Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Two women

Vasso Kalamaras

In Perth, in a central location, is a little narrow street running on to a busy noisy road. Often it seems like a harbour lost from the sea, and now embracing some huge green plane trees. These were planted more than half a century ago by some of the first settlers.

Old and strong they were the beauty and the richness of the poor neighbourhood.

Most of the wooden houses with their iron roofs have been standing for more than 70 years. Strange noises from the main road disturb the peace and quiet. These tiny houses with their neglected appearance seem as if they are resting in the palm of a gigantic god. Locked in his invisible fingers they look like old toys ready for the rubbish bin. Maybe, for that reason, Aunt Kalliopi always felt pain and sadness when she came out on her front verandah. She also grows old. How many years has she spent in this land. From 1902. Po po! you see! she was 10 years old—a big girl—now a child of 10 years is treated more like a baby. But in those days it was different. Her mother had two younger ones Vangelis 7 and Katina 4 and she herself was only 28. Her father however was 22 years older than her mother and he had suffered a lot during his life. In their village there were more swamps than paddocks. Malaria had ruined his health as well as that of others. They could see no hope for these poor unfortunates and they made a decision. A foreign land or death. "Better a foreign land" said Aunt Kalliopi's mother, raising her uncombed head from the scrubbing board. In those days they didn't have washing machines but washed by hand. "Kalliopi, take the hot water from the stove and start rinsing." Aunt Kalliopi still hears her mother's voice. See! She still had her mother's eyes nailed to her heart. Her mother's eyes, grey-green were shaded with brown as if she was always on the point of crying. She had a mass of grievances tightly knotted from other grievances. They had become like an immovable iron ball in her soul.

Ah Mum! Where is your little soul now? Poor Mum! whispered Aunt Kalliopi stepping down the broken wooden step of the verandah with difficulty. She had planted basil and carnations. The low wooden fence was perfumed by jasmine blossom and on the right side a rosemary bush with many branches was sweetening the air.

She smiled at the geranium. Deep red flowers all over it. Since a child she had always loved the colour red. And even now with spectacles and old age it charmed her. Stretching out her hand with a trembling motion she caressed the flowers.

In the window of the house across the way, two eyes were looking at her attentively. Aunt Kalliopi was not surprised, felt no displeasure, it was not the first time. For some weeks now a woman's figure in a multi coloured print fabric had sat just there opposite for hours on end, looking at her house, her poor garden.

Aunt Kalliopi was not too old to know everything that happened in her neighbourhood. But she knew that aborigines had been living in that house for a long time. Natives of Australia. Black people. She had heard so many stories, but had never happened to have them as neighbours.

Now she saw the young ones coming and going. Often she saw a woman in a Holden car with worn duco with three small children. All under six. Sometimes the children used to play on their verandah.

She passed her time looking at them. One man was elderly. The young man was large and fat with thick curly hair and jet black eyes. They all spoke English. In the first years she had a fear of black people. But, as she grew up, she understood that all people under the sun are people. There are good and there are bad. They are unjustly treated in the same way by the stronger ones, the manipulators and the crooks.

Good people. Like us caring for their babies. Like us, the mothers, worn out with bearing them, with rearing them.

Aunt Kalliopi was a simple woman who had had a hard life. She gained nothing in Australia. Her brother died young, a bachelor. The evil sickness had overtaken him, the unmentionable, a tumour in the head. Her sisters had married and left—one to Sydney and the other to a small town outside Brisbane.

Finances got bad with her late lamented husband. He drank and drank and she could not get him away from the beer. He drank all his wages. But he worked like a dog. He worked in labouring jobs. In a market. In fish shops, at slaughterhouses. He's gone, he's at rest. He is dead, he's at rest. Aunt Kalliopi talked to herself again, picking a flower. She brought it to her lips and kissed it softly. She looked across the street. The eyes behind the window were smiling at her. Two warm dark eyes shone like a spring night and met her own tired eyes which looked with curiosity from behind her glasses. She hesitated. And without thinking she raised her hand and waved to the unknown woman. The woman opposite also raised her hand, she made her a sign, greeting her. She was sure; two very black fingers could be seen resting on the glass.

The next day when Aunt Kalliopi's daughter came to take her shopping and to clean her house, her mother asked her hesitantly for a favour. "My daughter, please (na se haro), get out the frying pan. Make some loukoumades. My soul desires them. I feel like something sweet. Ade, bless you."

Her daughter looked at her in amazement. "Oh for goodness sake Mum don't say one of your friends has given birth! Really, loukoumades!" "At a birth we make loukoumades." But she could not deny her mother a favour. She put oil in the frying pan, broke into a bowl two eggs, beat them and mixed them well with the flour and started to fry them. Afterwards Aunt Kalliopi got the honey ready and started to pour it on the loukoumades. The house smelt of cinnamon. Ah! Just like the good old days of her youth. She called it youth when she was only eighty. Now the uphill journey was more difficult.

A good end she wished herself. "My daughter let's wish that I have a good end. Now at this stage I'm a burden to you."

"What are you talking about mother!" said her daughter sadly. "Stop being stubborn, come to my home. How much longer will you live alone?"

"Who says alone? Have I spent 75 years here alone. I'm planted in these stones. The roots of my body have taken deeply in this earth where God cast me down. Luck you say. A wretched life you say. Ade my daughter. Look what's outside the window, you see those huge planes?"

"Under my eyes they have grown from tiny babies and have grown bigger and bigger for so many years. Do you know how much love I have given them? Do you know how much care and thought I give them every day? Ade, come on. Put on this plate what your blessed hands have made. And brew a Greek coffee, very sweet, 'like your granny's of the old country,' as your granny used to say, poor thing. She was crying for Greece until her death. God bless her." "Ah," Aunt Kalliopi spoke again, "still one more favour I ask of you. Get out the special plate, you know the silver one. The wedding gift from my best man. Do you remember him at all, your godfather? He's gone too. Travelled to a better place. He left us years ago. Oh! The years how they roll along. Dead twenty-nine years."

"But who are the loukoumades for, mother?" her daughter asked.

"For them opposite, for the neighbours."

"The aboriginals?"

Aunt Kalliopi nodded her head, "certainly, the aboriginals" she answered, as if the subject was closed.

"Vre Mum!" was all her daughter said.

As she was leaving, as she kissed her mother (her face showed some concern). "Vre Mum! At your age, be careful not to fall when you go across. Watch your step as you are walking . . ."

Even before her daughter's car had turned the corner to enter the main road, Aunt Kalliopi combed her hair, threw a shawl around her shoulders. Taking the silver plate, her wedding present, full of puffy loukoumades covered with honey and cinnamon, she went carefully down the front steps.

Walking slowly, trembling slightly, she managed to cross to the other side. She stopped right outside the front door. On the verandah there were many kinds of plants in hanging baskets. Two cane chairs, in one corner a torn rag doll and a faded ball amongst large and small sea shells, white cuttle fish and dry seaweed.

The door opened before she knocked. In the strong light of the clear blue sky shone two big, tired, very black eyes with red flecks in their whites. The face was covered with countless deep wrinkles. It had a round shape, like a full moon; adorned with snow-white hair parted in the middle, braided in two short plaits, tied at the end with different little rags.

"We are neighbours, how good" said Aunt Kalliopi uncertainly.

"I knew that you would come" answered the other with a smile which covered her whole face.

Two or three front teeth were missing. But it was a smile so warmhearted, so human, that all hesitation between the two women was lost.

"We are both growing very old on this earth. I would like to say on your own earth," said Aunt Kalliopi, returning the smile from her heart.

"Where are you from?" asked the other holding out her hands and accepting the plate which was offered to her.

"From Greece. We are Greeks."

Perth, WA


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