“Why did you have to go and show me that?” I said, and I meant it.
“I wanted you to know. You’re my best friend. You told me where your family came from. I wanted you to know where I came from,” said Henry James Occalshaw.
We, my mates and I, had always known him as Oh. As in ‘Oh My God’. I don’t remember when it started, it just always was, and he never complained — it isn’t the worse ‘handle’ in the world.
Me? I’m ‘professor’.
That started at Primary school. I’m an only child, and my parents didn’t baby-talk me. They spoke to me as an equal, so I picked up a lot of adult language before other kids did. Dad was top of his class before his dad died, and my dad had to leave school and help feed his family. My mum never made it past sixth grade, but she read everything she could get her hands on, and the local library knew her on a first-name basis. She loved words.
“I told you my family came from Tasmania after emigrating from England and before that they were Vikings. A short history of the Holmyards. You, on the other hand, are definitely not from around here,” I said.
I was trying to take it all in — sorry for the cliche, but sometimes they’re necessary.
“Everyone comes from somewhere else in Australia, except Ernie. His mob has been here for centuries, but even his mob walked here from somewhere else, it’s just that it was so long ago that he and his mob got first dibs on the place.”
“I’m not sure that Ernie’s mum and dad would see it like that,” I said, and I remembered some of the names the kids used to call that gentle brown skin boy who could play footy better than all of us combined. He got us to the State School Victorian Premiership Game. Kicked the winning goal. Played a dozen games for Essendon when he was only eighteen. Sadly, the ‘names’ got to him. He stopped playing, but I still see him around sometimes.
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m still me. I didn’t tease you for being from Tasmania,” he said.
“I’m not teasing you either, but you must admit that you come from a lot further away than Tassie.”
“So what? Is this a distance thing. Like the time you found out that your cock wasn’t as big as mine?”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to laugh, but I’m not sure what I wanted to do in its place.
“Nothin’ wrong with my cock, horse boy,” I said, and he smiled.
It’s true that at a certain age, boys tend to compare sizes. Not overtly, but the occasional sideways glance after swimming sports. I admit to being a bit concerned until, a few years later, Joany Mac told me mine was ‘perfectly adequate’ and ‘up to scratch’. She ought to know, so I relaxed a bit. ‘It’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it that counts’ became my mantra.
“So, are you planning to go back and visit?” I said, “like Spiro did?”
“Spiro went back to Greece with his parents. This is a bit different,” he said.
“Are there Travel Agents who specialise in where you come from?”
I was thinking of the people who live up the street from us, in the blue house. They organise trips to Egypt. Pyramids, desert, Pharos, that sort of thing. It’s not their actual job, but it gives them a chance to visit and not have to live there, or at least that’s what my father said. Dad doesn’t say much, so it was strange to hear him offer an opinion.
“I think you have the wrong idea. We’re here to stay. There’s no going back. My parents made that decision and I was too young to understand what it meant. This is the life I have and I’m happy with it.”
“That’s because your best friend came from Tasmania and no one thinks twice about it?” I said.
“My parents still write to the people they knew and they send a report once a year. Just like the report that your probation officer wrote after your year.”
“You had to bring that up. You were with me when we ‘borrowed’ that car. You were just a faster runner than I was. You didn’t get caught.”
“And you didn’t dob. If you’d dropped me in it, they would have gone easier on you. As it was, it made it impossible for you to be a cop. I know you always wanted to. You know I never forgot that.”
“You had too many strikes against you. If they got you, you’d have gone to Youth Prison. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I didn’t think it would stop me from being a cop. You don’t think much at that age, do you? Even so, I would never have given you up,” I said.
“So do you see why I wanted to tell you? You are the only person outside of my family who knows. My parents trusted my judgement when I told them what I was going to do.”
“Always liked your folks. They treated me like one of theirs. And your mum still makes the best cheese sandwiches on the planet. No pun intended,” I said.
“So, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” I said.
But, it was true what he said. Pretty much everyone in Australia came from somewhere else. If they didn’t, their parents or grandparents did.
“Is that why your folks chose this country? Because it’s full of ‘everywhere else’ people?”
“No. It was just the first place on the map,” he said, and I could see his smile before he’d finished the sentence.
“Smart arse,” I said.
“I don’t know how they worked it out, but I know they are happy that they did. It seems it was a lot harder at first. They never told me much about the early years. I was just a kid, being a kid. I didn’t notice. I remember the operation on my ears. Mum said that the other kids made fun of them so they thought it best to have them done.”
“I meant to ask about that. Everyone in that video you showed me had long hair, but I did notice that some people had unusual ears. Is that a thing?”
“Yeah. Dad had his done when he began to loose his hair. Mum still has hers.”
“I have to ask. What was with the beautiful blue light at the beginning of the video?”
“Apparently, it’s a special frequency of light that calms people to the point where they can accept ideas that might disturb them. The film comes from ‘home’. It’s been passed around for centuries. Someone made a digital copy and dad got hold of it so I could show you.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a copy, but I guess that would be asking a lot?”
“Yeah. Not going to happen,” he said.
“Any chance of just having that blue bit at the start?”
“I’ll ask,” he said, and I knew he meant it. It’s that kind of friendship.
“So what the fuck am I supposed to do now? Now that I know.”
“Nothing in particular. I just wanted you to know.”
“Will you tell me if your people decide to take over the world or something?”
“What makes you think we haven’t?” He winked at me. I hate it when he does that.
“I’m serious,” I said.
“I know you are,” he said, and he put his arm around me.
“We want what every person wants when they come to this country. We want a job and a family and a chance at some kind of happiness — and the chance to feast on your soul,” he said in his best Vincent Price voice.
I punched him on the arm. He hates that, and we went out to his driveway and played some one on one basketball.
He’s better at it than I am.
His family nearly ran us over when they got back from netball.
His wife invited me to stay for dinner, but I said I needed to get back.
My family was waiting when I walked home.
My wife looked at me inquisitively when I hugged her for longer than usual. I had a kid attacked to each leg, and I dragged them into the house.
“What have you boys been up to today?” said my wife. I think I loved that woman more at that moment than I ever have.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said.