Author Archives: Swarna Pinto

Swan Lake, Swarna Pinto

Photo by Andrew Reshetov on Unsplash

If you keep walking west along the Woodend Road, passing newly built double story houses with double garages and flower pots at the front, you will come to Blue Gum Tree Lake Reserve without noticing my house. It is the last house on the street and is hidden behind large weeping willows. Overgrown apple, plum and apricot trees surround my house. It is a weatherboard with curly peels of white paint hanging onto timber slats. My front and back yards are big and get overgrown with weeds and grass until a council gardener turns up. My old Holden Sunbird, covered in dust, sits on the driveway.

I like to sit on the porch at dusk to watch people coming back from walks in the reserve or picnics near the lake and to hear them talking. Sometimes I hear them talking about me. You know there’s an old woman who lives there all alone. Gives me the creeps. I like my solitary existence and I like my house. The best thing about my place is that I can see swans gliding on the lake from the backyard. Before coming here, I lived in a few different places with different people. Now they are all but fading memories except for my memories of Sasha and Jana.

*

I met Jana when I was a scholarship student in Soviet Russia. My university was in Astrakhan, a city by the Volga River in southern Russia. I lived on campus in Hostel Number 7. After classes, I hung out with three other girls from my tutorial group–Jana, Anu and Meena–who came from Sri Lanka like me. Jana had a boyfriend in Sri Lanka who wrote long letters to her. He was called Saman. Anu, Meena and Jana were classy and beautiful. Jana was the most beautiful. I was plain and awkward. My left hand was useless. It hung limp. It had been like that since I was about ten, after I fell off my bicycle while trying no-hands down a steep slope.

All three of them went out a lot and usually missed morning lectures. Jana even missed tutorials. But it didn’t get them in trouble because I let them copy my lecture notes. I let Jana copy my assignments.

We liked to talk about boys. We all agreed that Sasha was the cutest. We saw him at morning math lectures. He came in at the last moment and hurried out just as the lecture finished. He sat in the back row where guys usually sat, but two or three seats away from them. Jana was very keen on Sasha although she was dating Arun, a mature PhD student from India who looked like a movie star. She also had Saman waiting for her back in Sri Lanka.

Once, Jana said that Sasha looked like a Greek god.

‘He’s not Greek, he’s Russian,’ I blurted out.

The moment those words went out of my mouth, I knew I had made a big mistake. Jana rolled her eyes.

‘What does it matter to you?’

She left the rest to hang in the air: you who are ugly.

Jana was like that. She would hurt me but later would make it up to me.

A week or so prior, Jana asked Meena and Anu if they wanted to go to a party on Saturday. Both declined as they had dates.

‘I’ll come,’ I piped up.

‘You can’t dance. I’ll ask Oumou, she’s terrific.’

Two days later Jana followed me into the stolovaya. She put her tray on my table and sat across me. I finished eating my lunch and got up.

‘Sit down and eat this. Please.’ She pushed a plate with two pieces of cake towards me. By the time we were descending the stairs, I was laughing with her. She stroked my hair and said she wished her hair was smooth like mine.

‘Have you done your Chemistry yet?’ I asked, knowing that she had not. Then I let her copy my assignment.

But when Jana implied that I was not worthy even to talk about Sasha, I detested her. I liked Sasha very much and felt that he liked me as well. At the lectures, I would feel a thrilling tingle on my nape, encouraging me to turn around. Sasha would smile and my heart would leap, shooting an exciting warmth inside my whole body. I was sure that he was going to talk to me soon. Then Jana came to a morning lecture.

After the break that morning, Sasha did not return to his seat. I was secretly happy because I knew that Jana came to strike up a conversation with him. Jana fidgeted beside me for a while, then abruptly went out. I thought she was going back to catch up on her sleep.

The next day in math class Jana was glowing. She told us how she had met Sasha in the stolovaya the previous morning. While Sasha ate his kasha, Jana had sipped a hot chocolate. Then they had gone out for a walk along the Volga. It had been cold and Sasha had draped his jacket over Jana. He had bought hot savoury piroshkies from a roadside vendor to eat while walking.

‘Did he kiss you?’ Meena asked.

Anu squealed, ‘She’s blushing.’ Then she whispered, ‘Arun will kill you’.

‘He doesn’t need to know.’

Meena said that they made a smashing couple and Anu agreed. They said the same thing when Jana hitched up with Arun.

‘Congrats,’ I heard myself say in a strange voice.

Jana wouldn’t stop talking about Sasha. I tried to switch off but heard that they were going to the movies that night.

‘You should find somebody and have some fun,’ Jana advised me, while pointedly looking at my limp and useless left hand.

Meena and Anu looked at me and then at each other.

‘She likes Sasha,’ Jana explained. ‘Haven’t you two seen how she turns back in class to look at him every five minutes?’

Then she looked straight at me.

‘Sasha is mine.’

I did not hear anything after that. At the end of the class Jana wanted to talk to me. I ignored her and gathered my books.

‘Are you upset over Sasha?’

My pencil case slipped and landed near Jana’s feet. I thought she would pick it up for me as I was holding books with my right hand.

‘Are you?’ Jana insisted.

I placed my books back on the desk and bent down to get my pencil case.

‘Pathetic. He knows about you.’

I picked up my pencil case and rushed to my hostel.

Pathetic? Sasha knows about me? Am I pathetic? Did everyone think I was pathetic? How could Jana hurt me like that just after copying my math assignment? I decided not to let her do this to me anymore.

I remember coming into my room and wishing there was somewhere I could go, for Jana was sure to come and see me as she always did on her date nights. She would chassé into my room ostensibly to check her make up in my mirror but in fact to show off and to hear my compliments. After she left, her perfume would linger and torture me well into the night.

I threw my books on my bed and went out. I walked on Tatisheva Street, turning my back on the direction to the cinema and Volga. I pictured Jana and Sasha walking: Jana on Sasha’s arm, the way Russian couples walked. Jana would be leaning on Sasha. He would bend his blond head and kiss her glossy lipsticked mouth.

A sudden rush of warm air threw me backwards and I landed on my useless left hand. A goods train thundered past me. My heart pounded. Two more steps and that train would have killed me.

Tears came unbidden as I lay there. I cried until I was spent. Then I got up and looked around. I knew that the station was only a half an hour walk from my hostel, but I did not know which way the station was. The railway line disappeared into birch trees in both directions. If I walked the wrong way I would be lost and frozen to death.

It was getting dark and the cold was seeping right into my bones. My wristwatch had stopped at 2.30, the time the math class had finished. I guessed it was around six by then.

I started walking along the railway, making sure to keep a few feet distance. If I didn’t see any lights in about half an hour, I would turn back and walk the opposite way. I was thinking whether to go further or to turn back when I heard a bird flapping its wings above me. I shivered as a huge dark shape disappeared into the night. It’s only a bat, I told myself. A sliver of a pale moon peeked from behind grey clouds calming me a little. I kept walking. Under my boots and gloves my feet and my fingers were numb from cold.

A dog howled from somewhere far away. It was a mournful howl. My teeth chattered when I spotted two yellow eyes in the distance. The eyes belonged to an animal much bigger than a dog. It advanced, keeping its gleaming yellow eyes trained on me. It was a wolf. Quickly, I hid behind the closest tree. The wolf came closer but stopped about ten yards away from me.

It bent its head and sniffed at something on the ground which looked like one of my gloves. I looked at my hands and saw that the left glove was missing.

Take it and go. But it left my glove and continued to come towards me. Could it hear my teeth chattering and my heart thumping? I closed my eyes and clamped my teeth together and stayed rigid despite the shivering. The wolf padded around my tree and stopped right behind me. Prey in sight, it was waiting for me to make the first move.

I don’t know how long I had stayed that way when I felt a tingle on my nape and heard a familiar voice say, ‘Priviet.’ (Hello.)

I spun around.

‘Sasha?’

‘Vsio normalna?’ (Everything okay?) he asked.

I whimpered, ‘There’s a wolf.’

‘Mmm?’ Sasha looked around. ‘I don’t see a wolf.’

‘Pashli,’ (Let’s go) he extended his hand.

He picked up my glove from the ground and put it on gently. Then he placed my left hand on the crook of his right elbow and covered my hand with his other one. We started walking and Sasha suggested crossing Swan Lake.

He wanted to know what I was doing back there. I asked him where Jana was.

‘You must answer me first.’

As I struggled to compose myself, Sasha looked into my eyes with such tenderness I burst into tears. He let me cry on his shoulder. When I became quiet, he asked again.

‘To watch trains.’

‘Very funny. That’s a decommissioned line.’

I shivered uncontrollably and Sasha removed his winter coat and draped it over me. He would take me to his Babushka’s house to warm me up.

It was then I told Sasha about Jana’s hurtful remarks. I said that she had just finished copying my math assignment when she said those things.

‘Forget Jana. You are very sweet and very intelligent.’

Swan Lake was gleaming white right in front of us. Sasha glided around the lake holding me tightly to his warm body. The moon was out and stars twinkled in the dark purple sky. He sang a Russian folk song, Moscow Nights, in a beautiful baritone.

The wind picked up as we approached his Babushka’s house. It was an old weatherboard and stood among a few bare trees. There were no other houses near it. From the moonlight that fell on it I saw that the windows were boarded up. We climbed some wooden steps and Sasha opened the front door with his key. He then scooped me up and carried me into the lounge, while floorboards creaked all the way. He placed me gently on a sofa in front of an old log fire place and adjusted his coat over me. I saw cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and from framed portraits on the walls. In no time Sasha built a roaring fire. I felt deliciously warm and drowsy.

‘Ona budet v poryadke,’ I heard somebody saying from far away. I wanted to ask who was going to be fine but I could not talk. I could not even see who was talking. I knew I was sleeping, but had no idea where I was.

They said I was found lying on a bench near my hostel on a very cold morning. The temperature had been five degrees below zero during the night. I was barely breathing and they had rushed me to the hospital. I had been very ill for over two weeks.

‘I don’t know what happened,’ I told everyone who asked me, although I clearly remembered the night with Sasha. Anu and Meena came one morning to take me back to the hostel. I didn’t ask after Jana.

I was not allowed to go to classes for another two weeks and I mostly slept. A nurse from the campus Medpunkt visited me daily. She massaged my left hand which was coming to life. One afternoon the Faculty Dean came to see me. He questioned me about the night I was found on a bench.

‘I went for a walk up to the station and got lost. I don’t know how I ended up on a bench.’

‘Jana was with you that night?’

‘No.’

Then he said that Jana hadn’t been seen since the day I was found on the bench. I lifted my eyebrows and kept quiet. But when he said that Jana had been sighted near Swan Lake an audible gasp escaped from me. He looked straight at me as he continued talking in his measured tone.

‘On that night, the ice on the lake would have cracked even if a small child were to step on it.’
He stayed a few more minutes, telling me how to catch up with the lessons.

‘Don’t worry. We’ll find her.’

*

The next day my nurse had found me in a delirium. This time I stayed much longer in another hospital. More than a year had passed by the time I could attend classes.

The first thing I did was walk to Swan Lake. The morning was bright and crisp, the sun reflecting off the pure white snow. My boots made soft crunch … crunch …noises as they made imprints in the snow. The lake was a flat white sheet. Swans had already migrated to the other side of the world as they did each year. For a while I watched people skating on the lake. It was snowing when I walked back and my footprints disappeared under the falling snow.

I decided to immigrate. I would go wherever and do whatever. I applied to UK, Canada and Australia. Australia replied and within six months I was in Melbourne. Once in Melbourne I could not find a research position and ended up becoming a cleaner. I cleaned up other people’s messes. I learned to clean mine.

Now that I have all the time in the world to think, conflicting thoughts swirl in my mind. I know that I was very ill in Astrakhan all those years ago. I also know that severe hypothermia can cause hallucinations and confusion. But I would like to assure you that my night with Sasha, the most beautiful night I have ever had, was real.

I left Astrakhan and went to Moscow to forget Jana and Sasha. Then I came here to Melbourne for the same reason. I wanted to forget the past. But the mind is a tricky thing. It keeps all the memories I have wanted to forget. And I am glad to have those memories intact. That’s all I have now.

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Swarna Pinto

Swarna Pinto was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Australia in 1990. She completed a Master of Science degree in Soviet Russia. These life experiences provide a narrative canvas for Swarna’s writing. Her fiction has been published in The Quarry #16 and Swamp #26. She is a Master of Creative Writing student at Macquarie University.

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Persecution, Swarna Pinto

Photo by Graham Ruttan on Unsplash

The solitary diner at table 13 was Rosa’s last customer. He was a regular who wore Armani suits and left generous tips. As she placed his bill on the table, she noticed the red onion rings from the salad and the skin of the grilled salmon on the edge of his plate. His napkin was on his left and as always he had placed the knife and fork parallel to each other in the centre of the plate, pointing to twelve o’clock.

‘Today is my last day here and you are our last customer.’

Bryon took his eyes off the journal and looked at Rosa and she said, ‘Perdón por molestarte.’

Bryon raised an eyebrow. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Oops, I spoke Spanish. You are reading and I disturb. Sorry sir.’

‘I heard molest which… never mind.’

Rosa’s face burned as she stacked his dishes on her forearm. Bryon wanted to know what she had said before.

‘Just that I lost my job here and no one is hiring waitstaff until the Covid-19 pandemic is over.’

Rosa put the dishes back on the table and wiped her tears away with the back of her hands. Bryon was intrigued. The girl was making fists and using the dorsum to wipe tears like a small child. ‘Surely, there must be something else you could do?’

‘Yes. Cleaning, cooking, baby-sitting. But I don’t know anyone here.’ Rosa wiped her tears again.

‘If you can’t find any other job, you could come and clean my house in Camberwell, say for one hour each morning?’

‘Thank you, sir.’

 Bryon stood up and shook her hand. ‘I am Bryon. Bryon Felix. You are?’

‘Rosa Maria Sanchez.’

Sitting in a train on the way home Rosa saw a Metro train map stuck above the window and checked how to get to Camberwell. Two trains to go there and with her luck, a bus from Camberwell station to Bryon’s house. She’d have to spend the whole day in trains and buses. She would ask Irma to talk to her boss again.

Irma was Rosa’s friend. Both had been radical political activists in Colombia a few years ago and had fled to Australia when the protest organisers were being killed. They had arrived in Darwin on working holiday visas for 12 months and had run away from Darwin when their visa expired. Since then they had moved from state to state doing any work they could find. They had come to Melbourne last year and shared a room in a rundown share-house in Reservoir.

That night when Rosa came home Irma was kneading cooked corn meal to make arepas for their dinner.

‘That puta, Neela, never cleans up the stove top after cooking her curries. We should say something to Neela. What do you think?’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay? What type of answer is that? Look, I am going to stuff my arepas with cheese. What do you want?’

‘I said, okay.’

‘Rosie, what’s the matter? You didn’t hear anything I said.’

‘I don’t have a job anymore. They said when we reopen, make sure to bring your papers. I’ll never have papers. Why can’t I work with you? Make him give me a job. Please?’

‘He’s not hiring, Rosa. But I’ll ask him again.’

‘A customer offered me a cleaning job. Suppose I’ll take it. It’s the Armani guy. Irma, here, look at his card. Wait, wipe the flour off your hand first.’

‘Bryon Felix, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Southern Health,’ she read it out. ‘Must be very rich to wear Armani suits.’

Each day that she cleaned, it took more than two hours for Rosa to get to Bryon’s house. Sometimes, she had to wait for up to half an hour until Dr Felix paid her. The work was not hard and she didn’t mind the occasional wait.

One day, Rosa found a $100 note on the sofa. She could buy shoes with it. This is not stealing, she reasoned. Maybe he was drunk last night. Would he look for it? Maybe it was not his? No, there weren’t any extra dishes in the sink this morning. What if he is checking on me? What if he contacts the police?

‘Dr Felix, this was on sofa.’

‘Thanks, Rosa. Please call me Bryon.’

A few days later, Dr Felix asked her to come in the evening for three hours to clean and cook dinner for him. Five to seven. When Irma heard this, she warned Rosa to be careful.

‘Why aren’t you looking for another job? You spend your whole day on trains. I think he’s going to get into your pants.’

‘Irma, he’s not like that.’

‘Ha? Forgot what happened in Darwin? Here, keep this knife in your apron pocket all the time. And keep the back door open.’

With the new work arrangement, it made sense for Bryon to ask Rosa to eat dinner with him. He liked this girl. She was clean and honest and funny. And she was lovely.

Rosa took leftovers home for her lunch the next day. If she finished her chores early, she could watch TV or read a book. Best of all, she could play the piano. After dinner, Bryon said thank you, good night and went to his room. Rosa put the dishes in the dishwasher and went out the back door.

One evening, Rosa was about to untie her apron when she saw Dr Felix standing at the doorway looking at her. She was startled, for he never came into the kitchen. Her hand flew for Irma’s knife in her apron pocket. She looked at the back door. It was closed. He’ll grab me from behind while I try to open the door, just like in Darwin. Rosa gripped the knife tighter. This one will be dead before he touches me. I’ll stab right through his heart, she thought.

Bryon saw Rosa’s pupils dilate and her chest heaving.

‘Hey, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just popped in to ask if you could bring my dry-cleaning tomorrow.’

‘Ah, yes, of course.’

‘You are bleeding,’ Bryon exclaimed.

Rosa followed Bryon’s eyes and saw a big red patch around her apron pocket. At the same time, her hand started to throb with pain. Dios mío! I am clutching the blade, not the handle. The red patch was getting bigger but she could not let go of the blade. There was a loud roar in her ears and everything became dark.

Up close, she saw clean white floor tiles. A bit further away, the tiles were dirty. They had dust balls on them. They were the tiles under the fridge. She was lying on the kitchen floor. Bryon’s voice drifted to her ears from above.

‘Let me help you up. You fainted. You have a nasty cut on your palm. I’ve applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.’

Bryon held Rosa close to him and Rosa rested her head on his shoulder while he led her to the bed in the guest room.

‘This wound needs stitches. Here, take these two capsules, they will numb the pain.’

Rosa woke up with a throbbing pain in her palm. From the dim light of the night lamp she saw that her palm was bandaged with white gauze. Her fingers poked out. I can’t remember him bandaging my hand. Dios mío.

Heart racing, Rosa stumbled into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was very pale but there were no bruises. She looked at her clothes. She was wearing all her clothes and underwear. The buttons on her blouse were all done. No buttons were missing or hanging loose. Her bra was fastened on the first hook, just the way she always did. She felt for the string of her tampon. No, she hadn’t been interfered with. Gracias a Dios.

Rosa glanced at the clock. It was 8.30pm. She could get home before eleven. She had just gone into the kitchen when Bryon came in. He was in his pyjamas but without the maroon silk dressing gown he wore when Rosa arrived in the mornings. She suppressed a sudden urge to smooth his dishevelled hair.

‘Rosa, go in the morning. You might faint again.’

‘I am okay.’

‘You don’t look okay. I put three stiches to close up that cut, you know.’

‘Thank you, I am alright. Where’s your dry-cleaning receipt?’

As she looked around for the receipt, the bench tops floated around her. She moved backwards and leaned her back against the pantry cupboard. Her sore palm bumped onto the edge of the cupboard and an intense lightning bolt of raw pain shot up from the wound. A whooshing noise blocked her ears. Bryon went over to her.

‘You can’t travel tonight. If you really want to go home, I’ll have to drive you.’

The benchtops stopped floating but the whooshing noise persisted. ‘I’ll stay,’ Rosa said in a small voice. He’ll know why I had a knife. It’s because… No need to think about Darwin. I am safe here.

All the way home early the next morning, Rosa was smiling to herself thinking how Irma would tease her, not believing that she had slept alone in Bryon’s house overnight. But Irma wasn’t anywhere to be found. Their room was untidy and Irma’s side of the wardrobe was empty. Rosa ran and banged on her neighbours’ door.

‘Neela, Neela, Ravi, open the door please. Irma’s missing. Her clothes are gone.’

Ravi came out of the room rubbing his eyes and closed the door behind him.

‘Police took her away. I think they are going to deport Irma. She was crying. They came around 2 o’clock. We couldn’t sleep after that.’

Rosa checked her phone, but there was no message from Irma. Terrified to contact Irma thinking it would give her away as well, Rosa gathered her belongings and went back to Bryon’s house. I’ll beg him to let me stay there until I find a place. I’ll work for nothing if he lets me stay.

Later that night, Rosa received a text message from Irma on WhatsApp.

‘Police said a friend dobbed on me. That’s why you didn’t come home last night. They’ll come for you too. I thought you were my friend, you puta.’

Not caring for repercussions, Rosa texted back saying, ‘Irma, please believe me, I stayed here because I cut my hand and fainted. I don’t know how this happened.’

Rosa’s message sat there in her WhatsApp, never reaching Irma.

Since that day, Rosa had lived at Bryon’s house. She kept the house and the garden. She tended to the orchids in the front yard and made a little herb garden at the back. Bryon was the kindest person Rosa had ever met in her life. As she did not have to pay rent or for transport and food, she saved money and bought a bicycle.

I could buy a small used car. But what’s the use? Without a visa I can’t get a car registration or a licence. I am stuck.

One night over dinner, Bryon told how his wife left him after three years of marriage. He blamed himself for that. Those days, after finishing his theatre lists in public hospitals, he’d do surgery in private hospitals. He came back home around one in the morning or sometimes even later.

Rosa told him about her life in Colombia. Both her parents were school teachers. She was the only child. Even when she was a science undergraduate, she was an anticorruption activist. She was involved in protests against proposed reforms to the education system and later against austerity measures of the government. The government was corrupt and Rosa had been involved with a group who were planning to overthrow the government. She talked about the protests she and Irma had attended. She told how her parents borrowed money and sent her to Australia because the government was killing protest organisers.

 ‘I had a boyfriend, nothing serious.’ She couldn’t talk about the Darwin incident or Irma’s deportation.

‘You must miss your family. When are you going to visit them?’

 ‘I can’t go there. I have no visa.’

‘I had no idea.’

Rosa explained the application process and Bryon told he’d find a good lawyer for her. Their platonic relationship changed sometime after that. Who fell in love first was talked about at length but never resolved.

Rosa was excited after securing an appointment with Kevin Flintheart, a famous immigration lawyer in Collin Street. But the day before the appointment Rosa woke up with a high fever and Bryon postponed the appointment. Although Bryon suspected Covid-19, he could not risk taking Rosa to a hospital to be tested because Kevin had said that no one must know her whereabouts yet. He had warned that in case of an arrest and subsequent removal from Australia, it would be near impossible for Rosa to return to Australia.

Rosa was moved into the guest room and Bryon cared for her. He wore full protective gear when he went to check on Rosa. He gave her strict instructions. Stay in this room. No cooking. No cleaning. Don’t even go to answer the home phone. Use disposable plates, cups and cutlery. He would bring food after work.

On the first night that she felt well again, Rosa cooked a delicious Colombian dinner. She could see that Bryon was pleased to see her up and about.

‘I do shopping tomorrow?’

‘Rosa Maria, listen to me. You can’t go out yet.’

‘You buy bad vegetable,’ she pouted.

‘Vegetables. Listen. Your visa appointment with Kevin is in three days. Please stay inside until then.’

The next morning, Bryon woke up cranky. He couldn’t eat his favourite breakfast of eggs and chorizo. His tie was askew and he let Rosa fix it. Saying, ‘Stay in, bye,’ Bryon drove off to work.

He felt tired walking across the car park. He swiped his card and went in. The corridor seemed unusually dark and much longer that morning. On his right was the Pathology department. He wondered how many tests they had conducted during the last 24 hours. How many of them had been positive? Concealed behind the Pathology was the morgue. He was proud of the fact that he had not sent anyone there in his 30 years of service here.

‘You’ll end up there yourself,’ an ugly inner voice told him. A cold shiver ran up and down his spine. He should go back. But his legs carried him forward.

He was startled as a nurse in full protective gear appeared from behind a little alcove and motioned him to stop. He froze as she pointed a gun straight at his forehead. Bryon had a terrible urge to reveal everything. Look, I have cared for someone who was sick. I have been very careful. I haven’t put anyone in danger. Please, don’t tell anyone. But no words came out of his mouth. The nurse kept the gun very close to Bryon’s forehead with a steady hand. He held his breath while his heart raced. The gun beeped and he took a step forward.

‘Mr. Felix, please stop. Mr. Felix? You are running a fever. Have you been in close contact with any confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases?’

Bryon was speechless. The nurse waited a few moments and pointed towards the alcove.

‘Please wait over there. I’ll call someone to take you to the fever clinic. They’ll test you for Covid-19. Standard procedure, I’m afraid.’

Covid-19? They’d quarantine him for two or three weeks. He should call Kevin and tell him what to do. Rosa mustn’t miss her appointment. His fingers kept pressing wrong buttons on the phone. He was light-headed and covered in a cold sweat by the time he managed to call Rosa.

‘Hola?’ He heard her sweet voice but found that he could not talk. The phone slipped from his hand and fell on to the tiled floor of the corridor. He heard the faint sound of hospital chimes and wondered why they weren’t loud as usual.

Rosa heard the phone clattering. Almost immediately she heard ear piercing chimes followed by a measured female voice saying, ‘Respond blue, corridor near Pathology.’ She then heard some hurried footsteps and soft murmurings before Bryon’s phone went quiet.

After worrying and crying all through that day and the next, Rosa called Kevin.

‘Bryon not come home two days now. He called yesterday but didn’t talk to me. After that his phone’s not working. Something happened to him in the hospital.’

Later that day, Kevin rang Rosa and said that Bryon had suffered a stroke. He also had Covid-19 and no one could see him. Kevin would be in touch with Rosa. She should stay home.

Rosa had been waiting for days expecting a call from Bryon or Kevin when one evening a black car came to a sudden halt in the driveway. Rosa hid behind the curtains and watched. A well-built middle-aged man in a cheap black suit got out and strode towards the door. Rosa held her breath while he knocked. After a few minutes, he went back to his car. He stood looking around for a while before getting in and driving off. Immigration? A detective hired by Irma’s parents?

Ten minutes later, Rosa sprinted out of the side gate. She wore dark clothes and carried a large backpack. The rhythmic sound of her running feet faded away as she disappeared into the gathering darkness.

Swarna Pinto

Swarna Pinto was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Australia in 1990. She completed a Master of Science degree in Soviet Russia. These life experiences provide a narrative canvas for Swarna’s writing. Her fiction has been published in The Quarry #16 and Swamp #26. She is a Master of Creative Writing student at Macquarie University.

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