Who Will Do the Jobs We Won’t?

I am working as a locum in the small town in the Riverina where I grew
up. Here I had my seed time. This dry, inland
place, this locus of heart’s desire, this, my dreaming place. Few here
remember my family, my parents who were leading citizens.
This forgetting is natural. It’s okay, we are the past.

Today I meet three hired killers from Afghanistan. They present
themselves for medical examination.

The first of the three is Pashtun. Overweight, stout as a tree,
technically obese, not grossly so. Trout-fit, smiling like a child as
he struggles with
my instructions in English, he submits gracefully to my incursions
into his bodily secrets. I am not as tough as others he has met in the
long trip to Leeton,
via boat, then Christmas Island, Darwin, Curtin detention centres. His
time in Christmas Island overlapped with mine.

The second is Azara, a graduate of Christmas Island. Diminutive, with
a jockey’s build, he looks half familiar.
He is a karate exponent, extraordinarily supple, literally fighting
fit. His most active muscles are those that
operate his smile. His wife remains in Pakistan. They have no
children. His date of birth tells me he is 36, but his face speaks of
too much knowledge of the dark,
too many years of hardship over the course of those thirty six.
Despite his freight of knowing he has bounce. He leaves me feeling
lighter for the encounter.
Ta Shakour, he says, ta shakour. Thank you, thank you.

The last of the three, another Azara, will turn 37 next week. He will
mark the occasion without his wife and five children, who remain in
He too was my Christmas Island contemporary. This man lies relaxed on
my examination couch, yogic in his disconnection from thought of what
might be. What will the doctor find,
what disease, what disqualification, what harm I might unearth, these
apprehensions are far from him. He has the secret of harmony.
He needs this: his children and he have been apart for eighteen
months. He recounts the life stages of all five, from the eldest, aged
18, who is in college (a fraction of a proud smile);
the next two who are in high school, the five year old in junior
school, the smallest , just two years old (his smile tender).
Throughout his accounting, the man has shown me the children’s
his hand descending step by step from the stellar eldest to the toddling newest.
Do you speak? Yes.
And skype? Do you see them? Yes, yes, skype, much.

I complete many forms. I attest and take declarations and witness
signed consent to release health data to the employer. I do this
feeling pretty sure that the men sign blind.
But certain too, that they want the job, that they will pay gladly in
privacy for the right to work, to save, to see their loved ones again.

I have seen the future: these men are Australia.
We need them; our abbattoirs need workers, hired killers,
who’ll accept hardship and heat.

Let me know what you think

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