Honey! I’m home! I’m baaack! It’s time I completed “The Story of Andrei”.
The morning of Andrei’s arrival in Collinsville after we unloaded the provisions’ truck, I took him to my home so he could deposit his luggage. My brother, Graham, had been staying with me the couple of days prior and he was leaving that day. I introduced Andrei to my brother and they chatted for a brief moment before I took him back to the Mess with me. Shortly after our visit, Graham left for his home in Mackay, approximately two hours’ drive south of Collinsville.
Thursday and Friday, Andrei spent his days in the Mess with me. I had him peeling and chopping vegetables and other mundane chores such as those. Our evenings were spent quietly watching movies, talking and not depleting further bottles of Bundaberg rum. Saturday morning approached. I loaded up the company Suzuki four-wheel drive with an overnight bag for me, Andrei and his luggage. On the Sunday, my plan was to drive him on to Mackay for him to catch a flight back to Brisbane.
We headed off along the road from Collinsville into Bowen on the coast. I took him on a scenic tour of the Bowen beaches, which are quite magnificent. He had never seen anything like these areas before, nor the type of homes. He was quite enthralled, taking everything in with the enthusiasm of a child. It was impossible not to catch his excitement. It was contagious. We ambled on down to Airlie Beach. The entrance into Airlie Beach through the northern end, via Cannonvale is very picturesque. A tall tree-covered headland falls directly into a turquoise sea below. As I drove around a bend, I heard Andrei gasp at the sight of the beauty before him. Dotted over the crystal water were many boats of all sizes, styles and colours. The scene before us was like something out of a tourism brochure. It was as if the day had been tailor-made just for him. Not a cloud blotted the clear blue sky. A gentle breeze hardly causing a ripple on the surface of the water nor stirring the leaves on the lush green trees as we drove along.
Entering Airlie, I said to Andrei, “We’ll book into our room immediately. We’ll drop of our luggage and head into town, if that’s okay with you. Once I’ve parked the car, that’s where it will stay until it’s time for us to leave tomorrow. There will be no chance of finding a parking spot in town. And we won't be back to our room until much later tonight!”
Whitsunday Resort is at the top of a steep hill. I found a suitable parking spot. We booked in and we made haste to our room. It was a quick turn-around, bidding farewell to our room, knowing we wouldn’t see it again until we knew not when. Susie and I had agreed to catch up with each other at the Whitsunday Yacht Club. She and her boyfriend were amongst the organizers of the yacht race. I knew she would be very busy and I had no intentions of taking up much of her time.
Just as we approached the main street of Airlie, a parade was in progress with colorfully decorated floats, clowns, jugglers and all forms of entertainment dancing and prancing along the street. People were milling about everywhere. All was motion. I couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to show Andrei a bit of our lifestyle than that weekend, even if I’d planned it well in advance. The small township was alive with happy people, all in the mood to celebrate. The air was alive. Andrei couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. We strolled leisurely through the street. My guest was in awe of all that he saw. He had never seen anything like it before. We arrived at the Yacht Club and found a vacant table outside over-looking the water. We’d not been there long when Susie arrived, bubbling as much as the champagne she had been enjoying since mid-morning! She invited us to a party at her apartment, but after conferring with Andrei, I declined on behalf of the two of us. I figured it would be far more interesting for him to partake in the afternoon and evening’s events at the Yacht Club, than being cooped up in an apartment amongst strangers. Fair enough that he was going to be amongst strangers at the Yacht Club, but a band was due to commence playing and I thought he would enjoy that much better.
Night fell. We ordered our dinner and settled in for an evening of fun. The band played excellent music and soon we were up rocking the night away. In between music breaks, some of the band members joined our table, much to the delight of Andrei. He found he had a lot in common with them because of his own small band back home. The conversation and laughter flowed easily and freely. The time came for the last bracket and the band played some rocking good music. We kicked up our heels. For a moment, my attention was elsewhere, then to my surprise, I noticed I didn’t have a partner. Andrei had fallen to the floor! Purposely, I discovered amongst my shock and hilarity. He had perfectly performed the splits...down and up again as quick as a flash! Everyone cheered and clapped, even the band members! We said our farewells and headed off to join the merry group of revelers out in the streets.
Walking past the Airlie Beach Hotel, we popped in for one last drink, just as the hotel was closing. Turning into the main street, we came upon a park wherein a crowd was gathering. A band was setting up to play on the tray of a large truck. Not ready to call the evening 'quits', we settled ourselves down on the grass. By now it was just after midnight. The party was still in full swing. I can’t remember the name of the band, but to our surprised joy, they played Pink Floyd music. Soon, the crowd numbers increased and the band played for another ninety minutes or so. It was one of the best bands I’ve heard. Somebody sitting next to us informed me that they were from Mackay, which was surprising, to say the least. I always thought the only good thing to come out of Mackay was sugar!
We ambled back up the hill to our accommodation, arriving around 2am. For a while, both Andrei and I sat out on the balcony, looking at the stars and the cloud formations, rehashing the day and evening’s events, while we sipped on coffee.
It was difficult to bring the day to an end, but I knew we had to rise early in the morning to continue our trip on to Mackay and the airport.
An friendly argument ensured as to who was going to have the bed and who was going to sleep on the sofa. I won! I insisted Andrei have the bed. He was my guest. I wanted him to enjoy the whole ambience of his stay in north Queensland. I told him the sofa was better as I could look at the stars as I fell to sleep.
He perched himself up in bed and said, “Lee…I thank you. This has been the most wonderful day of my life. To spend the time with you these past couple of days will be something I will never forget. I don’t want this day to end.”
I thanked him and agreed that we had had a wonderful time, but we must get some sleep!
Like a mischievous child, he said, “Okay…but I’m going to have one more cigarette…just one more!”
How could I deny him? It had been a special time for me, as well.
In the morning, we continued our adventure onto Mackay, arriving a little after 8am. We decided we would breakfast at “Hungry Jacks” before heading out to the airport. Another debate arose. Andrei insisted on paying for our breakfasts. I tried to put forth an argument, but he wouldn’t let me win that one. He wanted to do it, so I gave in and let him. He looked across the table at me. With sincerity, he said, “As long as I live, I will always remember the special time I spent with a woman called ‘Lee’…I thank you.” Of course, being who I am, tears flooded my eyes. And for once, I was without words.
We arrived at Mackay Airport. I waited as Andrei checked in his luggage. I turned around and came face to face with Graham, my brother. He had decided to come out to the airport to bid farewell to Andrei. He had told me on the telephone he might do so, but I had said nothing about his tentative plan to Andrei, in case it didn’t come into fruition. When Andrei returned to where I was standing, the look of surprised happiness on his face at seeing Graham standing there alongside me is one I will never forget. He was overcome that someone he had only met for a brief few minutes in time would do something like that for him.
By the time, Andrei was called for his flight the three of us had tears in our eyes. Andrei shook Graham’s hand and then he turned to me. He gave me the biggest bear hug I’ve ever had in my life. Eventually, I pushed him away gently, saying, “Go! Go! Before I turn into a blubbering mess!”
With tear-filled eyes, my brother and I watched as Andrei walked towards the ‘Exit” door. At the door, Andrei spun around, stopping all who were behind him. He swung his arms out and then down as his body bent in a wide, sweeping, low bow as a salute. He turned and walked across the tarmac to where his plane waited. Another moment in time, I shall not forget.
Graham instructed me to follow his car. This I did and we pulled alongside a grassy verge at the rear of the run-way. There we alighted from our vehicles to watch as Andrei’s plane lifted and turned on its way south to Brisbane. It was a beautiful thing my brother did that day. It had meant very much to Andrei. And it meant a lot to me.
After saying our ‘Good-Byes’, Graham went home and I turned my car north to Collinsville.
Andrei rang me from Brisbane a couple of times before he left for Melbourne. He stayed in Melbourne for a few weeks, during which time he, again, telephoned me. Andrei laughingly told me he wasn’t like the rest of the group who had come to Australia the same time he did. They, he said, saved the money they received during their visit. Andrei bought himself a spanking-new stereo system! He left Melbourne after his time in Australia, to head back to Yakutsk, via Moscow.
We corresponded for a while upon his return home. He had gained employment at the Gold Bank in Yakutsk, earning $300US a month, which was classed as very good money as the average wage at that time was around $100US a month. His older brother Vladimir also worked in the Gold Bank and at one stage was based in Melbourne.
During my next visit to Airlie Beach after the trip Andrei, I found a t-shirt in one of the menswear stores. It was a “Bundaberg Rum” t-shirt and had a plastic sealed pocket on the front of it, filled with Bundaberg Rum. I bought it and sent it to Andrei in memory of a great time shared. He rang me from Yakutsk upon its receipt to thank me. I asked him had he drunk the rum and he told me he would wait until winter. It only gets around 40 degrees below there in Yakutsk. I think he would need a ship-load of rum!
During our wander down the main street of Airlie Beach that sunny Saturday afternoon, we bought raffle tickets in a wheelbarrow full of Bundaberg Rum. We didn’t win it, but we did discuss how we could make money from exporting Bundaberg Rum into Russia. We never did anything about our grandiose ideas, of course. I wonder if anyone has!
I often think of Andrei, of how his life has turned out. Those few days will always remain very special to me.
I feel honoured to have met such a fine young man.