The Fruit Picker, p.1
The Fruit Picker
An Adventure Thriller
Copyright © 2017 by Bea Eschen
E-book and Paperback: Self-published May 2017
New South Wales, 2011, Australia
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
“Sebastian, dinner is ready!“
His mother called from the kitchen as she did every evening. He knew if he didn't answer straight away she would become annoyed. Like every evening he called back to her.
“I’ll be down in a minute!” He kept strictly to the minute.
His father was already sitting at the dinner table waiting for him.
“How’s your day been?”
As always, Sebastian avoided looking into the eyes of his father. His father had noticed it for a long time and pointed out to him that he should look at the people he was talking to. But Sebastian just shrugged his shoulders. He was avoiding his father’s gaze because there was tension that none of them could break.
Over the past six months his parents knew something was happening with their son that they couldn’t put into words.
Sebastian was behaving strangely. Lately he preferred to stay in his room, putting his earphones on and listening to music. He was tired of his home, his school, his friends and his life. He alone knew why, and he hadn’t yet told anyone. He knew he was gay, and he was feeling lonely. Yes, he loved to look at young men posing in gay magazines. He loved their bodies and was aching to touch them. On the Internet he contacted like-minded young men where he felt understood and supported. He also made his first sexual experiences with a young man who had been as curious as Sebastian. They spent the most wonderful time together in a tiny hotel room. The oversized bed almost filled the room, and they had no other choice but to fall directly upon it. Even today, they sent each other steamy messages. Again, Sebastian felt his mobile phone vibrating in his pocket. He immediately remembered the young man’s strong hands on his skin, the scent of his masculine aftershave, and his hot kisses all over him. With heart throbbing, he pulled out his phone and typed a hot message with trembling fingers. He slipped the phone away and ran through his hair with both hands. No, not now, he thought. It took a superhuman effort to deny himself getting drawn deeper into sexual fantasies that would have left him with nothing but frustration.
How could he tell his parents he was gay? It seemed like a wall was between him and them. His parents had conservative views. They were regular churchgoers, and the local pastor thought of them highly as devout Catholics.
As a young boy, Sebastian went through the ceremonies and rituals a young catholic has to do. After communion, his pastor told him his sin was forgiven, and he had received eternal life as well as the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“But what sin did I do?” he asked looking up at the pastor with childish eyes.
“You and God know,” the pastor answered, confusing Sebastian.
I don’t know so how can God know? How can God forgive my sins if I don’t know what a sin is?
During television, his father casually remarked that gay men were not part of the church because they bore the sin of obscenity. His father did not know how much he hurt Sebastian with these words. Sebastian tried to suppress his humiliation, but from this point onwards he never entered a church again.
His mother didn’t stop pestering him about Magda, a girl Sebastian liked to spend time with in his childhood. Magda was their neighbour’s daughter, and in his parent’s view nothing would have been more suitable for Sebastian and Magda to become a couple. Sebastian wasn’t interested. He liked Magda for their familiarity and her cheerful smile. They had grown up together like brother and sister. As children, they used to play family, hide and seek, doctor and patient, and climbed all the trees in the neighbourhood. They built their own little home in the forest near the swamp, made from collected corrugated iron sheets, tree trunks, twigs and leaves. It looked like a camouflaged soldiers hideout – and that’s what they called it. In there they pretended to be a family during times of war; Mother, father and child. Magda’s doll, old and grubby, served as their much-loved baby. They pretended to be married in church in front of the altar with a pretend pastor speaking the words none of them understood. The only words they could cite were,
“Do you want to take Sebastian as your husband, and stand by him in good and in bad times, until death parts you?”
And Magda would answer, “Yes, I do.”
“Do you want to take Magda as your wife, and stand by her in good and in bad times, until death parts you?”
Sebastian would answer with his cheeky smile,
“I guess so.”
Then they would hug and smile and keep playing their roles in their innocent, careless and childish ways. When they grew bigger, they hung out with the other village youths under the big oak tree doing everything teenagers like to do. Riding motorbikes, listening to music, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, dancing, and playing on their mobile phones.
Yes, he felt lonely and excluded. Magda looked at him with her caring yet discerning look because she was trying to understand what the problem was. Magda had always loved Sebastian. Right from the beginning of their time he was her hero. It was calming to remember their childhood. Sebastian would never forget those moments with Magda because she had given him unconditional love and trust. Magda had always been his soul mate, yet Sebastian knew he had reached a moment in his life where he alone had to choose.
It was a rainy but warm day in early August when Sebastian was strolling along the streets of Nordhorn. The small town flourished with tourists, who arrived during spring and summer. They came for the Engdener Wüste, a recently opened nature reserve for water birds. The tourists brought along good atmosphere and money for the upkeep of the local economy.
Sebastian was feeling pleased with himself because he had completed his Abitur the week before, which would make him eligible for enrolment at university. Although his father had been trying to persuade him to enrol in a theology degree, Sebastian wasn’t sure in what course to enrol. He didn’t like learning about the divine but was leaning more towards humanity studies, like anthropology, exploring humans within past and present societies, or the humanities that study human culture. His parents had offered to pay for his entire studies – but had limited their offer to a theology degree only.
He hated their offer that made him feel pushed into a corner. Their lack of understanding for his own ideas disappointed him. He told them that he had his own interests, which they should try to understand. But they could only shake their heads. Like so many times before, he stomped out of the house to go nowhere but to escape their senseless control. Yet each time he had to go back home – a journey that was becoming a more and more dreadful experience.
He was walking out of the park and continued to stroll along the streets of Nordhorn. It was Saturday early afternoon and Sebastian was feeling the weekend atmosphere. People were rushing home to their families, stopping here and there to get groceries to prepare for their traditional Sunday roast. He was thinking of his Sunday roast at home that would undoubtedly comprise a big hunk of beef with gravy, potatoes and cooked red cabbage. He dreaded the morbid conversation that would eventually come to a cold stop about midway through lunch. His mood immediately deteriorated.
Sebastian was crossing the road when he spotted a new poster in
“Experience Australia. Become a Fruit Picker. Offers now available.”
Without hesitation he entered the travel agency.
“Good Day.” He was walking towards the travel consultant at the desk looking her straight in the face. “Please tell me more about this fruit picker offer.”
“Well,” she said, looking at him curiously, “first you’ve got to be over eighteen to do this.”
“I am twenty,” Sebastian said excitedly.
“All right,” she said with a smile. She looked at her watch. Then she looked at Sebastian. A very attractive young man was standing in front of her. Hair almost black, light and curly, styled in a way none of his peers would have it, dark sparkling eyes surrounded by thick eyelashes, and full red lips. Are they painted, she thought? Soft facial features, almost feminine with a white, cleanly shaved skin. He had a perfect physique with excellent proportions, muscular arms and wide shoulders.
“Look, I am giving you this brochure that explains everything. Read it over the weekend and come back next week if you are interested to go ahead.”
“Thank you very much.” Sebastian couldn’t hide his excitement. “You will see me next week.” And with these words he rushed out of the travel agent’s office, ran across the road back to the park to sit down and read the brochure. He was reading so fast he missed out on words and entire lines. Calm down, he said to himself, noticing his fast heart beat. With shaky hands he read it a second and a third time, absorbing each word and trying to understand the conditions. Slowly the words sank in.
Mango Harvest, September, in Northern Territory, Katherine
Seasonal Harvest Fruit Pickers
We currently have an opportunity for mango pickers to join the team near Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia.
Reporting to the Picking Supervisor, you will be required to pick mangos in an efficient and productive manner, whilst maintaining excellent quality and hygiene standards.
We will require physically fit people who will be available for an induction starting on 1st September. Overseas students welcome.
Positions are limited, so please forward a current resume at your earliest convenience to:
Sebastian didn’t understand every word, but he knew it was about the picking of mangos, and that he wanted to leave this place.
When he came home that evening, his mother noticed a new bounce in his step. What had happened to her son that made him look happy? He rushed past her and disappeared to his room for the rest of the night. When she called him down for dinner he declined, saying he wasn’t feeling well. She knew he was up to something, but because her husband wasn’t coming home for dinner either – he was on one of his monthly church meetings – she let the evening pass quietly by reading the bible.
Sebastian went straight to his laptop to compose a cover letter. Along with that he sent his resume also noting that he was looking for overseas experience to help him decide on what to do next in his path of study. Within a minute he received an automated acknowledgement saying he will get a response from the advertiser within the next forty-eight hours.
That night Sebastian could not sleep. He was turning from one side to the other, non-stop thinking how he would handle his adventure if it went ahead. But somehow − he didn’t know why − he was feeling it would work out for him. He deserved to become happy again after all his suffering.
In the early morning hours he made up his plan. He would use the savings from his holiday jobs to pay for the flights, accommodation and expenses. For many years he had helped Magda’s dad in his bakery, who paid him generously for this hard work. Sebastian had to prepare dough starting at three in the morning – working through to shop closing at three in the afternoon. Neither the hard work nor the long working hours bothered him. It made him happy to be tucked away in the bakery’s backroom, next to the hot oven, hidden away from the public and away from his friends and parents. At the same time it was like an apprenticeship. Magda’s dad took pride in teaching him his secret recipes of bread making, buns and cakes. His parents were also proud that he learned the baking next to his school. What his parents thought, however, did not matter to him. It had been his decision to do so, and at the moment he decided to leave his home and his friends for a time to get away from his hitherto sad life and to think about himself in peace.
On Monday evening Sebastian found an email from MangoTree Orchards. He was so nervous he missed the right key on his keyboard, and instead of opening the email he shut down his computer entirely and had to wait until it restarted again. After logging in again there it was right in front of his eyes. MangoTree Orchards was happy to welcome him by the end of August. They advised him to contact the Australian Embassy as soon as possible to get a working visa. His contract would be initially for three months with a prospect of extension. His pay would be $16 per hour. Accommodation was provided free. After receipt of his acceptance they would send a contract in an attachment, which required his signature. Sebastian at once sent a reply and accepted their offer.
“I accept your offer and await your contract for signing. I will arrange to obtain a working visa as soon as possible.”
It was easier than he thought it would be. The next day he called the Australian embassy, which advised that he could apply for his visa online. It would take no longer than two weeks for processing it.
Sebastian spent his time working full time shifts in the bakery. Magda’s father asked him to have the weekend off to recover but Sebastian wished to work right through. The minute he received his six-month working visa, he sent a text message to Magda.
“Can we meet tomorrow night at seven by the big oak tree?”
“Yes, will see you there. I will bring wine.”
When Magda made her way to the big oak tree the next evening, she knew Sebastian was to tell her something important. She sensed he was preparing to leave. Her heart was heavy when she arrived. He was sitting on the big trunk that had blown off during the last storm and nobody bothered to move it. One of his long legs was casually resting on top of the other. His posture made her think of Buddha sitting under the fig tree meditating. It was an idyllic place to be that night. The sky was sparkling with stars; it was mild with a light breeze - the rustling of the grain of the nearby cornfield was barely audible. Magda thought he was looking more handsome than ever. She noticed his shining face and a sparkle in his eyes when she was walking toward him. He got up and greeted her warmly with a kiss on her cheek and a brief hug.
His throat was feeling tight when he saw her coming. She was wearing the black lose dress he loved on her. It made her look taller than she was. A colorful scarf was thrown around her shoulders. The blue reflected the color of her beautiful eyes. Her lips had a hint of extra color and her long blond hair was tied in a loose ponytail. She looked lovely.
He knew his news about his departure would sadden her because Magda was very attached to him. They sat down next to each other and smiled when Magda produced a well-chilled bottle of expensive champagne. She had intended to bring a bottle of wine, but the occasion was worth the champagne. He popped the cork and while he was pouring their glasses, which Magda was holding in front of him with a light shake, he said quietly:
“You know, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Her eyes were filling with tears.
They looked at each other warmly, as they had done many times before.
“To us,” she said solemnly.
They took a generous sip of the ice-cold bubbly, feeling the cold liquid going down their tight throats.
There was a silent break. He turned to her.
“Magda, I am going to Australia to pick fruit for a while. I need to have time to myself and think.”
He swallowed hard. “I am sorry Magda. I wanted to tell you but I couldn’t bring it over my lips. I feel insecure talking about this because my parents think it is obscene to be homosexual.”
“It is the way we are brought up Sebastian. Find a way to detach yourself from your parent’s influence.”
“It’s easier said than done.” He was letting his tears flow down his face. Magda gave him a tissue.
“I love you,” she said without hesitation.
“I know.” They embraced. Their faces were touching.
“I love you too but not in a sexual way.”
“I know that too,” she said in acceptance. They drank more champagne, enjoying each other’s company in silent harmony.
“Sebastian, you have to accept who you are, otherwise you will never become true to yourself. Only by agreeing with what and who you are you will find happiness.”
“Thank you.” He was holding her hand.
“Sebastian, remember that I will always be here for you. Remember I deeply love you. Remember my love when you feel lonely or desperate. Remember you are never alone. I carry you in my heart.”
After the weekend Magda accompanied Sebastian to the travel agent.
“There you are,” the travel consultant said as if she had waited for him.
She acknowledged Magda with a nod. “Are you going with him?”
“In my heart, yes.”
The travel consultant smiled.
Sebastian booked the one-way flight for the last week of August. He would fly via Hong Kong to Darwin, and from Darwin by light plane to Katherine.
As they walked out of the travel agent’s office, Magda turned to him.
“Sebastian, I am leaving for Hamburg tomorrow to stay a few weeks with my aunt. I can’t be here when you leave.”