Building the Australian dream: short story
This story, Another Time, Another Place, is an excerpt from Telling Tales: An anthology of 2016 ScribbleInk Youth Literature Awards. The ScribbleInk awards are one of the high-calibre literature awards in the St George area for young people in Years 7 to 12. The awards aim to celebrate the ideas and creative writing of youngsters who live, work, study and play in the St George area. Another Time, Another Place is by Daniel Hu, a Year 11 student from Sydney Boys’ High School.
The sun disappeared below the horizon and the streaks of indigo and crimson were gone. A cold breeze rushed at his face. Bit at him. Made his knees shake. The man looked at the tall buildings around him overshadowed by the blackness of the sky. The buildings were lit up by a sea of lights and under the lampposts the air was thick with dust. He became conscious of the repugnant odour of mildew and mould in the air. He glanced around at the people with yellow hats and huge Mitre saws in their hands. The noises of metal on metal was his daily Liu Huan. Ka-chin. Ka-chin. He wrinkled his brow at the foreign cascade of language being used around him; the words meant nothing to him.
The eight hours inside steel was finally over.
He dropped the angle grinder in his hand, and trudged to the exit on the outskirts of the construction site. He fingered at the jade bracelet on his hand and stood there for a few seconds, staring at it. His dad had given it to him when he was five and now, it followed him wherever he went.
With a heavy sigh, the man reached into his pockets and dug out the photograph. The edges were crumpled and the colours had faded, but the smiling faces of his family greeted him every time. It was a stark contrast to the jeers and looks he got from the people at the construction site. His hands shook as he held onto the photograph. His knuckles were white. He brought his hands to his head and closed his eyes.
He thought about home.
"The master in charge scrutinised him and the man flushed, embarrassed at his accented English. He stood soaking in the cruel laughter, his head beginning to spin."
– Daniel Hu
In front of him was the green grass of his front lawn, and a fountain that lay in the middle spurted silvery water, flowing with a musical sound. The sun was mellow, hanging in the crisp air and the warm breeze blew at his face, and the cries of his children echoed through the house as they chased each other into the garden. He always went to the garden to daydream, the sanctuary with the Chinese tallow tree that had branches which fanned out metres into the neighbour’s yard.
The tree was surrounded with sunflowers that waved their golden heads in the late autumn wind, giving the Shanghai countryside a vibrant feel. Pudong was his roots, and a second Mama, where he knew the people, the hay, the potatoes and the rice harvest. Most importantly, when he said something everybody listened and looked at him for the whole time.
He stifled his yawn as he trudged past the construction site, reaching the row of terrace houses. They were similar to his first house. A daunting rectangular, white building fit for true Australians. Not people like him. They reminded him of the time when he first moved in with his family and he was wary of the entire neighbourhood. The family next door would always scream at each other while cooking sausages on their BBQ. The Macedonian family to the right shouted and screamed and the sounds of their spitting and washing came as a shock. He had lived most of his life in the Chinese expansive outer suburbs where good neighbours were seldom seen and never heard. It took him four months to realise the neighbours were truly concerned for his family’s wellbeing.
As the night grew darker, he quickened his pace. He hurried down the sidewalk, crossed the pedestrian crossing and turned right towards the dollar store. The name, A Dollar for A Bargain, glowed above the store in fluorescent letters and a thin neon light rimmed the glass display. Seeing the glowing lights made him smile. He pushed open the door, a routine which he had performed more than a thousand times. Inside the five aisles overflowed with food packets and drinks. An elderly Chinese woman ran the shop and the fragrance of her perfume lingered about in the air. Every time he entered the shop, he would scan between the lined shelves until he bought enough supplies to last the week.
Today, the store was relatively crowded, his body was shoved and bumped against the others in the narrow space between the aisles like a flock of boat goats scurrying down the hills. His face showed no sign of emotion. He grabbed five big packets of instant noodles and a bulging bag of rice before heading to the registers. There, the Chinese lady at the service-counter scanned his items instinctively. He fumbled with the loose change in his pockets and then conversed with her in Chinese. They spoke about Liu Huan, one of the most coveted singers in mainland China. The conversation went on and on, until the man realised it was getting late. He fidgeted with his jade bracelet and exited the store. By the time he returned home, the night was pitch black.
Brang. Brang. As soon as he got to the construction site, he was hit with the same, old sounds of metal on metal. When he arrived, the master in charge was standing right there in front of him.
“Why are you late?” The master in charge paused, scratching his head as he tried to remember the man’s name. “Tom Zhang? Aaron Kwok? Jason Li?”
He could hear the snickering of the other workers behind his back.
The man fiddled with his jade bracelet and bowed his head, “Sorry sir, I had to go to the bafroom earlier on.”
The master in charge scrutinised him and the man flushed, embarrassed at his accented English. He stood soaking in the cruel laughter, his head beginning to spin.
He tried to hide his tears, but there was still a saltiness that pecked at his lips. He took a deep breath and raised his head. The whole place seemed to roar at him. He composed himself and picked up his yellow hat.
This short story is an excerpt from Telling Tales: An anthology of 2016 ScribbleInk Youth Literature Awards.