Old or new immigrants all came from abroad; Aborigines from India 25000 years ago.After World War 2 European displaced people. Late fifties disappointed Ukrainian girl and surly Spaniard meet in Sydney. Different origins but empathy and attraction
Fernando García Izquierdo
Australia is a big country, which happens to be also a continent, in the whole scarcely populated, with an equally underpopulated island in the south. It is considered to be one of the youngest countries of the world.
‘The great land slept on its southern seas, while on all the other continents the human race developed and spread and made its artifacts and began its ceremonies. Bone had been carved and needles made and the cave walls of Lascaux and Altamira magically painted before any man ever trod the earth of the southern continent.’ Thus George Johnston, an Australian writer of the twentieth century, described he essential emptiness of ages of the immense country whose official name is ‘Commonwealth of Australia’. Until the arrival of the Europeans, in the eighteenth century, the country possessed among other things a fauna and a flora of its own, where native species as a rule have a more ancient origin than the fauna and flora of the other continents. As for humans, there were never natives there, as there have been (and are) in other parts of the world.
‘No half-man in the first light of humanity’s awakening,’ writes our author, ‘crouched in Australia.’ And he goes on to say that the so-called Aborigenes, as the latter immigrants all came from abroad. The arrival of the former took place in successive migratory waves started twenty or twenty-five thousand years ago, originating in the south of Asia, proceeding south in small independent groups, from island to island, until their arrival in the unknown southern continent. They brought with them few possessions, as it is only to be expected, some primitive instruments: small tools and weapons needed for defense and to satisfy their simple needs. They must have gathered berries for nourishment, supplemented by hunting and fishing. These immigrants already possessed, as is only natural, all the qualities of the Homo Sapiens, intellectual and emotional life, artistic creation, the manufacture of simple instruments, handicrafts. They have left us extraordinary examples of primitive art, oral tradition, and beliefs, the Aborigine’s Dreamtime. At least some of these people already used, when they came, the dog as a domestic animal (brought from Asia), which animal later on ran away into the wild, where it became the dingo, so different from the dog of other continents.
Arriving in Australia at the north coast, these original (or aboriginal) populations spread over the continent, again in rather small groups, moving mainly south and south-east. They must have found the land arid and very poor; but they learned how to adapt themselves to it. Specially because of the poverty of the land, they divided and subdivided in smaller more viable groups (the dryness and poverty of the terrain would not have allowed the existence of big nations and growing civilizations.)They were and remained essentially nomadic people. Eventually part of them, moving east, reached the Pacific coastlands, where they found wooded land, abundant rains at times, some rivers, plains full of marsupials, like kangaroos, wallabies and other native animals and birds. The Aborigines did not arrive in what is now the Island of Tasmania, which was eventually reached by people from the Pacific Ocean, of a Polinesian race.
As for the earliest White settlers, Johnston says that ‘no country had offered them less assistance. However, since there was (he suggests) for convicts and soldiers alike (who were the first to settle) little hope of return they had no alternative but try to make the best of it.’ And later on he writes: ‘On a precarious little beachhead at the end of an immense unknown continent they began to dig in.’
… as for the other immigrants, the one we’re about to follow, he’s come looking for profit, like many others all over in the world: good employment, better life… Come, here is money, Australia the free world.
… bewildered and confused this man spies the prospect before his eyes, in his confrontation with his new surroundings. He suddenly feels discouraged, disarmed, naked ‘and of his wish to roam perhaps repented he.’
… it is a landscape of houses, streets and much macadam. A little greenery too. But more and more cement, buildings now on the left now on the right. And only the sound of motorcars and the wind breaking the great stillness.
… then, like a forest of soiled concrete columns not by themselves but sustaining the length of a railed-up road overhead. Through the columns, in the distance, a glimpse of the harbour, the jetties, the ferryboats.
… from the opposite side of the road the wind comes bellowing down through a multitude of streets directly from the City centre. A hollow iron-structure now glides past, lofty and ugly.
… another such structure of steel beams and girders, looming high above the thoroughfare. And a big yellow crane now appears above the steel structure. Another one. The building industry.
… here and there an imposing modern glass façade (‘Solargray or Solarbronze,’ he muses) and in between a motley array of old brick houses, galvanised-iron roofs and several rows of sash-windows.
… and emphasising all this, a panorama of solitude new to him. A modern city. On either side of the street he sees, hanging in shop windows and access-doors, the one sign, CLOSED… CLOSED…
The sky is leaden grey with a yellowish glint.
‘Dreadful weather,’ he remarks, leaning forward.
The old man does not reply or give the slightest sign of having heard.
‘Very well,’ thinks Luis Galvao, shrugging his shoulders, ‘it’s all one to me;’ and he resumes his watch of the street.
Presently he hears an old broken voice, ‘Very much like August’ - a score of sounds uttered in a low voice without looking. As if no one had spoken. Luis Galvao becomes the victim of his own inconsistencies and contradictions. It is his fault, he does not make an effort to understand. He translates: ‘Esto es much como agosto.’
… so what? Very much like… Means nothing. Or has the bastard been telling me a riddle? The Devil could not master this people’s bloody language.
Turning and turning the terms of what looks to him like the refrain of song, he takes a decision, ‘I don’t care.’ And burying his disappointment, he once more bends forward. Maybe the bastard wanted to start a conversation after all. His lips get close to the red wrinkled nape, while through his mind a dozen questions crop up.
Of no avail. The driver does not seem to have heard him; or maybe he hasn’t understood because of this ridiculous foreign accent. Had he stayed at home, using only his mother tongue! or is it not a question of laguages, but his essential timidity at bottom, recoiling from the people in the new land. He leans back again on his own seat, hiding his anger with a sneer, and spies the shadow of a stroller moving upon one of the pavements under the steel-and-plaster overhanging that runs five hundred feet and more, a street full of shops all surprisingly lit up at this early hour. He tries to spell the unfamiliar names, STERN’S, NOCK & KIRBY’S’, WOOLWORTHS’, COLES’, ‘BEARD WATSON’S’, ‘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, poor fellow!’ Galvao comments, rather for the sake of saying something. ‘And on the day of the Lord, too!’ He remembers that back home of a Sunday he went to the tavern with his friends. He misses them terribly: Paquito, Sebastián, Manolo, simply walking along the Gran Via. Neon lights too, specially the cinemas. The four discovering that there are many interesting girls. Simply looking at them was a treat, or saying a word or two as they passed by showing how entrancingly pretty they were.
The past, there are people and things he misses now. And of the present he feels that all overhere is so strange, the people whom he does not understand, the places, the objects, the stones, the very movement, vitality… it does not belong to him, nor does he belong to the the place, the buildings, the air he now breathes.
At the tram-stop he sees a bearded young man trying to light a cigarette using his leather jacket as a cover; then, a pretty platinum–blonde leaning back against a large hoarding with the figure of a cowboy, SMOKE A MARLBORO, and 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.
After a while, the cab takes a right turn, and they enter a district of winding lanes and alleyways, a confused heap of narrow houses and here and there an open shop, a small creature squatting inside in the twilight. He observes a lonely girl at the window of a Chinese coffee-house, gazing at the traffic. ‘Oh dear, what’s amiss my pretty maid? Shall I come down and kiss away that charming frown?’ A long fence ornamented with grafitti, REFFOS GO HOME, NO MORE MIGRANTS, as well as some bills pasted over electoral propaganda, COMMIES OUT!
… recalling my engagement back home, that early enthusiasm and the struggle, the mounting difficulties, the many battles fought and lost. Now an escapee.
… the regime’s clamp-down on dissenters and protesters of all kinds. Repression, some blood and vanished hopes. Is this the end?
… but also those brave young men risking so much to help me escape. The start of a long journey and the arrival in this happy land.
‘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: an overturned garbage bin, coils of dust soaring high, and all the Sunday papers twisting and twirling in the wind as if performing a ritual dance.
‘Pray, drive slowly,’ he replies, ‘I’ve an idea it must be one of those houses.’ Some drops of rain now hit the window from outside and Luis watches the dirty water running obliquely down the glass.
‘’I’ll drop you by them houses, then,’’ the man says, and without waiting for a reply, he drives the car to a standstill, and turns to look round.
Galvao pays him. They both alight. The driver opens the boot, motions his icy-blue eyes towards the suitcases, and waits. Slowly, wearily Galvao gets hold of the cases and moves on, while the man gets back into his cab and drives away. From nearby the houses look still more miserable. Built in a row with no front garden, they could have been the wall of an old fortress but for the windows and doors and the portion of the roof that can be seen from the pavement. Ambling about, debating with himself whether he has made a big mistake not choosing to live in a boarding house in Bondi Junction, a middle-class district, even if he had had to pay an exorbitant price for it. No name or number anywhere. Façades dust and dampness. The doors are black or maybe navy-blue or dark green (the paint is too old to tell), in every house a grimy sash-window by the door and two more upstairs of the same shape and quality and a rusty iron-pipe separating each dwelling from the next: in some places the pipe has completely gone, leaving a brown vertical stain in its stead. The flower-pots, still standing on the window-sills, are broken, some grey soil or pure dirt oozing out through the cracks.
‘Hullo!’ he exclaims, ‘Something is moving over there at the entrance of the corner store. They may be able to help.’ But no! It is merely a sheet of brown wrapping-paper floating merrily in a whirlwind. On the double glass-door, hanging within from a colourless rubber sucker, there is a notice: NOW OPEN. Luis gives a scornful laugh; someone must have forgotten 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 (‘Salted Peanuts’, ‘Tip Top Bread’), and peeps inside. Packets of breakfast cereals and jars of jam or marmalade on the shelves, brooms and kitchen utensils in a far corner on the floor. There is a tin-and-copper cash register and a multitude of little wicker baskets with commodities on the counter. He steps back, still gazing, sees his reflexion on the glass-door, not in the least surprised to behold a rather unkempt man, haggard, dark, bespectacled, weak.
… oh, man! and do you now ask, what secret woe I bear? Torture in jail and these last six months on the run are not enough to impress this heavy toll upon a handsome student who dated girls and loved and laughed?
Of a sudden, just as he bends down to pick up the cases once more, he hears a loud 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. ‘Man, wot d’ye bloody want?’
The wind has died down, and a few isolated drops of rain 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 the hell yer talkin’ about!’ and disappears, producing a sound like the rattling of glass in a disjointed window.
He limps on along the row of houses, hoping to see someone gazing out. Soon 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 and waits. Nothing happens. He tries again, and this time a flaxen-haired head peeps out. ‘Excuse me, Ma’am, I am looking…’ The vision vanishes without uttering a word. Pushing the door open Galvao steps inside. In the twilight of the short corridor he sees an army jacket and a steel helmet, both hanging from hooks 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; only, the short curly hair this time is platinum-blond…, unless it is due to the reflection from the television set.
‘Manuel!’ Luis Galvao 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, watching the scene on the set with great interest, then comes to Galvao. ‘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 now appears an awfully large figure. ‘Sorry!’ Galvao mutters, stumbling over. But the figure does not stir: only his jaws seem to be active; and the newcomer sees two fatty fingers going in and out of a big paper cone from where that weird smell he noticed when he entered the room emanates.
‘Ugh, what do you bring in here?’ Manuel asks, proceeding upstairs.
‘Nothing. Only books.’
The two men stop at the landing. Manuel knocks at a door. Then they pass into a badly-aired room with two beds, one under a small window opposite the door, the other one against one of the contiguous walls, the one on the right. Manuel is rather short, but exceedingly prim and handsome. He sits under the window. ‘Well, my dear,’ he says, ‘this will be your bed. That one is Heribert’s. ‘Come on, sit down.’
‘Is that the fellow in the armchair?’ Luis asks, sitting down on the nearby bed.
‘Oh dear, no! He’s the landlord.’
‘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 house 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.
‘I see.’ Luis recalls their encounter at the Labour Exchange. He had arrived from Woolangong thinking to move to the City.
His friend had stood up and gone to the door to switch the light on. Coming back he also sits on the nearby bed. ‘Come on,’ he says, laying one hand on Galvao’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 the lenses of his glasses. After a pause, during which his friend smiles, he asks again: ‘And the other one?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, is he Heribert, the one with the fish and chips?’
‘Oh, not at all! Nino doesn’t even live here. He’s the greengrocer’s boy round the corner. Comes to watch television.’
Galvao sighs with relief. ‘I see.’ He has been observing the small room all around, and his eyes are now fixed on a map pinned on the single door of a built-in wardrobe: a map of Germany during the III Reich. A big Deutschland of another time, from Alsas-Lorrain to Posen and Silesia. ‘Is he German?’ he asks.
‘My word! German to the backbone,’ Manuel answers, standing up. ‘Now, you’ll excuse me, dear Luis. The Sunday programme, you know?’
‘Of course, of course,’ Galvao answers, also standing up. ‘Well, good night!’
‘Ta ta! Sleep tight.
As soon as Manuel took his leave, Luis Galvao threw himself down on his bed, rested his head on one arm on the pillow and remained still for a long while, watching the murky sky outside. The rain had now begun in earnest, producing a pattering noise on the galvanised-iron roof above his room, not unlike the rattling of a machine gun: and in another minute he was shivering. The light was off and as he gazed out into the night, images from the past came back to him like in a whirlwind.
… a student full of passion, how strange, and my mother who saw in me an angel from heaven! Ready to sacrifice all for a better world?
… I feel that passion no more. Oh suffering! I grieve for my dear friends, dead and gone; and for my country, under the awful shadow of fascism. Oh, sad hour! That I should have given up the fight!
…that better world I sought had turned out to be a fallacy, nothing remains, all gone to ashes, only this solitude is real. I shall always be alone with my recollections. Visions of those younger years, when I still was alive, loved.
… and I believed in a revolution that never was, or I failed utterly to understand. And now all is gone! Jailed in a garret, in a district named Ultimo!
Luis gazes about the room thinking of Cadiz Bay. ‘A prison of another kind. Oh, my God, what is the use?’ A new and more subtle anxiety has entered his poor heart. Past and present separated now and forever more by a barrier twenty thousand kilometres wide, a chasm so wide that… twenty million times the width of this blighted window. If anyone had told him then that all that ardour, work, will, desire, inner feeling… and now this. The solemn promises, that enthusiasm, those wonderful dreams… down to this…, a Reffo in a garret ! The rattling goes on. He cannot get rid of the idea. The failure of the struggle against the fascist regime. ‘My failure,’ he moans, whoever, whose fault?
Now and then the hooting of a cargo ship moving in the harbour and once more the recollection of his narrow escape, the prison wall, the rocks below, the foaming waves. A cormorant. And a still older souvenir.
… the Yorkshire countryside, the light wind waving the green corn in the fields, that harmony of hues and forms, the green and gently sloping meadows on both sides of the road, and the darker shades of hawthorn hedges in the distance.
… why did I return to Madrid? Why did I not stay in England with Margaret? Should I not have known that this was going to happen?
… that summer ’53; we walked the four miles to the village along the pretty country road so surprisingly clean, a narrow stretch of green grass on either side, doted with a thousand flowers, daisies, buttercups or dandelions.
… marching together girls and boys, filling at times the air with our songs; the glowing country-pub on the top of the hill, the village, and through one open window (as we approached) the notes of a piano, country music.
… inside, an elderly woman in a colourful cotton dress and a flat-hat with artificial flowers on top is presiding at an old piano, thumping the keys and singing; and the refrain is enthusiastically taken up by the audience.
… my blood tingles with new-born love, for my girl has kissed me, saying I have a good baritone voice and… my pronounciation is quite correct, oh dear! It was for me divination. A girl, a kiss, and I spoke English. A poor Spanish student.
… on the road back to the camp, Margaret rests her sweet head on my shoulder, her wonderful curly hair shining white in the moonlight. I hold her tight by the waist, my English girl so beautiful.
… we sat on the grass beside a sleepy canal. She’s holding her legs quite tight with both hands resting her chin meditatively on her deliciously round knees, so gorgeous in the moonlight. I now lie by her side on the lawn.
… stretching my arms, grabbing in the palms of my hands a few blades of grass, I take them to my face, for I got to absorb through my senses the spirit of this night. She smiles. Oh Margaret, Margaret, let me kiss you, please!
… from the camp, on the other side of a large wheatfield now comes the sound of music and a song divine… the voice of a girl. It moves my soul with great emotion. ‘It must be Swedish,’ I murmur.
… ‘Solveig’s Song, a Norwegian girl’ she whispers. ‘Peer Gynt was her only love. He was no good, and after many horrible deeds, he ran away; but she was faithful to him and waited for him all her life.
… and will you wait for me, Margaret, my dear Margaret? I must complete my studies in Madrid. She, wrapped in thought, didn’t amswer. Even at that moment I felt this gnawing sorrow. I want to feel that happy sensation again!
… should I never come across my pretty girl again… should I feel on the brink of despair one day, oh Heavens! endow me with art so that with a stroke of my will, I may recall her image, actually see her once more and be happy… maybe.
He was awakened by some strange noise, like the recital of a prayer right under his bed. It turned out to be a coversatiom between a man and a woman going on in the room below in a language he did not understand. There was a beam of light coming through a chink in the wooden floor under his bed, and it was through this chink that the sound of voices filtered in. It was the man who did most of the talking, while the woman whispered a monsyllable or two, after which a prolonged moaning was heard.
Casting his eyes round in the almost complete darkness of the room, he saw a young man in a nearby bed, quite still; but he was not asleep. For he soon noticed the fellow pulled on a cigarette, which he held between two fingers, then rested his hand on the floor describing as he did so a semicircle of reddish light with the tip of his cigarette.
Luis Galvao had been feeling nervous and depressed for quite a long while. He watched the fellow repeating the operation with his cigarette and still said nothing, being in fact not sure whether he was hearing and seeing or just dreaming, having lived these five months in Australia in a deep state of anxiety, his life always full of visions. Nor did the man pay any attention to his fellow-lodger. He had decided in the end to say something, in order to get in touch, when Luis was of a sudden overtaken by a feeling of nausea. He sprang up very swiftly and rushed out of the room. At the far end of the landing there was a flight of two steps, he tumbled up pushing the door open, switching the light on as he went in: legions of cockroaches scampered about on the checker-patterned vinyl floor: black, golden, red and some floating upwards in the air.
As he was trudging back to his room, after being sick for a quarter of an hour, he was stopped by a shrill and piercing shriek followed by a roar of laughter coming from the floor below. He peered down over the banisters. Through the kitchen door, slightly ajar, white neon light was pouring out and with it the smell of cooking, smoke, the sense of burned meat.
Down went Luis Galvao like in a dream, towards the light, he was only half alive. Pushing the door open, he stepped inside. From an electric clock on the wall he saw it was five o’clock. Muttering a subdued ‘Good morning,’ which received no reply, he proceeded to a cupboard by the cooker.
A man and a woman were in the room, probably the owners of the property, from what Manuel had told him. The landlord was having his breakfast; the landlady, much younger, was serving him. Galvao retraced some steps and sat opposite the man, drinking a hot tisana. He would have liked to exchange a few words with him, even more with the lady, but he was an uncouth element, and she even avoided his gaze when she stopped by the fellow. The man now stood up and a big bear of a man he was. He grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table, extracted the cork with his yellow teeth, served himself a tumbler and tossed it off at once. Whereupon he left the company without uttering a word, took up an anorak and a helmet from a hook in the passage and stalked out of the house. The sound of an engine was heard outside; it grew louder and louder, then fainter and fainter. Eventually it died out. The lodger turned to the young woman, who appeared now slouching along the wall of the clock, as if possessed by a strong fear of being touched by the lodger, who was actually confronting her. ‘Don’t go, please,’ he whispered, holding her by the elbow.
She stood still, piercingly staring into his eyes. It was then that, in the brightness of the neon light, he noticed how strange those eyes looked, large and very attractive in a way, but they were of different hues. One blue, one green. Only once before had he encountered the phenomenon, and then, he had already thought it odd. ‘Please, don’t!’ he muttered, for she had burst into tears.’ Her hand was trembling in his grasp when she gave a sudden pull, scuttled like a frightened hen out ot the room and vanished. For a moment he did not move, but simply looked quite perplexed at the door through which she had gone.
Sitting down, with his cup still on the table, he rested his head on the palm of his hand, overcome. There was the sound of a violin. The woman must be playing in the room across the corridor. The music spoke directly to his heart.
… bringing a feeling of absence and failure and lost love. Memories from the past, the first day we spent some hours together, that moment of joy, our first kiss. Another time and another place. Both now seemed so distant.
… from the camp came the sound of a piano and a song full of feeling: a whirling world of fantasy. That summer. She was eighteen, I was not yet twenty-three. And it was the first flame of love for both of us.
… you talked about Solveig’s eternal love. And you, my sweet, would you too wait for me all your life? if fascism cuts me down when I go back to Madrid to complete my studies? Luis, I know, you’ll never come back, like Peer Gynt.
… oh yes, I shall, my pretty girl! And in a few months, ay! I had plunged my existence into a hopeless fight, I was imprisoned. I could escape. You were no longer there. I walked into the darkness, as it turned out. I didn’t want to do it.
‘Goodness gracious!’ Luis Galvao hears someone entering the kitchen. He turns his gaze round. Manuel Suárez, always prim, always smiling. The music has ceased. He rubs his face with one hand. There is the persistent rattling of the rain on the corrugated-iron roof of the porch outside the kitchen door.
‘I say, Luis, my boy, what are you doing in the kitchen in that apparel?’ (A friendly touch on his shoulder.) ‘You look horrible.’
Galvao gazes up. His friend is standing near him, clean-shaven and smelling of eau-de-cologne. ‘Ah, hell!’ he exclaims. ‘Haven’t you heard, Manuel? There’s been a fight? Are you all deaf in this house, or crazy or what?’
‘Oh, dear! I see what you mean,’ the other comments calmly, that sugary smile playing on his lips. ‘Right you are, quite horrible. Don’t you worry, though. He’s left for the bush. Didn’t I tell you yesterday I’m his trustee, in charge of the place sort-of-thing. He doesn’t count.’ Giving his back to Galvao, he begins preparing his breakfast, very methodically: he first lights the cooker, and getting out of a cupboard a frying pan with one hand and with other the rest of the necessary utensils and some things which he brings from the fridge, he starts cooking.
‘Manuel, why didn’t you tell me, when we met, that…?’
‘Quiet, boy,’ Manuel whispers, carrying his serviette plus cutlery (which he has previously polished) upon the table. A second trip to the cooker, and he brings a platter with two eggs and some rashers of bacon, ‘you fearful revolutionary, didn’t I tell you to speak in a low tone? Be more prudent, dear boy.’
‘Be polite yourself. Let me finish, will you. I was asking you. When we met, why didn’t you tell me I would be coming to such an odd place?’
‘Odd, you say,’ says Manuel with a smile, sitting to have his breakfast, ‘my dearly beloved countryman, everybody’s odd one way or another in this… free world of ours (I felt like saying This Valley of Tears.) Le droit à la difference, as we said in the Latin Quarter. I guess you too have lived in Paris, haven’t you?’
Galvao doesn’t answer the question; instead he goes on: ‘But they are all nuts. The German upstairs too. Now, didn’t you tell me he’s German?’
‘To the backbone,’ I said.
‘And have you seen the woman’s eyes?’
‘Of course I have. So what? Now, Luis, dear sulky fellow… I’m making some coffee,’ says Manuel, rising, ‘will you join me, or what can I offer you?’
After a few seconds, when Manuel comes back, Luis starts again:
‘I don’t mean, mind you, that her eyes are not beautiful, but… I can’t stand the way he treats her, and she says nothing. He is a savage bloke. Treating your wife as a slave. A Cossack, no? I’ve read some Russian literature, Quiet Don. By his looks… fucking people! Hasn’t anyone here tried to…’
His friend rushes to cut him off. ‘Wait a momo, Luis,’ Manuel says, raising his hand. ‘I feel you are a little squeamish. There’re quarrels in the best of families, absolutely. As for you and me, we’re not to interfere. Full stop.’ He pats Luis on the cheek, and as the latter recoils, he giggles. ‘No, don’t get annoyed, I’ve the weakness of loving my friends, you see. And of course you aren’t altogether wrong about Krappov. He is a regular bear, I’m assured.’
‘Is that the name, Krap-off?
‘The very name, Leonidas Krappov, two pees,’ Manuel laughs, then goes on, lowering his voice to a whisper: ‘Straight out from the Russian steppe. Oh dear, no! Not Russian, you’ve made me lose my track, saying Cossack. He’s Ukrainian. Not the same as Russian. Mustn’t make the mistake again, or he’ll smother me.’
‘A bear’s hug,’ Luis sniggers, responding to his friend’s rather comic mood.
Manuel folds his white serviette and passes it parsimoniously over his red, moist lips. ‘As for his wife,’ he adds, peevishly, ‘that silly romping thing, what can I tell you? Anyway, you’ve seen her. Nothing to speak of. Full stop!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Dear Luis, don’t raise your voice. I’m telling you.’
‘In a whisper, then, you tell me what you mean; for on the contrary I feel she is quite interesting and… and pretty, I mean that head of hair. Short, wavy, blond: if only she combed it a little. Her eyes, of course, look odd.’
‘Odd, odd! And now pretty. Now, what are you driving at, my friend?’
‘I repeat, her eyes. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen the disparity?’
‘Of course, I have. Precisely, was I not telling you? An uglier creature can never be imagined,’ Manuel says, coming nearer. ‘But enough of it. I don’t find her an interesting subject.’
‘I do. Tell me about her, please, you see, I’ll make myself understood…’ Luis goes on rather slowly, dubitatively, and then he says nothing, changes his subject and explains, without looking: ‘You see, I’ve lived for five months in a forestry camp out there and have seen no women, you see, for ages, so to say.’
‘I’m afraid there isn’t much to tell about her,’ Manuel comes nearer: ‘Pray, my boy, don’t interest your heart in wrong things.’
‘Wrong things? To like a woman. Why, a world without women? Nonsense. Has it occurred to you? well I dream all the time… might I see my lovely one...’
‘Nonsense? I say nonsense!’ Manuel says, with an affected drawl. ‘Roll on vain purpose, sink in eternal contradictions! Put a woman in my heart?’ He touches his friend. ‘But I warn you, my dear, be careful, something will happen if you try to steal her heart. Ask your room-companion.’
‘What, the German. You mean Krappoff…?’
‘Ssh! Krappov, yes. You’ve seen the man. But what you don’t know is that he’s a member of a group of chums training out there. Guns, my dear.’
‘In the bush, you mean, a group…?’
‘A band, if you prefer. In the outback, they drive big motorcycles. Yes, all former kapos. Now employed by some big concern, a mine or a cement factory, a multinational. But I’m not sure that their real calling isn’t firearms.’
‘I see. It’s serious, then.’
Manuel wipes his lips once more and adds, in a strange, hardly audible voice. ‘During the war, you see – don’t take me literally in this - you know the Germans occupied all those lands, Poland and so on. Of course you know. Well, he collaborated. He was a warden, a kapo. They called them that. The ideal Nazi sort of thing. The Third Reich was supposed to be liberating those people, Estonians, Ukrainians, Latvians, the escapees from Poland, and Croats, you know. So, when he learned, after Stalingrad, that the Red Army was approaching, he ran for his life. And listen to this, he had got his big hands so stained in blood (of his own compatriots, you know) that not even the Americans wanted to have him when he passed the several cross-points alright. But he went on, and on arrival at Orleans (you know, Headquarters) the Yanks at once spirited him away. To our country they sent him. Through the Pyrenees.’
‘To Franco’s Spain. And there the Church did the rest. For he’s a Roman Catholic, you see.’
‘I imagine he is. You know, there were many Ukrainians in Madrid, studying with us at uni, the Residencia Universitaria, Moncloa.’
‘I should think I know. One of my best friends was a Croat, Opic. He is a veterinary surgeon now. The Vatican filtered them into Catholic Spain. An organisation called Caritas, but the money came from Washington.’
‘And his wife?’
‘What do you want to know?’
‘Well, an escapee too? Was she a student in Spain?’
‘In our fatherland! A woman at university in Madrid? Did you ever know any?’
‘Well, very few, but some very beautifful, and rich heiresses. And I met one… very nice indeed, also short wavy hair, real blond.’
‘Shut up! Anyhow, the answer to your question is that she was not a student. Nothing up here,’ Manuel went on touching his forehead with two fingers.’
‘What’re you saying, you bastard, she plays the violin, well I should say.’
‘She did play it back in the old country. And here in this house, sometimes, most unfortunately, at odd hours. When he is not here.
‘An artist, you see.’
‘My lovely boy,’ Manuel says in a maudling voice, ‘as I suspected, I now see you find her fascinating, what the devil can this mean? Leave it.’
‘Well, why don’t you want to talk about her? I beg you, I want to know.’
Manuel polishes once more his thick lips and says: ‘It’ll soon be told. She was once upon a time, well, a famous violin-player, a child prodigy that sort of thing. By the way, would you have guess, she’s twenty-two or twenty-three, that sort of age.’
‘Quite possible, I mean, well she could be, why not? Only… she looks so haggard and melancholy.’
‘She was very ill,’ Manuel says, matter-of-factedly, standing up, and after a pause, he adds rather mysteriously, ‘Callan Park.’
‘Gosh, in the mental hospital!’ exclaims Luis, taken aback.
‘Exactly. Ain’t I telling you she’s stark mad? And thank God she then came across Krappov, who was at the time a male-nurse at the hospital. Without him, I’m assured, she would still be locked up there.’
‘You seem to know him well.’
‘Enough to make me fear him. Though on the other hand , you see, we get on together. He does appreciate my work here. I’m his bailiff sort of thing, for this property in Harris Street.’
‘He likes you, that must be.’
‘How did you come to meet him? This Krappov, he’s is a rough character, it seems. And his lady, I say, is she also Rus… Ukrainian?’
During this part of the conversation, Manuel has been moving about, arranging his things partly in the communal fridge, then the cupboard and shelves. Luis had as instructed now lowered his voice considerably, and his friend does not seem to have heard. When the latter sits down, he repeats: ‘The landlady?’
‘Yes, from Kiev,’ Manuel murmurs, and goes on, pensively: ‘And that’s why something tickled the scoundrel’s heart, absolutely. He had never been married before. Sort of fatherly love, I suppose. He is about twenty years older. Be it as it may, the case is that from Callan Park to the outback, and he took her to the altar as you say, bad composition, for her health never recovered. I must say, tough guys all around, well. And that’s why he came with her and bought this property. Jealousy, you see. It was me who advised him about Ultimo.’
‘You seem to know the guy well. How did you come to meet him?’
‘Ah that!’ Manuel said, making to go. ‘Look, I’ll tell you some other day.’
Luis retains him. ‘In two words, please, tell me now.’
‘I have to be at work at eight, ‘ Manuel turns to face him. ‘As it is, I’ve been talking too much already.’
His friend looks disappointed. ‘Two words.’
‘All right! Two sentences, eh?’ Manuel puts his jacket on, saying: ‘Firstly, when I escaped (for I also ran away from the old country, though not for the same reasons as you – this bracket doesn’t count) I landed in the end in the outback, you know, as you did on your part in a camp. Second explicative sentence: as I know you’re going to ask yourself, why among anticommunists, theirs is a good husbandry region, I’m a vet (in the old country I was, as you well know) and was pleased to find myself among these elements and the best cattle in the world. Bye-bye, I must be moving.’
‘Impossible, dear Luis,’ Manuel mutters with a sneer. ‘So long.’
The rain goes on, ceaselessly, monotonously. Inside the air is grey and there is the added noise of machines in full swing. His gaze is fixed on a long conveyor belt: four men are lurching about, following the movement of the machine.
… with capitalism humans have been converted into appendages of machines. And you, man, what are you? a worker, next to a machine, with a broom?
… a former student now converted into a means of production. Want to earn your daily bread? Convert yourself into a broom.
… progress? worse than when our ancestors trod the earth. The hominids were at least really free social beings. The horde. How Man became a giant!
… he could not have been one without woman, I feel it: this strange sensation, this yearning. I want her! the strange pallor of her face, those haunting eyes.
… a worker with a broom, surrounded by fragments of broken glass, as useless and primitive as a bloody earth worm, dirt, dirt, dirt.
On the conveyor belt a row of cardboard boxes ceaselessly moving; two silhouettes are glued to it on either side performing monotonously, machines themselves; at this end of the conveyor, where the boxes are constantly arriving, two other marionettes, silhouettes operating other contrivances, lifting the boxes, Zas! sealing them with metal bands: now piling them on a wooden tray on the floor, now carrying them on, in tiny electric vehicles, along some lateral lane to the lorries waiting outside in the rain.
‘Stanco, amico?’ It is a small white-haired man speaking. Standing in a haze in a corner, like Luis Galvao in dark blue overalls, also leaning on a broom.
‘I am alright, Bruno,’ Luis answers, pronouncing the three English words and the name rather loudly, because of the circumambient air, full of noise.
All of the sudden the machines stop running, all at the same time, and 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. Standing apart these two. A conversation going on in two foreign languages… ‘Stop jabbering!’ someone bellows, and others chime in: ‘Stop jabbering!’ Ten men scrambling together in their way to their tucker. ‘Stop yer bleedy lingo!’ They go on, without looking now: ‘Bastards, ye shut up!’ But without rant or malice, like when you are giving advice to recalcitrant New Australians not adapting themselves to the ways of the inhabitants of the land.
Avoiding the company in the canteen, Luis Galvao goes out of the factory and dashes towards the telephone booth, lifting the back of his jacket over his head because of the rain. He carries a newspaper in the other hand, damp and crumpled. He opens it and calls: ‘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 you’re saying.’
‘Right!’ Galvao articulates, now shaking nervously, ‘Warren and Warren Law Offices?’
‘I am a graduate in law, twenty-six years old, ringing in connection with this morning’s advertisment in the Sydney Morning Herald about a legal clerk, my degree is from…’
‘Galvao is the name, G, A, L…
He is interrupted by a few more coughs and then, ‘Say that again.’
‘I was spelling my name, G, A, L, V…’
‘Hold on, will you?’ and at the same time a noise of banging; then the old man’s distant, muffled voice: ‘Bobby… a New Australian… Herald…’
Then a new voice, a young man’s this time. ‘We’re sorry, sir. There must be a misunderstanding. Very sorry.’ And the sound of a phone being hung up. It was his third unsuccessful attempt at finding a job, in his line, since he came to live near the City. Now, is it no use? should he have stayed with the Forestry Commission in Wollongong? Is that what he should have done? At least more money than here. ‘Oh gosh!’ Still holding the receiver in his hand and gaping in despair, he starts kicking the walls of the cabin like a madman. An elderly man passing by calls him to attention. ‘Look here bold chap, will you,’ Luis hears. Coming out of the telephone booth, he makes a cone with the newspaper, sets it upon the man’s pate, and shouts: ‘For the rain, mate,’ He turns round and runs back to the factory, where he has his own nook in the warehouse. For he shies away from his mates. He is too nervous. During the lunch hour he avoids their company, preferring to eat his sandwiches alone, in silence, debating with himself, a thermos flask with coffee at his feet, hearing the tapping of the rain on the corrugated roof overhead.
In the afternoon, after four more hours’ work, Luis Galvao staggers out of the factory beside his friend Bruno, the other cleaner, with about half a dozen other workers, all silently trudging along for the time being on a broad but empty street with a line of brick buildings on the left which receive, just then, the oblique rays of a large setting sun, from the basements to the spiked gables. And with the sun going down in the west the glow disappears from the ground floor, intensifying higher up, on the sash-windows on top, a line of dazzling window-panes. He reads the trade names of the different corporations: BUSHELLS TEA, ARNOTT’S BISCUITS, VINCENT’S POWDER AND TABLETS.
Not many people are in the street or in the houses in those parts. They come to the warehouses. Near Darling Harbour. The street has narrowed, the public lights not on. He can hardly read the names of the shipping companies, written on the triangular frontispieces in black carved in white stone.
Luis Galvao senses through his nostrils the presence of the sea nearby. Through a large open gate he spies the movement of a few busy workers in the twilight of a warehouse, and some yellow lights at the end of a tunnel, and again the soft breeze coming from Darling Harbour. A liner perhaps just arrived from Southampton. Yes, the HIMALAYA. He sees the lights of the ship far away and the yellow lights of the wharf. More moving shadows. A good deal of agitation all around. In the meantime his mates have now reached the top of the street so he quickens his pace not to be outdistanced by them. Reaching the top of the hill, he turns right and moves onto the main road, now so very busy, full of cars, too; and double-decker buses and Juggernaut heavy lorries, all of which cause the whole structure of the bridge to tremble. He stops short and holds instinctively onto the grimy iron rail, gazing at the smooth dark surface of the water thirty feet below, dotted with the reflection of the yellow lights on the jetties and docks, in full activity at this hour. Pyrmont 13, the same big ship (yes, SSHIMALAYA.) Because of the vision of the liner, but also because night has now fallen completely and it is drizziling. He suddenly feels very lonely. The fog, where the stretch of sea called Darling Harbour joins up with the big bay of Port Jackson; the big iron bridge, looming high above the water; the remembrance of the way he came into Sydney to settle, and now he fails to appreciate the beauty of the new country. On the right the lights of the City, looming above the warehouses he has just turned away from. Here and there a HARBOUR POLICE launch, leaving a snow-white trail on the water, and several smaller boats, the noise of splashing oars causing in small measure the shiny surface to ripple. He hears cries and giggles of working girls, going across the bridge and quickly turns round to watch them. At once Bruno seizes him by the arm. He has been waiting for him at the zebra crossing (with spherical yellow lights, one at either side.) The two friends traverse the road together, having to dodge one or two cars all the same: people are in a great hurry at that hour. The title of the establishment, in red and green lights, is prominently displayed on the soiled dark façade; an old three-storeyed building. PYRMONT HOTEL.
Luis Galvao soon finds himself in a large hall full of light and tobacco smoke and that curious smell of decomposed liquor he now associates with pubs. On the right, sort of electronic machines and men gazing quietly at turning disks, a mug of beer in one hand and with the other activating a lever. A clinking noise somewhere near the bar, and on his side, where men and machines act together, of a sudden the jingling sound of several coins falling.
Making his way through a crowd of men, Luis reaches the bronze-and-walnut counter and shouts for a beer. The voluminous barmaid doesn’t understand. ‘Can’t mike out wot you’s sying!’ she shrieks, bending forward. Now he remembers: ‘A middy, please!’ he shouts holding out his half-crown coin. Leaning now against a wall with some oil paintings, the noise of the cash-register and the poker machines in his brain, he closes his tired eyes.
… gone to the station to fetch Margaret who comes to study Spanish. On New Year’s Eve we went with the Madrileños to the Puerta del Sol to hear the chimes of the Ministerio Clock welcoming 1955 in.
… we began strolling in the old part of town. We stopped at the entrance of an old pub: ‘Taberna del Sordo’. An old gypsy was playing a pasodoble at a barrel organ.
… we decide to go in, I took her in my arms and danced. In the spring of 1956, the first serious challenge against the regime took place, in the Law Faculty. Riots spread throughout the city; the repression that followed was terrible.
Luis Galvao is startled by a soft touch on his shoulder. ‘Si sente malato, spagnolo?’ he hears his Italian mate. ‘Nothing the matter, Bruno. I must go.’
He staggers out alone, under the persistent drizzle, and as he turns left into a working class district named Ultimo, he stops short just a minute to have a glimpse at the Pyrmont Power Station, a massive modern construction with two lofty chimneys and columns of snow-white smoke ascending upon the murky sky. The street-lamps have just been lit, but this has not changed the melancholy air of the district as he proceeds home at a brisker pace along Harris Street, a line of terrace house with no area railings or front garden. Having placed his spectacles in an inside pocket, because of the rain, he lifts with two hands the back of his jacket to protect his head. Some windows on the left are open and when there is no curtain he sees the usual flickering brownish-bluish lights and human shadows around the square-box. He trudges despondently on until he enters the boarding house. In the lounge-room the same subdue brownish-bluish light. Manuel and Nino are watching television holding hands and giggling. Leaving his jacket on the coat-stand Galvao crosses the lounge and passes on into the well-illuminated kitchen, where the landlady is having her dinner. Saying ‘Good evening!’ he steps up to the fridge and gets hold, among other tthings, of a medium-sized plastic box marked with his initials on a bit of elastoplast. He gets two or three other things from the nearby cupboard, moves to the communal table and takes a seat, facing the young woman, who at once rose from her seat with the obvious intention of making a dash to the door and be gone, leaving her meal, almost untouched on the table.
Luis Galvao at once grabbed her trembling hand in his, saying: ‘Please, do sit down and finish your meal; I shall only stay a minute.’ He pointed with his eyes to a dish of corned-beef and some Cracker biscuits. There are also a cup of tea and a silver samovar on the strong wooden table.
She quickly returned to her seat, shaking with timidity, tossing her short blond hair as she did so, and her strange eyes gave him the impression that she was lost in thought. He persisted in staring: her slight and graceful nose, pale face, slim bare arms and graceful body. She was simply dressed, and yet there was like a native elegance in her. She was nibbling a buttered Cracker, just a corner, absentmindedly, without moving anything but her hand and wrist. Her brow was slightly bent, which caused her eyes somehow to be hidden under the long eyelashes. ‘Like a Nordic Madonna,’ he said to himself, with marked curiosity. Of a sudden she asked, pouting: ‘Is that what you always have for dinner?’ For he had started to spread some peanut-butter on a slice of bread.
‘Oh no, not always, Mrs Krappov!’ he said with affection. I intend to do some cooking, you see, once I put myself…’ (he paused, for the young woman was looking at his face with nervous agitation)… ‘ on the right track. I mean shopping, cooking and all that: do I make myself understood?’ He paused, but she only nodded, and in order not to stifle a conversation just begun went on: ‘Otherwise, you see, Mrs Krappov, I might go to a restaurant.`
‘Ay! Don’t call me by that name all the time,’ she spat the words out, ‘I hate him.’
‘You’re married to him, aren’t you?’
She raised her eyes to his face and said, stamping her foot on the floor like a child: ‘But I didn’t want marry him. I had been ill and they are, oh! horrible men. They forced me to the altar.’
Hearing her cry the lodger felt a world of conflicting emotions. He liked being with her, to chat, to look at her pretty face. For she reminded him of his lost love even if this woman was so disconcerting, that weird gaze, her manners.
‘What are we?’ she asked, and her voice had sounded musical and sweet!
Often trembling, at times whimpering and always unreliable in her talk. He did not know what to tell her, what to do. He had been looking forward so much to this encounter, after hearing her play in the morning. Her right hand was lying on the table, long-tapered fingers. ‘The one that holds the bow,’ he thought and felt like caressing it. But just then she broke into tears. And just as suddenly, she left off crying and said: ‘You haven’t asked me what my name is.’
‘Well, what is it?’ he said, eagerly.
‘Malgorata,’ she replied, almost in a whisper, and after a pause, pouting with disdain, she cried: ‘He doesn’t let me play. Out of spite he does it.’
Luis was sure she expected to be pampered, but did not know how to proceed. He was a simpleton (he thought) and she looked so melancholy, for all she had this time combed her curls with care and used mascara and lipstick. She began talking, haltingly. She hated her husband, she said, her eyes flashing with anger, and he thought she looked beautiful in her tremulousness. ‘Malgorata,’ he said, ‘I heard you play this morning,’ and as he met her questioning look, he added, ‘most beautifully.’ There was a glow on her cheek that was not there before. He grasped one of her hands and approached his face. She withdrew her face, but he still held her hand. A faint perfume arose from her wrist.
‘I won a big prize, once,’ she was sayng in a whisper. Her cheeks looked nice and rosy, her lips opened and he caught a glimpse of two rows of white teeth.
‘Why did you give it up?’
She became depressed in a moment. ‘At first I played at home, I mean, I was learning with an orchestra in my home town,’ (she began, playing nervously with both hands, twisting her fingers) ‘then we did some trips abroad.’
Luis fell to thinking of his own travelling abroad, in Europe, and once more of the nice girl he still loved, left behind. The feeling of having become an immigrant, of being a displaced person, troubled him.
Malgorata’s voice was now in the background, in a foreign accent. ‘I didn’t want to do it,’ he heard, ‘It was not my fault. One morning, a man rang me at the hotel in Manchester, you know. We’d been playing in a big concert hall the night before.’
… in Manchester, her university city, that year, 1953; I had been hitch-hiking from the student camp near York. We spent the Christmas holidays together.
‘And this man told me, over the telephone,’ he was hearing Malgorata’s sweet musical voice, ‘gave me an address, the main street. They wanted to see me.’
‘What do you mean they wanted to see you, who were they?’
‘I’m not sure what I did. I was a girl of eighteen. He had told me to catch a taxi. They were three. Only the first one spoke Russian, the one on the telephone. The other two only English. I thought they were army people, but I don’t know.’
‘Were they Americans?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know. I didn’t speak English. They weren’t Russian, like the first one. Nor Ukrainians, I mean that they didn’t speak the language.’
… I had been surprised, from the very moment of my arrival at the boarding house, to see such a woman, so nervous and confused. Then I saw the man, treating her like a slave. Then I learned they came from Ukraine.
… in a new country to see a woman so utterly subjugated, a man treating his wife like a slave. I now wondered why she was unable to break that chain asunder which seemed to tie her to that horrible man.
‘And they offered me… oh, lots of money! A future, I thought. I played then with an American orchestra, stayed in England for two weeks. Then New York, Chicago, Canada, Melbourne, such a success. It was like heaven. Then you see… Ay! Ay! then Sydney, and one night…’ Tears trickled from her eyes.
‘And then, what?’ Luis insisted, again getting hold of her hand, soothing her.
‘Oh, God, I collapsed. They sent me to that hospital! Don’t want to talk about it.
Poor Luis Galvao was once again victim of his own contradictions. What a beautiful young woman he was holding in his arms! Always the same with him, a beautiful blonde for a loving Mediterranean man. He felt her trembling bosom on his and would have liked to shake her thoroughly to save her from being a slave. Why, why did she tolerate that monster? He wanted to make her react, and now shouted in a rather harsh voice. ‘Ha! it happens to all of us, Malgorata. We look for some impossible gain, we choose risk, adventure. In the end we lose.’
‘No, not adventure,’ she cried, shaking herself free, sobbing desperately. ‘It was my career. I was an artist, everyone had told me so. I was for… music! it is art! It always had been, and it was supposed to be… to triumph and I worked hard.’
‘But Malgorata, you had already triumphed… when you escaped.’
‘No, no… ay, no! No. It’s impossible. I wanted to improve my playing, being confronted with the great artists, I wanted to get experience, you see, it is... I mean… and I did succeed, I did succeed. For a year or… or two… eighteen months, I don’t know, I was acclaimed by all, and I… I was sure of becoming the best, you know, I… I…’ She wailed and trembled, looking piteously at Galvao, getting hold of both his hands, sobbbing. And he was sure she had the most beautiful two rows of white teeth he had ever seen.
‘Come on, come on!’ he said, and as she had bent her head down, taking her hands to her eyes, he put his arms around her shoulders, soothing her. Not succeeding at all, for as a person he was different, became cruel. ‘Acclaimed you, eh! And paid you well! There was money, good money; am I not right?’
‘Money too, but it was not important,’ she wailed, sitting up, staring, her face dirty with mascara.
‘Why did you leave the Soviet Union?’ he repeated, staring back, right into her eyes, ‘you were on the way to success already, real success, no? A good Ukrainian orchestra. You are young, what other triumph did you expect?’
‘But it was not my triumph,’ she answered, vehemently, ‘I wanted to play my own music, I mean, to develop my own style, not be stifled, you see. It is impossible over there. They don’t let you become a great artist, they suppress your… your individuality. They are bad, ay! the communists are terrible, terrible!’
Luis Galvao looked at her, but said nothing.
‘I can’t go on like this. I’m going to fall ill,’ she went on, shaking all over. ‘The violin was my life, my all. And I must go on playing, I must live, you know.’ Big tears were rolling down her pale face. ‘It meant so much to me. Heaven bear witness…’ pressing the palms of her hands together she broke again into bitter, desperate weeping, her elbows on the table, her brow now on the palm of her hand. And when she had done with weeping, she stood up and went rushing out of the kitchen and into the bedroom across the passage.