The Door Behind You (Story) (1)
13 min 
Creative nonfiction & Genres & Issue Five

The Door Behind You

By Joshua Kepreotis.

John left at night to walk all the way through the darkness and find a way to the fishing port town of Agia Pelagia by morning, when the boat was to arrive. He said an inglorious goodbye at the house to whoever in his family was there to see him off. His siblings had already left to work in the fields, and hadn’t acknowledged his leaving. He remembered it vividly, the emptiness in departing.

‘My heart was in Kýthira, but my head told me otherwise.’

He was a teenager and the year was 1938. His beloved sister had been married off to a man 25 years her senior, and John was pulled out of school to work the land to help pay for her dowry. His future on the Greek island was as a farmer, but he wanted more; the freedom to decide his own fate. His father had an eldest son and a youngest one, so John was free to leave. His mother felt his absence. She let a part of herself go, and was never to see him again.

‘I loved my mother very much. I forget what she looked like.’

He travelled across the island; up hills, through bush and over rocks, awake in the cold, as the first of his family to leave it. The pride, the shame, the excitement, the burden.

‘I had second thoughts about leaving. I was scared. The first night on the water I cried, secretly, and wept so for a few more nights after.’

He told me the story of leaving Greece for Australia more than any other one he liked to repeat. Maria, his wife, called out from their kitchen and corrected him. She was peeling a fresh batch of potatoes, preparing a recipe of old, the aromas taking them back to their homeland; fresh oregano and basil from their backyard, coated in olive oil, homemade sauce for the meat and pasta, with creamy béchamel on top to hold it together. All done with handheld measurements. And then big ripe figs for dessert.

Όχι, Γιάννη! No, John! You’re forgetting an important part.’

They spoke their own language, a mixture of two.

‘You went to Collarenebri before you bought the dry ice business in Narrabri, με τούς Πελοποννήσιοι, with the Peloponnesians.’

Ναί, Yes, we sold ice cream out of a car,’ he said to me with pride.

‘But there were Kytherians already there with lower prices, so your Pappou had to sell and go to the city. Isn’t that the truth?’

‘Yes, Maria μου.’

Μου in Greek means ‘my’. It’s an affectionate term you tag on to the end of a name. My person. My people.

In these triangular conversations, John would respond to Yiayia while looking at me and smiling with his characteristic grin and glint in his eyes. This story always stood out because of his hurt, which was undying. Happier memories blended into each other, but the image of him as a teenager standing alone in his suit, his life packed into a case, unsure of the journey ahead, leaving everything he had known behind, and soon to enter a world foreign to him—not one he had seen on a television screen, but a city of buildings, business, cars and chaos—was seared into the migrant’s consciousness.

He left Greece when he was 19, made it to 93, and never forgot the details of the experience he had leaving home.

‘They were hard years. My early ζωή, life, in Australia was like walking from Kapsali, in the south, to Agia Pelagia in the north, and back, on my knees.’

Kythera, the island where he was born, is known for its difficult terrain, with thorny bushes lining the path he took to collect produce for his family; traversing a rocky landscape and descending dangerous cliffs. He was tasked to scrape salt off rocks near the sea, and cart it back for his mother to cook. He claimed it was the hardest job he ever did in life.

‘As hard as it was then, there were times εδώ in Αυστραλία, here in Australia, when I thought to myself I had to go back to Greece to survive.’

He decided against returning, and was glad he did, but those decisions weren’t without guilt. The dichotomy of migration is that one is caught somewhere in between the home they leave and the place they try to integrate into; feeling neither welcomed in the new country, nor embraced by the one they left. It’s a middle-ground of sorts. No man’s land. Limbo.

‘After spending 28 days on a cargo ship, I arrived in Sydney where I knew no one. I met some Έλληνες, Greeks, at the port, and they hung a sign around my neck like I was cattle, and put me on a train. I couldn’t speak English, but I was told it wasn’t good to speak Greek in front of anyone.’

‘So, I didn’t speak.’

Someone waited for him at a stop and took him to a shop where he was to clean dishes and scrub the walls and floors, live in a small room above, and sleep on a thin mattress squashed into the corner after an 18-hour work day. It was the price he had to pay for being newly-arrived, he said. Young, fresh and malleable.

We now call them refugees.

‘But I got through it.’

He would add a positive light to the recounting of his experience, as if burdening his audience with negativity would be too heavy for them to bear. That he was forever grateful to his new country, connected to his old one, and proud of overcoming the hardships. But trauma leaves damaged roots that grow inward.

‘They would get me to do all the jobs they didn’t want to do. They would kick the mattress to wake me if they thought I was being lazy. They called me ‘dog’, a lot.’

Outside of the shop he was referred to as a ‘Dago’.

‘I moved on to be a waiter. I wanted to interact with customers to learn English. I remember once a few co-workers heated a plate I was to serve without telling me, and I burnt my hands.’

He held them up and showed me his palms. I saw the creases as rings of an old oak tree, weary with age.

‘I can still hear them laughing. My boss there told me that the worker has to follow the boss like the bull’s balls follow the bull.’

He would nod diligently.

‘I wrote letters back στην Ελλάδα, to Greece, and sent my parents some of the λεφτά, money, that I was saving. It didn’t grow on trees in Australia, as my family thought.’

The geographical distance to Greece didn’t sever the ties he felt to his family, although it pained him to learn that his mother never saw the money he sent. She died alone in a stable next to the family home, years after his father passed. It was a way of quarantining her tuberculosis. John never forgave them.

‘I wasn’t there to be with her.’

We forget what they leave behind.

 

‘Having children was the best experience of my life.’

When Maria was in labour with their first child, John was so anxious about the process, that the hospital staff told him to wait outside the delivery room. He was a nuisance. However, he couldn’t cope not being with his wife, so he found a way back in; leaving the hospital building and climbing up through the room’s window.

‘When the nurse found me, I got in trouble. She told me I had upset her, the mother and our unborn child. And then Maria gave birth, and I can’t describe the joy when I saw our family grow.’

Maria laughed from behind his chair and waved her hand, accentuating how much more of a distraction he was in the delivery room than help. In their small house in Kingsgrove, they took me back in time. Playing off each other, and placing a path that led to me.

‘I raised my family in Australia to be Έλληνες, Greek, and Australian at the same time. I wanted them to learn English, better than I could. They went to Καθολικά σχολεία, Catholic schools, but we also attended Greek Orthodox Church. They had Greek lessons which they hated, Greek dancing, Greek friends, and we ate Greek φαγητο, food.’

It was important for him that he didn’t lose grasp of his culture, and that all the feelings of betrayal he had harboured after moving away from Greece could be suppressed if he passed on the values from his homeland to his children. Forced to assimilate, the migrant holds close to what is feared will be lost.

‘We didn’t have many relatives here, so we turned friends into family.’

That explains why generations later, everyone is either an aunty, uncle or cousin.

‘People already here didn’t like that we had come. They were angry that we were taking the jobs that belonged to them.’

To feel that entitled.

‘I wanted to tell them that somebody was here before they were.’

John protected his family in his new country by recreating elements of his old one, passing on the values he was taught, teaching his children its history, sharing stories of his youth, and details about his parents and family. Outside the house they had to try to look like they were Australian.

‘Australia is very multicultural now. It’s a more accepting country.’

Is it?

‘I’m glad my grandchildren don’t experience the racism I did.’

They don’t. But others do.

‘…For those who’ve come across the sea,

We’ve boundless plains to share…’

No one knows the second verse.

 

Each year, from as far back as I can remember, we celebrated Pappou’s birthday on two different dates. One in March and the other in June, which meant that keeping track of his age was difficult. He wasn’t afforded the luxury of a birth certificate.

‘I didn’t have any papers.’

He would say that the local priest was a known drunk, and so after the baptism of babies in the village, he would randomly select dates of the month he thought suited the child. It wasn’t exact, but it was their style. Something foreign to what we are used to in Australia in this new century. He also claimed to be a year older than what we thought he was. The day after his 90th birthday, for example, he would tell us he was closing in on 91, and therefore that was considered his age. It was hard to argue against his reasoning. We came from different worlds.

‘That’s how my mother celebrated our birthdays.’

He paused, remembering her.

‘I think she would have liked to come here.’

John got word of her death weeks after it happened. No phone call. A letter. Words to tell him of his loss, but nothing in his new life would change.

‘I’ll never forgive myself for not being there.’

During the Depression, when there was little of anything on the island, his mother would gather whatever produce she could in her home and cook it for the other children in the village, knowing how tough many had it. Their house was in a raised section of the village, so when she put up washed white sheets on the line, it was known as a signal to all to come and eat what she had made.

‘From her, I learnt to give my παιδιά, kids, the life I didn’t have.’

The most important thing for John was educating his children.

‘I was pulled out of school to work the land when I was in third class.’

As if the right to education didn’t belong to him. Their family was too poor.

‘I once overheard my father say, “Γιάννηs, John, wasn’t very smart anyway”.’

Together, Maria and John worked their milk bar every day of the week to send their children to school. It was their ambition to provide a better start in life for the next generation that kept them going, fighting against the inequality, the hardships and the endless working days. It affected their health and they both suffered, silently.

‘My son was bullied. My daughter also. He was spat on and hit. The teachers didn’t listen to us when we told them.’

They were different.

‘He was always the top of the class, my son, but would be sent outside for answering too many questions, or was told to keep quiet. It wasn’t easy for us. In the neighbourhood, we would have our fruit stolen off trees. In our shop, people would sometimes trash the shelves and tell us to go back home. We hid our tears under the counter.’

And when he first arrived in Australia, it wasn’t the established Australians who were most cruel to him.

‘The Έλληνες, Greeks, I worked for sometimes treated me worse. They wanted me to experience the hardships they faced when they came.’

There is a saying for how one migrant treats the next: They closed the door behind them.

 

From the age of 40, Maria suffered from rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks itself. It was debilitating, chronic pain crippling her, damaging her heart, her hands and mobility; but it could never dampen her high spirits. John was her primary carer up until his death; often cooking, cleaning, thinking for her, worrying about her; not adhering to the gender stereotypes of the migrant family.

Before John passed, he spoke about dying in a candid and philosophical way, making the transition easier for those who loved him. That he had outlived his purpose and over-stayed his welcome in this life, that his time had come to move on and be part of the next phase.

‘Ο ήλιος βασιλεύε.’ The sun is setting.

 

He spoke about wanting to be invited to walk through heaven’s door, welcomed and accepted. To see his mother and father, and wait for his wife.

‘I want to be on the right side of God,’ he would say.

He considered his life a complete one. He left home and journeyed into the unknown on a boat, entered a country where he knew no one, couldn’t communicate verbally, and wasn’t welcomed. He stayed long enough to build a life for his family, to love them equally, to give them everything he could and watch them grow, so that a descendent is here documenting his journey.

I, his grandchild, never had a door to bash through. Nothing was locked out. Because of my grandparents and what they endured, opportunities denied to them weren’t denied to me. But they are being denied to people like them, now, from different countries, different religions, different complexions, to those who wear clothes different from yours, who speak languages you don’t understand like Γιάννηs, John, did, and share his same desire. A life for their family.

‘For you, my child.’

He considered it a miracle, reflecting on the last year of his life as if he knew his time had come to its close, that a person from a small island could make the transition to a foreign country, to better his life and that of his family’s. Today, families seek solace from war, from death and from a life of fear. They want a chance at the life John built, the chance at doing something similar. They may choose to wear headscarves or not, pray to someone who others don’t, have beards or braids or be bald. They may look, sound or feel different. But they all want what we have: what John gave. They want love and life. They aren’t ‘others’. They are John, and John’s friends and cousins and extended family. They are your grandparents or parents. They are you, me and both. They are humans.

‘We are all God’s children,’ he would say.

I knew John. I listened to his story, heard his teachings and loved the person he was. I admired the values he lived by. To love all people. To be kind. To give. To share. I speak for John now, and know he would want the door he pushed through to remain open. To grant shelter to the endangered. To grant life to children and adults seeking safety. He travelled the world for that right. He lived a life for it.

Joshua KepreotisJoshua Kepreotis

 

Artwork by Kathryn Lamont.

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10 min 
Creative nonfiction & Genres & Issue Five

Displaced.

by Kylie Adams

We live in an age of unrest. We hate, we fight, we kill, and for what? Don’t we all want the same thing? A chance for freedom, peace, and equality? A place to call our own, where our children are safe, our government is transparent, and our society is treated fairly? Yet, somehow, our search for just that leaves many people displaced in the world, and unclaimed by any nation—Hosam and his family are no different.

The room where Hosam now lives with his wife and three young children is small and reasonably nondescript. It contains five single beds that are squashed together, a small sofa, and a dining table, but it is probably smaller than most bedrooms. It is devoid of any personal belongings because the family has nothing except for one or two toys for the children to play with—donations picked up along the way. For Hosam and his family, however, this is their new home, or at least they hope it will be. A home in a country that is not their own—a place where they must learn a new language, a new culture, a new way of life—but this is of little consequence in comparison to their journey to get here.

Hosam is a Syrian refugee, and his current situation is not how he imagined his life would pan out. Graduating from a college for veterinary science in 2004, Hosam, then 25, had his whole life ahead of him. He was young and well-educated, but the political climate in Syria was beginning to change. Ultimately, he found it difficult to find employment. His small city of Jarabulus, located on the Turkish-Syrian border and with only 11,570 residents, had limited employment opportunities. Hosam quickly noticed the government’s economic failings which, he says, led to corruption as well as favouritism within the political regime. Unlike many, he was eventually lucky enough to find employment in a small veterinary clinic. However, the knowledge of corruption, severe economic disparity and political favouritism was never far from his mind, and it was this knowledge that would ultimately compel him, and many others, to take matters into their own hands seven years later.

After marrying in December 2007, Hosam and his new wife desperately wanted to start a family of their own. With the addition of their first child in 2009, and the growing political unrest in Syria, he and his wife became more concerned about the future of their country. In 2011, shortly before the birth of their second child, he joined ranks with protestors in an attempt to improve the crumbling political condition the country was experiencing. While most reports document a change in the nature of the civil protests from political to religious, Hosam maintains that, for him, there was nothing religious about it; his motives lay purely in the desire to make his country a better place for his children. Before long, the demonstrations turned violent as the government, now using military forces to control the masses, became increasingly uncomfortable with the protestors’ growing support. The military was subsequently placed in a position of governing power which was climactically met with dissidence, with little effect. Groups of protestors were disbanded. Those considered instigators by the government—Hosam included—became fearful of unfair punishment as a result, and the situation continued to deteriorate.

In 2013, things took a turn for the worse. Islamic military radicals, now known as the Islamic Front, established a 45,000-strong alliance exclusively aimed at overthrowing the existing government and founding an Islamic State. It was clear to Hosam that the face of Syria was changing forever.

 

Having lost his job at the veterinary clinic because of the negative attention his involvement in the demonstrations was bringing, Hosam struggled to once again find employment to support his family. In June 2013, just in time for the birth of his youngest child, he secured a position with a non-profit organisation (NGO) that promoted conflict resolution and harmonious living—his dedication to making his country a better place to live never wavering. Then, at the beginning of January 2014, ISIS arrived on his doorstep, and everything he had been working for was lost.

In what Hosam describes as a full land assault, ISIS captured Jarabulus with no warning. For 17 days, in the middle of winter, the town fell under siege. Unable to leave the house for fear of being killed, the family did the best it could to stay out of sight. However, with supplies running low, Hosam had no choice but to leave the safety of his home and find supplies for his increasingly hungry and freezing family.

As the siege continued, aide groups were forced to retreat from the area, leaving residents in the city to fend for themselves. With round-the-clock bombing and gunfire, it was hard for Hosam and his family to believe that there would be a future—for themselves or their country—but refused to give up. Leaving the shelter of his house, he was confronted with the harrowing scene of death, destruction, and despair just outside his door. With machine gun-wielding ISIS soldiers patrolling the streets, he was forced to stay on the periphery and out of sight. The bodies of those who had already been captured and killed littered the streets. Hosam only left the house on two occasions, but realised his luck in coming home alive on the 15th consecutive day of the siege. His father-in-law chanced the short distance to see them but never made it; he was killed by a car bomb outside Hosam’s house infront of his grandson (Hosam’s son), then three years old, who happened to be peeking out the window.

It is easy to understand the remorse on Hosam’s face as he thinks about what happened—not just for the loss of his father-in-law but also for his inability to shield his son from such a horrible scene. To this day, he says his son still suffers psychologically. Although the situation is getting better, the boy often wakes in the night crying from nightmares in which he relives that fateful day, the culmination of events that led Hosam and his wife to plot their escape.

With Jarabulus positioned just one kilometre from the Turkish border, it may seem as though escape would have been easy. ISIS’s 17-day siege was now over and there was less movement within the area. However, the border was still heavily patrolled, so Hosam did what many Syrians have been forced to do and paid a trafficker to ensure passage into Turkey.

In hushed voices and hidden away from prying eyes, Hosam contacted an importer/exporter whose property lay on the north side of Jarabulus along the border. He would travel alone into Turkey to first secure the safety and finances required to ensure the future passage of his wife and children later, but he was becoming increasingly restless waiting for his own departure. ISIS no longer exclusively occupied the town but continued to capture NGO workers in the surrounding cities, and moved closer every day. Then, one night, under the cover of darkness, Hosam paid the trafficker a visit.

Approaching a house with trepidation, Hosam knocked quietly on the door and received no response. The house was in darkness, but there, in the distance, he could see the border and, along with it, the freedom he had desired for what now seemed like an eternity. So he ran, darting forwards, heart pounding in his chest, eyes fixed on nothing more than the nearing invisible line that separated his present from his future. Just metres from safety, a flash of light suddenly threw Hosam to the ground. It was a hail of gunfire from an unknown assailant. Rolling down a slight embankment and into a ditch, it took him seconds to feel the searing pain spreading up and down the left side of his body. He had been shot with 13 bullets from a pump-action shotgun. He lay quietly in that ditch in darkness for 45 minutes, unaware of the extent of his injuries. As blood slowly flowed from his body, he thought he would die in the shallow grave. As the darkness enveloped him further, salvation came in the face of the trafficker, walking along the ridge on his way home. The man carried Hosam’s blood-soaked body back to the house and contacted Hosam’s cousin.

Severely injured but undefeated, Hosam spent the next 20 days on crutches with only three of the 13 bullets removed. He used his recuperation well and planned his second attempt across the border. Successful, Hosam found himself alone in Turkey. His money was dwindling and he had a family back in Syria to support. He made the strategic move of obtaining work with an NGO that sent its workers in and out of Syria daily basis for safety, an opportunity for Hosam to try and connect with his family and secure passage into Turkey. But, again, he found himself encountering unforeseeable difficulties.

In 2015, ISIS once again arrived on the outskirts of Jarabulus. Hosam searched frantically for a trafficker to escort them across the border, but Turkey was closing its borders to refugees. The family had to travel over 100 kilometres through war-torn country to a small section of the border still allowing people through. The trip was dangerous, and time was running out, but the family had little choice. Hosam waited with bated breath for news of the crossing as his family’s fate lay in the hands of a stranger and, after a few days, they were eventually reunited. The triumph was short-lived, as the road ahead was long and arduous. At this stage, Turkey was not the source of liberation many refugees hoped for, and Hosam had strong concerns that the government would send them back to Syria.

He had by now saved US $2,050 and, after searching for days, he found the owner of a small rubber-based boat willing to take him and his family, and around 50 other refugees, to the Greek Islands, but it would cost him US $1,700 in a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Arriving at the docks in the middle of the night, he realised just how overcrowded the boat was. Intended for a maximum of 30 people, the boat noticeably buckled under added weight—almost double capacity. Hosam inquired about life jackets, and paid an additional US $100 for five life jackets in a harrowing journey.

The boat arrived on the Greek Island of Lesbos on 14 December 2015. Tired and hungry, new arrivals were pushed like sardines onto buses and taken to a hall to be registered. By this stage, Hosam made the decision to head to Germany because he felt the country had a more progressive view on immigration and integration. For the next two weeks, the family was herded from country to country with hundreds, if not thousands, of other refugees, having to be registered in every country entered even if it was not the final destination. Many countries treated them like terrorists. For the first time in his life, Hosam was openly ridiculed for his religion without provocation. From Greece to Germany, he used up his money on transport and buying exorbitantly priced food from private vendors who set up shop in front of refugee processing centres. The family arrived in southeast Germany on Christmas Day after 11 days of travel through Europe with little sleep. Germany gave them hope when they thought hope was lost.

However, almost two years on, Hosam and his family are still displaced, their future a waiting game. Due to the sheer number of refugees that have arrived in Germany over the past two years, visa processing times are severely delayed. For the refugees, this is an ambiguous ending to a long ordeal. With little information from their social worker about processing times, Hosam and his family must now await their fate—to be decided by nameless and faceless people and in accordance with laws that were not implemented with mass migration in mind. Until a decision happens, Hosam and his wife can only remain thankful and hopeful that the family can begin to heal the scars of war—both visible and invisible.

 

Story behind the story

This article was written based on interviews with a Syrian refugee, Hosam (the name has been changed for safety reasons), who travelled from Syria to Germany in 2015 with his family. As millions of people have experienced similar ordeals in the face of war, I felt it imperative to document his journey and the ongoing difficulties many refugees continue to experience years later.

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07 min 
Creative nonfiction & Genres & Issue Five

The Passenger

By Reece Pye

He got on at Dandenong, of all places. I didn’t pay him much mind at first; I was already too deep in The Cider House Ruleswhen he came and sat next to me. He seemed just like any other passenger, except in the way he sat with his back facing me, his head bowed, playing some game on his phone. Him in his filthy black tracks and his equally filthy grey hoodie, which at the time seemed appropriate enough, and only more so in retrospect.

While he wasn’t wearing earphones, he still increased the volume all the way up, attracting the attention of several nearby passengers, who, like me, were trying to discern what the countless explosions, crashes, and laser sounds were all about. Like me, they probably didn’t have a clue, because to them it was just another one of those innocuous, mind-numbing video games best suited to a child.Not a grown man on the train—even if he did get on at Dandenong and dressed like a twelve-year-old wannabe gangster.

Before long everyone, including myself, stopped taking notice of him, and I returned to my book, wondering how much harder it was now going to be trying to digest the dense, mostly exquisite prose of John Irving while a mobile version of World War III was apparently taking place right beside me. Though I did succeed in reading for about another five minutes without letting the ruckus deter me completely, it was around the scene where Melony shows Homer the portrait of an obese woman performing fellatio on a donkey that I—along with the same small group of passengers, as well as a few new onlookers—was drawn to the man in the stained tracks and hoodie once more.

‘Effin talk to me again, ya old bitch!’ he cursed into his phone, and was then rather quick to add, ‘I’ll pour a bottle a Tabasco sauce in yer ass. How does that sound?’

As he said this, I turned away from my book and listened both keenly and anxiously for a reply from the person who was supposedly going to have a bottle of Tabasco sauce poured down their anal cavity, but none came; just more of the exceptionally loud explosions from within the game world. As I returned to my book, the train slowed down and approached the next station. Once it came to a full halt, the man immediately stood up and walked over to the opening doors, as another dozen or so passengers began flooding into the carriage. All of them had no choice but to brush past either side of the hooded man as he leaned his head out. Not so that he could exit, but so he could glance down either side of the platform, whether it be at someone, something, or maybe nothing at all.

In the short time he abandoned his seat, a young Asian woman in a black silk dress took his place next to me. I inspected her through the corner of my eye. I was suddenly conscious of my increasing heartbeat, which, in my experience, is nothing but a physical acknowledgment that the equilibrium in which I live most of my life is about to be compromised.

‘Oi, I was sittin’ there,’ a voice said. Turning my head slightly to the right, I could see him now making his way back toward the seat. Towards me.

The girl quickly stood up as the train started off again and stepped aside as he neared her. But in the eyes of the hooded man, she had already committed a crime that couldn’t be rectified with a meek apology.

‘See that?’ he said, pointing down at a knapsack that was protruding from under the far edge of the seat, and that I had failed to notice until now. ‘What does that look like?’

‘Sorry,’ the girl said, and despite there being not a hint of resentment in her apology, her voice alone was enough of a trigger.

‘You’re sorry?’ he spat, as he reclaimed his seat. The girl leaned back against the carriage wall behind me, gazing sheepishly down at the floor. Still, this wasn’t enough to deter the hooded man.

‘It’s civil rights, bitch,’ he declared, the pitch of his voice loud enough that most in the carriage now diverted their eyes toward him—although I was sure that some of them were looking directly at me. ‘Do what ya told or go to jail. Your choice.’

This was where the girl decided it was time to respond. ‘Oh, shut up,’ she said.

‘What?’ I could feel him shift his entire bodyweight around on the seat as he turned to face her. ‘You’re a woman and your tellin me to shut up, are ya?’

This warranted disgruntled groans from some of the nearby passengers.

‘Yes,’ the girl replied.

‘Mate, just shut it,’ called out a voice from the other side of the carriage.

The hooded man immediately whirled his head around. ‘Huh?’

‘Shut it,’ the voice repeated.

‘What?’ He stood up, throwing back his hood to reveal a bare, dome-shaped skull that glimmered white in the light cast by the panels overhead, though his skin was unequivocally dark. ‘What was that?’ And when there was no immediate answer, he raised his voice. ‘Speak up, ya mutt!’

From the other side of the carriage, a man rose from behind the cover of several dozen bewildered faces. He was broader, taller, and his bulging tattooed arms seemed to hover on either side of him like smaller henchmen. ‘Keep goin, bro,’ he said.

He was perhaps indigenous, if he was anything, and at first glance appeared, like the now unhooded fiend, to be on the cusp of baldness himself.

‘Yeah?’ said the hooded man, taking a step forward. ‘Ya wanna go, huh?’

‘Whot?’

‘I’m Aboriginal,’ the hooded man said in a most guttural voice as he took another step forward, beckoning his opponent. ‘The heck are you, goon?’

‘I’m Maori.’ The Maori started toward the hooded man then, people on both sides of the carriage pulling their outstretched legs inward as the challenger pushed his way forth. As he drew closer, the Aboriginal chose to hold his ground beside me, removing his hoodie and flinging it to the ground as the Maori came within striking distance of him.

‘Let’s go!’ the Aboriginal bawled, and lunged forward, driving the top of his head into the Maori’s chest, screaming as he tried to force him back. Why he thought this would be an effective strategy I can’t say, but it wasn’t long before the Maori tossed him aside, and into one of the seats that had been vacated seconds before the clash, pinning him down as he began to unleash a succession of ferocious punches into the back of his head.

With his opponent unable to retaliate in any way—other than to scream his rage into the patterned seat – the Maori let him go and retreated several steps, clearly in anticipation of Round Two. It was at this point the train stopped at the next station. The Aboriginal launched himself at the Maori again, using the same hopeless method as before, and a handful of people fled the carriage. If I still didn’t have such a long way to go, I might have done so myself; though at this point my sole concern was whether I should take out my phone and begin recording behind the cover of my weathered paperback.

I barely had enough time to slip my hand down my pocket before the Maori held his wailing opponent back by the throat, and cracked him in the nose with a quick, hard jab. The Aboriginal tumbled backwards, landing on his back with a thud, fresh blood smeared across his lips. Though he was quick to scramble back to his feet, he didn’t make another advance; instead, he snatched his hoodie and bag, then let out a deep, animal-like roar.

‘Get the fuck out,’ the Maori said, pointing toward the open doors.

But his opponent remained still, glancing back and forth along the carriage. ‘I swear, it’s gonna be effin World War Three soon!’ he cried, eyes swimming, his bloodstained teeth laid bare as he gnashed them together. ‘And youse are all gonna be dead. All of youse effin dead goons! ALL OF YOUSE!’ Then he turned and hurried out into the open, just as several officers rushed toward him from the other side of the platform.

As the train carried on its inevitable journey toward the city, several people glanced out the window as the Aboriginal began to scream. I watched the Maorireturn to his seat and, as the carriage gradually returned to silence, a woman took the vacant seat beside me. I was about to turn and look at her, and realised that my book had fallen shut in my lap. I picked it up and opened to the page where I left off. I don’t know if it was necessarily my intention to continue reading in that moment, it seemed that simply staring at the words was enough.