A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, nine

Nowadays migrant means downtrodden to death; but the Europeans are ex-pats. In yesteryears when usurpers peopled 'aboriginal' lands overseas invaders immigrated to Australia, Canada, USA etc. Herein the story of two Spaniards in Sydney late fifties.

A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, nine

Fernando García Izquierdo

I once met an ancient traveller who spoke to me of art quite deamily. He had created something, he said, labouring hard in a vast desert for many years. Something he wanted to communicate to others, which he had observed in real life and which had entered his own inner being. And there it had matured, had become of his own essence.
A dream within a dream. All in vain. The years passed. The land continued to be a desert. The life that he had observed had not interested the public, because he had got his inspiration from reality. No good. The work turned out to be terribly uncommercial and against the norms and regulations of the land. For over forty years he had been rejected. Everywhere.
The hidden forces that controlled and possessed the land, those precisely that had transformed it into a desert, sent paid agents to crush the undisciplined artist, partly because they thought his work could one day corrupt the youth, and partly because the work was original, different from what was published, produced.
“Este hombre no se ajusta a las normas,” the Officials muttered among themselves in their language, which was Castilian: This man doesn’t adapt himself to rules and regulations.
So, for our man, life became a continued nightmare. “La vida es sueño”, his life was just a dream, a double vision as always with him. For he never lost hope. ‘My work hereon eternally condemned to be put aside, forgotten?’ he cried, ‘never!’ “No al olvido eterno.”


… there is a cry: No! Never! An awful whining noise, oh gosh! to the right and to the left, on and off and all the time mosquitoes! flying past again, so noisily.
... exhausted is poor Galvao in his bed, has been there for some time, his life is like a dream, a vision of disaster, his work of art rejected, like a nightmare.
… he perceives the sound of mosquitoes again, unreal visions that must however contain some matter in them or they wouldn’t have gone in the cells of his brain.
… little by little he manages to open his eyes and keeps them at least half open; then, he closes them and all begins to fade away into dimness once again.

… all vision gone, the noise persists, stubborn, surrounding him impertinently; but only a glimpse at times of their presence, numberless parasitic elements.
… for a long time just a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of his living matter confronting the terrible sound. ‘Basta!’ he cries.

There is a ray of light. Even as he lies on the bed, still turning his eyes towards the line of light, where he now sees the form of a woman, holding the doorhandle. The rest is darkness. The vision vanishes.
Maybe it was only a dream. ‘That you, my Margaret? And where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’

At length Luis Galvao manages to stand up, after sitting for a long while on the side of the bed, searching with his toes for his slippers. A moment of indecision, and he lurches on. His legs are going to give way! Resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill, he looks out. There sees ahead a blue sky, without a cloud, a garden down below, the dark outline of a large fig tree far away, the wooden palings, an outside toilet and, towards the end of the garden, a rusty old car without its tyres. Two pelargonia, on each side, by the paling.
‘No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!’ Luis mutters in surprise. He turns back, jerking his way towards the bed; but his legs no longer hold him, too weak to go on. He rests his hands on a dressing-table with a score of medicines and a full bottle of water, or some product, and a glass. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror. ‘Myself!’ Looked terribly old and thin ‘Why, so old and haggard?’ he doubts. ‘What’s happened?’ Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if about to grow a beard.

‘Bless my soul!’ he hears someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. His voice is weak and as if coming from afar, ‘please help me.’ Now facing his friend directly and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened?’ he asks, impatiently.
His friend approaches him. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; which you already have guessed, no doubt.’ Manuel has gently got hold of his friend under one arm. ‘You’re fair dinkum, my boy, I assure you.’
‘But what has happened,’ Luis repeats as he feels his legs collapsing. ‘Is this a dream? I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence, for he has been jerking on, Manuel who helps him to lie down on his bed, terribly weak and exhausted.
‘You’ll be fine,’ the latter says, sitting on a chair, facing his wretched friend.
‘I’ve been seeing,’ Luis says in that thin voice, ‘oh, fantastic places, strange buildings, castles, a long strand, winding roads, lanes going up and down…’ Luis goes on, carefully enunciating every word, his eyes wide open, his elbows on the sheet; till he falls wearily back on the pillow, his hands to his face.
‘Sorry, Luis,’ Manuel said, ‘calm down. I should not have come in to tire you and bring forth those bad memories. You rest now. I’ll come again soon.

And again many images came back to Galvao’s mind, a desert where he had been labouring; a couple of churches, where he had attended service, after wandering up and down some narrow streets, the cottage where he thought he had found the girl he had lost to the paramilitaries in Madrid. Manuel was in the room. He made an effort to ask something; then Manuel, noticing his friend was getting excited, put his finger to his lips. And for a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, getting hold of his chair under his legs and approaching the bed.
‘Please,’ said Luis Galvao.
‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. “Maureen Kirilenko,” she introduced herself, “I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez,” she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? Of course. She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Hold your tongue, will you? You’re getting excited, poor Luis, now, that won’t do, you know, high blood pressure, that sort of thing.’ Manuel stood up, as if in a hurry to leave,’ you now rest, lie down again for two minutes. I’ll come back.’
He hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand.
‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among those things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’
He handed an airmail letter to his friend, who had recognised the writing on the envelope. He opened it with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh.
‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’

‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959.
Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go afterwards out of curiosity to the old flat, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. A combination of some happy coincidences, oh, my darling! that made me so happy. It happened (lucky me!) that a former colleague, not that one, the one I came to visit, Joyce, whom I had already said goodbye to. Another one, also a former colleague, who now rents the flat: our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954, when we for the first time lived together, me starting university, and you having returned from Madrid, still undecided about your future. Oh, you know!
But going back now, dearest love, to that day, which I spent in London, I went to see, out of curiosity, our old flat in Green Street, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (that is her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course, just beginning. Otherwise… anyhow, I got your letter, that’s what I wanted to say. All is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief that day of bad memory in Madrid.

In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall not forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you!
The fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret? the hazards of history maybe, but even if horrible things have come to pass, to have thought her lost forever?
… she is coming, that is the most important thing. I was taken away by civil guards, in chains, the Blue Mediterranean; a castle battered by furious waves, between two seas; only the cormorant was flying free.
… darling! you and me again together; the old dear images coming to life. Our first encounter, that afternoon in the lorry taking us to the volunteer agricultural camp with many other campers in the evening breeze…

‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. Though I knew for sure I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly, anyhow? I’m dying to hear those words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we, dear?- your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she once fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together, my boy. As you’re getting better, we shall talk, if you agree, for a few moments, all right?’’
‘I’m quite ready,’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point, unless she comes soon, I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’
‘Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’
‘Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’
‘You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your lamentations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your dear mama ever tell you?’
‘But then, I mean… what?’
‘Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things’ve been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather sad and low-toned, then, on a sing-song tone of voice. ‘Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill, that sort of thing.’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied, smiling. ‘Such as?’
‘Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet. And that means something, I guess. Now, what d’you say to that?’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’
‘Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the CSIRO. Yes, now I’ve got a good job. Absolutely. That’s why I told you I’m leaving, old boy. I’m leaving for the outback. I haven’t work in vain.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, my friend, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’
Manuel got hold of his chair with to two fingers, between his legs, and drew it nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody. And you deserve it. You’re an honour to New Aussies.’
‘Bah! Bah!’ Manuel laughed.

‘How shameful of me, selfish all right,’ Luis said, ‘to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid. Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend gazed, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on, that Saturday, at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’ He sat up on the bed, with his feet on the carpet, and drew nearer.
‘Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Otherwise all was silent and dark around, but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him; and now, the wailing of the parasitic elements kept him awake: this way and that, coming and going: the notion of mosquitoes moving in the dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I? It’ll be easier.’
‘Oh yes, do! Easier, of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty. She takes his wrist in her hand, and after a moment, declares in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly these last few days. Quite a healthy person, one can see. I’ve worked in a hospital.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on, all the time walking about: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well disposed. Treated you as he would have done a brother . With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better quickly.’ She smiles. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, and then helping me to wash you after, say, ye know,’ she hesitated, ‘yer passing motion.’
At that Manuel came in, saying: ‘… passing motion, changing pyjamas once a day.’ He cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and with some background of irony.
‘You’ve been wonderful. Many thanks!’ Luis Galvao said, then added, wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about herself,’ Manuel said, her having been a nurse. And this, dear Melina is married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you, the days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘Oh, don’t go on! You’d better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I’ve done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head of the bed.
‘And about you making it up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had said he wanted his friend to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. she was a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently. Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. ‘Melina was the mother of five.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth looked delicious; her eyes large and vivacious.

‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He had in his mind a pretty landlady, wondering again whether there could exist an affair between the two. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ And he closed the subject.
The day before the doctor had found his patient so much improved that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one had to add Manuel Suárez, who now had nothing to do and stayed at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new CSIRO post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head, but most specially he thought of Margaret, the contents of her letter, which he knew by heart; and now meandering in his mind, he came to think of Malgorata.
… that first night, coming home from the pub, Pyrmont Hotel, and finding her alone having her supper, taking a seat opposite her.
… I really thought I was seeing my own English sweetheart, the same wavy blond hair, pretty round face, those round cheeks.

He was awakened by a noise, which was no longer new to him. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid when two dear ones were put asunder by the paramilitaries.
‘And then! my loving woman,’ he cried, ‘reappeared here, in Harris Street.’.
Melina listened with interest to the story, then leaving his breakfast on his knees, proceeded to open the window. A late autumn sun flooded the room.
Just at that moment Manuel came, bouncing in. ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office and remember who is wafting across the seas. For I know you, my dear, indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers in, yellow in the centre. All condimented with plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe him!’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding first her hand in his, when somebody entered the bedroom, her husband. It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of County Council electricians, in charge of building and repairing the lines around. Seeing Melina was winning the fight with their lodger, he came in with much applause. ‘Bravo Melina!
Afterwords the three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went about the room arranging things, including the dresser with a collection of medicines.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies, and subsequent successful application to CSIRO, Manuel had been helping Melina in the house and taking sometimes the two young boys to their school, coaching them, to overcome difficulties. Everyody liked Manuel, including Dimitri whom he helped when there was some repair work to do in the house; and the two stayed together occasionally, working in the garden, always talking and smoking.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances, one would have thought, were antagonists, competing for the same woman.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. The house was otherwise empty of people; and the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, which Luis knew very well. The talks he had had there with Malgorata in the old days!
When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which little by little turned into a remembrance of the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was an excellent musician. She had heard (she said) she was now playing the violin in a big orchestra in Riga.
Luis Galvao, remembering those days, with the blond woman he called his wife, suddenly became quite melancholy, the more so because the other two had stood up, and looked a perfect couple, collaborating, doing the house-work always together, the washing up, then to hang the clothes on the hoist in the garden. Luis was crying when he left the company without saying good-bye.

‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ had asked Manuel, approaching his friend, once when Melissa was doing one of her trips to the court yard with a bundle of clothes: and Luis saw her coming in, pulling up her pinafore to dry her hands.
Tell me, Luis, about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? You go and tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia, the neighbour. Have you heard from Heribert, dear Luis, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would’ve thought! The happiness of a return home would have inclined him, if only to tell us how well he was faring.’
‘Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected.’
‘Bloody German! disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, but your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘ARRIVING SSARCADIA TWENTYFOUR MAY STOP LOVE MARGARET’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, which he had already seen, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she wore a miniskirt, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse. As she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her tall lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartily.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm for the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the door leading to the back yard.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However Luis did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair, looking about. There were in the room the Becosipopulos children, performing different tasks

He recognised the old place; but all in it had been changed. The sofa, where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objects were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which were now ballooning with the breeze, in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, quite typical, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and in the background the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down, one of the twins (littlest ones of the family), hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising her tiny eager hands. Then the other one. Galvao picked up the rosy infants and sat each on one knee. He began to tell them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little girls soon scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room.
The eldest boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him if he remembered anything of the old country, he being the only one born in Greece.
The other two boys, four and five, came up to Galvao, wanting to be told stories too, just as they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot to eat and drink, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed that everybody talked and laughed, taking part in the conversation, inclusive of the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised, with regret, that he was no longer used to having contact and conversation with ordinary people, specially children, and was sorry for the change, which he presumed was now deeply ingrained in his character.
Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected, neither did he smile or laugh: which usually was one of his traits; Luis would have sworn his friend was at this moment rather sad.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, bordering the Domain, on to Woolloomooloo, and then along New South Head Road, towards the Heads and the Pacific Ocean. They found an adequate place to leave the car, or parking lot. And they wandered over some scrubland for a few minutes; then sat down on buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. A solitary spot, overlooking the turbulent sea, frothing waves blasting the rocks, hundreds of feet down below, which Luis was watching absentmindedly, forgetting for the moment about his friend, who was also very quiet. Both were in fact gazing at the same prospect, having perhaps identical thoughts.
For a while Luis turned dreamily his eyes right and then left: miles and miles of the New South Wales coast, mostly cliffs, like the one on which they two were sitting; from time to time a long sandy beach could be detected, a motley crowd of houses, like a town, then along the coast unsurmountable rocky barriers, no longer distinguisable in the distance, the view becoming more and more blurred, so much so that the advancing headlands in the misty distance were just like some vertical pencilled strokes.
Only from time to time did either of them, good friends, say a word, rather in an abstract way of talking, as if they were overcome by the solemnity of the scene. As the afternoon advanced (the sun having started its career towards the west), the shadows along the coast became more pronouced, the darkness in the holes and caverns more complete, the terror that Galvao felt, more prevailing.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky ledge some twenty yards away from the rock barrier down below. ‘My! I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids underwater,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel asked, touching Luis on the shoulder. He had a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I do. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then,’ said Luis.
‘Let me show you something else first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the smash, the dark blue mass of matter floating all about.’ He stood up, and his friend feared for his life, for Manuel was acting as if he had lost his reason, imitating (it seemed) the theatre performances of the Ancients.
‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction,’ he concluded, seeing all this lovely sweeping surf, beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying particles… bubbles, bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him by the arm and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Come on!’
‘Let me go!!’ Luis screamed.
‘Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, those belles sirènes? as if you just could step back, and jump’ (a devilish laugh) ‘over and down… and fly, fly… and become eternal!’
Again Luis shook himself free, his friend looked so strange.
But Manuel stopped short, turned round, and becoming more natural: ‘Now,’ he said, laying a hand on the other’s shoulder, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, sitting down on the grass. ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask… what’s happened to your hair? It used to be jet-black.
‘Well,’ was the only word the other uttered, as he also sat on the grass.
‘Well,’ Luis repeated, ‘I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours has always been black and all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, ‘have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘That has nothing to do with it. Simply, when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking, no?’
‘I can’t put up with this. You’re offending me. Now that I have changed my appearance! This is unbearable. Stop it! Don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’
‘No,’ Luis said, pushing his friend away. ‘I’m just trying to talk to a friend.’ and as the other, raised his hand, he again pushed it aside in a bad temper.
‘No. I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty,’ Manuel said humbly.
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it (he had once seen his passport.)
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘But you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright some day…’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Come on, explain yourself.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically and simultaneously, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, as one holding a bottle and pursued, half jokingly: ‘MORGAN’S POMADE, of course. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied, ‘but I had to give it up, my dear Luis, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. Don’t look, hell! Wait until I do something to make it black again.

‘Why, haven’t you said it’s finished, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid. I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by and he followed them with his eyes. ‘The immense Pacfic Ocean,’ he thought. ‘America on the other side. Another ocean, and then Spain. ’
The clear warm early May afternoon had been changing into a windy evening.
‘Manuel,’ he called, ‘once, long ago, you spoke of the late forties in Madrid, when we first met… I hadn’t yet been in Ultimo. I don’t remember why, but you said, exactly, that you had begun university in Atocha. In the early forties.
‘Yes, I recall that first conversation,’ Manuel said, smiling, ‘In York Street. I said I was sorry not to have met you in Spain.’

The two friends, sitting on the buffalo grass, remained silent for a while, each concentrated on his own thoughts. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were once more fixed on the distance: the now dark ocean, the shining foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering on the open sea in the last rays of sunlight.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence; he heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth, you were saying. What a life! Laughter and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals of those days, those long walks in the tree-lined avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria…’
‘Tiny ones, those trees; the forest had been destroyed by the war; remember.’
‘Those interesting chats, real conversation. Those walks,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you, how can you not remember? So many friends lost, real friendship. When you were young and struggling to get into… something, a profession, most of the time studying. Now tell me, dear boy, can there be a substitute for that? We students talked and laughed, and loved spending some nights in the centre of an old city, el Viejo Madrid.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved, those days, I mean, when we were young,’ Luis echoed, dreamily. ‘We stalked in joyful reverie, and then one day from the native land we resolved to go… and visit climes beyond the seas…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Half-quoting Lord Byron, my friend,’ Luis said, sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, home,sweet home… was gone!’
‘And those university pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid looking for employment. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more. ‘Unavoidably lost!’
‘Irretrievably is the word,’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a pause, and Luis said. We fought against fascism.’
‘We were going to change the world. All finished now. That verve! Where has all gone now? Our youth is gone! Oh, where? what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, will be all that is left. That’s what you have said, and I ask for, my dear Luis. You say that I have done for you this and that. Always the same, dear Luis. You see, what I did, what you did, how awfully commercial sounds this.’
Luis remained silent for a while.
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, some silver and green ahead, and farther ahead, where the setting sun still reflected, all brilliant.

The cliff was now full of gulls, and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge thousands of marine birds were seen, perching on rocks or flying. And all filling the air with their great cries and horrible screeches, so that there came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another.

They started to feel the chill of the evening, specially as they had been quiet for a long while, when Manuel put an end to their talk, in a tone of carelessness.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ he sighed. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road to Woolloomooloo, from where they saw the lights of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat, when he heard, all of the sudden.
‘My dear Luis, tell me, did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then,’ he paused, ‘overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, I was eighteen, the first term, twenty years ago,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘Of course you know there were very few female students, those days. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, all told, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts Faculty, Filosofía y Letras, as they said. The girls were las chicas de letras, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, pensively, then turned to answer the question, ‘but you want to know, and yes, a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. I took her once to the cinema, plus two coffees, and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Pleasant but not smashing. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you, Manuel? A sweetheart… when in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis Galvao knew he had made a mistake. That was a question he should not have asked.
They were entering the city, the circular lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background, the prussian-blue water of the Bay, for them, on the right.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you, dear Luis? I did.’ he sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay, the hardness of the regime,’ he sighed again. ‘Eh bien, already two years earlier, they cut us down. I chose freedom. Esaped. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. El Guadarrama. Brief, I wouldn’t go to jail! so I ran away, I ran for all I was worth. In Madrid-Atocha I took a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already, hell!’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. Left him. I’ve been okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. Shall be, I hope. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… I thought of the days when I was a young man in Madrid. My friend, Bustamante, pulling me by the arm, ‘Look! Read this! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ and I learned that work was offered in England: vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps for foreign students.
… not enough farmhands on the land (many had died at war, others had left for the factories in industrial towns, what a chance for us poor young Spaniards, employed and paid by rich farmers in England.
… and I now dream of those days when I ceased to be a boy and became a man, that glorious Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls.
… that walk with Margaret at night from the country pub returning to the camp; then, along an abandoned canal, and sitting on the grass in the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed me to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of music, the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solveij’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I didn’t. ‘I love it, but I know nothing about music, my darling.’

And just as Galvao is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. The fluttering figures of many immigrants overcrowding the decks. Oh happiness! And the arriving newcomers, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… And yes! oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’ The power of those two red-and-black tugs! how they are pulling the liner in! their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. And now those sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables which some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, yes, yes, I cry with happiness! Margaret, my adorable girlfriend is one of the number!’ Clinging to the metal barrier, and Margaret stalking in the distance, entering a building with the words ‘CUSTOM HOUSE’, sixty feet away. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable wife! Oh, you have never been more beautiful. He feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. ‘Oh, Margaret, my precious!’ she is in his arms. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really away and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed, and noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe and where they had met again lately, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I need not live in a open place to try and understand. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists. I thought you might feel lonely out in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, and after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are ten-to-one that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces by war or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our human species,’ Manuel said, in a tragical tone, ‘homo sapiens, indeed! then, this here country of ours will be almost the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, conflicts: all that sort of thing, understand? and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone else besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life, say, some of the species out there, the outback or bush: what you call a desert…’ and he did not conclude his sentence.
‘There are sturdy trees and animals, out there, I should think,’ Luis muttered, in a manner which denoted his ignorance. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life, those things.’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to do, out in the bush, whatever I can contribute from my own little person, intellectually sort of thing in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever I can contribute in the conservation of Nature. Nature which is quickly disappearing, here too. Too quickly! I shall do, my good pal, out there. See? there’s a great opportunity awaiting me.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the great opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here. And that’s a crime (if you know history) and a pity, there’r things to learn.
‘Well, in La Perouse, you can see Aborigenes.’
‘A settlement. Now, what’s the use of coming Down Under,’ Manuel went on, paying no attention to Galvao’s words, ‘of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land, the land! yes, this land, the coast, too,’ he shouted, ‘thousands of years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘There are Abbos, yes, and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel matter-of-factedly; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have you come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, how bright the boys are? - the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind. Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs,’ he made a pause, ‘of course you have.’
‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, my dear Luis,’ Manuel went on after another pause, ‘have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll be sending one from every port of call,’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got out from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those sudden changes of mood in Manuel’s character to which his friend was already used, only this time there was in the change something new, a sort of ingrained sadness which he had never seen before.
‘You lucky fellow, Luis,’ he heard him say at the same time as he received a pat on his thigh. ‘Yes, you are fortunate. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do,’ he got his handherchief out of his trouser pocket, and blew his nose. ‘And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Melina and the scene: Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked. Or was it a wrong impression. He was going to ask, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he asked instead, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… but why don’t you too… Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… I mean, what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children. The Becosipopulos’ kids adore you.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manolo boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chappy I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed in Spanish, unexpectedly laying his brow upon the palms of his hands, his elbows on his knees; there was a brief silence, then Galvao (observing the distant sea) heard: ‘I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen me, Luis, and I say again, I am very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing with her too,’ he sighed, ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Who knows, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart the way you have in mind, impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of it! What’s the use?’
Luis had also stood up. ‘Let me pay,’ he said, as they moved to the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the luggage to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from that end of Pitt Street.
At the station they quickly found the right platform: the train to Dubbo and beyond. It was an exceptionally chilly night of the end of the autumn, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a light (‘gabardine’) coat and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and, in passing, to detract attention from his greying hair. Luis Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again.
By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, which were cold and fidgetty. He tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist. After a while he got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘Manuel, old boy,’ said Luis somewhat didactically, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’ It was a very impertinent question, in the circumstances, and he should have known.
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing, which to Luis seemed strange. Luis saw his handsome face in the approaching evening. He rather looked like an American film-star with that long gabardine, a tight belt (say, Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon tube. An expanding bright light, an intense white line, in the night, the now invading cold evening.’
‘Well, my Luis?’ Manuel seemed to ask, rather hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder, touching his neck, ‘well,’ and stopped short.
And Luis said, quite convinced, grabbing his friend’s fingers: ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Certainly I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Isn’t that what you’ve been asking all evening?’ He waited until Luis mumbled something. ‘I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… who knows. Probably not, but I’ll try.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his, bring the two together and pressing them with great affection.
‘Oh no! Well, yes. Somehow, recognition, I mean… if one works… willpower,’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, yes, yes, I say. You will be famous one day.’
Manuel lit another cigarette. ‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ he began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life. That’s the thing,’ he paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you have in mind. And when you talked of a possible job in here, I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it: all this life, shall miss it sorely. This is now my city, my home so to say,’ he paused again, ‘nevertheless…’ (he did not finish his sentence.)
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly again.
‘Anyhow, please… I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there, that sort of thing. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot from the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away.
Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend, who was shivering with cold on the platform, just near the window. The train was now advancing, first slowly, then fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as these passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact had disappeared), now stopped short, and breathed.
A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, inside. As if about to grab a hand (he figured out) and kiss it –‘bye Luis!’- just an instant.

A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for lawyer Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time, stayed put, imagining he was still seeing his comrade’s face glued to the window, in the distance, the tears welling up abundantly, behind the glass-pane, out of two large black eyes.
Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects and places, and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land, so forming part of our lives! - that suburb so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, Madrid; the walks we took together of a Saturday morning to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely blond Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck! The End
fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, nine

Fernando García Izquierdo

I once met an ancient traveller who spoke to me of art quite deamily. He had created something, he said, labouring hard in a vast desert for many years. Something he wanted to communicate to others, which he had observed in real life and which had entered his own inner being. And there it had matured, had become of his own essence.
A dream within a dream. All in vain. The years passed. The land continued to be a desert. The life that he had observed had not interested the public, because he had got his inspiration from reality. No good. The work turned out to be terribly uncommercial and against the norms and regulations of the land. For over forty years he had been rejected. Everywhere.
The hidden forces that controlled and possessed the land, those precisely that had transformed it into a desert, sent paid agents to crush the undisciplined artist, partly because they thought his work could one day corrupt the youth, and partly because the work was original, different from what was published, produced.
“Este hombre no se ajusta a las normas,” the Officials muttered among themselves in their language, which was Castilian: This man doesn’t adapt himself to rules and regulations.
So, for our man, life became a continued nightmare. “La vida es sueño”, his life was just a dream, a double vision as always with him. For he never lost hope. ‘My work hereon eternally condemned to be put aside, forgotten?’ he cried, ‘never!’ “No al olvido eterno.”


… there is a cry: No! Never! An awful whining noise, oh gosh! to the right and to the left, on and off and all the time mosquitoes! flying past again, so noisily.
... exhausted is poor Galvao in his bed, has been there for some time, his life is like a dream, a vision of disaster, his work of art rejected, like a nightmare.
… he perceives the sound of mosquitoes again, unreal visions that must however contain some matter in them or they wouldn’t have gone in the cells of his brain.
… little by little he manages to open his eyes and keeps them at least half open; then, he closes them and all begins to fade away into dimness once again.

… all vision gone, the noise persists, stubborn, surrounding him impertinently; but only a glimpse at times of their presence, numberless parasitic elements.
… for a long time just a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of his living matter confronting the terrible sound. ‘Basta!’ he cries.

There is a ray of light. Even as he lies on the bed, still turning his eyes towards the line of light, where he now sees the form of a woman, holding the doorhandle. The rest is darkness. The vision vanishes.
Maybe it was only a dream. ‘That you, my Margaret? And where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’

At length Luis Galvao manages to stand up, after sitting for a long while on the side of the bed, searching with his toes for his slippers. A moment of indecision, and he lurches on. His legs are going to give way! Resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill, he looks out. There sees ahead a blue sky, without a cloud, a garden down below, the dark outline of a large fig tree far away, the wooden palings, an outside toilet and, towards the end of the garden, a rusty old car without its tyres. Two pelargonia, on each side, by the paling.
‘No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!’ Luis mutters in surprise. He turns back, jerking his way towards the bed; but his legs no longer hold him, too weak to go on. He rests his hands on a dressing-table with a score of medicines and a full bottle of water, or some product, and a glass. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror. ‘Myself!’ Looked terribly old and thin ‘Why, so old and haggard?’ he doubts. ‘What’s happened?’ Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if about to grow a beard.

‘Bless my soul!’ he hears someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. His voice is weak and as if coming from afar, ‘please help me.’ Now facing his friend directly and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened?’ he asks, impatiently.
His friend approaches him. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; which you already have guessed, no doubt.’ Manuel has gently got hold of his friend under one arm. ‘You’re fair dinkum, my boy, I assure you.’
‘But what has happened,’ Luis repeats as he feels his legs collapsing. ‘Is this a dream? I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence, for he has been jerking on, Manuel who helps him to lie down on his bed, terribly weak and exhausted.
‘You’ll be fine,’ the latter says, sitting on a chair, facing his wretched friend.
‘I’ve been seeing,’ Luis says in that thin voice, ‘oh, fantastic places, strange buildings, castles, a long strand, winding roads, lanes going up and down…’ Luis goes on, carefully enunciating every word, his eyes wide open, his elbows on the sheet; till he falls wearily back on the pillow, his hands to his face.
‘Sorry, Luis,’ Manuel said, ‘calm down. I should not have come in to tire you and bring forth those bad memories. You rest now. I’ll come again soon.

And again many images came back to Galvao’s mind, a desert where he had been labouring; a couple of churches, where he had attended service, after wandering up and down some narrow streets, the cottage where he thought he had found the girl he had lost to the paramilitaries in Madrid. Manuel was in the room. He made an effort to ask something; then Manuel, noticing his friend was getting excited, put his finger to his lips. And for a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, getting hold of his chair under his legs and approaching the bed.
‘Please,’ said Luis Galvao.
‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. “Maureen Kirilenko,” she introduced herself, “I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez,” she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? Of course. She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Hold your tongue, will you? You’re getting excited, poor Luis, now, that won’t do, you know, high blood pressure, that sort of thing.’ Manuel stood up, as if in a hurry to leave,’ you now rest, lie down again for two minutes. I’ll come back.’
He hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand.
‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among those things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’
He handed an airmail letter to his friend, who had recognised the writing on the envelope. He opened it with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh.
‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’

‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959.
Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go afterwards out of curiosity to the old flat, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. A combination of some happy coincidences, oh, my darling! that made me so happy. It happened (lucky me!) that a former colleague, not that one, the one I came to visit, Joyce, whom I had already said goodbye to. Another one, also a former colleague, who now rents the flat: our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954, when we for the first time lived together, me starting university, and you having returned from Madrid, still undecided about your future. Oh, you know!
But going back now, dearest love, to that day, which I spent in London, I went to see, out of curiosity, our old flat in Green Street, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (that is her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course, just beginning. Otherwise… anyhow, I got your letter, that’s what I wanted to say. All is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief that day of bad memory in Madrid.

In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall not forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you!
The fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret? the hazards of history maybe, but even if horrible things have come to pass, to have thought her lost forever?
… she is coming, that is the most important thing. I was taken away by civil guards, in chains, the Blue Mediterranean; a castle battered by furious waves, between two seas; only the cormorant was flying free.
… darling! you and me again together; the old dear images coming to life. Our first encounter, that afternoon in the lorry taking us to the volunteer agricultural camp with many other campers in the evening breeze…

‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. Though I knew for sure I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly, anyhow? I’m dying to hear those words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we, dear?- your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she once fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together, my boy. As you’re getting better, we shall talk, if you agree, for a few moments, all right?’’
‘I’m quite ready,’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point, unless she comes soon, I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’
‘Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’
‘Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’
‘You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your lamentations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your dear mama ever tell you?’
‘But then, I mean… what?’
‘Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things’ve been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather sad and low-toned, then, on a sing-song tone of voice. ‘Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill, that sort of thing.’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied, smiling. ‘Such as?’
‘Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet. And that means something, I guess. Now, what d’you say to that?’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’
‘Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the CSIRO. Yes, now I’ve got a good job. Absolutely. That’s why I told you I’m leaving, old boy. I’m leaving for the outback. I haven’t work in vain.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, my friend, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’
Manuel got hold of his chair with to two fingers, between his legs, and drew it nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody. And you deserve it. You’re an honour to New Aussies.’
‘Bah! Bah!’ Manuel laughed.

‘How shameful of me, selfish all right,’ Luis said, ‘to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid. Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend gazed, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on, that Saturday, at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’ He sat up on the bed, with his feet on the carpet, and drew nearer.
‘Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Otherwise all was silent and dark around, but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him; and now, the wailing of the parasitic elements kept him awake: this way and that, coming and going: the notion of mosquitoes moving in the dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I? It’ll be easier.’
‘Oh yes, do! Easier, of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty. She takes his wrist in her hand, and after a moment, declares in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly these last few days. Quite a healthy person, one can see. I’ve worked in a hospital.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on, all the time walking about: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well disposed. Treated you as he would have done a brother . With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better quickly.’ She smiles. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, and then helping me to wash you after, say, ye know,’ she hesitated, ‘yer passing motion.’
At that Manuel came in, saying: ‘… passing motion, changing pyjamas once a day.’ He cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and with some background of irony.
‘You’ve been wonderful. Many thanks!’ Luis Galvao said, then added, wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about herself,’ Manuel said, her having been a nurse. And this, dear Melina is married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you, the days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘Oh, don’t go on! You’d better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I’ve done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head of the bed.
‘And about you making it up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had said he wanted his friend to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. she was a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently. Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. ‘Melina was the mother of five.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth looked delicious; her eyes large and vivacious.

‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He had in his mind a pretty landlady, wondering again whether there could exist an affair between the two. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ And he closed the subject.
The day before the doctor had found his patient so much improved that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one had to add Manuel Suárez, who now had nothing to do and stayed at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new CSIRO post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head, but most specially he thought of Margaret, the contents of her letter, which he knew by heart; and now meandering in his mind, he came to think of Malgorata.
… that first night, coming home from the pub, Pyrmont Hotel, and finding her alone having her supper, taking a seat opposite her.
… I really thought I was seeing my own English sweetheart, the same wavy blond hair, pretty round face, those round cheeks.

He was awakened by a noise, which was no longer new to him. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid when two dear ones were put asunder by the paramilitaries.
‘And then! my loving woman,’ he cried, ‘reappeared here, in Harris Street.’.
Melina listened with interest to the story, then leaving his breakfast on his knees, proceeded to open the window. A late autumn sun flooded the room.
Just at that moment Manuel came, bouncing in. ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office and remember who is wafting across the seas. For I know you, my dear, indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers in, yellow in the centre. All condimented with plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe him!’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding first her hand in his, when somebody entered the bedroom, her husband. It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of County Council electricians, in charge of building and repairing the lines around. Seeing Melina was winning the fight with their lodger, he came in with much applause. ‘Bravo Melina!
Afterwords the three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went about the room arranging things, including the dresser with a collection of medicines.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies, and subsequent successful application to CSIRO, Manuel had been helping Melina in the house and taking sometimes the two young boys to their school, coaching them, to overcome difficulties. Everyody liked Manuel, including Dimitri whom he helped when there was some repair work to do in the house; and the two stayed together occasionally, working in the garden, always talking and smoking.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances, one would have thought, were antagonists, competing for the same woman.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. The house was otherwise empty of people; and the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, which Luis knew very well. The talks he had had there with Malgorata in the old days!
When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which little by little turned into a remembrance of the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was an excellent musician. She had heard (she said) she was now playing the violin in a big orchestra in Riga.
Luis Galvao, remembering those days, with the blond woman he called his wife, suddenly became quite melancholy, the more so because the other two had stood up, and looked a perfect couple, collaborating, doing the house-work always together, the washing up, then to hang the clothes on the hoist in the garden. Luis was crying when he left the company without saying good-bye.

‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ had asked Manuel, approaching his friend, once when Melissa was doing one of her trips to the court yard with a bundle of clothes: and Luis saw her coming in, pulling up her pinafore to dry her hands.
Tell me, Luis, about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? You go and tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia, the neighbour. Have you heard from Heribert, dear Luis, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would’ve thought! The happiness of a return home would have inclined him, if only to tell us how well he was faring.’
‘Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected.’
‘Bloody German! disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, but your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘ARRIVING SSARCADIA TWENTYFOUR MAY STOP LOVE MARGARET’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, which he had already seen, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she wore a miniskirt, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse. As she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her tall lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartily.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm for the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the door leading to the back yard.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However Luis did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair, looking about. There were in the room the Becosipopulos children, performing different tasks

He recognised the old place; but all in it had been changed. The sofa, where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objects were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which were now ballooning with the breeze, in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, quite typical, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and in the background the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down, one of the twins (littlest ones of the family), hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising her tiny eager hands. Then the other one. Galvao picked up the rosy infants and sat each on one knee. He began to tell them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little girls soon scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room.
The eldest boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him if he remembered anything of the old country, he being the only one born in Greece.
The other two boys, four and five, came up to Galvao, wanting to be told stories too, just as they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot to eat and drink, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed that everybody talked and laughed, taking part in the conversation, inclusive of the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised, with regret, that he was no longer used to having contact and conversation with ordinary people, specially children, and was sorry for the change, which he presumed was now deeply ingrained in his character.
Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected, neither did he smile or laugh: which usually was one of his traits; Luis would have sworn his friend was at this moment rather sad.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, bordering the Domain, on to Woolloomooloo, and then along New South Head Road, towards the Heads and the Pacific Ocean. They found an adequate place to leave the car, or parking lot. And they wandered over some scrubland for a few minutes; then sat down on buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. A solitary spot, overlooking the turbulent sea, frothing waves blasting the rocks, hundreds of feet down below, which Luis was watching absentmindedly, forgetting for the moment about his friend, who was also very quiet. Both were in fact gazing at the same prospect, having perhaps identical thoughts.
For a while Luis turned dreamily his eyes right and then left: miles and miles of the New South Wales coast, mostly cliffs, like the one on which they two were sitting; from time to time a long sandy beach could be detected, a motley crowd of houses, like a town, then along the coast unsurmountable rocky barriers, no longer distinguisable in the distance, the view becoming more and more blurred, so much so that the advancing headlands in the misty distance were just like some vertical pencilled strokes.
Only from time to time did either of them, good friends, say a word, rather in an abstract way of talking, as if they were overcome by the solemnity of the scene. As the afternoon advanced (the sun having started its career towards the west), the shadows along the coast became more pronouced, the darkness in the holes and caverns more complete, the terror that Galvao felt, more prevailing.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky ledge some twenty yards away from the rock barrier down below. ‘My! I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids underwater,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel asked, touching Luis on the shoulder. He had a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I do. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then,’ said Luis.
‘Let me show you something else first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the smash, the dark blue mass of matter floating all about.’ He stood up, and his friend feared for his life, for Manuel was acting as if he had lost his reason, imitating (it seemed) the theatre performances of the Ancients.
‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction,’ he concluded, seeing all this lovely sweeping surf, beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying particles… bubbles, bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him by the arm and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Come on!’
‘Let me go!!’ Luis screamed.
‘Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, those belles sirènes? as if you just could step back, and jump’ (a devilish laugh) ‘over and down… and fly, fly… and become eternal!’
Again Luis shook himself free, his friend looked so strange.
But Manuel stopped short, turned round, and becoming more natural: ‘Now,’ he said, laying a hand on the other’s shoulder, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, sitting down on the grass. ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask… what’s happened to your hair? It used to be jet-black.
‘Well,’ was the only word the other uttered, as he also sat on the grass.
‘Well,’ Luis repeated, ‘I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours has always been black and all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, ‘have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘That has nothing to do with it. Simply, when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking, no?’
‘I can’t put up with this. You’re offending me. Now that I have changed my appearance! This is unbearable. Stop it! Don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’
‘No,’ Luis said, pushing his friend away. ‘I’m just trying to talk to a friend.’ and as the other, raised his hand, he again pushed it aside in a bad temper.
‘No. I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty,’ Manuel said humbly.
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it (he had once seen his passport.)
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘But you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright some day…’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Come on, explain yourself.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically and simultaneously, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, as one holding a bottle and pursued, half jokingly: ‘MORGAN’S POMADE, of course. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied, ‘but I had to give it up, my dear Luis, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. Don’t look, hell! Wait until I do something to make it black again.

‘Why, haven’t you said it’s finished, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid. I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by and he followed them with his eyes. ‘The immense Pacfic Ocean,’ he thought. ‘America on the other side. Another ocean, and then Spain. ’
The clear warm early May afternoon had been changing into a windy evening.
‘Manuel,’ he called, ‘once, long ago, you spoke of the late forties in Madrid, when we first met… I hadn’t yet been in Ultimo. I don’t remember why, but you said, exactly, that you had begun university in Atocha. In the early forties.
‘Yes, I recall that first conversation,’ Manuel said, smiling, ‘In York Street. I said I was sorry not to have met you in Spain.’

The two friends, sitting on the buffalo grass, remained silent for a while, each concentrated on his own thoughts. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were once more fixed on the distance: the now dark ocean, the shining foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering on the open sea in the last rays of sunlight.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence; he heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth, you were saying. What a life! Laughter and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals of those days, those long walks in the tree-lined avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria…’
‘Tiny ones, those trees; the forest had been destroyed by the war; remember.’
‘Those interesting chats, real conversation. Those walks,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you, how can you not remember? So many friends lost, real friendship. When you were young and struggling to get into… something, a profession, most of the time studying. Now tell me, dear boy, can there be a substitute for that? We students talked and laughed, and loved spending some nights in the centre of an old city, el Viejo Madrid.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved, those days, I mean, when we were young,’ Luis echoed, dreamily. ‘We stalked in joyful reverie, and then one day from the native land we resolved to go… and visit climes beyond the seas…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Half-quoting Lord Byron, my friend,’ Luis said, sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, home,sweet home… was gone!’
‘And those university pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid looking for employment. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more. ‘Unavoidably lost!’
‘Irretrievably is the word,’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a pause, and Luis said. We fought against fascism.’
‘We were going to change the world. All finished now. That verve! Where has all gone now? Our youth is gone! Oh, where? what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, will be all that is left. That’s what you have said, and I ask for, my dear Luis. You say that I have done for you this and that. Always the same, dear Luis. You see, what I did, what you did, how awfully commercial sounds this.’
Luis remained silent for a while.
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, some silver and green ahead, and farther ahead, where the setting sun still reflected, all brilliant.

The cliff was now full of gulls, and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge thousands of marine birds were seen, perching on rocks or flying. And all filling the air with their great cries and horrible screeches, so that there came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another.

They started to feel the chill of the evening, specially as they had been quiet for a long while, when Manuel put an end to their talk, in a tone of carelessness.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ he sighed. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road to Woolloomooloo, from where they saw the lights of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat, when he heard, all of the sudden.
‘My dear Luis, tell me, did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then,’ he paused, ‘overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, I was eighteen, the first term, twenty years ago,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘Of course you know there were very few female students, those days. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, all told, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts Faculty, Filosofía y Letras, as they said. The girls were las chicas de letras, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, pensively, then turned to answer the question, ‘but you want to know, and yes, a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. I took her once to the cinema, plus two coffees, and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Pleasant but not smashing. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you, Manuel? A sweetheart… when in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis Galvao knew he had made a mistake. That was a question he should not have asked.
They were entering the city, the circular lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background, the prussian-blue water of the Bay, for them, on the right.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you, dear Luis? I did.’ he sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay, the hardness of the regime,’ he sighed again. ‘Eh bien, already two years earlier, they cut us down. I chose freedom. Esaped. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. El Guadarrama. Brief, I wouldn’t go to jail! so I ran away, I ran for all I was worth. In Madrid-Atocha I took a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already, hell!’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. Left him. I’ve been okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. Shall be, I hope. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… I thought of the days when I was a young man in Madrid. My friend, Bustamante, pulling me by the arm, ‘Look! Read this! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ and I learned that work was offered in England: vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps for foreign students.
… not enough farmhands on the land (many had died at war, others had left for the factories in industrial towns, what a chance for us poor young Spaniards, employed and paid by rich farmers in England.
… and I now dream of those days when I ceased to be a boy and became a man, that glorious Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls.
… that walk with Margaret at night from the country pub returning to the camp; then, along an abandoned canal, and sitting on the grass in the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed me to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of music, the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solveij’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I didn’t. ‘I love it, but I know nothing about music, my darling.’

And just as Galvao is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. The fluttering figures of many immigrants overcrowding the decks. Oh happiness! And the arriving newcomers, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… And yes! oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’ The power of those two red-and-black tugs! how they are pulling the liner in! their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. And now those sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables which some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, yes, yes, I cry with happiness! Margaret, my adorable girlfriend is one of the number!’ Clinging to the metal barrier, and Margaret stalking in the distance, entering a building with the words ‘CUSTOM HOUSE’, sixty feet away. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable wife! Oh, you have never been more beautiful. He feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. ‘Oh, Margaret, my precious!’ she is in his arms. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really away and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed, and noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe and where they had met again lately, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I need not live in a open place to try and understand. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists. I thought you might feel lonely out in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, and after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are ten-to-one that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces by war or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our human species,’ Manuel said, in a tragical tone, ‘homo sapiens, indeed! then, this here country of ours will be almost the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, conflicts: all that sort of thing, understand? and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone else besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life, say, some of the species out there, the outback or bush: what you call a desert…’ and he did not conclude his sentence.
‘There are sturdy trees and animals, out there, I should think,’ Luis muttered, in a manner which denoted his ignorance. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life, those things.’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to do, out in the bush, whatever I can contribute from my own little person, intellectually sort of thing in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever I can contribute in the conservation of Nature. Nature which is quickly disappearing, here too. Too quickly! I shall do, my good pal, out there. See? there’s a great opportunity awaiting me.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the great opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here. And that’s a crime (if you know history) and a pity, there’r things to learn.
‘Well, in La Perouse, you can see Aborigenes.’
‘A settlement. Now, what’s the use of coming Down Under,’ Manuel went on, paying no attention to Galvao’s words, ‘of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land, the land! yes, this land, the coast, too,’ he shouted, ‘thousands of years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘There are Abbos, yes, and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel matter-of-factedly; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have you come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, how bright the boys are? - the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind. Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs,’ he made a pause, ‘of course you have.’
‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, my dear Luis,’ Manuel went on after another pause, ‘have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll be sending one from every port of call,’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got out from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those sudden changes of mood in Manuel’s character to which his friend was already used, only this time there was in the change something new, a sort of ingrained sadness which he had never seen before.
‘You lucky fellow, Luis,’ he heard him say at the same time as he received a pat on his thigh. ‘Yes, you are fortunate. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do,’ he got his handherchief out of his trouser pocket, and blew his nose. ‘And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Melina and the scene: Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked. Or was it a wrong impression. He was going to ask, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he asked instead, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… but why don’t you too… Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… I mean, what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children. The Becosipopulos’ kids adore you.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manolo boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chappy I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed in Spanish, unexpectedly laying his brow upon the palms of his hands, his elbows on his knees; there was a brief silence, then Galvao (observing the distant sea) heard: ‘I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen me, Luis, and I say again, I am very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing with her too,’ he sighed, ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Who knows, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart the way you have in mind, impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of it! What’s the use?’
Luis had also stood up. ‘Let me pay,’ he said, as they moved to the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the luggage to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from that end of Pitt Street.
At the station they quickly found the right platform: the train to Dubbo and beyond. It was an exceptionally chilly night of the end of the autumn, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a light (‘gabardine’) coat and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and, in passing, to detract attention from his greying hair. Luis Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again.
By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, which were cold and fidgetty. He tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist. After a while he got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘Manuel, old boy,’ said Luis somewhat didactically, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’ It was a very impertinent question, in the circumstances, and he should have known.
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing, which to Luis seemed strange. Luis saw his handsome face in the approaching evening. He rather looked like an American film-star with that long gabardine, a tight belt (say, Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon tube. An expanding bright light, an intense white line, in the night, the now invading cold evening.’
‘Well, my Luis?’ Manuel seemed to ask, rather hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder, touching his neck, ‘well,’ and stopped short.
And Luis said, quite convinced, grabbing his friend’s fingers: ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Certainly I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Isn’t that what you’ve been asking all evening?’ He waited until Luis mumbled something. ‘I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… who knows. Probably not, but I’ll try.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his, bring the two together and pressing them with great affection.
‘Oh no! Well, yes. Somehow, recognition, I mean… if one works… willpower,’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, yes, yes, I say. You will be famous one day.’
Manuel lit another cigarette. ‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ he began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life. That’s the thing,’ he paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you have in mind. And when you talked of a possible job in here, I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it: all this life, shall miss it sorely. This is now my city, my home so to say,’ he paused again, ‘nevertheless…’ (he did not finish his sentence.)
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly again.
‘Anyhow, please… I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there, that sort of thing. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot from the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away.
Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend, who was shivering with cold on the platform, just near the window. The train was now advancing, first slowly, then fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as these passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact had disappeared), now stopped short, and breathed.
A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, inside. As if about to grab a hand (he figured out) and kiss it –‘bye Luis!’- just an instant.

A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for lawyer Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time, stayed put, imagining he was still seeing his comrade’s face glued to the window, in the distance, the tears welling up abundantly, behind the glass-pane, out of two large black eyes.
Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects and places, and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land, so forming part of our lives! - that suburb so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, Madrid; the walks we took together of a Saturday morning to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely blond Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck! The End
fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, nine

Fernando García Izquierdo

I once met an ancient traveller who spoke to me of art quite deamily. He had created something, he said, labouring hard in a vast desert for many years. Something he wanted to communicate to others, which he had observed in real life and which had entered his own inner being. And there it had matured, had become of his own essence.
A dream within a dream. All in vain. The years passed. The land continued to be a desert. The life that he had observed had not interested the public, because he had got his inspiration from reality. No good. The work turned out to be terribly uncommercial and against the norms and regulations of the land. For over forty years he had been rejected. Everywhere.
The hidden forces that controlled and possessed the land, those precisely that had transformed it into a desert, sent paid agents to crush the undisciplined artist, partly because they thought his work could one day corrupt the youth, and partly because the work was original, different from what was published, produced.
“Este hombre no se ajusta a las normas,” the Officials muttered among themselves in their language, which was Castilian: This man doesn’t adapt himself to rules and regulations.
So, for our man, life became a continued nightmare. “La vida es sueño”, his life was just a dream, a double vision as always with him. For he never lost hope. ‘My work hereon eternally condemned to be put aside, forgotten?’ he cried, ‘never!’ “No al olvido eterno.”


… there is a cry: No! Never! An awful whining noise, oh gosh! to the right and to the left, on and off and all the time mosquitoes! flying past again, so noisily.
... exhausted is poor Galvao in his bed, has been there for some time, his life is like a dream, a vision of disaster, his work of art rejected, like a nightmare.
… he perceives the sound of mosquitoes again, unreal visions that must however contain some matter in them or they wouldn’t have gone in the cells of his brain.
… little by little he manages to open his eyes and keeps them at least half open; then, he closes them and all begins to fade away into dimness once again.

… all vision gone, the noise persists, stubborn, surrounding him impertinently; but only a glimpse at times of their presence, numberless parasitic elements.
… for a long time just a few scraps of consciousness rolling upwards from the centre of his living matter confronting the terrible sound. ‘Basta!’ he cries.

There is a ray of light. Even as he lies on the bed, still turning his eyes towards the line of light, where he now sees the form of a woman, holding the doorhandle. The rest is darkness. The vision vanishes.
Maybe it was only a dream. ‘That you, my Margaret? And where may you be hiding, my sweetheart? a thousand times imagined and just as quickly gone.’

At length Luis Galvao manages to stand up, after sitting for a long while on the side of the bed, searching with his toes for his slippers. A moment of indecision, and he lurches on. His legs are going to give way! Resting the palms of his hands on the windowsill, he looks out. There sees ahead a blue sky, without a cloud, a garden down below, the dark outline of a large fig tree far away, the wooden palings, an outside toilet and, towards the end of the garden, a rusty old car without its tyres. Two pelargonia, on each side, by the paling.
‘No longer in Kirribilli! This is the old place of Harris Street, in Ultimo!’ Luis mutters in surprise. He turns back, jerking his way towards the bed; but his legs no longer hold him, too weak to go on. He rests his hands on a dressing-table with a score of medicines and a full bottle of water, or some product, and a glass. He spies the figure of a man in the mirror. ‘Myself!’ Looked terribly old and thin ‘Why, so old and haggard?’ he doubts. ‘What’s happened?’ Most curiously, his chin is thick with a rough stubble as if about to grow a beard.

‘Bless my soul!’ he hears someone entering the room.
‘Manuel, is that you?’ he asks still looking in the mirror. His voice is weak and as if coming from afar, ‘please help me.’ Now facing his friend directly and sitting on the edge of the dressing-table, ‘What’s happened?’ he asks, impatiently.
His friend approaches him. ‘I should say you’ve been quite poorly these last few days; which you already have guessed, no doubt.’ Manuel has gently got hold of his friend under one arm. ‘You’re fair dinkum, my boy, I assure you.’
‘But what has happened,’ Luis repeats as he feels his legs collapsing. ‘Is this a dream? I feel…’, he does not finish his sentence, for he has been jerking on, Manuel who helps him to lie down on his bed, terribly weak and exhausted.
‘You’ll be fine,’ the latter says, sitting on a chair, facing his wretched friend.
‘I’ve been seeing,’ Luis says in that thin voice, ‘oh, fantastic places, strange buildings, castles, a long strand, winding roads, lanes going up and down…’ Luis goes on, carefully enunciating every word, his eyes wide open, his elbows on the sheet; till he falls wearily back on the pillow, his hands to his face.
‘Sorry, Luis,’ Manuel said, ‘calm down. I should not have come in to tire you and bring forth those bad memories. You rest now. I’ll come again soon.

And again many images came back to Galvao’s mind, a desert where he had been labouring; a couple of churches, where he had attended service, after wandering up and down some narrow streets, the cottage where he thought he had found the girl he had lost to the paramilitaries in Madrid. Manuel was in the room. He made an effort to ask something; then Manuel, noticing his friend was getting excited, put his finger to his lips. And for a moment the two Spaniards remained silent. Then Luis asked: ‘And why am I back in Ultimo?’
‘Lie down and talk no more, and I’ll tell you a story,’ Manuel said, getting hold of his chair under his legs and approaching the bed.
‘Please,’ said Luis Galvao.
‘One Saturday morning, a fortnight ago, there was a knock on the door. I went to see. And I beheld a platinum-blond girl. “Maureen Kirilenko,” she introduced herself, “I’m looking for Mr. Manuel Suárez,” she said. I should say you know the girl, am I correct? Of course. She told me you’d been absent a whole week from your office, and to make a long story short, we went to Kirribilli, spoke with the janitor of the building, who opened the door of your flat for us, and the rest you can imagine, I guess.’
‘My little Maureen!’
‘Yes, you give her a hug, when you are back in your office, she deserves it.’
‘Oh God! And you brought me here? I’m so, so… how can I thank...’
‘Hold your tongue, will you? You’re getting excited, poor Luis, now, that won’t do, you know, high blood pressure, that sort of thing.’ Manuel stood up, as if in a hurry to leave,’ you now rest, lie down again for two minutes. I’ll come back.’
He hurried out of the room and reappeared after a few minutes holding something in his hand.
‘This is what I meant. Here, mate, read. You’ve probably been dreaming of her among those things you’ve been seeing in your wandering mind.’
He handed an airmail letter to his friend, who had recognised the writing on the envelope. He opened it with nervous fingers, heaving a deep sigh.
‘Now, dear, calm down!’ he hears his friend say, ‘or you’ll hurt yourself sorely. Take your time, and don’t mind me. I mean, you needn’t read it aloud, ha, ha!’

‘Dearest Luis, Lancaster, 20th March, 1959.
Thanks ever so much for your most welcome letter, which I have received only today. For I no longer live in London. You say you’ve sent me others, probably to the same address. This explains your silence, what I thought was your silence. It was only because I happened to pay a visit to an old friend in London and decided to go afterwards out of curiosity to the old flat, that this one, this dear letter I now hold in my hand, unexpectedly found me. A combination of some happy coincidences, oh, my darling! that made me so happy. It happened (lucky me!) that a former colleague, not that one, the one I came to visit, Joyce, whom I had already said goodbye to. Another one, also a former colleague, who now rents the flat: our dear flat; remember? Oh, how happy were we those days of 1954, when we for the first time lived together, me starting university, and you having returned from Madrid, still undecided about your future. Oh, you know!
But going back now, dearest love, to that day, which I spent in London, I went to see, out of curiosity, our old flat in Green Street, as I was saying. By chance this former colleague was holding on to the letter, not knowing what to do with it, your name not being on the envelope. Sandra (that is her name) was not at all acquainted with Joyce, my London pal, you may remember her: we were in the same course, just beginning. Otherwise… anyhow, I got your letter, that’s what I wanted to say. All is well that ends well. Luis, I’ve never of late been so happy as when I saw and recognised your firm handwriting on the envelope and then read your letter, though on reading it I also grieved. For you say you suffer and fear for me, thinking that I had come to grief that day of bad memory in Madrid.

In a way I have; but not what you seem to think. Nobody harmed me physically over there, in the Tyrant’s realm, that spring 1956! though I too suffered, yes, and I cried disconsolately, when I thought I’d lost you. The way we were torn asunder from each other, I shall not forget, shall never recall without a shudder. I got to know they took you to Cadiz Bay. If I had only been allowed to visit you!
The fact that I was a foreigner, always fearful that their crimes would be known abroad. And no, they didn’t allow me to see you or write to you, and they even cancelled my entry visa, took me to Barajas and sent me by plane to London. And now tell me, naughty boy, why didn’t you try to contact me? for I learned (and you mentioned it too) that you escaped to Tangiers. Three years now! Such a long separation. How can we make amends for it? I plan to join you in Sydney, my beloved. So, I shall end for now, saying that I shall shortly be writing again. In the meantime, much, much, much love from Margaret.’

… his eyes are filled with tears. How ever could he have lived three years without his Margaret? the hazards of history maybe, but even if horrible things have come to pass, to have thought her lost forever?
… she is coming, that is the most important thing. I was taken away by civil guards, in chains, the Blue Mediterranean; a castle battered by furious waves, between two seas; only the cormorant was flying free.
… darling! you and me again together; the old dear images coming to life. Our first encounter, that afternoon in the lorry taking us to the volunteer agricultural camp with many other campers in the evening breeze…

‘Aren’t those tears of happinness, my boy?’ he hears Manuel coming in; ‘I was wondering. I said to myself, go back to see how he’s faring. Though I knew for sure I was bringing you wonderful news with that letter. Now, you must read it to me. No need to hurry, though. Another day will do. What does she tell you, briefly, anyhow? I’m dying to hear those words of love. Is she coming though?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good, excellent, super! When, soon?’
‘She says she’ll write soon.’
‘Glorious! She’s a perfect darling, I’ll say,’ Manuel adds, genuinely pleased. ‘But of course we both knew that already. Now, as she’s coming, my dear fellow, you’ll have to get better quickly, eat substantially, that sort of thing. For we don’t want – do we, dear?- your sweetheart to find something different from the pretty lad she once fell in love with.’

After siesta-time he came back to his friend, and seeing him rested and happy-looking, he said: ‘Let’s sit down together, my boy. As you’re getting better, we shall talk, if you agree, for a few moments, all right?’’
‘I’m quite ready,’ Luis said, sitting up.
‘By the bye, I hope she’ll write soon,’ Manuel began, ‘for unless she does; and more to the point, unless she comes soon, I’m afraid I’ll never get to know your belle fiancée, understand? and I’m sure I’ll be sorry about that.’
‘Why, what d’you mean? Stop speaking in riddles.’
‘Listen, dear, don’t get excited, or you’ll hurt yourself. Now, this will surprise you. I’m leaving on the twenty-ninth. Of this month of course.’
‘You? How come? You going back home! Gosh! What a surprise! Right you are, I’m dumbfounded, Manuel, old boy. Back to the old country! So suddenly. What’s bitten you? I never…’
‘Stop, Luis, stop! I won’t hear any more of your lamentations. You almost make me cry my eyes out. Who’s spoken of going back home? Lord Jesus, how ludicrous you can be! One-track minded, that’s what you’ve always been. Didn’t your dear mama ever tell you?’
‘But then, I mean… what?’
‘Why, I’ve been posted, my dear.’
‘What on earth do you mean, posted?’
‘Ah, poor Luis, you see, many things’ve been happening while you were ill in bed,’ Manuel muttered rather sad and low-toned, then, on a sing-song tone of voice. ‘Mon ami, la terre tourne, tourne…, the earth hasn’t stopped whirling just because selfish, egocentric Luis Galvao’s been ill, that sort of thing.’
‘That’s perfectly true. I may seem selfish at times; and things are changing all the time,’ Luis replied, smiling. ‘Such as?’
‘Okay! For example, I’ve succeeded; nothing more and nothing less, a qualified veterinary surgeon in this my new country. An authentic Australian vet. And that means something, I guess. Now, what d’you say to that?’
‘What do I say to that! Heavens above, I’m ashamed! Oh dear, dear, how glad I am! All the best for you, my friend! How could I ever have forgotten?’
‘Wait till I tell you all. Succeeded, I said, we’re talking of a big success, here is the lark, my dear red-faced pal. Not only have I got my degree; I’ve joined the CSIRO. Yes, now I’ve got a good job. Absolutely. That’s why I told you I’m leaving, old boy. I’m leaving for the outback. I haven’t work in vain.’
‘Oh, how wonderful!’ Luis exclaimed. ‘Congratulations, Manuel, my friend, hearty congratulations! Oh, how glad I am for you. You deserve it, you do, I know.’
Manuel got hold of his chair with to two fingers, between his legs, and drew it nearer. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s a great triumph. For me it is.’
‘For everybody. And you deserve it. You’re an honour to New Aussies.’
‘Bah! Bah!’ Manuel laughed.

‘How shameful of me, selfish all right,’ Luis said, ‘to have forgotten. Perfectly horrid. Not to have remembered your exams were near.’ He paused, while his friend gazed, smiling. ‘I had known all the time… the end of your studies was coming. How stupid of me; the more so as I now recall it was the last subject we touched on, that Saturday, at Paddy’s Market. How very like me that is. Please forgive me, my good friend. Let me embrace you.’ He sat up on the bed, with his feet on the carpet, and drew nearer.
‘Nonsense! I’m sure I’ve nothing to forgive. You’re a dear boy, and this kiss is worth a thousand congratulations. Now you go back and lie down. You’re getting excited.’
*
He is awakened by a creaking noise. Otherwise all was silent and dark around, but for that vertical line of light in the background. A woman is holding the handle from outside, apparently just leaving the room; for now the line of light disappears. It was the noise of the door that awakened him; and now, the wailing of the parasitic elements kept him awake: this way and that, coming and going: the notion of mosquitoes moving in the dead of night.
The next time he opens his eyes, the room is flooded with sunlight. The creaking noise once again. The door is flung open. A woman comes bouncing into the room.
‘Morning, Mr. Galvao. I am Melina Becosipopulos. How d’you feel today?’
A black-haired woman near his bed. He fixed his eyes on the rather pleasant figure, quite astonished. ‘Plea… please, call me Luis,’ he stammers, ‘and… I’ll call you Melina, may I? It’ll be easier.’
‘Oh yes, do! Easier, of course.’
She is a rather diminutive plumpish person of between thirty-five and forty. She takes his wrist in her hand, and after a moment, declares in a delicious foreign accent, ‘You’re getting better, Luis, surprisingly quickly these last few days. Quite a healthy person, one can see. I’ve worked in a hospital.’
After a while, Luis asks: ‘Have I been very ill?’
‘Fairly,’ she answers frankly, always in that friendly tone. Then she goes on, all the time walking about: ‘You know the kind of man he is, I guess. Saved your life, Manuel did. He’s so keen; so well disposed. Treated you as he would have done a brother . With him at your side, you couldn’t fail to get better quickly.’ She smiles. ‘No, really, Luis, you don’t know all the work we’d had. Feeding you, making you take your medicines, and then helping me to wash you after, say, ye know,’ she hesitated, ‘yer passing motion.’
At that Manuel came in, saying: ‘… passing motion, changing pyjamas once a day.’ He cried, approaching. ‘Quite a job, getting to wash an invalid’s body.’

Not allowing his entry to embarrass her or interrupt her discourse, Melina Becosipopulos went on: ‘Of course. And I reckon Manuel’s told you we’re a large family, originally from Greece. My husband and I bought this property from Mr. Leonidas Krappov, you know. Poor man, he’s now passed away,’ she concluded, both compassionately and with some background of irony.
‘You’ve been wonderful. Many thanks!’ Luis Galvao said, then added, wonderingly: ‘I never thought I would be back in Harris Street. This room, you know, Melina, I shared it with a German, you may have heard about him.’
‘She knows, of course, she has heard about Heribert Wormser,’ Manuel intervened, ‘all that concerns this house is her province. And she’s learned many things about you,’ he concluded, caressing his friend.
‘Nothing too bad, I hope.’
‘All very good,’ the woman said, exchanging a look of sympathy with the invalid.
‘How perfectly delightful, Luis, my pretty, that you too love the lady of the house. I dare say she’s already told you about herself,’ Manuel said, her having been a nurse. And this, dear Melina is married to the bravest man you can imagine, a very good tradesman too, Dimitri Becosipopulos, as beau as she is belle. And, by the way, he’s also looked after you, the days he wasn’t sent to work far away. For he’s in the electricity board. You know, in charge of repairing lines, that sort of thing.’
‘And she’s told me, my friend,’ Luis put in, stammering and becoming very serious, ‘how good you are… how much you’ve done for me. Oh, how can I ever make it up to you?’
‘Oh, don’t go on! You’d better shut up,’ Manuel said, sitting down. ‘I’ve done nothing which you wouldn’t have done for me.’
Luis murmured something, rather sadly, and sat up on the bed. Melina rushed to squeeze a cushion between the back of the invalid and the head of the bed.
‘And about you making it up to me,’ Manuel said giving the lie to his own words, for he had said he wanted his friend to forget the matter, ‘what I say is: don’t talk nonsense. Thank her. She did all the work; I was merely an assistant.’
‘A most wonderful assistant, he’s been,’ Melina confirmed.
*
One morning, Manuel and Melina came in together, holding hands in a most selfpossessed manner. she was a determined little woman who took rapid decisions and acted efficiently. Yet, in the invalid’s frame of mind, seeing them marching in together, the suspicion rose that there was an affair between them. ‘It cannot be!’ he said to himself. ‘Melina was the mother of five.’
Indeed, as she was leaving the room alone later own, Melina looked so very pretty, turning her head and shoulder to whisper goodbye… small, white and rosy in the twilight, her hair was short and raven-black; her small but full mouth looked delicious; her eyes large and vivacious.

‘What is the reason for this anomaly?’ Luis asked himself in bed that night. He had in his mind a pretty landlady, wondering again whether there could exist an affair between the two. ‘Mother’s love, that is it.’ And he closed the subject.
The day before the doctor had found his patient so much improved that in the evening Luis had his supper downstairs, in the large kitchen with all the family, to which one had to add Manuel Suárez, who now had nothing to do and stayed at home, waiting for the day he would be sent away to his new CSIRO post.
*

At night Gavao’s imagination kept on turning many notions in his head, but most specially he thought of Margaret, the contents of her letter, which he knew by heart; and now meandering in his mind, he came to think of Malgorata.
… that first night, coming home from the pub, Pyrmont Hotel, and finding her alone having her supper, taking a seat opposite her.
… I really thought I was seeing my own English sweetheart, the same wavy blond hair, pretty round face, those round cheeks.

He was awakened by a noise, which was no longer new to him. It was the door-knob yielding to Melina’s touch. She found him rather in a state of anxiety. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked; and he told her of those hectic days in Madrid when two dear ones were put asunder by the paramilitaries.
‘And then! my loving woman,’ he cried, ‘reappeared here, in Harris Street.’.
Melina listened with interest to the story, then leaving his breakfast on his knees, proceeded to open the window. A late autumn sun flooded the room.
Just at that moment Manuel came, bouncing in. ‘The doctor’s told us you’ll soon be starting your normal life again,’ he said, and added, maliciously: ‘Prepare yourself to come across Maureen again in your office and remember who is wafting across the seas. For I know you, my dear, indecent woman chaser. I won’t tell her, though, that you have a smashing secretary.’
Melina laughed, and when she had completed collecting the breakfast things, she told Luis: ‘You’d better sit on the edge of the bed, and try to walk about.’
‘Tomorrow you’ll have dinner with the family downstairs,’ Manuel put in.
Luis was about to say some words of thanks, but his friend stopped him, saying: ‘You needn’t say anything until you’ve tasted the menu. I’ll prepare a lasagne which you’ll be able to enjoy; but the first dish’ll be a Greek soup. Melina takes charge of it. You know, some dark-green vine leaves, that sort of thing. And big white flowers in, yellow in the centre. All condimented with plenty of spices. The oil comes from Spain, we bought it at a delicatessen in Paddington.’
Melina, laying her hand upon Manuel’s, to stop him from talking, screamed: ‘Don’t you believe him!’ And she hit the lodger with her fist. ‘One would think I can’t cook. Beside it’s not a Greek soup, but Lebanese.’
Manuel wanted to reply in kind, holding first her hand in his, when somebody entered the bedroom, her husband. It was one of those days when Dimitri Becosipopulos did not go out with his team of County Council electricians, in charge of building and repairing the lines around. Seeing Melina was winning the fight with their lodger, he came in with much applause. ‘Bravo Melina!
Afterwords the three men stood together, chatting, while Melina went about the room arranging things, including the dresser with a collection of medicines.
‘You don’t know, Luis,’ said Melina approaching, ‘these two men are all day smoking. The moment they get together, they fill the house with that horrible smell of American tobacco.’
Since the great success in his studies, and subsequent successful application to CSIRO, Manuel had been helping Melina in the house and taking sometimes the two young boys to their school, coaching them, to overcome difficulties. Everyody liked Manuel, including Dimitri whom he helped when there was some repair work to do in the house; and the two stayed together occasionally, working in the garden, always talking and smoking.
Luis sat down and observed the two men, who in normal circumstances, one would have thought, were antagonists, competing for the same woman.

One morning Manuel came to see his friend and asked if he wanted to have breakfast downstairs with him. The house was otherwise empty of people; and the two friends had a long chat together, in the once communal kitchen, which Luis knew very well. The talks he had had there with Malgorata in the old days!
When Melina came back she joined in the conversation, which little by little turned into a remembrance of the Krappovs and about the state of the property then. She was particularly curious about Malgorata, and wanted to know whether it was true she was an excellent musician. She had heard (she said) she was now playing the violin in a big orchestra in Riga.
Luis Galvao, remembering those days, with the blond woman he called his wife, suddenly became quite melancholy, the more so because the other two had stood up, and looked a perfect couple, collaborating, doing the house-work always together, the washing up, then to hang the clothes on the hoist in the garden. Luis was crying when he left the company without saying good-bye.

‘Such a vivacious little woman,’ Luis thought in admiration.
‘Don’t you, too, find her charming?’ had asked Manuel, approaching his friend, once when Melissa was doing one of her trips to the court yard with a bundle of clothes: and Luis saw her coming in, pulling up her pinafore to dry her hands.
Tell me, Luis, about Malgorata,’ she asked. ‘She was charming, wasn’t she?’
Again Galvao felt embarrassed, and Manuel said, ironically.
‘Now, have you noticed how curious women are? You go and tell dear Melina everything. She’s learned a good deal about all of us from Silwia, the neighbour. Have you heard from Heribert, dear Luis, by the way?
‘Heribert? Not a word,’ said Galvao, glad to avoid the main question. ‘He promised to write. But it’s always the same. Nobody writes.’
‘Strange. One would’ve thought! The happiness of a return home would have inclined him, if only to tell us how well he was faring.’
‘Perhaps he didn’t find back home what he’d expected.’
‘Bloody German! disgruntled New Australian.’
‘It’s always the same,’ Luis repeated, pensively. ‘One thinks to be the master of one’s own destiny, but your destiny leads you by the nose.’
*
Luis Galvao had scarcely been back a fortnight in his flat, at Kirribilli, when he received a cable which read as follows: ‘ARRIVING SSARCADIA TWENTYFOUR MAY STOP LOVE MARGARET’
Bursting with joy, shaking from head to foot, he danced about the room, passionately kissing the dear piece of paper, and turning to read the message, again and again. She was coming, she was coming!
As it was a Saturday, he decided to pay a visit to Manuel. So he went down to the basement garage, and a moment later was driving to Ultimo. He found his friend in the kitchen, in front of the new electric cooker, which he had already seen, pushing the landlady aside with his hip, a struggling Melina who (the lodger had insisted) did not know how to make a paella. Both wore pinafores, Manuel’s being the brighter one, as well as the briefer. Both looked hot. He was in a white shirt and white trousers; she wore a miniskirt, her generous bosom showing through a light cotton blouse. As she stood often on tiptoe in order to defend her position against her tall lodger, Galvao could see her nice calves and shapely legs. In the end she lay her two hands on Manuel’s forearm, forcing him to let her take command of the cooking. Both laughed heartily.
‘You’re welcome, my dear Luis,’ Manuel said, lifting a large greasy wooden spoon, ‘but not in the kitchen.’ He touched his friend’s hand with the back of his. ‘The kitchen’s not the realm for the likes of you. Dimitri being the only exception ‘cos he’s the boss,’ he added gazing at the door leading to the back yard.
For Becosipopulos was just coming in from the garden. And Melina, seeing her husband was there, called for his help to push Manuel aside. It was a pleasure to see Melina now pressing her little plump body against the burly form of her husband, who had run to embrace her. Manuel withdrew quite gallantly, and Melina got her handkerchief from her pinafore pocket and applied it to her laughing eyes.

Luis now followed Becosipopulos into the yard which the Greek fellow single- handedly had transformed into a beautiful flowering garden. However Luis did not stay there long, for he quickly crossed the kitchen again and passed into the lounge, where he sat in an armchair, looking about. There were in the room the Becosipopulos children, performing different tasks

He recognised the old place; but all in it had been changed. The sofa, where he had sat sometimes with Malgorata, was gone, and so was the television set, which had passed into the kitchen. Most of the old familiar objects were no longer there. The big cretonne curtains in the window, too, had gone, replaced by white lace-curtains which were now ballooning with the breeze, in and out, beneath the raised sash. On the wall on the right, where there used to be a coat-hanger, now hung a big oil painting from Greece, quite typical, a landscape with beautiful white houses on the hills, plenty of red flowers, a blue sky and in the background the boundless prussian-blue sea. On the opposite wall, where there used to be an old colour-print representing the Blessed Mother of Smolensk (which Krappov had received, as a present, from another escapee from the Soviet Union), there was instead a sketch of the ruins in Mount Olympus.

As he sat down, one of the twins (littlest ones of the family), hardly two years of age, approached him timidly, raising her tiny eager hands. Then the other one. Galvao picked up the rosy infants and sat each on one knee. He began to tell them fairy tales, which were not understood, and the little girls soon scrambled down onto the carpet and tottered out of the room.
The eldest boy was sitting at his desk in a corner. Luis had already talked to him, while he was convalescent in the house. The boy looked up and left off reading, and Luis asked him if he remembered anything of the old country, he being the only one born in Greece.
The other two boys, four and five, came up to Galvao, wanting to be told stories too, just as they all were summoned to the kitchen and invited to sit at table. There was a lot to eat and drink, as well as much animation, and Luis noticed that everybody talked and laughed, taking part in the conversation, inclusive of the little twins, who lifted their dimpled arms and practised their baby prattle continually. He realised, with regret, that he was no longer used to having contact and conversation with ordinary people, specially children, and was sorry for the change, which he presumed was now deeply ingrained in his character.
Surprisingly enough his friend Manuel did not talk so much as one would have expected, neither did he smile or laugh: which usually was one of his traits; Luis would have sworn his friend was at this moment rather sad.

After the meal, the two Spaniards drove in Galvao’s new car down to the City, and from there, bordering the Domain, on to Woolloomooloo, and then along New South Head Road, towards the Heads and the Pacific Ocean. They found an adequate place to leave the car, or parking lot. And they wandered over some scrubland for a few minutes; then sat down on buffalo grass at the very edge of the cliff. A solitary spot, overlooking the turbulent sea, frothing waves blasting the rocks, hundreds of feet down below, which Luis was watching absentmindedly, forgetting for the moment about his friend, who was also very quiet. Both were in fact gazing at the same prospect, having perhaps identical thoughts.
For a while Luis turned dreamily his eyes right and then left: miles and miles of the New South Wales coast, mostly cliffs, like the one on which they two were sitting; from time to time a long sandy beach could be detected, a motley crowd of houses, like a town, then along the coast unsurmountable rocky barriers, no longer distinguisable in the distance, the view becoming more and more blurred, so much so that the advancing headlands in the misty distance were just like some vertical pencilled strokes.
Only from time to time did either of them, good friends, say a word, rather in an abstract way of talking, as if they were overcome by the solemnity of the scene. As the afternoon advanced (the sun having started its career towards the west), the shadows along the coast became more pronouced, the darkness in the holes and caverns more complete, the terror that Galvao felt, more prevailing.
‘Look at the bold chap down there!’ he heard Manuel, who was pointing his finger at a yellow-robed angler on a rocky ledge some twenty yards away from the rock barrier down below. ‘My! I bet the next breaker sends him flying into the air like a pretty twitty bird.’
‘Or sinking into Neptune’s domains, to join one of them still prettier mermaids underwater,’ Luis answered, looking at the anglers; for there were two of them with a moored dinghy, at the base of the cliff.
‘Now you talk of joining the mermaids,’ Manuel began, sliding his generous bottom towards his friend, ‘let me ask you…’
But Luis cut him short: ‘The mermaids, aye! tender and sweet, I wish I had…’
‘Shut up. Let me finish my sentence, will you?’
‘Go on.’
‘D’you know how the Sydneysiders call this very spot we’re sitting on?’ Manuel asked, touching Luis on the shoulder. He had a queer look in his eyes.
‘Of course I do. They call it The Gap, don’t they?’
‘How preposterous you can be, my old fellow. The Gap is the official name, as everyone knows. I didn’t ask you that. I’m talking of popular language.’
‘Well, you tell me then,’ said Luis.
‘Let me show you something else first. Now, listen carefully,’ Manuel went on, turning a mysterious look at the threatening sea down below. ‘Hear the seething sound of the billowing rollers, see the gay frothing at once covering the rocks, the smash, the dark blue mass of matter floating all about.’ He stood up, and his friend feared for his life, for Manuel was acting as if he had lost his reason, imitating (it seemed) the theatre performances of the Ancients.
‘Don’t you feel an irresistible attraction,’ he concluded, seeing all this lovely sweeping surf, beating and grunting, breaking into so many flying particles… bubbles, bubbles like fairies rising up to embrace you, as it were!’
His friend also stood up and made to go, but Manuel retained him by the arm and said in a strange voice: ‘Listen to the mermaids! Sense them! Come on!’
‘Let me go!!’ Luis screamed.
‘Don’t you feel as if you had to join them, those belles sirènes? as if you just could step back, and jump’ (a devilish laugh) ‘over and down… and fly, fly… and become eternal!’
Again Luis shook himself free, his friend looked so strange.
But Manuel stopped short, turned round, and becoming more natural: ‘Now,’ he said, laying a hand on the other’s shoulder, have you not guessed?’
‘No.’
‘Suicides’ Leap.’
‘Well, let’s change the subject,’ said Luis, sitting down on the grass. ‘Manuel, I’ve been wanting to ask… what’s happened to your hair? It used to be jet-black.
‘Well,’ was the only word the other uttered, as he also sat on the grass.
‘Well,’ Luis repeated, ‘I know my own hair’s gone grey… has been going grey these last two years; but yours has always been black and all of a sudden…’
‘Wait!’ shouted Manuel, ‘have the goodness, boy, not to remind me I’m getting old. I don’t like it, don’t like it a bit.’
‘That has nothing to do with it. Simply, when a friend’s appearance,’ said Luis timidly, ‘changes so, overnight, well, there’s some justification for my asking, no?’
‘I can’t put up with this. You’re offending me. Now that I have changed my appearance! This is unbearable. Stop it! Don’t look at me if you find me ugly.’
‘I haven’t said that, you stupid ass!’
‘Now, then! First you call me old, then ugly, and now you say I’m stupid,’
‘No,’ Luis said, pushing his friend away. ‘I’m just trying to talk to a friend.’ and as the other, raised his hand, he again pushed it aside in a bad temper.
‘No. I know I don’t look it, but I’m already thirty,’ Manuel said humbly.
He was actually thirty-two, and Galvao knew it (he had once seen his passport.)
‘Many men have grey hairs even before that age,’ Manuel concluded, ‘as you well know, I should think.’
‘But you got yours overnight,’ Luis put in. ‘How come? Had a fright some day…’
‘No!’ Manuel screamed, hysterically.
‘Then? Come on, explain yourself.’
Manuel opened wide his big black eyes quite comically and simultaneously, shook his right hand above his head, thumb downwards, as one holding a bottle and pursued, half jokingly: ‘MORGAN’S POMADE, of course. Really, I thought you’d noticed, otherwise I’d have told you,’ he lied, ‘but I had to give it up, my dear Luis, I was losing my hair.’
‘Oh, happy days of youth!’ Luis sang merrily, looking at his friend.
‘Stop it!’ ordered Manuel, combing his hair with the palm of his hand. ‘Now, you’ve spoiled the afternoon for me. Those piercing cat’s eyes of yours. Don’t look, hell! Wait until I do something to make it black again.

‘Why, haven’t you said it’s finished, because it makes you lose your hair?’
‘Just for your sweetheart, stupid. I want her to see me handsome.’
‘Well, unless you postpone your departure,’ Luis said. ‘You’re leaving next week, you’ve said.’ He paused, showing him the cablegramme. ‘I would like you to meet her, yes, of course. Couldn’t you put it off just a few weeks? May twenty-fourth, she comes. See.’

‘No, impossible. Much though I’d like to meet her. Though, knowing you, I can guess how she looks: a blonde, blue eyes, rosy cheeks…, how boring one can be. Will you never try something new? Say what you will: you’re one-track minded even in sex. Most confusing. I don’t know why I like you so. I say, haven’t you heard that le changement fait la vie?’
Luis did not reply. Some seagulls passed by and he followed them with his eyes. ‘The immense Pacfic Ocean,’ he thought. ‘America on the other side. Another ocean, and then Spain. ’
The clear warm early May afternoon had been changing into a windy evening.
‘Manuel,’ he called, ‘once, long ago, you spoke of the late forties in Madrid, when we first met… I hadn’t yet been in Ultimo. I don’t remember why, but you said, exactly, that you had begun university in Atocha. In the early forties.
‘Yes, I recall that first conversation,’ Manuel said, smiling, ‘In York Street. I said I was sorry not to have met you in Spain.’

The two friends, sitting on the buffalo grass, remained silent for a while, each concentrated on his own thoughts. Luis kept listening to the screeches of the birds and the heavy rumbling sound of the breakers down below, while his eyes were once more fixed on the distance: the now dark ocean, the shining foaming crests of the incoming waves, the many-coloured sails of pleasure craft now glittering on the open sea in the last rays of sunlight.

It was Manuel who again broke the silence; he heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘’Ah! the happy days of youth, you were saying. What a life! Laughter and songs, talks and that… optimism.’
‘The old pals of those days, those long walks in the tree-lined avenues of the Ciudad Universitaria…’
‘Tiny ones, those trees; the forest had been destroyed by the war; remember.’
‘Those interesting chats, real conversation. Those walks,’ Luis sighed, ‘the songs and games, and jokes and laughs, oh yes, all gone!’
‘Playing billiards in town, la Puerta del Sol. Ah, how I miss all that, at times!’
‘I thought you didn’t.’
‘But I do, very much. I didn’t want to pine, I still don’t want to pine. But this is different. With a dear friend near you, how can you not remember? So many friends lost, real friendship. When you were young and struggling to get into… something, a profession, most of the time studying. Now tell me, dear boy, can there be a substitute for that? We students talked and laughed, and loved spending some nights in the centre of an old city, el Viejo Madrid.’
‘We talked and laughed and loved, those days, I mean, when we were young,’ Luis echoed, dreamily. ‘We stalked in joyful reverie, and then one day from the native land we resolved to go… and visit climes beyond the seas…’
‘That is what I call sublime poetry. Yours?’
‘Half-quoting Lord Byron, my friend,’ Luis said, sadly. ‘Yes, we resolved to go and did cross the seas, and oh, suddenly, home,sweet home… was gone!’
‘And those university pals,’ Manuel said, meditatively, ‘we shall see them no more. Never more, oh, never more!’
‘Yet, we’ve made new friendships,’ Luis said, playing nervously with his ten fingers. ‘Look at us. We are friends. And we met over here, no? York Street, remember. Two guys from Madrid looking for employment. We found we’ve studied together; well I mean the same university over there. You veterinary, I the law. We had once been close, physically, inasfar as being in the same university… and we never met in what was after all our land.’
‘Yeah! Yeah! You’re right, you’re right. Absolutely.’
‘Have you ever thought of going back?’ Luis asked, suddenly.
‘Anyhow,’ said Manuel, avoiding the question, ‘we shall never find back home all the things we left behind,’ he laughed aloud, ‘if we do go back.’
‘And certainly not as we left them, dear places.’
‘Dear places and dear friends, and that strong feeling, youth, and those great emotions. All gone, yeah! Everything’ll have changed so terrifically,’’ Manuel sighed once more. ‘Unavoidably lost!’
‘Irretrievably is the word,’ Luis corrected.
‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Manuel repeated, ‘Ah! that thrilling atmosphere, and the hopes that were ours those days, that enthusiasm.’ He made a pause, and Luis said. We fought against fascism.’
‘We were going to change the world. All finished now. That verve! Where has all gone now? Our youth is gone! Oh, where? what a pity!’
‘There’s always the remembrance.’
‘Absolutely right! Will you remember me when I am out there in the bush?’
‘I shall never forget what you’ve done for me, Manuel.’
‘Will you stop that nonsense once and for all!’ Manuel shrieked. ‘I haven’t asked you that. Remembrance is all, will be all that is left. That’s what you have said, and I ask for, my dear Luis. You say that I have done for you this and that. Always the same, dear Luis. You see, what I did, what you did, how awfully commercial sounds this.’
Luis remained silent for a while.
A light wind was blowing, and the sun had begun to set on their backs. And as the zone of shade constantly extended at their feet down below, the colour of the sea changed to dark-blue, with streaks of frothing white, some silver and green ahead, and farther ahead, where the setting sun still reflected, all brilliant.

The cliff was now full of gulls, and down below upon the rocks and at the water’s edge thousands of marine birds were seen, perching on rocks or flying. And all filling the air with their great cries and horrible screeches, so that there came a moment when the two friends could scarcely hear one another.

They started to feel the chill of the evening, specially as they had been quiet for a long while, when Manuel put an end to their talk, in a tone of carelessness.
‘Well, it’s no use musing over bygones, I guess,’ he sighed. ‘Everything’ll be all right. For me in the outback, and for you with your nice sweet darling.’
They stood up and walked arm-in-arm back to the road, Manuel with a bunch of wild flowers in his other hand. Though he knew he was contravening the law on the preservation of nature, he had been stooping a couple of times to gather the buds as they crossed the deserted scrubland on their way to the parking lot.
‘’For her,’’ he said jokingly, offering the small bouquet to Luis. ‘Try to keep them in a vase until she arrives and tell her they come de ma part, there’s a dear.’’
It was night when they negotiated the several successive bends along New South Road to Woolloomooloo, from where they saw the lights of the city.
Luis Galvao thought Manuel Suárez had fallen asleep on his seat, when he heard, all of the sudden.
‘My dear Luis, tell me, did you have a sweetheart, I mean, a dear girl, then,’ he paused, ‘overthere, at uni?’
‘When I was a student, I was eighteen, the first term, twenty years ago,’ Luis said, without looking. ‘Of course you know there were very few female students, those days. One for every twelve machos. Law faculty.’
‘One in Veterinary, all told, if you ask me. Most girls went to the Arts Faculty, Filosofía y Letras, as they said. The girls were las chicas de letras, remember?’
‘When I think of those days,’ Luis said, pensively, then turned to answer the question, ‘but you want to know, and yes, a girl comes to mind. Pretty one. Sara was her name. What could have I done? Such a rich heiress. Her father was an industrialist. Member of the Falange party. I never had a penny in my pocket. I took her once to the cinema, plus two coffees, and was ruined for a week.’
‘I can see your Sara in my head’ said Manuel sniggering. ‘Timid one. Pleasant but not smashing. Probably she was sorry a relationship didn’t materialise.’
‘I don’t know. What about you, Manuel? A sweetheart… when in Madrid?’
The moment he asked the question, Luis Galvao knew he had made a mistake. That was a question he should not have asked.
They were entering the city, the circular lights of the Harbour Bridge in the background, the prussian-blue water of the Bay, for them, on the right.
His friend became sad in a moment. ‘What can I say to you, dear Luis? I did.’ he sighed. ‘You’ve told me about Cadiz Bay, the hardness of the regime,’ he sighed again. ‘Eh bien, already two years earlier, they cut us down. I chose freedom. Esaped. The police caught us, Arturo was his name. Already at school we used to play together when the priests took us to the mountains of a Sunday. El Guadarrama. Brief, I wouldn’t go to jail! so I ran away, I ran for all I was worth. In Madrid-Atocha I took a train to Málaga, then Gibraltar; they gave me asylum.’ He laughed stentorianly. ‘An escapee. Visa for Australia. SS.Orcades. I’ve told you about this already, hell!’ raising his voice, then laughing again. ‘Why, in general terms, it has turned out alright. I’ve seen beautiful new places. Like you, haven’t we? I was a coward all the same. Left him. I’ve been okay, though. Moneywise. Now specially. Shall be, I hope. That’s what counts in the end, ain’t it?’ he concluded, coming back to his original mood of a nice person full of life.

From Harris Street Luis drove alone back to the city, then along the Harbour Bridge and all the way to Kirribilli. Once is his flat, he sank in an armchair and, with the wild flowers already in a jar on the coffee table, again got out of his jacket pocket the cablegramme. Reading and re-reading it a hundred times, he felt at peace with the world and with himself.
… I thought of the days when I was a young man in Madrid. My friend, Bustamante, pulling me by the arm, ‘Look! Read this! You wanted to travel abroad, didn’t you?’ and I learned that work was offered in England: vacancies in Volunteer Agricultural Camps for foreign students.
… not enough farmhands on the land (many had died at war, others had left for the factories in industrial towns, what a chance for us poor young Spaniards, employed and paid by rich farmers in England.
… and I now dream of those days when I ceased to be a boy and became a man, that glorious Summer ’53. Yorkshire. That first day together, after six hours of hard work and dinner in the dining-hall boys and girls.
… that walk with Margaret at night from the country pub returning to the camp; then, along an abandoned canal, and sitting on the grass in the moonlight, ‘Have you had many girlfriends?’ No, my love. Not even one.
… she was holding her knees with both hands, her rumpled skirt allowed me to see her beautiful legs. From the camp comes the sound of music, the sublime voice of a girl, one of the Scandinavian students. ‘Solveij’s Song, did you know?’ Margaret asks. I didn’t. ‘I love it, but I know nothing about music, my darling.’

And just as Galvao is falling asleep, he dreams of a big liner gliding under the Harbour Bridge. ‘SS Arcadia’, wafting towards the terminal at Pyrmont. The liner is glowing in the bright midday sun. The fluttering figures of many immigrants overcrowding the decks. Oh happiness! And the arriving newcomers, contemplating with enthusiasm the land where they are about to settle and start a new life… And yes! oh yes! Margaret is one of the number!’ The power of those two red-and-black tugs! how they are pulling the liner in! their long funnels painting the blue sky with dirty coils of dark smoke. And now those sturdy wharfies on the quay ready to receive the cables which some mariners on the ship will be hurling to shore. Agitation on both sides, quay and liner. ‘Yes, yes, yes, I cry with happiness! Margaret, my adorable girlfriend is one of the number!’ Clinging to the metal barrier, and Margaret stalking in the distance, entering a building with the words ‘CUSTOM HOUSE’, sixty feet away. When will she come out and definitely enter Australia? ‘Luis!’ he hears her voice. Oh my Margaret, how I love you! My English girl, my adorable wife! Oh, you have never been more beautiful. He feels the tears rising to his eyes as she approaches, her hands loaded with suitcases and packets. ‘Oh, Margaret, my precious!’ she is in his arms. ‘In the fullness of my heart, I adore you.’ ‘Oh what joy,’ she whispers in reply. ‘What a beautiful moment!’
*
‘So, Dubbo. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Why, that’s really away and beyond. You’re burying yourself in the desert.’ Luis exclaimed, and noticing he has been very tactless: ‘I mean, couldn’t you’ve got something a little nearer?’
They were having their last meal together, in the very same Chinese restaurant they visited for the first time the day of Heribert’s and Nino’s departure for Europe and where they had met again lately, rather sporadically.
‘Well, I don’t know,’ Manuel replied, carefully folding a map he had been showing to Luis. ‘To tell you the truth, I haven’t even tried.’
‘Haven’t tried, you say, and why not? One’s to try and ponder, I should say.’
Slowly Manuel said rather pensively: ‘My friend, there’s another difference between you and me. You see, I’m not a lawyer. Science is my calling. I need not live in a open place to try and understand. I know where I’m going.’
‘I don’t mean to draw you away from what you like. On the contrary. But the city is full of science and scientists. I thought you might feel lonely out in the bush, that was all. And it mightn’t have been difficult for you, and specially now, to find a good job in Sydney, I believe.’’
‘Sydney, you say. And why must it be here precisely?’ Manuel said, and after a long silence. ‘Besides –don’t forget -, I already know the bush. Remember I worked for six months on a farm near Bathurst. Well, now on to Dubbo, why not? And I intend to go still further out. I’ll miss city life, for sure! But there’s life besides. All that talk of the bush being a desert is pure nonsense. That desert is teeming with life, old boy. Or, to put it somewhat more scientifically, it constitutes an open book for whomsoever interests his heart in Nature; and I do.’
‘But, you see, I…’ Luis began, but the other did not let him go on.
‘You see, the chances are ten-to-one that in years to come, when nearly everything on the planet has been blown to pieces by war or otherwise… poisoned, consumed by our human species,’ Manuel said, in a tragical tone, ‘homo sapiens, indeed! then, this here country of ours will be almost the only one left with some life not entirely contaminated by bombs, nuclear fusion, conflicts: all that sort of thing, understand? and therefore worth preserving.’
‘You’re going too far there.’
‘You’re telling me! Well, we shall see,’ Manuel said with a sad smile. ‘Or someone else besides us will. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Anyway, having studied biology I know something ‘bout the resistance to adverse circumstances of animal life, say, some of the species out there, the outback or bush: what you call a desert…’ and he did not conclude his sentence.
‘There are sturdy trees and animals, out there, I should think,’ Luis muttered, in a manner which denoted his ignorance. ‘Plenty of oxygen, life, those things.’

‘And I’ve made up my mind,’ Manuel went on, ‘to go on studying and, what’s more, I intend to do, out in the bush, whatever I can contribute from my own little person, intellectually sort of thing in the task of preserving (as I was about to say when you interrupted me) whatever I can contribute in the conservation of Nature. Nature which is quickly disappearing, here too. Too quickly! I shall do, my good pal, out there. See? there’s a great opportunity awaiting me.’
‘You sound convinced, anyway. Don’t let me discourage you… and go on, go on, I loath interrupting your interesting lecture.’
‘Now if you mean to pull my leg, look out! No, I’m not philosophising, that’s your province. All I’m trying to convey to my gloomy friend, you see, is that I’m not sorry to go where I’m going. For another thing, it’ll offer me the great opportunity of getting to know the native Aussie.’
‘The Aborigines.’
‘’Exactly, the ‘Abbos’, as you can also call them. You hardly ever see them over here. And that’s a crime (if you know history) and a pity, there’r things to learn.
‘Well, in La Perouse, you can see Aborigenes.’
‘A settlement. Now, what’s the use of coming Down Under,’ Manuel went on, paying no attention to Galvao’s words, ‘of becoming yourself an Australian, if you ignore the descendants of the men who first inhabited the land, the land! yes, this land, the coast, too,’ he shouted, ‘thousands of years ago?’’
‘And, I guess, there are plenty of them where you’re going.’
‘There are Abbos, yes, and mixed-blooded of all kinds and grades,’ said Manuel matter-of-factedly; then, turning to his friend, he added. ‘Now, have you noticed, if you’ve been to La Perouse, which you were mentioning… or have you come across some of them in other parts of Sydney, how bright the boys are? - the mixed-blooded I’ve in mind. Fair hair, large black eyes and that light chocolate colour of theirs,’ he made a pause, ‘of course you have.’
‘Absolutely delicious!’ Luis said, somewat ironically. ‘I’ll grant you that.’
‘Changing the subject, my dear Luis,’ Manuel went on after another pause, ‘have you heard from your sweetheart, lately?’
‘Well, two cables. The Arcadia is on the Atlantic all right, heading towards Cape Town. Promised she’ll be sending one from every port of call,’ Luis replied, unfolding a piece of paper he had got out from his pocket.
‘Good, wonderful! Let me see,’ Manuel said, grabbing the cablegramme from his friend’s hand. ‘Luis, for shame! You’re all of a tremble. Calm down, for God’s sake, relax! She’ll be here in no time, what’s the use of being impatient and so on? You’ll have another breakdown, boy, if you don’t look out, and they aren’t going to like it in your office this time.’
‘I’m okay,’ Luis replied, placing the cable back in his pocket.
There came then one of those sudden changes of mood in Manuel’s character to which his friend was already used, only this time there was in the change something new, a sort of ingrained sadness which he had never seen before.
‘You lucky fellow, Luis,’ he heard him say at the same time as he received a pat on his thigh. ‘Yes, you are fortunate. A good job in a lucky country, this interesting city you live in, the sea everywhere (that’s what I’m going to miss most) and now a lovely wonderful girl-companion. You’ll soon get married, have children and so on. I envy you, dear Luis, I do,’ he got his handherchief out of his trouser pocket, and blew his nose. ‘And I envy her too, by the way.’
Luis got confused in his mind. He was about to mention Harris Street, Melina and the scene: Manuel playing with a woman he obviously liked. Or was it a wrong impression. He was going to ask, but refrained in the nick of time.
‘Let me ask you, Manuel, please,’’ he asked instead, and his voice sounded stupidly innocent. ‘You congratulate me… but why don’t you too… Simply, I’ve seen you can love, I mean, feel attracted by… I mean, what stops you from getting a girl-companion, as you put it, having a family? I know you love children. The Becosipopulos’ kids adore you.’
‘I’m glad you’ve asked,’ said Manuel; ‘but you don’t really want to know.’
‘I don’t know about that. We’re friends, and your life must interest me, of course. And I wonder… you might like to have a son, a little Manolo boy with shiny black hair and large eyes like… like a really great chappy I know.’
Manuel laughed in a rather melancholy way. ‘My dearest friend, you know nothing about nothing, ¡nada de nada!’ he exclaimed in Spanish, unexpectedly laying his brow upon the palms of his hands, his elbows on his knees; there was a brief silence, then Galvao (observing the distant sea) heard: ‘I don’t deny I love children. You’ve seen me, Luis, and I say again, I am very popular with the three Greek boys.’ He grinned painfully and went on in a sing-song voice. ‘Companionship okay, and playing with her too,’ he sighed, ‘but I don’t know about a family, that sort of thing. Keep a woman in my house? Who knows, though I doubt it. Keep a woman in my heart the way you have in mind, impossible. No, seriously, I’m afraid marriage is not for me. Well, let’s pay and go, it’s getting late.’
They had by now finished their meal. Manuel stood up, making a gesture with his hand as much as to say, ‘Enough of it! What’s the use?’
Luis had also stood up. ‘Let me pay,’ he said, as they moved to the cash desk. ‘No, leave it to me, Luis dear.’
They went out, Luis helping his friend to carry the luggage to the station, Central Railway, which was just a few hundred yards away from that end of Pitt Street.
At the station they quickly found the right platform: the train to Dubbo and beyond. It was an exceptionally chilly night of the end of the autumn, much in contrast with the ideal temperature of the long Indian summer reigning until then. Manuel was wearing a light (‘gabardine’) coat and a large Stetson hat which he had bought, he said, for use in the bush and, in passing, to detract attention from his greying hair. Luis Galvao, who wore the suit he had worn all day in his office, was feeling cold. They went up into Manuel’s compartment, placed the luggage on the rack, and came down onto the platform again.
By now Manuel was nervous and not at all sure of himself. He took his gabardine off, in sympathy apparently with his shivering friend, and held it on his arm, then put it on again to have his hands free, which were cold and fidgetty. He tied very carefully the cloth-belt round his waist. After a while he got out a golden packet of Benson & Hedges, and lit a cigarette.
‘Manuel, old boy,’ said Luis somewhat didactically, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder, ‘in your heart of hearts, are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’ It was a very impertinent question, in the circumstances, and he should have known.
Manuel took a big puff on his cigarette, threw a jet of smoke in the air overhead, and said nothing, which to Luis seemed strange. Luis saw his handsome face in the approaching evening. He rather looked like an American film-star with that long gabardine, a tight belt (say, Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca’), under the long white neon tube. An expanding bright light, an intense white line, in the night, the now invading cold evening.’
‘Well, my Luis?’ Manuel seemed to ask, rather hesitatingly, the palm of his hand once more on the other’s shoulder, touching his neck, ‘well,’ and stopped short.
And Luis said, quite convinced, grabbing his friend’s fingers: ‘I know, my good friend, you’ll triumph. Not a doubt.’
‘Certainly I’m doing the right thing, I know,’ Manuel answered. ‘Leaving for the outback? Isn’t that what you’ve been asking all evening?’ He waited until Luis mumbled something. ‘I’ll be working hard, voilà! Whether I’ll receive recognition as a scientist, that sort of thing… who knows. Probably not, but I’ll try.’ He returned the friendship holding Luis’s other hand in his, bring the two together and pressing them with great affection.
‘Oh no! Well, yes. Somehow, recognition, I mean… if one works… willpower,’ Luis stammered, ‘all that enthusiasm, one should expect… well, yes, yes, I say. You will be famous one day.’
Manuel lit another cigarette. ‘How to put it in a nutshell,’ he began, blowing a cheerful smoke ring into the cold misty air. ‘I’ll be alright, and I’ll be doing exactly what I’ve been cherishing all my life. That’s the thing,’ he paused and there was another change of mood in him. ‘Of course, I’m sorry to leave my friends, if that’s what you have in mind. And when you talked of a possible job in here, I love Sydney, I can’t deny it, and I will miss it: all this life, shall miss it sorely. This is now my city, my home so to say,’ he paused again, ‘nevertheless…’ (he did not finish his sentence.)
And Luis took the opportunity to put a word in, rather thoughtlessly again.
‘Anyhow, please… I hope you aren’t going head on into a life of solitude.’
Manuel lowered his eyes from Galvao’s face to the ground, where he had just dropped the end of his cigarette, stepped on it, and said: ‘I don’t know about that. The bush is not the moon, you know? There are men out there, that sort of thing. I’ll make new friends. I may still find real happiness also from the personal point of view.’
‘I hope you can find someone you can really love.’
‘So do I,’ Manuel said, and after another look at the cigarette-end on the ground, he added pensively, ‘but if it cannot be, if I cannot find new friends or at least one I could really love, as you put it, well, never mind: I still have Science to devote my life to… as I’ve been saying. I won’t be an oyster, for sure. Why, the whole living world out there will be my mistress.’
The ringing of a bell on the platform was now heard, and a moment later a hoot from the engine. Just before the train started moving and the door closed, Manuel Suárez mounted upon the footboard, and his journey had commenced. A minute more, and the train began to glide away.
Manuel passed his right hand through the open window, as if to wave a kiss to his friend, who was shivering with cold on the platform, just near the window. The train was now advancing, first slowly, then fairly rapidly, carriage after carriage, making a horrible clinking noise as these passed by. Again that hoot, and smoke spreading in the night. Luis, who had been running after his friend at the side of the train extending his arm upwards, hoping to touch the friendly hand (which in fact had disappeared), now stopped short, and breathed.
A smiling Manuel Suárez reappeared in the distance, in another window. Luis could just visualise the traveller’s keen face, inside. As if about to grab a hand (he figured out) and kiss it –‘bye Luis!’- just an instant.

A moment more and cheerful Manuel Suárez was only a remembrance for lawyer Luis Galvao who, notwithstanding, for a long time, stayed put, imagining he was still seeing his comrade’s face glued to the window, in the distance, the tears welling up abundantly, behind the glass-pane, out of two large black eyes.
Just as they were welling out of his own.
‘Good-bye, dear friend, I shall miss you! And I shall miss all the things and visions I associate with your image, all the objects and places, and all those impressions and emotions which I shall keep for ever in my mind… Australia! and in my heart, deep in my heart, forever! Those days of long ago, new events strange in a way – that foreign land, so forming part of our lives! - that suburb so appropriatedly called Ultimo… The boarding-house in which we stayed together those few early months, the lines of sturdy terrace houses, and the rather mysterious, queer in a way, though rather kind-hearted inhabitants of the district. And those long chats we had from time to time, reminiscing about those still older days, Madrid; the walks we took together of a Saturday morning to do our shopping at Paddy’s Market… and of course our companions and fellow-lodgers, without forgetting eversweet lovely blond Malgorata… Good-bye now, and good luck! The End
fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

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