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Familiar Sight from China Light
Familiar Sight from China Light

Familiar Sight from China Light


Sydney 1989

He loved lingering…

A perk of his Australian Public Service career was ‘flexitime’. Unpaid overtime was rewarded by free time; if you worked extra hours, you could use it to start late, leave early, have an extra long lunch, or if you strived and saved enough, you’d have an entire ‘flexi-day’ off. Phil Danté was enjoying his free Friday.

As Tatie, his Aunt would be spending the weekend at their home, he didn’t spend the day with her. Rather, he haunted his Central Business District with the sheer joy of not going to work, for watching the other slaves go to work was half the fun. The other was feeling certain places and times of the day, then sucking up their atmosphere.

It was now the late afternoon, and he was taking in the ambiance of his favourite café near his workplace closing for the weekend. As they left, the regulars boasted of the wonderful weekends they were going to have. Would they really have a wonderful time? He doubted it, but the important thing was their feelings of being free and making a promise of a Walter Mitty Wild Weekend. They were jubilant when they left to finish their working day.

Soon it would be time to go as the staff were placing chairs on top of tables and telling him about the wonderful weekend they were going to have.

Emily spoke to a man knocking on the window,

‘We’re closed.’

He pointed at Phil.

‘One of your mates, Phil?’

The man beckoned her to open the door, he went straight to Phil’s table.

‘The China Light in Colombo!’

Phil beckoned him to sit down as Emily locked the door again. His mind instantly travelled back long ago and far away…

The China Light was the international watering hole of the capital of Sri Lanka. It was a Chinese restaurant and café where Wandervögel backpackers would meet and trade traveller’s tales of where they had been, Rhodesia, in Phil’s case, and get information and interesting and amusing anecdotes for where they were going, India, for him. He frequently forgot those in his workplace or neighbourhood, but he never forgot those from his overseas adventures.

‘That’s right! 1979! Ten years ago! You were on your way to Rangoon after coming from Bombay!’

‘”The Mad Australian!”’

Phil always marvelled as how he was regarded as a symbol of his country when he was overseas, but in Australia he was regarded as a foreigner. Mateship meant ‘mate, mate, mate, we’re Australian, mate, mate, mate, you’re not!’

‘You know, I never forgot your stories, but I forgot your name!’

‘Same here.’

They rectified their lack of knowledge. Nigel Greenway and his family were on a visit to his sister-in-law who lived in Sydney.

‘I think we’re being turfed out, Nigel. How much time do you have?’

‘A couple hours. I’m meeting my family at Circular Quay; they went off to Taronga Zoo. I’m killing time until then.’

‘Well, how about a ferry ride around Neutral Bay? It shan’t take long, and we can catch up on old times. When I go to the zoo, I need two tickets, one to get in and one to get out!’

They walked down Pitt Street to Circular Quay as they told each other their life’s accomplishments and fantastical journeys since the days they were in a colourful part of the world together. Phil cheerfully played tour guide on the way and on what they saw from the top of the ferry.

‘You didn’t want to go to the zoo, Nigel?’

‘I’m afraid of zoos.’

‘That’s a first.’

‘It’s not about the animals, it’s about me. I think I’m caged.’

Phil had an image of a mob of kangaroos; the joeys wearing school uniforms, throwing peanuts at him and the other public servants at their desks,

‘Aren’t we all?’

‘I think about the times we had together…’, Phil thought it odd as Nigel only had less than a year of travelling compared to his nearly two decades, ‘Now I feel that I may have made a mistake.’

‘Is your wife a bitch, or is it just being married and having kids?’

‘They’re wonderful; but I know this will be our last trip for a long, long time.’

‘I know what you mean, but when you’re far away, you’re always on the outside looking in, no matter what you do or where you go. One day you realise your time is up. Suddenly you’re the oldest one of your peers, you feel overwhelmed, then all the places, faces and cases look the same. I don’t regret it when I see my mates that didn’t quit globetrotting living hand-to-mouth. I’ve a lovely wife, and her mother minds our daughter when we’re at work.’

‘Things are fine with us too; we’re healthy and get by financially.’

‘Well, you’ve still got your memories, and me to share them with.’

‘Thanks…It’s just that I felt so alive back at the China Light.’

‘And now we don’t?’

His silence answered Phil’s question.

‘Nigel, everyone stands taller and lives more in a different country. Exiles are romantics, expatriates are adventurers…at home we’re misfits. Most Aussies play up to an image when they’re overseas but go back to the suburban quarter-acre block of Dullsville. Life tastes sweeter, things look better…I guess it’s just how you look at it. I’m sure your family’s on top of the world being here.’

‘We are.’

‘Then when you meet them, give them the time of their life! They’ll always remember you when you were here like I remember you from the China Light.’

They reaffirmed their chosen identities over tea at a sidewalk café, then Nigel entered a souvenir shop and came out wearing a slouch hat featuring a kangaroo and corks dangling on strings.

His last sight of Nigel was his laughing children eagerly running up to him as he picked them up and gave them a great big hug…


Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).

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29 Nov, 2023
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