Richard Neville and Julie Clarke’s book “The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj” gripped us decades ago – hard to believe he still remains awaiting trial in a Nepalese prison for passport forgery, with the prosecution stalling for lack of the old case file.
Earlier this month, the prosecution hedged the trial, saying they had not received the case file from the attorney-general’s office.
The trial that Sobhraj’s lawyers are eager to rush through and the state is stalling is over the crime charge Nepal police used in 2003 to arrest Sobhraj from a casino in the capital.
Police say he came to Nepal in 1975, using the passport of a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintanja. Sobhraj has rejected the claim, saying he never came to Nepal before 2003, when he used a bonafide passport issued to him by the French embassy in Paris.
The fake passport case became important when the police further charged Sobhraj with the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.
Leaves from the past swirl about my shattered country
Phoenician glass cuts deep
within the wall to end all walls
My heart is occupied with grief of ages
Living when there is no hope
too hard to bear
the purple calling in my body is despair
my womanhood, logic and future denied
Oppressor and oppressed bound
and bloodied by hate
Like a beautiful, fragile teaset, the elegant device she’d made lay upon the table. Amirah scooped it up peremptorily, for it was deceptively sturdy, fastening the webbed belt about her body beneath her loose cotton blouse.
Plenty of time. Into her pocket she placed her folded poem, hoping to finish it on the bus during the interminable hot, angry checkpoint waits. The guards knew her well, they would smile lewdly at her and joke about her flashing dark eyes.
‘Amirah, princess of the territories, give us a kiss’, they would laugh, swaggering with their Utzis.
At first she ignored them, yet later, as her plan evolved, she would smile shyly in return, to build their trust. After months, they would not search her, even when all others were pried and poked when the enemy rampaged in revenge.
For three years following her degree’s completion, she had settled for a menial maid’s job in Tel Aviv, studying for her PhD in physics at night and weekends, her ticket to freedom – perhaps even to America. Then her mistress’s husband began to seek her out. One afternoon while the mistress was out with her rich, gossiping socialite friends, he had forced her to the bed and taken her. She had to trash the sheets and endure a scolding after she told her mistress she had burnt them whilst ironing.
And then, her uncle was captured, implicated in a tunnel building project to smuggle in food and medicine to the sanctioned, beleaguered city. The enemy had arrived at her parents’ home and bulldozed it whilst she scrubbed the enemy’s pots in the pretty modern villa by the glistening sea. Gone were her thesis notes and her computer, buried in the pitiful rubble of their lives. Her wise grandmother was nearly killed by the cruel, inexorable blades, hounded and taunted by the soldiers as she fled, hobbling down the street. The oppressors had everything except peace. Amirah wondered if they had ever really wanted it.
At university, Amirah had spoken against violence.
‘We are bound by violence, we are chained by it to them and we must break the cycle,’ she argued. ‘Resistance is legitimate under international law, yet violence will not work. They use it against us. Don’t you see?’
She had not despaired, although her brother still walked with crutches from the blows he received from the enemy when five years old. A stone he’d thrown at a tank missed and hit a soldier. With an education, she would be able to pay for him to walk again.
Nearly everyone had lost a relative, or knew of a house that had been crushed, sometimes with people still inside. The collective punishment was a brutal, never-ending scourge. What else was there to do but fight, to wear the enemy down with a despairing reaction to the oppression, to never let them know security whilst they denied it to others. Responsibility was never taken by the powerful and the weak were blamed for objecting to their punishment, justifying more delays for peace settlements, more land thievery for more enemy settlements and their hideous ghetto wall.
Amirah did not know whether the wall was to keep the horror in, or to keep it out. After her parents’ house was demolished and her future along with it, she too saw horror everywhere.
Amirah left her flat and caught the bus. The guards winked at her at the checkpoint.
‘How are your studies, Amirah?’ ‘When are you going to America, Amirah?’
Amirah smiled at them, her tears held captive by resolve. Today at the final checkpoint, it was a short wait, a miracle.
The ancient bus lurched its winding way to the leafy, well-to-do suburb by the sea. She walked to the plaza and sat on a bench. Amirah pretended to examine something in her satchel as she set the timer.
Within, she could feel the enemy’s baby move, and she gasped. From her pocket, she took the half-finished poem, scrutinising it carefully before screwing it into a ball and tossing it behind the bench. Tears threatened to erupt, and Amirah clenched her fists. Not long to wait now.
‘You dropped something’, a kindly voice spoke in the enemy’s guttural tongue.
‘It’s nothing,’ she replied, ;just a poem’.
‘May I read it?’ The interloper was a young pregnant woman in her late twenties or early thirties, with a guitar strung across one shoulder. She flattened the sheet and began to read.
‘It isn’t finished’.
‘I know,’ said Amirah. ‘I can’t think of an ending. It makes me too sad.’
‘It is very good, perhaps we can finish it together?’
‘But you are the enemy,’ Amirah whispered. Two minutes and there would be no more broken promises, no more fear and hurt.
‘I’m Danish, here to study archaeology.’ The woman smiled.
Amirah looked at her, saw unexpected warm eyes and her heart leapt.
Then she thought of her unfinished poem and in a blazing torrent, unannounced, the final words came.
Even in the silence of the desert
my soul knows no peace
it must walk this land forever,
free, yet within your reach
where you are not my enemy
and revenge is washed away
(Disclaimer: Any resemblance to any person live or dead is probably deliberate.)
Let’s face it, we moved north because, despite the excruciating lack of Culture with a capital C, it was cheaper to live in the sunshine without those crippling heating bills and astronomical inner city rents. Jim was offered a better job and the kids loved going to the beach more often than once a year when we stayed with grandma at Bondi.
Pretty soon we put a deposit on an attractive house and land package at Bribie Island and settled into coastal suburban mortaged bliss. Then one day our average aussie lifestyle lost the plot. As we careened into the unknown, we had no idea that things would get so out of hand.
I’d always been a dreamer, and my friends, who I could count on one hand, thought I was weird … she’s the odd one who reads books and mutters to herself, I heard them saying.
So I didn’t tell them about my dreams, which unlike theirs, about which they chattered drearily, weren’t about new washing machines, trendy clothes and toffee nose private schools for the kids.
When Jim brusquely informed me he would be working weekends from now on, I asked him how the hell he’d bargained away his time with the children.
‘It was go for an individual AWA or retrenchment. They didn’t so much as say it but everyone knew what they meant. If I don’t cop it sweet, I’ll lose my job for sure. But the pay is better’. He winced and glanced at me hopefully.
The company needed that production line running full tilt all weekend or its economic viability would be threatened by overseas competitors – like China, India, Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea and all the other sweatshop nations. I couldn’t understand it, those mind-bogglingly expensive TV ads the government ran for months on good old Aunty ABC said it was against the law for employers to sack their workers for objecting to AWAs so I belaboured Jim till my jaw hurt.
What the hell was he thinking? To help pay the mortgage, I worked three days a week part-time while Billy and Megan were at the local state school. So why did we want any more money? I nearly hit the roof when I worked out after tax we’d end up with only $10 more a week under the new weekend work arrangements.
And I’d be lumbered with parental duties seven days a week.
Jim wouldn’t change his mind. I reckon he’d lost that ability years ago after he was offered and accepted a supervisory role on the factory floor. Yet this was the guy who’d gone out on strike a couple of years before to protect all the shift workers’ holiday pay.
After a few months, our marriage teetered, wobbled and then fell off the brink. Jim took to going to the pub after work. Some drink to remember, some drink to obliterate.
Jim was the latter. I had to do something. I took to the internet and found other mums, wrote long nasty diatribes on blogs, newsgroups, chatrooms and guestbooks to vent my fury. The kids would come home from school and find me tapping away, tapping away. I wrote letters to the editor, the federal member, the state member, senators, the ombudsman, anyone I thought might annoy the unfeeling ghouls I felt were responsible for my family’s predicament.
One evening when he finally reeled in, Jim told me about his affair with the slim blonde in the next workshop. I remembered what my mum had said. Don’t have kids unless you can support them yourself, without a man.’ I’d made my bed and would have to lie in it, with all four tons of bullshit.
So after the kids were in bed, there I’d be, writing stories about my life, imaginary lives, escapist tales of passion and adventure, with slim brunettes, redheads AND blondes, swept off their tiny feet by handsome mysterious rich men. A chance meeting with a woman who had a publisher mate turned up trumps. When my first book was accepted, I celebrated alone. After my fifth book won a major prize, people started to take notice of me, the pissed off single suburban mum from Bribie Island.
Billy and Megan were installed in a ‘good’ private school while I revelled in sumptous book tours arranged and paid for by my publishers.
With my do-it-yourself personal success guide I hit the mother lode and was presented with a top Queensland Rotary award for my contribution to Australian small business by none other than the Prime Minister’s wife.
I’m not surprised she ignored me afterwards. In my caustic speech I thanked her little Johnny and his frantic feudalisations for my success.
As I chuckled with snide, self-congratulatory glee at my hard won awards and comforts, I felt a rough hand shake my shoulder.
‘Wake up Amanda, wake up!’
‘Jim, Jim …. I’m making enough for all of us now,’ I mumbled, then froze.
Heavens to betsy, it was Costello.
‘Get on the floor and present your speech supporting the IR bill before the Speaker notices your daydreaming! The opposition are already sniggering,’ he hissed. He looked like death warmed up after a week in a septic trench, all slime and pudge.
‘Huh …guh… ughh’, I spluttered. Cunningly I feigned correction of a few stray stiff tendrils bristling out of the steel net that was my perm, or rather, I should say, my wig. My habits of late catching up with me, I was too over-enthusiastic in my cover-up … and horrors, it fell off! Was this the real dream?
‘The members will resume their seats!’ the speaker snarled at the left bench who it now seemed, were guffawing helplessly at none other than me. This was better than Fraser dropping his dacks.
Why had things gone so wrong?
‘The Pacific solution has been an outstanding success …. ‘
‘Wrong speech, you silly fat cow’, a backbencher cackled. I girded up my considerable, intimidating loins and lambasted onwards.
‘Urr, while Labor pretends to be the party of the workers, the unemployed and the poor, it’s time for a reality check.’ Yes, that was the speech. The poor, desperate sods on the left were already settling back into their crosswords.
‘But you can look at the real things that affect real people. Can they afford their mortgage? Can their kids get a job? Now we don’t believe in sound economic management just to please some ideologies or to please academics or commentators, we believe in it because of the real difference it makes to real people.’
Horror of horrors, the ague has struck. The mind wanders, the brow heats, the chest heaves, the throat drowns in nasty chunky phlegm and what is left of the voice curses the miserable infant nephew who transmitted his filthy lurgy. Fringe saw him touch the bloody pizza, and had no more after that, so the vile invaders must have projected surreptitiously through the air to her unsuspecting nostrils.
It’s not often Fringe is sick enough to actually take to her bed, and this is one such occasion. Husband is solicitous, makes lots of cups of lemon tea, soup, brings cough medicine, pounds one’s back and sympathises delightfully. The little toady nephew and his doting father will pay for this! The damages will increase exponentially for every extra day Fringe is laid up.
Taking to one’s bed does NOT stop clients’ phone calls or emails, which if anything increase in volume and completely unrealistic demands. It makes recovery unwanted as work will be annoying dense. Neither does one, like in a cushy paid job, receive compo or sickness benefits. Grrrrrrrr.
As some sort of mitigating compensation, Fringe has learnt that one of her stories has been published in the March 07 Skive Magazine Quarterly. More cred stashed into the literary saddle bag. In celebration, the next post will be another story from last year by Fringe, featuring the now demoted Amanda.