[If you're coming in late, start at Part 1]
Judy and Raymond sat on the double bed in what had become ‘their’ room in the house. They sat cross-legged facing each other. Judy at one end and Ray at the other. Holding hands. Eyes closed. Breathing.
“There’s something blocking your base chakra Ray, I can feel it. Breathe through it.”
“It’s my stiff cock for God’s sake Judes! Can’t we just fuck?”
Judy opened her eyes and looked directly at the man opposite her. “Not when you’re with other women, you know my rule. Tantra only.”
“It just makes me so hard I can’t help it.”
“It’s meant to make you hard. It’s meant to drive you wild. It’s meant to teach you a fucking lesson. Shut your eyes. Breathe.”
Paul arrived home to the sounds of two people having sex. Too loud sex. Strangely loud, unusual sounding sex. Breathy. Huffing. Puffing. Yelling. Moaning.
He recognised Raymonds voice and…was that Judy?
Turn and walk away.
He ambled through the suburb to the O’Connor shops and the local pub. All Bar Nun. A rugby pub. A long leg – short skirt – shovel on the make-up kind of pub.
He got a beer, found a seat outside and began reading a book he’d grabbed from the shelf before fleeing the house. Nadine Gordimer. For an old duck she wrote such great sex scenes. Surprising.
Halfway through the beer a shadow fell across the pages and he looked up to find Judy smiling down at him. That was quick, he thought to himself.
“Paul, you truly are a wonderful soul. Look at you with your literature and your lager.”
Paul smiled. “Join me for a scholarly schooner?”
“I think I will. I’m just picking up some things for dinner tonight but I guess there’s no rush.”
This will be interesting, Paul thought to himself as Judy made her way to the bar.
She returned with a pint of dark ale and a happy grin.
“What a lovely idea. Cheers Paul.”
“So tell me…”
They both laughed. Paul spoke. “You go first.”
“I was just going to ask how are things with you and Jess? You seem to be getting along?”
“Oh – we’ve noticed?” mimicked Paul.
Judy smiled. “All of us. We’re close. Too close maybe. We notice things.”
“Well I notice Raymond also seems interested – in Jess.”
She took another sip of beer. “Raymond. That man is interested in anything with a pulse.”
Paul decided to ask. “So how does it work? With you two I mean?”
“I’m not sure,” Judy lifted her beer of the table. “I’m never sure.” She took a long sip. “Maybe it doesn’t.”
Judy motioned to his book. “She writes such depressing novels full of repressed women – and then suddenly everyone is fucking – she’s amazing.”
He avoided dinner by seeing a movie in the city. A shit movie. Why were movies so shit these days? He turned down an invitation via text to meet Trish at the Phoenix and went home to bed.
He was awake. Lying in bed – staring at the ceiling. He guessed it was late morning by now. He didn’t move.
There was a knock on the door.
“Paul?” Terry pushed open the door a crack. “Are you all right?”
Paul lay still.
“I’m not going to work today.”
“Fair enough – Paul?”
“Your Mum rang – she said it was urgent – she said you should call her.”
Not today, Paul thought.
“OK,” he said.
Terry shut the door.
Paul sat up. He stretched his shoulders. He had to do something. Paul grabbed a pen and paper and wrote.
He composed a letter to Melanie.
After three attempts he decided he was never going to get it right.
He showered, lathering the soap, scrubbing his skin.
He came out of the bathroom wearing a towel, and bumped into Lenka.
“Oooh – hello sexy one!”
He dressed and set off down the stairs heading for the kitchen.
The doorbell rang. For some reason, this unsettled Paul. He slowed his pace. He heard Terry talking to someone at the front door.
“Paul?” Terry called upstairs.
“I’m in here,” Paul called back. Terry stuck his head into the kitchen.
“Someone’s at the door – your Mum sent him over.”
Paul walked through the lounge room wondering what his mother had done.
The man standing on the front veranda smiled at Paul. A big happy-to-see-you smile. Paul stood still. This person looked familiar. Looked like him. Skin: darker. Hair: thicker. Pants: pressed. Shirt: silk. Age: younger. Name: Ahmed.
It was his cousin Ahmed Nandren, from Fiji.
“Paul Nandren! – It is very good to see you.” Ahmed smiled and shook Paul’s hand. He pulled Paul towards him and embraced him warmly. Paul was shocked by the embrace. He was shocked by the warmth he felt towards Ahmed. He was shocked because he knew he was about to cry. And he did. Ahmed held him in his embrace.
“It is very good to see you, cousin,” said Ahmed, who was also becoming emotional. Paul tried to control himself. He pulled back, but kept hold of Ahmed’s hand.
“Your mother said you would be glad to see me – she gave me your address.”
Paul wiped his eyes. Ahmed produced a clean, ironed handkerchief – purple – and passed it to Paul. It reminded Paul of his father, who always had a handkerchief tucked away.
“Thanks Ahmed – It’s great to see you.”
Terry was still standing there. “Family reunion?” he asked.
“Terry this is Ahmed, my cousin from Fiji.”
“Hello again, Ahmed – welcome to the house.”
Out on the front porch stood two large suitcases, bulging ready to burst.
Terry was talking to Ahmed. “OK Ahmed – I’ve got your bed set up out the back. If you grab your suitcases and follow me….”
Paul caught Terry’s eye.
“Oh Paul – your Mum rang and told me about Ahmed coming for a visit, so I offered him a bed out the back.” Paul didn’t know what to say.
“Are you sure this is alright with you Terry?”
“Yeah – no problem.”
Paul followed Ahmed and Terry through the kitchen into the back yard. Ahmed talked.
“This is wonderful to see you again Paul – it has been 12 years since you came to Fiji. Many years ago now. Much water under many bridges.” He laughed at this, his English joke.
Paul remembered Ahmed. As young boys they had got on well. Back then Ahmed had introduced Paul to life in Suva, and life in the Nandren family.
“What are you doing in Australia, Ahmed?”
“I’m on a student visa – doing my MBA at the University of New South Wales. Such a big place. So many beautiful girls.” Ahmed grinned. “My mother told me to look for a nice girl who I could marry. There are so many nice girls – but not many of them want to marry.” Ahmed laughed again, an infectious chuckle.
“How long will you be staying?” Paul hoped the question sounded more innocent than it was.
“Oh I could stay forever, Paul. This is a wonderful place.”
While Ahmed settled himself in the back shed, Paul dragged Terry to the kitchen and talked in hushed tones.
“I didn’t know anything about this – I’m sorry, Terry.”
“It’s fine, Paul.”
“I’ll ring Mum and tell her that Ahmed will have to stay with her.”
“Seriously, Paul – it won’t matter. One extra person is not going to be noticed.”
Paul had reservations about the whole situation. He had things to do in his life. He didn’t need any complications.
“OK Terry – but I’ll tell Ahmed that the arrangement might change in the coming weeks.”
“That’s up to you.”
Ahmed came in the back door carrying a towel and toiletries.
“Can I use the bathroom Terry?”
“Of course – and you don’t have to ask me before you do anything – make yourself at home.”
“Your hospitality is appreciated.” Ahmed smiled and looked at Paul. “We have so much to catch up on, cousin – we will have to chat.”
Terry pointed Ahmed up the stairs in the direction of the bathroom.
“What a nice guy – he looks like you.”
“I look like him, you mean.”
Paul rang Melanie at her work. The receptionist answered.
“Oh – hi Paul.”
It was Jeanette.
“Hi Jeanette – how’s things?” Jeanette was blind – and she was a real bitch.
“Paul, why are you calling?” This was said with a snide voice. She was, after all, talking to the fucking bastard Paul Nandren.
“I wanted to talk to Melanie.”
“She’s not in.” A quick response. Had Melanie left instructions that she did not want to speak to him?
Paul pressed on. “She asked me to call her.”
“Oh did she now?”
Paul was silent.
“Paul, YOU might recall that YOU walked out on Melanie, and YOU had a sordid grubby affair, and YOU fucked things up badly.”
Paul remained silent.
“She’s at home.” Jeanette hung up.
He dialled Melanie’s number. She answered – “Hello.”
Paul froze. He couldn’t go through with it. His jaw wouldn’t move. He hung up. Shit. Paul grabbed his bike lock keys and ran out the front door.
He rode through the suburb and stopped on the footpath across the road from her house. His house. Their house. He hid himself behind an old street tree and watched. What a creep.
Her car was in the driveway. There was movement at the front door. He paused and watched. Melanie came out. Someone else was with her. A man. He came out of the house behind her and put his hand gently on her back. She turned and kissed him. A long kiss. And a hug. Paul watched – unable to look away. They kissed again. They held each other for a moment, then the man turned and walked down the stairs. Away from Melanie. Towards Paul.
Paul realised his predicament – too late. He stood up strait behind the Pin Oak street tree. His heart pumped. The blood boomed in his ears. She would see him. This was a fucking disaster. A car started and drove off. Paul just stood feeling more and more like an idiot. Slowly he looked around the trunk of the tree. Melanie was standing there – staring straight at him. He acted fast, jumped on his bike and pedalled.
Don’t look. Don’t look.
He looked. She was crossing the front yard, waving to him. He kept riding. He looked again. She was standing out on the street. He took the first left and disappeared.
He rode through the car park of a busy suburban shopping centre. Not thinking. Trying not to think. He stared at a homeless man who had 5 or 6 dogs on leads pulling him down the footpath on a skateboard. That was him. He looked up to see a trolley being rammed into the trolley return bay. That was him. He saw a small boy running across the road. There was a screech of tyres. A woman grabbed the boy roughly by the arm and smacked him hard. That was him.
Paul woke from an afternoon sleep. It was getting dark outside. Inside, the house was full of noise – music, and the hum of conversation coming from downstairs. He got up, checked himself in the mirror and headed for the kitchen. Something smelled wonderful. The aromas that filled the house sparked Paul’s memory. The Nandren house in Suva had smelled just like this, like the house itself was alive. Paul entered the kitchen, which was full of people. Miyad was chopping herbs and vegetables, Jonas was stirring a big pot, Thomas and Flemming were washing up. Everyone in the room swayed and danced to what sounded like a Bollywood soundtrack. In the middle of the kitchen stood Ahmed Nandren, pouring wine into Judy’s empty glass. Ahmed smiled and waved to Paul. He wore a vibrant, colourful shirt and black dress pants. He looked immaculate. Jess, who was standing at the refrigerator, saw Paul and waved. She was wearing a red and gold sari, her hair was pulled back and she had a red spot in the middle of her forehead. She danced across the room, her hips swivelled, she held two beers above her head. The seductress, Paul thought. His stomach flipped. She offered him a beer and kissed him on the cheek.
“Good to see you again – I’ve missed you,” she spun around. “How do I look?”
She took his hand and led him across the room towards Ahmed, who stepped in close to Paul and yelled above the music.
“Paul – I’ve organised a little party to say thank you. I did not realise so many people are living in this house – it’s wonderful, just like home!”
Jess dragged Paul into the lounge room where a transformation had taken place.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
All the furniture was gone. The room was full of pillows and cushions, candles and incense. Lenka, who wore a sari and also sported a red dot, approached them. She gave Paul a shirt (one of Ahmed’s no doubt, thought Paul) and she draped a string of flowers around his neck. Then she reached into a basket and threw rose petals over him.
“This isn’t a wedding!” He laughed. It felt good to laugh, he realised. Everyone else was seated. Terry waved from across the room, Amanda got up and gave him a kiss on the lips. Raymond stood up and shook Paul’s hand. Then Raymond hugged him. Paul didn’t want to be hugged by Raymond but there was nothing he could do to stop it. Jess took him by the hand again and led him to his seat on the floor.
“We all know you’ve had a hard week – we wanted to show you that we care about you.”
“You did all this, just for me?”
“Partly. It was Ahmed and Terry’s idea – Terry mostly. He said you really needed a boost. But mostly Ahmed wanted to have a party.”
There was movement at the doorway to the kitchen. The music was turned down. The kitchen light was switched off and the flickering glow of candles could be seen. Then from the kitchen Ahmed Nandren began to sing. Loud, passionate and slightly off key. “If you think I’m sexy come on baby let me know”. Soon everyone was singing as Ahmed entered the lounge room followed by others carrying platters of rice, curry and chapattis. Ahmed sang. Sweat was dripping from his face. His white teeth flashed. He threw his hands in the air and danced. Paul, who usually was embarrassed by this sort of thing, found himself singing along.
Jess sat close to Paul, their hips touched, their shoulders rubbed. They shared a plate, eating rice and curry with their fingers. Terry came, sat down and put his arm around Paul.
“Glad to see you enjoying yourself – I’ve been worried about you.”
Paul was unsure about the public show of affection, but he was getting used to it. He liked it. There was a barely audible knock on the door.
“I’ll get it,” said Terry. As Terry stood and turned towards the door, Jess leaned across and kissed Paul – this time on the lips. Paul’s body tingled. The room had gone quiet. Paul became aware of an awkward silence. Terry gave a little cough and Paul and Jess broke off their kiss. Standing in the lounge room, next to Terry, was Paul’s mother holding a crystal bowl of trifle.
Ahmed broke the silence. “Ah – Aunty Mary – welcome, welcome, I was hoping you would come. Stay for some food and drink.” Ahmed rushed over and hugged Mary.
“No, I can’t stay,” said Mary looking at Paul and then at Jess with interest. “I was just dropping by to make sure everything was all right. And drop off some dessert.”
“No Aunty, you must stay.”
But Mary handed Ahmed the bowl and was already backing out towards the door, waving a general goodbye. Terry walked with her, encouraging her to stay – “There’s plenty of food!” but Mary was gone. She hadn’t said a word to Paul – that was a bad sign, he knew from experience.
Paul and Jess sat out on the front verandah.
“Do you remember last time we sat out here,” she said. “You put your arm around me.”
“I don’t usually let strange men touch me like that, I’m actually very wary of men as a rule.”
“Are you saying I’m strange?”
“No, the opposite – I trusted you straight away.”
“Shall I put my arm around you again?”
“If you’d like to.”
He stretched out his arm and held her. They stayed like that for a moment, him holding her close, then Jess stiffened and turned towards Paul.
“I’m not sure about this, Paul.”
“What, not sure about what?” he said. But he knew she was right. He wasn’t sure about this either.
“I’m actually not a very nice person – at the moment. You don’t what to get mixed up in all my shit.”
Paul let her talk – he wanted to jump in and tell her how horrible he was – how terrible he had been – but he couldn’t put it into words.
“I have to work a few things out – I don’t want to hurt you. And I will hurt you. Trust me – I will.”
She kissed him forcefully on the lips, touched him gently on the cheek, and then she was gone.
Paul washed dishes. The kitchen was a disaster area – but he, Paul, would put things right. He worked at it systematically – food scraps and recycling first, then utensils and cutlery; plates, bowls and finally the pots and pans. Ahmed came in from the other room singing and dancing.
“Paul, this is a wonderful life. Such wonderful people you live with. Tell me,” Ahmed leaned in close, “is Lenka available do you know? She is very beautiful.”
Paul looked up from the murky water in the sink.
“Ahmed – Lenka may well be a lesbian.”
Ahmed just smiled and winked.
“That food tasted great, Ahmed.”
“I know – just like home.”
“Was it your mother’s recipe? Or one of yours?”
Ahmed smiled again, “Paul, I cannot cook. I am a man! Judy and Miyad did all the cooking.” He laughed his infectious laugh. “Now I must return to the party – you should stop cleaning and join us.”
“Thanks Ahmed, but I’m just not in the mood.”
“OK cousin – but don’t be surprised if you see me dancing with Jess – she is obviously not a lesbian.”
“Go for it Ahmed – go for it. But don’t assume anything with these people.”
Paul pulled the plug on the brown water, and ran the hot tap. The water was fresh and sparkling clear. That’s what he needed to do in his life – refill his sink – but it wasn’t so easy.
Paul grabbed a pot and scrubbed.
The dark house was silent. The toilet had stopped refilling after being flushed. There were muffled coughs and beds creaked. Paul lay awake, feeling better than he had for days. He was at a loss to explain why he felt this way. He suspected that if he analysed the reasons why he felt good – it would just bring up a whole heap of shit and make him feel crap again. So he just lay there, breathing.
Paul heard a car pull up outside the house. Then another car. Doors opened and shut. A third car stopped, crunching gravel. Paul looked at his clock. 2:13. An odd time to call. Maybe it was more people coming to stay at the house. Paul heard footsteps, urgent, running footsteps, and he sat up in bed. Something was going on. He jumped up and pulled on his jeans. Then came a loud, strident, repetitive knocking on the door.
Paul stumbled out into the hallway and crashed into Raymond, who had come out of his room fully dressed. Followed by Jess. Coming out of Raymond’s room.
Paul stopped and stared. Jess looked down.
The loud knocking continued. Lights were being turned on. Terry came out of his room wearing only his Bonds undies. “What’s going on?”
Four men, one wearing a suit the others in jeans and running shoes crowded the front door. Raymond stood, his hand held up in front of him, blocking the men from entering the house.
“I just want to see the warrant, that’s all,” Raymond spoke forcefully, no hint of emotion in his voice.
“Of course sir,” said the man in the suit, “and your name is…”
Raymond stood his ground. “The warrant?” he demanded.
“Sir, we have a warrant to search the premises of Terry James Swan, are you Terry James Swan?”
Terry stepped forward, adjusted his boxers and said, “I’m Terry Swan.”
The man reached inside his suit, pulled out a document, and handed it to Terry.
“Mr Terry James Swan, we have a warrant to search your house issued by the district court under section 34, part (b) of the Immigration Act which states that…”
Terry cut him off. “I know what section 34 says, I’m a fucking solicitor.”
Small correction: a fucking law student, not a fucking solicitor. The fact that he looked comical in his undies did not stop Terry from arguing the law.
“You can’t do this,” said Terry forcefully.
“We can, it’s all there, if you’d care to read it sir.”
“I do intend to read it – every word. And I want you out of my house until I do.”
“That’s fine sir – the house is surrounded, we have time.”
Surrounded? That must have been the cars and footsteps Paul had heard. What sort of crazy shit was going on here? Raymond pulled Terry aside and they talked in whispers.
Terry turned back to the man in the suit.
“Actually – I have nothing to hide. Why should I care if you search my house?”
“And garage, sir – as mentioned in the warrant.”
“Sure – go for it.”
Someone gave a shrill whistle outside. Paul grabbed Terry.
“What’s going on?”
“Immigration Officials,” said Terry. “A raid – can you believe it?”
They didn’t turn the place upside down, or rip the stuffing out of the lounge. Nothing so dramatic. They focussed most of their attention on the shed out the back. They looked under beds, climbed in the roof, climbed on the roof, and looked in the privet behind the shed.
They looked through the rooms in the house, and in the roof. But there was nothing, rather no-one, to be found.
Paul stood in the backyard for most of it – it was the first time he had ever been raided. The man in the suit questioned Miyad, who was obviously under suspicion because of the colour of his skin. One eager young official approached Paul and waved a badge like a bad impression of a TV cop.
“Can I see some identification?”
“Sure.” Paul led the man to his room and grabbed his wallet.
The man wrote down the numbers, and looked around the room, the got onto hands and knees and looked under the bed.
“Where’s your porn?” Paul wondered if this was a joke or a sad reflection of the man’s intelligence. Question: What sort of person works for the compliance section at the Department of Immigration? Answer: the type of man who would look for porn under Paul’s bed.
When it was obvious there were no illegals to be found, the immigration officials retreated to their midnight blue Holden Commodores and sped off into the night. After all the excitement Paul suddenly felt exhausted. The house was buzzing, everyone was out of bed. In the lounge room Terry and Raymond were in deep discussion with Miyad, Judy, and Jonas. It all looked very serious, but Paul wasn’t interested. On the stairs, Paul passed Jess. She reached out to touch his arm but he brushed her off and kept walking.
As he entered his room Ahmed came out of the toilet. He didn’t look well, holding his stomach.
“Ahmed, are you OK?”
“Not OK I’m afraid. My stomach cannot handle those creamy curries, this is a real problem for me. In one end…” Ahmed grimaced.
“Shit,” Paul said.
“Yes literally. Shit and lots of it. And stomach cramps.” Ahmed changed the subject. “What is going on, all this activity?”
It dawned on Paul that Ahmed had missed the raid completely.
“Ahmed – you realise we’ve just been raided by immigration officials?”
“ No, are you serious?” Ahmed looked around – nervous. “Are they still here?”
“Thank goodness for that. Oh my God that could have been a disaster.”
“Paul, I have something to tell you – I have overstayed my student visa.”
“I think they had bigger fish to fry, Ahmed. Lucky you were in the toilet. Lucky they didn’t go in.”
“Yes, lucky for them – I was making one hell of a stink.”
7:45am Friday morning. Paul studied himself in the mirror – freshly shaven, hair gelled, suit, tie, linen shirt, polished shoes. He looked perfect. The quintessential public servant – the faceless bureaucrat. Sucking in public money – pumping out useless policy.
The door swung open and Jess entered the room, wearing old track pants and a faded long sleeve T. They both stood in silence for a minute. Vague eye contact was made. To trust or not to trust.
“I was just heading out.” He thought he saw her shoulders drop a little, she leant against the wall, she closed her eyes.
“Paul, it’s not what you think….”
He cut her off. “Jess, I don’t think – look, this is none of my business. I hardly know you. I want to apologise for acting like – ” Paul paused “ – I’ve been acting like a school boy, jealous for no reason.” He was angry at himself now.
Jess laughed – a genuine, out loud laugh.
“Paul, don’t beat yourself up – I just came to say thanks for being around the last couple of days – you’ve been great. Look, I’ll let you go to work – but I’ll see you tonight – yeah?”
Shit, Paul thought to himself, remembering his promise to Trish.
“I’m going out to dinner with someone else.”
Then he saw a way out.
“Why don’t you come along?”
Watkins was not in the office for the morning. Thank God. Paul buried himself in two days worth of work. Rose asked him how he was and he was unsure of how he should answer her. I’m about to crack. My life is fucked. Thanks for asking.
“I’m OK, looking forward to the weekend,” he said.
Which wasn’t true – Paul was dreading the weekend, kicking off with dinner tonight. A table for three, thanks. Paul (the idiot), Trish (the lover), and Jess (the heartbreaker). Cosy.
Mid-morning. Paul stretched his shoulders and looked up to see George Mann approaching his desk.
George Mann. From the Minister’s office.
“Paul, walk with me to the meeting room.” It was a command, Paul obliged.
They entered and George Mann closed the door behind them.
“There’s something we want you to do – something the Minister wants you to do. The work you did in your previous role was excellent. We want you to go back and have another look at what you were working on.”
“I can’t tell you that. It’s being held at a higher level.”
“What about Watkins? Does he know?”
“No – let’s say this is sensitive and, um, confidential – John Gardiner knows, you will work to him on this.”
“Confidential – you mean secret.”
“Yes – we’d appreciate your discretion on this one – in fact we’re going to trust you Paul with some very sensitive information.”
“What about the work for Watkins?”
“You’ll have to balance your work plan to accommodate it. Watkins can’t know you’re working on something else. Oh, also, Trish is coordinating this for us so she’ll be your regular contact.” George Mann stood suddenly, shook his hand and left.
Just like that.
“Trish – you’re my fucking contact – so talk to me. Or do I need semaphore flags so we can talk in code.”
“Not so loud.”
Trish swivelled in her chair and pulled a folder from her bottom draw. She dumped the folder on the desk in front of him.
“Yeah – Kyoto shit – we did this years ago.”
“So the Minister wants to look at it again.”
“The Prime Minister will never sign.”
Trish paused and stooped Paul with a light touch on his arm “Listen again to what I’m saying – the Minister wants us to look at it again.”
Back at his desk Paul opened the folder and began reading. He grabbed a pen and started making notes. Most of the stuff they had given him was his own work – a Cabinet Submission that had got as far as PM&C but it been so severely edited that Paul hardly recognised the final copy. He looked around. Why the secrecy? This was an old piece of work made irrelevant by the Prime Minister’s decision not to sign Kyoto.
But the instructions on the cover sheet were clear – put back in what they took out, write a brief for the Secretary, call me when you’re done – written in John Gardiner’s neat cursive.
Paul had kept the original document in his drive. He spent the rest of the afternoon editing and preparing a brief for the Secretary – then he called John but in his mind he was already thinking of the weekend ahead.
Watch this space for further parts. For all the parts to date check the tag.]