December 1989 and it was the last Saturday before Christmas when they found Jason’s body in the bathtub inside a cheap motel room in Sydney.
According to the local tabloid he booked into the motel on Parramatta Road the night before, injected himself with heroin, filled the tub to the rim, got in, and cut both wrists with a disposable razor blade. When the motel people found him the water was all blood red and he was stone cold dead.
Jason was a 22-year-old Australian of English descent originally from the small country town of Wagga Wagga, about 700 kilometres south-west of Sydney. He was my former workmate and my only dear friend in the whole of Australia. He was not that tall, but broad, pale, and skinny, with slight curls of blonde hair on his head.
With a dimple on his left cheek he had an almost innocent look when he smiled but he frequently showed his disturbed-side when he was annoyed or angry. He came from a broken family and sometimes he jokingly claimed he was abused both physically and sexually.
We were working together as lowly servicemen for the service center of a major European car-dealership in a posh north shore suburb of Sydney. Every weekday from 8 am to 4 pm we put the expensive cars up on the hydraulic-hoists, changed the oils and replaced the filters, re-inflated and re-balanced the wheels, rotated the tyres, replaced the worn brake-pads, and washed and polished the cars as the final touch after other mechanics had done the tune-ups and other jobs on the cars. It was an easy job and money was not that bad. At least three hundred bucks a week went in the pocket with regular overtimes. That was a bit more than the minimum wage back then.
Since the day I landed in Sydney I knew things were going to be tough as the whole country was in a severe recession. For nearly three months I tried to find a proper engineering job through the newspapers’ job advertisements.
I had no money and I was basically surviving on the fortnightly dole of 240 dollars and it was only just enough to pay the rent. So I decided to take any job and one day I went to the local CES (Commonwealth Employment Services) office and asked for an interview. It turned out to be my lucky day.
The middle-aged female government official quickly read my resume and, after referring her thick handbook of Educational Qualifications, simply said my mechanical engineering degree from Burma was not acknowledged in Australia as a degree.
According to the Australian government my 6 year degree was only equivalent to a 2 year technical high school diploma. I was bloody lucky the same bloody government issued me a permanent resident visa as a skilled migrant based on the same bloody degree from Burma.
She then looked into her computer and said there were some jobs for a mechanical minded person and she asked if I could work on cars as I claimed to be a mechanical engineer. I said yes and she then called the company and then wrote down the address for me to go for an interview and wished me good luck.
I went there and the workshop manger liked me and gave me the serviceman job straight away. But here in overly-regulated Australia, where even the disgruntled taxi drivers are forced to wear a uniform by a draconian law, anyone working on cars in any capacity needs an appropriate license.
So the manager sent me to the MVRIC (Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council) office and they issued me the Provisional Mechanic Licence for a year with an attached condition that I must pass a certain mechanic test to gain a real mechanic’s license. That’s how I got my first job in Australia. I was a provisional mechanic cum serviceman.
Sydney then was very different from the Sydney now. The rate of immigration was not that high and there were not that many Asians or Middle Eastern people in Sydney, unlike today. The inner western suburb of Ashfield where I lived back then was still a white suburb, not yet the second Chinatown of Sydney.
I was the only Asian in our big workshop and there were a couple of Lebanese servicemen who were always derogatorily called “camel drivers”. Most people could not pronounce my first name and whenever they saw me eating rice they accused me of eating worms and pretended to spew all over me in the lunch room.
From the beginning Jason was always nice to me and he explained things about Australians and taught me the useful slang like “Fair-Dinkum” and “Faggot” and “Fuck-Off”. I helped him to write the service sheets as he was basically illiterate and didn’t even know how to spell mechanic related words like “Diesel Engine” and “Reciprocating”.
Whenever I wrote some words down for him he always cheerfully said I was a good speller. But I could still sense the basic disbelief in his pale blue eyes that an Asian immigrant could write better English than him as a true blue Aussie. But he always came to me instead of others as if he didn’t want the Aussie mob to know he had difficulties in the writing department.
He drove a beat-up Datsun 120 Y and regularly gave me a lift to the Town Hall Station in the city on his way to Kings Cross, the notorious red light district of Sydney. I had no car for almost six months as I needed to get a driver’s license first.
At first I didn’t know the purpose of his frequent trips to the Cross. He sometimes went there once or twice a week especially on our pay-day, Thursdays. Then one afternoon after work he asked me to come along to the Cross as he wanted me to buy 10 dollars worth of gas for his car after his business there as he was short of cash. I agreed and we drove to the Cross first.
He turned left into the Victoria Street from the main Darlinghurst Road and then turned right into a small laneway by the rear of the train station and stopped the car by a small black door. He jumped out, pushed open the black door which led to a dark stair case, and quickly disappeared inside. After a few minutes he rushed back out, jumped back into the car, and we sped away.
On the way to the Servo by the Woolloomooloo Wharf he suddenly asked me if I’ve ever been to the notorious Golden Triangle. He knew I was from Burma but he never mentioned anything even remotely related to heroin before. But that afternoon he confessed his stupid addiction and all the problems he was having then. He even showed me the small foiled-packet of dirty heroin he’d just bought from the Cross.
Two hundred dollars worth of shit but just enough for only four hits he said. It was so dirty looking it looked more like a lump of brown palm-sugar powder than the fluffy white powder I heard about so many times back home. They cut the heroin with some powder and made it look so dirty he said. “You spend all your pay on this shit, what you live on for the rest of the week?”, I asked. He said that he didn’t eat that much and lived in a tiny hostel room. His answer depressed me. That’s why he was so skinny and always dreamy, I guessed.
Once I knew his desperate situation I tried to avoid him in the workshop and stopped accepting the rides as I really hated addicts. And he immediately noticed my disgust. But he still came to me often as if he badly needed a friend. Then one day he got into real shitty trouble at the workshop.
Five Dollar Theft
It was just before lunch time. I was working on a sports car on the hoist and Jason was washing a finished sedan in the wash-bay. I saw the workshop manager talking to him and then saw two heavy-set men rush out of the manager’s office at the front and run towards them standing just outside the wash-bay at the back of our long workshop.
The two were plain clothes policemen as I could see the guns on their belts as they ran. They started searching the pockets of Jason’s overall and appeared to find something. The two detectives then led Jason back into the office and later they put him into the back of a police paddy wagon and took him away. We were shocked but I simply assumed it might be a drug-related arrest. It was not, as I found out later in the lunch room.
The workshop manager came in and told us the whole pathetic story. Small money and some valuables like expensive sunglasses had been reported missing from the serviced vehicles far too many times and finally the management had decided to call the police. The cops then did a thorough job planting a five dollar note a few times in the cars and checking the notes after a mechanic or serviceman had done a job on the car. And they found the notes always missing after Jason had been in the car but not with anyone else.
So today they planted a marked fiver in the glove box of that sedan and watched and checked as the car had progressed through various mechanics and servicemen including me. After Jason had done his work, the manager checked it again and found the note missing. So he signaled the waiting detectives and they searched Jason’s overall pockets and found the marked five-dollar note.
They charged him with theft and put him in the Silverwater remand jail. He had no one and also no money to post the bail. After more than six months his case came to court and the sympathetic magistrate sentenced him to six months exact for stealing a fiver from the car, and he was immediately released as he had been inside that long.
While he was languishing in the Silverwater jail I tried to look for him in the Cross once as I didn’t know he was still in jail and I was missing him. There I ran into another addict, a pretty young girl with curly blonde hair and pale blue eyes, just like Jason.
It was about 9 on a Saturday evening and the Cross was getting busier and rowdier as the night got older. All the loud touts in ill-fitting black suits right in front of the bright-neon-lit strip clubs were working at their aggressive best to lure the wandering blokes like me into their over priced strip joints.
I was just sauntering aimlessly on the kerbs of Darlinghurst Road vaguely hoping to see Jason among the crowd when I saw the cops trying to subdue a couple of young disorderly drunks near the Subway Station.
As I stood there holding a stubby of Foster’s in one hand and watching the cops and the drunks, the aggressive copper woman with an extendable truncheon in one hand rudely ordered me to move on. Instead of moving on I just backed away a couple of steps just to please her. And there I stepped on the feet of a young woman. Sorry, I turned round and apologised and there she was. A pretty Aussie girl smiling at me.
She might have been only 19 or even 18, with her short blonde curls and pale blue eyes she immediately reminded me of Jason. No worries, she said. “What she whispered after surprised me though. Are you looking for good time, big boy?” “Not really, why do you ask?”
“It will cost you 70 bucks, I have a place nearby”, she said. She astounded me. She was pretty and tall and curvy but too skinny for my liking and I wasn’t really after the paid sex. But I was slightly drunk and I was suddenly horny and I had never had sex with a white woman before.
She had tight jeans and a white T-shirt with no bra underneath. And I could see her nipples through at close-up and they made me excited. I had only 50 bucks, so I tried to haggle. “Fine, just follow me”, she said and turned round and walked towards the Station entrance.
Reluctantly, I followed her into the Station. She didn’t go down to the trains but took the way-out to the rear exit and headed for the same lane way where Jason once bought his heroin packet. She then walked up to the same black door and pushed open the door. I was alarmed but I still followed her onto the dimly lit staircase.
She stopped at the landing and asked me to give 20 bucks to the old man standing guard in the dark there. “For the room, mate”, she said. I doled out a twenty note and she continued upstairs. She turned left into the corridor and pushed open the first door. The tiny windowless room was well lit, and a double bed nearly filled the room and the linen was dirty.
She took off the T-shirt and asked me for the fifty. I handed her the note and she immediately left the room topless with her perky round breasts exposed. Take off your clothes, she said on the way out. I took off sneakers and my jeans and underpants but kept the flannel on. It took her more than half an hour to come back in and the long wait made me anxious and worried.
She smiled wearily at me and immediately lay on her back on the dirty bed dangling her legs from the edge. Her eyes were well closed when she told me to take off her jeans and do whatever I liked. I almost undid the top buttons of her jeans. But I saw the needle marks on the inside of her left forearm. There were so many and the last and most recent one still had a drop of blood oozing. It disgusted me.
Here I was with my dick hanging out and she was almost asleep with a dreamy look on her pale young face. She just had a hit of heroin and my fifty dollars was just enough for the shit. She was now drifting on the heroin-induced clouds and letting a complete stranger do whatever he wanted to her. She was selling her young body dirt cheap to any John or Jamal or Jiang on the dangerous streets of the Cross so that she could just inject that 50 bucks worth of dirty shit originated from the jungles of my Burma into her veins every single day.
Disgusted, I put my jeans and sneakers back on and left the room.
A week later, on Friday, just-released Jason showed up at the workshop to pick up his last pay envelope. He came into the lunchroom and chatted to us for a while before the manager came in and asked him to leave and never to come back. On his way out he jokingly yelled back to our good-byes. “Me a fag now with HIV, I got raped inside!” And we laughed.
That night he booked into the motel on Parramatta Road and the next day he was found dead.