Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 22

The Secondary Schools Wrestling Competition was held in the ballroom of a large hotel, one street back from the beach-front and one block from the Ethnic Bazaar, where they had just delivered the cartons of urns and sculptures for Jeff. Bizarre, not Bazaar, had been Robert's judgement of the egregious collection of kitsch and popular junk overflowing shelves, tables and display-cabinets, even spilling onto the floor. He shuddered to imagine the resulting mismatched interiors. Why so many elderly people left homes and families in the south, to spend their final days in this teeming ant-heap of retirees, stuffing bloated bellies with cheap R.S.L. food and thousands of poker machines with their pensions, was a mystery impossible to fathom.

Bart didn't care what the oldies did, providing they left him alone.

Beneath a gigantic crystal chandelier, and in front of gilded mirrors and elaborate niches containing pseudo-classical sculptures, the scores of half-naked bodies arranging wrestling mats added a satisfyingly surreal note. A television crew was setting up in a corner. Screens across one end provided minimal changing facilities. Competitors had to get ready two rounds ahead, and ask their coaches or other team members to look after valuables. Robert was wearing Bart's gear. The winners of the first day's fights would compete for the trophy the following day.

'It's going to be tough,' Bart warned. 'It's sudden death and you've a very experienced opponent first up. They have to do that to make sure the second day's worth watching, so don't be disheartened.'

'I'm not expecting to win so don't worry. I'm only here to say good-bye to the sport and satisfy my curiosity.'

Heart hammering, Robert faced his opponent, a weight-lifter type about the same age as himself, whose concentration was total. Right on the signal, without having given the slightest acknowledgement of Robert's presence, he threw himself under a partially assembled guard and performed a perfect double leg take down followed by a drive through. Robert managed to land on his side, but was immediately spun onto his knees; head pinned under an arm. Then he was butt-dragged until he overbalanced and flipped like a coin onto his back.

In the second bout, Robert got in first and lunged into a fireman's carry, lifting his opponent before flinging them both backwards - Robert on top. As he tried to turn over, he was caught by a brilliant reversed body twist. A double leg pick-up from the knees flipped him head over heels and the simple leg-back heel-trip that followed ended his participation in the competition. As he hobbled over to Bart, he burst out laughing. 'I'm surprised you're not hiding in shame.'

Bart laughed with him. 'It wasn't that bad. I've been talking to his coach. Your opponent's the school and district champion, has been wrestling for five years and has been selected for the junior team to tour the States next year. I was proud of you. His coach refused to believe you'd only been wrestling for one term. Feel better now?'

'Sure do, coach! What's next? Stay here and watch, or do the town?'

'Up to you.'

'Let's go. We can come back tomorrow and see the champions fight it out.'

They visited a theme park, tested the surf with hired boards, chatted up a couple of young Japanese who insisted on giving them their Osaka addresses in case they should ever find themselves in Japan, and shared a take-away lunch with their new friends. After buying enough bread, cheese and salami for both evening meal and breakfast, they watched from the dunes as sunset slipped from mackerel clouds and the eggshell sky turned grey.

'Still coping?'

'I'm fine. Stop worrying about me.'

'Want to try another night-club?'

'And your mother thought it was me leading you astray.'

'You do drive me crazy.'

'Would you mind if we didn't?'

'I'd be relieved.'

'I only need you… and…' Robert's brave facade collapsed. He looked at Bart in despair.

'And you can't get the gay-bashing out of your head.'

'It's eating into me. I'm suffocated by the injustice. How can people hate you when they don't know you?'

Bart was silent. Robert's anguish as he repeated the question that has plagued humans since they first stood upright, tore at his heart. There are millions of answers, but no solutions. No guidebook for the persecuted. They can only try to survive, a full life denied. Some suicide, some run, most try to blend. The gregarious construct ghettoes and a few brave souls stand and fight. They seldom win, but that is the only way they can live with themselves. He took Robert's hands, kissed each finger in turn, then whispered, 'If I could protect you from the hydra of hatred and bigotry, I would. But it is nowhere and everywhere. Cut off one head and another grows in its place. I promise though, that I will share it all with you for as long as you need me.'

'Bart, I love you.'

The unguarded entrance to a housing development led them between partly constructed town-houses to a double garage. With water from a nearby tap to wash down the bread and salami, they satisfied ravenous appetites.

'A bit of horizontal exercise before sleep?'

'Otherwise we'll get indigestion.'

Up at dawn in case a diligent builder should arrive, they drove to the beach and raced into the surf in the breaks between joggers, early-morning walkers, fishermen and sea-gazers. Afterwards, they cold showered on the beach, prepared and ate breakfast on the sand, and discussed plans for the remaining three days of the holidays. One day would be spent looking for a car for Bart, one preparing for school, and one bush walking in the hills behind Brisbane. On Saturday, Monique and Sanjay would arrive home and Bart would return to his flat.

'I'm going to be lonely at nights.'

'Me too.'

'I can stay over on week-ends.'

'You'd better.'

'And next year?' - They hadn't discussed what would happen when Robert went to University.

'What do you want to do?'

'Move in with you. Mum and Dad won't mind. It's slightly closer to Uni. I can do what I like when I leave that bloody school.'

'How about the other students?'

'What about them?'

'You know bloody well what!'

'As you said, we can't live our lives frightened of what others might think.'

'And say and do!'

'Would you rather I didn't move in?' Bart's hesitation had come as a shock.

Bart frowned. 'I'll still be at school.'

'But Nikelseer and Lance won't.' Robert tried not to sound disappointed. He was sensible enough to realise that things were different for Bart, but innocent enough to expect problems to disappear if you wished hard enough. 'I guess we need time to think about it. Let's leave it for now.'

'No, we won't leave it. We are going to live together. I'm just wondering how we can make it as painless as possible. I don't have to be a teacher, there are other things.'

That raised a smile. 'Like what? The jobless rate in Southeast Queensland's among the highest in the country.'

'Something'll turn up.'

'Blind optimism.'

'Comes with blinkered vision.'

'If you quit you're going to need my help with the rent. So I'll have to come and share. I'll be a rent-boy.'

'With Ron?'

'Beggars can't be choosers.'

'We could both go on the game.'

'No way! I'm not having my man selling himself.' Robert surprised himself at the strength of his reaction.

'Ah ha! The boot's on the other foot.'

'It's not really a joke, is it?'

'No.' Bart struggled to sound optimistic. 'Life's bad for lots of people. We're bloody fortunate you know.'

'Compared to whom?'

'Australia has the highest youth suicide rate in the world.'

Robert was shocked. 'What?'

'And about half of them are gays.'

'You're joking!'

'Most are just innocent kids who know they're gay, but are too frightened to grow up because of all the shit hurled at us. When their parents join the bigots, they pull the plug.'

'I've never read about it in the papers.'

'Politicians, parents and teachers deny it. They'd have to do something about vilification otherwise. Many parents are so twisted they'd feel more ashamed at admitting their son was gay than that he suicided.'

Robert sat in appalled silence, then looked up with a frown. 'That's why the cops assumed Murray had suicided.'

Bart nodded.

'Have you ever thought of… doing it?' Robert asked quietly.

'I played around with the idea at school, but when I got to Uni it wasn't so bad. Meeting Michael and John probably saved me from doing anything stupid.'

'And now?'

'Now I have every reason in the world to live.'

'What's that?'

'I'm going to buy a new car.'


'What do you mean?'

'I'll give you three seconds. One…two…'

'Oh…And you of course. Forgot about that.'

They shared saddened grins.

Bart threw a sideways glance. 'While we're on the subject, have you ever thought of topping yourself?'

'No way! But… if things got that bad for me, there's no way I'd go out alone! I'd take as many homophobic wankers with me as I could!' He smashed his fist into the sand in frustration. 'Am I overreacting?'

'You? Never!' Bart stretched out on the sand. 'Do you want to sit here all day moping over the injustices of the world, or do you want to watch the wrestling?'

'Do you care who wins?'

'Couldn't give a stuff.'

'Are we two people with one mind?'

'I reckon.'

They drove home the long way; stopping whenever something seemed interesting, buying fish and chips for lunch, and following the lazy windings of the river back to Toowong. Robert grabbed the first shower and collapsed onto the bed. Bart showered slowly, then stood gazing at the body sprawled on top of the sheets. Every time he saw Robert like this he was overcome by disbelief that such a splendid young man could love him. His eyes drifted over the smooth contours.

Robert prised open an eye. 'What're you thinking?'

'Wondering why I love you.'

'Because I'm such a wanker?'

'Because you're a complete and complex young man.'

'Sorry I've been a bit of a neuro the last couple of days.'

'Makes life interesting – and you had good reason.'

'Bart, I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but... you're not a bad bloke.'

The privacy of patio and garden proved more alluring than sharing forest trails with a thousand other hikers, so they spent the first day reading, loving, lying in the sun and eating. The day of cleaning and preparation took two days, being interspersed with less worthy activities. Bart's car hunt was put on hold. 'I'm in no hurry. It'll do me good to jog to school for a while; it's only a couple of kilometres. Maybe I'll buy a bike. That's what we all should be doing as teachers, setting a healthy example for our students.'

Robert smiled.

'Or perhaps I'll jog. No, I'll get a bike. I'll go looking after school on Monday. There's no point in rushing things. What do you reckon?'

'Indecisiveness turns me on.'

'That's lucky. I don't really know what I want. The idea of not having a car is seductive. A bike is too, except for vehicle exhausts.'

'You can howl abuse at passing queers.'

'That is tempting, but I think I'll just hold fire and see what it's like with nothing except my legs and public transport.'

'Bus-loads of colds, flu's and other bugs.'


And so they decided to decide on nothing for a day or so, or at least until Bart got desperate. Like monks in a monastery they forgot the outside world, its cares and problems. The tensions that had been building dissipated. They no longer talked about the bashing outside the club, the sabotaged brakes, or their fears for next term. Three perfect days were filled with blissful insouciance, their only venture into the heterosexual world, a film in the city that didn't live up to its rave reviews.

Robert managed to write two thousand copies of the signature and was becoming quite proficient; however, the better he became, the higher his standards rose. He could see it was going to take the full three thousand before he had committed it to reflex. He also recorded the page set-up and all other editing quirks used by that obsessively neat letter writer. Bart was curious, but proved his trust by saying nothing. Their realm was so complete they almost resented the return of parents, until the plane drifted to earth exactly on time and, with mutual delight, kissed a bubbling Monique and hugged an affectionate Sanjay.

'We had a wonderful time,' Monique enthused. 'Everyone was friendly and helpful, we saw and did everything we wanted, but… Oh! I'm glad to be home! I'm getting too old to travel. Thank goodness I did a lot when I was young.'

'How about you, Dad? Found the going tough?'

'Never! I'm as resilient as ever. I just pretend to be worn out so your poor old mother won't feel so bad.'

After they had freshened up, rested, and enjoyed one of Bart's gourmet frozen dinners, they relaxed over coffee.

'Your great-grandmother sends her blessings and this. She's getting frail, but still manages to rule the roost.' Sanjay passed across a small box containing an elaborately-worked gold filigree ring set with a dark red stone, in the centre of which was trapped a tiny, shimmering white star.

'Hey, this is a work of art! What's the stone?'

'A star sapphire; heated till it turns red. It was your great-grand father's and supposed to be mine, but they decided I was too westernised. After asking a great many questions, which I answered honestly, she was adamant it was destined for you.'

'Excellent. Thanks, Dad.' He turned to share it with Bart, 'Look at the fine threads of gold. It's unbelievable. So intricate! Put it on me?' Blushing at the implications, Bart slid the exquisite bauble onto Robert's ring finger.

Monique and Sanjay tried not to feel embarrassed.

'I'll only wear it on special occasions.'

'And this is from us.' Monique handed over a gift-wrapped box. 'Careful! It's fragile.' Inside was a miniature video camera.

'Does it work?'

'Of course it does. We made them demonstrate in the shop. Singapore was full of them so of course Sanjay couldn't resist. Just don't spy on us!'

Naturally, it had to be tested. While Sanjay rummaged through his luggage for adaptors and leads, Bart was given a snakeskin belt and matching watch strap as a reward for looking after Robert. When the batteries were loaded everyone sang something, did a dance and felt like film stars until the replay set them writhing with embarrassment. The sound and picture qualities were remarkably good, although it was going to take a bit of practice to ensure the subject's head was in the frame.

'Tell us more about India.' Bart was enthusiastic. 'I'd love to travel. As soon as Robert's got his degree we'll be off.'

'The younger the better,' advised Sanjay. 'I look back now in amazement at how much I enjoyed roughing it when we were young. I would never consider doing now what we did then. I not only need comfort and sanity, but my tolerance of bureaucratic ineptitude has sunk to explosively low levels.' He darted a half-embarrassed glance at Monique.

'At least twice,' she laughed, 'I saved your father from certain incarceration. After the umpteenth official demanded to see yet another lot of papers or proofs of identity, he would twitch, and I would intervene to stop him landing a punch on the nose of the officious official.'

Sanjay smiled sadly. 'I got sick of having to grease the passage of even the most ordinary transaction with rupees. I don't think I'll go back. Everything is such a mess. Next time we need someone to go on a buying spree, you and Bart can do it.'

'You're on! I know the sorts of things you get and what sells. You should see the shop in Surfer's and the horrible muck it's jammed with.'

'Believe me, I know,' Sanjay sighed in despair.

'Pay no attention to old doom and gloom. I loved it. India is wonderfully exotic, especially the towns and villages on the canals around Cochin. But there are so many people! Every street, shop, alley and open space is teeming. We must have met every member of Sanjay's extended family. They all seemed to have some reason to spend their days in the house where we were staying. They were lovely, but sometimes I longed for solitude.'

'I am not doom and gloom, but it does become irksome when every day the power goes off at the most inconvenient time and sometimes there's no drinking water for a day or so. Fortunately, the locals seem to know in advance, so every available bit of floor-space is covered with containers of water. I'll never take reliable services for granted again.'

More holiday stories were swapped; Robert's brief appearance as a competitive wrestler, Sanjay's run-in with the waiter in the plane, Monique's disastrous attempts to communicate in Hindi, Bart's friends on the Sunshine Coast and many other things, until at last it was time to tell about Hyacinth's brakes.

The fun was over. Parental worries returned, Robert's stomach knotted, and Bart's heart ached. This had to be solved for the sanity of them all. Monique, pale with fury at the thought that Robert might have been killed in a car crash, burst into tears. A welcome distraction. A reminder of Sanjay's last interview with the police failed to convince her that, as there was absolutely no evidence pointing to anyone, it would be counter-productive to report the sabotage. She wrung frustrated hands in vain.

There is something deeply shaming for a man to be a victim, especially of anonymous attacks. He feels weak, inadequate and contemptible. All three men felt the same. To go running to the cops again would be like running home to mummy. It might be foolish, but to retain their sense of worth they had to make a serious attempt to fight this thing themselves. The boys didn't mention the gay bashing, for the same reason they hadn't told Hazel about the brakes. One doesn't become a man by dumping problems onto others.

'You're in a bit of a predicament then,' Sanjay muttered. 'Hang on a minute.' He was back in three.

'Jeff agrees there's no reason for the van to sit in his garage between its infrequent journeys, so you can have the use of it.' He held up his hand as Bart started to protest. 'Hang on, there's more. This is not a gift. It's an offer of employment. We'd like you to take over deliveries for us. We'll pay you of course, so it'll be sensible for you to keep the van at your place and take it to school. There's no advertising on it, so no embarrassment there.'

Bart frowned. 'But I'm at work all day.'

'School finishes at three-thirty. You're always there from before eight in the morning till after five, according to Robert. You hardly get any lunch-breaks, what with planning, preparation and sports teams, so Monique and I decided you are working too hard and must drop a few extra-curricular activities. As long as deliveries are made before six o'clock, that'll be fine. Many can be on Saturdays and Sundays. We're only talking about half a dozen a week, nothing onerous. You'd also be expected to arrange maintenance.'

'Then you'll be Dad's slave instead of Nikelseer's.'

Bart looked defensive. 'I dislike being helped,' he said bluntly. 'I know I'm ungracious, but when people do things for me, I feel they own a piece of me.'

'Hey! I was only joking.'

Bart turned to Robert with an indecipherable look. 'I know. And I also know there aren't any strings attached. I just had to tell you how I feel. To explain why I'm not being more effusive.' He turned to his hosts, shook his head as if to clear it, then lit his face with the incomparable smile. 'Having got that off my chest, I'd love to be your driver and keep the van at my place, at least until I get something else. Thanks a million! And you're right, it is time the worm turned.'

'Admirable sentiments, deplorable cliché.'

'Oh shut up, Robert, this is important. We're thinking of you too, you know.'

'I know, Dad, sorry. Can I help with the deliveries?

'If you finish all your homework first, and if Bart wants you to. He's the boss of that side of things. You won't be paid though.'

Monique and Sanjay went early to bed.

Robert drove Bart home. On the way they made three decisions: not to see each other again until the following Saturday; Robert would stop helping out in the gym; and Bart would drop at least three after-school activities. As far as their primary problem went, they would attempt to discover more about Lance's gang, and the nature and extent of his relationship with Nikelseer. Most importantly, neither would take any risks.

It was early the following morning before Robert returned to his own bed. He thought he ought to share Sunday with his parents and, for reasons that were a mystery even to himself, wanted to perfect his three thousand copies before school started on Monday.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead