Jesse at Eighteen

The mother whom you are about to bring into being feels a pain in her belly. Your birth was due a couple of days ago but it doesn’t occur to the woman that she might be in labour. She phones her father, a doctor, soon to become a grandfather.

Dad, my tummy hurts. It’s been hurting all day. Could it be gastro?

Darling, you are pregnant. You have reached full term. Unless you have diarrhoea you’re probably in labour. Go to hospital.

The date is November 11, a date already doubly and indelibly significant for Australians. It’s the date you create a mother, a father, three grandparents, a great-grandmother, uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great-aunts. It’s the date you change our world.

All day you knock at life’s door. Day becomes night. In the Delivery Suite your mum-to-be squats and strains. In an adjacent waiting area, dimly lit, your yogi great-grandmother-designate squats and bears down, trying to birth you at a remove. The soon-to-be grandfather consults his wristwatch. This climactic second stage of labour has become prolonged. He knows a lengthy second stage imperils a baby. He sends a message to the obstetrician: Would you like an extra pair of hands in case the baby needs resuscitation?

The specialist says yes.

I enter and not long after, the door of life opens to you. You and I meet. You need no resuscitation. I hold you and I introduce you to the mother whom you have brought into being.

Thirty-six hours later I’m gazing at you, just a baby. You lie inside my pink cap. I’ve seen hundreds of babies, I’ve delivered hundreds, every one of them a miracle, every one of them scrutinised for irregularities by a clinical eye. You are no less imperfect than those hundreds. You are skinny, you look like an empty sock, your face isn’t quite symmetrical.

But some event or process, something visceral, something cosmic perhaps, is taking place and I am transmogrified: I am a grandfather; I love you. What is this joy? Your fingers curl and close around my finger and you grip me. 

On the eighth day of your life you rest on the lap of your great-grandfather, I remove some skin and bring you into a Covenant. A drop of wine pacifies you. Your tribe jubilates. We know our long back story. Behold you! We see you and we behold our futurity.

Years pass, your parents send you to this grandfather to learn rituals, traditional melodies, ancient texts. At thirteen you are barmitzvah. Once again your clan rejoices and this time you can share it. You sense the power, the force field of love that is your extended family, the depth of our feeling. Profoundly you know belonging.

Life takes you through ups and downs. At eleven you walk with me, up, down, up and again down, to a distant lighthouse. A boy who buries strong feelings, you struggle and you achieve. You declare, I love you Saba. Later you say, I’ll bring my kids on this walk. And you add, I love you Saba.

Six years later, life is still up and down. We do that same walk again. This time it is the boy who stops and waits, and allows an aging Saba to catch up. Your words are few but they have not changed. The miles, the steeps, the struggle weld us once again.

This week you sit your last school examination. Your schooldays are behind you. We behold you, the first of your generation. Eighteen years have passed, enriched and intensified by your being. Eighteen years ago you gripped me, never to let me go.

A River Flows Through

A river flows through my childhood. I dwelt in that particular suburb of heaven which is a country boyhood. When I was nine-and-a-half years of age I was kidnapped by my parents and brought to a city where I have sojourned for 65 years. Very quickly I learned to embrace my new home. Over time I have learned to forgive Melbourne for not being Leeton.
Every so seldom work calls me back to that riverine land. For the past three weeks I’ve been working in the blessed town of Cootamundra. Wide streets, unhurried citizens, verdant gardens, wide skies, a community without traffic lights, have nourished and refreshed me these three weeks. Road signs direct the motorist to nearby downs: this way to Tumut; close by is the drowned township of Talbingo; only two and a bit hours to Albury, where abides my oldest friend; down the road is Gundagai; turn right for Junee, railway junction to the entire state. Leeton (Leeton!) is not far; and down that road lies Wagga Wagga Wagga, so great they named it thrice.

The river flows through these parts. Its strong current could seize a body and drown it. It seizes me still and flings me backwards. Nostalgia is the practice of rejoicing in grief. It’s probably a malignant habit. But it reflects a truth, the truth of country, of homeland, a truth known to every territorial animal, including the human.

Sitting in my surgery I meet old farmers of a third or fourth generation on this land. Their attachment to country runs deeply, deep in struggle, deep in memory of drought and flood, in struggle to sustain family and to flourish. Their love runs deeper than mine, which is of the surface. Theirs is rooted in the earth. In Malaya they have a word for it:  bumi putra – sons of the soil.   

Wars have been fought here over territory. The professor of law who sits in my surgery tells me the local Wiradjuri fought the tribe that gave Canberra its name. The same professor declares, of course epidemics killed most Aboriginal people. The settlers spread them intentionally. They gave blankets to the indigenous, smearing them first with smallpox.Incredulous, I ask for proof.I can’t prove it. It’s part of Aboriginal narrative. Marcia Langton quotes it. Other historians too.


Drinking my morning coffee at Dusty Road Coffee Roasters I fall into conversation with a tall, pear-shaped woman of about fifty. She tells me she teaches in schools for the Red Cross.Do you teach the kids First Aid?No, cultural diversity. In particular, to accept and welcome migrants of all colours, from all places.Can you teach kids not to be racist?Yes, that’s not too hard. You can’t teach adults, though.I digest this for a while. The woman speaks again: Cootamundra Girls’ School was created to train stolen girls to be domestic servants. They were stealing girls as late as 1970. None of the girls came from this district. They were brought here as aliens. The old girls held a reunion here recently.The occasion brought together old friends, survivors together of loneliness, of seizure from country. On pain of physical punishment those girls were forbidden to speak in language. Coming together with old friends was somehow joyous.I ask our informant how long she’s lived in Cootamundra. This isn’t my country. My father’s people are Gunditjmara from near Warrnambool. My mother’s mother came from the Netherlands.The woman leaves us to go to her work, making non-racists.

The professor takes me to see the old girls’ school. It sits near the middle of town, a vast nondescript brick edifice on spacious grounds. Insignia on a placard inform us that a Cadet Corps uses the property. No sign of indigenous occupancy, no word or name to be seen , no-one would dream this is Wiradjuri country. The professor speaks: Many Indigenous people stay away from Cootamundra. Folk memory of this school is unbearable to them.I look around for signs of First People. Nothing here, nothing anywhere I’ve been these past seventeen days. I’ve run main roads and side roads, run to the cemetery, past the churches, past the handsome two-story buildings that house the banks, past the hospital, past the imposing old railway station, past the Council Chambers. I’ve lived across the street from the old Masonic TempIe. This is a town which honours its pioneer past. It honours the birthplace of Donald Bradman and preserves the little house that was his natal hospital. I haven’t noticed an Aboriginal Medical Centre, nor a Cultural Centre.

Until now I didn’t even notice the silence or the absence. So easy, so very easy, not to see, not to know, not to look or ask.

And this is Naidoc Week. 

The river that flows through my childhood flows also through the entire time of European settlement. Those times are the recent shallows. The river we all claim, the river that claims us flows through all time and song and dance and story.

Book launch invitation

dear all
this coming sunday evening i’ll be participating in a virtual book launch
i’m writing to inform you of the event and to invite you to attend
my invitation comes without a hint of obligation or expectation but with my commendation of a really worthy book that tells a remarkable story
i read it and i was moved
it speaks to us in times that challenge human decency and threaten our liberty
it’s story to remember
i found it inspiring
come along

Click HERE to register


sincerely

howard

On the eve of Rosh Hashana

A year has passed – what have we learned?

We had more than we needed

We could get by with less

We need things less than we believed; we need people more than we realised

Compassion

The reality of mental ill health, its ubiquity

A year has passed – what have we lost?

Money mainly;

time with loved ones;

the pleasures of socialising; leisurely time in coffee shops

Many  – too many – have lost jobs

Too many have lost loved ones

Almost all of us have had to borrow from our future

For boomers of my generation it’s the end of the free ride, it’s a long farewell to our plans for retirement

A year has passed – what have we gained?

A guilty sense of responsibility for a planet despoiled

Humility as we saw so many so much worse off

Appreciation of the good we had

Understanding without judgement

Neighbours – they were there all the time and we never knew them 

We know our loved ones better.

Desiderata – we have learned we can go slowly amid noise and haste 

Can we be better?

Dear Victoria

Dear Victoria,


They were normal people who stopped us about thirty kilometers along the Hume Highway. The soldier wore a mask. The police officers wore masks and guns and bullet-proof jackets. All was customary. The soldier said it was a lovely day.

It was. The sun shone, spring sprang. The soldier asked, where are you going?

Wodonga.

Why?

We’re going to Sydney.

Why?

We told him about the sickness and the surgeries and the complications and the pains and the parents and their children that needed our help. The soldier said he was sorry.

There was a pause.

My eyes stung a bit with his kindness. He said you wouldn’t have a Permit, would you?

We did. We showed him. The soldier said, go carefully. Go well.

In Wodonga the motel people were just the same, all masked. The familiar unfamiliarity was almost comforting.

Up early, still under curfew, we waited until 5.00 am before driving to the checkpoint at the border. More masks and guns and body armour, a roadblock, a fast car at the ready in case we made a break for it. All normal, familiar from the black and white war movie that is our life. We showed our papers. The officers – mine a female, Annette’s a male – photographed the barcode that isn’t a barcode but a blob, and told us to drive carefully.

So, Dear Victoria, we’ve been in New South Wales for twenty-four hours now. We had wondered how the people would be. We wondered how they’d react to our Victorian registration plates. Apart from the angry mob we encountered in Bathurst, people didn’t seem to mind. It turned out the Bathurst bunch were protesting about koalas. Some ratbag had suggested koalas be protected! We felt unsafe: they come for the koala today, tomorrow it can be the Victorian.We got out of there in a hurry. 

At petrol stations we saw humans closer up. We could tell there was something different about them. What was it?  Eventually it came to us: Noses! People here have noses. We remembered other people’s noses. We remembered the days when it was not only the persons in your household and persons in Renaissance paintings who had them. We remembered; four-year old Sadie probably would, but Marnie, aged only half a year would not. The old people who drop off food at her front door and wave at her, the old couple supposed to be her grandparents, are normal beings, noseless and masked.

While in quarantine here in the mountains, Annette and I will occupy ourselves with an online self-help book. We need to refresh old skills in preparation for grandparenting. The book is Cuddles, Hugs, Kisses: a Manual for Grandparents.

Memorial Concert

I was the second in a bunch of four kids. Including parents we were a family of six. That was then.

In 2003, Dad died; a few years later our eldest brother died, three years after him, Mum died. Now we are three. The anniversary of Dad’s death fell this week. I wrote to the other two survivors:


sister, brother

I wish us all many more years of vigorous good health

It has been an empty yahrzeit* no ceremony, no minyan** to respond to my kaddish*** just a candle burning and reciting the bedtime shema and recalling how Dad taught us and translated, the words echoing his love of the text, his love of the tradition, and his love of us, to whom he was passing it all on and reciting the psalm: ”yea even though my father and my father have forsaken me…”
I thought of Dad at intervals through the day, but I didn’t build my day around acknowledging him

He was phenomenal – a brave man who made himself strong despite inner infirmity a man who inspired, a man to remember

we were blessed

love howard

Sister and brother wrote back, with their rememberings. Cousins wrote, and friends. It all felt mellow, a species of happy. There was a pleasure in remembering and in sharing memory.
I found myself wandering around, singing a song I hadn’t sung or heard for perhaps forty years. I heard myself singing: he sipped no sup and he craved no crumb…

This was one of the many songs that Dad, a singing man, especially liked.
When I realised what I was doing, I tried to recall one of Mum’s songs. Although Mum was a blithe old girl, she seldom sang. But a memory came of one song she did sing to me when I was very young. I remember her contorting her face as she sang, glee and hilarity bursting from her in self-parody, flinging the words from her with abandon:
cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild wine they’ll drive you crazy, they’ll drive you insane…

I decided to record myself singing my parents’ songs. You can hear their memorial concert by pressing play below.

*anniversary**a congregation***a memorial prayer, recited only in congregational worship

Fellow Australian Citizens

My Fellow Australian Citizen dismounts from his bicycle at the intersection. Here, where the bike lane ends, trams, cars and pedestrians converge. Some turn at this intersection, others race through at speed. It’s a tricky crossing, the roadway here unsafe for a cyclist.

My fellow Australian Citizen wheels his bike carefully along the footpath. He finds himself following close behind a Fellow Australian Citizen (FAC) who. oblivious of man and bicycle, is engrossed in her phone conversation. FAC, male, decides to alert her to his presence: Pardon me, he says. FAC, female, looks up, sees her fellow citizen, looks angry.FAC, male, feels he’s interrupted the other’s conversation. He apologises: Excuse me, he says, I am sorry. FAC, female, speaks. He thinks he hears, You don’t belong here.

Does she mean, you and your cycle don’t belong on the footpath? Pardon me? – he asks.

YOU. DON’T. BELONG. HERE.
FAC, male, is no longer in doubt.
I ask FAC, male, How did you feel, once you understood her meaning?Water off a duck’s back. I tell FAC, male, I feel sick. Sick and sad. Like I did when they decided Adam Goodes didn’t belong. FAC, male, explains: Sticks and stones. Back in Rwanda one half of our population decided the other half didn’t belong. They equipped themselves with machetes. I survived and I ran. My family went into hiding. To this day they hide in a safe house. They’re still after me. I ran to Australia and Australia gave me asylum. I stayed, I worked, I studied. I graduated and I became a citizen.
A hopeful thought: I ask, What did she look like, your Fellow Australian Citizen? Ordinary. Nothing remarkable. I persist: Describe her for me.FAC, male, is puzzled: She looked like anyone else: mid-forties, perhaps. Light brown hair, slim, medium height. (What I want to know, what I’m hoping to hear, is she’s Aboriginal. If she were indigenous she’d be within her rights. Rude perhaps, but within her rights, certainly.) I mean what was her race?Oh. She was caucasian.


Fellow Australian Citizens have rallied in their thousands, in their tens of thousands, in a time of danger, risking greatly, searching, trying to find a way of showing how black lives matter in this country too.In this country citizens are feeling conscious that we might not belong here, not by ancient right. We arrived here in the last century, or two or three. We are new here.We lack the legitimacy of antiquity.
The First Australians might reasonably challenge us. They might say, you don’t belong here. But they don’t say that. Instead they say, let’s share country.
I’ve heard them, I’ve heard it everywhere that I’ve travelled to work – in the Pilbara, in the Kimberley, in the Ngaaanyatjarrah lands, in the Adnymathanha lands, in my home country of the Wiradjuri, in Bigambul country, in the country of the Darug, the Yamaji, the Arrernte, the Warlpiri, the Bininj, the Nangiomeri, Marimandinji, Marithiel, Maringar, Mulluk Mulluk.
These dark times are also times of hope. Times of searching of a nation’s soul.But at that crossing, at that intersection where Fellow Australian Citizens meet, hope slackens. Fear, feeding on a deep ignorance of the nature of an immigrant nation, flickers into hate. Elsewhere in this country, fear flickers into hate against Chinese Australians. And there’s always the Jews to hate too.

Curfew Tales: The Story of Mister Jones Chapter IV

Winter in Melbourne. The sun observes the curfew longer than we humans do. It stays in bed and rises late if it rises at all. Today the sun sleeps in. The wind blows, the rain falls and two figures run through the dark and the wet, down to the wet and dark of the Bay. As we run, Toby sings his morning song:

Nice and freezing

Nice and freezing 

Nice and freezing

He sings these lyrics to the initial bars of ‘Shortening Bread’.

Toby sings the lyrics with the sincerity of one who is underdressed for the weather. It falls to me to state the obvious: ‘It’s raining, Toby.’

‘Nice and freezing

Nice and freez…

The rain reminds me: ‘In Papua it rains every day, Toby. I hope Mr Jones is keeping dry. I hope he’s well… I hope he’s alive.’

‘Saba, that newspaper report from Leeton about Mr Jones’ daughter Amelia Bodelia – do you think it’s true? I mean can a person’s heart really burst with love? Can they die of it?’

‘Toby, doctors now know that grief or shock can kill. There are cases where a person who never had heart disease before received sad news then suffered a heart attack and died. Maybe something like that killed Amelia B.’

‘Saba, when Amelia Nee died, our chances of contacting Noel Henry Jones died with her.’ 

‘I’ve been hoping that newspaper message was mistake, hoping she might be moribund, or just stunned. I’ve been checking my emails. Nothing. Poor Ameila must be really truly dead.

Toby speeds up and leaves me behind. For a while he runs alone. It’s hard to tell in the rain and the dark, but I think I heard tears in Toby’s voice when he said our chances died with her. After a while Toby slows down and allows me to catch up. Together we shiver home companionably. Once inside I find myself at the computer. Where is Mister Jones? How will I find him? I open my emails. There’s lots of SPAM but there is no information.

The snail mail arrives. Lots of letters, addressed to me by machines. Toby envies me for the many letters I receive daily: ‘In a whole year I hardly get any. What’s that letter you’re reading Saba?’

‘The lost dogs’ home wants a donation, Toby.’

‘Saba, if the dogs are lost, the home doesn’t need donations!’

‘Good point, Toby.’

There’s a letter advertising pizza and a flyer for a new gym.

The next letter is the Gas Bill.

‘Saba, can I open one and read it to you?’

‘OK, Toby. Golly, what do you think of my gas bill, Toby?’

Toby does not reply. He’s engrossed in a letter. I glance at the envelope, addressed not by a machine but by a human with shaky handwriting. The address reads:

dR hOWARD jONATHAN gOLDENBERG

formerly of Leeton

now in Melbourne

The handwriting is really hard to read, but there’s something familiar about the ink. My memory stirs. Long ago, when I was just a kid, younger than Toby, I once used a pen with ink like that. I’m pretty sure I know that ink. I do recognise it. It’s Parker Pen ink. 

I look at the back of the envelope. I read: Sender’s Address: MANUS ISLAND. Isn’t that in Papua New Guinea? What does all this mean – familiar ink, familiar address?

Meanwhile Toby holds the scrap of paper in the air, he’s squinting, concentrating hard, his forehead wrinkly as a dartos muscle in winter. He mutters, ‘I can hardly read any of this writing, just a few words: Leeton, carrot…Amelia.

Saba! – he exclaims.

I hand the envelope to Toby and he passes me the letter. We speak simultaneously: look at that! I hold the scrap of notepaper and I read.

At that same moment I recalled the true owner of the Parker pen. I jump to my feet and shout, Toby!

‘Toby, we’ve found him. ‘He found us actually. But I don’t think we’ll ever see him. He says all his cannibal tribesmen have died.’ 

‘How come, Saba?’

‘Old age, perhaps. Maybe COVID 19.’

‘Saba, I saw on the National Geographic Channel there’s an etiquette among cannibals. At times of famine – that means there’s no humans to eat – the elders offer themselves to be eaten by the youngers. Until there are only two left.’

‘Well, Toby, Mister Jones wrote he thinks he’ll die soon.’

Toby grabs the letter and peers at it hard. He shakes his head. ‘I can’t read this spidery writing, Saba. Mister Jones can’t die! We have to contact him.’

‘Toby, darling. Everyone dies. Old people understand they can die at any time. Old people reach an age when they know they have lived their life and their time is near to leave it. Often the person who dies is not sad; as death comes closer it’s the people who love the old person who feel frightened. And afterwards they feel sadness and emptiness.’

‘But Saba, not Mister Jones. Not yet. What about grace?’

The boy throws his arms around me and holds me hard. Who is he comforting – me, or himself?

‘Toby, you’ve put your finger on my question. Grace is my problem, not Mr Jones’. He’s at peace. I’m the one with unfinished business. Somehow Noel Henry Jones, that kind and gentle man, seems to remember me kindly. He says he had a daughter, Amelia Bodelia; he never had a boy, but I was like a son! He doesn’t even mention my pen pinching. I don’t know whether he ever forgave that. And now I’m afraid I’ll never know.’

Time passes. COVID crowds our days, curfew squeezes our nights, danger lurks, darkness reigns. In my dreams I walk from Number 10 Wade Avenue in Leeton, past the Fire Brigade, past the Library, past Major Dooley Park. My legs take me around a corner and there, before me is Leeton Public Primary School. Night after night the streets of Leeton open before me, I walk towards the school but before I arrive, I awaken. The school is there, waiting. Time after time Mr Jones’ classroom stands open before me, but I never enter.

Weeks later, the sun appears. One morning Toby and I return in sunlight from an early morning run. I open my emails, hoping for news. Nothing. Just a message from Australia Post to expect some delivery. Probably the masks that I ordered.

A knock at the door. Toby answers and brings in a very small package, too small for the masks we’re waiting for. I’m curious. Toby says he wants to open the package. I let him. This is what we see:

I take the pen in my hand. Through tears I read the words engraved there: Noel Henry Jones.

Curfew Tales: The Story of Mister Jones Chapter 111

“Toby, as you can imagine, I was flabbergasted. Mr Jones, my gentle teacher, now extremely aged, is on the run from the world’s mighty police forces, somewhere in the mountains and jungles of Papua New Guinea. What’s more, he’s a vegan among cannibals. What’s to stop a hungry cannibal from cooking up a Jones Stew, and eating him? I wasn’t only flabbergasted, I was thunderstruck. And a strange thought occurred to me: my teacher had become an outlaw. Obviously as a vegan he’d never eaten anybody, but here he was, on the run from the Law! I recalled how he never punished me when I was an outlaw in his class; I had been a graffiti artist, a thief, a pornographer. Perhaps Mister Jones always had a soft spot for law breakers!

“Toby, I’m worried about Noel Henry Jones. He must be getting very thin and very hungry. He’s really old. I’m scared he might die. Even though I left his class in 1955, I’m feeling guilty still. In fact, the longer the delay the guiltier I feel. And we don’t know how to contact him. Even his daughter can’t contact him. But somehow Amelia Bodelia Wyckehurst, nee Jones, doesn’t seem worried. I wonder why.  I think I’ll write to her again.

Dear Amelia Bodelia,
I’m sorry to trouble you when you might be feeling troubled enough already. But I have the feeling you are confident your Dad’s OK. I’m not his daughter or anything, but I’m worried sick. Would you mind sharing your secret with me? Thank you,
Howard Jonathan Goldenberg

former Fourth Class boy

Leeton Public School

Dear Former Boy, Howard,
Thank you for asking. Yes, it is a worrying situation: my father might be unwell or hungry or injured. He’s almost certainly frightened of being captured. But you are quite right, I am confident he hasn’t died. He promised me he wouldn’t die without telling me. And Father never breaks a promise. If he lets me know, I’ll let you know.
Good wishes
A M W, nee J

“What do you think, Toby? Do you feel we can rely on Mister Jones keeping such a strange promise? I mean who can tell anyone they’ve died? It seems like a joke but Amelia Bodelia seemed to be quite serious.” “Saba, maybe the daughter is not mentally well. Or maybe Mister Noel Henry Jones is not mentally well. I happen to know of the dangers to the brain of a vegan diet. Would you like me to explain how the brain can be injured by not eating animal products?”
“Yes, Toby, I would.”
“Saba, meat contains Vitamin B12. If your body never gets meat or any animal product, there can be a deficiency of that vitamin and the brain and the nervous system can decay. Unless you receive Vitamin B1 by injections or in some other way you can actually develop a paranoid illness. You might believe you can tell your daughter you are dead. It’s called psychosis.”
“Golly, Toby, that sounds dangerous. I’ll write straightaway to Amelia.

A B W nee Jones
Dear daughter of Prince Noel of Papua,

Not wanting to be rude or anything, but how can your Dad and you be so confident he’ll contact you before he dies? I mean what if he gets shot or something? How would he let you know?
I’m really worried.
Howard Goldenberg P.S. if your Dad is a prince, does that make you a princess?

Dr H J Goldenberg,
Nope, I’m not a princess. And Dad is not mad due to B12 deficiency, if that’s what you’re getting at. No, my father made a solemn vow a long, long time ago, when he was initiated into the Wiradjuri tribe before he married my mother. Lying beneath a gum tree, on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River, father gritted his teeth while he said goodbye to his foreskin. He had no anaesthetics or pain killers. He lay there and he didn’t call out, he didn’t moan, he didn’t even whimper. He promised he’d always keep his word. He vowed he would never tell a lie. He promised he’d never break a promise. He took an oath he’d fulfill all his oaths.

I never knew about this, until father’s 99th birthday. He said, ‘Amelia Bodelia, my dear, I’m going away. I’m going to Papua New Guinea. I’ve got a job in the jungle. ”I asked my father about the job. He said a remote tribe had advertised for a prince. They said in the ad the previous prince was ‘not to their taste.’ So Father applied and was appointed. I asked him what he knew about the tribe.
He said they were headhunters, the last active headhunters on earth. I said, “Dad, it’s unsafe. They eat people. They’ll eat you.” He said he’d ask them not to. He kissed me goodbye and went to walk out the door. I started to cry. I said, “I’ll never see you again.” He turned back and he said, “Yes you will, Amelia Bodelia my darling. I promise you. “And he looked at me seriously, and he bulged his eyes as he said, “I promise.” And I started to feel a bit better. He wiped my eyes and he said quietly, “Here and now, I swear an oath. This is my oath to you Amelia: I, Noel Henry Jones, swear to you that at the moment my life is about to end, I will appear at your side; and with my very last breath, I will say to you, ”’Amelia Bodelia, I love you. I die. Goodbye.” ‘My father picked up the string bag that held his worldly goods – his toothbrush, his pare pair of undies, a leather-bound copy of The Constitution of the Leeton Lawn Bowls Club, and some cinnamon-flavoured chewing gum – and he walked through the door. I’ve never seen him since. But I know I will see him again. He promised.

Yours sincerely
Amelia Once-was-Jones not a princess, but the daughter of a noble soul.

‘Toby, what do you think about Amelia’s reply? Do you think her Dad is mad? Do you think Amelia is mad to believe his promise to her? Do you believe the promise of Noel Henry Jones?

‘Saba, I believe in truthfulness. I believe Mr Jones. I believe your old teacher is still alive.’

Oh, Toby, I hope you’re not mistaken. I want to contact him and make things right.
‘I posted one last post on my blog: Desperately seeking contact with Noel Henry Jones, Papuan prince, outlaw, cannibal and vegan. Please respond to this blog.

Toby, I posted that 49 days ago. I’ve posted that every week since. Seven posts – and nothing.
And then I read in the Leeton newspaper, The Murrumbidgee Irritator, the following announcement:

LEETON LAWN BOWLS CLUB

It is with deep regret we announce the passing of Amelia Bodelia Wyckehust, nee Jones, daughter of our former president and present Patron and Life Governor, Noel Henry Jones. Amelia died on her father’s one-hundredth birthday, her heart full of love for her father, who is engaged in royal duties abroad. Her love was too great for her heart to hold and it burst into two.

Toby, my own heart felt it would burst too.’

Curfew Tales: The Story of Mister Jones Chapter II

Toby and I run again. Toby asks, ‘Any luck finding your old teacher, Saba? ”Well, Toby, yes and no.’ “Don’t be exasperating, Saba, yes or no?’ “Both, darling. And yes, it could be exasperating, but actually I’m feeling excited. Let me explain: I posted the story of Mister Jones on my blog and I added this request at the end: Anyone with any knowledge is asked to please respond in this blog, or by email to doffanpaz@gmail.com Well, my blog came up with nothing. But I received the following email: dEAR dR hOWARD jONATHAN gOLDENBERG,
i HAVE INFORMATION
SIGNED
aMELIA bODELIA wYCKEHURST (nEE jONES)
When I read this, Toby, I really felt excited. When I read the names Amelia Bodelia, I thought, YES! But then I read her family name, Wyckehurst. I never knew any Wyckehursts. This lady must be a fraud or an unrelated person simply making an innocent mistake. But then I read, ”nEE jONES “. Nee, after a name means, ‘I wasn’t born with my present name. ‘In this case it would mean, ‘I wasn’t born Wyckehurst; I married a person named Wyckehurst and I took that person’s family name. The name I was born with was Jones. ‘So here was a person who must be the daughter of my Mister Jones, who was born on the day I became a Parker pen pincher. She must be 65 years old, Toby.

I wrote an email to Amelia Bodelia Nee. I wrote, Dear Ms Nee, Are you the daughter of Noel Henry Jones?Were you born in Leeton in March 1955?
She wrote back: Yes. No.

More exasperance, Toby. I wrote, Well, if Noel Henry Jones was your father, where and when were you born? If you don’t mind me asking. (I put in that last bit, Toby, because some people do mind, especially ladies.)

Dear former student of my Dad, Born March 1955. In Yanco, 5 miles from Leeton, under a gum tree, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. Same tree where my Mum was born. Traditional birthing place for us Wiradjuri women. (The Murrumbidgee is a great river, Toby. The Wiradjuri are the traditional owners of all the Leeton district and the country far beyond.)

So, Toby, that explains why the Leeton Hospital had no record of the birth of Amelia Bodelia, born Jones, before she became a Wyckehurst.

I wrote, Dear Amelia Bodelia Nee, Please tell me, is your honoured father still with us?
She replied, Sadly, no.

Toby, I felt a thump in my chest, as if something heavy had landed inside my body. I wrote again, with my eyes stinging:

Dear Ms Nee, I am so sorry. You must be heartbroken. When did your father pass away?

Amelia Bodelia wrote back: Dad’s not dead.

Confused, I wrote: But, Ms A B Nee, you said he was no longer with us. I am happy he is alive. But I don’t understand.

Amelia Bodelia wrote: Dad is completely alive, he’s just not with us. He’s in Papua New Guinea. He’s a prince in Papua. He’s the prince of a Papuan tribe.

Toby, I was pretty happy to read this. Now I could get in touch with my old teacher and start to be gracious. I wrote: Dear Amelia Bodelia Wyckehurst, Nee Jones, Would you kindly send me your father’s address?I am seventy-four years old and, with the time still left to me, I wish to seek grace.

I sat by my computer and waited and watched the screen in nervous excitement. Before too long this letter arrived: Dear Howard Jonathan Goldenberg, I’d like to but I can’t. Father’s tribe is the last tribe of true cannibals on earth. Every police force on earth, as well as the Papua New Guinea Army, is hunting them. The New Guinea Air Force hunts them from the air. No-one knows where they are. The Papuan police, the Australian Federal Police, Interpol, the CIA, Mossad, the KGB – no one can find the cannibals. They are off the grid. They don’t use computers, they don’t have Internet. No-one can trace them. I can’t trace them either. Sorry. A B W (Nee J)
ps, who is grace?

Toby, i couldn’t give up. I decided to write one more time:
Dear Daughter Jones, How could your gentle father possibly be a cannibal?
He was so kind. Yours, deeply confused and quite distressed, HJG
My screen lit up immediately: Dear HJGI never said father was a cannibal. He is a vegan. ABW Nee J

I wrote: Dear Vegan’s Child, Golly. How extremely confusing: how can an Australian man be the Prince of a cannibal Papuan tribe and still be a vegan? Not doubting you or anything. Howard.

The vegan’s child replied: Dad IS a vegan cannibal: he eats only vegetarians. And there are no vegetarians in Papua New Guinea. Amelia Bodelia Wyckehurst, Nee Jones.