The Voyage Part Nine – Brian and Samira

The Voyage Part Nine – Brian and Samira. Bruce McCorkill

Prologue

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 Four – The Dinner Disaster

The Voyage – part four – the Dinner Disaster Bruce McCorkill

Prologue
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.