Arthur marked the wall with yellow chalk. Anyone on the look out for an illegal Two Up game would know one was in progress in the alley. He pulled a bottle from his duffle bag. Not a drop left. Wind, with a hint of rain, shot through his jacket. He turned up the collar and slunk into the shadows. A block away, Constable Stevens marched into the street. Arthur whistled one low note. The crowd of men behind him disappeared like morning mist on a summer day.
Two Up Ted nodded his thanks and tossed Arthur a coin.
The constable flicked his torchlight around the empty alley. ‘You’re gonna get caught one day, Arthur. You don’t wanna go to jail again, do ya?’
‘Don’t know wot yer rattling on about, Constable.’
The policeman sighed. ‘Tea and rock cakes after the service at St Barny’s.’
‘Not for me, mate.’
Stupid copper; if e’d kept away I’d ‘ave worked long enough ter earn the money for a bottle of metho. That would’ve kept the cold away until it was time for duty outside Sharleen’s brothel.
Big drops of rain began to drop lethargically on his shoulders. He drew his bag to his chest.
What a life, living in doss houses, carrying everyfink I own around wiv me. But I can’t read or write and still get the shakes from the war. Who’d give me a proper job?
Might try the church. Me stuff’ll stay dry.
Arthur dashed through the doors of St Barnabas’ Anglican Church just before the short storm set in. He slid into a back pew, tucked his duffel bag securely between his knees, and settled back for a sleep.
The congregation finished singing Rock of Ages and sat down. Rev Hammond’s voice thundered through the church, forcing Arthur to wakefulness. He sighed. Was it worth it for tea and rock cakes?
Arthur joined the crowd for supper, pocketing several cakes for Sharleen’s girls. They’ll appreciate a treat.
Nick the Pick, Sharleen’s apprentice pimp, kicked Arthur’s foot. ‘Wotchyer doing sitting under a tree in the middle of the night? Yer late. Er ladyship’s not ‘appy. Got sprung ‘cos er you. Might get jail time. Yer done, mate, even if you is ‘er bruvver.’
Arthur held out the rock cakes. ‘Here Nick, take these. Tell ‘er I won’t be back. I went for rock cakes and found the Rock of Ages.’
‘Gone off yer rocker, more likely.’ Nick laughed long and hard at his joke. ‘Wot yer gonna do?’
‘I don’t know.’
Night after night Arthur roamed through the streets of Sydney hugging his bag to his chest.
Wot do you want me ter do, Lord? I got nuffink. No skills. No education. I’m just a drunken street bum. I’ve stepped off me old road and I dunno how to travel the new ‘un.
‘Drink, Arty?’ Charlie thrust a bottle into Arthur’s hand.
‘Nuvver day then?’
‘Nuh, not anuvver day, mate.’
‘I don’t need the drink no more.’
‘No, it’s um, not like that. God’s changed me…’
Charlie shrugged his shoulders. ‘You dunno what yer missing mate,’ and wandered away.
Arthur curled a fist in frustration. He just didn’t know the words to say to explain what had happened to him as he’d sat under that dripping tree.
The icy wind was rising as Arthur passed Burton Street Baptist Church.
As good a place as any to shelter.
‘Eternity… what a remarkable, uplifting, glorious word. It is essential that all preachers should remind their congregation time and again, that they are travelers to eternity.’ John Ridley’s voice thundered passionately around the sanctuary. ‘I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.’
Arthur left the church, the word ‘Eternity’ ringing in his ears.
That’s me road. That’s what I gotta do.
He dropped his bag negligently at the bottom of the step, took the piece of chalk from his pocket and wrote the word Eternity on the pavement.
Constable Steven’s tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Been hearing things about you, Arthur.’
Arthur pointed to the yellow chalked word.
‘Nice handwriting. Didn’t know you could write.’
Tears coursed down Arthur’s face. ‘Me neither.’
‘Eternity. What do you make of it?’
‘I fink we should be askink, wot will eternity make of us, Constable?’
Arthur had written Eternity on the wall of a shop and the step of a house before Constable Stevens caught up with him.
‘Arthur, are you alright? You forgot your duffel bag.’
Arthur Stace, 1884 -1967, was Sydney’s Mr Eternity.
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