Emre would rise at five. His palliasse could be slid beneath the couch so that Frau Losberg could use the tiny room through the day for her piece-work sewing. Emre was grateful for this space. It was much more tolerable than the Migrant Hostel. His wife and daughter were still in the women’s quarters but he was determined that would end. This present situation was only temporary though he had been living in Frau Losberg’s front room for ten weeks. An apartment – even if only two rooms – would be found somewhere. Adelaide had many houses split up into flats, sharing kitchen and bathroom space but at least they were preferable to the dormitories and inedible meals at the Hostel.
As soon as he had escaped the Hostel Emre was able to drag his precious typewriter from the leather suitcase which was all he was able to bring with him. Its keyboard was Hungarian but could manage English. He typed out, on thick white paper; many repetitions of his calling card and then cut them carefully to size:
Dr Emre Halasz Ll.D
Translator and Linguist.
Personal letters and documents
Typed and prepared to order.
Frau Losberg’s address was given. She had agreed to that, on the promise of clear typed copies of her tenancy agreements with all her lodgers, expressed as ‘reimbursement of outlays and maintenance’ to avoid Australian taxation watchdogs. Emre’s typing was always meticulous, though he worried about the cost of a new typewriter ribbon. Every postage stamp was a consideration.
By 5.15 he was washed, shaved and dressed, his neat goatee scrupulously trimmed. No breakfast. The woollen suit still looked presentable, Frau Losberg had turned the cuffs and collar excellently (in exchange for labour in painting the front exterior) and had assured him there were years of use there, if he did not wear out the pocket linings with objects. He pulled on his almost-new Homburg (a miracle from Anglicare) and affixed the bicycle clips. His first acquisition once he got out of the Migrant Hostel had been the attaché case. He kept it oiled and polished and had made his own attachment in front of the bicycle to carry it to work. The bicycle had been the major investment and he was still terrified – he dreamed of it being stolen, or smashed, or there being a bomb exploding in the very street, even though he had been assured, with rough but easy laughter by his workmates, that bombs do not go off in Adelaide. “This isn’t Europe, mate.”
Each time he rode it was a dare. He would be paying it off over the next two years. In his entire life he had never committed anything that far in advance. The last seven years had been lived a day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time. Even when he and Marie had married, last year in Milano before embarcation, they had both thought of it as being, not an insurance or a certain future, but a vow to stick together for whatever time was granted to them. The concept of a child had been almost unbearable but real enough once the signs began to manifest themselves. Marie had been more stoic than Emre. ‘We shall see it through,’ she had said, knowing there was no alternative. By the time Kotie had been born – somewhere between Aden and Australia – they had both somehow come to the realization that they were on a very long journey indeed and nothing they had been through might prepare them, either for parenthood or for the forthcoming tribulations.
Emre had been the first to consider plans. Marie had absorbed herself in the immense routine of feeding, bathing, comforting and accommodating the baby. Even the separation of the male and female quarters in the hostel did not seem to concern her overmuch.
Emre had fretted, right from the outset. Fatherhood may have taken him somewhat by surprise, but it also galvanised him in a way that was much more energising than the effort of their survival which had been the only possible aim over these times. The voyage had seemed endless but out of it Emre had found time to think. And, thinking, had begun to plan.
To escape the grim prison-like regimentation and anonymity of the Migrant Hostel had been the first task. Achieved, the second had been to find some means of earning income.
Emre had been directed to an employment agency assisting migrants. He had filled in forms, in English, and listed his qualifications. The university degree and his years (1936 to 1943) as a newspaper journalist counted for nothing. Neither did his command of seven languages or his typing skills. He was allocated a shift work labouring job in a vulcanising works 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On his first day there, fresh from the excitement of locating a corner in Frau Losberg’s rooming house, and nervous over the audacity of committing himself to the bicycle with its fixed terms and outrageous interest payments, he had arrived ten minutes early, following the directions supplied by the employment agency on the back of an old printed circular on the Australian taxation ‘deduction at source’ system for employees. He had to stop under several streetlights to confirm road names and turns. He felt elated when he made it.
But his new workmates were another hurdle. They made noisy and disturbingly obscene comments on Emre’s clothes – the suit, the white shirt and tie (borrowed), his leather gloves, the Homburg hat and his attaché case. Sometimes it is a hindrance rather than a help to understand a language. Emre did not catch all the new words, nor the slippery, congested accents, but the general impression was absolute.
One older man with grizzled short hair and overalls directed him to the clerical section to fill-in employment particulars and then to the change room, where Emre disrobed completely and picked out of his briefcase a fresh laundered pair of overalls (he had been given previous instructions). His hands were soft and pale, true, but would harden up (‘Piss on them’ his new foreman had said). In the refugee camps in central Europe he had done his share of hard manual labour.
The vulcanising works was a place of extremes. Extreme heat. Extreme labour. Extreme language. Emre only had to ask a few times for directions to be repeated or explained. He was always willing, too willing. His workmates rebuked him, and he found it difficult to slacken his pace to meet the unspoken but definite requirement for minimum performance not maximum efficiency. In the lunch hours or at tea breaks Emre was educated in the finer points of industrial restrictions. He kept his own counsel, and at the end of each shift, while the others slewed off to the pub and a few beers, Emre completely cleaned himself in the showers and dressed in his formal attire, before affixing his clips and unlocking the gleaming bike from its safe place. He pulled on his gloves and set the Homburg at a firm angle before pushing off, back to the boarding house.
Only once had he been enticed to the pub with the other workers. That was after his first pay, and some of the group insisted he must shout them all a round. They had beers. Emre quietly asked for a white wine. He was chiacked ruthlessly, but even by the end of the first week he knew where he stood, and it was outside.

AuthorThomas Shapcott
2018-08-21T17:23:21+00:00 May 1st, 2005|Categories: Prose, Literature, Blesok no. 42|0 Comments