. Sunday he sees her again
A man without ambition
Fernando García Izquierdo
On Sunday Laureano González, a migrant, caught an early train at Central Railway and, changing his means of transport a couple of times after crossing Port Jackson bay, he found himself plodding on the warm sheeny sands of Narrabeen when still the sun was being cooled by a nice maritime breeze.
It was one of the beaches where he isolated himself on the Day of the Lord, for he hated the idea of spending the day in Ultimo, in all respects an honourable suburb, but at any rate not what he had expected to find in the new country. About what he might have expected, nothing was very clear: he had great expectations, like everybody. What were they in particular? Who knows!
It was January, which in Australia constitutes the height of the summer.
He had found, very early on, much help and sympathy everywhere, and a job exactly in his specialisation, though grossly underpaid. In the street where he lived there was a row of stone houses, built at the time of convicts, and on the opposite side a terrace of about twenty cottages, in one of which he lived. There were in Australia, at that time, very few Spaniards, who had from time immemorial preferred to emigrate to Argentina or Venezuela. But if there were no Spaniards, there were, at any rate, a great number of other migrants in Ultimo, especially Italians, Hungarians and Czechoslovakians.
The neighbours offered him help, and some really generous characters passed on to him things, free of charge. For instance, there were people who gave him old kitchen furniture, and even more important items. He had not been in his place one month, and already many of the neighbours had entered the place smiling and offering their help… In reality, what they wanted was to see how he lived.
The important thing to retain here, however, is that three months after his arrival in the country, he had already become a Man of Property, and that was really something. It is true that a great proportion of newcomers, in the end, became proprietors, possessing bank-accounts, cars and real estate; but with Laureano González there are things that deserve a special mention, he did not really care for money or property. When people were entering to visit, the first thing they asked was: “Is this your place?”, he answered “yes”, but without undue pride.
Anyhow, there were very few newcomers that did not at once seek to possess the place where they lived. In a self-respecting country like Australia “growth”, was on every conscience, and Laureano González never tried to look different from the others, not consciously. He noticed straight away that “credit” was the thing, the magic word. At the Bank of New South Wales he easily secured all he wanted, which meant that the property will really be his in November 1976.
However, he suffered a great deal from solitude, specially at night. This loneliness was intensified by the fact that he had not the companionship of a woman. That was his trouble, he needed a wife. That was not for him the same as the need that other solitary male migrants felt about making a visit of an hour or two somewhere at night.
His male colleagues at the office invited him to join them, after work, for a chat in a pub, over a glass of beer. And they asked him, “how much money did he command?” As much as to ask: “How much does the firm pay you?” The migrant was sure they were lying, they knew very well how much he earned.
It happened that the firm had now gained the upper hand in the always-latent struggle between employer and employee of capitalism. Having the migrant offered himself so cheaply, other members of the staff found it more difficult to apply for a raise of salary, which was one of the things you always did in Australia. One Friday morning, after pocketing his weekly salary as usual, he had thrown the envelope into the waste-paper basket, and gone to have lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and the envelope was spirited away during the lunch-hour.
“Fucking New Australian, undervaluing himself! Stopping others from having a worthy, well-paid job!”
The migrant understood what had happened. He was an obstacle to others. If he had not been born an Aussie, as they had, he had no business to come and fuck others. Laureano understood their reasoning, and accepted his colleagues’ arguments. Everybody should understand: under communism or fascism. Laureano had escaped fascism and had fallen head-foremost into the horrors of capitalism-imperialism. But there was something in him that made him different from all the other men around. He had suddenly started to live when ten years old in Madrid, in 1940, under Fascism. He knew: for evermore he would be a man without ambition. There was the lark.
As a matter of fact the sands of Narrabeen started in Collaroy, on the south, and ended in Mona Vale, on the north, and that was a good chunk of territory, with a big lagoon in the middle. Here and there eucalypt trees. It all formed an immense continuity, a long broad beach facing the ocean. Seen from the sea, that New South Wales coast is most impressive; quite in the middle, there are the Heads, north and south, the entrance to the bay of Sydney. Then, miles and miles of high cliffs, one way and the other, clusters of houses on top and eucalytus forests, and down below, enchanting, long beaches.
He wore a reddish teeshirt, white shorts, and on his head, protecting him from the sun, there was a golf-cap, with a long dark visor. He sat down on a large sand dune, facing the turbulent ocean. At that hour there were already sportsmen at sea, who loved to spend their weekends mucking about on their glossy speedboats; or on that other kind of vessel, big or medium-sized, but always beautiful yachts, with sails fully colourful and original.
When it became unable to withstand the heat he moved away; for it would have been utter madness to stay there through the torrid hours without at least a beach-umbrella. Going closer to the water he could withstand the high temperature with the swerve of the water and the now strong maritime breeze.
In his solitude, he admired all he saw. That was Laureano’s nature: an outside observer, analysing, calculating and in the end always inventing.
“One day,” he said to himself, “I’ll cease to be a lawyer and devote my life to art. I won’t touch the law, no! It’s all rubbish and robbery! Art. I’ll be called the portraitist of the ocean, and my creations will be sold, yes! And I will earn millions”. And, closing his eyes, thinking of pure, sublime art of present and past epochs, he became another man, satisfied, tender and happy.
“El Oceano Pácifico,” he recalled, “was discovered by the Spaniards.” And he thought of Balboa and our “Siglo de Oro”.
As a schoolboy of eight, in Laureanito’s hands came a children’s book about Balboa, That was why. In fact a number of “children`s books” about the ‘conquistadores’, fell in his hands those days. Balboa was the greatest. The Spaniards themselves killed him in the end, on the isthmus separating North America from South America, where he made his great discovery, Panama, due on the one hand to the ingrained jealousy always to be found in men of our race, and on the other to Balboa’s incommensurate ambition. He really believed he was someone destined to command and rule over the New World. The cruelest of mortals, he was the cause of thousands of victims among the natives, just because, as there was less timber on the west side of the Cordillera, he built his fleet on the Atlantic side of the isthmus, and then ordered the Indians to cart upmountain (piecemeal) a couple of already made caravels, with the result that many died of exhaustion.
As for Laureano: the moment he sat down, his main occupation was to admire the immense beauty of all he saw; his right hand actually began to move by itself in the air, as if his fingers were holding a brush, an oil-brush… and in his mind appeared like an explosion of light and colour, the cobalt blue of the sky being crossed by a number of shiny silver seagulls, and other maritime birds, the line of the horizon, and many kinds of blue, blue… Blue with green and foamy white: straight lines combining with terribly tumultous revolutions… the constant splashing of salt and water… Oh! so refreshing. The enchanting vision, the contemplation of the tremendous transformation of the playful waves into fearful breakers and… The noise! That terrible thud, if you are alone, next to the ocean, upon the wet brownish sand.
He takes his hands to his face… and he looks again only to perceive the vision of of an enchanting modern silver aeroplane overhead.
After having observed in detail, near and far, the landscape and the seascape, in all its oceanic amplitude and multitude of colours, the lonesome migrant sat down on a new spot, where a most delightful breeze caressed him, face and body… he began reading THE SYDNEY SUNDAY HERALD, which was the paper he had chosen at the station. On the first page he read the usual stories of the day that so much interested everybody: “WHY EMMA PEEL WON’T WED”, “STATE P. M. USES R.A.A.F. TO FLY BABY TO HOSPTAL”, and so on and so forth. He passed on to other pages and read about the floods in the Murrumbidgee area; then a few pages about the Vietnam conflict, with photographs taken by brave journalists. The entry of Australia in the conflict, the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphon; the possibility of using the ATOM BOMB, and the certainty that the Americans were already using AGENT ORANGE were discussed…
And reading about the war, the migrant falls into a short reverie. He sees a world where people lie on a long beach, dead or moribund; then a woman in a bikini, red like fire. A man is carnivorously embracing an appetizing female in the nude: he tenderly caresses her suntanned bosom. The migrant knows he has seen all those scenes in “South Pacific”, a Hollywood film. “The boys” after massacring the Vietnamese people and land, were sent to Hawaii on “REST AND RECREATION leave”. And he read an article about a New South Wales enterpreneur who was about to organise “pleasure tours” for wounded American Boys in Surfers Paradise, Queensland.
He once more turns to the newspaper, looks again at the pictures; all wonderful photography, one full page in colour.”SEARCH AND DESTROY,” the man or monster saying so, and in the migrant’s mind the vision of war planes and helicopters. Two U.S. “boys” in jungle fatigues, one white and the other black, are entering a yellow-straw hut; they carry flame-throwers in their hands; from the yellow hut there have just come out two people, a woman and a man. The woman runs at full speed, carrying a toddler in her arms; the husband seems to have been caught and is hiding on the ground; he holds a new-born baby in his hands.
The migrant put down the paper, which the breeze at once blew away, but not too far, and once more he thought of his friends back home: no one had answered his letters, airmail letters in which he explained what he did and how he “earned his living in the SOUTH PACIFIC”, name, this last one, which he employed in order to boast, making a show of being a “circumnavigator” of the globe, like the “conquistadores” of the sixteenth century.
Two days ago, he had gone to the University of New South Wales and spent some time there, mostly in the main recreation hall, the Round House, which was full of students at that moment. He sat down at a round coffee-table, to which he had carried his pot of tea, and refreshments.
All was perfect and new at that university, which had been built recently to decongest the original Sydney university of the times of settlement, made to imitate Oxford and Cambridge and, in effect, was now already one of the best universities in the world, specially in veterinary science.
From his seat, enjoying his refreshment and drink, he observed the students by whom he was surrounded. He always spoke of his great affection for democracy and the people, but now, among the university students, he was pleased; he was pleased to see youth and wealth together. And also health and happiness. Accumulation.
It was in such moments that he detected a grain of envy in his inner being, because he remembered the misery in which he had lived during those five years of study, under fascism. And yet, there was still a great difference between capitalism and modern fascism, which had become a gentile-sort-of-thing, “rassemblement”.
There were girl-students too, chatting freely with the boys, showing their elegance and inhererent beauty. He calculated that there was the same proportion between the sexes as there had been in the “Facultad de Derecho” in Madrid, that is, a dozen female students, for about a hundred male ones. All the girls were pretty, athletic, healthy, wealthy… A real pleasure to contemplate.
And most of them were blond. He at once fell in love with one of them, who wore a sleeveless red blouse and miniskirt of the same hue: unless she was wearing a cute tiny dress, which let her show her enchanting legs, perfectly suntanned; and her arms, likewise thoroughly suntanned. But what he most admired and loved in her were her eyes, which for a short moment were fixed on him, blue.
At random, he had come to sit at a charming spot in the round recreation hall; a varied cluster of alumni, settled down in groups, calling, chatting, smiling, laughing without any excess overdoing, at one of the twenty or so animated large coffee-tables. Purely at random, he joined then and there one of the many groups of students. They all spoke with him, and asked with interest about Spain. And among them, this adorable female student.
And it was pure fiction. Nobody had spoken to him. Not the woman about whom Laureano had dreamed all night, poor eternal dreamer. The woman of the ravishing blue eyes was a creation in his head, pure fiction. The students when they saw him at their table as a matter-of fact had been surly and had mostly ignored him..
Bul Laureano persisted. “If, by chance,” he said to himself, “by a combination of circumstances, it came to happen that the one I love came to choose Narraben, like I, as the beach where to spend her Sunday today. And we bumped into each other’s arms…
Oh my God! (I’d say) and she’d exclaim, extremely excited: “Oh, my, my! look at this!! Who is here!” My love, my blond girl adorable! Like in the film ON THE BEACH.
The lonely migrant found himself surrounded by young athletic Aussies. Not so many, of course as when he went, in winter rather to Bondi, another kind o beach; for Mona Vale and Narrabeen constitute a much wilder sort of beach.
Never mind, It is not forbidden to dream, and Laureano would always be a dreamer, and his dream persisted. A girl, oh, what a beautiful girl! Then quite discouraged, he concluded: “Bah! The fact is that I could be her father”.The bad thing is that you never know: It may end in a terrible nightmare. The love he had concieved, for the blue-eyed girl was quite real.
And suddenly, he saw beside him, with a surfboard, the very same blond girl, whose name he still ignored, dressed in a red one-piece swimsuit, which was nonetheless quite brief. She is magically advancing towards the water, straightening herself up with supreme grace and elegance, her little round buttock sticking out, her suntanned arms and hands holding high the plastified board, until her long suntanned legs enter the frothing sea. Then, laying the board on the agitated seawater and, taking two supplementary steps, she jumps and lays her svelte body flat for a moment on the board.
The migrant watches her, her red back and buttocks, her long legs: she is paddling and paddling for a long while, facing the atttack of the frothing waves, the fury of the coming rollers. Whereupon the adorable girl entirely disappears in the ocean and the migrant on the coast once more worries and is full of gloom… Until the pretty girl is seen again… coming back upon the board at full speed. Standing on the board, crouching slightly, delighfully, valiently.
Luckily Nature’s fury now diminishes a little, and the migrant knows that the young woman has won. She looks, standing upon her surfboard, like a goddess: arms and hands spread out, like the two wings of a bird; a perfect goddess gliding over the frothing crest of the fearful breakers.
When she slides on the sand, Laureano sees her approaching; he catches her by the arm.
“May I beg a minute’s conversation with you?” he asks.
The young woman stops short, the light surfboard under her right arm. The migrant saw her blushing. She leans her board against a big weedcovered rock.
“Oh! I failed to recognise you before,” she exclaims. “Why? Tell me why?”
Her brilliant blue eyes once more had brought him back from the brink: God is Great.
Out of the corner of her eyes there came a frank feeling of love; and from heaven overhead there came a thousand dazzling beams from the extraordinarily strong sun of the South Pacific, all perfectly set up… overhead blinding them.
Then, suddenly a call is heard: “Is this ‘ere pieper yeers, mate?”
It was a miserable tramp, who had come down to the sands to see if there was some valuable commodity to be found on the beach. The migrant shot him an angry glance: the tramp wanted to be sure he could grab the SYDNEY SUNDAY NEWSPAPER, which was half-hidden in the sand.
“Take the bloody newspaper, and don’t come back here again”.