The Square Bowl

Losing a child is beyond comprehension. It defies biology. It contradicts the natural order of history and genealogy. And it violates time. It derails common sense. It creates a huge, black, bottomless hole that swallows hope.’ Michael Robotham ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’

I know it’s going. The doctors have told me as much. Yuko tells me, in the softest possible way, that she has to live with its going every single day. Is that what makes her so sad? I suspect it’s a part. I can only imagine that, like me, she is missing someone. Despite her lack of laughter, she’s no less loving. We’ve had a good life together these past fifteen years. If I went tomorrow, I’d be content. I know I’ll love her to the day I die, if only I can remember to.

And I’ve wanted to write before I’ve also forgotten you. So friend, if you receive this, know you are still in my thoughts. Before they fade, this is a take on what has happened to me since I left the Coast. Mostly the memory of it is clear – it’s what happened yesterday I struggle with. Memories of Devonport, my years with Gloria and my time with you as my friend or colleague or both are still fresh. It’s to show you are not forgotten; what your friendship, companionship, collegiality meant to me back then. What it still means to me. Yoku will have found this amongst all the other documents stored in a place she knows well, along with the names and last known addresses. So this is to say thank you; it is to bring you up to speed whilst the speed hasn’t sped off. I hope it makes it through to you so you understand maybe a little and to inform you you have my gratitude.

It may be a surprise to you that, once upon a time, I attended university. It surprises me too. I bring this up now because of a girl. I’ve been thinking a great deal about her of late. She only frequented my life for a very short time, but I now wonder if she was a talis(wo)man of sorts. And it relates to Yuko.

Academia only lasted a year. Economics. It was bat-shit boring – but something must have rubbed off. It turned out that I was pretty good with money. I’m still worth a bit. I’ll have a tidy sum to pass on, even after all that’s happened. That gives me satisfaction. I’ll still be able to contribute to the financial well-being of the girls and through Yuko, to Dan. Who’s Dan? Well he’s Yuko’s lad – but he is very dear to me, great strapping fellow that he is. At the moment he’s overseas, doing something in finance I think. Is it London? I’m a bit vague on that. He’ll be coming home shortly – to see me I guess. To see me before I lose my marbles completely. And we’ll have the bowl ready. Always makes me laugh. That bowl. The square bowl.

Yes, I was a uni freshman. Must have been 1970. My one year of higher learning. The year I met Gloria. Arts student from Burnie. Destined to teach and be my the mother of my children – and what a fine fist she made of both till I stuffed it all up for her. Yep, you’ll recall when the shit hit the fan. She’ll never wholly forgive me. I don’t blame her. You will probably know about her these days much more than I do. You’ll be aware of how devastated she was when it all came out. Cost her so much. But in truth – and this may seem cruel to you – what happened, in the long run, was the best thing for me. I found my happiness – true happiness – later in life, but at least I found it. Happiness. I wasn’t within a bull’s roar before – thus the affair. And my girls are back talking to me. That is the icing on the cake. Deep down I think they understand – the girls. Maybe you will too.

But before Gloria there was her. It was so fleeting. Did I ever even know the name? If I did, it’s well and truly gone from my synapses now. But in recent times she’s come back to me. I haven’t thought of her for decades. That year at uni, she was in our tutorial group along with my mate as well. My mate? You’ll remember him. We were like two peas in a pod for years. He’s long gone now, sadly. I still miss him. I didn’t go down to the funeral – too scared to show my face, coward that I am. Anyway, I was infatuated by her; in lust with all those juices waiting to explode at that age. I couldn’t wait for each week’s tute to come around when I could cast my eye over her more intimately, instead of from a distance in the lecture theatre. She was Asian – so exotic for a Devonport lad. My bosom pal was obviously taken too. He was more brazen than I could ever be then. He tried to strike up a conversation with her a couple of times. One day he told me that, in that afternoon’s gathering, he was going to ask her out. He insisted I wasn’t to be there hanging around. Later he came back crestfallen. He didn’t say much and I didn’t pursue it. Soon Gloria came along for me and my life changed course. My pal soon had a girl too – but his union ended well before mine, but for entirely different reasons. Now, you may know my mate’s more recent story and the beautiful Thai woman he spent his last years with. As for me? Now I have Yuko. Who’d have thought? That Asian girl, of my younger years, has returned to me. It’s in in another totally different package, admittedly, as she was for my best friend. But this, to you, is about my Yuko – not Gloria, nor my affair. They say there is something about older white men and Oriental women. Worked for my mate; worked for me – in the end.

Yuko? We will get to her. Sorry I’m so long winded, but the proper telling, as I see it, is important. Patience.

I don’t hold grudges. Angus did step up big-time. Twice. You’d know he was my 2IC for years. Gone now too, of course. Only last year – and again I didn’t front. I sent a note of sympathy to Gloria. Yes, we still have some contact, usually issues to do with the girls and the grandchildren. Angus was the only one I confided in before I did the runner – he and my lawyer. And my former assistant was very good to Gloria after my departure – and maybe before. Who knows? He was her main comforter – and later the comforting turned into something else. Who’d have thought – Angus and Gloria. I had always known he had a soft spot for her, but I must admit their getting together blindsided me. Good on him though. He’s made her happy I hear. With him I knew the business would be in competent hands and when he bought me out, aided by Gloria’s (read my) money, he again stepped up, somewhat ironically, when I needed a buyer. But, by then, I didn’t care. I was in clover.

We’d lived frugally, all those decades, Gloria and I. There was no ostentation, despite our station. We weren’t the types. It was tough whilst the business was getting off the ground, but once it was established and we started buying out our competitors, we were well set up financially. So when I decided to do my flit, I ensured, with the lawyer, that Gloria and the girls were well taken care of. The business, under Angus, would look after itself. I told him it’d be for about six months, just to get my shit together; to get in a better head-space. But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking long term. What of April when I did my own take on Lord Lucan (although the only crime I committed was having a relationship with another man’s wife), you might ask. Well I gave her some compensation for all the shame I caused her too. She went back to hubby, good man that he was. You would know they no longer reside by the Mersey.

Queensland seemed as apt a place as any to disappear to. Money and sunshine were an attractive alternative to the way I was living then. I figured I had enough of one resource, Mangoland would provide the other. Base myself on the Gold Coast, to start with, then take it from there.

You see, I was 53 when April and I were busted – busted big-time; busted in the worst possible way. People turned against me – not you, of course, otherwise you wouldn’t be receiving this. But people did. The looks, the shunning – all by people who were supposedly mates. Even business dropped off for a while. I stuck it out for a time, living in that little flat above head office. No social life, with the usual easy dynamics I had with my work force altered for good. Many couldn’t bear to look me in the eye after it happened. For some that became a constant. The laughter in my life totally disappeared – and what is life without laughter? So when the new millennium was in its infancy I decided to escape.

But the Gold Coast wasn’t the place – that was soon apparent after only a month or so in. I was living in a cheap motel – frugal till the end. I knew it wasn’t just going to happen but, to be totally honest, I didn’t know where to start in this foreign environment without my network. I purchased a car and decided to explore possibilities in Northern NSW – the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Lismore – nothing seemed right. Maybe north would work – Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach – I knew all the hot-spots. Again, nothing clicked. I dreaded the thought of reaching Port Douglas with still nothing and having to return home with my tail between my legs. But, well before that northern resort of the well heeled and sun starved, along came Yuko.

Yuko. My lovely, lovely wild-thing. Yuko. She told me her background soon after our worlds collided. She was, despite her exotic looks, third generation Aussie. It showed as soon as she opened her mouth. Her looks, though, were decidedly Asian, but with a little extra thrown in. Was it that first night, when we talked forever, that she regaled me with her provenance? I can’t recall, but I do recall the gist of what she told me. Here it is in a nutshell. Her grandmother, also a Yuko (as was her mother), accompanied her husband to Australia when Broome was the pearling capital of the world. Her hubby sadly didn’t last long, a victim of the bends. The original Yuko then hooked up with a South Sea Islander, a restless soul whose forebears had been blackbirded to slave in the Queensland cane-fields. My Yuko’s grandfather, in the process of working his way around the country, was a big, burly, fuzzy-headed fellow. Yuko described him as a manly dynamo – thus Dan’s build and perhaps choice of sport, I presume. Dan’s a man now, but he was just 12 when he came into my orb as part of the package. The boy I never had. Yuko’s gift to me and quite a muscular lump, even then. And I loved him as if he was my own born and bred. The first Yuko finally settled here, on the outskirts of Rockhampton, after he, with the grandmother to be in tow, completed his circumnavigation. They had Yuko No.2 who grew up to marry Kev, a dinky-di white-bread Queenslander. Together they had a gorgeous coffee-coloured girl, again an only child, whom I have now lucked in with and adore.

rice-clipart-5

Yep, Yuko’s a bit unique – part Australian, part islander from the South Pacific but, as she says, mostly defiantly Japanese. There’s other bits and pieces, but that’s her essence.

The day of our meeting I hadn’t lost hope, but I was a tad concerned. I was already well over the ambit of six months. Angus was pestering me for my intentions. I’ll still hadn’t found what I was looking for, so I wasn’t in overly good spirits that day. My aim had been to make it to Yeppoon and book into a motel. A puncture that morning had played havoc with my time frame and hadn’t improved my mood. It was getting later and later as I made my way through Rocky, but then, on the outskirts, I saw the neon and realised how hungry I was. The sign read Yuko’s Chinese Hideaway Restaurant – the ‘hideaway’ bit turned out to be Yuko’s hideously atrocious attempt at a pun – so, as there were still lights on, I pulled-in and stopped. Being around eight on a Monday night – a date that now is indelibly imprinted in my mind – there were only a couple of diners tucking in. Then I noticed the woman behind the counter. Tall, slim with an unkempt Afro sprouting out in all directions; she was full-lipped and flashing me a smile as wide as the big skies of Queensland. ‘You looking for a feed, fella? You’ve come to the right place. I’m packing up, but I can rustle you up something for sure.’

That’s what my memory tells me were her first words to me, but I wouldn’t trust my memory for anything these days. She bought me out a meal after fifteen or so minutes, together with a couple of beers, plonking herself down on the chair opposite. ‘I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.’

She laughed when she saw my stunned expression. ‘Your story, fella. Your story. You’ve seen a few years, no offence. And you’ve been through a bit, I betcha. I can tell it from your eyes. And you’re not from these parts either. I can tell from your skin. Go on. I’m waiting, fella.’

Now it was my turn to laugh – and I hadn’t laughed in a long time. But, after I met Yuko, I didn’t stop for many years, that is, until the sadness came. And that night I did. I told her mine and she told me hers, as I have already related. It is fair to say we connected. Then she invited me back to hers, a bungalow tucked away in the bush. We kicked on and one thing led to another. I won’t go into all that here – but it was marvellous. Just marvellous.

He turned around, his open mouth full of rice, chopsticks in his hand, his bowl of soy smothered rice – his regular breakfast as it turns out – crashing to the floor. He had had his back to me when I entered the tiny kitchen. He spun around, no doubt expecting his mother, startled like a rabbit in the headlights when he got me instead and dropped his brekky. I reached down to pick it up just as a flustered mum rushed in. ‘Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,’ she blurted out. ‘Don’t look at him like that, boy. He’s harmless. He’s already proved that. Dan, meet John. John, meet my lad Dan. Hope youse two will be mates. I reckon we’ll be seeing a bit more of him around here, boy.’

I looked down, blushing. I looked down at at that square shaped bowl, white with blue Japanese writing and rice still clinging to it. His breakfast bowl. That bowl. He took his repast from it every single morning without variation. It bought him luck for the day, he reckoned.

Fine-Japanese--_1

And now Hideo. Hideo – get it? Hideaway. See? Told you it was woeful. And, when I knew her a bit better, I told her so too. She now has a new sign up. Hideo was Dan’s father, her ex-hubby. He was pure Japanese. Not a gorgeous mix like his former wife. My lady was 21 and waitressing in Rockhampton and Hideo was character building when they encountered each other on the first occasion. Character building to make him a man and to give him a bit of experience of the world before he settled down into the family business back home. His people ran a profitable restaurant chain in Japan, but the attraction of returning to that couldn’t compete with Yuko for Hideo. Nor could the young lady his folk had earmarked for him, for, with the exotic Yuko, he certainly was receiving a whole slab of character building. Hideo was soon petitioning home to extend his stay and this was eventually and reluctantly granted. It was not long before he was imploring his home folk in the Land of the Rising Sun for their blessing to marry his Aussie beauty. That, though, was more problematic, considering that various promises had been made. So he went home to convince. Yuko feared that would be the last she saw of him, but he had built character, as well as bottle. He did indeed come back, announcing mission accomplished. He even managed to wheedle out of his doting parents a stipend to set up a business. Together they found a spot on the road to the coast and established Yuko’s Japanese Hideaway. The pair soon discovered that food from his homeland didn’t work in these parts, but when they switched to Chinese, the business took off.

By the time I appeared Hideo had long gone. Soon after Dan was born his father was recalled home. There’d been the passing of the patriarch. Hideo reckoned he’d be gone a few weeks. He never returned. He’s now married to the young lady he had been promised to prior to Yuko and he manages the family chain of eateries. He’s now quite wealthy with another family. When the move looked like being permanent it was naturally expected that Yuko would join him in Osaka. Yuko refused. She had visited the place – far too cold and uptight for her casual ways and warm blood. She felt her hubby’s birthplace was, well, hideous. See. I can do it too. Besides, with a new child, she didn’t want to uproot. No dutiful Japanese wife nonsense for her.

And it didn’t take long for her to realise my move north was about to become permanent too. Yuko was 42 when we met so there was, I admit, a fair age difference. But it didn’t seem to be an issue for her. I wasn’t backward in coming forward with the extra inducement that I was reasonably well endowed in the finances department. I’m not silly enough to discount that as part of the attraction either. I was certainly smitten – and if money greased the path to true happiness, then so be it. But Yuko gave me, in spades, far more than my money’s worth back – believe you me. In spades she gave it.

And she gifted me a project too to make sure I was well busy in other aspects of life. Being in the business, I knew what truckers looked for so, given the location, Yuko was in perfect position to make far more than she was doing just with the Chinese. There was nothing like what I envisaged between Rockhampton and the booming coast. The signage now reads Yoku’s Chinese and Truck-Stop. By the end of the first decade of life with my mixed-race love we had put in bowsers, a separate takeaway/grocery mini-mart, clean as can be toilets and a children’s play area. Business is booming and we employ a dozen staff, casual and full-time. And it’s all there for Dan to inherit one day, if he so desires. And gee, I hope he does. I miss him like crazy. It certainly has been a while since we’ve heard from him. I know the last time we did he promised to soon come home for a visit but, hell, how long ago was that now? I know my brain doesn’t remember the recent stuff very well these days. He could have visited yesterday for all I know, but Yuko still has her sad look – so I guess not. Come on Dan. The square bowl is waiting.

Now being Taswegian, I knew nothing of rugby. Still struggle with it, but even at age twelve, when I first knew him, Dan was pencilled in as a future champion of the sport. And he freely canvassed the fact that one day he’d play in the World Cup. But not for Australia. With his dual citizenship, courtesy of his father, his ambition was to play for Japan. Hideo, to give him his due, flew in quite regularly to keep contact, with Dan reciprocating with visits over there as he was growing up. I got on okay with Hideo too but he was quite intense. He must have been such a contrast to laid back Yuko when they were a unit. It seems now Dan has chosen to reside neither here nor there as he makes his way in Britain. But there’s an ache there with him gone that even the occasional visits from the girls and their families cannot assuage. I miss him. I want him back so much – but he’s a grown man now. You have to let go, don’t you? I’m just frightened that when he does come I won’t recognise him.

jap rugby

I’m finishing at this point friend. I plan to write some more, but I’ll give it a rest. Hopefully I can keep on doing everyday tasks a while longer, but at my age and with this condition, one is always worried about what tomorrow will bring. Maybe the next tomorrow will be the day Dan comes back to us. I’ll know when it happens for no other reason that the light will be back on in my darling’s face. At least, I hope I will.

When John died Yuko duly sorted out his affairs and in doing so found two letters, one for her and the other with a list of his old Tassie mates. She made five copies and posted them off. One came to me. Clipped to it was a short piece photocopied from the local newspaper of her son’s death. It was a freak accident on the rugby field when he was eighteen. A jarring tackle followed by heart failure. Later on the letter John wrote to her came into my possession as well. How? She gave it to me.

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