Where am I?

It seemed to be a question that I had asked myself a lot lately but in different contexts. One of the last times I had asked myself this question, was while walking out of the Parklea Correctional Center. A.K.A, Parklea Jail. I wanted to know where I was in my own life, because living as a criminal didn’t get me far but at this moment, I wanted to know where I was… ‘geographically’.

My old Falcon pickup began overheating as I headed out west so I needed a garage or somewhere I could see what was going on with it. My pickup was the first thing that I bought when I left prison three days ago and fortunately, I rolled into the little town of Oberon which was located in New South Wales central tablelands. It was a picturesque town, a historic location of a gold rush and was one of the few places in Australia that experienced four seasons. In that it snowed there in Winter, which was an unusual occurrence in Australia.

The owner of the garage and gas station, watched as I slowly pulled in with steam jetting out from under the hood. He looked to be in his seventies with white hair, a three-day growth and wore faded bib ‘n’ brace overalls. While cleaning his grease-stained hands, he walked up to me and asked,

“Can I help you?”

“Uhm… Just need to see why my car’s overheating and get some gas, thanks.”

I responded, quietly.

“Let me know if you need a hand…”

Said my new friend, as he walked back to the garage. I opened the hood and allowed the steam to escape before having a good look around while replaying the short interaction in my head. Being incarcerated for three years, you… change. For instance, eye contact was a big thing and unless you weren’t top dog, you never looked anyone in the eye, but the garage owner looked straight into my eyes and I found it unnerving.

After checking the motor, I determined that the radiator was dead and the soft radiator hoses needed to be replaced as well. Being a Falcon, I knew parts wouldn’t be an issue, but the cost would be, as I only had a princely sum of $352.75 in my wallet, which was all the money I had in the world.

The garage owner sensed my funk and approached me once again to see if he could provide assistance.

“Where are you heading?”

He inquired, while looking at the shot radiator.

Deciding to be honest, I said,

“I don’t know… I don’t even know where I am.”

He then smiled and seemed to understand my situation.

“You’re in Oberon. Is there any way that I can help?”

I exhaled loudly and looked around the beautiful little town before responding.

“I don’t know if you can. I’m looking for work… Any job I can get.”

The garage owner rubbed the stubble on his face and asked,

“How good are you with cars?”

Wow… Now ‘that’ was a question of questions…

I had been around cars my whole life, as my dad used to buy old clunkers which he fixed and sold for a profit. By the age of fourteen, I was able to diagnose any mechanical problems and capable of fixing them myself.

I souped-up my first car before I even had a license, and I loved it until… It was at that point when I forced myself off that chain of thought and decided to respond to the old man.

“I used to be a mechanic.”

“Used to be. What have you recently done?”

He asked. I could tell that he had an idea of my troubled past by the way he watched me, so I decided to tell him the truth.

“Jail time…”

He regarded me with a little more scrutiny and softly asked,

“What did you do?”

Deciding to tell him everything, I began from when I joined a group of guys who wanted to make money fast, by robbing convenience stores. I explained my part of stealing cars and being the geta-away driver and how on my last run, I ran over and killed someone.

What I failed to mention that since that horrific accident, I woke up every morning with remorse so strong that it would bring me to tears. We were both quiet for a few minutes, when he extended his hand and introduced himself.

“My name’s Jack. Jack Fallon. Former guest of ‘her Majesty’s hotel’…”

He said, as we shook hands. I knew that her Majesty’s hotel was a colloquial term for prison and was relieved that he understood me. Jack would tell me later that he was one of the last inmates at HM Prison Pentridge in Melbourne, before they closed it down.

“I’m Bob Sutton. Nice to meet you, Jack.”

We got to talking for a while and he invited me into his garage to have a beer. I really liked him, and we got on really well and I even summoned the courage to look him in the eye most of the time. Looking down at my watch, I saw that time was marching on, so I asked Jack if there was a cheap hotel in town.

He asked me some details about myself, and I told him that I was thirty years old and originally from Sydney. It looked like he made a decision then stated,

“Hey, I’m looking to slow down as I’m getting up there in age and was thinking about getting someone in to do the heavy lifting. It may not be a lot of money but there’s a little studio apartment, just upstairs.”

Rendered speechless, it took me a few moments to respond and said,

“Whatever you pay me I’ll take it… and… and… I’ll never let you down!”

Meaning what I said, I intended to pay him back by being the best mechanic that he ever had. I wasn’t a bad person. Just stupid for falling in with the wrong crowd and allowed peer pressure to push me around.

During the next few weeks, I worked with Jack, and he introduced me to the ‘town folk’ and started feel like I belonged there. Even joining the voluntary firefighting group and a church charity, which helped me overcome my anxiousness when talking to people. No one in the town knew of my past but I knew I would tell them one day.

Being thirty years old, I took notice of a few of the YLs in town (‘Young Lady’ in ‘CB’ talk) and had gone out with one by the name of Sharon. She worked on her father’s canola farm and had an old Mitsubishi Sigma.

One evening while having a drink with Sharon at one of the few pubs in town, I watched a man walk from the men’s room on his way back to his table. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something fall from his jacket pocket and on closer inspection, saw it was a wallet. It was some distance from me, but my view was unimpeded, so I decided to walk over and grab it and return it to him.

A few metres from where it laid sat a group of three young men and one of them spotted the wallet, so he reached down and picked it up. I could tell by the way he looked through it and the furtive glances around the pub, that he had no intention of returning it to the rightful owner. His friends also encouraged him to keep it, but swiftly took the wallet from him as I reached the table.


He said in protest, and I explained,

“This doesn’t belong to you…”

Which his friends didn’t take to kindly at hearing. The three of them stood in front of me and were voicing their dissatisfaction, just as the owner of the bar approached to see what the matter was. The three young men were the sons of important local business owners and had grown up in the town while I was a stranger that just blew in, so when they said that ‘I’ was the one that intended to keep the wallet and ‘they’ were attempting to return it to the owner, he initially took it at face value.

“Look… I know that I’m a stranger here, but I was sitting just over there having a beer, when I saw the wallet fall out of that guys, jacket...”

The three men accused me of lying and I felt the tiny piece of self-worth begin to shrivel and die. It didn’t matter that I was telling the truth as no one would believe me but what upset me most, was that I would lose face with Jack. Just as I sunk to the lowest point, the bar owner sternly said,

“Wait right here!”

Before he took the wallet and walked into his office. While he was away, the three men had a great time at my expense, and we were eventually joined by Sharon.

“What’s going on?”

She asked and they responded,

“Your boyfriend was going to keep some poor guy’s wallet and we caught him!”

She faced me and I could see a little concern in her eyes, which was when my self-worth disappeared altogether. I then thought about how the evening would proceed. Would I need to speak to the local constabulary? ‘That’ would make for an interesting conversation, but my train of thought was interrupted, when the bar owner patted me on the shoulder and said,

“Looks like you were telling the truth. These three clowns think they own the place because of their father’s business but when word gets out about this little matter, they won’t be laughing for too long…”

Frank, the bar owner, then explained that he had security cameras around the bar and was able to quickly review the footage of this area. He then introduced me to the owner of the wallet, who then shouted me drinks all night!

From small steps, you can walk great distances and it seemed that I developed a reputation as being honest and trustworthy withing the town. Greg, the wallet owner, and I became great friends, and my life became weaved in the tapestry of the little town. Not long after that, I was able to reconnect with my own family and they remarked on my change in character.

Two years later, I recalled the night when I stood up for what was right, while watching the sunset from the veranda at Sharon’s farm. The clouds were beautiful pinks and blues, the cicadas were in full song and the sound of the evening breeze blew thew the canola fields which filled me with a sense of peace.

I eventually told the people that were close to me of my sordid past and they accepted it without any qualms. As Jack once put it, you are what you do, and I intended to do good for the rest of my life…

August 13, 2022 06:17

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