The Voyage Part Eleven – The Boat Docks

The Voyage Part Eleven – The Boat Docks

Posted on January 31, 2014 by brucemccorkill

The Voyage Part Eleven – The Boat Docks. Bruce McCorkill


Brian has confessed to Carol, but it hasn’t been received well.
As usual Carol has gone to see Jan to get more advice.
Brian wants to help Samira get into the community more.

Well, I’m getting tired of this trip. I reckon the boat’s getting near the harbour, and I don’t think it’s going to actually sink. The only problem is that I’m not sure which port it’s going to finish up in, and who’s going to be left on board. So maybe it’s time to start furling the sails and tying up ropes, and hoping for a gentle onshore breeze. This might encourage the passengers to get ready to disembark. That’s if Jan doesn’t huff and puff and blow the boat back to sea.

I reckon the first rope to tie is that of Brian and Samira. They seem to be getting along well now. Let’s see if Brian can help to get Samira into the Aussie community.

Brian had been stunned by her story, and it made him grateful to Samira for making him realise that his problems were not so bad after all. Also, he realised that just talking seemed to help, and he was gearing himself up to tell her his story. He was convinced this would help him get off his guilt trip. Samira really wanted to be an Aussie, and he wanted to make this happen. He still couldn’t get over her love of football. Also, something had been niggling in his mind about this. He suddenly had an idea.

‘Samira, tell me about this Sergeant Smith back home? You said he organised football games for the young ones. What did he look like? Did you know his first name?’

‘He was a big tall man Brian, like you. He said in Australia his name was “Sticks Smith.” In our village he was really gentle with the women and children. He told us that before he joined the army, he could have played for your big competition, your AFL. He told us that he was going to play for your Collingwood. He organised football games for us. After we played footie, he would take us into the camp and show replays on the big army screen. That is why I developed a love of football, and why I like your Collingwood. He did say that he would soon be returning to Australia, but we had to flee quickly, so I never said goodbye.’

‘Did you have a proper ball and oval?’

Samira just laughed.

‘Brian, all we had were some old footballs, and we played on the stone ground. The footballs never lasted long; they broke up on the hard rocks. I used to really enjoy the fun. I was older than the other youths, and because of my education and teaching role, I was supposed to act in a responsible manner. But when I played football, I forgot this, I forgot all my problems. I became a young girl again, and just enjoyed myself, kicking the old ball. And guess what? Sergeant Smith said that I was a, what do you call it – a natural. He used to watch me jump up for the ball, and said I was good at taking marks. He said if I ever reached Australia, I could watch Collingwood play. He also said that in Australia there are some female footie teams, and I would be a star.’

Then she smiled at Brian.

‘You remember I had a favour to ask you? Well, it is this. I would like to go to a proper AFL game. I would dearly love to see Collingwood play. At the Detention Centre, we could never go out on the weekends. I even tried to start football games, but the guards refused to get balls for us. Could you take me to the football please? That would help to make me a real Aussie.’

Brian just laughed in amazement.

‘That’s it, that the favour? I thought it was something difficult. That’s an easy one, leave it to me.’

But he also made a call to Lenny.

‘Mate, have you any old contacts from army records? I need you to track down someone.’

Lenny was desperate to help. He had to make up for his bad advice to Brian about confessing to Carol.

In the meantime, Jan was having a restless time. She was doing much serious thinking. About herself and Carol. She thought back to their days in school, mostly the fun they had on the camps sharing stories. She knew she had always had a crush on Carol, but in those young days, she didn’t fully realise what this meant. But now as a grown woman, she knew the full meaning. Remembering how she liked watching Carol get undressed in the tiny tent. Realising that her real sexual preferences had been dormantly in place so long ago. But then smiling when she remembered catching Carol taking furtive glimpses of her also. She wondered about Carol, what were her real preferences, did she even know? What was her friend thinking at this time?

She did a lot of mulling over the situation. Apart from wondering what life with Carol would be like, and how she could convince her friend to share this, she thought about friendship, love, affection, trust, lust, partnership, deceit, the future, and Brian. She thought with some bitterness about her wasted years with guys. And then with optimism about her new direction. But her thoughts always returned to what being a true friend really meant. But she couldn’t adequately define this. Could she be selfish and a friend at the same time?

Carol was confused. After Brian’s confession, she had met with Jan and told her the story. It felt good to get all her pent up frustration with Brian out of her system. And of course Jan was extremely sympathetic and listened closely. Carol fondly remembered the adventures she had shared with her friend. Jan had always been the daring leader, but Carol had always been the willing follower. She wondered what it would be like committing to Jan. She had enjoyed sharing the little tent in such a close way, and she admitted to herself she had enjoyed taking surreptitious peeks at Jan getting undressed. And she also suspected her friend had deliberately supplied a ridiculously tiny tent. But then Carol wondered if she was quite ready to follow her friend in this escapade.

Brian wasn’t sure what was going on. He was happy with his new friends and he hoped Carol had noticed. But his wife had been somewhat strange since his confession. Sometimes friendly like the old days, but more often distant as though her mind was elsewhere. And he wondered what was going on between her and Jan. They were always out for coffee and talking quietly on the phone. In his usual way he muddled along and hoped it would all be sorted out somehow.

Myself, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with these people. Why can’t they just get on with it? Is the boat ever going to land? But I suspect Brian and Samira may be just about sorted out, and I’m the one to do it.

Samira kept pestering Brian about the football, and when they would go. Brian had to put her off, waiting for Lenny’s call. It came shortly.

‘Yep mate; glad to say I still have some mates left in the forces. Tracked him down, it’s the same guy we knew in the local team a long time ago. There aren’t many soldiers with that nickname in Afghanistan. He made the Collingwood draft, and then he goes off and joins the army. And guess what? Talk about a fluke, he’s here! Still in the army but based locally. Arrived back home a while ago. I’ve spoken to him. He remembers Samira and wants to help.’

‘Thanks a heap Lenny, you are a real mate. Make the date. You better come along too.’

Brian told Samira that night.

‘Sorry for taking so long, a few things to sort out, but we’re off to see Collingwood this weekend. Got tickets for the members, Lenny’s coming too. Oh, by the way, another guy is also coming.’

So of course on Saturday morning, there was a knock on the door and Brian looked out to see a tall soldier standing there.

Just as he was about to open the door, Samira peered out, but drew back in alarm.

‘Brian, there’s a big soldier there, is he coming to take me away?’

But then she took a closer look, flung open the door and hurled herself into the guy’s arms. Brian just winked at the soldier, but he had a little tear in his eye.

‘Smithy, Smithy. You found me. Brian, this is my friend Sergeant Smith. This must be your doing, how did you manage this?’

‘It was hard, but Lenny did it. We both reckon you’re worth going to a lot of trouble for. More talk later, time now to go to the footy.’

Now, I bet you suspected that was coming. Myself, I reckon it’s a bit too cute and convenient. Way too much of a coincidence, but honestly I just have to get this boat home, and I’m not in a mood to apologise for taking short cuts. In my opinion, a fixer is entitled to pull a few strings when necessary. Anyway, it looks like Brian and Samira are all sorted, and all because of a little leather ball.

But now for the difficult part, sorting out Carol and Jan. No easy shortcuts here, just a lot of hard slog. And I’m now pretty tired, so I’m just going to let them sort it out somehow. Put it this way, they’re no longer young girls, but mature women who know their own minds. I hope.

It came to a head when they met the next week, and Carol brought along Brian’s army letters.

She angrily flung the tangled pile on the table.

‘Brian was leading a double life in Vietnam. Look at the letters. They’re all lies. Why did he do this?’

Jan glanced at some of the pages, and then started to read. She asked Carol to go order more coffees, while she intently studied the writing.

‘Carol, have you really read these letters? Properly I mean. Have you looked behind the happy clichés? Because I can see the man was trying to tell you something here, he was not very happy at all. Of course it’s all made up, he was trying to shield you, make sure you had a happy peaceful time at home while he was having a lousy time serving his country. He really did love you deeply.’

A little spear went through her heart as she said this, because she realised that for all his faults Brian had truly loved her friend, and still did. She silently wondered if she could love Carol like Brian did. She contemplated whether her feelings were love, passion, friendship, or just lust.

‘Not really, Jan, no. I used to just quickly glance through them and put them in the box. Maybe the first few, but they kept arriving almost every second day. I actually got a bit tired of them. Finally I stopped reading them, into the box they went. At the end, the only one I really read was his last one. And now I think about it, that one was different, Brian seemed more vibrant when he wrote about our future, not just what he was doing in Vietnam.’

She looked at her friend and blushed as she considered her next sentence.

‘To be truthful Jan, I have a confession to make. I had no time to really work out what they meant, much less read them properly. All the time he was overseas, I was having fun going out with a lot of other guys.’

Jan blinked and stared at Carol in surprise. Her Carol, the shy timid Carol, the one man in her life type of Carol. But now Carol with a twist.

‘But why Carol. You and Brian were sweethearts since school. We all knew you would get married and raise a family.’

‘That’s true Jan. I knew when I met Brian we would marry one day. He was the only boy I went out with. As soon as he was called up, we started to plan the wedding for when he came home. But don’t forget, I was still very young. I knew the marriage would be a good one, but a very long one. And I realised that Brian was a good man and would be a decent husband, although a predictable boring one. So I decided to have a bit of fun while I could. Remember, you were always the one to lead us into adventures, so I decided to have my own adventure. I made the most of this opportunity. Mind you, I was still faithful him, although there was a lot of heavy breathing at times.’

But then her face clouded, as she considered Jan’s comments about the pain Brian must have been going through, and how she had not sensed his true feelings about his war, despite the cheerful pages.

‘I guess Jan that Brian’s sad war was my good time war. But I just didn’t know. I was too selfish. But I made it up to him when he got home. We got married, I became the dutiful wife and raised a family and ran a home. I guess in retrospect it has been a successful marriage. He is a good man, and is capable of change. I’m amazed now at how he gets along with Rashid and Samira in particular, when I think about his reaction to when I told him about them coming to live with us. But now I am confused, I need to know what direction to go. Help me.’

She looked into her friend’s eyes.

‘I guess it’s decision time my friend. What do I do?’

Jan sighed. Another side to Carol she had not suspected. She thought about her thoughts over the past weeks, Carol’s revelations and her friendship and love for Carol. Also, the chance of a new direction for her best friend and soul mate. She made her decision. Giving Carol a long hug, she told her what she should do. After that, Carol could only whisper emotionally that yes that was the best for both of them, and that Jan was indeed her true friend.

Hang on a minute. What’s going on? This Jan lady is causing me great angst. Nobody is any the wiser. What did she advise Carol? Why won’t she let the boat get into the harbour? There are way too many unanswered questions.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned I’ve had a gutful and this voyage is now over. The boats close enough to some harbour; I just don’t know which one. They can all scramble on shore themselves. They had better thank me for keeping the boat afloat, because it was hard work. Although I did have use of a few good props. Using blokes and tools and sheds, together with Aussie rules, with a bit of sex thrown in, and it all finally falls into place. But I do need a rest. Actually, the boss is sending me on a cushy assignment. One on a new cruise ship, where all I have to do is make sure wealthy people don’t fall out of their deck chairs. I think the name of the ship is the Titanic. Sounds like fun.

Sorry, I almost forgot, there is one last rope to tie off.

Brian received a call from Jan. The night after her talk to Carol.

‘Just to let you know, I told Carol what she should do. You got off. She’s still yours. Sticking with you. You know that Carol means the world to me. She always has. I just want for her to be happy. I reckon she will be happier with you, than with me. She’s not quite ready. But heaven forbid, it was so tempting. I could have had her you know. I could have convinced her to leave you and sail off with me. But I’ve realised she’s vulnerable and confused. If she comes to me, it must be after thinking things through clearly, not because she needs a shoulder to cry on.You gave her a hell of a shock with your crazy confession. But I guess you were just trying to be true to her and be honest for the first time in thirty five years. That went in your favour. You can also thank your mate Lenny. He put in a good word for you, and he’s a convincing little guy.

I know you love her and for some reason she still loves you. But you need to change. Work on the marriage, talk to her, tell her your problems, because she is part of them. Get good counselling for yourself. Stop trying to teach her to bowl, take her into the city for coffee. Trade in that stupid big Ford for a fancy little sports model. But don’t forget, I’m still around. Still watching out for Carol. So remember – if you foul up, if you don’t treat her well, if you don’t make her happy – I’ll be coming. Not for you, but for Carol.’

The End.


Brian and Carol managed to live happily ever after. Brian did change and Carol compromised. They did a few more voyages, but made sure to stay in calm waters. Brian developed a liking for inner city latte’s, and to her surprise, Carol developed a liking for bowling. In fact she won the ladies veteran first place, which pissed off Brian no end.

Rashid and Samira’s permanent visas were finally granted and they managed to move into government housing. Rashid obtained a job as an air conditioning mechanic, which pleased Brian because he got free servicing for his old unit. Samira went on to get the best and fairest in the Northern Suburbs female football district league. The local footie club raised money for plastic surgery on her scar, and she looked a million dollars.

Lenny, with a bit of help from Jan, managed to get himself together, and started a Vietnam Vets counselling service. Surprising herself, Jan developed a certain fondness for Lenny, and decided to give guys one more go.

The fixer was last reported being seen rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in a valiant attempt to stop the vessel foundering. He was just too weary to see the iceberg.

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The Voyage Part Ten – Brian Confesses

The Voyage Part Ten – Brian Confesses. Bruce McCorkill

Brian has apologised to Rashid and Samira, they are on his side
Carol has a lot of thinking to do
Brian now has to confess to Carol

Well, the final part of the mission is just about to get into operational mode. Myself, I have a few reservations. Lenny claims to be a good strategist; so far this is panning out. Brian’s managed to get both Rashid and Samira on side, without too much effort, and Carol has hopefully noticed this and it’s counting in his favour. But I have this nagging doubt that maybe Brian should just leave it at that, what Carol doesn’t know won’t hurt her. My fear is that as soon as she finds out Brian’s secret, she’ll go scooting off to Jan to get her advice, and we all know what that will be. But the old vets seem convinced their strategy will work, so who am I to challenge this? I just hope it all works out for Brian, I’ll be in there batting for him, but there’s only so much a fixer can do.

Brian’s chance to tell Carol came a couple of weeks later. Carol had been thinking about Jan’s suggestion, almost running through scenarios about what life with Jan would be like rather than with Brian. She studied her husband of thirty five years, her partner, the father of her children. Did she really know him, what went on in his mind? What was wrong with him. He had said he wanted to tell her something important; she needed to know to help her decide what to do.

‘Brian, you wanted to tell me something. What is it? What’s on your mind? What happened the other night? You have changed since then; you’ve been getting on with Rashid and Samira really well. I’m pleasantly surprised.’

Brian collected his thoughts, remembered Lenny’s advice and began. It reminded him of the minutes before a fight, wondering how it would go, would you survive. He took a deep breath and started to talk.

‘Carol, you remember that last letter I wrote from Vietnam, telling you I was suddenly coming home soon?’

‘Yes I do, I was so relieved to hear your war was over. We could start our new life. I can still remember that long beautiful letter, you wrote all these lovely sentences about our future life together.’

‘Well Carol, the day after that letter my Patrol conducted a raid on some enemy hiding in a little village. I was in charge. In that raid I did a terrible thing. I killed a young Vietnamese girl. It all happened so quickly. We entered this hut, I was in front, this girl suddenly appeared, so I shot her. Then everybody started firing and it was all over in a few seconds.’

‘But Brian, it’s terrible you shot a young girl, but wasn’t she the enemy. We read lots at home about young girls pretending to being friends, tricking our soldiers, but really being the enemy. You were in a war. You were right to kill her.’

Brian wondered how to tell Carol the next part.

‘Yes it was a war, and a bloody stupid war. But Carol, this time was different. Afterwards we found out the people in the hut were South Vietnamese, our friends. I had killed an innocent girl. I found out all she was saying when she put her hand out was ‘please don’t hurt me, I’m your friend.’ So my last action in that stupid war was killing an innocent person. Not a good way to finish my fighting career was it?’

‘But Brian, it was all a mistake; we read about this, what’s it called? Friendly fire or something like that. I can understand you must have felt terrible. But, wait a minute, didn’t you tell me that you got a medal for that fight?’

‘Ah yes, the famous medal. They gave us all a medal to shut us up, keep us happy. Told us to keep quiet and they would ship us home really quickly. Remember, this was the last part of the war, the public back home were protesting, the government was just trying to justify why we were still there. They were only concerned with saving face. The brass made up a story about it being an unfortunate mistake, and got us the hell out of there. We were on the next plane home. My war was finished. Although, the mad war in my mind was just starting.’

‘But I still don’t understand, you did the best you could. You seem to be taking too much blame.’

Brian collected his thoughts and courage. To tell Carol the part he had finally confessed to Lenny. But he thought how Lenny was still him mate, now it was time to see if Carol would still be his wife.

‘Because Carol, as we entered the village it was wrong. You get a funny nervy feeling of what’s right and wrong. You need it to survive. It didn’t feel as though the enemy was there. I was trying to figure out what to do next. Even when we went into the hut and I suddenly saw the girl, I still thought something wasn’t right. Even when I started to pull the trigger, I knew I was doing the wrong thing…I thought I knew what she was saying. But I still pulled the trigger.’

Carol looked ashen faced at Brian. Her Brian, the Brian she had shared her life with for over thirty years, but suddenly a different Brian, a stranger, someone she didn’t know.

‘Why Brian? How could you do something like that, couldn’t you have stopped?’

‘I don’t really know. It was happening fast, the guys were pushing in behind me, Lenny was beside me urging me to shoot. But most of all, I was thinking of you, I just wanted to make sure I was going to get home safely. I was thinking about my letter to you the previous night. About how I went on about my dreams for us, our life together. I couldn’t let anything stuff that up, like being shot by the Viet Cong on my last fight. Your face suddenly flashed in my rifle sights. I just wanted to play safe. Shoot or be shot. In some mad way in my mind in that instant, it seemed to be you or her. So there was really bugger all choice.’

‘Brian this is crazy. You used to write that you worked out these mission strategies really well. You were proud of how you were so cautious, spent a lot of time assessing the intelligence. You told me that you would spend hours before a fight making sure the targets were correct. That if you had to kill people, they were definitely the enemy.’

Brian wondered how Carol would react to the next bit. It was too late to stop now. So he doggedly went on.

‘Normally yes, I was known for being good at these assessments. And yes, normally I would spend tons of time poring over reports, making sure we were going in knowing who was who. But that day we learned we were going home shortly, sooner than we thought. I could hardly wait to tell you. So that night I just briefly skimmed over the data, on the surface it seemed clear they were the enemy. Then I got onto the real business. Writing that long letter, telling you I was coming home. Talking about our future. About getting married, building a house, having a family. So now you know Carol. That’s why the girl and her family died. I just didn’t do my job properly. In some way I chose you over my duty. The guys suspected this too. They knew something was wrong. They wouldn’t look me in the eye, stopped talking to me, avoided me.’

Carol put her head in her hands and tried to make sense of this information flood And of Brian.

‘So that’s why you suddenly changed when Samira smiled at you? I think I’m beginning to understand a few things now.’

‘Yes, suddenly it all flooded back. The look in Samira’s eyes, her saying she wanted to be friends, the way she held out her hand. It all just hit me, the memories poured in and I just snapped. I can’t explain why. It was like a grenade had finally exploded in my brain. You know the rest.’

‘No, I don’t think I do know the rest. I know what happened in the rest of that awful night. I can start to understand. But now I realise there are a few things I don’t actually know. Things I think I had better find out about pretty quickly. For starters, those letters you always wrote. You seemed to be having a good time, enjoying the army.’

She looked into Brian’s eyes again. Eyes which now looked very sad and desperate and empty.

‘Brian I need to know. What was your war really like? The truth please.’

‘Carol, my real war was a dirty shitty filthy war. We soon realised it was a farce, a futile battle for the Western world to save face. But we knew, and the public were beginning to know, that once it was over nothing would have been achieved, it would all be the same. Like lots of the guys, I realised I was killing people for nothing, except to keep the politicians happy, they could publish those bloody body counts. So the multi nationals could keep selling arms to the government and make more profits. Writing letters to you was the way I stayed sane.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I looked at you as I boarded the plane. You looked so lovely but so lonely and sad. I promised myself that I would never let my war upset you. So I wrote cheerful letters, to keep you happy, but they were mostly lies. The guys were all down at the bars and brothels, but I was back at base writing to you. All I wanted to do was to get home, marry you and raise a family. Somehow this balanced out the terrible things we had to do. The best day of my life was when I came into the airport lounge and saw you. You were still so lovely, but now so happy.’

‘But Brian, if your war was so bad, how did you cope after you arrived home, they give soldiers counselling these days. You seemed so happy and contented; you had fun at work and raising the kids. The truth please.’

Brian gave a bitter laugh.

‘Counselling, what a joke. There was nothing in those days. All I got was a debriefing session with an army doctor, who looked at me, said I should be grateful that I was still alive and had two complete legs, then told me to clear off, get married, get a cheap Defence loan to build a house and forget the war. That’s what we all got. They just wanted to piss us off, out of sight.’

Carol was vainly trying to take in this information, make some sense of it. Trying to reconcile this man sitting opposite her with the man she had spent the last thirty five years with. Wondering how she had not suspected what was really going on in his mind.

‘Brian, tell me about your life. Since our marriage. I don’t know you. Why didn’t you tell me about this? What other secrets have you been keeping from me? The truth please.’

‘Just by being busy and keeping my mind occupied. Why do you think I worked so hard and long hours? I didn’t enjoy it, but it kept my mind off my war, and how it finished. When the kids were young, why do you think I always carted them around to events, joined all the parent committees? Why did I always work my bum off maintaining the house? Just to stop me thinking. But when I lost my job, it all went haywire, and the demons started making me have mad thoughts. I tried to talk to you, tried to get you to go to the club, but you always seemed to be off having coffee with Jan, or heading into Collingwood to see Chloe. So I just gave up, started drinking more at the club, then when things got too bad, I talked to Lenny.’

Carol looked softly at Brian, and held him in her arms.

‘I am so sorry Brian. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for your sad war, for the lies you thought you had to tell. I’m sorry for not listening to you. I’m really sorry for that poor girl. I’m sorry for everything. But I’m mostly sorry for us. You’ve kept this terrible secret from me, your wife, the woman you supposedly love so much. Now I wonder what else have you been keeping secret from me all these years.’

Then her face suddenly hardened. She backed away.

‘But now I’m sorry that you seem to be blaming your problems on me. Now I’m plain mad at you. You didn’t have to suddenly write that last letter. I could have waited. You should have just done your job properly and then this thing would not have happened. I don’t know what to say, or do. And this is just when I thought things were getting better, it’s been great seeing you and Samira getting along together. This totally changes our marriage and my feelings about you. I need to talk to Jan again, I need her advice.’

With that she strode out of the house, leaving Brian wondering if Lenny was such a smart strategist after all. And also wondering what the hell Carol was going to do. The talk had not gone the way he had hoped.

Sorry, but I have to say told you so, I knew this would happen. The silly bugger shouldn’t have listened to Lenny; he should have just kept quiet. You know that cliché about letting sleeping dogs lie. I reckon that what people don’t know won’t hurt them. Anyway we’re now in damage control. The future of this voyage suddenly seems to be in Jan’s hands, she’s clearly got her hand on the tiller and a few more things as well. So near the shore, but still so far. All I can do is hope that Jan won’t scuttle the boat.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

What advice will Jan give Carol, and will she take it?
What is this favour that Samira wants to ask Brian?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Nine – Brian and Samira

The Voyage Part Nine – Brian and Samira. Bruce McCorkill


Brian and Lenny have worked out a mission to get Rashid and Samira on side.
The first part has gone well; Brian and Rashid have established common ground.
Brian now needs to talk to Samira

Brian was feeling quite chuffed. He was pleasantly surprised at how the first day with Rashid had gone. They had established common ground over the tools, and he was sure that they could develop a workable living arrangement. He was on the verge of asking for Rashid’s assistance in tuning the big Ford. He mused how strange this was, he had never allowed anybody else to fiddle with his prize baby, not even Lenny, and now he was going to let this Afghan guy open the bonnet and go for it. He imagined how it would have been to have a man like Rashid working in his old factory; the place would have run like clockwork. The funny part was that after talking to Rashid and learning about his impoverished background, the pain of losing his job had lessened somewhat, he was grateful for living in a stable and safe country. He also realised that maybe it was better to talk things out, rather than be a tough guy and hold it all in. So all in all, he thought that stage one of the mission was just about accomplished.

As Lenny had devised, stage two of the mission was to win over Samira. He needed to apologise for his behaviour and gain her trust. He was also intrigued about what her father had said about Samira having the knack of listening to people with problems, and how she was good at this “helping talk.” He had noticed that while she seemed happy to be in their house, at times she tended to withdraw into herself and looked very sad. Maybe they could swap stories and help each other. Lenny had advised him to be patient, and he was in no great hurry. Carol still didn’t want to talk to him, although she had made some comment about how he and Rashid seemed to be getting along. He took this as a positive omen, and waited for the right time.

Although he made sure he apologised quickly to Samira, in fact the next day, and it was along the same lines as his apology to Rashid.

‘Samira, I just want to say I’m really sorry for the way I behaved the other night. I wanted to make you really feel welcome, but something happened in my mind and I went crazy. I would not normally say all those stupid hurtful comments and make my racist jokes. My only excuse is that since losing my job, I’ve been feeling awful and having all these crazy thoughts. You suddenly reminded me of a terrible thing I did in a war a long time ago, and I lost control of myself. I hope you forgive me and stay in our house. I want to help you feel as though this is your new home.’

Samira’ response was also similar to her father’s.

‘Brian, there is no need to apologise. Like my father, I am grateful to be out of the prison of the detention centre. You have a beautiful home. Carol has been helpful to us. When we sat down and you suddenly looked into my eyes, I looked back into yours and I saw a lot of pain there. At the Refugee Centre I work with many people who have suffered many bad things. Every day I look into eyes which show suffering and pain, but also eyes that can learn to hope and look to a better life. I used to do this at home too. Even despite the Taliban threatening to kill me for trying to help my people. I don’t know why, but for some reason I seem to have a skill in listening to people and making them feel better. My parents went through much hardship and opposition to give me a good education. So I must use this to help people. There is too much pain in this world.’

Then Samira looked directly at Brian and smiled, and in her almond eyes Brian saw some hope for himself that if he could trust this young person, she may be able to lesson his burden.

‘In many ways Brian, you remind me of some of the Australian soldiers back home. They were kind to us. ’They protected us from the Taliban. We found them helpful. This is why if I can I would like to help you with your pain, because this is one way I can repay you for having us in your home. I hope we can both help each other. I also have a favour I need to ask you one day. But not now, please take me to your vegetable garden so I can start by teaching you how to grow better vegetables with less water. I think in this country you are called a water wally.’

So as with Rashid, Brian realised that he could develop a fruitful relationship with Samira. All he needed to do was just wait a bit for the right time for her to tell him her story. And then he would take a chance and tell Samira his story. He was happy to wait a bit, because stage three of the mission of confessing to Carol would be the hardest one. He wasn’t sure how Carol would react, hopefully she would understand, but she had been really pissed off with him. Maybe Jan could calm her down at their coffee meetings, which now seemed to almost be a daily occurrence.

His chance came quite soon. They were watching a late night news flash about a boat wreck on Christmas Island, filled with asylum seekers, where there were many people drowned. Out of the corner of his eye, Brian noticed Samira begin to quietly sob. He plucked up his courage and simply said,

‘Samira, please tell me what’s wrong. I’ve been watching you, I know you are happy to be here, but sometimes when you think no one is looking, you suddenly seem so sad. Then I see pain and sorrow in your eyes. If I saw my daughter crying like you, I would want to do everything I could to help her. All I know is that you had a terrible time getting to Australia. Your father has told me a little about that. But listen, you are now safe. You know I can be pretty thick, but I’m learning to listen to people. Please tell me your story.’

Samira considered a moment. She looked into Brian’s eyes and indeed saw deep in them a desire to help her. She thought again about her friend Sergeant Smith back home and how she could talk to him. She took a deep breath and it all came out

‘Brian, I could talk all night about our voyage here, about the journey from our violence torn home village to sitting on your comfortable couch. But for the minute, I will tell you the main parts so you can begin to understand. My father and I are Hazaras from the province of Oruzgan. A long time ago, the Hazaras suffered enormously under the Taliban rule and were the first to support the overthrow of the Taliban by the American forces in 2001. Our people supported the new government and democratic process in the post-Taliban period. But this caused the Taliban insurgents to attack our villages and towns in their quest for revenge.’

Brian considered this.

‘Yes, that’s the part of Afghanistan where the fighting is always in the news. I’ve never been sure why the fighting was always there. Now I know. What happened to force your family to leave?’

‘You need to understand that the Taliban were strongly against our people gaining an education. They thought that as long as people were uneducated they could be fooled and would endure their persecution. Most importantly, they made sure that women could be kept as second class people if they had no knowledge of how better life is for women in the Western world. Your world, where women have the same rights as men and are not just thought of as possessions to be owned and traded. Luckily for me, my parents were very enlightened. They fought for me to have an education. They sacrificed much to send me to a private Islamic school. You will have noticed that my use of your language is quite good. For that I have to thank the dedicated teachers at the school, but mostly my mother. It was she who always encouraged me to continue to learn, and then to teach my friends in the village about how to be free from oppression by the Taliban.’

Brian thought for a while, and then asked.

‘This sounds like my daughter Chloe. Carol saved to send her to a private girl’s school. I think she learnt a lot about how to be a strong woman and have a good life and career. But then again, there were no soldiers hanging about trying to harm her. What was the final straw? Something really bad must have happened.’

‘What happened Brian is that on a holy day I gave a speech in our village square. I spoke against the oppression of the Taliban against women. I asked all the girls in the square to demand they go to school. I spoke of a lot of things that day; it was all about informing my people there could be a better life for us. My father had warned me that the Taliban had threatened to take drastic action about me. My speaking out must have been the final insult to their intolerance. I had never worn the full covering of the burqa. This to me was demeaning to women. I only wore the hijab scarf under protest. At the end of my speech I tore the hijab off my face. Suddenly a group of Taliban appeared and attacked me. My father came to my aid but could not do anything. Luckily, some Australian soldiers were nearby and stopped the attack. In fact it was my friend Sergeant Smith who saved me.’

Brian was dumfounded. This was some brave chick. He wondered what Chloe would have done. But he was curious about something.

‘Why do you still wear your scarf, you’re safe in Australian now. You can choose what to wear.’

Samira looked at Brian, almost as if she was considering if she could trust him. She gave a little shrug and took off her scarf. Brian gasped. Because extending from just below her ear to her jaw was a jagged scar. Brian had seen war wounds, but this was a bad one. It must have been deep, done with a serrated knife, and the flesh repair stiches had been done quickly and roughly, leaving a vivid raised zig zag pattern all the way down.

‘This is why I still wear my scarf Brian, even in your free country. I am not ashamed of my face, I just am tired of people looking at me and making comments behind my back. But in a good way it reminds me that if your soldiers had not reached me, I would now be dead. So this is my small victory over the Taliban, thanks to you Ozzies.’’

Brian was having trouble taking all this in. It was quite a different matter seeing pictures of dead and wounded Afghans on the six o’clock news, even on the big plasma, to looking right at Samira, who had actually been through this trauma. And he thought, had managed to survive. Samira continued her tale.

‘After that, our family was doomed if we stayed. The Taliban would have killed us when the soldiers weren’t nearby. We fled that night. Luckily my parents had been expecting this and had an escape plan prepared.. It is a long story, but my father managed to get us to the refugee camps on the Pakistan border. This was the worst part of our journey. Conditions in the camp were terrible. There were no proper toilets, no decent food, officials were corrupt, and many people got sick and died, with their bodies flung into big pits. Women had to always be on guard against rape. But finally we managed to get on a boat run by people smugglers my father trusted. My father and I finally reached Australia, after a horrific trip in an overcrowded old boat, with no decent food, life jackets or toilets. We went through Malaysia and landed on Christmas Island, and finally we arrived at the Detention Centre in Melbourne.’

She smiled at Brian and took his hand.

‘Then Brian, after months of living in the awful Detention Centre, we were saved by Carol and yourself allowing us to live with you. For this we will always be grateful.’

Brian was again amazed. He was having trouble taking all these graphic and disturbing details in. This was a long way from comfortable pots and parmas at the club. But he was curious about something.

‘Samira, what about your mother? You said that your family left the village, but that only you and your father arrived in Melbourne. Carol said that you never talk about your mother. Is she somewhere else, is she still alive?’

Samira just looked at him, then the tears started. She broke down and wailed uncontrollably, huge sobs and streams of tears running down her young face. Brian could only wonder what he would hear next. Finally Samira calmed down.

‘Brian, Islam faith holds there is always a balance, one good thing against one bad thing. My good thing is reaching your country. My mother is dead. She died on the boat trip. In the refugee camp she got sick; with no doctors or medicine we didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t help her. She became one of the many dying people. All we could do was to try to speed up our trip to Australia. When we finally got on the boat, we thought she would be able to be saved with modern medicines once we reached Australia. But she got worse and suddenly died only one day before we reached shore. The boat had no area for storing bodies, and the crew had to throw her overboard. All I could do was comfort her as she died and thank her for being a loving caring mother. My father could only promise her that he would look after me. He was heartbroken as he loved her greatly. He has never forgiven himself for not getting my mother to Australia sooner. I think that is why he likes working at the Refugee Centre and helping you; it gives him something to do and stops him grieving too much. That is my bad thing. But I like to now believe that my mother in the next life is aware that I am safe with good people.’

At this point Brian realised that while he thought he had problems with demons, he wasn’t the only one suffering, and that his new friend Rashid also had his own demons to confront. He also vowed that he would do all he could to help his new friends. Samira concluded.

‘So Brian, that is my story. Thank you for listening to me. I want to hear your story; I think it will help you to tell someone who cares about you, but right now I am feeling too tired. I only have strength to pick some of your tasty carrots. Also, I have a request to ask you, but it can wait for a while.’

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

Has Brian won Samira over, and what is this favour she wants?

How will Brian start the final stage of the mission – confessing to Carol?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Eight – Brian and Rashid

The Voyage Part Eight – Brian and Rashid. Bruce McCorkill


Brian has attempted to tell his side of the story to Carol.
She doesn’t want to listen, and only wants to get advice from her friend Jan.
Jan gives advice, but seems to have an ulterior motive.

I knew it… As soon as that woman climbed onto the boat I could see she was trouble. She is supposedly Carol’s best friend, one to rely on to give sound advice to help Carol reconcile with Brian. But all she wants to do is to get into Carol’s pants. This was not part of the trip. I’ll have to fix this somehow.

But while I think about this, let’s see how Brian is going.

After Brian told Lenny the full story of the shooting of the girl back in Vietnam, he collapsed in Lenny’s arms and wept softly. Lenny consoled him.

‘It’s all right mate. I knew there must have been something more than what you always told me. Now I know. I just wish you had trusted me earlier and let me know the full story. I can understand, Carol was the one thing that kept you going all that time, kept you in control. You made a mistake on the night before the raid, a big mistake, but I reckon you’ve paid for it.’

Brian looked at his friend.

‘Lenny, she still is the only thing in my life that keeps me going. After last night I just don’t know if I can keep her. She really seems to want to break up. I couldn’t cope with that. What can I do?’

‘Easy mate. Remember, back in Vietnam, I was the one who worked out the fighting strategy. Well, you’re in the fight of your life now, you need a plan. Seems to me, you have to tell Carol the whole story.’

‘Hang on, you mean including the part I just told you?’

‘Yep, the whole bloody story mate. You made a good start by telling me, and the earth didn’t fall apart did it. I don’t reckon it’ll make her happy; she’ll want to know how come you didn’t tell her before. She’ll want to know about any other secrets you’ve been keeping from her. You have to teach Carol how to trust you. So if you are serious about keeping her, you have to tell her everything.’

‘Lenny, you’re right as usual. You know I feel a bit better since telling you, it’s finally out in the open. I reckon I can cope with telling Carol, I just hope she can cope with hearing it.’

Lenny put up a warning arm.

‘But don’t tell her just now. From what you say she needs time to cool down. Also she’s going to want to know what you are doing to change. So you need to give her something. How about if you square the situation with the Afghans. If you’re serious about this, you need them on side. From what you say they seem good people. If they’re on your side, the battle’s half won.’

‘Sounds good Lenny. I need to apologise and make them welcome. They are good people. Funny part is that last night, even while I was making a clown of myself, they didn’t get upset. It was like they realised there was some crazy stuff going on in my mind. I overheard them later saying that I seemed very troubled, and that they should try to help me. After what they must have suffered, they must have seen a few guys like me.’

He shook his head.

‘You know Lenny, this is all crazy. I’m the one supposed to be helping them, letting them live in my house, helping them settle in Australia, but they seem to be doing the helping. Maybe I could speak to the guy; he must have seen terrible things in his army days. All he told Carol is that they suddenly had to leave; it was that or be killed. I could tell him my story, see what he thinks. Maybe I could get him to tell me.’

Brian shook his mate’s hand.

‘Thanks Lenny. I realise how some of the guys must like talking to you about their problems, you do have the knack of listening. Like you said before, half the guys here seem to be having dramas when you get them on their own, maybe we should all start talking more, not just pissing on. Something to think about my friend. Anyway, off to start the mission.’

Brian avoided Carol that night, and indeed he was still relegated to the couch. But next morning, he approached Rashid.

‘Rashid, I just want to say I’m really sorry about my behaviour the other night. I don’t normally do things like that. Something came over me and I just don’t know why I said all those stupid things. No, hang on a minute; I do know why I started behaving badly. It was your daughter. She suddenly reminded me of a girl back in Vietnam, a long, long time ago. A girl I did a terrible thing to. It’s been on my mind all these years, and I suddenly snapped and lost control. Please accept my apology and welcome to my home.’

He held out his hand to Rashid, who shook it warmly. Still holding Brian’s hand he responded.

‘Brian, you have no need to apologise. We are simply grateful for the chance to leave that awful Refugee Centre and live in your lovely home. All I can say is thank you for accepting us. Both my daughter and I have suffered greatly over the last few years. In our country we lived with many people who suffered terrible events, and they showed this in many strange behaviours. In my time, I have seen countless brave men who suddenly broke, for no clear reason. With Samira’s work at the Centre, she sees many people like that, all with tragic stories. You call it counselling, we just know it as helping talk. Samira is very good at this, she seems to know how to just listen and people like talking to her. She likes you, says you remind her of some of the Australian soldiers back home.’

Rashid then looked at Brian closely.

‘Brian, I watched you last night. I saw you change when we sat down. I thought that Samira triggered something in you, something bad, but also very sad. I think you have a story to tell. I hope that when the time is right and you have learnt to trust me, you will tell me this story.’

He smiled warmly at Brian, who suddenly had a flash that this man could listen to him, and like Lenny, understand his fight with the demons.

‘But in the meantime my friend, we have work to do. We have to fix this old air conditioner for Carol. I think I have found the problem. All I need are your beautiful tools. I’m jealous Brian, back home I had to repair these things with bent wire and rusty pliers.’

So the men spent the morning repairing the machine together, and pottering around the shed, Rashid marvelling each time he discovered more tools. By morning’s end they had developed a type of camaraderie, each one assessing the other, and like smart soldiers recognising a friend rather than a foe.

As they ate, Brian impulsively grabbed Rashid’s arm and blurted out.

‘Rashid, what is the war in your country really like? In Australia all we hear is what the government thinks we should know, there are so many different stories. It seems like our Vietnam War, the people at home didn’t really know or understand what was going on, while us soldiers who were there knew exactly what was going wrong, and how it was not serving any purpose.’

Rashid gave a bitter sweet laugh. His eyes clouded for a second.

‘Brian my friend, I could talk to you for days about our war and you would still have trouble understanding. Sometimes I don’t understand myself. For the minute, let me say, our war is the same as your Vietnam War but many times worse. Your war was fought in the steamy jungles; ours is being fought in the barren desert. But some things never change. Not knowing who the enemy really is, not knowing the real motives of foreign countries, not knowing what will happen once the armies go home, and worst of all, knowing that governments will never realise the madness of war. More about this later, we will sit and tell our stories, but in the meantime, where is this old machine which cuts grass, which you can’t start?’

It always works, doesn’t it? Get men together in a shed with tools and they just seem to sort things out, find common ground. Hopefully, the boat now has two men steering together bound for the harbour. There are still a few reefs to navigate, Brian needs to befriend Samira, but I think he’s getting better at understanding other people. If he takes her father’s advice he could maybe bring himself to tell her his story. She seems to have a knack for helping people with troubled minds. But then to achieve the mission, he has to confess to Carol and gain her trust. I don’ know how he will manage that, it’s a big ask, and he’ll need a lot of help. I’m now really worried about Jan; she’s skulking around the boat and still could sink it. Not sure how to deal with her, hopefully she may just fall overboard, with a bit of a push from your’s truly.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

Is the boat now on the right course?

How can Brian gain Samira’s trust and friendship?

How will Carol react when he finally confesses to her?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Seven – Carol and Jan

The Voyage Part Seven – Carol and Jan Bruce McCorkill


The welcome dinner was a disaster
Carol is thinking about leaving Brian and needs advice from her friend Jan
Brian has told his mate Lenny the full story and they are still mates
The fixer is back and is wondering what to do to sort out the mess

Well, I’m back and wondering what to do about this right fine mess. I thought I’d give them all a go at steering the boat, but I reckon it’s near to capsizing. The problem is they let these other passengers on, but the boats already full. The minute I left, they just clambered over the gunnels. Who is this guy Lenny, how did he get on? But he seems to want to help Brian, maybe he can stay, as long as he works his passage. And what about this Jan? Where did she come from? Carol’s best friend is she. Why does Carol always rush off to get her advice, can’t she think for herself? I’ll have to watch out for this Jan, don’t quite trust her.

But thinking about Brian, I do feel really bad. Here I was going to throw him off the boat, not realising about his terrible secret. I should have twigged something was up. Maybe I need to brush up on my empathy skills. Anyway, now I have an obligation to get him home safely, but it’s going to be difficult until he smartens up. Maybe Rashid and Samira can help. Out of all this motley crew, they seem the most stable sailors. After all Brian’s insults, they still want to help him.

Anyway, Brian has had his say to his mate, wonder what Carol is saying to her friend.

Carol and Jan met in the usual little coffee place. They both enjoyed these meetings. It was a chance to catch up, swap stories and have a good gossip. But this meeting was different. Jan sensed something was really upsetting her friend. After the hello, hug and peck on the cheek, Carol burst out.

‘Well, I’m thinking of leaving Brian. The last year has been unbearable. We go to work, he goes to the RSL, I go to night classes, and that’s all. We don’t communicate. There’s no passion, tenderness, gentleness or feeling. I made a mistake. I married early to the first nice boy, raised lovely kids, made a home. All my married life has been supporting my family. My dues are paid and it’s my turn. It’s been coming a while, but after attending some of the women’s study groups, I’ve realised I haven’t any real identity apart from my mundane marriage. Also, I’ve met lots of women who feel the same way, so it’s not just me.’
Jan was amazed, this was a new Carol, but one she liked. Also, she was not a fan of Brian’s.
‘What happened to trigger this? You’ve always been Mrs Northern Suburbs Steady Housewife. Tell me all about it, don’t spare any details. I assume the dinner last night had something to do with this. How did it go?’
‘Well, last night made me finally realise he’s just a stupid thick headed insensitive dickhead, pardon the French. The night was a total disaster. The stupid clown finished up insulting our guests; he told all his racist jokes, laughed at Samira’s dress, insulted my food, got drunk, and just behaved like an oaf. He started off all right, I’d warned him to behave himself. He seemed to enjoy showing off the house and his stupid bloody shed. But when we all sat down he suddenly lost control and started this crazy behaviour. And Samira was really trying to be friendly.’’
‘Oh Carol, that must have been terrible for you; I totally understand how you must have felt. Remember how I’ve been warning you about Brian, how he’s not good enough for you, I think you deserve better in a partner. You deserve someone who understands what you want.’

She spontaneously leant over and gave her friend a long hug.

‘How did the evening finish?’

‘Not in a nice way. The last straw was when we were going to bed. He started to paw me and wanted sex. I just let go with all the frustrations since his job loss. I chose words to deliberately hurt him, I was so angry. He was cringing at everything I said, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to punish him. All he could do was to keep saying he was sorry, in a really pathetic way… Normally I just blast him and it’s over, but this time I really let him have it. I even finished by telling him he was a lousy lover, and sent him down to the couch to sleep. He was not a happy man. I wonder are all men like this? As you know I haven’t had much experience, Brian has been my only man. You know much more about men than me.’

She stopped talking and looked at Jan thoughtfully and said bitterly.

‘I’ve never told you this, but I nearly had an affair once, a long time ago. After I went back to work when the kids went to school. Brian was always busy and didn’t pay much attention to me. He just seemed to think of me as a mother, not a lover. There was a guy at work, he paid me a lot of attention, I was quite flattered, someone wanted just me as a person, not just a mother. It didn’t get much further than furtive meetings and kisses in the filing room, but it was exciting and I was thinking about taking it further. He was married also, but said he had lost emotional contact with his wife, and he seemed really keen on me. One time after Brian had done something to really upset me, we went out to dinner at a motel. We half planned to take it further that night. After a few wines it was getting exciting. I could see him mentally undressing me, and I might add I was thinking the same. But then would you believe that halfway through dessert his beeper went off. He phoned home to find out his kid was sick, so he went suddenly off and left and went home. That was the end of that, but I sometimes wonder what it would have been like.’

Jan was listening intently. She took Carol’s hand in hers.

‘They‘re all the same dear. They all think that little thing between their legs will solve all of our problems. They just don’t get it. You know I’ve had my share of guys over the years. I’ve never found a really worthwhile one. In fact, now that you mention it, there is something I have been meaning to share with you. It’s been happening for a while, but now’s a good time to tell you.’

‘What Jan?’

‘Well, quite simply, I’ve become totally disillusioned with guys. So I decided to finish with men, they’re all useless, don’t know what a woman really needs. And guess what? I’ve been finding quite a few women who feel this way. Sick of guys only thinking through their pants, and not really understanding what women need in the way of tenderness and love, and even in bed. They think that once they put their little thing in you and wriggle it around a bit, you should be grateful to them, What a load of tripe. They just don’t get it. Anyway, to coin a cliché, I’ve tried jumping the fence and it’s great. Hope I haven’t shocked you?”
Carol stared at her friend. In some ways this confession answered a number of questions she had always had about Jan, so she wasn’t really shocked or surprised, she was more curious than anything. She eagerly responded.
‘No, because with the courses I’ve been doing, I’ve also found women who want more from a relationship than a man can give. Women like me who married the first guy, then drifted through an unsatisfactory marriage, conforming to societies’ expectations, but not knowing any better. And also who are probably duds in the bed, but we didn’t have anybody to compare them with. Now there’s lots of us waking up and discovering who we really are. As usual, Jan, we’re both on the same train, you’re just a few carriages to the front.’
She stared openly at Jan, and then blurted out.

‘I’m really curious. What’s it like? What do you do?’

Jan chuckled and looked at Carol intently, but with a little smirk on her face.

‘Why my darling, lot’s of interesting things, and I’m finding it extremely pleasing thank you. You should maybe think about trying it.’

Carol was still staring open mouthed at Jan, but in a new light. This had opened a range of possibilities. But she wanted firstly to get Jan’s advice on helping her to sort out her marriage. Then she could find out more juicy details. She asked Jan,

‘But what do you think I should do about Brian?’

‘Carol, you know I’m your best friend, and really love you, trust me, this is what you could do to get a bit of thinking time to yourself.’

She moved around to Carol’s side of the booth and put her arm around her friend.

‘I think what you need is a bit of a break from Brian, breathing space to think things through. Seems to me as though this may be the chance of a whole new life direction for you. A chance to try something different. Break away from your mundane marriage to boring Brian. Look, why don’t you stay at my place for a while. We can talk about things. As you know it’s only small, we’ll have to share the bedroom. But you know what. It will be just like the old days in school camp when we used to share that little tent and snuggle up in the camp bed.’

Carol thought about Jan’s suggestion. They had enjoyed lots of good times together. It would be refreshing to have more time with her friend. A chance to talk and laugh, rather than listen to Brian complain. She thought about the old days on the camps, they were fun, just the two friends talking in the tent.

‘Jan, that sounds like a good idea. I’ll think about it. Also, I really appreciate this talk and your advice; you always have my best interests at heart. You’re a great friend and I trust you. But now I have to go home and talk to that thick headed husband of mine. He said he’s got something important to tell me.’

They stood up and farewelled. But instead of the usual peck on the cheek, Jan gave Carol a light kiss on the mouth. Just a gentle musky brushing of the lips, but it gave Carol a little shiver of excitement.

Both left the cafe, Carol a little thoughtful, Jan with a little smile on her face.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

What is Jan after and will she get it?

How will Carol react when Brian tells her his awful secret?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Six – Disclosure Time – Brian’s Turn

The Voyage – Part Six Disclosure Time – Brian’s Turn Bruce McCorkill

The welcome dinner has been an absolute disaster, with Brian behaving badly.
Carol is mortified with Brian’s behaviour and threatens to end the marriage
Rashid and Samira conclude that Brian is a deeply troubled man and want to help him.

Brian woke with a start. His back was aching from the uncomfortable sofa, his head sounded hollow and hung over, his belly was churning nauseously, and he felt like throwing up. He wondered what had happened last night, something had gone wrong somewhere. Why was he on the sofa? Had he upset Carol? Then with a sickening jolt the events of the evening burst into his fuzzy brain. His mind unwillingly replayed them like flashing cards. His appalling behaviour to Rashid and Samira, his crass jokes and racism, Carol becoming more distressed as the evening lurched into disaster as he became increasingly out of control. He groaned in dismay at his behaviour.

He painfully recalled Carol’s attack before bed. Normally when Carol was angry, she would give him a big strong verbal blast but then it was over. Last night was different. She spoke almost in a terse whisper, her voice not raised, not the normal explosive outburst, but the quiet words came out in a venomous flow. It seemed as if she was deliberately selecting words to attack his mind. Almost to fatally wound him. The words she used, he never knew she even knew them. She even accused him of being a lousy lover, that was a first, which really struck home. Her threat to end the marriage caused him to shrink back under the blanket and shudder.

Brian realised that after decades of crawling around in his mind, scratching at his brain, the demons had won. Last night he had gone over the edge. He realised that if he wanted to keep Carol, drastic action had to be taken. He had to finally tell her the truth, his sorry story, hidden from her for decades. Forlornly he wondered would she understand; even maybe forgive him. In some ways Brian was relieved that the demons were finally out in the open, he could now confront them in a fair fight. That’s what he hated most about Vietnam; you never really knew where the enemy was. But first he needed to talk to his special mate Lenny. Special because Lenny was beside him when it happened. He understood. He could give him advice.

As he was brewing a strong coffee to clear his mind Carol came into the kitchen. Seeing him, she made to walk out, but Brian blocked her way. It was now or never.

‘Carol, we need to talk, I have to tell you something. I need to apologise for last night and explain why I acted the way I did. It’s really important that you know.’

‘Brian, just shut your mouth and get out of my way. I’m going out for coffee with Jan. I need her help and some advice. Right now I can’t talk to you; I can’t stand to be near you, I’m too hurt and angry. In fact totally pissed off with you. We’ll talk later; a good chat with Jan may calm me down. She may give me some insight into what may be in that thick head of yours.’

‘Carol, I really am sorry.’

‘Will you stop saying that you pathetic bastard, let me out of here, I need to talk to Jan.’’

Brian realised he was in deep strife. Carol had never been this angry before. He called Lenny and arranged to meet urgently at the club.

They sat down over a beer. Over the years Lenny had gone through this a number of times. He just had to listen to Brian talk out his problems. Then he was fine for a while. Lenny also had his own demons and his own way of handling them. He knew exactly what his mate was going through.

‘How did it go last night mate? Are they all settled in?

‘Bloody awful. I went over the edge Lenny. It finally happened. After all those years of keeping control I totally lost it. I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve never seen Carol so upset and angry, I’m pretty sure she’s going to leave me. I’m up that well known creek, and there ain’t a paddle in sight.’

Lenny looked at his mate. When this had happened before, he could generally calm Brian down, but this time was different. Brian had sounded frantic on the phone, and now he looked haggard and distressed.

‘I thought you had it sorted out. We talked about this a while ago.’

‘I thought I had too. You remember when we spoke and I told you I was worried about the demons coming back, after my job loss. I had too much time to think crazy thoughts and the buggers realised this and started to attack.’’

‘Sure I do. You reckoned that helping these people would be good for you, keep the mad critters at bay. Keep you busy and keep Carol happy. I just told you to do your best to make them welcome and show them what a great country we have. And remember mate, don’t forget that the thing we did in Vietnam wasn’t our fault. It was a long time ago, you have to get it out of your mind. I sure as hell won’t be blabbing about it.’

Brian looked reflectively at his mate. After their Platoon arrived home, they all went their own way. Occasionally Brian saw some of his army comrades at marches, and made small talk, but with members of his former Patrol he avoided them. After the “event”, as it was officially called, no one really wanted to yarn about the good old army days. But Lenny was different. He came from the neighbourhood and they had grown up together. After the army they had stayed close mates, had learned to listen to the other and help with their own war on demons. And Lenny was beside Brian when it happened.

‘Lenny, how do you cope? We mainly talk about my problems. How about yours?’

‘I’ve got my certain tricks. I haven’t got a wife or family like you. Could never seem to keep a good woman. If I got close to someone I froze up, couldn’t let go, kept too much of myself to myself as they all said. You remember I had a wife for a while, just after I got home. We were young, I got her knocked up, but once I started beating her up, she was gone, taking the kid with her. Sometimes I wonder where she is and what my son would look like now, but I’ll never know. So how do I cope? Like lots of the guys, booze, drugs and ponies. Go to work, do what they tell me to do, stop at the club for a few beers, go home and drink and smoke pot and watch porn. Gamble it all away at the pokies or the ponies, wake up most nights screaming with the sweats, go to work the next day and the whole mess starts again. It’s a shit way to live, but it’s all I can manage.’

Lenny paused and looked at Brian.

‘I know I’m in a bad space mate, but I cope somehow. Talking to you seems to help. I mostly listen to your problems, but this seems to calm me down. After all, you fired the first shot, but don’t forget I was right behind you urging you to shoot. If you hadn’t fired I would have. Sometimes I think we need counselling. They say us Vietnam vets are suffering this post traumatic stress. When I think of it, lots of the blokes at the club are fruit cakes. They all stand around drinking and talking and joking, but get ‘em by themselves and all their problems start to come out. The government bullshits on about counselling, but I’m stuffed if I know how some fancy young shrink can help us.’

He took a long swig, and thought for a while.

‘The trouble is I don’t where it comes from. It’s not like a bullet wound that you can patch up; it suddenly surges up from my guts, this despair and rage and hopelessness. You just want to strike out at anything. Trouble is also, they told us we were doing the right thing, but we found out we weren’t. Then I see them doing the same thing in other mad wars and it brings it all back. Sometimes I just want to jump in front of a train to stop my crazy thoughts. But as I said just now, I’m finding lately more of the guys are starting to talk to me about their experiences and it’s all the same, they’re all having troubles coping. I wonder how many vets are floating around, looking normal but all stuffed up inside. But tell me more about last night, what caused you to crack?’

Brian looked closely at Lenny. He realised that in his own misery, he hadn’t thought about his mate, but Lenny’s situation sounded like his own. Like his mate, he wondered how many of the blokes at the club were going through the same mental torture. He should listen to Lenny more. But he continued the story.

‘When they arrived, I was surprised. The bloke had a firm handshake and looked me in the eye. I knew he had been in the army, and he looked like he could handle himself in a blue. He liked all my tools in the shed, wanted to help me fix things around the house. He didn’t seem like a bloke who wanted to blow anybody up. So I realised we had a few things in common and that if we cooperated we could make this arrangement work and keep Carol happy. Even changed my mind about letting him loose on tuning the Ford.’

With the girl, I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe someone like the ones we see around the streets, wearing shapeless black gowns with only their eyes showing. But instead, she was a good looking chick, just wearing some dark slacks and a white blouse. She only had a scarf on her head. Carol had warned me that Samira was a “modern enlightened educated Muslim woman”, but I didn’t quite know what she had meant. Now I had some idea. Funny thing, Lenny, when she came in the door and smiled, something flickered in my mind, some memory flash, she reminded me of someone somewhere, a long time ago.’

At this point Lenny had an inkling of who this might be, but he kept quiet as Brian continued.

‘We showed them around the house and they liked the place. The girl liked my veggie garden and wanted to help me. Then out of the blue, she starts talking about footie. What’s this I thought? Turns out there was some Aussie sergeant in her home town who taught them to play footie, and he even arranged for replays to be televised. And what’s more, she even took a liking to the Pies. How good is that I thought, we really have something in common. So all in all, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.’

‘OK mate, it seemed to go well, what the hell happened to stuff it up?’

Brian closed his eyes for a second and relived the painful moment, the exact time.

‘Just as we sat down to eat. She sat opposite to me and smiled and put out her hand and said she hoped we could be friends. And it happened. Just like that, no warning. I realised who she reminded me of, and the memory of the other girl crashed into my mind. The bastard demons ran around my brain, they knew they had finally won. Snuck through my defences built up over thirty five years. And I just went crazy and started saying those mad things. No way could I stop, even seeing Carol going to pieces. I was into the black hole, just doing what the demons demanded I do.’

Lenny quickly burst in.

‘But mate, that was a long time ago, in a different place, that one was a Vietnamese girl, this one’s from Afghanistan. It’s way different. Don’t forget I was there. I can still remember the little mud hut and the girl putting out her hand to you.’

‘I know it’s different, but it was just the way she put her hand out and smiled, just like the girl in the hut put her hand out and asked us not to hurt her as she was our friend. It was the same look in her eyes, a type of trusting hopeful expression. It just turned on the detonator, and set me off. I can’t explain why.’

Brian paused and Lenny sadly finished the story.

‘And mate, one second later, that girl lay slumped on the floor, with her blood and brains trickling down the dirty wall. Dead from a 45 mm bullet fired from a M16 army rifle, the one still smoking in your hands.’

They both looked down and the silence grew between them, until Lenny said.

‘Mate, I’m telling you again; it wasn’t your fault, if you hadn’t fired I would have. Don’t ever forget, the Incident Review Tribunal found in your favour, you weren’t to blame, they totally cleared you.’

But then Brian looked his mate in the eye and said.

‘Lenny, you’ve heard this story a few times. You’re the only one I’ve told. But there’s another part I’ve never even told you. It’s the part that really gives me grief and has been doing my head in since it happened. It’s what makes me wake up screaming. Last night made me realise I have to face up to this thing. It’s time for you to know the full story, then I have to tell Carol. I just hope she’ll still stay my wife and you’ll still stay my mate.’

He took a deep breath and finished the sad, sorry story.

And after he finished, all Lenny could do was to take his mate in his arms and try to console him as Brian started to softly weep.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

What is this sad secret of Brian?

Will they still remain mates afterwards?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Five – The Dinner Aftermath

The Voyage – Part Five The Dinner Aftermath Bruce McCorkill

The welcome dinner has been an absolute disaster, with Brian behaving appallingly.
The fixer needs a break, and has handed over the boat to the passengers to self steer for a while.

That night as they were going to bed, Carol struck her husband between the eyes with a lump of concrete. She didn’t of course, but the effect was the same as he reeled back struggling to protect himself from the barrage of verbal blows. He had partly been expecting this, but wasn’t prepared for the ferocity of Carol’s attack. It reminded him of a Vietnam fire fight; you could only hunker down and hope to survive.

‘Brian, you are a fool. You totally destroyed my night. You behaved like an ignorant slob. Do you realise how much I wanted to make the night work. All the work I put into making that special dish, and all you could do was rubbish it, said it tasted like a curry on steroids. Rashid and Samira won’t want to live with a racist pig like you. Where did all those awful jokes come from? From your bogon mates at the club I suppose. We’ve been married a long time, but you’ve never behaved like this. And talking about marriage, I’m not sure I want to stay married to you, we’re on the rocks as far as I’m concerned.’

‘I’m sorry Carol, really sorry.’

‘I really wanted this to work. In some ways I still want our marriage to work, although I don’t really know why. We used to have fun, do things together. Since you lost your job, you have been unbearable. All you do is go down to the club and come home tanked. And on the subject of the club, believe me, I don’t want to learn how to fucking well bowl. And I’m also sick of you talking about the great seniors meals on special there. I can cook you know. I don’t think I can cope with you anymore.’’

‘I’m sorry Carol, really sorry.’

‘And another thing. What’s with all these sudden nightmares? You suddenly start yelling ‘I’m sorry, I’m wrong,’ then you wake up sweaty and crying. This happens every night lately. You won’t tell me what it means. What happened to cause this? Why won’t you tell me? Don’t you trust me? Bloody hell, I’ve lived with you for forty years, I have a right to know if something is so terribly wrong with you.’

‘I don’t know Carol, I really don’t know.’

‘Why did you do this to me? And to Rashid and Samira. What made you behave like that? You were fine at the start. But when we all sat down and Samira tried to be friendly, you suddenly changed. Why? What’s going on in your thick skull?

I don’t know Carol, I really don’t know.’

This exchange went on and on. Not an explosive outburst, just a whole lot of quiet venom, where she systematically slashed Brian and his attitude to shreds. And also used words that Brian didn’t know that his wife of forty years even knew. Carol finished with,

‘I need to think about our marriage, or what is left of it. I need to look at our future, which is not looking good. I need to work out what I want from a partner, which you are not giving me. Now get the hell out of here and sleep on the couch, I can’t stand to be near you. And stop trying to touch me.’

Brian realised he also had a lot of thinking to do, as he slunk down to the couch. Most of that revolved around the fact that he did actually know what had happened earlier on. He knew what caused his sudden behaviour change. The .problem was that he didn’t know how to tell Carol.

Rashid also thought about the night. With Brian’s behaviour he wasn’t worried. He had seen that back home in the province. Men with no tolerance to different points of view, men who thought to be strong was to ridicule others with different beliefs. He understand how Brian might be concerned and even frightened about having to share his home with strangers of a different culture. He perceived that Brian was a proud strong man. Carol had explained how his job loss had changed him, made him sad and morose and lost.

He understood these things. After all, Rashid had gone through the same but much worse. He had been persecuted by the Taliban, just for being a Hazara. Had been prevented from doing his teaching job, had been hounded and decried for his beliefs. Finally he had been reduced to an asylum seeker, forced to travel to a distant country to get some decent life for his family. Rashid’s wife was dead and his daughter had suffered terribly. So he was more curious than insulted. He decided to be patient and try to understand Brian .He saw pain in Brian’s eyes and wondered what happened after they sat down and Brian suddenly changed.

‘What do you make of last night Samira? Why did Brian behave like that?’

‘I’m not sure father. Carol warned me that Brian would be nervous and not sure how to behave. The strange thing was that I liked him from the start. I sense that underneath the bad talk he is a decent man. He reminds me of the Australian soldiers back home; big, strong and tough when fighting the Taliban, but always kind to the women and children. Remember Sergeant Smith who taught us how to play Aussie rules, Brian reminds me of him.’

‘What about his racist jokes and attitude to women? Did they upset you?’

‘Father, you know the abuse I suffered back home and on the journey here. A young Muslim woman with an education, with feminist views, a woman who only wore the full burka under sufferance. I can easily cope with Brian and his ways.

What troubles me is why Brian suddenly changed. When we sat down and I smiled at him, it was as though a shock suddenly shot through his mind. He looked frightened and confused. It seemed as if he looked into his mind and saw something bad. I think Brian is a man in pain. Like many of the men back home. Carol has been kind to us, and Brian is willing for us to live in his home. Let us just be patient and find out what is troubling Brian.’

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

What is going on in Brian’s mind?

Will Carol finish the marriage?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Four – The Dinner Disaster

The Voyage – part four – the Dinner Disaster Bruce McCorkill

Rashid and Samira are coming to the house for a welcome dinner to their new home.
Carol is concerned that Brian will misbehave and ruin the evening.

To introduce Rashid and Samira to Brian and their new home, Carol arranged a welcome dinner. This would be a good start to their new living arrangements. Judging by Brian’s initial reaction at having his territory invaded, she was extremely nervous about how he would react at actually meeting his new tenants. Having a tasty meal would hopefully break the ice. Her thick headed husband might realise these people were decent folk needing help. She was fairly sure that her promise to Rashid that he and Brian would get along over the tools fixing things could be kept. But she still had doubts about her husband’s reaction to Samira. Carol just hoped it would work.

She aired her concerns to her best friend Jan at their weekly coffee meeting. Carol and Jan had met in the kinder sand pit. An instant bond formed and they stayed best friends, through school, even after their marriages. Neither quite understood this, they were different. Jan flamboyant, Carol quiet, Jan a business career, two marriages and messy divorces, and Carol doing admin work, in a dull but steady marriage to her first boyfriend.

These differences didn’t matter; they had stopped querying their friendship. It just was. They enjoyed being together, the companionship and talking. They had no secrets from each other. Generally it was Carol listening to Jan’s issues with her disastrous relationships, and giving advice, which her friend rarely heeded. Carol would proclaim “we are soul mates,” and after the third wine, Jan would joke “no, people must think we are gay mates.” Then they would just giggle and have another drink, although Jan would often think about their school camps where they shared a little tent, and then a speculative look would come into her eye.
‘Jan, I’m so nervous about this welcome dinner. I really want this to work. I’m hoping it may bring Brian and me together again. He’s such an old fogey at times and we used to have fun together. Since the job loss he’s been unbearable. He’s started having these mad nightmares, he shouts in his sleep, something about being sorry, but he won’t talk about it. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s worthwhile going on. But Rashid and Samira are such lovely people. They deserve a better place to live, and we can help them. Samira is really sweet, and Rashid, well, he is incredibly intelligent and we have intelligent discussions. It will be great to have more time to talk outside the resource centre. And by the bye, he is also a very handsome man.’

To which Jan drily replied, sipping her latte thoughtfully.

‘Yes Carol, I am sure you and Rashid will have lots of deep and meaningful intimate chats on the patio. Very nice, I’m sure. Will you ask Brian to serve the drinks and join in?’

‘Jan, don’t be silly, we are just good friends and I want to help him.’

However she did lightly blush, because sometimes watching Rashid fix the photocopier, Carol would imagine his smooth skinned hands stroking her face, neck, and back, and wondered what it would feel like to have a man other than Brian touch her. It reminded her of the time, long ago, when she had what she called her ‘little fling’. But then she would quickly put these thoughts aside, that was the long forgotten past and this was the present. However, the image would still subtly steal into her consciousness at times, generally when Brian had done something in his unthinking way, or was insisting on his predictable dull sex even when she was either clearly not in the mood, or would have liked to try something a little different.

Her final words to Brian the previous night were,

‘Brian, make sure to behave yourself tomorrow night. Remember, these are people who have greatly suffered, are still anxious and fearful about their future. They are not like your crowd, so for my sake please be patient and understanding and make them welcome. Remember the rules – don’t get drunk, don’t make fun of Samira’s clothes, don’t sneak off to watch the footie, and definitely no Muslim jokes.’

To which Brian cheerfully replied,

‘Sure luv, no worries, she’ll be sweet.’

Despite Brian’s positive response, he was also quite nervous and not looking forward to the encounter. He would have preferred to be watching Collingwood thrash their opponents on the big plasma. He confided to his mate Lenny at the club.

‘I’m a bit nervous about this whole bloody thing mate. This is the first time these sort of people have been in the house. Carol reckons they’re really nice. Now I have to live with them. But this seems to mean a lot to Carol. There’s all these weird smells coming from the kitchen, seems she’s cooking up some special meal. She gave me a talking to last night, told me to be on my best behaviour. I don’t know what to say to this girl, what if she wears that funny thing on her head. Funny part though, Carol says she likes footie. What’s a Muslim girl doing following the footie? Not sure about the bloke, Carol reckons he’s a dab hand at repairing things, maybe he can fix the air conditioner. But we do need the money. Just have to see how it goes.’

Strangely enough, Rashid and Samira were the least nervous. After all, they had endured a long period of hardship, were living in appalling conditions, and had become resigned to suffering discrimination and persecution. An evening with blokey Brian would be easily bearable.

Myself, I’m getting somewhat nervous. But I think it’s going to go reasonably well. Carol has worded Brian up; she’s cooked a lovely meal, and is determined to make the evening work. Brian has promised to behave himself and stay sober. Rashid and Samira are just waiting to see. But there’s still this niggling thought about Carol, what is this ‘little fling’ thing. She’s supposed to be the steady crew member, keeping the boat upright, but she suddenly springs this out of left field. Can’t deal with it now, the front door bell is ringing, so let’s bring it on.

The evening started fairly well. After the introductions, they went on the big house tour, Carol chattering away trying to make everybody at ease. Samira saw the veggie garden,

‘Brian what a lovely garden, Carol said you grew vegetables but this is fantastic. What rich soil, much better that our rocks at home. Can I work in your garden? I can show you how to garden with less water.’

When Brian opened the door of the big shed, Rashid’s eyes lit up,

‘Brian, I have never seen so many beautiful tools in the one place. If I had this equipment I could have repaired so many more things in our villages. Would you like some help in fixing anything?’‘

Even Brian had his big chance.

‘This is my ‘baby’. Fifty two inch plasma, full 3D, 1080 high definition resolution, triple tuner, inbuilt blue ray, surround sound, can record three shows at the same time. Great for watching footie.’

Unfortunately, once they sat down to eat, the evening went belly up, just like that. It started unexpectedly when Samira sat down opposite Brian and smiled at him. He abruptly changed from affable Brian to loud mouthed bogan Brian. With every course he became worse.

The entre comment was,

‘Hey Samira, why aren’t you wearing your heebejeeby dress?’

‘Brian, I choose to not wear the burka, I only wear the hijab or scarf.’

The main course jokes related to food.

‘Hey guys, next week we’ll have a bar b que. I’ve been saving some special pork chops for you. Ha ha, only joking. But look, Rashid, I have some great home brew, very potent stuff, how about a stubby. Don’t worry mate, still joking.’

Dessert deteriorated to water,

‘What I’ll do is to take you guys for a ride in my speedboat; I know you like boats, ha ha.’

This was only a sample of his behaviour, and over coffee Carol savagely kicked him under the table to cut short his favourite joke about the Muslim, the Arab and the Rabbi. Brian gradually succumbed to the drink and slept with his head on the table, and Carol’s worst meal nightmare wound down. He had even made fun of her special dish.

Can you believe this man? I had no idea he could be this crass. I suspected the evening would be difficult, but what was Brian thinking, or rather not thinking. It was maybe a big ask, expecting everybody to be best buddies. The others were all right, Rashid and Samira were tolerant and Carol really tried to make it all work.

But Brian, it’s as though he deliberately wanted to scuttle the boat. Funny thing, it happened so quickly. One minute he’s fine, and then when Samira smiled at him it all changed. Maybe something strange happening here. Any more of this behaviour and he’s off the boat, over the side and eaten by sharks. Then I can have a rest, because this man is becoming hard work.

I mean, I’m good, really good. One of the boss’s best fixers. I get to sort out all the hard cases. The boss hears about a tough voyage and who has to go – me of course. Keeping friends safe in boats is my speciality. I do trains and planes, but they’re easy. Water is the challenge. I mean in one major event I even had to make the hero walk on water, a tough gig, but I finally managed it with the aid of flotation devices. How good is that?

Anyway, I’m off to see the boss to give a progress report and to explain how this thing went wrong. With any luck he may reallocate me to an easy river cruise, help the old ladies up the gangplank. But when I’m gone, I’ll hand over the boat to these people, give them a chance to see how hard it is keeping a boat on course.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

Should Brian be tossed off the boat, or given a second chance?

What made Brian abruptly change?

Has Carol got a few little secrets?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Three – The Lifebuoy

The Voyage – part three. The Lifebouy Bruce McCorkill

Brian and Carol’s marital boat is in danger of foundering on the rocks of boredom.
Brian is hanging around home and annoying Carol, who seems more interested in her new friend Rashid.
Their financial problems are worsening.
But Carol may have a life buoy in her hands.

Carol spent a lot of time pondering how she could help Rashid and Samira. At a training course she discovered the Refugee Residential Housing Scheme and asked her manager about participating.

Well Carol, it’s basically a scheme to help refugees live in the community while still being officially in detention. The government pays rent to the refugees to live in the community, in a suitable house, with an approved sponsor. It’s for twelve months while their claims are processed.

“Would Brian and I be suitable sponsors?”

“You would be perfect, beaut big house; you are decent people and a perfect family role model. Rashid and Samira would still have to attend the Migrant Resource Centre, but would live with you and pay rent. So far their refugee claim seems genuine; they should be able to formally move into their own home in a few months. I might add, the rent payment is quite generous, you may find it helpful.”

To Carol, she had been thrown a lifebuoy. It would get her friends out of the detention centre and would help her and Brian financially. She could get to know them better in a personal family atmosphere, and it would take away the burden of being alone with Brian and his complaining. It might also broaden Brian’s narrow way of thinking about the world, particularly the Muslim part. She liked the idea, thought Rashid and Samira would like it, the problem being convincing Brian to also like it.

Rashid and Samira, after some initial concerns, were in favour of the scheme.

“Carol, I am not sure about my daughter living in a house with your husband. She has been treated badly by men back home and on the trip here. Can I trust this man to treat her kindly and well? Also, some of the things you tell us about this Brian seem as if he doesn’t understand our way of life and beliefs. He may be quite hostile to us. Will he see me as an enemy?”

He probably will thought Carol, but answered brightly, with her fingers mentally crossed.

“Don’t worry Rashid, Brian has a funny way of expressing himself and thinks in an old fashioned way. But he really is a good man. I think you and he may get along well when you get to know each other. I’ve seen the way you repair equipment at the Centre, you’re really good with your hands. Brian is also good at fixing things, so at least you both have something in common.”

“Carol, I also have a few concerns about Brian. From what you say, he seems to have hostile views on refugees. I get the impression he does not show much respect for us. Will he cope with living with a modern liberated Muslim woman like me? Does he know that I have an education, that I am a feminist? Will he expect me to do the housework like a servant?”

Again Carol thought, yes he certainly will, and yes that was why Chloe was so keen to move out, but again put on her positive voice, this time with her fingers tightly mentally crossed.

“It will be all right Samira. He doesn’t really understand the true role of women, but together we can educate him. He can sometimes learn to understand things fairly well. He will come to think of you as a type of daughter.”

All right, so far so good. I think the pumps are working. Mind you, there is still water in the boat. Carol seemed to glide over Rashid and Samira’s issues a bit lightly. I can’t really see Brian instantly accepting Rashid as his sailing mate. Hopefully they may find mutual ground in the big shed with the tools. And I can hardly wait to see the feathers flying when Samira starts talking about women’s rights and tries to teach Brian the meaning of the word misogyny. l just hope they don’t antagonise each other too much.

But I’m now wondering if Carol just wants to get Rashid into the house so she can continue their cosy talks about philosophy and Eastern mysticism. She seems a bit too friendly with Rashid. What’s Brian going to think when they disappear to the upstairs study to sip Chai and further the cause of closer international relations? Maybe I’m being unjust. Hopefully Carol’s motives are on the level. But the final obstacle now is for Carol to convince Brian to accept this disruption to his suburban sandpit.

Predictably, Brian exploded like a hand grenade when Carol brought up the idea.

“What!!! Muslims living in my house, what will the guys at the club think? Can I still have pork chops and beer? Are they going to spend all the time praying? Is she gunna wear that thing on her head in the house? Will I be able to understand them? What will we all talk about? Do they follow the footy? Tell you one thing for sure – he’s not going near the Ford and she’s not going near my veggie garden.”

This ranting went on and on, until Carol’s patience ran out and she explained the facts of life to her husband, in that certain voice, which she used on special occasions like this.

“Listen carefully you thick skulled moron. Don’t you understand we are going broke, that is spelt “b-r-o-k-e”, do you want to sell your great big car, then the boat and finally our house? We need the money. And just to let you know, I’m getting sick and tired of you hanging around the house complaining. I need other people to talk to, interesting people who I can have intelligent discussions with. Not sitting around watching day time TV, which is spelt “b-o-r-i-n-g.”

I should explain something here. That certain voice of Carol’s, roughly translated into “if you have any idea of what’s in your best interests, you will listen to me or suffer big bad ugly consequences. Beginning right now when you can start sleeping on the couch. See if that changes your mind”

Like a good soldier, Brian assessed the situation and realised he was beaten. In his army terms, he was outgunned and outclassed by friendly fire. He still loved Carol and understood that while on the surface, he was the big man of the family, in practical terms she was the small smart one. He retreated to his shed with a beer and a spanner, and worked out how to break the news to the guys at the club.

Myself, I’m going down below decks for a well earned kip. These people are getting to be hard work. I need a bit of time to work out how to navigate them through the currents when they all get together in the big house for a welcome dinner. I reckon Carol has underestimated her husband’s resistance to these interlopers. I just hope it goes well and Brian behaves himself.

The Voyage Part Two -Marital Differences

The Voyage – part two  —  Marital Differences                              Bruce McCorkill


Brian and Carol – kind of happy in the marital boat

Rashid and Samira – locked away in the refugee hostel

Brian loses his job, their finances look bad

The boat is starting to leak

As you can imagine, this certainly caused both a financial and marital predicament.  I suspect their boat started to take on water after the kids left home, but this was the wave that got over the bow.  It’s important to think about their background.  Both came from working class families, their parents suffered the depression, and had little money.  So they both had always been committed to giving their kids the best they could afford, and over many years they had been the centre of the family.  Brian’s work ethic had been to earn enough to send both to private schools, despite his own lack of schooling.  Carol often worked extra shifts to pay for school fees and trips.  Brian had worked for three decades in a big company, was in management, which he was proud of as a boy from the backblocks of Preston.  He worked hard, showed loyalty to the company and fiercely fought for promotions.

Over the years they had driven them to sports, and all sorts of social events.  They had financed cars, tertiary fees and accommodation bonds, with nothing expected in return.  The keen social observer would note this common pattern of a couple who in the constant treadmill of a shared purpose had in many ways lost touch with each other but without really recognising this.  The kids were thoroughly nurtured, but the marriage was not.  Initially when the kids left it was good, they could walk around the house naked, could have dinner at any time, had more money to eat out at the club, and could even have sex again without kids busting in.

But after a while this began to pall and the uneasy realisation took root that they did not have as much to say as they used to when it all revolved around the kids and their interests.  This is despite the fact that they used to look forward to when both kids would be off their hands and they would have more time to do things together.  But when this happened the reality set in that they had lost the imagination and desire to do this.  Brian started to spend more time at work and spent most of the weekends bowling after Friday night at the RSL.  Carol on her days off from her nursing job started to undertake more activities and courses and started doing volunteer work at the migrant education centre in Footscray.  This seemed to work because they could subconsciously avoid confronting the issue of a lack of interests and communication.

Brian sometimes wondered why Carol didn’t seem interested in coming down to dinner at the club and Carol sometimes thought she should take Brian for coffee to some of her cute little cafes.   So they were both extremely busy at work and play, avoiding each other, with the underlying suspicion that something was not quite right.  Carol was more aware about this.  When talking about Brian to her friends she would invariably start by saying “well, he is a good man,” which translated in female terms means yes, certainly good but really boring and dull as dogshit and not what I hoped from a marriage a long time ago.  At the RSL Brian could only describe Carol as a “great little missus and a bloody great cook,” and after a few beers would add – “and she’s still got a great little arse.”  But he had no understanding of her new interests.

I’m painting a situation here which is definitely not paradise, but it’s not actually hell, and I reckon it’s workable and life could be worse.  The two of them are at different ends of the boat, but at least they are still paddling in the same direction, and that’s forward.  I just have to try to get them stroking at the same rate.

The problem is how to reconcile their differences.  Brian was a typical Aussie bloke, lost in the 60’s – loving beer, football, big steaks, drinking and yarning about army days in Vietnam.  Like his mates, he didn’t like or understand anything non Australian, particularly migrants from the Middle East.  He coped with the Italians and Greeks and Vietnamese, because they had been around for yonks and were hard workers in his factory, but these Arabs and Muslims were a different kettle of fish.  According to the Herald Sun and the radio jocks, they only seemed to want to fight, destroy America and blow up people.  He couldn’t understand why the women walking down the street had to wear the heebyjeeby things which made them look really spooky.  Carol, on the other hand, as I have been at pains to point out, had moved on a long time ago into wider interests, particularly in the area of working with refugees.  She compared their lives to hers and felt grateful and humbled and wondered how she would cope in their situation.  She tried to discuss this with Brian, but his response was that they should be bloody grateful for living in a great place like Australia.  She coped by reminding herself that Brian was still a good man, albeit now a grumpy old man.  While dreaming of a different life she just got on with hers.

That is until the job losses.  Carol wasn’t too worried; she had more time to spend at the migrant resource centre.  But Brian took his job loss badly.  To make it worse, his company had been taken over by a foreign consortium and his job had been given to some younger Arab man.  At first he was not too worried because he was confident in gaining another good job.  But as the weeks went on and he applied for jobs unsuccessfully, he sadly realised that he was not going to get a similar job.  He was just too old.  Another thing that affected his self esteem was that he realised his friendships at the bowling club and socially had been largely based on work.  Going out with workmates for dinners, lunches and conferences had been great, but the conversation always revolved around work.  He tried catching up with his workmates, but it wasn’t the same.  He couldn’t contribute much and he felt their pity.  He didn’t have the money to spend on drink and fine steaks, and he almost envied the older guys when they ordered their senior’s meals.

Then another problem for Carol arose.  Brian was now continually home.  He was morose and unhappy and hung around Carol like a lost dog.  Also, he started having his sweaty nightmares again, waking up screaming, which he wouldn’t talk about.  Predictably, this began to irritate Carol.  She had her own routine, but he always wanted to have morning tea or teach her bowling.  Infuriatingly this seemed to occur just as she was on the way to the migrant resource centre to meet Rashid for morning tea, and more importantly intelligent conversation with an attractive articulate man.  She did not relish the new situation at home.

In fact neither do I.  This combination of sad boring Brian, Carol craving for new outlets, and the interesting sounding Rashid may drag the vessel onto the rocks.  I was expecting Carol’s discontent, but her sudden interest in Rashid is an unexpected swirl.  And what’s going on with Brian’s nightmares?  Another bit of flotsam to deal with.  But don’t worry, even if the boat sinks, Carol holds a lifebuoy in the form of the Refugee Residential Housing Scheme.