Sentimental Journey Two
Single solitary emigration was always an affair of men. In the early days of Australian colonisation the Crown transported its convicts great majority men. In 1958 travelling by boat came European families fleeing poverty and young men by themselves
Sentimental Journey Two
Fernando García Izquierdo
When the earliest explorers in the eighteenth century first caught sight of the great southern continent, ‘Terra Incognita’, whether Portuguese, Spanish, French or Dutch, they all decided the land was worthless, and either stopped there for a few days and then went away, or passed on without landing. Only the English sought to settle. They chanced to reach the eastern coast, the least uninviting piece of littoral of the whole continent.
The so-called First Fleet, consisting of eleven small ships, entered one day of January, 1788, a most beautiful bay, known today as Sydney harbour, with 1,473 people. Of them 778 were convicts, including some women and children. The rest were sailors and soldiers. They built the first penal settlement for the Crown in the southern hemisphere, and the colony of New South Wales was born. Some of the high-ranked officers of the fleet became the government of the new colony.
Regarding the nature of its population, let it be said that the balance was ten or eleven to one in favour of the male sex. Women did not travel alone those days nor were they members of the forces; as for the convicts, almost all of them were men. There were two or three ladies, accompanying their husbands, commanders of the fleet, and now of the colony. Above the sense of solitude, that is naturally felt in these travels, there was then a permanent anxiety among the men, soldiers and convicts alike, who felt in their flesh the absence of women, anxiety which would never be overcome, in the great majority of cases. Let us observe in passing that, whether the transported fellow had been condemned for life or for any length of time, once in Australia, there he remained until he ceased to exist. It is true that nothing would stop the lucky freed man who wanted to return to the old country. But a returning convict was a rarity. For an ex-convict to pay his passage back to England was out of the question. If he was a good sailor and it happened that a returning vessel had suffered the loss of a sailor during the journey down under, the lucky freed man could pay for his passage back with his work on board ship.
As time went by it came to be that not only convicts arrived to populate this newest of all continents. Whole families, at times, as we can see in at least one of Dickens’ novels, and other literature of the time. And the disparity among the sexes was slightly corrected. Emigration, in any case has always meant many more men than women moving, and more in the case of such a distant land as Australia. When gold was found inland, attraction towards the new continent was universal; but the “diggers” were all single men. Men too were the Afghans brought to drive imported camels across the desert; as were the Chinese indented labourers, brought in as slaves for the building of the railway lines.
Free settlers continued to arrive, even though transportation of convicts continued. They were famished families from Ireland and Great Britain, and of course (and with the passage of time) the disparity between the sexes continued to be somewhat corrected. Until the late nineteen-forties of the twentieth century, the racial constitution of the new country was of the same stock as that of the old country, Britons (including Celts from Wales and Scotland) and Irish.
After World War II, however, although emigrants from the British Isles, too, increased, there were many thousands of other Europeans coming. Let me classify them in two categories: refugees from eastern Europe; or southern Europeans escaping poverty at home. In any case, people abandoning their old devastated lands, thinking, as migrants often thought at that time, that the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, etc. were paved with gold. As is generally the case, many of these new immigrants came to Australia in small groups, families, the majority with children. About this time, a sense of adventure and the fact that Australia was one of the richest countries of the world caused thousands of single young men (not women) to travel alone across the oceans, in the many liners starting from Southampton, Genoa, Piraeus, etc. The disparity among the sexes remained at a greater or smaller degree. It was not strange to observe meandering young men in the streets of Sydney and other places, on their faces expressions of profound melancholy.
A slight change took place in Galvao’s life once he began to associate the boarding-house, not with the idea of his exile, but as a place where a nice girl lived. His heart beat every time he came across Malgorata, a blond woman so much like the English girl he used to call ‘his love’. But how to enter into conversation with the delicate Ukranian woman, and maybe become friends with her, that was the question.
When leaving the factory after work nowadays there was no question for him to follow his mates to Pyrmont Hotel for a drink. Neither did he catch a bus to the Eastern Suburbs for a view of the ocean, as he had done sometimes in the course of the last two weeks. He rushed home to Harris Street, after work, always thinking that he might chance to come across her in the passage, or see her watching television in the lounge, or, perhaps, have tea with her in the communal kitchen. Once he saw her in the back garden hanging up the washing on the hoist. But his natural timidity caused him to say nothing, when he saw her, coming from the outside toilet back to the house. And it happened again and again. His room-mate Heribert was this week on night-shift and slept during the day; he might see him from the window: maybe he laughed at him.
Today, when he entered the kitchen to prepare himself a meal, he found her standing by the copper boiler in the adjoining laundry, a wicker basket in her hands. He sat down at the long massive table with a dish and some cutlery in his hand, facing her in the laundry, and soon noticed that the young woman was displeased. He felt sad and disappointed.
Though windows and the door to the backyard were open, it was very hot, and her particular corner of the room was still worse, full of steam, the laundry having a unique tiny window. The whole place smelt unpleasantly of cheap soap. She had been alarmed to see him coming in, for she was in a rather shapeless dress and did not look her best at that moment. As soon as she had shoved all her washing into the boiler, she left the basket on the floor and went away, giving Galvao a sidelong glance as she passed by.
On another occasion, when Luis Galvao came into the room, the landlady looked calmer, seated as she was at table. He walked up to the fridge, got a couple of things out, and took a seat, facing her, and after a while he asked :
“Well, how is life treating you?”
She smiled, and he went on, rather tactlessly: ‘‘You know… I can’t understand you. Well, I mean, why do you sometimes avoid me…?’’ he stopped short.
But she still said nothing. She was biting her nails, not vehemently, but rather as if she were licking the tips of her fingers, all the time looking him in the face.
“Are you afraid of me, is that it?” Galvao insisted.
“Of him, then?”
She assented in silence, scarcely moving anything but her eyelids, on which there was a film of silvery-blue eye-shadow.
“I also bite my nails,” he said, rather to comfort her, showing his hands, the palms down, “you see?”
Again her long eyelashes moved, but she still uttered not a word.
They both went on eating. Presently she muttered, a warm flush surging into her cheeks. “But he won’t be here till Saturday.”
Galvao hesitated, mumbled a few unintelligible words, and the landlady went on.
“Perhaps you’ve noticed. He comes, I mean, he lives in the outback… and comes for the weekends. Sometimes he comes on Friday. But he won’t come at all this week, for he goes with the rangers.”
He remembered something Heribert had told him. ‘’Rifle practising?’’ he asked.
“Yes. And to kill kangaroos. Oh, he’s got horrible friends!”
“So, we shall have to be careful,” Luis said, half in earnest, half in jest.
She threw him a glance full of mystery. “You are so kind… and so good-looking,” she said rather sadly.
“Now, don’t cry again,” he said. For she had taken one wrist to her eyes.
“I won’t let them cause you any harm,” she said bravely, snapping her fine teeth like a little wild animal.
After a pause Galvao observed: “You haven’t asked me my name.”
“But I know it. It is Lewis, is it not?”
“Well not Lewis, but Luis, pronounced at one go.”
“It sounds lovely on your lips,” he said, with an arch glance.
Her eyes were glistening, and she burst out sobbing, drawing her hand across her lips and choking.
“Come on!” he exhorted, touching her right arm.
The young woman had taken her hand to her eyes, making a mess of her mascara and she now looked like a horrid child, pursing her lips and yet trying to smile. He stared fixedly across the table, for he found her pretty: that roundish rosy face, which made her so attractive if she smiled, as at that moment. But his own timidity paralysed him. He was absorbed in the contemplation of her little round ears, almost hidden in the blond curls, the nice pointed nose and those two rows of perfectly white teeth. Except for the nose, she was a perfect copy of the girl he used to call my love. The eyes too!
Some mumbling, isolated words, came out of her mouth the while: “Oh!” she cried, still rubbing her eye, “I’ll... yes, I’ll show you. I… I want… I’ll play the violin, so… you can see… I’ll show you! For ye’ve been so kind.” (Luis had just been mentioning her violin playing.)
“Come on, Malgorata,” he soothed her, “be of good cheer!” He clasped her free hand in his; but she tore free from him and made a dash to the door. Galvao heard her locking the door of her bedroom, and then, for a very short time, the sound of the violin.
On Friday Luis Galvao arrived back home earlier than usual. He had been rushing all the way, and when he entered the kitchen, panting and out of breath, he found it empty. He went with a bottle of milk to the door that led to the backyard, which was open but for a wooden frame with fine metallic wiring, the whole adjusted to the doorway, outside. The wiring was full of grease and dust and dirt, and at places the bodies of dead mosquitoes. Drinking his milk and eating some biscuits, he peered through this netting at the empty yard outside (or back-garden, as it was also called), full of dead plants and weeds, rough sticks and lumber and a garbage tin with a loose metal top, the dirt showing all around . There was, towards the end of the long yard, an old car, left there to rust and to serve as refuge to about a dozen stray cats and kittens.
Going out into the passage he noticed the door of the downstairs bedroom was ajar, and peeping inside he saw Malgorata in her night-gown, her delicate pale face inclined over the violin, some golden locks falling over her eyes and the bow ready in the other hand. She knew she was being watched, and she played marvellously for a few minutes, radiant with intellectual beauty and sweet like an angel. She stopped suddenly and raised her bow, beckoning him, “Come here!”
He stepped in, absolutely bewitched, and although she made an effort to stop him, he took her in his arms, kissed and caressed her. She immediately drew away from him, bounced across the room, which was a double-room with a Roman arch in the middle. He saw her opening a drawer of a chest or cupboard and shutting it again. She came back pressing a big album against her chest, sat down on the bed under the standard lamp, placed the album on her thighs and opened it, giving Luis Galvao a triumphal glance.
They went through the album together; and she pointed out with her forefinger, explaining the details of each picture and giving the names of places and the dates. They all were photographs of her own person, and almost always playing the violin, from the age of five till she was an adolescent and won prizes in Vienna and other capitals; and later in concerts, during the tours. And Galvao thought that in all of them she looked most charming; and particularly when she won that first prize in Vienna. She received these praises with girlish pleasure.
“I still have this dress,” she giggled. Her face was glowing and shining.
“Malgorata,” he said in admiration, “ there is no girl so beautiful as you.”
She had already stood up, stripped herself of her night-gown, and bounded to the wardrobe stark naked. Giving her back to him, she wriggled and twisted on her toes, pushing and rummaging among an array of dresses and other clothes in different states of conservation, until she got the desired apparel and slipped it on with a final very sexy wiggle. It was a black silk evening dress; yet not so long as to hide her pretty rounded calves; moreover, although at first she had appeared to him awfully thin, all her forms now showed to advantage in a good dress that had obviously been made for a more childish body: her little dimpled belly, her firm childish breasts, the shoulders, her back and dizzily curving buttocks. And she knew all this. It could be seen in her glowing smile.
Luis also stood up and held her by her shoulders, the palms of his hands pressing the two puffed-up little sleeves, which made her look more athletic, more womanish than she was.
“Lovely! Oh, my love!,” he exclaimed.
“You like it?” she asked with mischievous relish. She went back to the wardrobe, looking at herself in the mirror, and as she met Galvao’s eyes her cheeks flushed. Then she turned round with a flourish and approached him.
He caught her in his arms in the middle of this flourish, and they danced. Then, wriggling out of his embrace, she trotted off to the opposite side of the bed, Galvao following her. And this time he caught her tightly by the waist.
“No, don’t touch me like that,” she cried, shrinking from him. “I like to be stroked like a pussy cat, please.”
Whereupon he clutched her slim waist with both hands and slipped them tenderly down, caressing the soft tissue along the thighs; and, on his knees, kissed her and pressed his lips endearingly upon her forms. He remained in that position for a long moment, as if in ecstasy. Then she lifted him by his arms, and bending her head backwards pressed her supple frame against his, and when he bent his body forward she let him kiss her open mouth. Her eyes became glazed of a sudden, but her body was warm and endearing. Their lips had united in a kiss of love, and the tip of her tongue was caressing his. Until suddenly he felt like an electric shock, and a most excruciating pain in his tongue; and he saw her trembling frame drawing away, crouching. She was laughing and crying all at once. He was stunned, and for a moment unable to speak, the taste of blood now in his mouth. She came back to him, begging him, imploring him to forgive her. She hadn’t meant to do it; it was an accident, really, she forgot herself.
“Oh, I’m so grieved to’ve hurt you!” she went on, with tears in her eyes. “I love you, I love you. Please, believe me. Don’t go, don’t go away!”
“Mm… Malgorata,” he mumbled, and he felt that excruciating pain again, “I believe you. You d… didn’t m… mean it. But… can’t explain… Good-bye.”
Going out, as he turned to close the door, Galvao saw her crouching on her knees, her head resting on the edge of the bed, crying disconsolately.
The wide concrete promenade beneath the winter sun looks ghostly empty at this early hour. After a short brisk walk, which he takes in the vain hope of shrugging off his nervous agitation, he stops and gazes at the unbounded ocean, his elbows on the parapet, his cheeks on the palms of his hands, and his mouth gaping wide to allow the soft breeze to cool his lacerated tongue. For a while he follows the flight of a dark rare bird overhead. Soaring. Until it becomes a mere black speck in the immense light-blue expanse and disappears for evermore. At length he goes down the stone steps and starts plodding on the soft yellow sand. A large dog is ambling near the shore, sniffing the wet sand, then chasing a low flying seagull, trotting and yelping. Suddenly, noticing the presence of Galvao, it advances towards the intruder, growling most horribly. Galvao at once stops short, pale and silent, and the dog starts barking again, its snout lifted up. A whistling sound is heard. A man in a yellow oilskin jacket and black rubber boots sits static on the rocks at the other end of the beach. And the dog at once turns round, lopes off at a gallop, trying to avoid the rolling waves, until it reaches the man, splashing and barking.
Slowly, wearily Galvao paces upon the sand, towards the misty shore, hardly noticing that as he approaches the water the ground sinks under his feet. He stands with his hands behind his back, casting a longing lingering look at the dim horizon far away.
… and the vision of an elegant silvery-white liner sailing away to distant lands. He thinks of the old country. The things that made up his life before exist no more; and those that exist around him, are not related to him at all.
… and he thinks of his poor beloved girlfriend, falling in the storms of that fascist country, and of the fear and trembling during the civil war, that childhood in a poor devastated country, and his years at university.
… another face, another frustrated relationship: a girl so much like his own Margaret. A kitten in his arms, turning into a savage lioness. So beautiful! And she’d turned … False, entirely false.
… she could not help him to allay his fears and sorrows, as his own sweetheart would have done. He’s only deceiving himself! Oh, Malgorata! she’d made fun of him. Oh crazy one! and, yet what an adorable girl.
Luis Galvao feels the dampness penetrating through the soft polished leather; for his shoes slowly but surely have been sinking in the wet bubbling sand. Still musing, as he turns round: was he the man true and faithful who, but three years ago, was swearing eternal love to the nicest, kindest, most intelligent girl in the world? Trudging painfully up the beach, back to the stone steps, his shoes heavy with seawater and sand.
By now some strollers are seen on the promenade, where the glittering plastic benches are all occupied, in most cases, by a single individual, nearly always stock-still; but some licking their upper lips like chimpanzees or brushing their teeth with their tongue; some watching the silky flight of the seagulls; some simply staring at the horizon, eyes hardly open.
“Good morning,” he mumbles as he sits on one of the comfortable benches, stamping his feet to shake the sand off the shoes. A grey-haired man at the other end of the seat turns his head round and fixes his empty gaze on him. Silence that lasts a few seconds, minutes, hours… or a whole eternity?
‘Is he a human being who has given up the ghost, or is he a still-born human-like creature, a phantom, a nothingness?’ Luis stands up and walks away. Individuals of both sexes, silent and solitary, glide past as he strolls on; or are seated on the benches some twenty yards from one another. The rich black soil of the flower-beds in between: velvety pansies of all shades and colours, daisies and other buds he can’t put a name to.
… good Lord Jesus. what a long journey, for this! to live alone and without a purpose in this wonderful new world, selected of all lands to be inhabited by the best and most deserving portion of the human race! Oh, Luis… Luis Galvao, the girls again! awake and do something, or your life will become a hopeless flight! Do something, or you shall have lived in vain. The years will pass. You will no longer be a young man. Discouraged, tired, your energy, zest, willpower, all gone.
… oh, how I would have liked to close these aching eyes this minute, to have a long sleep… and then, upon awakening, to hear the old familiar sound, that sublime babble, those peals of merry laughter. If I had been so lucky! oh! to dash to open the shutters wide to let in the clear morning light and feel the gentle zephyr from the Guadarrama Mountains on my face: to behold the revered places, the never-forgotten streets of childhood thronged with strollers, my friends or relatives, students, comrades, my own people!
Work at the factory ended at four o’clock. He rushed to Railway Square catching a tram for Bondi Beach. He walked along the promenade under the bright sunshine, receiving the cold maritime breeze on his face and watching the frothing rollers and the flight of the seagulls. Eventually he stops before a snackbar, buys a hot steak-and-kidney pie and a drink, and goes down to the sands squatting at the foot of the tall stone parapet, his eyes fixed on the horizon,the breeze on his face and in his mind images of things past… and that ceaseless gloom. And while he was thus squatting against the stone wall, there was of a sudden a change in the weather, and though the sky was still blue, the breeze had turned into a terrific wind.
An old abandoned newspaper lies nearby, half-hidden in a pile of sand, its fluttering yellowed pages producing a rustling sound, like a lady’s fan. His legs are sprawling over the soft warm sand, in flannel trousers. His eyes are fixed on the yellowed sheets of the half-buried newspaper. The noise eventually lulls him to doze off for a minute or two. He is awakened by the calls of a dozen nymphs on the hard sand farther down the beach. Some are springing up and down, others skipping nimbly over the drifting waves, and all laughing and chattering and splashing one another. Such innocent faces! Oh, what pleasure beauty brings! He would have liked to undress and go down in his swimmers to talk to the pretty ones and go with them into the billowing water.
Some young men are seen striding down the beach with those resplendent surfboards under their arms, which they drop on the sand, and sit down in a row, holding their knees with both hands, looking at the nymphs at play, still skipping, still shouting, still giggling. Of a sudden a sylphlike creature, out of the blue, treads on the yellow sand towards the frightening ocean.
Like in a dream, Luis watches the girl advancing toward the ocean. She looks so superior, her eyes gazing at the sky, her back straightened up, her little buttocks sticking out, both arms holding the surfboard and her long legs so preciously marching on and disappearing. She lays her surfboard over the agitated surface, and up she jumps, her svelte body lying full length on the board. She paddles for a while with her arms and pretty hands: going up a hill of frothing water, coming down a deep-blue valley; over another foaming crest and down again; until she has distanced herself sufficiently from the shore and turns round, her keen eyes watching, her chest and thighs still glued to the board and lifting her shapely calves and dainty feet in the air, splashing all the while to effect the change, paddling mostly with one arm to complete the circle. Up she stands and there she comes, riding the waves, stretching out her arms like the wings of a bird, approaching like a goddess, gliding over the frothing crests, coming down and climbing up again, at times quite invisible; as the waves turn into rollers as she comes nearer, she gets unexpectedly caught under the cavernous curve of the whole rolling mass, the fearful breakers; but she keeps calm and crouches under the foam, bending down her legs so that her buttocks almost touch the board, hands ready and her whole divine body tense, quite prepared for the worst…, that awfully roaring mountain breaking on the sand… And there they are, board and surfer safely gliding on the wet bubbling sand.
Luis Galvao watches the heavenly long-haired nymph trudging up the beach, panting and shivering, and not the slightest expression of happiness or otherwise on her pretty face. She stops before the stone parapet, where she had previously left her belongings, props the surfboard against the wall, and dries herself thoroughly with a large yellow towel, the same colour as her hair, which she presently combs with a tiny plastic brush.
So near and so far away! He is tormented by a wild desire to posses the girl; like going to her and saying “I love you!” then kissing those long golden tresses glowing green with the salt, under a low but still glittering sun in the west, or touching with his lips her little pointed nose, those cheeks full of freckles, her dimpled chin and her full purple-red lips…
He sighs. Hell, she’s only a school-girl, while he’s probably twice her age! A lonesome man in a foreign land, surrounded everywhere by the prettiest, most sculptural young ladies. Always hoping… ‘Oh, Malgorata!’ To be mauled by a golden pussy-cat ever so sweet!
“Is this here paper yours, mate?” Luis Galvao hears a man’s broken voice nearby.
It is a tramp who has come down onto the sands to see if he can find some useful rubbish.
“No,” he shouts, “take the bloody thing and be off with you !’’
By then, the young blonde has disappeared. And nobody else is down by the sea. Evening is drawing on: shrugging his shoulders, Luis Galvao collects his things and goes away. On the promenade, he catches the first bus that goes to Central Railway and from the terminus walks to Harris Street and home.
Luis Galvao was awakened by the sound of bells, which came to remind him that the weekend was not over and the landlord was still in the house. He could just hear the couple bustling on the ground floor getting ready to go out. After exchanging a few polite words with his room-companion, who had also been awakened by the noise, Luis went downstairs. The Krappovs had already left to attend mass at St Catherine’s, for they were Roman Catholic, he knew. Alone in the kitchen, he prepared some breakfast and half an hour later, having got dressed, back in his room, he again went down and scampered out of the building.
He had the time to review the circumstances of his life as he strolled in the empty streets of the city. In his heart he still clung to old Madrid, always full of cheerful people; It was so strange for a native-born Mediterranean to behold such an important metropolis as Sydney quite deserted on a Sunday of all days. So different all these streets from ordinary working days, when there always was a continuous flow of cars, and the fumes and the noise, ever a multitude of Sydneysiders rushing and whirling along on the pavements and at the zebra crossings, each one carrying his or her bag or briefcase, which more often than not only contained a box of sandwiches and a thermos full of tea.
To be sure, some motorcars were seen nevertheless, suburban dwellers crossing the City to go to the seaside for the most part. For a glorious sun was shining over the entire length and breadth of the great metropolis. He could perceive its effects, though actually barred from his view by a sturdy overhanging which, like a very long canopy, covered the pavements of the main commercial avenues of the City.
A solitary stroller in town, assaulted from all sides by the snares of capitalism, many different products glittering provocatively in the windows of CLOSED shops: manikins, teddy-bears, hosiery, cosmetics, perfumes, machines, radios, television sets. Signs everywhere, offering a thousand dazzling commodities. Innumerable boards and posters, pictures, lights, designs, high-sounding words spelt out in a multitude of colours and scripts. All big lies leading to anxiety and perpetual misery: DRINK A COKE, GUINESS IS GOOD FOR YOU, COME ALIVE WITH PEPSI, ETA PEANUT BUTTER, SMOKE A MARLBORO’, STILL WALKING WITH JOHNNY WALKER, PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK, IXL CANNED FOODS, PUT THE IDEA IN YOUR BRAIN, FLY ANSETT-ANA TO SURFERS’ PARADISE, CHOOSE COPPERTONE, FREEDOM OF CHOICE, DON’T BE VAGUE ASK FOR HAIG, OH! UNCLE TOBY YOUR OATS ARE DELIGHFUL, ALL WITH BILLY GRAHAM TO THE STADIUM. On the walls, in the shop-windows, on the façades of the houses and roof-tops, everywhere: advertising, promotion, everything for sale… On a plastered cement wall, between two big commercial establishments, someone has spelt out the word “Eternity!” A message. Luis has seen it often before, ever since his arrival in Sydney. Why, what does it mean… that word, that empty concept, the white radiance of eternity which in any case is impossible to conceive? Life ever-lasting, so what. Always and everywhere the same rant. Three, four, five millennia of civilization, and still as primitive a race of bipeds as when the early hominids trod the Earth. Eternity indeed, the fear of death turned into a philosophy, the most retrograde of mankind’s manufactured cant. Whoever might they be? Who goes about, everywhere, scribbling such a meaningless word, always the same script-form, invariably done in yellow chalk, and ever that sort of flourish underneath, like a signature. On wooden palings and plastered walls, on the façades of houses and public buildings, on the steps of stone flights leading to churches, libraries, universities and town halls, smearing the pavements and footpaths, the concrete floors and stone slabs of plazas and squares, streets and avenues, blind lanes and alleyways… always quite open to the view of strollers and other pedestrians trudging along, their minds heavily loaded with numbers and problems: crouching shadows, their heads bent down, eyes fixed on the ground, legs heavy and arms ever hanging limply along their tired bodies…. There it is! The impertinent message, hitting the solitary wanderer in the eye, the native and the immigrant. Just an impression, an idea which from the half-closed eyes goes on… into the spinal cord… or maybe right up into a brain-of-sorts. Eternity! Eternity! Eternity!
And yet perhaps Luis Galvao’s got it wrong, perhaps nobody cares: Eternity, religion, music, dinners, football… why not? One more commercial message, and don’t ask yourself any question or think of the others For everyone has his or her own life to live, a life of sorts to which nothing may be added, no more room. Maybe the solitary strollers with or without the yellow chalk are above all just that, zombies without problems or fears that might be rotting still more their miserable rotten lives… Or perhaps the message is right – who knows? Maybe there is after all an everlasting life beyond. After death. Superhuman or semidivine existence. Up there somewhere… If so, let´s hope it is a little bit less absurd than this one on Earth!
Some buses, full of people, are seen arriving at Circular Quay, some twenty bus-stops in all. And under the expressway that comes from the east and goes gently up towards the Harbour Bridge there is a railway station, the line running for the time being under the macadamised stream of motorcars. All bringing the suburban Australians from the south and the west (where the less privileged citizens live who now want to see places.) Luis Galvao stares round at the mass of faces passing by on the pavement or inbetween the concrete columns, dashing to the wharves to embark on the different ferries that will take them to Taronga Park, Balmoral Beach, the Spit and Middle Harbour, the Manly Cove fairground. Families down to the third generation, eager New Australians taking the recently arrived grandparents, who have never seen a zoo in their lives, to admire the platypus, kangaroo, wallaby and koala bear; solitary male migrants boarding the ferries for the sole purpose of having a trip across the wonderfully beautiful bay and back. Children everywhere, some wearing thongs, and some even barefoot and just as happy.
The air was intensely clear as Galvao wandered from jetty to jetty. He watched the happy travellers in the rich glow of a sunny morning, on the ferryboats, bending over the rails, their children waving at the people on the quay… the boat sailing away and eventually disappearing in the distance… The marvellous blue bay full of yachts and other pleasure craft.
A solitary young man, strong and handsome and yet full of nostalgia and pessimism… how different his life would have been if he’d had a normal relationship with a woman he loved; with whom he might have had a family, as those lucky Australians (Old and New) he had just seen on the jetties and on the ferries. That heavy heart, that feeling of homesickness he experienced was nothing but the solitude of a man who constantly sought, and sought in vain, a woman he could call his own. As he wandered along the seashore towards a rocky promontory, some two hundred yards away, some dark clouds were gathering in the east, where Port Jackon bay joined the ocean, announcing heavy showers for the afternoon. And in an instant the sky clouded over, and he had to run back to Circular Quay, where he entered the only eating-place open for the moment on the waterfront, completely drenched in rain. A mist gathers on his glasses as he anxiously looks around for an empty place to sit and have a meal.
…that anguish once again; the noise of crockery and cutlery and the humming of many conversations in different languages filling the smoky air. He doesn’t belong in there. Why, she had come to Madrid; they were going to get married.
“What’ll you have?” he hears a feminine voice. He lifts his head and murmurs: “Don… doesn’t matter.”
“Fish and chips, then. Tea, sir?”
Galvao assents with a slight movement of his head.
“Milk and sugar, sir?”
He does not answer. He is passing his handkerchief over the back of his head and neck, sneezing, one ejection after another.
“I’ll bring you a pot ov’tea an’ some milk,” the waitress says hurriedly turning away.
Bending his head over his scarcely touched meal, he has failed to realise that one of the men at his table is talking to him. He now feels the touch of a hand on his shoulder. “Buddy, you’re feeling homesick, I know the symptoms. No use getting depressed, whatever the reason, take my advice, buddy. What, don’t you recognise me? Well, I never!”
“It isn’t that,” Luis replies with some difficulty. “I… I’ve a wound in here…” taking his hand to the lips. “Difficult to speak.”
The man now says something in Italian. Some names are mentioned, mates from the factory. Oh, yes!, of course, now he has it: he was sometime ago introduced to the man by old Bruno. Somebody else says something in Spanish. All New Australians. They have come down from the mountains for the day; all employed by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. After a while, they revert to the English language. Actually, there is a Pommie among the men at the table: he speaks with a catch in his voice; that’s why he hadn’t noticed initially he was English. “Hey, mates!” the Pommie says, “why don’t we go to the Italian Club which you mentioned?” “Yes,” another says, “and find some girls for the night?’’; but another one disagrees: “You mean Leichhardt? Fuck, it’s too far for me!”
“Come on! I’ll drive you all in my Holden,’’ the man who knows Bruno says. To which the Englishman says: “Or I’ll take you in my Ford-Falcon.” One of them, turning to Luis, adds: ‘’You too, old fellow, I insist. Now, you must stop brooding, man.’’
The Italian Club, a corner from another continent. A multitude of men in their Sunday-best move about trying to find a female who might be available for a dance. Luis Galvao trudges along, with his newfound pals, among the tables and chairs. They sit in the midst of the noisesome crowd, the fumes and the smoke. The most attractive women, not many in comparison with the men, have succeeded in gathering about them great crowds of male immigrants, hungry fellows who have known no woman since their arrival in the promised land. To compound their frustration the rosier females, invariably accompanied by their handsome mammas and their terrifying papas, are strictly reserved for the male members of the clan, on the principle that what comes out of the Calabrian and Sicilian landscape belongs as a natural right to the blokes of the village, and full stop. Like the pretty one at the neighbouring table. Her father must be a greengrocer: monstruously huge, with a massive gold chain holding his watch in his waistcoat pocket and a cigar between his teeth (he has hung his jacket on the back of his chair.)
Galvao looks at the girl, sweet and tender like an angel from heaven, a round peaches-and-cream delicate visage with large black eyes where the whites shine blue, and those glorious red lips as she sips her lemonade. There is a smile in her eyes as they cross with his. He is about to stand up and invite the dear one for a dance when a man, as old and ugly as her progenitor, after exchanging a few words with the latter, pulls her by the hand and leads her onto the dance-floor, a rather exiguous space surrounded by the people at the tables.
Luis has been told that there is air-conditioning, but it is still terribly hot. ‘There she goes, pretty like an angel… with that swine! Oh, my love, I’m alone!’ He wants to ignore the fact that he cannot dance at all Always the same, he thinks, I live in vain. Sitting at table with his eyes fixed on the young Italian, he overhears a conversation among his new friends, desperate males who have come down from the mountains for the weekend and do not want to go back without having had a woman in their arms. In effect, they are building dams up there all week, employed by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority. There is an Englishman in the group. Luis had not noticed it before because this mate has a catch in his voice, and he thought he had a foreign accent. He now talks to him and learns he comes from London.
A handsome platinum-blonde with the orchestra is intoning a familiar South American song in the Italian language. The dancers pass by the tables in waves like fluttering birds. Luis catches sight of the rosy teenager of a minute ago, in the arms of her fat countryman. He sighs. Their eyes meet again. He blows her a kiss with his hand. Her cherry-red lips curl into a gracious smile. And she is gone, immersed in the twirling mass on the floor, in the middle of the immense hall, and something like a mist now covers his eyes.
A waltz was now being played, played by the orchestra, and the adorable young Italian whirled round the dancing floor in the arms of her countryman who, surprise of all surprises, though obese, is an excellent dancer. ‘Always the same (Galvao recalls) I’ve lived in vain.’
She disappears in the compact mass of dancers. One of his pals at the table has noticed his anxiety. Just then another one comes from the bar, carrying a fresh jug of foaming cold beer. They all drink.
The singer is now intoning in the English language: “I’m an Englishman… From a London bank… In a bowler hat…” Galvao lowers his gaze to the amber-coloured liquid in the large glass, then passes a finger down the glass, full of lines of condensed vapour running along the nice cold surface, tiny drops shining like liquid gold.
The drink, the smoke, the twirling mass of embraced men and women describing the same figures again and again, and the heat, the smell and lack of air finally get the better of Luis Galvao, who, without saying a word to his mates, suddenly stands up and bounds across the hall, past the doorman, past the cloakroom, and rushes downstairs to the street. And on the moist pavement, holding onto a lamp-post, he is overcome with nausea.
Crushed by a thousand conflicting thoughts and fears, he plods to the bus-shelter, which is deserted at that hour. Eventually a bus to Railway Square arrives, and he boards it. But at night and in his state he cannot recognise anything, becomes impatient and leaves the bus too soon.
Trudging on towards a tall dark building with the name in neon light of GRACE BROS; light rain is falling as he comes out into an open space with a large lawn: there are several sports-fields in the middle, where he has seen people playing cricket or soccer of a Saturday morning. There are two lateral lines of large plane-trees all around. Crossing the green so as to reach Harris Street through one of the sidestreets, Luis has hardly stepped on the wet grass when, changing his mind, he goes back under the trees whose spreading leafy branches give him some protection from the rain, casting ominous shadows on the ground. A black figure is approaching under the trees. Luis steps again on the lawn, to cross the park at once. The noise of footsteps on the wet grass is heard, and then a very weak voice.
“Excuse me, sir!”
He looks round, laying his chin on his jacket lapel. Exhausted and soaking wet, a woman so far advanced in years as to be almost ageless, now standing before Galvao, perhaps the most piteous vision he has beheld in all his life.
“Sir, have you seen a tiny pussy,” wails the woman, pointing her soaked black glove now one way, now another, “going up that way… or down that way… or any way, sir, a small white pussy?”
“Sorry no, Madam,” Galvao mumbles.
And the woman moves away holding her black bonnet with one hand, the other in the air, pointing and calling out: “Oh! Kitty, kitty…”
Soon after that Luis reaches Harris Street. The glittering roadway and the pavements are literally covered with the Sunday papers, which the neighbours have left on top of their garbage bins inefficiently secured with a stone or broken brick; and the wind has made the news-sheets fly in all directions. Just now they are damp and static on the ground.
One of the garbage bins must have been overturned by a sudden gust of wind and is lying in the middle of the street: the body of a mangy dog moving inside: only the hind legs and tail are visible. Under the dark bodies of the parked cars, some stray cats are also seen. Galvao looks curiously at the crew of felines, wondering if one of them is the old lady’s missing white pussy.
When he reached the boarding-house he noticed the light was on in Manuel’s room, and saw the silhouette of a man pacing up and down, holding a book in his hand. Crossing over, the now exhausted New Australian slowly gets a key out from his jacket pocket, opens the door and stepped inside, but does not switch the light on, choosing to proceed gropingly in the dark up the small flight of stairs in order not to disturb the Krappovs.
A beam of light filters out from under the first door on the landing. The door opens and the same silhouette is seen cut against the light that now floods out of the room.
“Dear me,’’ Manuel whispers, ’’you’re shivering! We haven’t yet finished the month. September is still winter in Oz, absolutely. Come on in!” He helps his friend in.
“I’m all right,” Luis answered, making to go.
“All the same, come in and have a brandy with me.” He closes the door after Luis. “What’s the matter with your mouth?’’
The other does not answer, but gets rid of his flannel jacket as he enters the room, and takes a seat. There on the table is an opened book with pictures of animal entrails, as well as an ashtray full of cigarette-ends. Manuel is serving two tumblers of brandy.
Speaking with difficulty, Luis starts telling his friend how in the Italian Club at Leichhart he suddenly felt very lonely and in fact sick.
“Were you there alone?” Manuel asks, taking the tumbler to his thick lips. (Luis just mutters some words of thanks.) The other sits astride his chair, touching his friend’s ear under the pretext of checking on some possible ailment. After a short silence, Manuel stands up, steps to the bathroom and fetches a towel, which he hands to Luis: “Now, dear, what’s happening to you?,” he asks in a whisper. “Brooding, of course. You’re always looking for some reason to feel unhappy. My handsome pal, you must change! Be practical, man, or you will end...”
“Now you shut up,’’ Luis interrupted his friend, standing up and getting hold of his jacket from the back of his chair. “Bye-bye.”
“Wait a momo, Manuel also stood up and held his friend at arm’s length, his black eyes fixed on him and smiling that queer smile of his.
“What d’you want?’’
“No, seriously, dear,” Manuel says, caressing again the lobe of his friend’s ear, the other hand round his neck. “I’ve been worrying about you all these days, you know, thinking that you may commit suicide, that sort of thing.”
“Are you mad?”
“Why, I worry. May be wrong. Over cautious. That’s me, Mr. Suárez, you should know. But you’re right. Why bother? As a matter of fact I don’t know why I worry. But I do worry about you, dear. You see, I feel somehow responsible… well, for having brought you to this place and all that. Remember our encounter in Philip Street?”
Luis did not open his mouth, and Manuel went on.
“No, really. How could I forgive myself if you fell seriously ill or worse? And then all that upheaval that comes with it.’’
“Why? I don’t understand you.’’
“It’s quite simple though,’’ Manuel went on. “I like you and I don’t want you to fall ill. That to begin with. Now, I’ve been observing you and I’m sure I don’t know where all this is leading you.’’
“What?’’ asked Luis, now rather furious.
“This homesickness business.’’
“I’m not homesick.’’
“Yes, my boy, you are. And what is still more worrying, you’re little by little sinking into a nasty nervous breakdown, I’ve told you already. Don’t mind me telling you. D’you know where you’re going to end up if you don’t find a remedy to your illness (yes, illness) pretty soon? You’ve guessed it, Callan Park. And I won’t have it. Dear, dear!’’
“I’ll go and see a doctor,’’ Luis said, making to go.
“Right’ee oh! That’s what you must do,’’ Manuel said, following the other to the door. ‘’He’ll prescribe you a tranquillizer. Nothing to be ashamed of, everyone takes them nowadays. And I also suggest,” he want on in a whisper, “that you take advantage of that accident (you know, your tongue) and say you burned it with a pie, steak and kidney or whatever, and tell them that you can’t do your work. Whatever occurs to you, so you can go on compo, man, for two days. No, seriously, Luis, go tomorrow first thing to the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Take a bus from Railway Square and you’ll be there in a jiffy. And I’ll ‘phone from work, if you wish, and tell them at your factory that you’re ill in bed,’’ he concluded, wiping his sensual mouth with a white cotton handkerchief.
“Thank you very much. I’ll do that,’’ Luis said, getting rid of his friend, whose right hand was again on his shoulder. ‘’Sorry to trouble you so. Bye-bye.’’
He was actually on the landing, when his friend, clutching his left arm, said in a low whisper: ‘’One last point, allow me. I fear…, correct me if I’m wrong… Well, that fascination for a woman you know little about, and who can bring you nothing but trouble, drop her. Take my advice, I beg you.’’
“What are you talking about?’’ Luis cried.
“Shsss! You know what I mean!” Manuel whispered, touching his lips, with a frown. “Listen to me, no names need be mentioned; but he may get to know, you see. And he’s surrounded by all sorts of rogues out there in the bush: Ukrainians, Yugoslavs, Poles and what not. Be very careful!”
The following day Luis Galvao went to see a doctor, who prescribed him some drugs and sent him on sick leave for two days. Arriving home he took the medicine and at once fell into a profound sleep. When he woke up the room was flooded with sunlight. The window was open and to the sound of birds twittering was added the music of a violin.
The music ceased as he sat down on the bed and put his trousers on. Hearing the shuffling of feet outside his bedroom, he rushed to open the door. Malgorata stood on the landing, anxious and with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She stepped inside, closing the door behind her, without answering.
He touched the lovely curves of her face in silence, wiping her tears. She turned her squinting eyes on him, and said: “Oh, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I didn’t!” taking her trembling fingers to his hand and kissing it. And again Luis Galvao, feeling intense love and desire for that blond curly-headed young woman, kissed her over and over again: on her exquisite nape, her neck, her ears; and she pressed her fine body against his.
“Come, let’s sit down,” she said holding his hand, now quite happy.
They sat on the bed. She clung to his arm and kissed him on his bare shoulder; when he opened his mouth to say something, she touched his lips and cried, in a tone of such sweet humility: “Don’t, dear, don’t hurt yourself! Poor Luis, what I’ve done to you. Forgive me, dearest. I shan’t do it again.” And she nestled her face against his shoulder.
He hugged her, pressing the pretty body against his heart, but she wriggled out of his embrace, swiftly wiggled out of her cotton dress and next moment the most beautiful young woman was lying naked on his bed. He felt passionately in love.
For a long time Luis Galvao had been wanting his friend to show him that second-hand car yard in Rozelle where Manuel Suárez himself had bought his own bomb, as the latter put it. They agreed on the date, and to Rozelle they drove together early one Saturday morning.
As soon as they were on the road, Manuel Suárez said somewhat solemnly to Luis Galvao: ‘’I’m thankful to you for the opportunity you’re giving me to have a conversation among friends –aren’t we?- away from the others.’’
“What about?” Luis asked, surprised at the tone employed by his friend.
“Can’t you guess?” Manuel asked in turn, laying a friendly hand on his compatriot’s thigh.
“No,” Luis replied, withdrawing his leg sideways towards the left. “Now, look where you drive.”
After a brief silence, Manuel resumed: “Why, about Malgorata, man. Here we can talk freely, there the walls have ears.”
“And so, you too are fascinated by the woman, it turns out,” Luis sneered.
“Don’t make me vomit, pray,” Manuel said, breaking into a queer laugh. “It is you, running after the first skirt you come across, ha!”
“But, what’s bitten you?” Luis said, quite annoyed. “Haven’t you heard? When it is none of your concern, you just step aside. Get yourself a girlfriend.”
“And if I don’t,” said Manuel Suárez; then, modulating his voice to a pitch. “You men! You’re impossible.”
There followed a moment silence, after which Manuel asked: “Well?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” Galvao, knowing what the other was at, answered in bad temper. “I’ve only kissed her properly once. And it cost me dearly. Let’s drop it, please.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it is,” Manuel said, turning to look at Luis with a smile.
“When asssailed by an impertinent question,” Luis began.
But the other did not let him continue. “Anyhow, no need to complicate your life, boy, stealing somebody else’s wife. Need you? Well, here is the garage I was telling you about.’’
They drove into a big yard full of wrecks and old bombs of all kinds, some very old and rusty, some recently arrived, all for sale either as scrap metal, spare parts or as second-hand cars; the yard was full of individuals, all of them men, moving about looking for treasures. Manuel pointed to a forty-nine Hillman two-seater which was going for fifty pounds. His friend agreed that it was a bargain. They talked to one of the employees who set the engine in motion; whereupon the two friends asked the manager to be allowed to take the car for a trial run.
“I hope you didn’t mind me telling you about… You know,” Manuel tried to resume the interrupted conversation, once on the road, Luis this time at the wheel. “I’m glad, Luis. You’ve told me it’s a passing whim: well, that’s what you meant. Didn’t you?”
“Leave it, I said!” Luis shouted, pressing the brake on. “Hell, it is none of your bloody business!”
“Why, I can’t help noticing. There’s trouble brewing. And after all, I…”
“Shut up! I told you, I won’t listen. And you’re lucky I don’t punch your bloody nose for you.” Again Galvao stepped on the brake and turned to look at his friend in fury.
But the other would not leave it. “You know, that little bitch at Ultimo…”
“Don’t call her bitch!”
“Well, that Malgorata of yours is not what she looks. In the bush, she lured one of the rangers, Krapprov’s chum. I assure you. And that is why he bought the Harris Street property, to keep her away from his own men.”
“You told me she became ill.”
“Never mind what I told you. Anyway, one of them, a Yugoslav, actually a Croat, perished in her embrace.”
“Oh, now! you’re becoming mysterious. What do you mean?”
“Now, you be careful how you drive,” returned Manuel, without answering the question. “Don’t get nervous.”
They were entering the yard, Luis bought the Hillman, an elegant cabriolet despite its age; and the two friends drove back to Harris Street, each in his own vehicle.
The sun was setting in the west and a bright orangy-yellow mantle was covering the landscape of little houses with big gardens full of vegetation, each tree, bush or shrub nearly black. Luis and Malgorata were on the road on their way to the outback.
“If he happens to come, and finds I’m not in the house, he’ll near murder me,” said Malgorata, giggling.
But Luis thought it was no laughing matter. Would the monster not die one day and make it possible for them to get married and have a family, a small home of their own, like one of those now in the dark, a big garden for their children to run about?
They had left the house at Harris Street early in the evening, as soon as he had arrived from the factory, and at nine they were in Parramata, a town about ten miles west of Sydney, where they planned to spend the night and go on in the early hours. For they wanted to visit the bush before the hot November sun started to burn the multitude of small wild flowers that so abounded in the spring and made at times whole plains look like wonderfully designed colourful carpets. Wild flowers which spontaneously shot out of the ground immediately after a big storm had watered the land, flowers which were destined to last only a few days. Such wide variety of form and colour! for spring was spring even in the outback, antechamber of the desert.
At mid-morning, they were already plainly in the bush, heading towards the Blue Mountains. They passed longer and longer stretches of uninhabited land. Luis was driving, Malgorata on his left on the passenger seat, leaning her precious head on his shoulder, that beautiful smile of hers on her cherry-red mouth. For she was talking about music and art.
The seat behind was occupied by a rolled-up canvas tent and other camping gear, which would not have fitted in the car-boot. She felt very happy, attracted by the luminosity of the scene before her eyes and the silence which was little by little surrounding and involving her, now in a world of her own. A sort of slumber. Still bending towards her boyfriend, but only marginally touching him, she was attentive to the sounds outside, a light breeze coming in through the open window. All the same, quietness. Surprised at not hearing in the middle of the spring the singing of birds, the cry of a wild animal. Her eyes began closing… she opened them again… and something like a rare new bird, flying past the window soaring up high into infinite Heaven. After a short while of trying and fighting with herself, she could not keep her eyelids open anymore and fell sound asleep.
Luis hardly noticed this, attentive as he was to the beauty of the landscape… the deep blue of the sky, the immensity of the land, before him, of a reddish hue. In the last town they passed through, they had filled the tank and bought the necessary provisons. The man in the petrol station has sold him a special container full of drinking water, which he himself had attached to the front of the car.
… a cloudless sky and a marvellous large plain covering the whole prospect, and only two colours, blue and red, with isolated gumtrees here and there, twisted trunks like tormented souls of a whitish hue, steel-grey leaves hanging down from abnormally long branches.
… from time to time, but rather rarely a dark animal swiftly crossing the scene: a kangaroo, a wallaby… distant blue hills like a long barrier far away, and in the backround, the silhouette of a few mountains.
They parked the Hillman at the foot of a big grey rock, and pitched the tent for the night. Evening was drawing on. It was hot, without the slightest wind. A fire was rapidly made with twigs, dry branches and euchalyptus leaves before black night closed in on them. After eating a quick snack of bread and corned beef, and drinking a cup of billy-tea which Luis brewed in a can with a wire handle, they entered the tent and fell asleep. Galvao woke up shortly afterwards, sat up in the dark, squeezed out of his sleeping-bag, slid on his buttocks to the entrance of the tent and out into the night. He was nervous and full of apprehension.
… Bogalara, Toongabbie, Burrabogee! where have they gone? Names I have seen, driving through tiny villages with new settlers.
…Amongst low shrubs, ferns, bushes and tortured little trees, black menacing shadows; stranges ideas flashing across my mind. I’m lost, what’s happening? I am in a fever, trembling. I keep repeating their names. An usurper!
… Bungarribee, Barangaroo, Budgeree… What language did they speak? Where are they? The inhabitants of Terra Incognita pushed inward by the invaders little by little into the desert.
… dispossessed, deprived of their land, the means of subsistance, they who were always satisfied with so little. Now nothing. Can they be called refugees, wherever they have gone? Reffos, exiles, what? Or dead, massacred!
… will their spirits still be wafting in the land, the sky, where? Yes, they are now haunting me. Whatever we do they’ll be haunting us eternally. There are injustices which can never be corrected. What am I doing here? A New Australian. Really? Galvao’s mind was filled with very strange thoughts. Usurper!!
Nothing could be seen but shadows. The moon had not yet risen. Only infinitely distant stars were seen in the sky. And on this earth (he thought) only Infinite havoc! That is what we’ve brought. Havoc, havoc, everywhere! This small planet, a speck of matter within infinite eternal matter.
Their world had always been simple, unadorned, rational, unaffected. They lived on the land without demanding too much. What they found when they came, they left to their descendants. And we, from the west came along altering everything. We are still sending destruction everywhere.
Running back to his beloved he saw strange shadows moving about, circling him, (Malgorata would help him, love him, save him), he entered the tent trembling.