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The good boy

June 2009, no. 312

The good boy

June 2009, no. 312

There was a party when I first came to this country. The table was heavy with plates of pizza and chicken balls and Turkish dips with sticks of celery that no one touched. Balloons clustered on the ceiling, trying to escape the heat of the room. A badly lit fire in the fireplace sent out curls of smoke, and a double-bar radiator sat burning in the opposite corner.

‘This is my Filipino brother-in-law, Enrico,’ Alan said each time he introduced me, grasping my arm or giving me a playful punch. At that point, the person I was meeting would clap my shoulder and say, ‘Welcome to Australia!’ as if they had rehearsed this gesture for my arrival.

‘I told everyone all about you,’ my sister Estrella had said the first night, before the party, before the bad feeling entered the house and hung around the ceiling like the shrivelled party balloons that Alan, her husband, keeps forgetting to take down. She said this in English, loudly, so that he would hear from the next room.

‘I told them how you used to call me Bibby, and how sad you were when I had to go to another country to find work. You cried on the phone and begged me, “Bibby, please come home.” And I had to tell you to get off the phone and put Mama on the line, that Mr Kelly was paying for me to call from Hong Kong and he would be angry at a little boy in the Philippines wasting his money.’

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