3 "A Sentimental Journey through Sydney." edited
The world is perishing and migration is a must for entire groups of people, barring others. It will be criminal to say this chunk of earth is exclusively for any masterrace. In the fifties a British Dominion gave assisted passage to white migrants.
3 ‘A sentimental journey through Sydney’ edited
Fernando García Izquierdo
It was a new era Europe was entering into. People and nations had fallen into barbarism and ruin. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Australians who had also participated in the conflict, had opened their arms to receive the escapees who were sailing by the thousands to find a new home.
The large British Dominion, which had been named “Commonwealth of Australia”, invited all those many Europeans to come under the ‘White Australia Policy.’ The full story of the nation is as follows. About a hundred and seventy years earlier, having sailed down the river Thames, the British Channel and other seas including four oceans, and having suffered calamities without end, an exploratory royal fleet of eleven tiny wooden vessels, filled up from the notorious prison hulks back home, was poised to enter a paradisiacal bay (named by Captain Cook a few years earlier as Port Jackson, but never visited by him or any other European navigator,) the “conquista” took place, chroniclers tell us, on the most lovely summer morning of 26 January, 1788. The purpose of the expedition was to settle those lands for the Crown with Britishers-of-sorts.
And, for that purpose, Terra Australis was all of it claimed to belong to the British Crown, the sacred right of property. Another “res nullius” being swallowed by an immense Empire where the sun never sets.
From the time of the conquest, then, right down to the twentieth century, discarding all the prior inhabitants, described by the British as the blackfellas, Australians were all those who were transported or voluntarily settled, coming from the British Isles and their descendants. After 1945, however, there was another sort of new Australian coming, white like the British, but originally Russians, Italians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Poles, Germans, Greeks, etc.
He had been told to go and talk to the princess, Luova Danilova, the old lady who sat alone in the far corner of the room where the wedding reception had taken place. Mrs. Danilova was, no doubt, a most interesting imposing creature, who had known life in the capital of imperial Russia, St. Petersburgh, her birthplace. It was about the court she began to speak after presentation.
‘There were balls and dinners. We went to the theatre, the opera, all kinds of spectacles. Oh, it was grand! Those were the days, Mr.Gallway.’
‘Galvao is the name, Mrs.Danilova.’
‘Everyone owns a motorcar these days, Mr. Galvao. What about you?’
‘Yes, Madam, a Hilllman second hand.’
‘I suffer, specially at weekends. So many children, so many motorcars. And now the grandchildren, too. I’m on tenterhooks all the time. So many deaths on the roads. Do you like Russian ballet, Mr Galvao?’
‘I like the music, Madam. I prefer Chaikovsky to the Germans. But… I’m afraid I don’t get so enthusiastic… about those stylised ladies lifting their arms and stepping interminably on their toes,’ Galvao answered. ‘Sorry Madam.’ For he had seen a frown on her painted face.
‘Literature is your province, I know. Do you like Turgenev?’
‘Yes, Madam. Though… he purchased a young maid, a serf, for seven hundred rubles to have cheap entertaiment during the summer.’
The lady was about to reply when a man of about forty approached her and said something in Russian; then, noticing the presence of the Spaniard, he added in English: ‘We’ll come some other Sunday, Aunty Luova.’ And he was gone.
‘I’m glad Irina’s got that good position in the city. You a friend of Alexander Scziadovo?’
‘An acquaintance rather. I met Lasek at the Barristers’ Admission Board. I know he’s a solicitor. A good practice. I believe you know him well.’
Galvao thought of asking something, but the princess went on about Irina, whose wedding was being celebrated today. She was the youngest of her ten grandchildren and the only one born in Sydney, twenty years ago. Somewhat bored, he was looking at a girl in an armchair, not far away, against the contiguous wall. She might have been thirteen and was so perfectly blond that Galvao’s eyes were continually turning to her. She had come from farther down the large room, where the dinner had ended an hour ago, and had brought with her a plate full of wedding cake, which she was now eating, thoroughly smearing her very pretty face.
‘Lida!’ Mrs Danilova called. ‘For shame!’
Galvao’s eyes followed the girl’s flight down the hall, dish and all.
‘Are you married, Mr. Galvao?
‘Not yet. I doubt whether I will ever attain that state of bliss.’
‘I hope Irina will be happy. Vitas is Latvian, did you know?’ the princess commented, and without letting Luis reply to the question, she went on. ‘Mr. Scziadovo is my solicitor,’ and a very good one he is. I’ve engaged him in connection with a big property I’m purchasing up there Turramurra way. Do you know he’s a Polish Jew?’
‘Oh, there he goes!’ Luis exclaimed, standing up. ‘Excuse me Madam, I must run to catch him.”
Luis Galvao caught up with Lasek Scziadovo as they both were entering the room where the ball was to be held. There were servants scurrying about, finishing the preparations.
‘How did you find the Dowager?’ Lasek asked.
‘Terrific,’ said Luis.
Lasek Scziadovo was pleased to see his friend again. All the same, he was mainly on the look for clients at this moment, as often happened when he went to parties and festivities. The two had stopped short past the roman arch, where there were people milling about. All the same, he showed some interest in what Luis Galvao was saying. A few years older than the Spaniard, he felt like helping him. He had found Luis much in distress when they met, two months before. He now asked Luis whether he liked this chunk of Russia in Sydney.
‘Oh, yes! Thank you for having brought me here,’ replied the other.
It was, in effect, Lasek who had invited Luis, who simply had wanted to witness the orthodox ceremony and had asked for the church’s address. But, after the marriage ceremony, the Pole had grabbed him by the elbow and brought him to the dinner almost by force. ‘They won’t mind. On the contrary,’ he comforted the Spaniard, ‘don’t worry.’
Now, going on into the big room Scziadovo told the Spaniard more about Princess Luova’s family. She was almost ninety (he said), the daughter of a high personality in Nicholas II’s court, and the widow, since 1925, of a general of the White Russian Army that fought for eight years against the bolshevik revolution.
‘Unsuccessfully,’ Luis said the obvious.
A young woman passed by, holding an open Habana-Cohiba box. Lasek took a cigar from the box and introduced it in his jacket pocket, just as Vitas and Irina came to join them, in full wedding apparel. Lasek at once took Vitas aside and began to give him hints about real estate: the newlyweds would surely want to purchase something.
At that a stocky beer-bellied man came to shake hands with the bridegroom, and the Pole was heard talking about horses. “There’s a mare I recommend you, my friend. Chose Begonia. Don’t ignore my tip.’
In the meantime, Luis Galvao, who had been left with Irina was admiring the latter´s really intellectual beauty. It was the young woman who broke the ice.
‘How do you find Russian society,’ she asked beautifully, ‘you being Spanish?’
‘The girls,’ he said, blushing, ‘seem to be all blond… and pretty.’
From further inside the large room came the sound of music:
‘Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka moià!
‘Vsadu iágoda malinka, malinka moià!’
The place now being filled with music, the beautiful bride became still more beautiful, silently repeating the words of the song. He was going to ask her something when… as bad luck would have it, he began to sneeze most desperately. He took his glasses with one hand, and with the other he pressed a crumpled handkerchief against his reddish face.
‘Oh, dear!’ she said, full of compassion, ‘you also suffer from hay-fever. You must see to it. Go to a hospital…” (two fingers between her raspberry-coloured lips) ‘the hospital… there! Take the bus at Broadway, all the way up past the university… they’ll make a few cuts on both arms, and the doctor’ll find what you are allergic to, some pollen, for sure. Do go’ (her linen hankerchief, too, to her nose.) ‘Oh! my!’
Luis Galvao had never seen anyone, woman or child, more handsomely beautiful, such smiling face so round and rosy, her fine blue eyes, prominent rosy cheeks and raspberry mouth.
Turning his eyes to the girl’s suntanned shoulders and lovely arms full of dimples, he implored Heaven to give him fortitude, when luckily the bridegroom, who had finished discussing business with the lawyer, came to retrieve his beloved.
As Luis was going back to find his Jewish friend, he heard the latter talking animatedly to somebody else. ‘Hello! Look who’s here. Oh Britannia, Britannia rules the waves! None other our famous crooner Freddy Lane.’ A rather bald man in black satin, white silk shirt and mauve tie, who was accompanied by a very tall woman.
Galvao discreetly moved on. On the high band stand, there were four men, dressed in broad cream-coloured tunics, striped breeches and shiny black boots squatting together, while alternatively kicking in the air one foot and then the other. A fifth was playing the accordion.
He moved on, looking right and left, until he sat down upon a velvet-upholstered bench against the wall, still attentive to what was going on. Two violin players were now on the stand, and a gipsy girl called Vanika, or Vaniska was singing; a country wedding was being celebrated there and Luis Galvao thought again of Irina.
… what a lovely name, quite Russian no doubt. They are more attached to the earth than we are. Ceremonial, too. Why the hell among them a religious wedding implies the use of two gold crowns with diamonds and other gems. A pretty Russian bride she is.
… but she isn’t Russian! Born in Oz, as the old hag announced: not an escapee. And Lasek, is he an escapee? a child when he came with his mother across the Austrian mountains, and now a socialist; he has not forgotten his origins. The nazis killed his father.
And now the music had changed to a Fox-trot. Accompanied by the tall woman, Freddy Lane is now on the stand singing, holding the microphone to his lips. Vitas, the bridegroom is playing the electric guitar. On the floor there are many couples, dancing, and looking at them little by little Luis fell into a sort of reverie, wondering, calculating how many Russians were there, other eastern Europeans; how the settlers were from the time of the colony rather from the British Isles; he then thought of the Aborigines…
… and recalling that he had gone with Malgorata to the bush, that they had been wanting to run away and had failed in their attempt, he felt gloomy and despondent. Their adventure had lasted less than a month.
… to the bush and see the Aborigines pushed into the desert by the British seeking to transport their convicts, from London and other towns and cities, to populate their new colony.
… they had not seen much of the bush, however. They were stuck on the red road, some ten miles before the next little town. Luis walked to the garage, and in the end they had to leave the car for repairs: the radiator was boiling and the rubber pipe going to the engine had to be replaced.
… in the meantime they had to look where to stay. The priest of the place, a Croat, let them have a cottage with the added particularity of having a shed with a distillery. Malgorata began to work distilling a Yugoslav liquor much appreciated by the inhabitants around; and Luis took in his Hillman the spirits to everybody, including the inspector of the police.
… unfortunately Malgorata became ill, and our lovers opted for going back to Harris Street, banking on the probability that the husband had returned to Bathurst.
Just then, something happened in the part of the dance floor of the Russian wedding celebrations which attracted Galvao’s attention. His regard crossed with the purest glowing blue eyes of the blondest young creature imaginable. And he had seen her before. He was sure. Half an hour ago. Only she was then a school-girl and is now a woman.
More and more couples were turning and whirling upon the dance floor, ten feet away from him. His regard crossed the glowing blue eyes of the girl with the wedding-cake in her mouth whom the Princess called Lida: he was sure. She was dancing a waltz with a tall thin fellow. The couple passed several times, and Luis smiled at her, feeling jealous of the man, who was embracing her tightly, such a divine petite darling.
‘A little woman so pretty!’ he said to himself, ‘the very representation of youth, in the arms of that ugly thing.’
The fellow, who had seen Galvao and noticed his interest in the girl, sneered.
It was then that something happened that made Luis Galvao look again. The dance was peremptorily interrupted by the arrival of a big woman with thick arms and an extraordinarily prominent bosom, who came charging among the dancers like a fury, panting and exhausted. She slapped the tall young man’s face a couple of times, who resisted, while the girl screamed like a devil. The big matron, clutching then the rebellious girl by the arm, took her into the next room, crying: ‘Stop, Lida! Stop it!’
Luis and Lasek left the ball and the Russian wedding celebrations as they had come, together. They walked towards Bondi Junction, where Galvao had parked his car early in the afternoon. They were linked together, arm-in-arm, swaying and singing. It was the Pole who sang the words with the proper accent, ‘kalinka, malinka, moià’. It was an excellent late-spring clear night. The moon was not yet out and the prussian-blue sky was full of big and little bright stars.
‘And how d’you find my secretary?’ Scziadovo asked, stopping.
‘Irina? Very pretty,’ Luis smiled at the recollection. ‘Perfect.’
‘She has added life to my office. I won’t see her tomorrow, a pity.’
‘Nor the day after tomorrow,’ Lasek went on. ‘Vitas, of course. They’ve already left. A new Jaguar. Surfer’s Paradise. The old princess paid for the car.’
‘I see. Still, she’ll come back. That freshness will again invade your premises. I say freshness because really… Have you noticed, all newly-married women possess a beauty… Well, really, I don’t know what I’m saying. I’ve drunk too much. Lucky Lasek. That’s what you asked, ain’t it? A good secretary.’
‘Alas! she’s too fat for me,’ Lasek concluded.
They had reached the Junction. The Pole in the meantime, had been smoking his cigar, turning round from time to time and kicking his feet in the air like a Cossack.
Before they reached the main road, where the Hillman was parked, they passed by a closed Chinese restaurant, and Lasek frowned. The three garbage bins before the building were not properly closed, and the two friends could see the carcass of at least one cat, head and all, with the entrails full of blood; the lot badly wrapped in newspapers.
Luis spat in disgust. ‘You never know what you eat,’ he sneered.
‘That’s why I never order fricassé or a dish of vegetables with some chunks of meat. Vegetables here, for me; and the meat in one big piece,’ said the Pole.
‘I shall do the same from now on. I assure you.’
They had reached the car. Luis opened it. His friend, still smoking, watched wondering. Then laying his hand on Galvao’s shoulder, he said: ‘Are you sure you can drive all the way to Ultimo?’ he asked. ‘Come, you can sleep in my house, if you wish.’
‘Why should I disturb you? I haven’t drunk that much. I can drive,’ Luis assured his friend. ‘I will drive. No choice.
‘No, my brother. There is an alternative. I’m telling you. You shall spend the rest of the night at my place. It’s over there, down the ravine. Come on.’
They turned into an avenue full of trees between two lines of semi-detached houses. They strolled very slowly, hummin and singing.
Happy Lasek Sciadovo turned astronomer, pointing to the stars, the cigar between his fingers. He named the constellations one by one: that is, those he recognised. ‘For there is no one that knows them all,’ he said. ‘And as you know,’ he added after a long pull at his cigar, ‘those we recognise… are there, in the northern hemisphere shown… eh! standing up. That’s how we see them overthere. That’s to say, let make this clear. In… in our dear Europe they… hip! are dis… displayed… and here upside down by… by comparison.
‘Different from how we saw them in Europe, yes.’
‘And then, the Southern Cross, a new constellation… worth a thousand… I tell you, a thousand of ours. The marineers of former times…’
‘Yes, I know, la Cruz del Sur.’
At the bottom of the ravine, the houses had became bigger and more luxurious, with bigger grounds, surrounded all of them by well-attended gardens. Lasek stopped before one of the mansions, big and new.
‘Marvellous,’ the Spaniard praised.
Sciadovo looked him in the eyes and there was now no trace in his voice of the afternoon’s drunkenness. Galvao understood him perfectly. Both were migrants with superior law degrees and had worked a good deal in their lives.
‘Luis, my good friend,’ Alex began thoughtfully, having first passed his arm around his comrade’s shoulder, ‘I worked hard for this. I knew what I wanted, you see? I was forced to exile myself. Dad was dead. I first worked as a taxi driver. At night. Hardly a man yet and already in employment. I made money, oh, yes! Studying during the day. What do you say to that? In the law faculty, as you did. My poor father had been a lawyer in Prague. There it is, look, I wanted you to see this. You’ve seen my premises in town. My friend, life is a constant struggle. Fight, without giving up. You must do the same. Work hard work, here too, and you’ll be a lawyer.’
Mrs. Scziadovo came out of bed to pay her respects to her husband’s friend. She was an elegant lady, tall and athletic, who looked however quite haggard and tired. She led Galvao to the room where he was to pass the night, on the second floor. A big room, opening on to a flower garden down below the window. Australia was indeed a nice country, the part he knew.
In the morning the Spaniard had breakfast with the whole family. Three boys and a little girl of five who had recently had whooping cough, and was the reason why Giselle Scziadovo could not go to the Russian wedding.
A beautiful morning rose on Sunday and Luis Galvao was once more in a state of perfect solitude, rambling in a rather sentimmental state in in what for him was an empty world. The names, the places, Bondi Junction, Waverly Park, Old South Head Road (where he had left his Hillman the previous day) meant nothing to him.
His thoughts too were rambling on a sentimental way. Sentiment, feeling, affection. It was Woman, for him, that counted much at that moment, a particular woman, object of his reflections. Oh, she made him suffer!
Why, his lover gave him no longer satisfaction! Because he had not chosen freely. He might have been thinking at the moment of the one he really loved. ‘Amor divino’.
Thus had he whorshipped the one now gone, his English girl so beautiful. “But Malgorata is so beautiful,” he thought as he moved on, down Bondi Road towards the Beach, a haversack buckled on his back. A wild desire coming up from the most profound atoms of his body, mind, heart, hands, that particular sensation on the tips of his fingers, the kisses: all the pleasure that Beauty gives.
He had just been to his car, had unlocked it, then locked it up again, after leaving some belongings in and on the move again, in casual-wear, carrying some belongings in a beach bag, the haversack on his shoulders.
Overhead, high above the houses, he saw an immense blue expanse and the long ine of the horizon: heaven and ocean. One imposing mass of infinite blue in perfect delimiation.
The prussian-blue streaked with green and silver, rolling on with majestic fury down from the horizon towards the sands, big singing waves crowned with white. The intense morning freshness of the breeze on his face. That unique odour that so made him remember the Santander of his childhood. And looming high above the sea, that pure colour, also blue, of the firmament. More than an infinite expanse.
The promenade was already full of people when he arrived; and full of colour, too, varied and beautiful: long flower-beds, and the rich black of the soil, with abundant show of genius… ‘Gartenarbeiten’, a job he did to earn himself a living in West Germany in his youth. Many a product of labour was due to that venerable profession, gardener.
Promenading slowly in a world of great tact and cleanliness, the bag on his back, an early sun on his face, he admired a long string of pansies on which he saw the most divine convination of colours imaginable, hortenses, roses of all hues, shasta-daisies, gladioli, daffodils, jonquils and who knew what else.
When he went down onto the sands, he saw the healthiest people beginning to crowd the famous beach. Standing against the stone parapet, many strong tall lads were talking, playing, pushing one another and heartly laughing. Others silent, meditative and with their arms crossed over their chests, the leags well plented in the warm yellow sand. They all had this in common: their noses were smeared with zinc cream. For the sun was, even at that early hour, almost torrid. Luis strolled among these people, then those lying on the sand on large colourful towels, sun baking, slouching now, his eyes on the shapely dolls ever so attractive, though he failed in many cases to see the cute faces, having these gracious women hidden their hair, eyes, nose and lips under large straw hats.
The sun was not yet at its fiercest, tempered as it was by the sea breeze; but he did not have a beach umbrella or any other sort of protection, soon to be needed: not even a sun hat or or black glasses; and he had no remedy after a while but to wrap his towel round his head and let his mind wonder. He thought of Vitas and Irina, now holidaying in Ssurfer’s Paradice. Through a chink in the roll-up-towel he saw the seagulls flying overhead; he heard there screeches and dreamt of two gulls in love soaring high upon the infinite blue expance, two dark specks… and then nothing.
At midmorning there came from the high seas two long boats either completely new or quite recently varnished, with about half a dozen rowers each. The attraction of the moment altogether, specially for families with children. The rowers stood up in the now rocking vessels, showing their handsome suntanned bodies dressed only in black mono-bikinis and colourful tini circular caps, holding their oars high, like the legionaires of the Roman legions of old.
“They’ve been chasing the sharks away!” someone among the public shouted in admiration.
Being almost upon the breakers the lifesavers’ boats never ceased rocking until someone in one of them shouted something which Luis could not catch and next moment the wessels wafted together towards the horizon, from where they had come.
He had been moving about on the wet hard sand for some minutes, when he felt the touch of sweet alien walking past, someone of extrordinary beauty, grey and shadowy for all that.
“Oh sweet birdy-girl, my angel, soaring high, so unexpectedly come and quickly gone. Come to me amorous silky form and teach me how to fly. and flying together soaring, whirling, diving, perhaps sinking to the ground we’ll make love. Perhaps.”
This way and that, he looks for the recent apparition, so quickly gone. However successful a migrant may be, he will always look back to wonted home, that tender love the young man left behind. Five nights running he has had the same dream of his woman, grey and shadow like this pretty bird that has now touched him.
The first rippling waves reaching up to his knees, he stops like a stone statue: the water is still too bloody cold! He remains undecided for a while, looking at the oncoming waves, hugging his shoulders with both hands. Just then that gorgeous sun-tanned princess again brushing his shoulder with hers. He follows her with his eyes and sees her diving under a large frothing wave and presently coming up to the surface, curving like a dolphin and into the bright emerald mass again, the pretty rounded buttocks in the air, her sword-like legs sticking up, then only the feet pointing upwards, and finally entirely out of sight. For a while.
Decidedly he too enters the water and swims out to join the dolphin-like creature. He would like to talk to her, to approach that pretty head in the green rubber cap, the pointed nose, those unseeing dark eyes. What colour may her hair be? They both paddle together, five feet apart, in a blue valley between two white-topped rollers. He smiles at her.
‘’Isn’t it wonderful?’’ he mutters.
She turns her pretty head to one side, then to the other, apparently searching for someone to whom the stranger might have been talking. She can’t conceive that a man, a New Australian at that, should have addressed some words to her out of the blue, and in the middle of the ocean, Good God! In despair Galvao swims towards the open sea. “Alone, alone,” he thinks, “I’ll never have a loving wife.” He swims up a mountain of clear curling water… and slides down upon a shiny blue valley, pushed on, backwards and forwards by the tide, sometimes he sees the Sydneysiders on the beach; other times, a swift change, being pushed like a rag, and he sees the cold distant horizon, the beach having gone out of sight, and finds himself in a low ravine between two huge translucent waves. Then the dark-blue mass goes up, high, very high, as if it will come rolling down and is pushed up by a more than wild frothing wave and rushing to join the breakers. Up to the snow-white growing top of another mountain he swims. Ah! He sees once more the sands and many people in the distant. He is trying to swim back towards the beach for a long moment and all the reward ohis labour… that he gets about a yard nearer the coast, that is all. And there is that fear in his heart. Seconds go by, or minutes, and his anxiety now knows no limit. Still, he must do something with himself, control his agitation. Struggling, still tossed by the mighty sea, praying to God and burning the last remnants of energy left in him, his right arm surges up in the air, a stroke; then the other arm, painfully, slowly… when he sees suddenly over the crest of a frothing wave two big men coming towards him, actually out for him. One of them is tied to the shore by an infinitely long rope. Luis tries to appear calm as they approach; but the lifesavers, paying no heed to his shouts of protest, handle him almost brutally, while other young men on the shore are pulling energetically at the long nylon rope.
Swallowed by the white foaming mass, the mighty breaker which flies up at the water’s edge, a mountain of blue, green and white, Luis first goes up in the air, feet pointing upwards and then falls down with the tumultous mass, legs and arms like the wings of a windmill… and in the water he goes, seeing the earth, the sea, and nothingness. The roller breaks upon the sand (after a last terrific somersault) with a terrific thud.
Sitting down and at a loss, upon the wet bubbling sand of the shore, among a crowd of little kiddies who are playing with spades, buckets and other toys, he breathes. “And the lifesavers, where have they gone?”
Precisely, the two brave handsome young men are standing nearby, looking at him, surprised and in despair at his ignorance and daring.
He trudges up the beach among the multitude of sunbakers, up to the spot where he had left his belongings. He opens his haversack, puts on at once his spectacles, the better to see such an abundant array of bikinis and appetising female flesh. Lonely and homesick though he feels, he has the conscience of being alive and that is enough. Watching around gives him satisfaction: never before had he beheld such a bounty of gorgeous young women lying on multicoloured towels, like so many prizes to be won and as a matter of fact so lonesome every one of them as the molluscs on the rocks. As he is.
Eventually, with the help of his towel, standing against the parapet, he gets rid of his swimmers and slips his shorts on, then climbs up the stone steps onto the sunlit promenade, full of colour and practically deserted. After a drink in a pub with no other customer to give him company, Luis lies down on a patch of buffalo grass under a large gumtree, his head on his haversack, and sets as usual to thinking and worrying. A cool light breeze that comes from the sea gives him some respite for a while. He places his spectacles on the lawn, covers his brow with his tennis cap and falls into a state of stupor, perhaps the beginning of a happy dream.
Presently his dream is interrupted by a strident noise coming from behind the tree trunk near which he is lying. There is a man lying on the buffalo lawn, scarcely two yards away from him. A transistor radio lies on the grass, not far from the man’s sleepy head. ‘’Beg… gone… ya… c’m on, c’m on!’’ He now remembers, does Galvao: the horses at Randwick Racecourse. It is often the same on weekends. ‘’Begonia… followed by Ensign… Wikes now… Wee Dame… and now Grand Champ...ion… followed by Begonia… still Grand Champion… now, Begonia again… still Begonnn… ooh! Grand Champion nowwww… Graaand Chaaampion… Graaaand Chaaaampion… but Wee Dame coming close… coming cloooose… cooomming clooooose…! Wee Dame… Wee Daaame… going on, goooing ooon, gooooing oooon… Begonia again. Going on, goooing ooon, gooooing oooon!… one shoulder ahead now, on, ooon…. And Beg… Beg… Begggonia… Beeegggonnn… ah! Beeeggggooooonnnia! A brilliant winner !!!’’
Luis Galvao stands up in disgust, spits on the grass and moves away. He crosses the narrow roadway, staggers along a line of two-storey houses. Shops, restaurants and public bars, some are actually open, but not many people in them. He has a drink of ice-cold beer again in a pub, goes out and at once turns left to ascend the main commercial road of the district, always seeking the shade whenever possible, until he reaches the intersection where he had parked the Hillman, twenty hours earlier. He had left the car there on previous occasions, because the battery and starter-motor being old and unreliable, he saves himself the trouble of having to use the crank when re-starting the engine, by leaving the vehicle on a hill. Easier this way. Sitting at the wheel he merely has to release the brake, letting the car go downhill by itself, set it in second gear; as he is reaching the bottom, he switches the ignition on and releases the clutch pedal… the engine grunts and soon he is confidently driving along the waterfront, near the line of shops. To his right, vegetation, a green lawn, some trees. Strong su shine right to the stone parapet, where there is the now abamdoned promenade, and after the low stone parapet, the sands and the sea. All pretty, all colourful and plenty of sunlight everywhere.
The garden on the left, where he had been, twenty-five minutes earlier, trying unsuccessfully to have a long rest, is there. And there is the point where he has to turn round and take his way home. For it is a large roundabout he had to negotiate, reducing speed to soon begin to tackle the ascent to Bondi Junction.
All the same, Luis has the time to observe the man who was instrumental in ruining his siesta, causing him to leave the beach and start driving back to town when the heat was worst in all day.
The obstrepereous fellow was still sitting against the trunk of the large gumtree, still listening to his transistor radio. “The races at Randwick. Stupid fellow,’ Luis mutters, already heading back towards Bondi Beach Road, and up the main commercial section, the way he drove down a moment before with his engine grunting. And on to the intersection with the road to the City.
He hits the dual-carriage road leading to the large euchalyptus forest known as Centennial Park. The air gets cooler momentarily in the park among the lofty trees and other greenery. However, entering the city later on the temperature rises again as the traffic becomes thicker. Scarcely anybody was seen on the paveements otherwise than at the bus-shelters ble-decker buses, in the main streets. The City has always struck him as extremely sad on the weekends. “Such an important metropolis, so much wealth and commerce ordinarily, and then on Sundays a continous flow of cars, utility vans, double-decker buses and no human contact,” he thought, and for some reason that sence of melancholy that he had been experiencing seemed now unbearable.
Shops and stores were closed, but that neon colour-combination, that explosion of light in the sunshine persisted. “The snares of capitalism,” he said to himself, while he read: BUY A JAGUAR, DRINK CORIO WHISKY, HOLDEN THE AUSTRALIAN CAR. FORD THUNDERBIRD, ESSO, FLY ANSETT-ANNA TO SURFER’S PARADISE, PUT A TIGER IN YOUR TANK…
He made a halt at the service station to ‘put a tiger in his car’. In actual fact he stopped because he felt an urgent need at that moment to talk to somebody, to hear the voice of a human being, to have a chat with a friend. In effect, he knew the garagist, Alf Ruben, personaly. They often had a chat together when he stopped to refill the Hillman. One evening he told Luis about the war in the South Pacific, against Japan. Then in the Marines, he came for rest-and –recreation leaves, and in 1946 fell in love with a Sydney lass. After the war, they got married and he settled in Australia.
They often exchange impressions about their respective lives as immigrants in a new young country. Luis talked to his friend of Madrid and his past studies, and notice the America spoke of Brooklyn with nostalgia and melancholy, the place where he was born and where he lived until the war. Hearing him talking about his playing in the streets of Brooklyn, Luis spoke of the football matches in the streets of Madrid, “with a ragball,” he added. And unavoidably becace homesick•
As he is silently proceeding towards his bedroom, he stumbles against a sloppy fellow who is trudging down the narrow flight of stairs, Nino, the Sicilian. He is coming out of Manuel’s bedroom, whose door he has left wide open. Galvao can see his Spanish pal sitting stark naked on his bed, his head miserably bowed down, his elbows on the knees, continually twiddling and twisting his ten fingers in a most awkward fashion.
Heribert, in the room they share, is sprawling on his own bed either asleep or more probably drunk, for there are two beer bottles of the largest size lying empty on the uncarpeted floor.
At once Galvao sheds off his shirt, kicks the thongs off his feet, and throws himself down on his own bed, face downwards, to let his sore back benefit from the cool breeze that comes in through the open window.
… the permanent companionship of a woman, that is what I need. Al Ruben became a New Australian because he had a girl: I was already in love when I set my feet on Sydney. With wife and three kiddies, no need for him to think so much of the past.
… there must be some reason why my life is a continuous frustration; is it I miss my my English girl so beautiful? or is it because I am a manual worker, holding two university degrees? It is not money. Wages are all right in all instances in this country.
... after having fallen in love with Malgorata and got used to the idea of the bear no longer being an obstacle to our liason… back to square one… what secret woe corrodes her sullen brow… the arrival again for the weekend of the big bear; oh, my sweetheart.
… alas! I don’t know whom I love. I cannot be happy; twice evil spirits have placed our bodies asunder, in Madrid and over here my bliss, my darling, is ended; twice it was but a false illusion; why having found you in Malgorata, I now weep?
Through the window now comes the noise of a transistor radio: it must be short wave, for the sound is so poor at times that it can hardly be heard, then rising to such a pitch that Galvao has to renounce for the time being to the restful sleep he had expected to enjoy.
‘It’s Krappov,’ he hears Heribert, waking up, ‘listening to The Voice of America, the fucking bastard!’
‘I guess he is,’ Luis says, and after reflection. ‘A confirmed nazi, the bastard.’
‘Sch! Yes, yes. But now, he’s getting what he deserves.’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Perhaps you don’t know,’ the German goes, lowering his voice still more, ‘th’fucking bastard finds himself, at this point in time, nazi bastard s’you say, in a fine pickle’s has caused him to become a real savage. Be careful.’
Luis Galvao of course knew what Heribert Wormser was hinting at. He went on arranging his bed, then getting from the uilt-in wardrobe new wearing apparel.
The German is starting this coming week on night shift, and he is busy at this moment, getting ready to go. Anyhow he has left the conversation at that.
As the afternoon advances, more noises are heard coming from the neighbouring gardens and backyards: the sound of engines starting up, like power mowers, drills and other macine tools: only later, human voices, as well.
The neighbours calling one another, ‘Good ev’ning, Mr. Lee!’ ‘How d’ye do, Miss McCann?’ ‘Very well, Fabian, an’ you?’ ‘Come down an’ join us, Paddy old bastard !’
He sinks on his knees upon the bed, wearing shirt and trousard, laying his forearm on the window-sill, watching. The sun was declining in the west and there was now a cool breeze and nice shade up where he is kneeling.
Down below Malgorata is hanging the washing on the clothes-hoist; but though he looks intently at her and at times whistles a note or two, which should attract her attention, she does not even once turn her gaze to the window or deign to throw him a glance out of the corner of her eye when she turns to go in, a wicker basket under her arm. He sees her pretty blond head, just passing under the window, then disappearing in the porch leading to the kitchen. He falls back on his bed, fully clothed, shoes and all.
His head on the pillow unon his ten fingers intertwined, he watched for a while and dreamed, recalled and suffered. His room-companion was about to go out.
‘Out to the docks?’ Luis asked, hoping to exchanged a few words, to change the trend of his own inner thoughts.
‘And you won’t see me for sixteen hours. Is that what you what to know?’ the German asks sharply.
‘Not really, Herib…, it’s not that,’ says the Spaniard, sad to see he was misunderstood.
‘A Japanese cargo ship with plenty of goods. Yes.’
Galvao, sitting up, turns his gaze back to the yard.
The German went on with his preparations, then came close to Luis. ‘Pretty woman’s making you suffer, yes? What did I tell you, eh?’ he sniggered.
‘Don’t laugh at me!’ Luis warned.
‘I’m doing it for your own good,’ Heribert said, harshly. ‘if only you had listened, yes.’
‘All right. I know I’d have saved myself some trouble had I followed your advice; you were right, she’s not the only girl. But now you stop it, hell. What can I do, anyhow? I feel lonely. Crazy or not, I love, I need her. And you, don’t you feel lonely too?’
The German giggled. ‘Oh, no, no! That’s not the question ye want to ask. What ye want to know is whether I don’t like women: giggy-giggy sort of thing? Naturally, be assured. Yes.’
‘Yes! A proper German woman. Kith and kin. That’s what you’ve got to do. There must be female Spaniards on the prairy, Olé! Olé! Gipsy ladies, large black eyes as send youy crazy. Look, look about, forget her, understand?’
‘All right, I understand,’ said Luis, for some reason becoming furious.
‘Now, now! don’t bloody get too touchy. Sheisse, you want this one pretty wavy-haired blondy. Look sharp, that is all, yes?’
‘Yes, yes, yes! But now you shut up,’ Luis whispered throu his teeth. ‘And tell me. What did you mean, just a moment ago? Are the Israelis after him?’
‘You ask? And I thought tou… It doesn’t concern me, you know. Ukrainians or Israelis. And if you want my advice, again and again, you big arse, keep off the bloody woman, that’s all.’
‘Now we know. You’re jealous, that’s why.’
‘Jealous? about her? not at all, sir. Haven’t I told you, I’m doing it for your own good, kamarad.’
‘Well, many thanks.’ Luis said, and cutting short all further discussion, turned omce more to the window.
Approaching the Spaniard once again, Heribert hissed: ‘Stop that bloody business, you won’t impress - and unless you’re a suicidal maniac, I repeat… also on my account, ye see… look out! I generally like to lead a tranquil existence, and would hate to be involved with the Law and all that Coroner’s business, for he is going to tear you to pieces.’
‘Nonsense, be off with you.’
‘Luis, you’ve just said I could’ve saved you from trouble if you had only listened to me, yes? Then, follow my advice now and you’ll escape from greater harm.’
‘Murder,” said Heribert, lowering his voice, all the same showing his teeth. ‘At present he’s exceedingly nervous. Get out of his way. He’s being hunted as a confirmed murderer, yes. He won’t mind one murder more, yes.’
‘I know. What else?’ said Luis, sniggering and totally abandoned now to his own stupid haughtiness.
‘Don’t be so facetious.’
‘Yes, and if you’ve got to have her, don’t do it in the bear’s den, at the very least. Yes?’
Galvao did not reply, and the other went on: ‘And remember, the walls have ears. You follow me?’
‘Not quite. What do you mean?’
‘Sheisse! Your pal out there. Haven’t you noticed they love one another, those two men? Hasn’t your compatriot told you that he lived in the outback, had an affair with that bear? He’s a sissy, for all he leads a pack of blackguards he calls the bushrangers?’
‘You’re bloody enigmatic… about noting He has told me, as it happens.’
Heribert laughed and Luis scowled, pushing him away.
‘Ha! Keep him at arm’s length, yer pal,’ Heribert said in a terrible whisper. Then he straightened his back with a little shake, walked to the window and added in a murmur: ‘Hasn’t it occurred to you that he may be double-crossing you?’
Galvao said nothing, and as the other was approaching the door on his way out, he commented, not without a tinge of malice in his voice: ‘Heribert, you are a queer fish, you are. Calling that bear and his chums blackguards now,’(glancing at the map of the Third Reich), ‘and you a German! Now, as I recall and have read in my books, those blackguards fought on the side of Germany during the war, didn’t they?’
‘Like Judas they did,’ the German growled, already holding the door handle. ‘A race of degenerates, them too Slavs.’ Luis only hear or guessed a whisper: ‘Nor better than Jews, believe me, or them yellow monkeys and niggers, gypsies, pimps, homosexuals, the lot!’ And he was gone.
He turned to look out at the backyard below; the clouds higher up, in a darkening sky. No longer there, Malgorata was almost sure to be in the kitchen. He could smell her cooking, hear her husband’s grunt from time to time. The smell of cooking, some sort of cabbage-soup and sausage. There was no other movement in the house.
“We can no longer tread the paths of life together,” he said to himself, thinking of Malgorata.
Deciding to go down for his supper, he put on his flannel jacket and went out on the landing, where he lingered for a few seconds: yes, a low whisper was heard inside Manuel’s room, like a lamentation or a prayer: an individual alone. He knew what it was: his friend reading some university textbook. And he was on his way to the communal kitchen. As he entered the kitchen, he muttered some greeting or other, for Malgorata was in effect in the room; as well as Krappov, half stupified (he always got drunk before going to bed. And he went on (having received no reply) with soft step and many lingering looks. He did not know what attitude to take.
Retracing his steps he placed crockery and cutlery for one person on the table, his personal serviette rolled into a knot, and half a loaf of bread, having chosen to sit directly opposite the young woman, after he had finished his cooking. The table was long and solid. Or he might have chosen to be seated away from Krappov.
A trip this time to the cooker, which he lit after bringing things from the communal fridge. After five or six minutes he was ready to take his seat at the table and have his meal, with the lovely Ukrainian scarcely two feet away. Near enough for a discreet cuddle (seeing the husband was half inebriated). She, in her turn, did not appear to be seeing him. Her brow, partly covered with those cute yellow curls, was bent down even as she ate or drank, her disparate (but for him entrancing) eyes were hidden by extraordinarily long eyelashes. Her mind seems miles away, even while she ate, with great parsimony.
For all these reasons, Luis felt greatly disturbed and disappointed. Partly he had come down to be near her, and he now was; but not in spirit. To meet her, have an exchange of words, of looks. To touch her elbow, caress her delicate fingers… all those simple contacts which, already when an adolescent or just a brave lad, had constituted for him such great delight, those first physical contacts with a person of the other sex.
For she was only attentive to her obligations as Krappov’s servant, who scowled and sneered at the Spaniard every time he suspected there had been the slightest communication between the two. In the Russian steppes, the maid or servant was ready to satisfy every whim of the man at once. It sufficed for Krappov to raise his bushy eyebrows a little, for her to stand up and immediately carry out this or that demand, commmand, serving the ogre his chunk of meat, homemade sausage, or filling his tumbler once again; always attentive, always trembling, never fixing her terrified regard on any other person… not on the man with whom she had shared her bed of love so lovingly… some days before.
There was no tablecloth on the massive table, the hardwood on the side occupied by Krappov was soaked with liquor. With the indispensable bottle of vodka there was an ashtray full of cigarette butts.
The only time Luis could observe Malgorata at his ease was once they both coincided in front of the cooker, after a long vain effort during which he saw her crying on her seat. He now took the opportunity of asking if she needed some help. Her whispered answer was disconcerting. “Ye’ll be better without me.” And she turned away.
Back both on their seats, he perceived like a strange call from afar: a lovely woman in distress, those two irregular eyes yet so enchanting were at that moment so clearly sending a message . “Don’t! Don’t do it! Don’try anything,” An escape from a better world. “It will not serve at all..and you would be destroying yourself.” A big, big sigh.
And what could he do, commit suicide? Besides, he the brave hidalgo was acting here dishonorably, perhaps illegally. Luis Galvao Cerezo, brought up in a catholic country. ‘El santo sacramento del matrimonio’. Through a reliable source he had got to know that the marriage had not been consumated, that the union of the old Cossack with the prodigal UKrainian child had had another purpose, something to do with the States and the Cold War.
Krappov turned his gaze from time to time to Malgorata, but nearly never to Galvao. When he whispered something, the girl became very pale and at once stood up and moved around. Always at that point Luis thought he had to do something, but she whispered something, clenching her teeth. So he stayed put.
… how strange that scarcely two weeks ago I was living with the woman in matrimonial intimity, a bed of love, such bliss, days of glory, nights of passion.
…and this frigidity, this emptiness, dirt, confusion, smoke, this table, an unsurmountable barrier, the smell of American tobacco like a painted veil.
… oh, my girl! come back to me, don’t say no again, let’s share our sufferings, our mutual weaknesses and fears. Let us fight. Give me the courage I need.
Just at that moment lightning flickered, and Malgorata uttered a deep sharp cry. Krappov stamped out his cigarette butt on the ashtray, with a grunt. Again a bluish cloud was billowing above the table, for the man had lit another of those blond cigarettes. He looked at his most murderous.
Luis made a third journey to the sink, where he spent a long time washing up; having deposited his things on the shelves, cupboard and in the fridge, he sidled away on the side of the cooker, trying to pass at some distance from the communal table.
“¡Hijoputa!” he heard a grunt.
It was obviously a provocation. He knew Krappov had escaped during the war to Australia through Spain, where he had doubtless learned at least part of the language.
‘Son-of-a-bitch…’ An insult too offensive to be ignored by a Spaniard. Sure this time Malgorata would have liked him to respond, perhaps expected him to knife her husband with the spike which the ogre had laid in the middle of the table.
He hesitated, in truth, but in the end chose to ignore the challenge. More dead than alive, he stepped out of the room, pushed the door closed behind him and directly went upstairs, passed Manuel’s room, whom he heard murmuring something. He was studying some textbook.
Going into the bedroom he shared with the German Heribert, worried and exhausted, he leaned standing against the door, inside, for a long while without moving; at length he woke up from his reverie and switched the light on, a small bulb, in the middle of the room. The chaos of wild hopes and fears which had been his daily life since his arrival in the new country, the loss of the woman he adored in Madrid, the imposibility of finding a field for exercising any intellecual life, or generally practising a profession, writing his book on the War of Spain, feeling in his inner being even more lonely than he was, had made him believe his life was ruined. “What a gross mistake I have committed.”
Oh yes, that woman, that only one, could have saved him, taking him from the brink, that sweet great artist. What had happened, why could they not get married? It was simple: he was not worth anything. An exile, a factory worker, the Spaniard among a score of mates, the cleaners, with Old Bruno.
Like her, an escapee, but she had run away from communism. That was valued in the free world. Even in London he was just a little person. He was not wanted. His intellectual work added no glory to the Glorious Imperalism that governed the world and would in two or three decades destroy the planet.
He had switched the light off, but still could not sleep. Shaking with nerves, burning inside, he walked up and down the room, pleading to all the forces of heaven and earth to cure him, to change him into another man, not to let him be alone in the vast desert of the world.
Sometimes he looked out of the window; other times he paced about the room. Stopping once before the built-in wardrobe with the pinned-up map of Hitler’s Germany, he looked for the city of Köln in the Ruhr. He laughing aloud, remembering the time he spent there, January to the beginning of summer ’54.
In the end he went to the window again, kneeling on his bed, his elbows on the windowsill. Down below and in the neighbouring properties, all the gardens and backyards of Harris Street were silent, only the wind broke the great stillness. He must have left his watch somewhere he could not remember, but he guessed morning was near.
Contemplating the courtyard his eyes filled with tears, he heard the thunder of a cannon, he thought, an inimical invasion by some inferior country, and recalled something from the past, when he was very little. ‘¡ARRIBA ESPAÑA!’ The storm came and went, very quickly, his mind was full of silly stories.
Through his tears he saw a woman in the early morning mist,moving down below, followed by Krappov wearing an army-uniform which Luis Galvao had not seen him wear before. The woman opened the big shed on the left and the Ukrainian got his motorbike out of it. “He’s riding to distant parts,” Galvao said to himself, holding with nervous fingers the sash of the window which he had been holding up with his right hand, for it had been rattling all the time; the latch, supposed to be holding the sash, was so rusty and about to give way.
Krappov dashed out of the property revvying the engine of his Harley-Davidson. Galvao watched most anxiously all about the yard to check if the bastard had taken the girl with him.
Still kneeling on the bed, holding the sash, his other hand on his head, he heard the voice of a young woman, speaking pussycat language. Near the wide open gate of the Harris-street property, where he had always seen a rusty old Austin-Somerset car, he saw Malgorata, like in a dream, playing with some half a dozen stray cats … “miauli pussy! oh miauli!, miauli!” Then the same adorable woman walking slowly towards the house, tightly embracing her violin in both arms.
“So that was it ,” he said, lying down.
He asked himself if his life had so far been worth living. An exile, escapee or sentimental traveller? Why had he not been satisfied, in Madrid, when he got his degree. A lawyer. Margaret had come and joined him. Yet , he threw everything overboard. His friends, relations, old kind of contacts. He even had a literary coterie in the “Café España.” And his father’s love.
If only he had been a good son in his day. Too late, he thought. And isolated remembrances came rushing to his mind… that summer ’53, his studies,and university pals, and then his first love, and back to Madrid, where she followed, his interest in politics, the riots in the spring of 1956, the last visit he paid to his parents in their apartment in the Barrio Argüelles.
… the servant took me to the lounge. He was sitting in his armchair with his glasses on, reading the papers. The stuff of old: never the slightest change of ideas since the thirties, ABC, ALCAZAR, ¡ARRIBA!
… he hardly lifted his eyes to mine. That man, whom I had always respected and loved, who had loved me so much! same head, same oval face, green eyes! Could ever man have been more disappointed in his favorite son?
… “¡Ay, hijo, cómo has cambiado tanto!” Poor old man. He found I had changed a lot… and didn’t seem to like it. My son! you had it all so well prepared, so very easy. For you, Luis. “Un puesto, la Administration.” What have you done, why?
… in the kitchen I could hear my mother speaking with the servant. ‘Mi bendita madre’; she surely would suffer just as much. But her reaction would be different. I knew. Such a patient intelligent woman, “Pobre, pobre, ¡to have un hijo rojo!”
They always found so much to suffer about… a twenty-three year old son who discovered he did not like fascism. But she, somehow, never got it right. Her second son had never been a Rojo, a Red. A student who had been a few years observing real life and wanted to combat barbarism but would not know how.