The Sea Eagle

By Reid, Ian | Antipodes, December 2013 | Go to article overview

The Sea Eagle


Reid, Ian, Antipodes


Early morning traffic always banked up like this at the Riseley Street intersection, stretching right back beyond the roundabout. If not for that fact, he'd never have met Sam Adler, or known about Felix von Luckner, or found himself eventually on a plane to New Zealand with something sad and awkward in his carry-on luggage.

Movement along the Canning Highway was so slow around 8 a.m. that even when a green light shone briefly for the Riseley queue there was time for only two or three right-turning cars to join the turbid, viscous, city-bound stream before the next red stoppage. Though inured to this daily impediment, Mark seldom found it easy to wait here patiently with the minutes ticking by as his lane stagnated and the sequence of lights ahead of him went through several repetitions. Music sometimes helped-he kept his radio tuned to ABC Classic FM, and with luck there'd be a quiet solo instrument to soothe him. He reminded himself regularly that peak-hour roads in Perth were nowhere near as log-jammed as in most cities, and that arriving a few minutes late for work would have no dire consequences. But on this particular day a chatterbox radio announcer was prattling on tediously, exhaust fumes from the car ahead were getting up Mark's nose, and he felt irritable.

Then an old man, thin and stooping but nattily dressed, shuffled off the footpath nearby and wandered in front of Mark's car, only to get confused and halt uncertainly. Putting a tremulous hand on the bonnet to steady himself, he stared at Mark imploringly. The lights changed to green and Mark's car was now blocking a long line of tetchy commuters, but he felt he had no choice. Getting out of the car with an apologetic shrug to those behind, he took the frail-looking fellow by the elbow and led him carefully back to the footpath. There was a bench nearby and Mark sat the stranger down on it, unsure what to do next. Voices and car horns were protesting raucously at the obstruction. The cacophony brought people from shop doorways, and one of them, a woman in a white coat, came straight up to Mark.

"I'm from the pharmacy," she said, "and I know this man-Mr. Adler, one of our regulars. He's probably forgotten his medication-it's happened before. You can leave him in my hands. I'll phone his doctor and between us we'll set him right."

A couple of weeks later Mark went into the pharmacy for hayfever tablets. "Hello," said the woman behind the counter, with a nod of recognition. "You're the Good Samaritan. I was hoping I might happen to see you, because Mr. Adlerthe gentleman you helped-has been in here asking for you, wanting to say thanks. He's quite OK again now. A sweet old fellow, really. Just a bit lonely, and sometimes gets disoriented if he doesn't take his pills regularly. Loves to talk. He always comes in on a Saturday morning about 10 for a ritual check of his weight on our scales, but that's just an excuse for a chat with whoever's here. Any chance you could drop in yourself around that time? He'd be grateful, I'm sure, for a few minutes of your day."

And so they met the next Saturday, exchanged smiles and pleasantries, and walked slowly together from the pharmacy along the street to the Dôme café.

Brimming with good cheer and merry words, Mr. Adler- "Call me Sam"-was keen to assure Mark that his apparent frailty at the time of their previous encounter had been uncharacteristic-"one of my rare off-days"-and that he was "right as rain" now. Over coffee and apple strudel he told Mark a few things about himself, and they discovered a shared enthusiasm for classical music of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth. Sam Adler, it turned out, was not only an animated conversationalist but also an accomplished musician, who until ten years ago had been an oboist with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

"I still practise each day," he told Mark. "I've done it ever since childhood."

"The oboe has always been your instrument? …

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