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Experiment 8

The New New..

page 21

The New New...

It had given him a sudden feeling of isolation and loneliness to sec, the day the far side of the moon had been photographed, that the morning daily's fly-sheets proclaimed 'Red Tape Slashed For Mercy Flight'.

'But, perhaps, Red Tape is more important. Who am I to say?'

A box in a box in a box in a box.

He was the smallest box inside all those others.

Chinese game.

He did not matter much.

They had taught him that and he felt dutifully grateful.

Actually, he thought again, there should be schools for this sort of thing, classrooms and proper teachers and a real syllabus.

That feeling of isolation, for instance, was Not the Right reaction. He ought not to have felt the feeling, or to have impliedly questioned the judgment of the newspaper editor as to what was more news-worthy, or eye-catching, or of human interest.

Yes, he should not have thought it.

Proper schools were the solution.

And, for pupils who are not bright and do not make much progress, for pupils who, like him, every now and then falter and relapse into their old ways, there should be places where one could go and unburden oneself for minor little deviations such as this.

'Hi, mate.'

Greetings to him from a man he had never seen before.

An energetic sidewise sweep of his head.

The man had crossed over to his side of the empty pavement and was blocking his way, standing cockily on his legs, a proud challenging look in his eyes.

'Good morning to you, Sir.' said Gerolamo Musmeci, and sidestepped in an attempt to keep on walking. He smiled an empty, automatic smile and nodded his head.

But the man must have disliked the absence of warmth from Gerolamo's face, because

'Hi, you.' he said "What's the matter? What's this 'sir' stuff? Isn't plain English good enough for you?'

'Oh, yes, yes' said Gerolamo 'I was not thinking. I am sorry.'

'Well' said the man 'Watch your step, understand? I can hear you're not one of us. Where're you from? You chaps never learn anything.'

'We are not so clever.' said Gerolamo 'You will have to excuse and help us.'

'You're like leeches, you chaps from overseas. Taking the bread out of our mouths; always up to some dirty trick. Where're you from?'

Gerolamo would have liked to stop this sort of conversation, which he had not started and had no wish to encourage, but he did not know how to do it without appearing rude or unfriendly.

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He hoped that something would distract this nice man's attention, something like a car-crash or a fight in the public street, but nothing unusual seemed likely to happen.

Two old trams, the best in the world for shabby, rusty looks, clanged by.

The day was a quiet, sunny one. People were working, shut up in shops and offices all over the place; the best people in the best shops and offices in the world. It seemed that he and this nice man were the only living souls for miles around.

Two boxes in a box in a box in a box in a box. But he was a box with a different accent and that made nice people like this man, so curious, and, in a way, so aggressive in their curiosity.

He felt like saying 'Nice man, why don't you go to hell? Why don't you bloody well get out of my bloody way?'

His brains again. Every now and then, they went into a mad jig of their own, as if he were just one of them, one' of these kind, nice people he had found in this new country.

Of course he did realize it: He was an outsider and his accent was the mark that branded him as such. It was a natural warning to these nice people, so that he would not be allowed to sneak into the community on an equal footing, catching them unawares, intending to do who knows what terrible things to them.

And he understood also, how his accent, his odd way of saying words, must sound disagreeable to the musical ears of these nice people, of this nice man who had stopped him in the street, in an obvious desire to be friendly and helpful.

'Well, where're you from, mate?' the man said. He was getting impatient because, after all, when one asks a question, one expects an answer, doesn't one? It is just manners, politeness. And, as he knew that these foreign chaps did not know too much about manners and nice ways of living, he felt now full of a sort of missionary zeal, obliged to show - no matter what - to this bastard of a leech the right way to behave.

'What the hell.' he said 'Gone dumb or something?'

Gerolamo did not want to become involved.

He said 'No. But I am rather in a hurry. You see, a friend of mine has taken ill and I am going to call a doctor. I am so happy to be in this country. Everything is so easy and doctors are so marvellous and they visit you and you get medicines. Yes, I am very happy.' He smiled again his meaningless smile. Then he added 'To satisfy your natural curiosity, I'll tell you where I came from. I am from Lichtenstein. ' he lied.

'That sounds like German.' the man said 'You're a Jerry. You don't look like one: you look more like a bloody Eye-tie to me. I fought them both during the war, you know?'

'A commendable, worthy enterprise indeed.' said Gerolamo. 'Now please, you will have to excuse me. ' and he moved quickly, averting his eyes and wondering if the man would make a scene.

Behind him, disappointed at being left so abruptly, the man turned around and, his voice getting louder and louder to make sure that Gerolamo would hear, said 'No, you're no good. We licked the bastards once and we'll lick them again and it's a pity we ever thought of picking you up from the gutter where you belong.'

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Gerolamo walked quickly until he could not hear the man's voice and said to himself that it was certainly heart-warming to hear such patriotic feelings expressed with such vigour and conviction. And he was glad of being what he now was, because, perhaps only three years before, he would have turned around and knocked the nice man's teeth out.

But now that he had this new consciousness, this new outlook on life, he was glad to say he was much more tolerant. Somehow, he understood how everybody had a right to live and to do what he liked, to get drunk and be curious, without anybody interfering. As long as the proprieties were remembered and Peter got what was Peter's and the scale of values was not turned " upside-down.

illustration of two men at a bar

He realized now that the ideas he had had, before leaving his country, about foreigners and other people like that, were, to say the least, odd. When, somewhere in his growing up, he had missed acquiring that fine, what would you say, tribal spirit, that feeling of affinity only with members of his own little town, of his own little school and so on, he had been denied the most important key to a well-adjusted life. He had committed the sin of ignoring tribes and imagining - wrongly - that human beings - just for the mere fact of being superior animals - did not have any need to pack together and lean on one another's shoulders in the name of some symbol or other, or of some geographical accident.

How misguided he had been; what an inferior education he had received.

He walked along the fine, narrow main street, looking at the towering, two-storey high, fifty year old wooden buildings and thought of the splendid achievements of the early settlers. Their guts, their determination, their fine business acumen, their devotion to the nearly-sacred task of bringing civilization to these far-away shores and backward natives. With a Cross, symbol of faith, and a Mother Hubbard or an odd blunderbuss.

Monuments to posterity.

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He went towards the wharves, to go and sit down and enjoy looking at the sea.

It was his annual holiday.

Down from the bush-country and a small lumbermen's township of 200 nice, decent people, to the great, great city.

Gerolamo Musmeci.

Jee Moochee-moochee, as everyone of these nice, decent people who found his name too irksome, called him.

He murmured a few thanks for being allowed to breathe.

He was a Happy Man.