A Sentimental Journey through Sydney
For migrants in the fifties Sydney was a hope and a surprise. In a rich country, it was cosmopolitan; fragmented, sprawling: soulless real estate developments in pretty natural surroundings, spots in City with much character; plus magnificent bay.
A sentimental journey through Sydney
Fernando García Izquierdo
Entering the city the New Australian looks about bewildered and confused, and sinks back on his seat. A landscape of houses, the jetties with ferryboats, the Harbour Bridge looming high above the expressway. Some lofty buildings on the left. The sky is leaden grey with a yellow glint. Only the sound of motorcars and the wind break the great stillness. A hollow iron structure glides past, still on the left, like steel beams pointing to the sky. Some yellow cranes. Glowing glass façades and inbetween a motley array of old brick houses with black chimneys, galvanised-iron roofs, rows of sash-windows.
Leaving the expressway, the car enters the city, a district of four-or-five-storeyed houses, commercial establishments with unnecessary neon lighting, and the shadows of pedestrians stalking beneath a steel-and-plaster overhang which runs all along the street. And everywhere in shop-windows, stands, doors and passage-ways, always and everywhere the same sign CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED.
“Dreadful weather,” he remarks, leaning forward.
The old man doesn’t 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 a broken voice, “Very much like August.” A score of sounds, like a refrain, slowly uttered and - as far as the Spaniard is concerned – utterly devoid of meaning. Believing nevertheless the man has at last made up his mind to start a conversation, he bends forward once again: his lips move close to the wrinkled red nape. To no avail. The driver does not seem to have heard him; or maybe he hasn’t understood, because of the passenger‘s strong foreign accent. Luis Galvao sits still, trying to hide his anger with a sneer. He spies the shadow of a stroller moving along one of the pavements under the overhang. The immigrant reads unfamiliar names, STERN’S, NOCK & KIRBY’S, WOOLWORTHS, COLES’, BEARD WATSON, CRUNCH, 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 Galvao, “and on the Day of the Lord, too!” At a 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 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. 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. He now observes a lonesome young woman 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 that charming frown?” Shade and loneliness invade his heart, 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!
… he recalls his engagement back home, that early enthusiasm, and the struggle, the mounting difficulties, the many battles fought and lost, the regime’s clamp down on dissidents and protesters.
“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, some 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. Galvao pays him. They both alight. The driver opens the boot and waits. Slowly, wearily Galvao gets hold of his cases and moves on, while the other gets back into his cab and drives away.
From nearby the houses look still shabbier. 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 the roof that can be seen from the pavement. No name or number anywhere, for wherever there is a brassplate, the message has been obliterated by the weather long ago. 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! 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 the cases once more, 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 and waits. Nothing happens. He tries again, and this time a not altogether unpleasant flaxen-haired head peeps out.
“Excuse me, I am looking…”
The vision vanishes without uttering a word. Pushing the door open Luis Galvao 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. Only, her hair this time is platinum-blond, unless it be 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 for a moment, watching the scene on the set with great attention, 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 appears an awfully large figure. “Sorry!” Galvao mutters, stumbling over. 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 taps lightly at a door and 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 sits under the window. “Well, 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 other bed.
“Oh dear, no! He is 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 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 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 his glasses with his handkerchief. “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 up on the single door of a built-in wardrobe, a map of Germany during the III Reich. “Is he German?” he asks.
‘’My word! German to the backbone,” Manuel answers, standing up. “Now, you’ll excuse me…. the Sunday programme, you know?”
“Of course, of course,” Galvao answers, also standing up. “Well, good night!”
“Ta ta! Sleep tight.”
As soon has Manuel taken his leave, Luis 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 corrugated-iron roof, not unlike the rattling of a machine gun. The light was off and as he gazed out into the night images from the past came vividly back to him, and in another minute he was shivering.
… I grieve for my 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 so soon! Now a run-away seeking shelter in foreign parts, thousands of miles away, an entirely new horizon. That better world I sought has turned out to be a fallacy, only this solitude is real! I’ll always be alone with my recollections of those younger years when I really was alive, I believed in a Revolution that never came, that I didn’t see was coming or which I failed utterly to understand.
… the rattling on the roof-top goes on, the ceiling looks menacing and low; now and then the hooting of a cargo ship on the harbour, far away, brings back souvenirs from the native home: the vision of a rowing-boat, wafting me away to Tangiers, fills my heart with many fears and regrets, those two comrades risking their lives to help me escape from Cadiz Bay, fortress of torture, shame and death. Self-debased and with no purpose, having abandoned my English girl. Oh, Margaret, my only love! that summer ’53.
… every night we marched to the village along the calm country road with linked arms, girls and boys, filling the air with our songs; macadam and green strips on the sides, full of daisies, buttercups and dandelions. On the hill, as we approached, the public house looming high: black beams crossing the white façade, the name on a black placard in gold lettering, THE KING’S ARMS. A multitude of tiny copperish window-panes reflecting the rays of a dazzling setting sun. The place was full of people from the village with some of whom we had worked that very day in the fields.
… an elderly woman in a colourful dress and a hat with an artificial flower was presiding at an old piano, her fingers thumping the keys. She sang turning her head to her audience and the refrain was enthusiastically taken up by the audience. I too lifted my mug of beer in the air, pretending that I knew a song I had not heard in all my days, just shouting whatever English word came to my mouth, and my English girlfriend, catching sight of me, silently moved her lips: “You cheat!” and I reply, motioning my lips, “I love you!”
… oh, my pretty Lancashire lass! dancing a slow waltz with a student from Uppsala. He has embraced her tight by the waist, bending his blond head forward, with great expertise, “A Swedish Rhapsody”, and she looks happy. At least I see on her face that radiant smile. And I felt so very jealous: her body bending back, her short calico dress floating in the air as she turns and turns, led by the Swedish boy: ay! what pretty, shapely legs she had.
… on the road back to the camp she rests her sweet head on my shoulder, that gorgeous fair hair now caressing my neck: short, wavy and blond in the most adorable person imaginable, now shining white in the moonlight. “It’s you, Luis, the one I Iove.” Such a lovely night. Half way between the village and the camp there lies an unused canal with a lock. We stand at the edge of the bulging stone-bridge, gazing at the silvery surface of the water, and I press her pretty body against mine.
… her arm around my waist, responding to the pressure. I see two silhouettes down below falling in love, in the reflection of a perfect roman-arch. That silvery quietness extending a score of yards up to the old lock. On both sides of the waterway hundreds of reeds standing in the moonlight, long and black, like as many strokes made by an extremely thin brush in a Japanese painting.
… ‘’Come, let’s go!’’ I murmur, and we stroll along the towpath, the canal on our left-hand side, some wheatfields on the right. And in the distance the camp, the lights of the “Recreation Hall”: the sound of voices, the campers enjoying themselves, a few playing guitars and singing.
“My Margaret!” Luis cries, Iying down on his bed by the window in a garret of a boarding-house, a suburb name Ultimo. And he weeps. In vain he laments her loss, for there is no going back to La Moncloa where she was wrenched away from him by the paramilitaries of the regime. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Oh, my girl! I want you. A sash window forever, the sky, the stars, a liner hooting in the harbour.
Only once again! that summer night, the wheatfields bathed in the moonlight. That immense undefined feeling of happiness. A pretty girl I loved, and swore that all my life I would love her best of all. Luis remembers everything: there were twelve nissen-huts in the camp and then four wooden huts, the dining room, the warden’s office, rooms for the staff, and the biggest the Recreation Hall. Two gravel paths with corresponding signs on the lawn, FEMALE QUARTERS, MEN’S QUARTERS. “Spaniard, not your way!” she had called. And he turned round. ‘Margaret.’ The campers worked in the fields, helping the farmers for a fee (so many farmhands had been killed in the war or gone to work in factories in the cities), and in the evening they played and danced and enjoyed life.
All that came to an end, and it was sad to think it would never come back. All gone so quickly. Now it was a shared-room in a boarding house in a Sydney suburb named Ultimo. Alone with his thoughts, Luis Galvao thinks. “Gone? all gone? Could her absence ever make my heart more tender?”
… that quiet night particularly. By the sleepy canal. I see her sitting on the grass, holding her legs very tight with both arms, her chin resting meditatively on her deliciously round knees now bathed by the moonlight.
… lying on the grass I lifted my hand to caress those knees, then I grabbed with both hands a few blades of the grass I was lying on and took them to my face; for I wanted to absorb through my senses the very essence of that English night.
… the prussian-blue sky, the stars, the volunteer agricultural camp, the moors: that unforgettable August of 1953. My love, my hopes, prospects and utmost desires, all were there and specially my youth.
… yes, I want to rub these blades of grass on my cheeks, my mouth, my nose, so that in years to come –oh, my darling!- if I happen to be on the brink of despair, I may be able by a stroke of will to recall your precious image, to relive this very moment.
… this happy feeeling, our love tonight and all the emotions we have shared, that we felt so intensely together -oh Margaret, my Margaret!- which already form part of my being forever.”
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, while the woman only whispered a monosyllable or two, after which a prolonged moan was heard.
Casting his eyes around in the almost complete darkness of the room, he saw a young man on a nearby bed quite still, but not asleep; for he noticed the fellow moved his left arm, 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; he repeated the operation and then stubbed out the cigarette on the wooden floor.
So depressed and sick at heart had he felt of late that at times his reasoning powers seemed to fail him, and just now his mind was clouded with doubts: was he hearing and seeing or merely dreaming? He was about to ask something of his fellow-lodger when he was suddenly 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 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. As he was trudging back to the bedroom, after having been sick for about five minutes, 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 like in a dream 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. Muttering a subdued “Good morning!”, which received no reply, he proceeded to a cupboard by the cooker.
There were two persons in the kitchen: a man, probably the proprietor of the place Manuel had referred to, and a much younger woman, actually the person who let him in the house that afternoon. The man was having his breakfast, and the woman was serving him in a terrible state of agitation.
Galvao retraced some of his steps, and sat opposite the man drinking a hot tisane. He would have liked to exchange a few words with him, even more so with the lady, but they were terribly awkward and in fact unapproachable. She avoided his gaze and he seemed in a hurry and after a while stood up. A big bear of a man he was, blond, low-browed with bushy eyebrows that stuck up like antennae. He grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table, served himself a tumbler and tossed it off at one go. Whereupon he left the company without saying a word, took a leather jerkin and a helmet from a hook in the passage and stalked out of the house. A moment later the sound of an engine was heard; soon the sound grew fainter and died out. Luis Galvao 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 comfronting her. ‘’Don’t go, please,’’ he whispered, holding her: her hand was trembling. She stood still, piercingly staring into Galvao’s eyes. It was then that, in the brightness of the neon light, he noticed how strange her eyes looked: large and attractive in a way, but they were of different colours, one was blue, the other hazel-brown. Only once before in his life had Luis Galvao encountered the phenomenon; but then he hadn’t thought it so very odd. “Please, don’t!” he whispered again. For she had burst into tears. Without opening her mouth, her hand still in his grasp, she gave a sudden pull, scuttled out of the kitchen and vanished. Luis Galvao looked quite perplexed at the door through which she had gone, then sat down. He had hardly begun to drink his tea when he heard the sound of music coming from somewhere on the ground floor: the woman must be playing the violin. He stayed listening, resting his head sideways on his forearm on the table, dreaming; for the music spoke directly to his heart, bringing back memories from the past.
… from the camp comes a song full of feeling. “It must be Swedish,” I say in a whisper. “It’s ‘bout a Norwegian girl,” she tells me, and I see her pretty chin, resting on her knees in the moonlight. “Her lover ran away to make money and conquer the world, but she remained faithful to him.”
… Margaret, holding her legs tight with both hands. I am in love. “And you,” I ask overcome by the story. “will you wait for me?” Peer Gynt. “Oh, you’ll go back to your people and forget all about me.” The idea is that men are false. “Not true,” I whisper. It is real love, not pleasure. That is why. And then separation… one very sad day… Oh, my English girl! It wasn’t me, it wasn’t my fault. A pang.
… like in a dream I hear a voice. Inside me: “You’re a liar and a poltroon, a run-away who has seen his girl fall in the hands of the paramilitaries. She came to Madrid when you were another man, having fallen in the hands of the ‘antidisturbios’ of the regime…
Luis Galvao, a revolutionary who had read Lenin, had already lost that driving force when she came: before falling in the hands of the ‘escuadras de la muerte’ he had believed, and at that crucial moment, in their hands, he had faltered and cried like a baby. Love had ceased to be all-important, as had loyalty to a cause he had once thought immortal. Only preservation of his own self had counted in the end, could be of any consequence in a troubled world where nothing was left but greed.
“Goodness gracious!” Luis hears a man coming in. The music has ceased, the image of a pretty girl of short wavy hair, playing the violin, is no longer in his mind, now a blank: there is only the rattling of the rain on the corrugated-iron roof of the porch outside the kitchen door.
“I say, my boy, what are you doing here in that apparel?” Galvao feels a touch on his shoulder. “You look horrible.’’ He turns his gaze round. Manuel stands before him, always prim and smelling of eau-de-cologne, that sugary smile of his playing on his rather sensual lips. “Ah, well!” Luis exclaims, “haven’t you heard there’s been a fight? Are you all deaf in this house, or crazy or what?”
Manuel laughs. “Oh dear, I see what you mean!” He stands, caressing his clean-shaven chin with the palm of one hand. “Yes, quite horrible, but don’t you worry; he’s left for the bush, where he has his employment. You slept badly, I see; but don’t worry, dear Luis, this happens only rarely.”
He has begun preparing his breakfast very methodically. After getting his food out from the fridge, he lights the cooker, bringing forward the ingredients, and frying-pan, pot and kettle from a cupboard; having fried two eggs and some bacon rashers, he stands by his friend, polishing with a serviette his cutlery. “See what I mean?” he says, sitting down. “Manuel, why didn’t you tell,” Luis says impatiently, “I mean… that I would be coming to such an odd place?”
“Odd, you say. My dear Luis, everybody‘s odd, one way or another, in this… world of ours (I was going to say Vale 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?’’
For a moment Galvao does not answer, then says: “But they’re all nuts. The German upstairs too. And have you seen the woman’s eyes?”
“Of course I have. So what?” Manuel goes on, standing up. “Now, Luis. I’m making some coffee, will you join me, or what can I offer you?”
“No, thanks,” Galvao mutters, and after a pause, he starts again: “And… and he treats her like a slave, he does. Doesn’t anybody…”
“Wait a momo,” Manuel says, raising his hand. “I feel you are a little squeamish. There are quarrels in the best of families, absolutely. As for you and me, we aren’t to interfere, full stop.” He lays his coffee on the table and pats his friend’s cheek. “No, don’t get annoyed. I’ve the weakness of loving my friends, you see. Though, of course, you’re not altogether wrong about Krappov; he’s a savage bear, that’s for sure.” He brings his chair nearer.
“Is that the name, Krap-off?” Luis asks, drawing back.
“That is his name, Leonidas Krappov, two pees,” Manuel giggles, and goes on in a very low voice, “straight out from the Russian steppe. Oh, dear, no! Not Russian, but Ukrainian (not the same.) I mustn’t make that mistake again, or he’ll smother me.’’
“A bear’s hug,” Luis sniggers, responding to his friend’s rather comic mood.
Manuel folds his serviette and passes it parsimoniously over his moist lips, then says rather peevishly: “As for his wife, that silly romping thing, what can I tell you? You’ve seen her, nothing to speak of, full stop.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t raise your voice,” Manuel warns, “follow my example.”
“Well,” Luis mutters, “I find her quite interesting and, to tell the truth, beautiful. I mean… No, don’t interrupt me. If she combed that pretty blond hair of hers…”
“Beautiful? Well, well, well! Haven’t you just mentioned her eyes? An uglier creature would be difficult to imagine. But, what is happening here? Okay, you go on, make eyes at her and all that sort of thing; but be careful, my dear, that you don’t steal her heart, for you’ll be in trouble if you do, absolutely.”
“In trouble? Why, Krappoff?”
“Ssh! Krappov, yes. You’ve seen the bear. But what you don’t know is that he’s a member of a group of chums training out there.”
“In the bush, you mean?”
“The outback, if you prefer. All employed by some big concern, a mine or a cement factory, I don’t know; but their real calling is, well, firearms. Now, this may interest you,” lowering his voice to a whisper, “I believe that during the war – don’t take me literally in this – he was a warden or foreman or something in a concentration camp, you know.”
“Not surprised. He looks horrible… I mean, frightening.”
“The ideal nazi sort of thing. Now, this may also interest you. When he learned that the Red Army was approaching he ran for his life. And listen to this,” he added, lifting his gaze and pointing with his knife, “he’d got his big hands so stained with blood that not even the Americans wanted him; and from Orleans, where he’d landed somehow, they spirited him away, through the Pyrenees, and into our fatherland, do you follow?”
“I can quite imagine… saw many nazis in Madrid… escapees.”
“Me too; but let me go on: and in Miranda de Ebro, well, the Church did the rest to save him (for he’s a Roman Catholic, you know.) He crossed our country, dressed as priest, no a dominican. A stopover in Gibraltar, you know, that piece of the United Kingdom in the Peninsula, and hence to Australia.”
“And his wife?”
“The missus is indifferent. In politics, I mean, if that’s what you want to know. As for the rest, poor thing, you see,” Manuel went on, touching his forehead with two fingers, “not much up here.”
“She plays the violin well.”
Manuel is now polishing his thick red lips with the tip of his serviette; then, placing his other hand on his friend’s shoulder he says in a maudlin tone: “I see, my lovely boy, that you too find her fascinating, that sort of thing. Really, what the devil can this mean?”
“Ah, never mind, let’s leave it? She’s not worth noticing, really.”
“All the same, pray tell me more about her.”
Manuel had already made to go, but hearing his friend’s loud voice, he turns round and, still standing, he touches Galvao’s ear with his lips. “Since you insist. It’ll soon be told,” he whisppers. “She was once upon a time, well, a famous violin player, a child prodigy, that sort of thing. By the way, would you guess… she’s just a girl, why!, 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, and adds, rather mysteriously: “Callan Park.”
“Gosh! In the mental hospital?” Luis exclaims, taken aback.
“Exactly. Ain’t I telling you she’s stark mad? And thank God she came across Krappov, who was at the time a male-nurse at the hospital. Without him she would still be locked up there, I’m assured.’’
“You seem to know him well?”
“Enough to make me fear him. Though on the other hand he does appreciate my work here, he likes me. I never talk to him about politics. In a word, he made me his bailiff for the property, as I believe I’ve already told you… I like him too.”
“And the lady, is she also Ukrainian?”
Manuel was now arranging his things in the communal fridge and upon the shelves. “That’s right,” he answered without looking, then came near again. “And that’s why something tickled the guy’s heart. Sort of fatherly love, I suppose. Be it as it may, the case is that he took her to the altar, as they say, in Bathurst. Then her health began to deteriorate once again. Life in the bush didn’t suit the young princess, you see. And that’s why he bought this property.”
“How did you come to meet this… Krappov?”
“Ah that!” Manuel answers, making to go. “Look, I’ll tell you about it some other time.”
“In two words, please, tell me now in two words, before you go.”
“I’ve to be at work at eight. But I’ll tell you in two sentences. Firstly, when I escaped from the old country (for I also ran away, though not for the same reasons as you – this bracket doesn’t count), I went to live in the outback and made friends there. Second sentence: I was trying to obtain some experience, in veterinary science, you see. Bye-bye! Have to go.”
“Me too. Wait a moment, and we’ll go out together. In ten minutes I’ll be ready.”
“I can’t. So long.”
The rain goes on, ceaselessly, monotonously. Indoors 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 inmense open space. Four or five men are lurching about, mere appendages to the machines, instruments themselves, in a long boring process; passively looking at things, material, constant capital, rolling on and on, auxiliaries like themselves getting on in life, animate or inanimate elements performing each one a determined task in the process of production. One can hardly see the beginning of the belt beyond mysterious shadows. 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. There are two nearby wearing gloves. Nobody talks with anybody and only the noise of machines is heard, logically. In perfect combination with the tapping rain on the iron roof, it makes music that breaks the great monotony of his life. A woman in grey-blue working apparel. Why not? Will she be pretty? Half-way on one side of the conveyor-belt. Then a man in overalls, and another one.
Luis Galvao is rather static, too, just at that moment with a snuffling nose to boot, 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 it. One of the cardboard boxes descending quickly on the conveyor had landed on the cement floor and, the cardboard tearing apart, a dozen glass-containers have smashed into a thousand pieces on the cement floor, spreading the chemical about. For a while, Luis the cleaner, has been pressing his crumpled handkerchief to his face, sneezing, sneezing, sneezimg.
“Luigi amico,” he half-hears someone nearby.
He goes on sneezing, half-gazing around him with dizzy eyes. It is the voice of someone working near him, holding a broom and a scoop, working instruments, just like in his case. His mate the Italian, another cleaner.
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 the two in overalls glued to machines where the conveyor belt ends, lift the boxes. The boxes 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 piling together 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?” the Italian asks compassionately.
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.
“It’s alright!” Luis pronounces rather loudly.
The old man had begun telling Galvao something the latter cannot hear or understand, 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 Galvao goes out at lunch-time, dashes to a nearby 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,” Galvao 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. Galvao is the name, G. A. L….”
He is interrupted by a few loud coughs, and then: “Say that again!”
“I was spelling my name, G.A.L.V. … “
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.
A elderly gentleman stops outside the cabin, where Luis is now weeping. “Look here, bold chap,” the man shouts, “will you?” Galvao 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.
He has his own nook in the warehouse, where he hides from the others during the lunch break. There is a good canteen for the workers in the soap and detergent factory. He might have met his mates for a good and cheap lunch, but he hates to go there; he feels worse there, alone in the middle of a crowd.
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 some 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 these ones smell of bleach and other chemicals, which causes his eyes to smart and his nose to itch. When he joined his mates in the main section of the factory, for afternoon employment, the tapping of the rain on the galvanised-iron roof had ceased. Moreover, the air outside (he can see) is clear. He feels better, ready to work a few more hours moving about, forming a team with other cleaners.
When Luis Galvao left the factory that day the sky was bright and blue, the sun looked large in the west, towards Parramatta River. He remembered the place, the name of that distant suburb in the west, because the aboriginal name sounded to him, the first time he heard it, so much like something in his mother tongue: “parra y mata”, that he kept it in his memory. He has driven through that suburb since and contemplated more than once in the distance, from under the big Harbour Bridge, when crossing the bay on a ferryboat. He now gazes back as he was going out of the factory on towards the busier parts of Down Town and enjoys the brightness of the sun, the more so because he knows it will not last long (in these parts, night seems to come so much of a sudden!) He therefore stopped all lazy contemplation of the landscape and quickened his pace to join his mates, who had also left the factory. All were moving towards Pyrmont Bridge. There was old Bruno and and Barry, with others, all now on the high part of Sussex Street. All are silently trudging along, heads bent down and arms hanging limply. It was in fact a rather broad and often empty road, save for the lorries that came to and from the factories and went sometimes straight away to the docks, carrying out merchandise which went into cargo boats and to the whole wide world. The soap-and-detergent factory was situated, just at the beginning of the street, beneath the Observatory Park, one of the prominent hills that had been of great importance in the times of the Colony, where the First Fleet built at once “the garrison” to defend the new possession of the British Crown. The heights, now called The Rocks, of which the observatory forms part, was once all that Sydney Town was, itself: the lot (then and now) overlooking the harbour. It was, as he gazed up, a place of narrow streets, full of small dark cottages looming high.
There was a line of redbrick buildings on the left (as he trudged on) receiving at that moment the rays of the setting sun, causing the sash-windows, specially on the top floors, to glitter. And again he lost himself contemplating the houses (actually factories), all the doors now closed, as were the windows. On the façades of the buildings there were big signs or tradenames: VINCENT’S, BUSHELL’S, ARNOTT’S, PEEK-FREANS’, UNCLE TOBY… On his right big stone-block buildings of another kind, lofty and grey, with no windows. Only the big gates, and triangular frontispieces on top, displaying the names in black, of shipping firms, carved in white stone. They are the old warehouses. Darling Harbour is on the other side. The street lamps were at that moment unlit, and in most cases the enormous wooden gates are closed and locked, sometimes with big chains and padlocks; but when by chance a gate is still open, Luis can catch a glimpse of the sea in the distance through a more or less shadowy inside which is followed by a second big opening, at the other end, and then, some cranes and girders come to sight. To him, all this appears very much in the distance, with a bit of the harbour at that end, docks, jetties, the wharves. Sometimes, the black funnels of a ship or two are seen, and then some curly snakes of smoke flying high here and there. Thr sight of this smoke and the painted funnels, the lit portholes and windows on the decks of the ships, make Luis dream of long voyages and new adventure. Night is approaching, as he moves on, and the mystery of innumerable glimmering yellow lights in the gathering fog, transforms for him the scene into something else. He passes on: again the balancing silhouettes of the wharfies on the jetties, or of some sailors belonginng to the ships. All so much in the distance. Something his own imagination builds up in the mysterious situation.
These visions only last a few moments. And the open gates are left behind. Night is coming on so fast! He realises he is still quite alone, always his destiny. Quite frightened he once more increases his pace. He once dreamt of a journey to the South Seas. And that happened in Gibraltar far away, embarking on the SS HIMALAYA, just arrived from Southampton, England. His mind is now full of presentiments. Something is going to happen to him if he doesn’t join his mates. He sees them again at the end of the ever-darkening street. They all turn right, and he hurries up, entering like them the main road leading to Pyrmont. The roadway is full of vehicles as Luis begins to cross the iron bridge which spans Darling Harbour. The Pyrmont Terminals are on his right, the same ones he had seen some minutes ago from Sussex Street. The double-decker buses and the Juggernaut lorries, which at that hour fill the narrow roadway, cause 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 the voices and giggles of some girls cause him to turn round. Nice-looking young women indeed, going across as he goes, to nearby suburbs. On his side of the bridge (good luck!), proceeding as he does from the factories of Sussex Street, on their way home for tea. Following the female workers with avid eyes, he suddenly bumps into Bruno the Italian, the friendliest of the workers from the factory.
“Oh, there you are!” The Italian says, grabbing him by the arm. The white lights of the lampposts on the footpath flickering on the pretty faces of the maids passing by, the rest of the passers-by, the noise and smoke of buses and cars and lorries, he doesn’t know what to do. He makes to cross the road, but his mate holds him back. There are no traffic lights, only two tall posts, on each kerb a big spherical yellow light. Following the other, Luis Galvao stalks on the zebra marks, dodging the traffic, so dense at that hour; he reaches the other side. As they proceed, Bruno ceases to hold his elbow. Luis sees for the first time, in the background, the terrifying Power Station, two columns of thick white smoke ascending upon the dark sky. The two friends turn onto Pyrmont Bridge Road, and stop short at the entrance of a two-storeyed building with the flickering title of the establishment displayed in green and red neon lights, PYRMONT HOTEL. He eventually finds himself in a dark corridor, following his mates, and passes into 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 turned and moved through the crowd towards a bronze-and-walnut bar. A redheaded woman serves him. “Thank you, my pretty!” he says and goes outside, holding his glass of beer. Galvao 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.
Holding the 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. I held her with both palms under her chest and the feeling of her nice ribs sent me dreaming. 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 left into Pyrmont Bridge Road. He sees again the two columns of white smoke coming out of the power station. He turns again, into Ultimo, this time. Before entering his own street, Harris Street, he presses his wet unshaven chin against his right shoulder, gazing once more at Pyrmont Power Station: a third chimney appears in the dark, with a flickering red light on top. He proceeds with his hands in his jacket pockets now at a brisker pace, for he is getting wet. 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 in the property, the commodity being quite new in Australia. Some human shadows are seated quietly around the square box.
This is a long straight road. He knows he is reaching his destination when he sees in the distance the illuminated name of BUSHELL’S TEA, red and green neon light on a the black sky. Before the dark factories buildings appear on the other side of the street, 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 Galvao 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 Galvao 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, her gaze nearly always fixed upon her side of the table, her broad brow bent and her eyes hidden under her long dark eyelashes. She wore a loose lowcut dress of some silky material, and her arms, neck and upper part of her chest looked handsomely tanned. Neither of them spoke. After going again to the fridge to get out a bottle of milk (marked, like the box, with his initials), he returned to the table. Suddenly and unexpectedly the lady pronounced in a fine musical voice, her eyes resting for a few seconds on his face. “Is that what you always have for dinner?”
“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 now gazing with nervous agitation) “on the right track. I mean shopping, cooking and all that: do I make myself understood?” He paused again; but she only nodded, and in order not to stifle a conversation just begun he went on: “Otherwise, you see, Mrs. Krappov, I might go to a restaurant.”
“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 once again and said, stamping her foot upon the floor like a child. “But I didn’t want to marry him, I didn’t!” She hid her face in her hands and cried: “He forced me into it. Oh, they are horrible people!”
Hearing her cry, the lodger felt a world of conflicting emotions, for he now liked her very much. That round childish face, slim sweet body. How they had come together in the communal kitchen tonight. But she was trembling all the time and the end he was trembling too. Luis Galvao, who had been looking forward so much to this encounter, face to face with the landlady, suddenly became timid like a boy.
She had both hands on the table, palms down. He hesitated, then lifted one hand and touched her fingers, slightly, still with timidity; but all the same caressingly, and she did not raise any objection. Looking for an opportunity to start a conversation, he talked of music, knowing she played the violin. She might even play again that Swedish piece, specially for him. Suddenly, she left off trembling and said: “You haven’t asked me yet what my name is.” And she was suddenly full of excitement
“Well, what is it?” he asked.
“Malgorata,” she answered, and after a pause: “He doesn’t let me play. Out of spite he does it.” Her eyes flashed with anger, and Galvao thought she looked beautiful in her tremulousness.
He had noticed with pleasure and surprise that she had combed her short hair and used mascara and lipstick.
“Malgorata, tell me,” he asked her diirectly, “I heard you play the violin this morning,” and as he paused, meeting her questioning look, he went on, “most beautifully.”
She smiled and there was a glow on her cheeks. He got hold of one of her hands and made to kiss it; she withdrew it and a faint perfume arose from her wrist as she moved away.
“I won a big prize,” she uttered after a little while, and as she smiled Luis caught a glimpse of two graceful rows of white teeth.
“You see? good, no!” he said, trying to bring his chair nearer, and after another pause, he added: “Why did you give it up?”
“At first I was playing with the orchestra of my home town,” she answered, twisting her fingers, “and… and we did some trips abroad.”
“Good,” he repeated timidly, absorbed as he was in the contemplation of her strange and yet very pretty regard, while she added also timidly, but more calmly: “In Manchester a man called…” She stopped and took one hand to her mouth biting the nail of one finger furiously.
“In Manchester,” she repeated, “a man rang me at the hotel.”
… precisely the city of my now lost girlfreind (Luis thought.) She had invited me to stay the weekend; I hitch-hiked and lived in her parent’s place; that Saturday, the two of us went around the town, including a detailed visit to the the university, where she was to start in the fall.
And Luis Galvao this time hardly heard what Margorata was saying, when of a sudden he felt the touch of her sweet hand. She was again trembling. “He gave me an address,” she whispered, “and I went to see them…”
“Them? I don’t understand. A man rang you at the hotel. That is what I heard. And Malgorata, pressing with her ten fingers his hand, added: “They were three, only the first one spoke Russian, the voice on the telephone. I think he was the same person. The other two only spoke English. I thought they were army people, but I’m only guessing.”
“Were they Americans?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I didn’t speak any English.” (It was pitiful for him to observe, such queer shivering.) “And they offered me, oh lots of things!, and I played then with a big American orchestra. Much money. All England, then New York, Canada, Melbourne, Sydney and then… ‘’ the tears once more trickled down her eyes.
“And then?” Galvao asked, getting hold of her hand again, soothing her.
“They sent me to that hospital!” she said in a wailing tone.
There was a turn of the conversation when Galvao said quite severely, “There is the free world for you!” For he was thinking of his own country, under the boot of fascism, and thought the young woman shouldn’t have run away from communism, and she, like a wounded person, began to cry very loudly. He tried to correct his mistake, consoling her. “It happens to the lot of us, Malgorata,” he said, lowering his voice. “We choose risk, adventure.” She wiped her face, spreading mascara over her cute rounded cheeks. “No, not adventure. It was my career, you see,” she said, shaking, “I wanted to improve my playing, being confronted to… ay! to the best, to be compared with the other great artists, to play a lot, all the time. I wanted to have experience. And I… I did succeed in the free world. For eighteen months or a year… I don’t remember… I did succeed. And it was great! Everyone acclaimed me, you see, I was sure of the triumph.’’
“Come on, come on!” he said, not unfriendly, but still thinking of his own past. “They applauded you when you played good music; and paid you good money.”
“Money too. But it wasn’t that which was important.”
He again took hold of her hand, which was cold and unresponding. “Why did you leave the Soviet Union?” he asked, “hadn’t you triumphed back home?”
“But it was not my triumph,” she cut him short, stamping her foot.
“What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t my triumph!” she answered, vehemently. “And I don’t know why I left. Except that overthere... I wanted to develop my own style… not to be stifled. They don’t let you become a great independent artist, they suppress… suppress your individuality. Ah, you don’t know communism is horrible.” He said nothing and she went on, “Oh, I cannot go on like this! I’m going to fall ill again. You see? The violin was my life. The violin is all I have, my all. It meant so much to me, the violin meant so much to me… always… so much to me. My whole being, my existence, my life!’’ She fell back on her seat and broke into bitter desperate weeping, her elbows on the table, her face on the palms of her trembling hands. And when she had done with weeping, she stood up and went rushing out of the kitchen into her bedroom across the passage.
Galvao heard the young lady moaning in her bedroom, as he too came out into the corridor, for the door was ajar; but, after a moment’s hesitation, he moved on upstairs, deep in thought. He found Heribert in the room they shared. But for an exchange of one or two civilities, they had not got together since his arrival at the boarding house: for the German worked in the dockyards and had until now done night shift, sleeping most of the day while nobody was in the house. Luis noticed the man had left his jacket on a chair and was now sitting on his bed, undoing the laces of his working boots. “Good evening!” greeted Luis Galvao.
“Ach so!’’ uttered his room-companion, and went on: “You know, I’ve been wanting to ask you, have you come to this country for good?”
“I have come to stay. Haven’t you?” Galvao answered.
“A bloody New Australian, then?” the other sneered.
“Aren’t you a New Australian too?” the Spaniard questioned in turn.
“Well, I suppose I am, yes,” the German said, glumly. “I’ve come assisted passage, what about you?”
“No, no assisted passage for me. I thought assisted passage was offered only to migrants from the British Isles. Is it not so? Anyhow, I paid for my passage.”
“I am an escapee from communism,” Heribert said curtly, “that is why.”
“What d’you mean, escapee, I heard you come from Cologne. That is in the British Zone, is it not? No Russians, Soviets, there, or communism.”
The German snorted. “Ach so! Yes, you’ve heard. But what no one’s told you is that I was living in Dresden, now Red Zone. Heard of the bombings there, yes?”
“Yes, of course,” Luis said meditalively. Heribert said nothing and Luis thought wise to add: “carpet-bombing, the city suffered a lot. Is that why…”
“That’s why I landed in the west,” the German said, with the palm of one hand under his chin, the other forcibly gripping his thigh (both lodgers were seated on their beds.) “They did enough damage, the bastards!. They told us they were to convert Germany into a nation of shepherds. And the fucking Royal Air Force…”
Heribert stopped short, meditating, and the other, knowing now what to say, half mumbling, half stammering, utter: “Yes! Don’t… I haven’t been in Dresden.”
“I’m just telling you, Scheisse!” the German screeched, “Fucking Royal Air Force! The RAF, yes?” There was an attempt by the Spaniard to say something, but Heribert cried, not letting the other talk. “Ach so! Them bombs respected nothing… even the Dom was destroyed.” He was talking of Cologne.
“Oh yes, the cathedral,” Luis said, and the German again: “You needn’t say. When we ran away west… we lived near Cologne, chemical plants, mother was killed during the bombings. Already a widow. My father killed in Stalingrad, you know. We in Dresden…” he was now raging and did not finish his sentence.
Galvao just mumbled again: “You were… I mean unlucky. Very sorry, Heribert.”
“Sheisse, you aren’t, you can’t understand that suffering. I lived in an orphanage and was a minor when I came to Australia. Of course, I got assisted passage, yes?” And for no reason that Luis could understand, he now laughed loudly.
“And here we are, immigrants both of us, you’re a younger one” Luis said, somewhat stupidly. “That was the question, wasn’t it? New Australians.”
“No, the question was whether you’ve come assisted passage. As for me, I’m counting the days.” He pointed at a calendar on the wall where more than half the days had been crossed out with the mark of the pirate’s flag. “All the days of my bannishment are there, those gone already those still to come, yes? It’s the only sane thing I do in this country… ” Luis was about to say something, but he shouted, “Scheisse! Still over one hundred days to go. Luis was about to say something, but he shouted, “Scheisse! Still over one hundred days to go. You must, it is two years: obligatory to stay two years, or pay back…”
But by then Luis was not listening. He had been undressing, all the while, and got into his pyjamas, ready to go to sleep. As the other would not stop, he lifted his left arm, saying: ‘’Please, let us drop it, because if I don’t… I’ll never fall asleep… I also have, well my problems. Goodnight, you switch the light off.’’
In effect, for some time now, he had been having very little sleep. He usually got so tired, both mentally and physically, day after day, that he fell asleep the moment he set his head upon the pillow, only to wake up soon afterwards, as fresh and alert as if he had had an eight-hour rest. Then he could not go back to sleep. He would toss and turn in his bed, sometimes counting sheep, other times trying to remain on his back, still as a statue, and even at times reciting the old prayers of his childhood. Nothing worked; though at times, his brain played tricks and he felt like sleeping or dreaming, nightmares. He had visions
… it seemed to me that time and space had moved on and I had done nothing with my life, caught in a trap as I was. The wind was bringing me here, taking me there, and I was not able to do anything. My personality had changed.
… I saw a figure passing by, a blond woman of transparent beauty like an angel, as she had gone over a clift. Or down a ravine. It was me falling. On and on, a creek on the left. The bliss of having come back to the Yorkshire Moors. Margaret! Caught in a trap, unable to move, I heard a call.
“Aren’t you asleep?” He was suffocating, Luis Galvao was. Tobacco smoke.
“You know, I’ve seen you talking to the missus, downstairs, as I came in the house,” said the German, stamping his cigarette out on the wooden floor.
“Well, what of it?”
There was a pause, after which Heribert observed with an unpleasant guffaw: “Why, friend, do you know the fucking rogue’s got a gun, yes?”
“The husband, you mean? And why should I care whether he’s got a gun or not?’’
“Ach so! That. You ought to know,” Heribert replied rather vaguely. “Anyhow, you may’ve set upon the right track there.”
“The lady, you think?” the Spaniard asked. “To be strictly accurate, I have…”
The German howled; he had been trying to light another cigarette and had burnt his finger. “Ach!” he groaned. “All right, the damned landlady’s a good fuck, yes? No fucking doubt ‘bout it.” He had succeeded with the lighter and was blowing out smoke once more. There followed a prolonged laugh.
“It’s no laughing matter,” Galvao said, angrily. “And you’re a dirty dog, yes? The poor woman’s suffered a lot. She was telling me.’’
“Bah! She’s a crazy one, anyhow. A nymphomaniac too. Listen, fellow, you had better be careful, yes!”
“Because of Krappov’s gun?”
“The missus too. She bites.”