1 A Sentimental Journey through Sydney, edited
The postwar saw young Europeans, mainly men, migrating to Australia, who succeeded. Many suffered from solitude and homesickness. How many cared about colonial wars, pain and terror inflicted on innocent people only wanting to obtain independence?
1 ‘A Sentimental Journey through Sydney’ edited
Fernando García Izquierdo
Only the sound of motorcars and the wind break the great stillness. Having knocked about already for some years, he should have lost that old longing for discovery; but this is different. The tremendous spectacle of a new wealthy world which was just being opened to him: a multiplicity of new hues and colours, sensations, impressions, images, ideas, so many, one after another, right from the moment of his arrival in the new land. He has to close his eyes, bewildered and confused.
On his seat, turning to gaze this way and that, a constantly changing spectacle outside the window, he sees or dreams or tries to comprehend. A landscape of houses on the left; the immensity of a deep blue natural harbour on the rignt, and looming high above the macadamised way the Harbour Bridge, whose purpose is to link both sides of what is certainly one of the most fantastic bays in all the fabulous South Pacific.
At length the driver takes a left turn and the car comes scudding in towards the city’s cosmopolitan area. A motley array of old decrepit houses followed by development areas with glass buildings, and districts of red-brick houses with rows of sash-windows and big arched entrances with stone steps and area-railings. Until they reach a large circular plaza where for the first time he observes people, a number of isolated individuals, dashing away to catch one or other of the many buses awaiting them at the bus-stops; or individuals likewise moving, but in the opposite direction, towards those dark elongated extensions of the harbour where the ferries are berthed, waiting to take commuters to the other side of the wonderful bay.
The jetties and the ferries with cranes and machinery, a railway station and rails, besides, are all situated (he observes) underneath the very motorway which the taxi has just left behind.
Coming out, ten minutes later, from the circular plaza, in indian-file line with half a dozen double-decker buses, the taxicab enters one of the main thoroughfares of the City (guessing) and the New Australian observes with renewed freshness the things which now pass before his eyes: life under prosperous capitalism, commercial establishments, luminous shop-windows displaying all sorts of commodities being offered for sale to the public, and a profusion of unnecessary neon light, at 4 p.m.
Everywhere, in stands and shop-windows, glass doors, big entrances and passage-ways, the same sign: CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED, CLOSED. And while he is taking note of what he sees, a new nasty gust of wind comes to remind him of the changeability of all things human.
“Dreadful weather,” he remarks, leaning forward.
The old man doesn’t reply or give the slightest sign of having heard.
“Very well,” thinks Luis Galvao, shrugging his shoulders, “it’s all one to me.”
And he resumes his watch of the street. Presently he hears an old broken voice
“Very much like August.” A score of sounds, like a refrain, which the Spaniard does not understand. Believing nevertheless the man has at last made up his mind to start a conversation, he bends forward once again: his lips move close to the wrinkled red nape. To no avail. The driver does not seem to have heard him; or maybe he hasn’t understood, because of the passenger‘s strong foreign accent.
Galvao sits still, hiding his anger with a sneer. He spies the shadow of a stroller moving along one of the pavements under the old overhanging. Turning his eyes overhead. He repeats in his mind the unfamiliar names, STERN’S, NOCK & KIRBY’S, BEARD WATSON, WOOLWORTH, COLES’, DAVID JONES’, BEBARFALDS’, ANTHONY HORDEN’S…
A sudden jerk, and he is flung forward. “Look out, bastard!” he hears the driver, and sees an individual lurching drunkenly in front of the car, then edging in and out of the traffic.
“So very drunk,” comments Galvao, rather for the sake of saying something. “And on the Day of the Lord!”
At a tram-stop he sees a bearded young man trying to light a cigarette using his leather jacket as a cover; then a pretty platinum–blonde leaning her back against a large hoarding with the figure of a cowboy, SMOKE A MARLBORO; some cypress trees in the precinct of a protestant church, JESUS IS LIGHT, and a little old lady stepping on the gravel-walk, holding her bonnet with both hands.
After a while, the cab takes a right turn, and they enter a district of winding lanes and alleyways, a confused muddle of narrow houses with here and there an open shop, a small dark creature, squatting inside in the twilight.
A glimpse now of a lonesome young woman at the window of a Chinese coffee-house, gazing at the traffic. “Oh dear, dear! what’s amiss my pretty maid? Shall I come down and kiss that charming frown?”
They go along a broad wooden fence ornamented with grafitti… REFFOS GO HOME, NO MORE MIGRANTS, AUSTRALIA FOR THE AUSTRALIANS, S’GOOD ‘S ANY AN’ MUCH BETTER ‘S MANY… as well as some bills pasted over electoral propaganda, COMMIES OUT, and he recalls his engagement back home, that early enthusiasm, and the struggle, the mounting difficulties, the many battles fought and lost, the regime’s clamp down on dissidents and protesters.
“Harris Street!” he hears a grunt. “Where shall I drop you?”
His heart sinks as he beholds the nearly deserted street, the miserable dwellings and the filth, a stray dog passing by and about a doze cats for the most part hiding under the parked cars. An overturned garbage bin. The dark-blue sky. Some coils of dust, and all the Sunday papers twisting and twirling in the wind as if performing a ritual dance.
“Pray, drive slowly,” he answers, “I have an idea it must be one of those houses.”
“I’ll drop ye by them houses,” the man says, and without waiting for a reply he brings the car to a standstill and looks round. Galvao pays him. They both alight. The driver opens the boot and waits. Slowly, wearily Luis Galvao gets hold of his cases and moves on, while the other gets back into his cab and drives away.
From nearby the houses look still shabbier. Built in a row, with no front garden or area railing, they would have resembled the wall of an old stone fortress but for the windows and doors and the portion of the roof that can be seen from the pavement. Names and numbers are either unreadable or no-existing, for wherever there is, say, a brassplate, details seem to have been blotted out by the weather long ago. The doors are black or dark-green or maybe navy-blue; the paint is too old to tell. In every house a dusty sash-window by the door and two more upstairs of same shape and just as dirty. A rusty iron pipe from the roof to the ground separates each dwelling from the next: in some places this pipe is altogether gone, leaving a brown vertical stain in its stead. The flower-pots still standing on the window-sills are empty, or with some soil or mere dirt oozing out through the cracks.
“Hullo!” he cries. “Something is moving over there at the entrance of the corner store. They may be able to help.” But no, only a sheet of wrapping paper floating in a whirlwind by the double glass-door. Hanging within from a colourless rubber sucker there is a notice, NOW OPEN. He gives a scornful laugh: someone forgot to turn the notice round when they closed the shop for the weekend.
Leaving the cases in the middle of the pavement he approaches the store, presses his nose between two stickers advertising some goods, and peeps inside. A film of dust seems to cover the lot, from the packets of breakfast cereals and jars of jam and bottles of cordial on the shelves, to the brooms and kitchen utensils on the floor. There is a tin-and-copper cash register and a multitude of little wicker baskets with commodities on the counter. The whole place looks untidy, positively dirty and seemingly abandoned for good. He steps back, still gazing, sees his reflexion on the glass door: unkempt and haggard, dark, bespectacled, weak; torture in Franco’s jails and now nearly two years on the run have impressed a heavy toll upon his previously elegant figure and he knows it. Of a sudden, just as he bends down to pick up the cases once again, he hears an angry voice.
“Hey! Wot can I do fer ye?” On the protruding balcony above the store, half-hidden by a weather-beaten board of VINCENT’S WITH CONFIDENCE, two rows of rotten teeth. “Sye, wot d’ye bloody want?” The wind has died down, and a few isolated drops of rain now fall on Galvao’s glasses as he mumbles: “Madam, can…. could you tell me if…”
The ugly creature cuts him short. “Chrissake! Can’t mike out wot th’hell you’s sayin’!” and disappears, producing a sound like the rattling of glass in a disjointed window.
Tired and depressed he limps on, along the row of houses, hoping to see someone gazing out. He catches sight of a pair of castanets hanging from the latch of one of the sash-windows, inside. Decidedly he goes to the door, plies the knocker and waits. Nothing happens. He tries again, and this time a not altogether unpleasant flaxen-haired head peeps out.
“Excuse me, I am looking…”
The vision vanishes without uttering a word. Pushing the door open Luis Galvao steps inside. In the twilight of the small corridor he sees an army jacket and a steel helmet hanging on the wall. There is an archway at the end of the passage and a subdued bluish light coming from the room beyond. Suddenly the sound of a rifle shot is heard, and as he crosses the threshold he perceives a queer acrid smell. Two men are sprawling in armchairs; next to them sits the female who opened the door, as quiet and still as if she had never moved from her stool. Only, her hair this time is platinum-blond, unless it be due to the reflection from the television set.
“Manuel!” Luis Galvao calls in a whisper.
One of the men turns to look round and stands up. Just then another rifle shot is heard. The man stands still for a moment, watching the scene on the set with great attention, then comes to Galvao. “Aha! Here you’re at last.” He gets hold of one of the suitcases and motions with his eyes to a flight of steps by the passage. Sitting at the foot of the stairs now appears an awfully large figure. “Sorry!” Galvao mutters, stumbling over. But the figure does not stir: only his jaws seem to be active; then, the newcomer perceives two fatty fingers going in and out of a paper cone from where that weird smell he noticed as he entered emanates.
“What do you bring in here?” Manuel asks, proceeding upstairs.
“Nothing, some books.”
The two men stop at the landing. Manuel taps lightly at a door and they pass into a badly-aired room with two beds, one under a small window opposite the door, the other one against one of the contiguous walls, the one on the right. Manuel sits under the window. “Well, dear,” he says, “this will be your bed. That one is Heribert’s. Come on, sit down.”
“Is that the fellow in the armchair?” Luis asks, sitting down on the other bed.
“Oh dear, no! He is the landlord.”
“The landlord? I thought the property…, why, you told me that… that I could lodge at your house.”
‘’Did I though? Now, as I recall it, what I told you, when I’d the pleasure of making your acquaintance at the York Street Labour Exchange, was that, assuming you’d nowhere else to go, I knew of a very cheap place, my own house: that is, the place where I lodge. Though if you really want to know, I manage the place for him. He’s a real dear.’
“I see, administrator… I mean that you are the nanager as you… How come?’
‘You shall know why by and by. It doesn’t affect you, old chap, either way.”
Manuel has said all this with great affectation, showing his white teeth and smoothing now and then his Brylcreemed hair with the palm of his hand. He now stands up and goes to the door to switch the light on. Coming back he sits beside his friend. ‘’Come on,’’ he says, laying one of his hands on Galvao’s thigh. “Don’t pull such a face, or you’ll no longer look pretty.”
Luis moves so that Manuel’s hand slips off. “It will do for the time being,” he mutters without looking; for he is polishing his glasses with his handkerchief. “And the other one?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, is he Heribert, the one with the fish and chips?”
“Oh, not at all! Nino doesn’t even live here. He’s the greengrocer’s boy round the corner. Comes to watch television.”
Galvao sighs with relief. “I see.” He has been observing the small room all around, and his eyes are now fixed on a map pinned up on the single door of a built-in wardrobe, a map of Germany during the III Reich. “Is he German?” he asks.
‘’My word! German to the backbone,” Manuel answers, standing up. “Now, you’ll excuse me…. the Sunday programme, you know?”
“Of course, of course,” Galvao answers, also standing up. “Well, good night!”
“Ta ta! Sleep tight.”
As soon as Manuel had taken his leave, Luis Galvao threw himself down on his bed, rested his head on one arm on the pillow and remained still for a long while, watching the murky sky outside. The rain had now begun in earnest, producing a pattering noise on the corrugated-iron roof, not unlike the shooting of a machine gun. The light was off and as Galvao gazed out into the night, images from the past came vividly back to him, and in another minute he was shivering.
… the vision of a boat wafting away on the sea, an escapee, leaving my native home and my beloved girlfriend. I also grieve for my friends, dead and gone, and for my poor country under the awful shadow of fascism. Oh, sad hour! that I should have given up the fight so easily and now a runaway seeking shelter in foreign parts. That better world I sought has turned out to be a fallacy; only this solitude is real to me, a miserable exile with recollections of those younger years when I believed in a revolution that never came, or which I failed utterly to understand.
… all are fears and regrets. “Havoc, comrades!” a cry. Disturbed by the hooting of the cargo ships in the harbour. “No, comrades, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t my fault! my intention was to go on, continue the struggle when those comrades helped me to cross the Blue Mediterranean on their boat, “oh! I didn’t want to do it.”
And then, the remembrance of a still older souvenir, the Volunteer Agricltural Camp in Yorkshire. “agricultural” workers from abroad. So many farmhands had perished in the war or gone to work in factories in the cities. It was a godsend for us, students from the Continent. Oh. my English girl so beautiful, that summer ’53!
… of a Saturday, after the evening meal, we marched from the camp to the village along the calm country road with linked arms, girls and boys, filling the air with our songs; a path really crossing the fields where we had worked in the morning.
… and the public house looming high upon the green fields as we approached from the V.A.C., Italians, Germans, French, English, Scandinavians and just one Spaniard… in love with the sculptural Swedish girls.
… a slate roof and the black beams crossing the snow-white façade ‘voilà’ the pub, upon the hill, the name appearing in gold on a large black woodboard, THE KING’S ARMS, and a multitude of windowpanes and doorpanes reflecting the rays of a setting sun.
… the place was full of people from the village, farmhands and their wives, with whom we had worked in the morning (the very farmers that daily paid us.) Greetings were exchanged, and we sat among the locals: the foreigners with the English, for there were English students amongst the campers.
… quite a jolly elderly woman, in a colourful cotton dress and a flat bonnet with an artificial rose was presiding at an old piano, her fat fingers thumping the keys. She sang loudly, turning her head to her audience and the refrain was enthusiastically taken up by the audience, the drinkers lifting in their hands mugs or glasses of porter or beer. The hall was illuminated with tubes of white neon light, and the air was clouded with tobacco smoke.
… like the others I lifted my tankard of beer when the refrain came along song, and went on pretending that I knew the text of a song I hadn’t heard in all the days of my life: just pronouncing whatever English word came to my mouth. It happened that I had just made friends with an English girl called Margaret, who, catching sight of me from another table in the distance, smiled reproachfully, and then sent me a silent message with her lips: “You cheat!”
… my pretty Lancashire lass! I had seen her talking with a student from Uppsala and had felt jealous. And now the two were dancing together, and he bending his blond head over Margaret (who was to start her university course in the fall.)
… replying to her silent message, I motioned my own lips, “I love you.” And I saw on her face a pretty smile again; her short calico skirt floating in the air as she turned round, dancing the walz: and I looked at her tanned shapely legs.
… on the road back to the camp she rests her sweet head on my shoulder, that fair hair of hers, shining white in the moonlight. Half way between the village and the camp lies an unused canal. We stand on the bulging stone-bridge. We see two silhouettes, on the silver surface down below, and the black reflection of a perfect roman-arch. On both sides of the waterway hundreds of reeds standing in the moonlight, long and black, like strokes of a thin brush.
… ‘’Come, let’s go!’’ I murmur, and we stroll along the towpath, the canal on our left-hand side, some wheatfields on the right and in the distance the camp: the lights of the recreation hall, the sound of a piano; someone is singing.
“That immense undefined feeling of happiness,” Luis Galvao thinks, casting his eyes around in the almost complete darkness of the room.
He saw a young man on a nearby bed quite still, but not asleep; for he noticed the fellow moved his left arm, pulled on a cigarette, which he held between two fingers, then rested his hand on the floor, describing as he did so a semicircle of reddish light with the tip of his cigarette; he repeated the operation and then stubbed out the cigarette on the wooden floor. He was about to ask something of his fellow-lodger when he was suddenly overtaken by a feeling of nausea. He sprang up very swiftly and rushed out of the room. At the far end of the landing there was a flight of two steps and an open door. He tumbled up the steps, switching on the light. Legions of cockroaches scampered about on the checker-patterned vinyl floor, in all directions. As he was trudging back to the bedroom, after having been vomiting for about five minutes, he was stopped short by a shrill and piercing shriek, followed by a roar of laughter, both coming from the floor below. He peered down over the banister. Through the kitchen door, slightly ajar, white neon light poured out, and with it the smell of burnt meat.
Down he went like in a dream towards the light. Pushing the door wide open he stepped inside. From an electric clock on the near wall he saw it was ten past five. There were two persons inside, a man and a woman.
Having muttered a subdued “Good morning!”, which received no reply, he proceeded towards a cupboard at the other end of the room: one eye on th couple, he searched gropingly for a couple of minutes in the large cupboard thinking he might find something with which to brew himself some tea; and all the time he thought he heard the woman crying behind him.
When he turned round he recognised the blond woman who had let him in that afternoon; she was much younger than the man, who was now having his breakfast at a long solid table by an open sash window. She was serving him in a terrible state of agitation. Luis Galvao sat, with his cup of tea, opposite the man; he would have liked to exchange a few words with him, even more so with the lady, but they were terribly awkward people, he thought. For she avoided his gaze, and the guy, very rude indeed, appeared to be in a hurry.
After a while the man stood up. And a big bear of a man he was: low-browed, hairy and blond, with bushy eyebrows that stuck up like antennae, and a rather big moustache. He grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table, served himself a tumbler and tossed it off at one go. Whereupon he left the company without saying a word.
Galvao saw him take a leather jerkin and a helmet from two hooks in the passage and stalk out of the house. A moment later the sound of an engine was heard; the sound grew louder for a minute; then fainter, and fainter until it died out. He turned to the landlady, who was now slouching along the wall with the clock, as if possessed by a strong fear of being touched by her lodger, who was confronting her.
‘’Don’t go, please,’’ he whispered, holding her: her hand was trembling. She stood still, piercingly staring into Galvao’s eyes. It was then that, in the brightness of the neon light, he noticed how strange her eyes looked: large and attractive in a way, but they were of different colours, one was blue, the other hazel-brown. Only once before in his life had he encountered the phenomenon; but then he had not been so affected by it, the eyes being in fact blue and green, that previous occasion.
“Please, don’t!” he whispered again. For she had burst into tears.
Without opening her mouth, her hand still in his grasp, she gave a sudden pull, scuttled out of the kitchen and vanished. Luis looked quite perplexed at the door through which she had gone. He then took a seat. From the clock on the wall he noticed it was ten to six and through the open window now saw the morning was rapidly approaching: a clear sky, though not yet blue. He heard the sound of a violin. And with his head on his forearm, on the table, he fell into a reverie. For the music spoke directly to his heart, bringing back memories from the past.
… my girlfriend was sitting with her chin on her knees, those shapely suntanned legs shining in the moonlight. “It must be one of the Swedes in the camp,” said I. “It’s about Solvej, a Norwegian,” she answered,” Peer Gynt’s fiancée.”
… and I learned that Peer Gynt, a thug and a brigand, a legendary figure, was a man who had really existed. “He ran away and committed all kinds of villainies, all over. But his lover, Solvej, waited for him all her life,” she concluded.
… and I asked overcome, “And you, will you wait for me to come back?” and she answered: “Oh, you’ll go back to your people and forget all about me. You all are the same.” I caught her in my embrace. “Not true!, I shall come back.”
“Goodness gracious!” Luis hears a voice, and wakes up from his reverie. The music has ceased, the image of a pretty girl of short wavy hair is gone.
“I say, my boy, what’re you doing here in that apparel? You look horrible.’’ Manuel looks prim and smelling of eau-de-cologne, that sugary smile of his playing on his rather sensual lips.
“Ah, well!” Luis exclaims, “haven’t you heard there’s been a fight? Are you all deaf in this house, or crazy or what?”
Manuel laughs. “Oh dear, I see what you mean.” He stands, caressing his clean-shaven chin with the palm of one hand. “The landowner. Oh yes, quite horrible. But don’t you worry; he’s left for the bush, where he has his employment. This happens only rarely.” He has begun preparing his breakfast very methodically. After getting his food out from the fridge, he lights the cooker, bringing forward the ingredients, as well as frying-pan, pot and kettle from a cupboard. Then, having fried two eggs and some bacon rashers, he stands by his friend, polishing with a serviette his cutlery. Then he sits down.
“Manuel, why didn’t you tell,” Luis says impatiently, “I mean… that I would be coming to such an odd place?”
“Odd, you say. My dear Luis, everybody‘s odd, one way or another, in this… world of ours (I was going to say Vale of Tears.) ‘Le droit à la difference,’ as we said in the Latin Quarter. I guess you too have lived in Paris, haven’t you?’’
For a moment Galvao does not answer, then says: “But they’re all nuts. The German upstairs too. And have you seen the woman’s eyes?”
“Of course I have. So what?” Manuel goes on, standing up. “Now, Luis. I’m making some coffee, will you join me, or what can I offer you?”
“No, thanks,” Galvao mutters, and after a pause, he starts again: “And… and he treats her like a slave, he does. Doesn’t anybody…”
“Wait a momo,” Manuel says, raising his hand. “I feel you are a little squeamish. There are quarrels in the best of families, absolutely. As for you and me, we aren’t to interfere, full stop.” He lays his coffee on the table and pats his friend’s neck. “Don’t get annoyed. I’ve the weakness of loving my friends, you see. You’re not altogether wrong about Krappov; he’s a savage bear, that’s for sure.” He has started his breakfast.
“Is that the name, Krap-off?” Luis asks, drawing back.
“That is his name, Leonidas Krappov, two pees,” Manuel giggles, and goes on in a very low voice, “straight out from the Russian steppe. Oh, dear, no! Not Russian, but Ukrainian (not the same.) I mustn’t make that mistake again, or he’ll smother me.’’
“A bear’s hug,” Luis sniggers, responding to his friend’s rather comic mood.
Manuel folds his serviette and passes it parsimoniously over his moist lips, then says rather peevishly: “As for his wife, that silly romping thing, what can I tell you? You’ve seen her, nothing to speak of, full stop.”
“The landlady, what do you mean?”
“Don’t raise your voice,” Manuel warns, “follow my example.”
“Well,” Luis mutters, “I find her quite interesting and, to tell the truth, beautiful. I mean… she looks like someone I once (don’t interrupt me) if she combed that pretty blond hair of hers…”
“Beautiful?” Manuel cuts in. “Well, well, well! Haven’t you just mentioned her eyes? An uglier creature would be difficult to imagine. But, what’s happening here? Okay, you go on, make eyes at her and all that sort of thing; but be careful, my dear, that you don’t steal her heart, for you’ll be in trouble if you do, absolutely.”
“In trouble? Why, Krappoff?”
“Ssh! Krappov, yes. You’ve seen the bear. But what you don’t know is that he’s a member of a group of chums training out there.”
“In the bush, you mean?”
“The outback, if you prefer. All employed by some big concern, a mine or a cement factory, I don’t know; but their real calling is, well, firearms. Now, this may interest you,” lowering his voice to a whisper, “I believe that during the war – don’t take me literally in this – he was a warden or foreman or something in a concentration camp, you know.”
“Not surprised. He looks horrible… I mean, his figure is frightening.”
“The ideal nazi sort of thing. Now, this may also interest you. When he learned that the Red Army was approaching he ran for his life. And listen to this,” he added, lifting his gaze and pointing with his knife, “he’d got his big hands so stained with blood, old Cossack, that not even the Americans wanted him; and from Orleans, where he’d landed… from communism, they spirited him away, through the Pyrenees, and into our fatherland, do you follow?”
“I can quite imagine… saw many nazis in Madrid… escapees.”
“Me too; but let me go on: and in Miranda de Ebro, well, the Church did the rest to save him (for he’s a Roman Catholic, you know.) He crossed our country from north to south dressed as a monk, a dominican. Father Leonidas, you follow? A stopover in Gibraltar, you know, that piece of the United Kingdom in the Peninsula, and hence to Australia.”
“And his wife?”
“The missus is indifferent. In politics, I mean, if that’s what you want to know. As for the rest, poor thing, you see,” Manuel went on, touching his forehead with two fingers, “not much up here.”
“She plays the violin well.”
Manuel is now polishing his thick red lips with the tip of his serviette, rising from his chair; then, placing his other hnand on his friend’s shoulder he says in a maudlin tone: “I see, my lovely boy, you too find her fascinating, that sort of thing. Really, what the devil can this mean?”
“Ah, never mind, let’s leave it? She’s not worth noticing, really.”
“All the same, pray, tell me more about her.”
Manuel had already made to go, but hearing his friend’s loud voice, he turns round and, touching Galvao’s lips, he murmurs. “Since you insist? It’ll soon be told, She was once upon a time, well, a famous violin player, a child prodigy, that sort of thing. By the way, would you guess… she’s just a girl, why!, twenty-two or twenty-three, that’s my guess: no more.”
“Quite possible…, I mean, well she could be, why not? Only… she looks so haggard and melancholy.”
“She was very ill,” Manuel says matter-of-factedly, and then adds, rather mysteriously: “Callan Park.”
“Gosh! In the mental hospital?” Luis exclaims, taken aback.
“Exactly. Ain’t I telling you she’s stark mad? And thank God she came across Krappov, who was at the time a male-nurse at the hospital. Without him she would still be locked up there, I’m assured.’’
“You seem to know him well?”
“Enough to make me fear him. Though on the other hand he does appreciate my work here, needs me. I never talk to him about politics. In a word, he made me his bailiff for the property, as I believe I’ve already told you.”
“And the lady, is she also Ukrainian?”
Manuel was now arranging his things in the communal fridge and upon the shelves. “That’s right,” he answered without looking, then came near again. “And that’s why something tickled the guy’s heart. Sort of fatherly love, I suppose. Be it as it may, the case is that he took her to the altar, as they say, in Bathurst. Then her health began to deteriorate once again. Life in the bush didn’t suit the young princess, you see? And that’s the whole story.”
“How did you come to meet this… Krappov?”
“When I escaped. For I also ran away from the old country, though not for the same reasons as you, I went to live in the bush. But I’ll tell you another time. I begin work at eight. Bye-bye, dear Luis. So long!
Outside, the rain goes on ceaselessly, monotonously. Inside, the air is grey and sultry. And there is the added monotony of a dozen large machines in full swing. A conveyor-belt is at this instant the central piece in the process of production of all that immense ado. Thanks to it free independent objects are moving, orderly, one after another, transporting commodities upon a long belt. “Like motorcars on an expressway,” he thinks, while shadows appear and disappear nearby, lurching about the machines. Heavy cardboard boxes containing commodities that are the object of production of this transnational enterprise. Rolling on, rolling on upon the extended leather belt, coming regularly from afar. At twenty feet from each other the factoryhands watching. Simple appendages to the machines, on each side of the conveyor-belt. Observing all this with interest is Luis Galvao. It would be difficult for him to determine whether the human figures he observes belong to the masculine or the femenine gender; or whether they are alive and animated beings or rather mechanical objects activated by electric current or recharging batteries, any kind of artificial intelligence. He tries to concentrate his gaze on the couple of factory-hands nearest to him, hanging from a recently innovated contrivance. The “hands” move their arms and nothing else. They wear big gloves, blue overalls and heavy boots.
Like a sublime melody coming from heaven, the tapping of the rain on the iron roof, combining in Galvao’s mind with the human, more productive noise of the machines around him, all is transformed. His life style is changed, perpetual state of melancholy. The cry of the Spirit, Spirits, Empathy, the Underworld… oh, holy effluvia descending from on high, the Spiritual Energy of our metaphysicians. It is the music that conquers the soul.
“For the rest, what possible intercourse is possible here? nobody talks, nobody expects to listen to anything human or even animal. Innovation indeed, production indeed. Give fodder, just fodder, the normal fodder for the mind supplied abundantly under capitalism.
“Luigi!” he hears a vioce that seems to come from afar, “si sente malato?”
For Luis at that moment was leaning back against a brick wall, a snuffling nose, a crumpled handkerchief in his hand. Fragments of broken flasks and glass containers are scattered on the floor at his feet. He is supposed to be doing something about it, but instead he leans against the wall, pressing the handkerchief on his face, a big broom in his other hand.
“Luigi, what’s wrong?” It is the voice of a man nearby, holding a broom and a scoop, just as himself. And they start working in a team, though Luis cannot stop looking reproachfully at the two workers who have let the box fall on the cement floor, making the air unbreathable. He sees them lifting another box, and another, as these arrive at the end of the conveyor-belt.
The factory-hands, turning round very quickly every time another container reaches the end of the conveyor perform like the machines, one lifts the box in the air; the contrivance makes a snapping noise and they rush to catch another box, before it is smashed upon the concrete floor; a metal-band or cable each time and the big cardboard box is tightlty bound. Containers, which instantly accumulate on wooden trays carried away on tiny ellectric vehicles to the lorries waiting outside in the rain… and to the whole wide world.
“Stanco, amico?” his mate is addressing him now in Italian and as other times a Latin language is used, raising his voice, bringing him out of his reverie. He is a small white-haired man, leaning for a change on his broom in order to talk. He is trying all the time to bring Luis out of his melancholy, and it is a hard task to communicate any thought, in the midst of that unbearable noisy and horrid atmosphere.
“I’m alright!” Luis pronounces rather loudly.
Floating shadows shamble past the two cleaners like phantoms in the moist twilight. “Stop jabbering!” shouts one of the passers-by, and the others chime in, “Stop yer bloody lingo!” But without rant or malice: they are giving a piece of advice to two recalcitrant New Australians who do not adapt themselves to the ways of the inhabitants of the land.
At lunch-time Luis Galvao dashes out to a nearby telephone booth in the rain.
“Hallo! I’m ringing in connection…”
“What’s that, what’s that?” comes the voice of an asthmatic person at the other end of the line.
“I was saying I am ringing regarding your advertisment in The Herald…”
The same asthmatic voice breaking in: “Can’t catch a word of what yer saying.”
“Right,” Galvao articulates, “Warren and Warren Law Offices?”
“That’s right,” the person, a man, confirms.
“I am a graduate in law ringing in connection with this morning’s ad in The Sydney Morning Herald about a legal clerk. Galvao is the name, G. A. L….”
He is interrupted by a few loud coughs, and then: “Say that again!”
“I was spelling my name, G.A.L.V. … “
New interruption: “Hang on, will you?” and at the same time a noise of banging; then the old man’s muffled voice: “Bobby… a New Australian… Herald…”
Next, another voice, a young man’s this time. “We’re sorry, sir. There must be a misunderstanding. Very sorry.” And the sound of the phone being hung up.
It is his third attempt at finding a decent job related to his studies. Still holding the receiver in his hand, and gasping in despair, he starts kicking the walls of the cabin like a madman. There is the rattling of glass, the cabin being made up of little square glass-panes, red bars and wood-panels.
An elderly gentleman stops outside the cabin, where Luis is covering his eyes and weeping. “Look here, bold chap,” the man shouts, “will ye tell us wot’s the matter?”
Galvao comes out, makes a cone with the newspaper, sets it upon the old man’s pate, shouting: “For the rain, mate!”, and runs back to the factory. He has his own nook in the warehouse, where he now sits, having a thermos flask of tea and a packet of biscuits. For it is too late to go to the factory canteen.
In the afternoon he is sent to clean another section of the factory, and spends about three hours there, scoop and broom in hand, pacing between some lofty walls, built up with boxes, all of the same sort and size; one box on top of the other, forming like a fence, a fortification: lines and lines of cardboard blocks, full of commodities ready to be taken to the marketplace.
The winter evening was beginning to fold the city with its golden mantle when the workers came filing out into the street, along a line of houses some of which receive at this hour the rays of a large yellow setting sun. The rain was no longer falling, doors and windows were all closed. The sun was causing the windowpanes to glitter, specially some on the top floors. No doubt the houses are small factories and workshops, now empty of labourers, for in Australia most factories close at five. The other side of the way, three or four hundred feet across, opened up onto the waterfront, and Luis could see machines, cranes and the shadows of the wharfies in the distance.
The factory workers trudged along on this side, heads slightly bent and arms hanging limply. Rootsey was leading the way and Old Bruno, the Italian, closing up the rear, Luis Galvao being not with them. But he knew them all: MacGregor, Paddy, Peter, Kim, Barry, Bruce, Big Joe and Little Johnny. Slowly on their way to Pyrmont.
Some lorries have been coming out of stores, timber-merchants’, freight companies and warehouses all the while. Some big stone buildings on the right, with open gates some of them, letting Luis see the shiny surface of the sea, in the distance this time, the arm of sea which is named Darling Harbour and which he knows well. Known to him also all the triangular frontispieces above the enormous hardwood gates. As on other occasions he tries to decipher the tradenames, engraved in a black surface and painted white; but the paint has almost disappeared due to the weather.
The street lamps are unlit, and in most cases the gates are closed and locked, in some cases with steel bars and bronze padlocks. In one of the warehouses he catches a glimpse of the sea again, in the distance, through a more or less shadowy inside, which is followed by a second big opening. Machines or machine-vehicles nearby, a diffused vision of cranes and girders and swarms of busy people. It is Darling Harbour which Luis Galvao knows well, the very spot in the continent where he landed: there is in fact a liner overthere; he sees the dark funnels and some curly snakes of smoke flying high, all very much in the distance. That was where he arrived on board the SS HIMALAYA, a few months ago. How Time flies!
Night is coming on very fast. An impression he has had since his arrival, winter or summer. But now, realising he has been wasting a lot of time, he turns round and runs to join his mates, who have slowed their step, climbing as they are the last section of Sussex before the bridge.
He now turns, as they all have, on to Pyrmont, strolling along one of the footpaths of the bridge. The roadway is full of traffic: many double-decker buses, all kinds of lorries, cars, utility vans and the famous Juggernaut trucks which cause the whole structure to tremble. It is also full of people heading towards Pyrmont Suburb to the west or Market Street in the City.
First he stops in the middle of the bridge, and lays both elbows on the grimy iron rail, his eyes turned in contemplation of this subdivision of the immense Sydney bay, one of two hundred or more minor bays and coves, ports and harbours constituting Port Jackson. For a while he gazes at the smooth surface of the water below, one of his hands under his chin, in deep thought. The dark calm sea dotted with the reflection of public lighting on the bridge which has just been switched on by the Council, and then the many yellow lights of the docks, and wharves with bustling wharfies all in full activity at this hour. Here and there a rowing boat moving and the HARBOUR POLICE launch speeding across and causing the shiny surface to ripple.
Behind him the voices of the pedestrians, the laughs and giggles of some women, coming probably from one of the nearby factories. Luis turn rounds and moves on with the girls, for some of them are very young and blond and what is seen of their fair bodies shows sportsmanship, pretty young women who go to the beach every weekend. Suddenly he bumps into Bruno the Italian, who has been waiting for him at the zebra crossing.
“Luigi, here you are!” he exclaims, grabbing him by the arm.
The crossing is indicated by two large spherical yellow lights on tall posts, one on each side of the busy road; but no traffic-lights. Following his friend, Luis Galvao steps on the yellow zebra marking, so the mates have to cross dodging the traffic; when they have reached the opposite footpath, Bruno again gets hold of the Spaniard’s elbow, as if he were afraid he might disappear once again.
A two-storeyed building with the title of the establishment displayed in green and red neon lights, PYRMONT HOTEL. The entrance to the pub is wide open. Eventually Luis finds himself in a dark corridor, following his mate, and passes into a hall full of light and tobacco smoke, and that curious smell of decomposed liquor associated with fun in public houses. It is full of men, each holding a glass of beer, and most of them shouting, laughing or stamping on the dirty floor. Along the wall on the right there are electronic machines before which men are standing quietly gazing at circles and numbers, a mug of beer in one hand and the other activating a lever.
Bruno has turned and moved through the crowd towards a bronze-and-walnut bar, and a redheaded woman serves him. “Thankee, my pretty!” he says.
Galvao goes to the bar and follows his mate’s example, shouting for a beer. A dyed-blond barmaid shouts: “Can’t mike out wot you’s syin’!” One of the men touches Galvao’s arm and whispers, “Sie a middy.”
“A middy, please!’’ he shouts, holding out a half-crown coin.
The women are tall, almost voluminous. Holding his glass of foaming beer, Luis observes them. He would have sworn they were taller than all the men. “Maybe they’re standing on some wooden bases,” he thinks leaning back against a far wall, drinking and watching about him and at the counter.
… like in a dream I see in my loneliness the woman I love; we’ve gone out with the Madrileños to hear the chimes of the Ministerio clock welcoming 1956 in. And now she is gone, taken away ‘por los antidisturbios’. Ay!I weep in vain.
… her short sheeny wavy hair and lovely lips; oh pretty face! I want to kiss that sensual mouth again, the blue eyes, your smile, two lines of perfectly white teeth, so strangely represented to me now, on the face of another woman.
“Si sente malatto, spagnolo?” Luis hears and startled, he replies: “No, Bruno, nothing’s the matter. I must go.”
Coming out of the pub Luis Galvao looks about him, uncertain at first as to which way to take; for he is in the conjunction at that point of three main ways or streets, Pyrmont Bridge Road, Union Street and Harris Streets. The sky is dark-blue, dotted with twinkling stars, except for the part where the modern construction of the Pyrmont Power Station looms, high above a region called Darling Island, of quays and traffic. Around him there are only a few stragglers, prehaps returning home from pubs. He stops short, contemplating the big cement chimneys and two columns of white smoke and an isolated flickering red light on high.
He hits the street at a rather brisk pace, hands in his jacket pockets, gazing absent-mindedly at times when the windows happen to be open and the curtains propped aside: usually a low bluish light and human shadows seated quietly around the square box. He knows he is reaching his destination when he sees in the distance the illuminated green-and-red trademark of BUSHELL’S.
There are only factories on the one side of Harris Street, and a line of irregular old houses without garden or area railing on the other. As he enters his own house, Manuel and Nino are watching the ‘Perry Mason’s story’ holding hands and giggling; but Luis Galvao passes on into the well-illuminated kitchen, where the landlady is having her dinner. He says “Good evening!”, opens the fridge and gets hold of a plastic box with some letters on a bit of elastoplast. Then he sits down, facing the young woman, who has not yet said a word. And now, she rose from her seat with the obvious intention of making a dash to the door; but Galvao clasped her trembling hand in his, saying: ‘Please, do sit down and finish your meal; I’ll only stay a minute.’ She quickly returned to her seat, tossing her short blond hair as she did so. Then, but for her hands and wrists, she did not move at all, her gaze nearly always fixed upon her side of the table, her broad brow bent and her eyes hidden under her long dark eyelashes. She wore a loose lowcut dress of some silky material, and her arms, neck and upper part of her chest looked handsomely tanned. Neither of them spoke.
After going again to the fridge to get out a bottle of milk (marked, like the box, with his initials on a piece of adhesive plaster ), he returned to the table, and then, unexpectedly the lady pronounced in a fine musical voice, her eyes resting for a few seconds on his face. ‘Is that what you always have for dinner?’
‘Oh no, not always, Mrs Krappov!’ he said with affection. ‘I intend to do some cooking, you see, once I put myself…’ (he paused, for the young woman was now gazing with nervous agitation) ‘on the right track. I mean shopping, cooking and all that: do I make myself understood?’ He paused again; but she only nodded, and in order not to stifle a conversation just begun he went on: ‘Otherwise, you see, Mrs. Krappov, I might go to a restaurant.’
“Oh, don’t call me by that name all the time,” she spat the words out, “I hate him.”
“You’re married to him, aren’t you?”
She raised her eyes to his face once again and said, stamping her foot upon the floor like a child. “But I didn’t want to marry him, I didn’t!” She hid her face in her hands and cried: “He forced me into it. Oh, they are horrible people!”
Hearing her cry, the lodger felt a world of conflicting emotions, for he now liked her very much. The hair, that round childish face, slim and sweet body. But she had begun to tremble madly. And in the end he was trembling too. All this time she had both hands on the table, palms down. He hesitated, then lifted one hand and touched her fingers, slightly, still with timidity; but all the same caressingly, and she did not raise any objection. Looking for an opportunity to start a conversation, he talked of music, knowing she played the violin. She might even play again that Swedish piece, specially for him. Suddenly, she left off trembling and said, quite nicely: “You haven’t asked me yet, I mean, what my name is.” And she was suddenly smiling, full of excitement
“Well, what is it?” he asked.
“Malgorata,” she answered, quite excited; and after a pause: “He doesn’t let me play. Out of spite he does it.” Her eyes flashed with anger, and Galvao thought she looked beautiful in her tremulousness. He had noticed with pleasure and surprise that she had brushed and combed her short hair and used mascara, eyeshadow and lipstick.
“Malgorata, tell me,” he asked her directly, “I know you… worry; but I heard you play the violin this morning,” and after a short pause, meeting her questioning look, he went on: “most beautifully.”
She smiled and there was a glow on her cheeks. He got hold of one of her hands and made to kiss it; she withdrew it and a faint perfume arose from her wrist as she moved it away.
“I won a big prize,” she uttered after a little while, and as she smiled Luis caught a glimpse of two graceful rows of ivory-white teeth.
“You see… how appreciated, eh!” he stammered, trying to bring his chair nearer, on her side of the big communal table. “Why… why did you give it up?”
“At first I was playing with the orchestra of my home town,” she answered, twisting her fingers, “and… and we did some trips abroad.”
“Good,” he uttered, absorbed in the contemplation of her strange and yet very pretty regard, while she added, timidly: “In Manchester a man called…” She stopped and took one hand to her mouth biting the nail of one finger furiously.
“In Manchester,” she repeated, “a man rang me at the hotel.”
And Luis Galvao, static, his eyes fixed on hers, felt in his hand the sweet touch of her caressing fingers. She was again trembling. “He gave me an address,” she was whispering in his ear. “And I went to see them.”
“Them? I don’t understand. A man rang you at the hotel. That is what I heard. Correct me if I’m wrong.” And Malgorata was pressing with her ten fingers his right hand. “There were three of them, only the first one spoke Russian, the voice on the telephone. The other two only spoke English. I thought they were army people, but I’m only guessing.”
“Were they Americans?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I didn’t speak any English.” (It was pitiful for Luis to observe her shivering.) “And they offered me, oh lots of things!, and I played then with a big American orchestra. I was overcome. My life, such splendour. All England and the Edinburgh Festival; then New York, Canada, Melbourne, Sydney and then… ‘’ the tears once more trickled down her eyes.
“And then?” Galvao asked, getting hold of her hand again, soothing her.
“They sent me to that hospital!” she said in a wailing tone.
There was a turn of the conversation when he said, severely: “That’s the free world for you!” For he was thinking of his own country, Spain, under fascism. He tried to correct his severity, consoling her. “Oh, it happens to the lot of us, don’t worry!” and was wiping with his handkerchief her face where she had spread her mascara with her weeping. “Why, we choose risk, adventure.”
“No, not adventure. It was my career, you see,” she said, shaking, “I wanted to improve my playing, being confronted to… ay! to the best; to be compared with other great artists; to play a lot, all the time. I wanted to have experience. And I… I did succeed in the free world… for eighteen months or a year… I don’t remember… I did succeed. Everyone acclaimed me, I was sure of my triumph.’’
“Come on, come on!” he cried, not unfriendly, but again severely. “They applauded you when you played good music; and paid you good money.”
“Money too. But it wasn’t that which was important.”
He now took hold of both her hands, which were cold and unresponding. “Why did you leave the Soviet Union?” he asked, “hadn’t you triumphed back home?”
“But it was not my triumph,” she cut him short, stamping her foot.
“What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t my triumph!” she repeated, vehemently. “And I don’t know why I left. Except that overthere... I wanted to develop my own style… not to be stifled. Overthere they don’t let you become a great independent artist, they suppress… suppress your individuality. Ah, you don’t know communism! It’s horrible.”
He said nothing and she went on, “but I cannot go on like this, I’m going to fall ill again. You see? The violin was my life. The violin is all I have, my all. It meant so much to me, the violin meant so much to me… always… so much to me. My whole being, my existence, my life!’’ She fell back on her seat and broke into bitter desperate weeping, her face on the palms of her trembling hands. And when she had done with weeping, she stood up and went rushing out of the kitchen into her bedroom across the passage. Luis heard the young lady moaning in her bedroom. His countenance was heavy, troubled and full of doubt.
He found Heribert in the room they shared. But for an exchange of one or two civilities, they had not got together since his arrival at the boarding house: for the German worked in the dockyards and had until now done night shift, sleeping at daytime when Luis was not in the house. The man was sitting on his bed, undoing the laces of his working boots. “Good evening!” he greeted.
“Ach so!’’ uttered the other. “You know, I’ve been wanting to ask you, have you come to this country for good?”
“I have come to stay. Haven’t you?” Galvao answered.
“A bloody New Australian, then?” sneered the German.
“Aren’t you a New Australian too?” the Spaniard questioned in turn.
“Well, I suppose I am, yes. I grant you that,” Heribert said, with rather a patronising air. “I’ve come assisted passage, what about you?”
“No, no assisted passage for me,” Luis aid glumily. “I thought assisted passage was offered only to migrants from the British Isles. Is it not so? Anyhow, I paid for my passage.”
“I am an escapee from communism, yes,” Heribert said curtly. “That is why.”
“What d’you mean, escapee, I heard you come from Cologne. That’s what you said. Köln in the British Zone, is it not? No communism there, then, Russians choosing freedom, as they say, or from the satellite countries. You’re German.”
The German snorted. “Ach so! Yes, you’ve heard. But what no one’s told you is that I was living in Dresden, now Red Zone. Heard of the bombings there, yes?”
“Yes, of course,” Luis said, recollecting, “carpet-bombing, the city suffered a lot. Nasty, those British aviators.”
“The one explains the other,” said Heribert, who had been observing the other with the palm of one hand under his chin, the other forcibly gripping his thigh (both lodgers were seated on their beds.) “They did enough damage, the bastards! Ach, the fucking Royal Air Force, as you say … more than nasty. ”
Heribert stopped short, and the Spaniard went on mumbling, always half stammering, to no purpose, it seemed: “Yes! No… haven’t been in Dresden.”
“I’m just telling you, Scheisse!” the German screeched, “total destruction. Hell! Fucking Royal Air Force burnt the historical city, yes?” There was an attempt by the Spaniard to say something, but Heribert cried, not letting him talk. “Ach so! Them bombs respected nothing… even the Dom was destroyed.”
Luis understood he was now talking of Cologne. “Oh yes, the cathedral,” he said. “There I was spring ‘53… then British Zone, Die Brücke. All bombed.”
“You needn’t say. When we ran away west in order to live in the West, you see, Cologne, so many chemical plants, mother was killed during the bombings. My father was killed in Stalingrad, you see, when we two lived in Dresden.”
Galvao mumbled something to the effect that he understood and was sorry.
“Sheisse, you aren’t, you can’t understand that suffering. I lived in an orphanage and was a minor when I came to Australia. Of course, I got assisted passage, yes?” And for no reason that Luis could understand, he now laughed loudly.
“And here we are, immigrants both of us,” Luis said, in a rather dull tone. “That was the question, wasn’t it? New Australians.”
“No, the question was whether you’ve come assisted passage. Now, you see that?” he pointed to the wall. The Spaniard glanced as indicated, and saw on the side of Heribert’s bed, a set of slim cardboards divided in innumerable little squares, most of these crossed out.
“Calendar,” he said.
“All the days of my banishment, those gone already, those still to come. I keep counting the days; the only sane thing I do in this country of nothingness, shit!
But by then Luis was not listening. He had been undressing the while, and getting into his pyjamas, ready to go to sleep. As the other would not stop, he lifted his left arm, saying: ‘’Please, let us drop it, because if I don’t… I’ll never fall asleep… I also have, well my problems. Goodnight, you switch the light off.’’
In effect, for some time now, he had been having very little sleep. He usually got so tired, both mentally and physically, day after day, that he fell asleep the moment he set his head upon the pillow, only to wake up soon afterwards, as fresh and alert as if he had had an eight-hour rest. Then he could not go back to sleep. He would toss and turn in his bed, sometimes counting sheep, other times trying to remain on his back still as a statue, and even at times reciting the old prayers of his childhood. Nothing worked. But his brain played tricks on him at times and he dreamt, asleep or awake..
… it seemed to me that time and space had moved on and I had done nothing with my life, caught in a trap as it were. The wind was bringing me here, taking me there, and I was could not understand: my personality had changed.
… I saw a figure passing by, a blond woman of transparent beauty like an angel from heaven, and I saw her going over a cliff. The bliss of having her in my arms, the Yorkshire Moors. Margaret calling. Nothing. I was caught in a trap.
“Aren’t you asleep?”
“You know, I’ve seen you talking to the missus, downstairs, as I came in the house,” said the German, stamping his cigarette out on the wooden floor.
“Well, what of it?”
There was a pause, after which Heribert observed with an unpleasant guffaw: “My friend, do you know the fucking rogue’s got a gun, yes?”
“The husband, you mean? And why should I care whether he’s got a gun or not?’’
“Anyhow, you may’ve set upon the right track there.”
“The lady, you think?” the Spaniard asked. “To be strictly accurate, I have been comparing her in my mind with someone,” he stopped short.
“Ach so! Scheisse!” groaned the German: he had burned himself with the lighter, trying to light another cigarette “All right, the damned landlady’s a good fuck, yes? No fucking doubt ‘bout it.” And there followed a prolonged laugh.
“It’s no laughing matter,” Galvao said, angrily. “And you’re a dirty dog, yes? The poor woman’s suffered a lot. She was telling me.”
“Bah! She’s a crazy one, anyhow. Yes! A nymphomaniac too.”
“Listen, fellow, you’d better be careful, yes?”
“Because of Krappov’s gun?”
“The missus too. She bites.”