Emigration and human race are all one. War produces displaced people. White Australia policy during the forties and fifties continued to attract people form the British Isles and numerous refugees from Middle and Eastern Europe to start a new life.
Fernando García Izquierdo
They were called refugees, sometimes reffos; the war had brought about a lot of ruin and suffering, and sent people scattering all over that part of the continent which was once called Middle Europe. For many there was no longer a home, a family or a fatherland. That was the reason why they wandered about, searching hopelessly among the dead and the general ruin. No wonder it was being said of them, those days, that they had lost their bearings. Nearly every town and city had been bombed off the map. Even the villages near the roads or rail tracks had been bombed from the air or destroyed by artillery fire.
They came from the north; they came from the south; they came from the west… but mainly they came from the east. They glimpsed a light on the horizon, and that light was America, the distant paradise of everybody’s dreams, the land of the free. Rumours were spreading that the Red Army was occupying the land, destroying the little the war had left standing. The fact was that the Soviet people had paid dearly for their part in the war, in number of victims and destruction of their cities and towns. But, now that the war was over, fingers were pointed at them, describing them as savages and destroyers; images had been printed representing them in their fur caps with knives between their dirty fangs: ogres about to devour your children.
Women had suffered horribly during and after the war. And now there was always a small group of them, gliding to and fro, going from country to crounty, looking for their dear ones, of whom they had had no news. Perhaps they were dead, or interned in a concentration camp. They came sometimes across some returning soldier, or a group of ragged, nearly naked men who were trudging along, survivals in the general carnage or escapees from some extermination camp. The women asked them, hoping perhaps someone had seen the lost dear one.
There was, among these young women, a Polish girl of twenty, called Silwia, beautiful even in her distress: plaited blond hair, blue eyes, little pointed nose, and rosy cheeks. Years ago she had been a happy girl in a family of peasants in the village of Nojewo. She had had the misfortune of falling in love, when she was seventeen, with a young soldier of the invading army. One day the German boy left with his unit to fight in the east. In 1943, after the Germans were defeated in Stalingrad, and the loved one not coming back, Silwia had left her village. Like in a dream she went east. Moving shadows were passing in the opposite direction; and one day she found herself moving west, like the rest. They trudged on, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Always silent, desperate.
Travelling by day, sleeping on the side of the road at night, she saw in her imagination her country, her people, her childhood and all that happiness now gone; yet, she passed the village and went on, without stopping. Days and nights. Eating when she found someone who gave her a chunk of stale black bread. Giving a rest to her tired legs when someone offered her a lift in a car, more often a lorry. After she passed several check-points, manned by soldiers of the Soviet Army, she knew she had entered Germany. Sleeping again among the silver birches, finding a good soul who helped her, with food, or offered her a lift; but most likely she would find herself trudging along on foot. One day she came upon a large place entirely in ruins. Somehow she reached an elevation, overlooking the the entire city. By her side she saw blocks of marble or granite, a round tile or something which must have been part of a dome was glittering in the light of the approaching evening, as bright as if it had been a piece of gold, but all the rest was grey. Lying of the ground at her feet, a large piece of granite, part of the head of a man with a crown, that seemed to look at her. She moved away among the stones, weeds and decay which were seen all around.
She stalked about looking for a place where to lie down and have a rest, and again everywhere she went all was shattered, statues, fountains, palaces and temples. Lofty blades of dark-green grass, between the stones and the many pieces of glass…. and the vision suddenly melted away in the gleam of the diminishing light of the day. When she came to, she heard someone crying in a sort of whole, among some broken columns, and she began to run, terribly frightened. A wind was blowing as she started her descent towards the mysterious ruined city. Jumping between the slabs still left of what must have been a stone stairway, always going down towards the ruins down below, she heard the sound of footsteps behind her, and as she turned her head slightly round, she perceived the shadow of a man, coming to catch her. She cried something in Polish. The man grabbed her hand and murmured something, not in German, but in a language very much like her own. They were standing, facing one another, and without uttering another word, they sat down together on a large block of granite. He said he was Dmitri, Ukrainian.
It was early autumn, a full moon shone bright and high, and here, before them, slightly below their view-point, lay the entire city of Dresden. Not a building remained, not a street, lane or avenue which could be traced. In some parts a single brick wall was standing, like a lofty monument to the total destruction produced by the continuous bombing of the place. There was something that looked like an important river in the distance. They could glimpse the waterway in the moonlight. The River Elbe, going to the North Sea, majestic, broad and shining bright. Yet, no sound was coming from it, no fluvial traffic, no life at all in all that city of the dead: Silwia and Dmitri were holding hands, close together. They travelled together, the desolation of Dresden left behind, always moving west, and avoiding the big conglomerations, accepting quite gladly any lift that was offered. Soon the check points were manned by British soldiers. Neither of them spoke a word of the language, but the guards let them pass through as soon as they realized they were escapees from the east.
It was a cold night, when they came across the first American sentries, who again let them pass without much ado. The couple entered a small town, still burning, without seeing anyone. And, on the road again. They reached a small house by the road. It was Dmitri who first saw a small light in it. Taking the young woman by her arm, he knocked at the door. At the beginning nobody replied; but when Dmitri, showed, through the peephole, some banknotes in his hand, the door was opened ajar, then wide open, and a man let them in and allowed them to use one of the beds in the house, in exchange for some money.
The following day they reached the river Rhine and crossed into France. The two had hardly communicated with one another during the journey, or had said very little about their respective lives. But now, in France, as if the fear had gone out of his heart, Dmitri told Silwia about his home, his village near the Polish border, and the town where he went to university. Both knew they had embarked on a journey of no return.
It became easier to get a lift now, and they reached Orleans in the evening. A woman told them that, if they went on, they would come upon a hostel which had recently been opened. “Une auberge de jeunesse toute neuve,” she said. They found the place, and Silwia and Dmitri separated to spend the night in two different sections of the hostel. In the morning, when she woke up, she did not find him in the communal kitchen, as they had agreed the day before. After breakfast she sat outside waiting. Never had she felt so desolate. She felt in her soul, suddenly all the anguish, all the loneliness of the refugee.
She was seated on a patch of grass, near a tower, half destroyed and grass-grown. And there, without moving or turning to look around, she spent part of the day. Round white clouds were drifting in the blue sky. Not a man or woman, not a dog or goat or cat around, or a bird in the air. Only a butterfly, circling about, came for a while to give her company. At night, Dmitri came back to the hostel. She was then in the communal kitchen. He sat at the same table, facing her. They talked, as they had done during the journey, in their respective languages, and they understood one another perfectly. He said he had been to Orleans and visited the U.S. Army Headquarters. Pressing her hand he said that he had never thought this could happen to him: he had fallen in love with her, but it could not be. Stopping short, without letting go of her hand, he stood up, and she stood up with him. There, at the door of the hostel, they stood, and in the dark he confessed that he was no ordinary refugee. With wonder and surprise Silwia listened to Dmitri, without flinching; not a tear came out of her eyes, though her heart was torn. She heard his confession. In Kiev he had collaborated with the invading German army. He was a devout Roman Catholic, she knew, and he hated communism, as she would, if she had remained in Poland. They would not let me enter Britain, he went on: the British were different. Or if they let him in, they would lock him in jail, or send him to a prisoner-of-war camp. He had enlisted with the Americans, registered as an auxiliary in the army, and perhaps, one day, he would be allowed to emigrate to America. He said all this with tears in his eyes; and she could only say to him: “Good-bye, then, dear Dmitri!” He went away, and she turned back to sleep one more night in the hostel, alone.
Silwia took the train to Paris, with the money which Dmitri had insisted on sharing with her. Then another train to Dieppe, where she took the ferry. In Newhaven they gave her at once, as an escapee from communism, an entry visa, allowing her to work in the United Kingdom. She lived in a camp and worked in farms and in a canning factory, mostly green peas and jams of all kinds.
One day, she journeyed to London and visited the Australian High Commissioner’s Office, and was given a visa to emigrate Down Under. She learned out of the blue that she qualified for what the officer called “assisted pasage”. The liner arrived at Sydney after six weeks navigating on the high seas, with ports of call in many countries. And finally, the S.S.Himalaya arriving, all her decks full of migrants contemplating the land which would soon be theirs, wonderful and promising. The sun was still high in the marvellous blue sky, a marvellously long cliff of rugged rocks, grey on the top and almost black towards the bottom, some two hundred feet below.
As the ship sailed on, Silwia, on one of the upper decks, began to see very clearly the impressive cliffs, a line of green on the top, and all along, clusters of lovely houses between the trees and some greenery; and the rugged cliffs continually being battered by a wild sea, the waves breaking against the rocks, white foam spreading all over. And a small sandy beach now and then.
The passengers on the liner contemplated enthusiastically the promised land. And yet, some of the coming migrants’ thoughts now turned suddenly to the old country; hopes, fears, that same sorrow they had experienced back home unexpectedly came back: might it all not recommence one day? They saw they were heading towards a point of the coast where the cliff opened, as it were, to receive them: two close promontories, the Heads, north and south, beyond which there was an immense blue bay, Port Jackson. The New Australians, young and old, some couples with children who had been provided with little paper flags…, some were talking, others singing, or laughing…; but some, too, silently weeping.
The end of their long journey. A new life was starting.
The Spaniard heard the landlady moaning in her bedroom as he came out of the kitchen into the corridor. The door was ajar, but, after a moment’s hesitation, he moved quietly upstairs, deep in thought. He found Heribert in the room they shared. They had seldom got together for a long talk during the four days Luis had occupied one of the beds in the room; for the German worked in the dockyards and had until now only done night shift, sleeping most of the day, while Galvao was out. He noticed the man had left his jacket and shirt on a chair and was now sitting on his bed, undoing the laces of his work-boots.
“Good evening!” Galvao greeted.
‘’Ach so!’’ his room-companion uttered. ‘’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?’’
“A bloody New Australian, then?” he sneered.
“Aren’t you a New Australian too?” Luis questioned in turn.
“Well, I suppose so, yes,” the German said, glumly. “I’ve come assisted passage, what about you?”
“No, no assisted passage for me. I’m Spanish, you see. I thought assisted passage was offered only to migrants from the British Isles. Is it not so? Anyhow, I paid for my passage.”
After a few moments, the German went on:
“I am an escapee from communism, that is why.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Escaping from communism, you are entitled to claim…”
“But you come from Cologne,” Luis cut the German off, “that’s what you told me when we first met. Germany, British Zone. Köln, that’s what I was given to understand.”
The German snorted. “Ach so! Yes, I told you. But at the beginning, I mean, when war was declared, I was living in Dresden. Have you heard of the bombing there, yes?”
“Yes, of course.”
Heribert said nothing and Luis thought to add: “Yes, of course. The city suffered a lot during the war. Is that why… you came, I mean, as a refugee?”
The German became thoughtful in a moment, the palm of one hand under his chin, and then he said in a harsh voice: “They did enough damage, the bastards. They said they would convert Germany into a country of shepherds. Yes!”
Not knowing now what to say, Luis mumbled: “Yes, as you say, they did… in all the country, I suppose, but in the east. Anyhow I saw the damage in the British Zone too. In Cologne. I never went to Dresden. I happened to be there, I mean, in Cologne, Kóln, as you say. I was a student. Even then the city was…”
“Fucking Royal Air Force! R! A! F! Yes?” Heribert cried, not letting the Spaniard complete his sentence. “Them bombs respected nothing… even the Dom was destroyed. We lived near some chemical plants. Mother was killed during the bombings.”
“You were… I mean unlucky” the Spaniard said, somewhat stupidly.
“Ach, yes! Fucking unlucky,” Heribert wailed. He was trembling.
Luis, trying to pacify the fellow, commented: “So much destruction, I know it was the case of… there was a war, of course. All the same… those English aviators, hell!”
There was a long pause again. Heribert made an odd gesture, lifting his right arm, the hand flat, palm downwards. He made a hissing noise, moving his hand, then cried: “Poom, poom!” He swept his brow with that same hand. “English bastards, yes? I could murder them, Scheisse!”
“I’m sorry for yer... your mother. Your father… escaped?”
“No. He wasn’t there! Didn’t I bloody tell you I lived in Dresden. Three years. I was a small child!” Heribert was glaring at the map on the wall. “Father was killed on the eastern front. Mum and I came back: Köln. Now you understand, yes?”
“Sorry to hear…”
Heribert was not listening. “I was in Dresden with Mum, yes. Father’d been billeted there,” he said. “Then Stalingrad. Fucking Soviets. But the British too. Leipzig, Meissen, Dresden. Carpet-bombing, you know, yes? They didn’t leave anything. That’s why we left, poor Mum and I. There was nothing left, you see.”
“And it was then you went to Cologne. Köln, as you say?”
Heribert was still thoughtful. “But, you see,” he began, “for the British Authorities I still came from the east, an escapee from communism.”
“Oh, yes! I understand now.”
“Sheisse, you don’t. You can’t understand anything, that suffering. I was twenty when I came to Australia. Of course I got assisted passage. You know, yes?” And for no reason that Luis could understand, he laughed, loudly.
“And here we are,” Luis said, hoping to change the subject, “New Australians both of us. That was the question, wasn’t it?”
“No. The question was whether you’ve come assisted passage.”
“Well, you know. I haven’t.”
“But I have, Scheisse,” the German said. He pointed at a large piece of cardboard on the wall, divided into a number of squares, one hundred or more; more, many more. A numeral in each square. The majority of the squares had been crossed out.
“A calendar, obviously. All the days of my bannishment are there.”
“Sheisse! Don’t you understand? Two years. Haven’t you heard? I make one cross there every day and…”
Luis had not been listening. He had been undressing all the while, and now got ready to go to sleep. He lifted his left arm: ‘’Please, let us drop it,” he said, “because if I don’t… I shall never fall asleep.’’
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, and 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. He scarcely slept forty or fifty minutes, and he dreamt. As it happened today:
… it seemed to him that time and space had moved on and he had done not a thing with his life in that time: the wind was taking him here and taking him there, and he was unable to do anything. He saw a figure passing by, a blond woman, transparent like an angel. And she went down a ravine. He tried to do something and fell in a creek, the water coming furiously down the ravine; and he began to fear for his life. For he was suffocating. He shouted, calling for help.
‘’Aren’t you asleep?’’ he heard. There was a cloud of smoke around him
‘’You know, I’ve seen you talking to the missus, downstairs,” said the German, proceeding to stamp his cigarette out on the wooden floor.
‘’Well, what of it?’’
There was a pause, after which Heribert observed with an unpleasant guffaw: ‘’You know that the fucking rogue’s got a gun, yes?’’
‘’The husband, you mean? And why should I care whether he’s got a gun or not?’’
‘’Ach that! You ought to know,’’ Heribert replied rather vaguely. ‘’Anyhow, you may’ve set upon the right track there.”
“Why?” the Spaniard asked. “To be strictly accurate, I have…”
The German howled; he had been trying to light another cigarette and had burnt his finger. “Ach!” he groaned. “All right, the damned lady’s got a good fuck, yes? No fucking doubt ‘bout it.” He had succeeded with the lighter and was now sucking his second cigarette. “That’s why,’’ he said, blowing out the smoke, and there followed that devilish laugh of his.
‘’It’s no laughing matter,’’ Galvao said, angrily. ‘’And you’re a dirty dog, yes? The poor woman’s suffered a lot. She was telling me.’’
‘’Bah! She’s a crazy one, anyhow. A nymphomaniac too. All the same, you’d better be careful, my friend.’’
‘’Because of Krappov’s gun?’’
‘’The missus too. She bites.’’
A slight change took place in Galvao’s life after that. He felt more and more curious about the landlady, and he did all he could to come across her, in the house or in the courtyard, when she was hanging the cloths after a washing.
When leaving the factory after work, there was no question now of following his mates to Pyrmont Hotel for a drink. Neither did he catch a bus to the Eastern Suburbs for a view of the ocean, as he had done sometimes in the afternoon after work to she the sky, the ocean and that dividing line, the horizon.
He rushed home to Harris Street, after work, for he now wanted so much to see Malgorata, perhaps in the communal kitchen.
Today he found her standing by the copper boiler in the adjoining laundry, a wicker basket in her hands. Though windows and doors to the backyard were open, it was very warm, and her particular corner of the large room was full of steam. It smelt unpleasantly of cheap soap. Malgorata was alarmed to see him, for she was in a rather shapeless dress and did not look her best at that moment. As soon as she had shoved all her washing into the boiler, she left the basket on the floor and went away, giving Galvao a sidelong glance as she passed by.
On another occasion, when Luis Galvao came into the room, Malgorata looked calmer, seated as she was at table. He walked up to the fridge, got a couple of things out, and took a seat, facing her, and after a while he asked :
‘’Well, how is life treating you?’’
She smiled, and he went on, rather tactlessly: ‘‘You know… I can’t understand you. Well, I mean, why do you sometimes avoid me…’’ he stopped short.
But she still said nothing. She was biting her nails, not vehemently, but rather as if she were licking the tips of her fingers, all the time looking him in the face.
‘’Are you afraid of me, is that it?’’ Galvao insisted.
‘’Of him, then?’’
She assented in silence, scarcely moving anything but her eyelids, on which there was a film of silvery-blue eye-shadow.
‘’I also bite my nails,’’ he said, rather to comfort her, showing his hands, the palms down, ‘’you see?’’
Again her long eyelashes moved, but she still uttered not a word.
They both went of eating. Presently she muttered, a warm flush surging into her cheeks.
‘’But he won’t be here till Saturday.”
Galvao hesitated, mumbled a few unintelligible words, and the landlady went on.
“Sometimes he comes on Friday. But he won’t this week, for he goes with the rangers.’’
He remembered something Heribert had told him. ‘’Rifle practising?’’ he asked.
‘’Yes. And to kill kangaroos. Oh, he’s got horrible friends!’’
‘’So, we shall have to be careful,’’ Luis said, half in earnest, half in jest.
She threw him a glance full of mystery. ‘’You are so kind… and so good-looking,’’ she said rather sadly.
‘’Now, don’t cry again,” he said. For she had taken one hand to her eye.
‘’I won’t let them cause you any harm,’’ she said bravely, snapping her fine teeth like a little wild animal.
After a pause Galvao observed: ‘’You haven’t asked me my name.’’
‘’But I know it. It is Lewis, is it not?’’
‘’Well not Lewis, but Luis, pronounced at one go.’’
‘’It sounds lovely on your lips,’’ he said, with an arch glance.
Her eyes were glistening, and she burst out into sobbing, drawing her hand across her lips and choking.
“Come on!” he exhorted, touching her right arm.
The young woman had taken her hand to her eyes, making a mess of her mascara and she now looked like a horrible child, pursing her lips and yet trying to smile. He stared fixedly across the table, for he found her pretty: that roundish rosy face, which made her so attractive if she smiled, as at that moment. But his own timidity paralysed him. He was absorbed in the contemplation of her little round ears, almost hidden in the blond curls, and those two row of perfectly white teeth. She reminded him so much of that English girl so beautiful he had once called “my love”!
Some mumbling, isolated words, came out of her mouth the while: “Oh!” she cried, still rubbing her eye, “I’ll... yes, I’ll show you. I… I want… I’ll play the violin, so… you can see… I’ll show you! For ye’ve been so kind.”
‘’Come on, Malgorata,’’ he soothed her, ‘’be of good cheer!’’ He clasped her free hand in his; but she tore free from him and made a dash to the door. Galvao heard her locking the door of her bedroom, and then, for a very short time, the sound of the violin.
On Friday Luis Galvao arrived back home earlier than usual. He had been rushing all the way, and when he entered the kitchen, panting and out of breath, he found it empty. He went with a bottle of milk to the door that led to the backyard, which was open but for a wooden frame with fine metallic wiring, the whole adjusted to the doorway, outside. The wiring was full of grease and dust and dirt, and at places the bodies of dead mosquitoes. Drinking his milk and eating some biscuits, he peered through this netting at the empty yard outside (or back-garden, as it was also called), full of dead plants and weeds, rough sticks and lumber and a garbage tin with a loose metal top, the dirt showing all around . There was, towards the end of the long yard, an old car, left there to rust and to serve as refuge to about a dozen stray cats and kittens.
Going out into the passage he noticed the door of the downstairs bedroom was ajar, and peeping inside he saw Malgorata in her night-gown, her delicate pale face inclined over the violin, some golden locks falling over her eyes and the bow ready in the other hand.
She knew she was being watched, and she played marvellously for a few minutes, radiant with intellectual beauty and sweet like an angel. She stopped suddenly and raised her bow, beckoning him, ‘’Come here!’’
He stepped in, absolutely bewitched, and although she made an effort to stop him, he took her in his arms, and kissed and caressed her. She immediately drew away from him, bounced across the room, which was a double-room with a Roman arch in the middle. He saw her opening a drawer of a chest or cupboard and shutting it again. She came back pressing a big album against her chest, sat down on the bed under the standard lamp, placed the album on her thighs and opened it, giving Luis Galvao a triumphal glance.
They went through the album together; and she pointed out with her forefinger, explaining the details of each picture and giving the names of places and the dates. They all were photographs of her own person, and almost always playing the violin, from the age of five till she was an adolescent and won prizes in Vienna and other capitals; and later in concerts, during the tours. And Galvao thought that in all of them she looked most charming; and particularly when she won that first prize in Vienna. She received these praises with girlish pleasure.
‘’I still have this dress,’’ she giggled. Her face was glowing and shining.
‘’Malgorata,’’ he said in admiration, ‘’ there is no girl so beautiful as you.’’
She had already stood up, stripped herself of her night-gown, and bounded to the wardrobe stark naked. Giving her back to him, she wriggled and twisted on her toes, pushing and rummaging among an array of dresses and other clothes in different states of conservation, until she got the desired apparel and slipped it on with a final very sexy wiggle. It was a black silk evening dress; yet not so long as to hide her pretty rounded calves; moreover, although at first she had appeared to him awfully thin, all her forms now showed to advantage in a good dress that had obviously been made for a more childish body: her little dimpled belly, her firm childish breasts, the shoulders, her back and dizzily curving buttocks. And she knew all this. It could be seen in her glowing smile.
Luis also stood up and held her by her shoulders, the palms of his hands pressing the two puffed-up little sleeves, which made her look more athletic, more womanish than she was.
“Lovely! Oh, my love!,” he exclaimed.
‘’You like it?’’ she asked with mischievous relish. She went back to the wardrobe, looking at herself in the mirror, and as she met Galvao’s eyes her cheeks flushed. Then she turned round with a flourish and approached him.
He caught her in his arms in the middle of this flourish, and they danced. Then, wriggling out of his embrace, she trotted off to the opposite side of the bed, Galvao following her. And this time he caught her tightly by the waist.
‘’No, don’t touch me like that,’’ she cried, shrinking from him. ‘’I like to be stroked like a pussy cat, please.’’
Whereupon he clutched her slim waist with both hands and slipped them tenderly down, caressing the soft tissue along the thighs; and, on his knees, kissed her and pressed his lips endearingly upon her forms. He remained in that position for a long moment, as if in ecstasy. Then she lifted him by his arms, and bending her head backwards pressed her supple frame against his, and when he bent his body forward she let him kiss her open mouth. Her eyes became glazed of a sudden, but her body was warm and endearing. Their lips had united in a kiss of love, and the tip of her tongue was caressing his. Until suddenly he felt like an electric shock, and a most excruciating pain in his tongue; and he saw her trembling frame drawing away, crouching. She was laughing and crying all at once. He was stunned, and for a moment unable to speak, the taste of blood now in his mouth. She came back to him, begging him, imploring him to forgive her. She hadn’t meant to do it; it was an accident, really, she forgot herself.
‘’Oh, I’m so grieved to’ve hurt you!’’ she went on, with tears in her eyes. ‘’I love you, I love you. Please, believe me. Don’t go, don’t go away!’’
‘’Mm… Malgorata,’’ he mumbled, and he felt that excruciating pain again, ‘’I believe you. You d… didn’t m… mean it. But… can’t explain… Good-bye.’’
Going out, as he turned to close the door, Galvao saw her crouching on her knees, her head resting on the edge of the bed, crying disconsolately.
The wide concrete promenade beneath the winter sun looks ghostly empty at this early hour. After a short brisk walk, which he takes in the vain hope of shrugging off his nervous agitation, he stops and gazes at the unbounded ocean, his elbows on the parapet, his cheeks on the palms of his hands, and his mouth gaping wide to allow the soft breeze to cool his lacerated tongue.
For a while he follows the flight of a dark rare bird overhead. Soaring. Until it becomes a mere black speck in the immense light-blue expanse and disappears for evermore. At length he goes down the stone steps and stars plodding on the soft yellow sand. A large dog is ambling near the shore, sniffing the wet sand, then chasing a low flying seagull, trotting and yelping. Suddenly, noticing the presence of Galvao, it advances towards the intruder, growling most horribly. Galvao at once stops short, pale and silent, and the dog starts barking again, its snout lifted up. A whistling sound is heard. A man in a yellow oilskin jacket and black rubber boots sits static on the rocks at the other end of the beach. And the dog at once turns round, lopes off at a gallop, trying to avoid the rolling waves, until it reaches the man, splashing and barking.
Slowly, wearily Galvao paces down upon the sand, towards the misty shore, hardly noticing that as he approaches the water the ground sinks under his feet. He stands with his hands behind his back, casting a longing lingering look at the dim horizon far away.
… and the vision of an elegant silvery-white liner sailing away to distant lands. He thinks of the old country. The things that made up his life before exist no more; and those that exist around him, are not related to him at all. And he thinks of his poor beloved girl-friend, falling in the storms of that fascist country. Another face, another frustrated relationship: a girl so much like his own Margaret. He’d had her in his arms. No, not like his English girl. But still so beautiful! she turned out to be… False, entirely false. It wouldn’t be the same. She could not help him to allay his fears and sorrows, as his own sweetheart would have done. He’s only deceiving himself! Oh, Malgorata! She’d made fun of him, oh crazy one! And, yet what an adorable girl!
Luis Galvao feels the dampness penetrating through the soft polished leather; for his shoes, slowly but surely, have been sinking in the wet bubbling sand. Still musing, as he turns round.
‘And I am the man true and faithful who, but a few years ago, was swearing eternal love to the nicest, most intelligent girl in the world!’
Trudging painfully up the beach, back to the stone steps, his shoes heavy with seawater and sand. By now some strollers are seen on the promenade, where the glittering plastic benches are all occupied, in most cases, by a single individual, nearly always stock-still; some licking their upper lips like chimpanzees, or brushing their teeth with their tongue; some watching the silky flight of the seagulls; some simply staring at the horizon, eyes hardly open.
‘’Good morning,’’ he mumbles as he sits on one of the comfortable benches, stamping his feet to shake the sand off the shoes. A grey-haired man at the other end of the seat turns his head round and fixes his empty gaze on the New Australian. Silence that lasts one moment, a few seconds, minutes, hours… or a whole eternity?
‘Is he a human being who has given up the ghost, or is he a still-born human-like creature, a phantom, a nothingness?’
Luis stands up and walks away. Individuals of both sexes, silent and solitary, glide past as he strolls on; or are seated on the benches, some twenty yards from one another. And the rich black soil of the flower-beds in between: early daffodils, narcissi, velvety pansies of all shades, daisies and other buds he can’t put a name to.
… good Lord Jesus. what a long journey! So many thousand miles! To live alone and without a purpose in this most wonderful new world, selected of all lands to be inhabited by the best and most deserving portion of the human race! Oh, Luis… Luis Galvao, awake and do something, or your life will become a hopeless flight! Act, now. Do something, or you shall have lived in vain! The years will pass. You will no longer be a young man. Discouraged, tired, your energy, zest, willpower, all gone!
… and yet, and yet, oh, how he’d have liked to close his aching eyes this minute, to have a long sleep… and then, upon awakening, to hear the old familiar sound, that sublime babble, those peals of merry laughter. If he had been that lucky, he’d dash to open the shutters wide to let in the clear morning light and feel the gentle zephyr from the Guadarrama Mountains on his face. Oh, to behold the revered places, the never-forgotten streets of his childhood thronged with strollers, his friends, his comrades, his own people!
Work at the factory ended at four thirty, he rushed through his personal tidying and at five he was at Railway Square catching a tram for Bondi Beach. He walked along the promenade under the bright sunshine, receiving the cold maritime breeze on his face and watching the frothing rollers and the flight of the seagulls and other birds. Eventually he stops before a snack stand, and buys a steak-and-kidney pie and a drink, and goes down to the sands to have his lunch squatting at the foot of the tall stone parapet, his eyes fixed on the horizon and in his mind images of things past… and that ceaseless gloom. And while he was thus squatting against the stone wall, there was of a sudden a slight change in the weather. And though the sky was still blue, the breeze had turned into a terrific wind.
An old abandoned newspaper lies nearby, half-hidden in a hill of sand, its fluttering yellowed pages producing a rustling sound, like a lady’s fan. He’s now sprawled over the soft warm sand, his eyes fiched on the yellowed sheets. The noise eventually lulls him to sleep. He is awakened from a slight slumber by the calls of a dozen nymphs on the wet hard sand farther down the beach. Some are springing up and down, others skipping nimbly over the drifting waves, and all laughing and chattering and splashing one another. Such innocent faces! Oh, what pleasure beauty brings! He would have undressed himself and gone down in his swimmers to talk to the pretty ones and go with them into the billowing water. Some young men are seen striding down the beach with those resplendent surfboards, which are almost part of their bodies, under their arms. They drop their boards on the sand and sit down in a row, holding their knees with both hands, looking at the nymphs at play, still skipping, still shouting, still giggling. Of a sudden a sylphlike creature, out of the blue, treads on the yellow sand towards the frightening ocean.
Like in a dream, Luis watches the young girl. She looks so superior, her eyes gazing at the sky, her back straightened up, her little buttocks sticking out, both arms holding the surfboard like a baby, and her long legs so preciously marching on. She lays her surfboard over the agitated surface, and up she jumps, her svelte body lying full length on the board. She paddles for a while with her arms and pretty hands going up a hill of frothing water, coming down a deep-blue valley; another foaming crest and down again, until she has distanced herself sufficiently from the shore. She turns round, her keen eyes watching, her body and thighs still glued to the board and lifting her shapely calves and dainty feet in the air, splashing all the while, paddling mostly with one arm to complete the circle… Then, up she stands. And there she comes, riding the waves, stretching out her arms like the wings of a bird, approaching like a goddess, gliding over the frothing crests, coming down and climbing up again, at times quite invisible; as the waves turn into rollers as she comes nearer, she gets unexpectedly caught under the cavernous curve of the whole rolling mass, the fearful ‘breakers’, but she keeps calm and crouches most elegantly under the foam, bending down her legs so that her buttocks almost touch the board, hands ready and her whole divine body tense, quite prepared for the worst…, that awfully roaring mountain breaking on the sand; and there they are, board and surfer safely gliding on the wet bubbling sand.
Luis Galvao watches the heavenly long-haired nymph trudging up the beach, panting and shivering, and not the slightest expression of happiness or otherwise on her pretty face. She stops before the stone parapet, where she had previously left her belongings, props the surfboard against the wall, and dries herself thoroughly with a large yellow towel, the same colour as her hair, which she presently combs with a tiny plastic brush.
So near and so far away!
He is tormented by a wild desire to posses the girl; like going to her and saying “I love you!” then kissing those long golden tresses glowing green with the salt, under the strong sun… or like touching with his lips her little pointed nose, those cheeks full of freckles, her dimpled chin and her full purple-red lips… or getting hold of the towel and caressing with it her shoulders, her tender body so enchanting, those poor goose pimples.
… oh love! what a delight flinging my arms round the sweet sun-tanned lovely neck; falling the two of us down together and making love on the warm sand!
He sighs. Why, she’s only a school-girl, while he… hell, he’s probably twice her age! A lonesome man in a foreign land, surrounded everywhere by the prettiest, most sculptural young ladies ever to be imagined, that is what he is. ‘Oh, Malgorata!’ That disappointment has cost him dearly. Mauled by a golden pussy-cat ever so sweet! Could it be true?
‘’Is this here paper yours, mate?’’ Luis Galvao hears a man’s broken voice nearby.
It is a tramp who has come down onto the sands to see if he can find some useful rubbish.
‘’No,” he shouts, “take the bloody thing and be off with you !’’
By then, the young blonde has disappeared. And nobody else is down by the sea. So, shrugging his shoulders, Luis Galvao collects his things and goes away. On the promenade, he catches the first bus that goes to Central Railway and from the terminus walks to Harris Street.
Luis Galvao was awakened by the sound of bells, which came to remind him that the week-end was not over and the landlord was still in the house. He could just hear the couple bustling on the ground floor getting ready to go out. After exchanging a few polite words with his room-companion, who had also been awakened by the noise, Luis went downstairs. The Krappovs had already left to attend mass at St Chatherine’s, for they were Roman Catholic, he knew. Alone in the kitchen, he prepared himself some breakfast and half an hour later, having got dressed, back in his room, he again went down and scampered out of the building.
He had the time to review the circumstances of his life as he strolled in the empty streets of the city, a thing which for some morbid reason he often did of a Sunday, rain or sunshine. It was so strange for a native-born Mediterranean to behold such an important metropolis quite deserted, on a Sunday of all days.
Everyting looked to him so different from ordinary working days, when there always was a continuous flow of cars, bumper-to-bumper; and the fumes and the noise, ever a multitude of Sydneysiders rushing and whirling along on the pavements and at the zebra crossings, on their way to work, each one carrying his or her bag or briefcase, which more often than not only contained a box of sandwiches and a thermos full of tea.
To be sure, some motorcars were seen nevertheless, suburban dwellers crossing the City to go to the seaside for the most part. For a glorious sun was shining over the entire length and breadth of the great metropolis. He could perceive its effects, though actually barred from his view by a sturdy overhanging which, like a very long canopy, covered the pavements of the main commercial avenues of the City.
A solitary stroller in town, assaulted from all sides by the snares of Capitalism, many different products glittering provocatively in the windows of CLOSED shops and magazines: manikins, teddy-bears, hosiery, cosmetics, drugs, perfumes, machines, radios and television sets… Signs everywhere, offering a thousand dazzling commodities. Innumerable boards and posters, pictures, lights, designs, high-sounding words spelt out in a multitude of colours and scripts. All big lies leading to anxiety and complete perpetual misery: DRINK A COKE, GUINESS IS GOOD FOR YOU, COME ALIVE WITH PEPSI, ETA PEANUT BUTTER, SMOKE A MALBORO’, STILL WALKING WITH JOHNNY WALKER, PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK, IXL CANNED FOODS, PUT THE IDEA IN YOUR BRAIN, FLY ANSETT-ANA TO SURFERS’ PARADISE, CHOOSE COPPERTONE, FREEDOM OF CHOICE, DON’T BE VAGUE ASK FOR HAIG, OH! UNCLE TOBY YOUR OATS ARE DELIGHFUL, ALL WITH BILLY GRAHAM TO THE STADIUM. On the walls, on the shop-windows, on the façades of the houses and roof-tops, everywhere: advertising, pushing, promotion, everything for sale… the terrible headache of a Free-World existence
And not a soul in town! On a plastered cement wall, between two big commercial establishments, someone has spelt out the word Eternity ! A message. Luis has seen it often before, ever since his arrival in Sydney. Why, what does it mean… that word, that empty concept, the white radiance of eternity, which in any case is impossible to conceive? Life ever-lasting, so what. Always and everywhere the same rant. Three, four, five millennia of civilization, and still as primitive a race of bipeds as when the early hominids trod the Earth. Eternity indeed, the fear of death turned into a philosophy, the most retrograde of mankind’s manufactured cant.
Whoever might they be? Who goes about, everywhere, scribbling such a meaningless word, always the same script-form, invariably done in yellow chalk, and ever that sort of flourish underneath, like a signature. On wooden palings and plastered walls, on the façades of houses and public buildings, on the steps of stone flights leading to churches, libraries, universities and town halls, smearing the pavements and footpaths, the concrete floors and stone slabs of plazas and squares, streets and avenues, blind lanes and alleyways… always quite open to the view of strollers and other pedestrians trudging along, their minds heavily loaded with numbers and problems: crouching shadows or real phantoms, their heads bent down, eyes fixed on the ground, legs heavy and arms ever hanging limply along the tired bodies…. There it is! The impertinent message, hitting the solitary wanderer in the eye, the native and the immigrant. Just an impression, an idea which from the half-closed eyes goes on. An image, an emotion beating on, circulating through the blood, on and on into the spinal cord… and maybe, maybe (who knows!) even right up into a brain-of-sorts. Eternity! Eternity! Eternity!
And yet perhaps Luis Galvao’s got it wrong, perhaps nobody cares: Eternity, religion, music, dinners, football… what not? One more commercial message, that’s all. For everyone has his or her own life to live, a life of sorts to which nothing may be added, no more room. Maybe the solitary strollers with or without the yellow chalk are above all just zombies, without problems or fears that might be rotting still more their miserable rotten lives… Or perhaps the message is right – who know? Maybe there is after all an everlasting life beyond, after death, a superhuman or semidivine existence up there somewhere… If so, let´s hope it is a little bit less absurd than this one on Earth!
Some buses, full of animated people, are seen arriving at Circular Quay, some twenty bus-stops, more or less, all around. And under the expressway that comes from the east and goes gently up towards the Harbour Bridge, there is a railway station which takes the suburban traffic, too, and now brings from the south and the west, where the less privileged citizens live, equally numerous happy people. And at once they all proceed, between cement columns, to the jetties, where the ferryboats are waiting.
Galvao stares round at the mass of faces, all along the pavement or in between the concrete columns: dashing to the wharves to embark on the different ferries that will take them to Taronga Park, Balmoral Beach, the Spit and Middle Harbour, the Manly Cove fairground. Families down to the third generation, eager New Australians taking the recently arrived grandparents, who have never seen a zoo in their lives, to admire the platypus, kangaroo, wallaby and koala bear; solitary male migrants boarding the ferries for the sole purpose of having a trip across the perfectly beautiful bay and back. Children everywhere, some wearing thongs, and some even barefoot and just as happy.
The air was intensely clear as Galvao wandered from jetty to jetty. He watched the happy travellers in the rich glow of a sunny morning, on the ferryboats, bending over the rails, their children waving at the people on the quay… and the craft wafting along and eventually losing itself in the distance… The wonderful blue bay full of yachts and other pleasant craft.
A solitary young man, strong and handsome and yet full of nostalgia and pessimism… how different his life would have been if he’d had a normal relationship with a woman he loved; and if they’d had a family as those lucky Australians (Old and New) he’d just seen upon the jetties and on the ferries. That heavy heart, that feeling of homesickness he experienced was nothing but the solitude of a man who constantly sought, and sought in vain, a woman he could call his own. As he lurched along the seashore towards a rocky promontory, some two hundred yards away, the recollection of those tumultuous moments, when he lost the one who could have given him a lifetime of happiness, came vividly back to his mind.
… they were going to get married. Suddenly everything came to naught. A spontaneous demonstration had taken place in the campus of his university, and riots had erupted which swiftly spread through the city: it all ended in disaster. She came and found him embroiled in all sorts of illegal activities. And she proved to be an enthusiastic fighter against fascism.
Sitting on a rock, facing the harbour, Luis Galvao recalls the events that gave rise to their separation back home, the protests, the demos, the riots, and then imprisonment and torture… Such a big failure! And he was part of it, part of that failure. As he looks dreamily at the water, he knows that for him nothing is left but grief.
Some dark clouds were gathering in the east, where Port Jackon bay joined the ocean, announcing heavy showers for the afternoon. And in an instant the sky clouded over, and he had to run back to Circular Quay, where he entered the only eating-place open for the moment on the waterfront, completely drenched in rain.
A mist gathered on his glasses as he anxiously looked around for an empty place to sit and have a meal, the noise of crockery and cutlery and the humming of many conversations in different languages filling the smoky air.
‘’What’ll you have?’’ he hears a feminine voice. He lifts his head and murmurs: ‘’Don… doesn’t matter.’’
‘’Fish and chips, then. Tea, sir?’’
Galvao assents with a slight movement of his head.
‘’Milk and sugar, sir?’’
He does not answer. He is passing his handkerchief over the back of his head and sneezing, one ejection after another.
”I’ll bring you a pot of tea and some milk,’’ the waitress says hurriedly turning away.
Bending his head over his scarcely touched meal, he has failed to realise that one of the men at his table is talking to him. He now feels the touch of a hand on his shoulder. ‘’Buddy, you’re feeling homesick, I know the symptoms. No use getting depressed, whatever the reason, take my advice, buddy. What, don’t you recognise me? Well, I never!’’ Some names are mentioned, mates from the factory. The man now says some words in Italian. Yes, of course, now he has it: he was sometime ago introduced to the man by old Bruno. Somebody else says something in Spanish, a countryman. And they all go back to the English language.
”Hey, mates! Why don’t we all go to the Italian Club, and try and find some girls for the night?’’ someone suggests; but another one disagrees: ‘’You mean Leichhardt? Fuck, it’s too far for me!’’
“Come on! I’ll drive you all in my Holden,’’ the man who knows Bruno says, and turning to Luis, ‘’You too, old fellow, I insist. Now, you must stop brooding, man.’’
The Italian Club, a corner from another continent. A multitude of men in their Sunday-best move about trying to find a female that might be available for a dance. Luis Galvao trudges along, with his newfound pals, among the tables and chairs. They sit in the midst of the noisome crowd, the fumes and the smoke. “Beer!” somone orders. A waiter rushes off. The most attractive women, not many in comparison with the men, have succeeded in gathering about them great crowds of male immigrants, hungry fellows who have known no woman since their arrival in the promised land. To compound their frustration the rosier females, invariably accompanied by their handsome mammas and their terrifying papas, are strictly reserved for the male members of the clan, on the principle that what comes out of the Calabrian and Sicilian landscape belongs as a natural right to the blokes of the village, and full stop. Like the pretty one at the neighbouring table. Her father must be a greengrocer: monstruously huge, with a massive gold chain holding his watch in his waistcoat pocket and a cigar between his teeth. Galvao looks at the girl, sweet and tender like an angel from heaven, a round peaches-and-cream delicate visage with large black eyes where the whites shine blue, and those glorious red lips as she sips her lemonade. There is a smile in her eyes as they cross with his. He is about to stand up and invite the dear one for a dance when a man, as old and ugly as her progenitor, after exchanging a few words with the latter, pulls her by the hand and leads her onto the dance-floor, a rather exiguous space surrounded by the people at the tables.
‘There she goes, pretty like an angel… with that swine! Oh, my love, I’m alone! Always the same. I live in vain!’
A handsome platinum-blonde with the orchestra is intoning a familiar South American song in the Italian language. The dancers pass by his table in waves like fluttering birds. He catches sight of the rosy teenager of a minute ago, in the arms of her fat countryman. He sighs. Their eyes meet again. He blows her a kiss with his hand. Her cherry-red lips curl into a gracious smile. And she is gone, immersed in the twirling mass on the floor, in the middle of the immense hall, and something like a mist now covers his eyes. He hears the beautiful singer, this time in the English language: “I’m an Englishman… From a London bank… In a bowler hat…”
Galvao lowers his gaze to the amber-coloured liquid in the large glass in his hand and again heaves a deep sigh. A fresh one-gallon jar of ice-cold frothing beer has just been laid down on the table; he sees the lines of condensed vapour running along the glass surface, shining like liquid gold.
The drink, the smoke, the twirling mass of embraced men and women describing the same figures again and again, and the heat, the smell and lack of air finally get the better of Luis Galvao, who, without saying a word to his mates, suddenly stands up and bounds across the hall, past the doorman, past the cloakroom, and rushes downstairs to the street. And on the moist pavement, holding onto a lamp-post, he is overcome with nausea.
Crushed by a thousand conflicting thoughts and fears, he plods to the bus-shelter, which is deserted at that hour. Eventually a bus to RAILWAY SQUARE arrives, and he boards it. But at night and in his state he cannot recognise anything, becomes impatient and leaves the bus too soon.
Trudging on towards a tall dark building with the name in neon light GRACE BROS. on top, he realises in the end that he has missed Harris Street. He begins to be conscious of being not only very weak and tired, but also positively sick and feverish. A light rain is falling as he comes out into a sort of open space with a lawn, and several playing-fields in the middle, and two lines of large plane-trees all around. Recognising the place, he strikes across the field in order to reach Harris Street through one of the sidestreets. He has hardly stepped on the wet grass, when he again changes his mind. The trees with their spreading white branches cast ominous shadows on the ground and he thinks he sees a black figure moving under the trees. He steps again on the lawn, to cross the park at once. The noise of footsteps on the wet grass is heard, and then a very weak voice.
‘’Excuse me, sir!’’
He looks round, laying his chin on his jacket lapel. Exhausted and soaking wet, a woman, so far advanced in years as to be almost ageless, now stands before Galvao, perhaps the most piteous vision he has beheld in all his life.
“Sir, have you seen a tiny pussy,’’ wails the woman, pointing her soaked black glove now one way, now another, ‘’going up that way… or down that way… or any way, sir, a small white pussy?’’
“Sorry no, Madam.’’ Galvao mumbles.
And the woman moves away holding her black bonnet with both hands, calling out: ‘’Kitty, kitty…’’
Soon after that Luis reaches Harris Street. The glittering roadway and two pavements are literally covered with the Sunday papers, which the neighbours have left on top of their garbage bins inefficiently secured with a stone or broken brick; and the wind has made the sheets fly in all directions: now they are damp and static. One of the garbage bins must have been overturned by a sudden gust of wind and is lying in the middle of the street: the body of a mangy dog is seen moving inside: only the hind legs and tail are visible. Under the dark bodies of the parked cars, some stray cats are also seen. Galvao looks curiously at the crew of felines, wondering if one of them is the missing white pussy.
Fernando García Izquierdo
9, rue Vernet
78150 LE CHESNAY, France