Within a month of the decision (by global referendum – a first), Gordy Nanbarry had pitched his tent on the strip of green lawn outside our block of flats and had built a fire against the concrete retaining wall. He’d been granted lots 64, 66, 68 and 70-74 on Sirius St, and had pegged up the official memorandum over the STOP sign at the roundabout. His brother, Jack, had gotten the opposite side of the road: specifically, two immense residential towers, glassy and fitted out below with a cafe and real-estate shopfront. When I came home from work, Gordy broadly grinned at me as he hovered over the legless half-dome of a Weber that was propped up in the fire.
“Snag?” he offered.
“No thanks,” I said. “We’re going out.”
“Come on,” he said, “It’s good stuff! Kangaroo!”
“Shouldn’t you be eating some lamb?” I said. “Beef? Like, while you can?”
“Nah, mate!” he said, still grinning as he took a bite off the end of a skewered sausage, drenched in tomato sauce.
The first thing to go was the door. “This’ll burn for heaps long!”, Gordy had exclaimed. As such, whenever he needed anything else from our unit he could only lean in through the splintered doorframe and call, ‘Knock knock!’ ‘Don’t mind if I take this camera, do ya?’ ‘Got any moisturiser? Hand cream or that? For the Missus, I mean!’ – Etcetera.
It was a strange time. At the pub, we finished our lime and sodas only to piff the glasses from the third-floor balcony into a garbage skip overflowing below. When I was half finished my chicken schnitzel, one of the bar staff snatched the meal up off the table, dumped the contents onto the sticky wooden tabletop, and added the gravy-stained porcelain plate to his pile.
“Sorry, guys. Last drinks, by the way.”
From then on I just ate snags with Gordy.
We were lucky, in Australia. I watched a grainy YouTube clip of three Italian men, at the centre of a mob, shoving an Iranian to his knees; the video didn’t have sound but you didn’t need to hear the gunshot in that terrifying moment before the screen went suddenly black, and a Range Rover ad came on. The three men were apparently arrested, and Berlusconi condemned the shooting as ‘unnecessary’. He went on to announce that the deportation process had otherwise been much smoother than expected, and Italy would be among the first to comply wholly with the new international regulation.
The hardest thing, of course, was saying goodbye to Mish (Michelle’s family came out from Jiangxi province in the late Seventies). It happened sooner than I thought. We were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, checking our phones for news, emails, Facebook comments.
“Mum reckons Nan’s going to die,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
“If not when they try to get her on the plane, definitely in China.”
“It’s a pretty big move for an old lady.”
“She’s sick, Greg.”
“I know.” I rolled over and put my arm around her chest and up under her breasts; she rolled too, curving into me.
“What am I going to do? What am I going to do in fucking China? It’s going to be awful.”
“Aren’t you at least excited to see what it’s like? Mish? And, I mean, you’ll have your family.”
She pulled away, tearing the sheet off of us and lying on her back. She stared at the ceiling. “I won’t have you.”
“It’s not going to last, you know. It can’t truly be, like, tenable, right? How can it last?”
“You voted no, right?”
I didn’t say anything. I swivelled in the bed and sat at its edge, naked.
“In the referendum? You voted no.”
I pulled on last night’s discarded underwear.
“Fuck you, Greg. I can’t believe you.”
“We should start getting our stuff ready,” I said.
“Stuff? Stuff? What stuff.” She was crying; it was hard for me not to go to her in bed and hold her red, wet cheeks and say ‘Sorry, Sorry’; but I didn’t. I stood straight, looking at the wall, and spoke in a monotone.
“Clothes, I guess. Anything you want to take.”
“Just go away. Leave me alone.”
Outside the bedroom, Gordy Nanbarry had his feet up on the couch. He was cradling a glass of milk and watching music videos.
“Tough deal, huh? Hey, am I in the way?”
“No, mate,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You say your mother’s father was an orphan?”
“Uh-huh,” I said. I was hoping for some kind of sit-down consultation; instead I was at the head of a queue that snaked on itself five times, between rows of plastic chairs. The blonde, middle-aged woman at the booth was glancing over the form I’d filled in. She yanked my wrist from under the plastic shield, and pierced the skin with a little pricking device.
“Ow, fu- Thanks,” I said. “Sorry.”
“You know, even if the gene test indicates some native descent,” she said, “Well, it’s practically impossible that you’ll qualify for hereditary status. From what you’ve written here, at least.”
“I know,” I said.
“It’s going to be a long wait, as well. Where are you going?”
“Wales, I guess.”
“We’ll have to send the results to Wales. Forward your address with this reference number.” She slipped the form back to me, took off her glasses, and nodded to the queue behind me. “You aren’t exactly going to be on a priority rush.”
“Thanks,” I said, clutching the form at my chest. “Thanks a lot.”
“Next,” she cried.
After that, the city emptied out. I stayed as long as I could, driving often to Freshwater beach. The posted notification said the shorefront had been assigned to a Dr. Reg Hammond and Family, whom I never saw. During the days I hung around with Gordy and started demolishing the house, by hand; we got up on the roof to take down the tiles, and then started chiselling at the drywall to expose weak points in the masonry. We piled everything up at various points on the street; here were the red bricks, here the wood and combustibles, here a stack of books and electronics that was very small compared to the other piles. In the evenings I swam at Freshie, and when it grew dark I fished off the beach. It was very good for flathead, and I also caught a few big whiting. It was strange to pull them in in the dark and with only the applause of crashing waves. There was nobody left within a suburb’s reach, as far as I could tell.
I wrote a letter to Dr. Reg Hammond and Family, explaining how much I’d enjoyed use of his fine beach and where the best spots to cast-in were. I had to rewrite it a few times, but when it was right I tore it out of my notebook and tucked it in the memorandum’s paper sheath.
The next day I shook Gordy’s hand. The house had been stripped down to a toothy skeleton of pipes and brickwork. It had taken a lot of hard work – harder work than I’d ever done before – but it felt like it was worth it. I don’t know why. It was what Gordy wanted done.
“Good luck,” I said.
“Power goes out next week,” he said. “Dunno how long for. You might as well have your camera back.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.” I said. “Chuck it in the pile.”
“Thanks for sticking around,” he said.
“Thanks for having me,” I said.
“Well,” he said. He rubbed his short-trimmed beard.
“Well,” I said. And I left.
“QANTAS regrets to inform you that no further public flights have been scheduled. Please follow the prompts to be forwarded to our new code-share partner, Trans-Pacific Freight.”
The liner was massive, and only half-contained by Circular Quay. I was ferried out to it on a tinnie, then had to climb a good hundred feet up the ship’s steel hull, on a rope ladder, carrying my pillow. It was exhausting, and I stopped for twenty minutes halfway through the ascent. That was my last good look at the city of Sydney, and I thought that it was a very beautiful city.
The journey took ages – actual months. I met some new friends, most of them English, some French, a Hollander, and there was a lot of beer on board so I spent most of the time dehydrated and sunburnt. The big, empty-decked freighter had enough room to play cricket, so we did, and I regained some of my old spin-bowling skills. I wrote journal entries every night. ‘Today I saw an iceberg,’ ‘Today I feel like I’m getting a cold; Catherine has some Sudafed on her, though.’ – Etcetera. As the journey was nearing its end, I read back over the diary, to remind myself just how long it had been since leaving Australia. I thought it strange that amidst all those pages I hadn’t mentioned Michelle once, so I wrote a few lines about her. That was the last page I wrote.