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.

The Voyage Part One – Brian and Carol

The Voyage   Part One —Brian and Carol                                                           

Bruce McCorkill

I’m going to tell you a story about four people.  Two of them you already know, and many like them.  Brian and Carol Sharp, your garden variety comfortable middle class Australians.  You see them at shopping malls, resorts and cruises, have them to dinner, go to clubs with them, have a few laughs over drinks, and earnestly discuss kids, the cost of living and how the super fund is going in these tough financial times.  Thoroughly decent people.  In their case, married for thirty years, two adult children, big house in the northern suburbs, well off financially, still fond of each other and fairly tolerant of their respective faults.  I imagine their situation as gently sailing along in a little boat in calm waters.  And why not, they have worked hard to get where they are, Brian in particular, and like others you all know, they deserve a peaceful life and a bit of fun, don’t they.

Maybe not.  Because they are going on a voyage.  Not a nice cruise, but one through unfamiliar waters and over choppy seas.  The voyage will not be smooth sailing; their little boat may tip and almost capsize at times.  But I’m earnestly hoping they will finally reach a distant shore safely and discover their little boat is all the more seaworthy, and the voyage was worthwhile.

Another couple will join them on their journey.  I doubt if you know them.  You have certainly seen them on the news, read insightful articles and discussed them and their strange country with friends over dinner.  You will have listened to politicians take sides and probably have developed strong opinions about their situation, but you aren’t quite sure what to believe.  You will have seen them walking down the street, on buses, and in shops, but you don’t really know them.  They are Rashid and Samira, a Muslim refugee father and daughter from Afghanistan.

They arrived in Australia in a leaky boat, after a long and stressful journey, enduring incredible hardships on the way.  However, unlike Brian and Carol in the big empty house they are living in the soulless Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, which believe me is not a pleasant place.  They are quaintly titled “Irregular Maritime Arrivals”, and are patiently waiting to be processed, hoping to be given permanent visas and the chance of a decent life in our great land.  This is just a glimpse of this couple, but don’t worry, you’ll learn more about them later.

I should introduce myself, as I play a modest role in the voyage.  I’m Brian’s mate, but also your mate and in fact everybody’s mate.  My job is to help the boat finally reach safe haven, in particular to help Brian make the voyage safely, and as you will see, this man certainly needs my help.  I’ll be in the background, gently steering the little craft, trimming the sails and even working the bilge pumps if necessary.  Depending on your preference, think of me as the narrator, the fixer, the engineer, the facilitator, the guv’nor, or just everybody’s guardian angel.  You won’t see me, but I’ll be there doing my best to stop the boat sinking.

Let me explain a few things about Brian and Carol.  Typical empty nesters.  Their offspring, Chloe and Adam had left home a couple of years ago, Chloe to a unit in Brunswick with her partner and Adam to Collingwood with a couple of mates.  Carol liked meeting both of them in their city territories for decent cafe coffee and interesting conversation.  Brian would enter their territory if there was a reason such as a birthday and then under sufferance.  He didn’t like the druggies on the streets, and there was no place to safely park the big four wheel drive Ford.  The big house with the pool, tennis court and home theatre was a cause of friction.  Carol would have liked to downsize to the city after the kids left, as the house was really too big for just two people, and was a nuisance for her to clean.  But Brian insisted on staying – he had his huge garage, or as he called it his superior shed, had a large veggie garden and it was handy to the local RSL and bowling club where he was a loyal and longstanding life member.  He was proud of what he had achieved and liked entertaining his mates in the rumpus room with plumbed in bar and big pool table, swapping stories about their Vietnam days.

Carol coped by reading more, sometimes doing extra shifts at work, taking up Pilates and yoga classes or any interesting sounding courses. She spent more time with Chloe and began Buddhist meditation classes, trying to achieve a peaceful mind and make sense of her life.  Basically she tried to get out of the big house during the week and out of Brian’s way on the weekends.   Sometimes she would wistfully reflect on where her dreams had gone, but would put these dangerous thoughts away and find another course to distract her from a growing dissatisfaction with her lot.

I’ve just realised that I may have misled you earlier by painting the picture of Brian and Carol as calmly sailing along. If you suspect that the marital tapestry is still intact but a few threads are untangling, you are correct.  In fact while on the surface and to their friends they were a close and comfortable couple, underneath the calm surface there are some underlying swirls of a potential nasty current gaining momentum and with the potential to swamp the marital boat.

While I think about how to sort this out, let’s hear more about Rashid and Samira.  Carol met them at the Footscray Refugee Resource Centre.  After seeing a documentary on refugees in detention centres she started volunteering as a case aide, but I suspect this was an excuse to get out of the house and her own refuge from Brian.  Rashid and Samira were attending the centre on day release from the hostel and she became interested in them and their history.  They clearly didn’t want to talk about their history or trip to Australia and would change the subject.  She only knew that they were in Australia under a three year Temporary Protection Visa and were striving to gain permanent residency.  They were desperately unhappy living in detention and wanted to live in the community.  She took on their case and finally discovered the Immigration Residential Housing Scheme, which enables refugees to live in family-style housing while still formally being detained and while their permanent visa applications are painfully processed.  Best of all, rental assistance was provided.  Carol realised this could solve her and Brian’s predicament and help her new friends.

Now, Rashid and Samira’s problems are obvious, but what predicament could the Sharps have in their tranquil life.  Brian had the big job and salary, was planning to retire in 12 months and cash in his super.  Carol’s nursing shifts were tucked away into super.  They had a financial plan in place, and the future looked comfortable and secure.  But suddenly an ugly double ended spanner tightened up their lives – one end global restructuring and the other the global financial crisis.  Brian lost his job and their financial plan fell apart.  He couldn’t access his super until he turned 60 – a long year away.  Their investments were slashed and because of hospital funding cuts, Carol’s shifts were drastically reduced.  I picture this as a huge wave suddenly crashing over the bows of the boat, threatening to swamp it.  Maybe it’s time for me to disappear below and start bailing out.