by Roger Britton
“God works in mysterious ways and, sometimes, can be quite a comedian.”
Theo and I were on a mission. Why was Sam, our St Vincent de Paul charity-case, using his food voucher to buy six frozen chooks, and then seen raffling them at the pub? Was he a druggie, and taking us for a ride? We decided to pay him a visit around 6pm. We thought that he would be home.
Theo knocked at the door of the address Sam had given us.
“Is Sam Wilson home?”
“No mate, this is my house. Sam and his Missus are just using a building in me backyard.” He pointed where we should go. We were both formally dressed and wearing ties. I whispered to Theo, as we wandered around the side of the house, “I think he must have thought we were police detectives.”
“Don’t get carried away, Rog, we aren’t here to arrest anyone.”
Sam was crouched in the wire enclosure of a derelict fowl house. He was cooking a few sausages on a makeshift hot plate. Inside the three-sided hen house we could see a woman bent over a kerosene lantern. She was setting a tablecloth over a box. Alongside, rested a baby in a cane bassinette.
“G’day, Sam.” said Theo.
“Strewth! You gave me a fright,” said Sam, “Come in.”
I looked on in astonishment.
“Thought we’d look in on you and see how you are going,” said Theo.
“Good-oh. This is the wife, Maggie, and the baby is young Jeremy. I can’t ask you to sit down as we only have two chairs.”
Sam and Maggie stood up, embarrassed that they had chairs and that their guests didn’t. I noticed that a single bed was pushed up against the back wall and an open suitcase of baby clothing stuck out from under the bed. Sam caught my eye and witnessed my concern.
“The buggers took everything. The truck, the caravan. It was lucky that Maggie grabbed the baby’s gear.”
“Who are the buggers, Sam?”
“The bloody repossessors! I was out looking for a job, and the bastards found Maggie in the caravan park and took everything. They even came with petrol for the truck. They knew we were broke. Luckily, the park gardener, a good bloke, offered us this place. It ain’t much but it’s better than the street.”
“Sam, we gave you a food order and the grocer sent us an account for six frozen chooks. What’s going on? You can’t eat six frozen chooks in a week.”
“I needed money for the baby, so I raffled them at the pub. We could then buy what we wanted at the chemist: bottles and milk formula and stuff.”
“Ok, so you didn’t need food, but baby stuff?’’
“Yeah, but food would be good, too. We can get by, but little Jeremy can’t. And, we’re not going to give him up, either, if that’s what you think!”
“Hell, no, we just wanted to make sure that you were all okay.” I cut in.
Sam was becoming defensive. Theo realized it, too, and changed tack.
“What work were you doing before you came to Sydney, Sam?”
“Shearing sheep, I was a ringer. But the drought took care of that. There was no sheep and no work. So, we bought a second-hand caravan and headed down here looking for work, but me money ran out. I couldn’t afford the repayments on the ute, the van and the camp fees. I think the bloody caretaker worked with the repossessing mob to get me evicted.”
Once more, Theo nodded.
“Look, here’s another food voucher for you and your wife. Don’t buy frozen chooks with it. Here’s some cash, as well.”
Theo took a $20 note out of his own wallet and passed it to Sam.
“We’ll get back to you.”
Theo did more than that. He contacted Jack, the manager of Carrier Air Conditioning, who was looking for a good solid worker. Sam was hired. A real estate agent was approached and a unit was offered without a bond condition. Maggie, little Jeremy and Sam moved in. The St Vincent de Paul store provided some basic furniture and a fridge.
I couldn’t believe the efficiency and effectiveness of Theo’s network.
“How did you do it, Theo?” I asked some days later.
“The power of prayer, Rog, and a few good men. Being near Christmas, it reminded me of the Holy Family stuck in a stable. But this time, it was a chook yard!”
“And Herod was the repossessor?” I ventured.
“Well, practically. I went to Parramatta to see ‘em. Big flash cars in the parking lot, even an open top MGB sports car.”
“Have any luck getting anything back for Sam?”
“No, the manager looked like a ferret, really furtive. Looked down his nose at me. Money, or he wouldn’t budge.”
“When you gave Sam that money, I felt like we were the wise men from the East.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. But we do have a journey to make. I owe Jack, the boss at Carrier Air Conditioning, a favour. He was going to drive the St Vincent de Paul truck into Taverner’s Hill with a load of empty beer bottles. He’s asked me could I take it in for him on Saturday. I need an off-sider to help load and unload. You can be the the donkey.”
That was the trouble with Theo. He was such a good bloke, you felt bad if you said no to him.
We spent most of Saturday morning loading bags of bottles onto the old Bedford truck. It was smelly, sweaty work with no forklift available. I hoped that the Holy Family appreciated our efforts at fund raising for the poor and needy.
Finally, we set off along Parramatta Road with Theo driving.
“Thank God, there’s not much traffic,’ said Theo, “these brakes are bloody next-to-useless.”
“Shite! Can we stop it?” I asked.
“Yeah, just. It will take time, that’s all.” Theo grinned.
“Makes you feel good helping others, doesn’t it, Theo? Sam and Maggie seem to be making a go of it, now.”
Theo didn’t reply, as he was judging the green traffic light ahead. Our two lanes of traffic came to an intersection. To the right of us, and a car length ahead, was a two-tiered cattle truck full of cows. The green light changed to yellow and the cattle truck began braking, so Theo did likewise.
Suddenly a red sports car ran up behind the cattle truck, and then darted across into our lane, in front of us. It drastically reduced our braking distance.
Theo stood on the brakes as the MG driver stopped. We couldn’t pull into the right lane, because we were running parallel with the cattle truck. Slowly the brakes took up and we shuddered to a stop, bottles clinking and clanking.
“Bloody hell. That’s close. I hope we didn’t smash any of the bottles.”
We’d almost touched the MG’s back bumper. In his mirror we could see the MG driver eyeing us disparagingly.
“Smart-Arse! Theo yelled.
Theo rarely swore.
The three vehicles sat waiting together at the lights. The smart-arse in front of us began revving his engine ready for a fast take-off. Obviously, he was going to show two truck drivers what a champion he was. At that moment, a cow lifted its tail on the upper tier of the cattle truck. A huge squirt of green lucerne-shit cascaded down on the head of the MG driver below.
“Holy Cow!” I gasped.
“Oh, shit!” Theo roared with laughter.
Unaware, the cattle truck lumbered off.
The deluged driver, drowned in dung, stalled his car in front of us. Finally, he coaxed his car over to the curb. Theo and I were hysterical. We missed the change-of-lights. I think we wanted the sight to last forever.
Theo’s eyes brimmed with tears. He could hardly see. He spluttered:
“Oh, my God, Oh, my God, how wonderful! It’s Ferret Face!”
“Thank you, God.” I whispered.
© Roger Britton