1970, Western Australia
I flag down the nearest taxi and get inside. I begin giving directions to the driver, with the help of a map. “Drive to house number 40, Adderly Street, Mount” - “Can you give me that map?”, he interrupts.
“Alright, drive to this place.” I show him the location on the map.
He looks at location and gives the map back to me. “Are you new to Australia?”, he asks me.
“Not really. I lived in South Australia before this; I am new to Western Australia,” I reply conversationally.
“Why are you here, because of job or…?”
‘"Just for a change.”
“Just for a change, really?”
I suddenly feel like opening up to this stranger. “Actually, my family died four months ago and I’m not able to live there with everyone’s memory still lingering in the rooms. I cried for months living in that house. Later, my doctor suggested that I should have a change of atmosphere. He even went on to suggest that I should sell the house. I relented to his advice. But I didn’t, couldn’t, sell my old house. I decided to move to a new place. And thus Western Australia. I’ll live here for a while.”
“No, it is ok.”
Meanwhile, we’ve reached the place. I get out to look at the front view of the house. It looks similar to how the landlord described it to be. But it was locked.
Before driving off, the driver shouted “Good luck in Claremont”, to me. I thanked him, but I doubt he heard it over the noise of the engine.
When I last talked to the landlord, he said he’ll be here by 6 pm. It is already 6:15 pm. I’ve been waiting for a long time now and the June cold is biting.
It’s been an hour and still no sign of my landlord. Looking at the watch reminds me of my wife. She gifted me this watch on my birthday last year. I’d been eyeing that watch from a long time, but kept putting it off since I couldn’t afford it. She had the genius idea of exchanging my old watch for the new one, which did save us a lot of money. That night, I took her and my son to Grossi Florentino, a popular restaurant in south Australia.
I am exhausted. I traveled 2 and a half thousand kilometers and it took me almost a day to reach here. Sitting on this cold hard bench, I couldn’t help but think about my past. Before realising it, I’ve fallen asleep.
It’s 5:45 am when I wake up the next morning. I’ve spent my entire night outside, on a bench, in the cold. My hunger makes me contemplate going to my neighbour’s, but I decide against it, since it’s way too early to be visiting.
I take a sip from my water bottle. The water is very cold despite having been covered in a cloth. I remove my gloves and start searching my bag for something to eat. Luckily, I found a pack of cookies.
By the time I throw the empty packet in the trashcan, I see a taxi pulling up in front of the house. A man gets out of the cab and heads to the front of the house. By his actions, I understand that he is my landlord. I leave my luggage where they were and approach him.
“Are you Dorian Johnston?”, I ask him.
“Yes.” He replied curtly.
“You are 12 hours late.” I couldn’t help but sound bitter.
He looks startled but then asks, “Are you Ronald Morris?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Hey, I’m really sorry mate. I met with an accident yesterday night. See.” He shows me his hand. “I was coming in a taxi, and then, out of nowhere, a truck crashed and drove the car into a pole. I had to get admitted in a hospital last night.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear it mate. I hope your hand is better now.”
“Yeah, but I have to take rest. I thought I’ll just show you around and give you the keys before I do that.”
“Alright. Thanks, mate.”
He opens the door, motions me inside and asks, “So how is it?”
“Let me look at the rooms.”
I go ahead and check the kitchen. The kitchen is of medium size. There is another room with a toilet attached and a small drawing room. There is also a gate at the back of the house which leads to another street. I remember that I’ve asked him to bring in a heater over the phone. And so I ask, “Did you bring the heater?”
“Yes, there is a Nova heater, a telephone, and a radio. If you want a television, I will bring you the Zenith company's 25” colour television.”
“No, that’s alright. Thanks.”
“Well then, I hope you like the house. Shall we talk about the payment?”
“Sure. If you want, I can pay you right now.”
We finish the paperwork and I hand him $60 from my old wallet.
“Ok, I think I should leave now”, says he. “I hope you enjoy your stay here. If anything, feel free to ring me up.”
“Sure thing. Thanks for all the help, mate. Take care of yourself and get well soon.”
After seeing him off till the taxi, I come back inside the house with my luggage and decide that I should sleep for a while. That bench outside was not at all comfortable and I’m stiff all over from the long journey. I switch on the heater before lying down on the bed.
When I wake up, I see that I’ve slept for an hour. Then I remember that I don’t have anything to eat. So I take my wallet and jacket and head to ‘Daily Needs’, a store I saw on my way here last night. I buy noodles, eggs, coffee, bread and peanut butter and head back home.
After eating boiled eggs, I start unpacking my luggage and keep everything where it belongs. The almirah is small, but surprisingly everything I own fits in it.
Then I notice my diary. There are some phone numbers of important people. I call Rupert Collins. He is the reason I am in Western Australia. He said that there is a hospital in which I can get a job. He picks up after three rings.
“Hello, who's this?”
“Hey Rupert! It’s me, Morris.'
“Hey man! How are you?”
“I am good, mate.”
“Where are you, is this your number?'
“Yeah, I am in Adderly Street.”
“Hey, that is in Mount Claremont.”
“You are here. Why didn't you tell me? Tell me your house number. I’ll stop by sometime.'
“Sure, my house number is 40.”
“Alright, I will come there today evening.”
“Ok, see you later then.”
I switch on the radio and listen to some country music for awhile. Around 4 pm, I eat some bread with peanut butter on it.
Later in the evening, I decide to go to my neighbour’s and introduce myself. I wear my jacket and head out to my neighbour’s house. There is a board at the side which says, “Mr. and Mrs. Janet.”
I ring the bell and an old woman comes to the door.
Before she could ask anything, I say “Hi! I am your new neighbour.”
“Oh, hi! Yeah, I heard there’s a new tenant in that house. Please come in.”
I step inside and immediately am awed by the exquisite interiors. Everything is at its best. I express my awe to her: “Your house is beautiful!”
“Haha thanks. It’s all because of my son. He thought of everything.”
“Where is he, at work?”
“No, he has gone to his friend's party. Rick was saying that all his school friends are going to be there.”
“Oh. So his name is Rick.”
“Good.” Then we get into some little banter about the neighbourhood and myself.
“Do you know who lived there before you?”, she asks me suddenly.
“No. Do you know who?”
“Yeah. A nutcase.”
“Yeah. There was a mentally challenged person living there. And now you say you are a psychiatrist. What a coincidence!”
“Yeah. By the way, do you know his name?”
“Sorry, I don't remember it. I told you, he was a mental. He never talked to us; not even once.”
I don't say anything to her and keep thinking about the previous occupant of my current home.
I sit there thinking for some time. Then I say, “I think I should leave now. I’m expecting a friend tonight. I’ll come by some other time. Do visit me sometime.”
“Ok, but you should take some carrot cake. I baked them this morning.”
“That’s sweet of you to offer. But it’s alright.”
“No, no. You have to take it. They are delicious. You will come here again for more!”
I smile and say, “Alright then, if you insist. I’ll give it a try.”
She goes to her kitchen and I start exploring her house. There were many paintings in her house. I notice a photo of her, and who I assume are her husband and son. She looks very young in the photo.
When she comes back form the kitchen, I ask her, “Who is this man and boy with you?”
“Oh, he is my husband, and that’s Rick.”
“Nice family you got there. Where is your husband?”
“He is no more.”
The air grows sullen for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
She is looking sad and so I say, just to make a sound at least, “I think I should leave now.”
She looks startled for a moment there, as if getting out of a reverie. She gives me the box she’s been holding and asks me to take it with me. I thank her for the cake and start moving towards my house after saying goodbye.
After reaching the house, I turn on the radio and try to listen to some music but my thoughts keep returning to Mrs Janet. I feel sad for her but I also feel good that I have such a good neighbour.
Suddenly I remember the back door and I decide to open it. I take out the bunch of keys the owner left me and try the keys one by one in the lock. Curiously, none of the keys fit. I drop the idea of opening the door and go sit on the couch.
Later, I get hungry and go into the kitchen to prepare dinner. There, I find the packet of noodles. I add water in the kettle and let it boil. Sudden;y, the bells rings and I jump a bit, startled by the sound.
Rupert is at the door when I open it. I invite him inside the house and he takes off his jacket. He usually wears long coats.
After he gets comfortable on the sofa, with the heater in the room, he says, “I’m sorry about what happened to your family, Morris. I was really shocked when I got the news.” He pauses for a moment and continues, “And sorry that I missed the funeral. But it’s good that you are joining a new job here.”
I ask him what I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time: “Why did you decide to get a job here, by the way? Was everything alright in Albury?”
Albury is a place in South Australia where we worked earlier.
“Yeah, everything was good. But those people wouldn’t increase my salary. I just got fed up with it. So I decided to come here. There is an asylum here for the mentally challenged, named Claremont. They offered me a better pay than my previous employer. The hospitable is bigger too. There are around 1,500 patients.”
“That’s good. When do you think I should join?'
“See, the day after tomorrow is 30th June. You can come tomorrow and meet the chief doctor. Bring your certificates with you. If he agrees, you can join on the 1st of July.”
“And what if he says no?”
“Then you will have to go back.”
“I am just joking. He will say yes. I have told him about you. When he sees your certificates, there is no chance of him saying no. You have more certificates than me, mate!”
“Haha alright. Ok. So what time should I come there?”
“He should be free around noon. If you come then, you’ll be able to meet him.”
We chat for some more time and he says “I have to get going now; I am late”, after checking his watch.
“Hey, stay for dinner. I am preparing noodles.'
“Sorry, mate. Not this time. But I’ll surely come later.”
I see him till the door and we exchange goodbyes. I come back, finish making the noodles that I started. I get into bed with the cozy blanket and hot noodles. I eat the noodles in my bed and go to sleep, thinking of the hospital.