|It takes me longer now to get out of the bus and shuffle along to the shop. Seems like every one is watching my bulge. I like the attention and the kind smiles but it is scary too. Every little stumble sets me off like a plane buffeting in turbulence. Wish I could afford to stay home, but banish the thought. At least I have a job to come to, thanks to Nancy and her Boston hamburger shop ‘The best burgers in town’ on Annerley road. The GI who set it up after World war II and ran it for the next 30 years, sold it to Nancy’s mother when he moved to a retirement village.
It is a busy little place. Right from when I put up the shutters till after the lunch hour rush is over, time flies. That’s when I unwrap the apron, doff the cap and head home to mother. She’s been my sole support ever since my husband, Ray, moved to Bundaburg.
Begin my working day at the shop, I give myself a quiet five minutes over a cup of tea and a glance at the newspaper headlines. That’s when the deliveries start arriving, milk and bread, groceries, small goods and beverages. They all know where to stash the stuff, still it is a race between the final closing of the rear door and the rolling up of the front shutter. I barely have time to place the display signs with the day’s specials out on the pavement before Nancy walks in brisk and chirpy alert, her arms full of a hundred and one things.
This story reflects a real life situation faced by a migrant. The characters and names are fictional, the hamburger shop could be any of the hundreds spread all over Brisbane city and suburbs. The attitudes are true to life, so are the people, good and bad. It happens to be Australia day today, and of course India's republic day. The idea is to promote understanding. I am a retired Indian Army officer settled in Brisbane. I love the city and the people. They remind me of Cantonments in India, green, orderly, quiet, clean and efficient. The people are courteous and quick to smile. Many South Asians call it home now and are bringing up families with love and pride. Their effort is to impart the values of both cultures.
The clientele varies. The early morning ones are regulars. Cleaners, security guards, couriers, police constables in patrol cars, bus drivers and staff from shops in the area: all needing a quick nibble and a cuppa. Then the shoppers take over, and visitors to the state school, the TAFE, groups getting off buses or getting on, anyone and their first cousins. Teenagers and kids, with money for the juke-box. Yes, believe it or not, it is still there and it works.
The lunch hour rush begins at 11 am, that’s when the two casuals come in and it’s go, go, go all the time. Nancy minds the till, but I relieve her when needed. That’s is when I get to exchange greetings with the clients, crack a joke or two and politely inquire about how their day’s been going.
Today I was in no mood to exchange pleasantries. My nerves were all shot and I felt like crying. Just a few paces from the bus stop, in the morning, this car cruises by, a massive pig like face pops out of the window and spits at me. ‘Bitch ‘ it hisses in a voice full of venom. ‘Bloody bitch’ it repeats, before receding back into the speeding car. I am so stunned I don’t have the brains to register anything other than the spite on that face. I manage to stagger to the shop somehow. The key shakes in my hand as I open the rear door. I sob into my tea. Then I draw a big deep breath. As always Ray’s voice and his words come to my aid ‘ ‘My love,’ it croons ‘ don’t let hate upset you, it is external, it is their problem. We simply don’t react, we continue on our course with resolve’. ‘Easier said then done’ I say to myself but I feel a little better. I let the voice repeat in my head and block out the insult hurled at me.
As refugees, we are no strangers to slights and derision. We have faced discrimination in the lands that we hail from as well as our adopted one. I am a Tibetan orphan brought up by a Vietnamese couple. My adoptive father died on the boat carrying us to Australia. I stand a head taller then my petite mother and people look at us curiously as we pass.. I have dark straight hair that keeps falling over my almond eyes ‘like a lunatic fringe’ according to Ray. Some imagery, that. He insists on calling me Luna. I don’t mind. It’s stuck now. Every one calls me Luna. His s parents were Indians uprooted from Uganda by Idi Amin. He came to Australia from South Africa, alone, after his parents were killed in a cross fire during urban unrest in Durban. We met on a train in Brisbane. He was in training as a vet, I was learning English at the TAFE. I love the guy. He’s got brains and a wicked sense of humor.
My Vietnamese mother taught me French cuisine. She found work at a bakery in Darra. Between the three of us we speak eight different languages. It is fun. Ray worked as a courier while training. He is now with the DPI at Bundy. Hopefully they will transfer him to Brisbane soon.
I work on mechanically, my mind still in a tangle.
One of the casuals, a young Maori, gives me a nudge and whispers, ‘ Snap out of it, there is a good trooper.’ She is nice, that girl, sensitive and not nosy.
‘Why are some people so messed up’ I wonder. My reverie is broken, when the big carpenter, from the art gallery, next door, comes to order his usual, minced meat pie and black coffee. ‘ ‘What ’appen?’ he asks in an East European accent ‘ No sunshine today? Cheer up’. He puts a hand on his chest and adds ‘ Ed hopes you make nice bonny baby, then every one dance, very merry.’ I find myself smiling as I hand over his change. ‘Thanks Ed’
Around mid day Nancy calls me to the pantry. She puts her hands on her hips and breathes in, hard. ‘ Give’ she says looking me directly in the eye. When she assumes that pose, very English and so matronly, she can’t be denied. I break down and cry my heart out. ‘ I try so hard to belong’ I find my self saying ‘ then this sort of thing happens and I am afraid’ ‘ Poor you’ she sympathizes, ‘ don’t let that get you down, every one has been dished out this treatment.. ‘The poor from England, the Irish, Italians, Greeks and Lebanese, you name it, all have their horror stories. So what does it prove? The hate merchants, they are always with us.’
‘ We have to beat them. You and I and all of us combined.’
‘ Look what I got for you’ she says handing over a package. ‘ Go ahead. Open it.’
Tucked inside is the softest imaginable maternity dress in pale Lilac, with ‘Proudly made in Australia’ emblazoned in big, bold, brash crimson flowers all across the front of it, like a sash. It made me laugh.
‘ As you know, tomorrow is a holiday. We are having a baby shower for you at my place at 10 am’.
Then she adds ‘ Happy Australia day.’
I wish Ray were here to see the spring in my step, as I walk back to the very same bus stand at the end of my day.