Naomi Alexander (University of New England, Australia)
‘You need to put them back,’ I said to her.
‘What, no. You, my friend, are being ridiculous. No one will mind, I take them back to Switzerland.’
‘No, Liselotte, you will be stopped at the airport.’ I held up the bag she had just thrusted enthusiastically into my hands. ‘These are illegal. It’s not right what you’ve done; the police will be called.’
Liselotte came over to me and clutched my face with her manicured fingers. ‘My gloomy girl, you worry too much. Worry will make you ugly,’ she said, as she stared into my eyes, then pinched my cheeks. She pointed to the bag.
‘These are just a little souvenir of my trip. Oh, you will see, I will smile at the officer and wink, flirt a little, show some bosom. He will let me keep them.’
Liselotte’s son had interviewed me for the job three months earlier, just before he returned to Switzerland for business. ‘My mother, um, how shall I put it…she needs help, um, with English, of course. Her speech rhythms, pronunciations, are not perfect. Translations can be difficult for her. You seem a bit mousy, a little quiet. Are you able to be firm with your students; state the case for the right thing to be done, yes?’
He then showed me a photograph of his mother, Liselotte, a seventy-something German Swiss woman with white hair swept up in a roll off her face, her starched shirt collar flipped high enough to touch her cheekbones and her shirt buttons undone low enough to catch a glimpse of her leopard print, push-up bra.
For the past three months I had been Liselotte’s ‘young friend’. We slept and ate at the best hotels and toured Australia in plush coaches, seeing crocodiles up close in Kakadu National Park and drinking wine as we watched the sunset over Uluru. We had just finished our Cairns adventure, a five-star safari through the Daintree rainforest followed by a cruise on the Great Barrier Reef.
Feeling tremendously seasick on the cruise, I had reluctantly left Liselotte unescorted that morning.
‘You are a mess,’ she’d said. ‘Here is some money, hire a helicopter, get off this ship and go back to the hotel.’ Liselotte insisted. ‘I’m going to enjoy a snorkel with the fishes.’
Now, later on that day, our stand-off was reaching its end.
‘You girl, are twenty-four and already old and boring. We have a saying in Switzerland, you are like a Bünzli, yes, what you call…a sticks in the mud, rules this, rules that, just like my son,’ she pouted and turned away from me.
I sighed. We had little time to return all the sea animals and coral back to their saltwater habitat before our plane departed Cairns. I grabbed the bag, sprinted out the hotel room door and headed down towards the ocean shore.
Crouching on water’s edge, I emptied out the bag of ill-gotten creatures and inspected their state of health. It was difficult to tell whether the coral had perished or were still among the living. They had no face, no voice and no backbone. I let the waves reclaim them and watched them swept out to sea. I could hear Liselotte calling after me from the hotel balcony. Determined, I stood up, turned and started sprinting along the beach in the opposite direction. I needed to find my own way home.
Naomi Alexander has fifteen years of experience working in communications and training. She holds a BA (media studies) / Business (communication) from the Queensland University of Technology and a MA from Griffith University. She is currently completing an MPhil at the University of New England. Her MPhil thesis is entitled: Fragments of thought and imagination: A creative practice-led inquiry into the life, spiritual practices, and occult literature of Victorian era author Mabel Collins.