Encounter at the Shot Tower

It was noisy. People were rushing to and fro.

The trains were arriving at the underground station and were disgorging people who were searching for relief from the oppressive heat of the train carriages. They could surely find air-conditioned comfort in the shopping paradise that is Melbourne Central.

In the main hall, topped by a glass dome, is an old brick building adorned with a tower; it was Coop’s Shot Tower.

Mick was in Melbourne for the first time and was surprised that there wasn’t any clock in the tower.  He was not aware of the historical purpose of the tower and looked up the tower again and again as if by a miracle a clock would have appeared. He felt it would have added some old fashioned atmosphere to the place.

Instead, some enterprising soul had the idea to install an oversized pocket watch on the wall opposite the tower.

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Every hour a section was lowered out of the clock with cockatoos on it dancing to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, played by a boy figurine.

Melbournians took no notice but children and tourists were delighted when the clock struck the full hour. Mick took a seat in one of the cafés.  He expected to meet a woman he had befriended on a chat site on the internet.  After a few weeks chatting they decided it was time to meet. They agreed that the giant pocket watch at Melbourne Central, of which they had heard about, would be a suitable, neutral place to meet.

At 12 o’clock the birds were dancing and the sound of the song about the jolly jumbuck and the thief had filled the hall. Some Japanese girls were giggling and taking pictures of the great event. But there had been no sign of Pam, the lady from the net. Mick checked the time unconsciously on his watch and ordered a second cup of coffee. After a while, there was a sudden voice coming from behind him.

‘You must be Mick?’ Surprised, Mick jumped up, turned and offered Pam his hand.

‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said truthfully as he was pleasantly surprised that Pam looked more attractive in the flesh than on the pictures of the single site.

‘Sorry, I’m late,’ Pam said with a shrug, ‘I forgot that the trains  are not running in reverse through the City Loop yet.’

‘What a lame excuse,’ Mick thought as he was unaware of one of Melbourne’s biggest sacrosanct anomalies. But, he did not dare say so aloud. It would poison the new relationship.

‘It is a lively place,’  Pam said, looking around. ‘Being not so familiar with Melbourne, I haven’t been here before. And look at this big pocket watch above us?’

‘It plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour. Sorry, you missed that.’

‘I don’t believe you,’ she thought incredulous, but she did not say anything either as she wanted to go on with what they had started. They ordered coffee. It was Micks’s third cup this morning and he felt his heart racing already.

Pam started to rummage in her bag and finally pulled out a book and showed it to him.

‘This Rumi guy, we were chatting about him, is very interesting. I think we are all on the path to the truth. In fact, in the end, the truth is awaiting us.’

‘Indeed! Isn’t that the truth?’ Mick said with a faint smile.

They decided to have lunch together and Mike was happy that he had finally met Pam.

 

 

 

 

 

Oleg’s Story

Oleg was watching the news. What he saw on his TV screen disturbed him greatly. Sometimes he was shaking and sometimes a tear or two rolled down his cheeks. He was near the end of his life and the present should not aggravate him that much. But he did care about his former homeland, the Ukraine.

 

What was unfolding there brought back bad memories and opened up old wounds, he thought had healed after the breakup of the Soviet Union. For the first time in a long time, his homeland had become an independent country.

 

And now this, he thought. First the Crimea and now the East of the Ukraine. Where will it all end, brother will fight brother. He was almost ninety-five. But the memories of the bad old days were still fresh. He grew up with his parents in the Western Ukraine but shortly after he was born his homeland was hit by the man-made famine, caused by the Bolshevik government confiscating all agricultural produce. They only survived, because of his father’s ability  to outsmart the food inspectors. But the hatred of all Russian was inculcated in him from then on.

 

When Oleg was eighteen he was drafted into the Red Army. In December 1939, he was on the Karelian front fighting in the terrible Winter War. Perhaps, fighting was too big a word. It was more hiding from the Finnish who adapted to the snow and ice better than their Soviet enemies. Oleg and his comrades didn’t dare going outside unless it was unavoidable, like going to the latrine. Many of his comrades did not come back. Finnish sharpshooters had their rifles trained on the toilet door. It was a short war and he survived.

 

Less than a couple of years later, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Oleg and his unit were near the border and he was taken prisoner during the first week. He was not unhappy about it as he did not need to fight for the hated Soviet Union anymore. He thought, his people would welcome the Germans anyway.

 

The Germans found out quick smart that there were Ukrainians among the prisoners of war. They offered them work in Germany which was much better than starving to death in the prison camps.

 

Oleg wanted to survive and was sent to Hamburg to work as a shunter in the world’s largest shunting yard. He met people from other European countries working there. The yard master wasn’t a bad chap. As long as one did the job properly all was okay. He was a good and fair man.

 

One day, after the terrible air raid on Hamburg in 1943, Oleg was called into the office of the yardmaster. An officer of the German Luftwaffe was waiting in the yardmaster’s office.

“What now, do I have to go back to the POW camp?“ he wondered. The officer smiled at him and asked him how he would feel joining the Luftwaffe as a helper with an anti-aircraft unit. He reminded him that as a Ukrainian he would surely hate the Russians and their allies, the Western powers, who were helping the Russians to win the war. “And that, we don’t want to happen, do we?“ He asked with a sly look.

 

And so it happened. After a short training, he found himself on one of the Flak towers on top of the air raid bunker near the Berlin Zoo.  There was no time to get bored. American bombers attacked during the day and British bombers during the night. They were housed in the confines of the bunker.

 

As Oleg was remembering all this, he was thinking, what a miracle it was that he survived at all. Towards the end of April 1945, the war entered its final stage as the Red Army was storming towards Berlin for the final showdown. Oleg’s unit ran out of ammunition at the flak tower and he was ordered to report to a new command centre in the city. The Red Army had entered the outer suburbs already and was pushing from all sides towards the city centre. How you get, in a chaotic, ruined city, to the place you have been ordered to? Public transport had come to a halt. The dreaded military police patrolled the city looking for soldiers who were AWOL or plain deserters. Corpses were hanging from lamp posts, people were queuing for some groceries and artillery projectiles were crossing the sky looking for a target. The smell of fire hung in the air.

 

For a Ukrainian it was a doubly dangerous place. Germans could take him for an infiltrator working behind the front line. Anyway, where was the front? It could be just around the corner. If the Red Army turned up they would shoot him instantly. Oleg was  a traitor as far as they were concerned.  After a short rest behind a burned out tram,  he continued his odyssey. He made it to his destination. The headquarter was near the Reich Chancellery and when he arrived the non-commissioned officer, after checking his papers asked him, ”You are speaking Russian? General Krebs needs someone who can help him out. Good luck !”

 

Oleg was instructed that his job was to listen and observe what was being said at a meeting with the Russians. It was already dark when a convoy of several cars set off to somewhere unknown to him. They drove along the devastated Wilhelmstrasse towards Hallesches Tor. During a short stop, white flags were attached to the cars. Oleg was in a Kübelwagen at the rear. The big shots travelled in their Mercedes. At the Hallesches Tor Oleg could make out the silhouette of the elevated train he had used often when he travelled across the city to meet his Polish girlfriend, Irenka. Here, heavy fighting took place, Russian soldiers stopped their convoy of cars and after a short conversation, Russian Jeeps led them to their destination in Tempelhof. It was not a romantic setting. It was the final curtain in the destruction of the Third Reich. Explosions could be heard and flares went up, eliminating the dying city in its death throes. T 36 tanks were moving towards the centre. Berlin was a hell hole and Oleg could not believe that he was there. It was truly a surreal situation. He would have preferred to be with Irenka. The Polish woman, he had befriended while stationed in Berlin, worked for a German butcher and had often brought him some small goods.  At they drove through  the night he was wondering whether he would  ever see her again?

 

When they arrived in a small side street, someone pushed a briefcase into his arms so he would look official. The talks went on for hours. Oleg learnt that Hitler had committed suicide the previous afternoon. The Russians acted like they knew. But he could overhear a phone conversation in which this important message was passed on to someone along the line. The Russians wanted the Germans to capitulate unconditionally, but General Krebs said, that  wasn’t why he came. A truce, yes, but not more than that.

 

Next morning, on the first of May, they returned to the smouldering city centre but not before the Russians took photos, for posterity, of the Germans while they were waiting for their transport back.

 

After a quick meal of black bread and jam, he went back to the non-commissioned officer for further instructions. He told him. “Corporal, you are in luck,  that comes from associating with the big guys. Krebs was happy with the information you supplied and as he is aware of your precarious position being Ukrainian, he has ordered to give you a travel pass out of this doomed city. ”He handed him a  piece of paper and said, “Good luck and survive.”

 

The travel document directed him to Potsdam, but unknown to the Sergeant and Oleg Potsdam had fallen to the Red Army days before. He was on his own.  A group of German soldiers, some from the Luftwaffe like him,  were holed up in an once stately hotel. He joined them when they told him they were trying to break out and go to the West. They felt, that becoming prisoners of the Russians would do their health not any good. Oleg agreed. They decided,  they would take a slight detour through the suburbs as on the main roads they would only meet with Russian tanks. Still, as soon as they hit the road they had to fight their way out. All the buildings were damaged and it was convenient to use them for cover.
In one of the doorways, they found a group of SS soldiers, real desperadoes, some of them from the Nordland Division, mostly Norwegian and Flemish. The soldiers of Oleg’s little group had told him they had been fighting the SS too but now that they met those members of the Nordland Division they agreed to combine forces. The chances of breaking out of the encirclement were enhanced with them. After a couple of engagements with the Russians, they were able to get through the front line.

 

Two days later, they reached the American front and they surrendered. That was the end of World War 2 for Oleg. He never found Irenka again and got married in Australia to a Ukrainian woman. Now he was a widower and he had never expected to worry about his homeland again. But there it was, Ukrainians were fighting Russians in the East of the Ukraine. It was painful for Oleg because, despite his animosity towards them, he regarded them as brothers. But then, brothers could be the worst of enemies.

Where are my Things?

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The day came to an end. Jack, ever so reluctantly, was ready to go to bed. He hated  getting ready for bed. Normally, it took him  about thirty minutes, and by the time he was hitting the sack, his wife was fast asleep.

He should have got ready earlier while his wife Betty was asleep in front of the TV, not watching the  show she  was  desperate not to miss. Jack  did not like the show, but he watched it anyway  to be with his wife. When it was over and he switched off the TV,  the sudden silence  brought Betty back to life. She announced it was time to go to bed, and she disappeared into the back of the house.

Jack knew that the window of opportunity, to use the bathroom, had passed. Betty had overtaken him in the race to the bed. Well, he cleaned up a few things and trundled to the bathroom when he noticed Betty entering the bedroom.

The look into the bathroom mirror confirmed to him that his face looked drawn and tired. He wanted to remove his bottom denture to clean it but found it wasn’t there. Where was his denture? Jack had completely forgotten, when and where he had taken it out.

“Betty, do you know where my dentures are?” he shouted to the bedroom.

Betty answered from the bedroom, “Do I have to look after your choppers, too?”

Jack could not hear what Betty was saying. and shouted back, “What did you say?”

“It seems to me, that  you are not using your hearing aid either?”

Jack had gone into the bedroom to be able to understand better what Betty was saying, “No, no, I mislaid them earlier and can’t find it. I need my glasses to look for the hearing aid.”

After a pause, in which he looked for his glasses, he said, “The bloody glasses are not where they are supposed to be.  – I’m sick of getting old and constantly searching for the things I need to be a full human being.”

Betty grabbed a book and told  him, to hurry up as she would not stay awake forever. Jack went back into the living room and searched for his hearing aid. It was not that he wanted to use it, but he wanted to put it into its proper place where he would be sure to find it in the morning. Order and consistency were important to him to find his way through the daily life. Everything has to be in the right place. Then he would be able to cope.  Everything else would be chaotic and create only stress for him.

He found his denture near his computer, his glasses were on top of the coffee machine.

What Jack found!

                                                  What Jack found!

After he finished, what he called his body maintenance, he came back into the bedroom where Betty was fast asleep with a book still in her hand. He carefully took the book out of her hands, switched off the lights. But sleep would not come easily. Thoughts were still racing in his head. He dreaded the morning when his creaking body would have difficulties getting into gear again.

At his age, every day was a bonus day, even if the bonus  was mixed  with the difficulties of  advanced age.

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The Prime Minister is worried

The PM was standing at the window overlooking the lake. He was worried as storm clouds were drifting in from the West.

“Bad omen, bad omen,” he mumbled to himself. The winter could be really bad in Canberra. Perhaps the capital should be up north. It would be more fun on his bike and he could visit the Aborigines more often and camp with them as he planned to do. He had promised it at the last election and the media were asking silly questions now.

A tall woman, his secretary, entered the office. She has been worried lately about her boss. After his near death experience a few months ago he had become softer, kinder – sort of.

The PM has heard her coming and, without turning away from the window, he said,
“Peta, I’m worried. Yesterday, in the cabinet room, I had a revolt on my hand. I’m really worried, Peta. Six of my most trusted colleagues told me, ‘Nope, we won’t stand for that”. Old Brandis even insisted he is the Attorney General and only he can look after the laws of the country. Doesn’t he know, I could replace him with Scott?”

“Boss,” his secretary said, “we have just discovered another group of ‘double dippers’.”
“Who, Peta? Peta, who?” He said with panic in his voice.

“ASIO has delivered the names and addresses of people holding dual citizenship and receiving pensions from foreign governments on top of our more than generous ‘old-age pension’. They have observed them for years and now they think it is time, in the present climate, that we should know about this potential ‘Fifth column’.”

“Didn’t we force them to apply for this money? It was always good for the bottom line.”

“Yes, Boss! But this was then. Today they are a liability for ‘Team Australia’. Especially as ASIO has cross-referenced them with people who had small arms training in those countries.”

“Peta, aren’t they old and senile now?”

“Yes, Boss, but they influence their offshoots and still love their home countries.”

“I could send them all back, but Julie (the Minister for Foreign Affairs) told me we can’t do that. If we declare someone a terrorist, nobody else will take him.”

“There are some legal issues with that, but we could always send them to another island.”

“Yes, Peta, Tasmania comes to mind. We could declare Tasmania an off-shore territory and solve two problems at one. Tasmania reverts to a penal colony and we get rid of that feisty Senator Jacqui Lambie. You are brilliant, Peta!”

“I’ll get right to work, Boss. The department can work out the legislation and we make Scotty the ‘Minister for the Off-Shore Territory of the New Van Diemen’s Land’. He would be the only person tough enough to control a can of worms.”

“Peta, I love your enthusiasm,” the PM smiled at her, “and the way you pick up on my wavelengths. I would make you a Dame. Really I would make you a Dame, but the bastards stopped me. ‘No more captain’s pick! No more captain’s pick!’ they said.”

When his secretary had left the office the PM turned on the TV. On the news channel, he saw a group of people at the Federation Square in Melbourne unfolding a large banner which said, “Send Tony back to Pommy-land. We don’t want foreigners in Team Australia!” He was disgusted and switched the TV off. He walked back to the window. The clouds looked even darker now.

The PM was enraged and his head started shaking. He was wondering why his parents ever migrated to this country at the ass-end of the world, where half the population are potentially deniers of our freedom to choose our protector.

After a few minutes, he went to the intercom and said, “Get my bike ready. I’ll go for a spin around the lake or this job will eat me alive!”

The Train Is Running On Time

Monday morning, the train had just departed with its cargo of listless passengers, who were still tired from their weekend activities. The Station Master returned from the platform into his office, did his entry in the train register book and looked towards the ticket window as he heard the sound of running feet in the waiting room.

There was a young woman, still panting from running to the station, and demanded to know,

“Was this the 7:16?”

“Yes, it was,” the Stationmaster answered. 

“How come you let the train go early?” 

“I didn’t. The train was on time and it departed at 7:16 as per timetable.” 

“This is unbelievable. The train is always running late and I’ll be late for work now, because of you,” she said in an angry voice and added, “I wish, for once one could trust the trains. But no, it is running on time when one expects it to be late.” 

She bought a newspaper at the newsstand and sat down to wait for the next train. She opened the paper up and there it was, the headline screamed at her in big, fat letters:

STATE RAIL TIME TABLE IN SHAMBLES

“You can say that again,” she mumbled to herself.

Coffee Break

Tom stepped out of the taxi and wiped the sweat of his forehead. He checked his watch and found that he had time to spare before his next appointment. What better idea then to use the time to have a cool refreshment and to take in some of scenery of the great city he had started to enjoy.

He looked around and saw at the next corner a garden restaurant under the shade of a giant chestnut tree. That will do, he thought. It was early afternoon and there were plenty of empty tables. He sat down and it did not take long for a waiter to attend him.

Tom had taken a liking to a particular local brew, which was colourful, to say the least, and was refreshing. So he ordered the wheat beer with a nip of raspberry syrup. The obliging waiter took the order without fuss and disappeared inside to get the beer.

Tom looked around, taking everything in: well dressed women on the wide side walk and the not too heavy traffic on the road. He could not miss the big double decker buses that where so attractive. While in London he had seen the ‘Big Reds’, here they were a bright yellow.

Berlin bus

As his eyes followed such a bus he caught sight of a middle aged women, clad in a floral dress and wearing a large colourful hat, coming into the restaurant and taking a seat nearby. She had a self assured attitude. She placed a shopping bag on another chair, tugged, here and there, at her dress and started to look around for a waiter.

Just then the waiter came out the door with Tom’s ‘Weisse’, placed the giant glass in front of him and turned to attend to the woman who was the only other customer outside.

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Tom thought he was pretty happy as his lips dipped into the reddish foam of his beer. The waiter had even given him a straw in a wrapper. Just in case. Because of the closeness to the other table, Tom could not help overhearing that the woman ordered a pot of coffee.

‘Nothing else, thank you,’ she said to the waiter and continued to peruse a fashion magazine.

Tom just looked around taking in all he was able to see. The beer he drunk was refreshing and he wondered whether it would sell in Australia. Probably not and he could hear his friends dismissing it as a beer for sheilas.. But here, in Berlin, he had seen people of all ages and both sexes enjoying it, especially in the heat of the summer. While in his thoughts he became aware that the waiter brought out a tray with the pot of coffee and a small creamer with cream as was customary. The woman took her nose to the creamer and with a slight wrinkle put it down. She called out to the waiter and with a raised voice pronounced, ‘the cream is OFF!’

“Sorry, Madam, it can’t be. The cream came straight out of the fridge and the bottle has been opened only a short while ago.’

‘Please take the cream back,’ demanded the woman,’and bring me fresh cream, PLEASE.’

The waiter shrugged his shoulders, took the creamer and disappeared inside.

‘This is interesting’, Tom thought and took another sip of his beautiful refreshment.

It did not take long and the waiter came back and placed a creamer on the woman’s table. ‘I hope it is to your liking, Madam’ he said and waited at the table for the woman’s reaction. She smelled it and then poured some into her coffee. She took a sip and said, ‘This is much better, thank you.’

What now happened, Tom had not seen anywhere he had been. This was sheer spectacle.

The waiter, shuffling around could not contain himself any longer, ‘Now I got you, this is the same cream as before. I just carried it back out again. You see how silly you are, there was nothing wrong with the cream in the first place. Enjoy!’

Tom looked at the woman, it seemed her face was a shade more red than it was before.’You are a shameless character. I want to see the head waiter,’ she demanded.

‘There is no head waiter here, I’m the only one,’ the waiter answered with a smirk.

Tom finished his drink, paid the waiter and got up, still wondering whether the waiter was fair dinkum or not.

Killer Instinct

The school bell rang. The school was over for the weekend. The children shouted with delight, throw their books and pencil cases into the brown school-cases where they joined the rest of the school lunches and assorted collectables, that were exchanged during recess. Jack dropped his case and the content spilled all over the floor. Other children did
not stop and stepped on his belongings.

“Stupid Jack,” he heard Charlie Walters scream and stomping on Jack’s sandwich box, squashing it totally. Only Mary Henderson stopped for a second after she broke his HB pencil and said under her breath, ”Sorry. Jack” and then she  was out of the door too.
The teacher, Miss Jones, gathered her things and observed how Jack was coping.
“You had some bad luck., Jack?”
“I’m all right, Miss. I’m out of here in a sec,” Jack said, shut his case and run towards the door nearly running into Miss Jones. She only shook her head.

“I hope,” Jack thought, ”nobody will see me with teacher alone in the classroom. They would think I want to be teacher’s pet.” But nobody saw him. Everyone was gone and the school yard was empty.
Outside the gate Jack slowed down and as he looked across the road he saw Charlie pushing another boy from Year 4 around. Jack did not want to know and headed home, where Mum always had a glass of milk and a cookie waiting for him. He ran along the footpath and then across the road towards a large undeveloped parcel of land, which all the children called ‘The Forest’, because they could play there and pretend to be in the bush, Sherwood Forest, or in Africa as big game hunters. Once he had seen a Green Tree Snake. There were rabbits and even a Goanna had been sighted. And there were Lorikeets‚, Cockatoos and Kookaburras. In September the children had to watch out for diving Magpies. The undergrowth was cinder dry after a long, dry spell. Dry leaves and sticks were thick on the ground. Older people always warned of the danger of bush fires as the council had no money for controlled burning.
Jack picked up a short stick and started to run again, still trying to find a purpose for the stick. He saw a Peewee prepare to land nearby. Before it had time to fold away its wings Jack throw the stick, like a Mexican knife, towards the unsuspecting bird. For the first time in his life he did not miss his target.
“Yes,” Jack called out and raised his fist in triumph. The stick hit the bird on the wing. It tried to lift off again; but couldn’t. It hopped away with the injured wing still partly outstretched. The instinct told the Peewee to hide under some bushes. Jacks eyes were now fixed on the unlucky bird. The white patches in its feathers could easily be spotted.
Jack ran into bushes, dropped his school case and bent down to crawl under some
branches. He noticed that the ground was alive with ants and other creepy crawlies. He was not afraid, not now. Something unknown spurned him on.
“I must catch up with the Peewee and kill it,” he said to himself. Grandpa had told him, that a good hunter never lets a wounded animal get away. It will die a horrible death unless the hunter gives it the death blow. That is what he had to do, he thought. As he came closer, the bird  hopped further but got tangled up with some branches. It slowed down
and Jack was able to get closer. Jack picked up another stick and hit out at the bird. He missed and the frightened
bird jumped up. The stretched out wing was a real nuisance and got caught in the dry undergrowth.  It was exhausted and turned its head towards Jack who had reached it within striking distance. Jack lashed out as hard as he could and caught the bird on its back, breaking it. Jack struck it again, this time near the head.

The Peewee who only minutes ago swooped down to pick up a large bug was now dead and some hungry nestlings were waiting for their mother.

Jack straightened himself up and took a deep breath. He was hot and when he wiped sweat off his forehead he noticed some blood on his hand. The hands and arms had scratches too. He looked at the dead bird, did not know what to do next. Ants were crawling already over the body. Slowly, Jack pushed some dead leaves with his feet over it.
With his handkerchief he tried to stop the bleeding above his brow. In his rush he had not noticed how he got those scratches. Now they started to burn. The sun seemed especially hot now. He was very thirsty.
Jack found his way back where he had left his school case. At first he walked but then he started to run. He wanted to get home and tell his Mum. He raced around the house to the back door and pulled open the screen door, shouting, “Mum, Mum, I did something terrible!”

“Again?” his Mum asked. “What is it this time, Jack?”

“Mum I killed a bird.; a Peewee!”

“How did you do that?”
“I didn’t mean to, Mum. How did I know that I’d hit it with that stick?”
“I told you many times not to linger on the way home. Go and wash your hands.”
Only then did she see the mess he was in. Blood was trickling from his forehead.
“Did you have to fight the poor bird?” she asked but did not wait for an answer.
“Get ready for tea. Dad will be home soon and we’ll have chicken tonight.”
“Chicken?” Jack called out from the bathroom, “I won’t eat any dead bird tonight,
Mum!”

Despite being under the hot shower he started to shiver. He did not eat much that
evening, only the desert. Later, when he was in bed he swore to himself never to go
hunting again. Never, ever.
“It is so stupid to kill an animal,” he thought before he fell asleep for a restless night.
He was fighting off giant  birds in his dreams.