Giovanni sat at the kitchen table gazing into his cup of espresso whilst slowly smoking a Winfield Blue. He’d not had a wink of sleep and was grieving hard for his wife of over fifty years, Imma, also 83 years old, who had just passed away nearly a month ago. Gio was somehow still expecting her to walk out of the bedroom and pour herself a coffee.
The frail old man glanced out of the window as it started to rain, the sun rising over the gloomy overcast Victorian sky. He’d always despised the weather in Melbourne, especially in winter. What was the point in winter if there was no Christmas, he always said to Imma. But then, on the other hand, he did nothing but complain about the raw, blistering heat during the summer months.
Gio and Imma had immigrated to Australia from southern Italy in 1985. Gio was always firmly against emigrating, but the farm they lived on in Calabria had been struggling for a few years prior, so he eventually gave into Imma’s demands, as he believed “happy wife, happy life.” Their only child, a son called Rocco, had immigrated before them and had lived in Griffith, New South Wales for five years until eventually settling in Melbourne.
Rocco had purchased two adjacent houses in the northern Melbourne suburb of Fairfield and gave one to his parents. Gio hated the house instantly, mainly because he knew how Rocco had earned the funds to pay for the properties. It was common knowledge in their home village that Rocco was involved in the ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia).
Even Imma, Rocco’s own mother, knew what he was doing, but she turned a blind eye to his activities because her little boy, as she still called him, could do no wrong. Gio could never accept Rocco’s decision to lead a life of criminality, vice and sin, as he was a devout Catholic. But that wasn’t the only reason he had no time for his son. Before Rocco left for Australia, Gio had become aware of Rocco playing his part in a homosexual affair with a married man in their village. He promised to never reveal his knowledge of their son’s sexuality to his mother, as he knew finding out would devastate her. Imma was always saying to Rocco, “When are you going to settle down with a nice girl, get married, and give me and your father some grandchildren?”
Gio resented Australian culture from the very first day they landed in Melbourne. He’d always looked down on Australians as being loud, brash, and having poor fashion sense. He also couldn’t stand Australian sports: he detested Australian rules football and both codes of rugby ( which he dubbed as “egg chasing”), not to mention “boring” cricket. He could never understand how a country colonised by Englishman didn’t play soccer as their national sport. Out of pure stubbornness, he refused to learn English, and even now he could only get by with a few words and sentences. Imma tried to teach him by leaving sticky notes wrote in English on objects around the house, but she eventually gave up and left him to it.
Back then, it was easy to live life only speaking Italian in Fairfield, as the area had a decently-sized Italian community. But now, new European immigrants, primarily from the Netherlands, had settled in the neighbourhood, along with arrivals from China and India. The place just wasn’t the same anymore. The Italians who were now second, third, or even fourth generation immigrants had assimilated and just considered themselves “Aussies” rather than Italians or Italian-Australians. Also, the vast majority of them could not speak the tongue of their ancestral homeland.
Even in the workplace, Gio never had to learn to speak English because he worked as a line cook for twenty years at his friend Enzo’s restaurant. All of the friends Gio had made in Australia were Italian. Everyone that existed in his social life he knew from church.
When Rocco was killed in a hit-and-run in 2001, the authorities were certain it was a gangland execution. After Rocco’s funeral, two Australian Federal Police agents had told Imma they had been carrying out surveillance on Rocco and other members of the Honoured Society for quite some time due to their connections to drug traffickers. Gio felt incredibly guilty that he had never felt sad or grieved over his son’s alleged murder, because in his eyes, Rocco was doing the Devil’s work. If anything, he felt relieved; maybe now they could finally return to Italy. As for Imma, she never fully recovered from it and demanded they stay in Melbourne to feel close to Rocco.
Sometime after, Gio and Imma eventually sold Rocco’s house to a young couple from Bendigo. He’d always yell at their kids in Italian to “stay off my lawn” and “stop that egg-chasing on my property”.
The young couple, Blake and Heidi, would often invite Gio and Imma around for a barbecue, but Gio would just reply “non parlo inglese.”
After reminiscing over his departed wife for quite some time, Gio looked at the clock on the kitchen wall and noticed it was 9:50. He’d been sitting there for nearly five hours. Despite it still being morning, he decided to get a can of VB from the fridge to settle his nerves. He opened it and guzzled down the frothy ice cold beer inside, appreciating every mouthful. He didn’t have Imma around anymore to nag him about how it was too early to start drinking. Suddenly, he acquired the urge to get as far away from the house as soon as possible, because everywhere he looked reminded him of his beautiful Imma. Even her scent was still in the air. It felt like her ghost was haunting and suffocating him, her eyes watching him every minute of the day.
The old man donned his fedora hat, grabbed his walking stick, and took his coat off the hanger, lighting another Winfield before heading out the door.
As he took a slow stroll out of the cul-de-sac up to Station Street, the chilly winter rain suddenly cleared, giving way to late morning sun. The grieving widower passed the former site of Enzo’s restaurant, where he had worked for two decades. Once Enzo died, his family sold the business, and now the unit it once occupied had become a Dutch bakery. Gio, fatigued and forlorn with nowhere to go, found himself reluctantly window-shopping for an hour or so just to pass the time. With no wife, family, or friends, left he pondered what the point was in going on. Almost without thinking, the elderly man hobbled up the access ramp of Fairfield Railway Station and sat on one of the city-bound platform’s benches. The station was completely empty; not a soul in sight.
Gio began to cry and considered jumping in front of the next express train bound for the central business district. He looked at his watch and noted that it was 11:15. All of a sudden, he remembered the limited stop service from Hurtsbridge to Flinders Street normally bypassed Fairfield hourly around 20 minutes past.
Should I jump in front of the train, he thought.
I’m 83, I can’t have much time left anyway.
I’ve lead an okay life, I suppose.
I just don’t want to fade away in that lonesome house all by myself, not without Imma.
But suicide is a sin, I can’t do it. God will never forgive me.
But I can’t go on like this.
Maybe if I hadn’t been so stubborn all these years and just learned to speak English, I wouldn’t be all alone in this world right now. I know: I will toss a coin. Heads, I jump in front of the train; tails, I try to learn English.
The old man reached deep into his coat pocket and pulled out a dollar coin, placed it on his right thumb, and flipped it high into the cold late June air.
Once it landed back to Earth, it rolled down the platform’s uneven, gravelly concrete path into a nearby drain at a turtle’s pace.
The old man smiled, exhaled a deep sigh, and muttered one of the few Australian English phrases he did know, the one made famous by Ned Kelly:
“Such is life.”
Joe Murray has been a merchant mariner for many years and has been lucky enough to travel the world with his job. He took up writing short stories as a hobby to distance himself from the drinking culture that is heavily ingrained in his occupation. Murray was inspired by his father, who used to enter short story competitions for Ireland’s Own. His stories are often like an enjoyable mix of Dennis Lehane and Irvine Welsh. Murray divides his time between Somerset, England and Ibiza, Spain.