They were greeted with familiar geniality. They all knew Professor Bauer well, but afforded Anna the same familiarity.
“And, who is this bella donna?”
A kiss on each cheek complimented the authentic European benevolence. The waiter seated the pair and took their order. He spoke with an Italian accent, and broken English. Professor Bauer conversed in Italian, translating for Anna when needed.
She observed the interactions, impressed by the professor’s linguistic prowess. It was like walking into another world. Or at least another country. Anna loved it. It was a small piece of Italy in the middle of Sydney, and she had no idea it existed until now.
“Allow me to buy you a drink” he offered.
Anna wasn’t a big drinker, but she accepted graciously. They dined into the night. The conversation flowed easily. Both were obviously comfortable in each other’s presence and it wasn’t long before the conversation became personal.
“I’m sorry for Barnaby’s behaviour earlier”.
It was something she felt the need to say, but he refused to accept it.
“Do you control his behaviour?” he asked seriously
“Well then why do you find the need to apologise for it?”
“It’s just that I believe it’s my…”
“It’s not” he interj
“So how did you wind up with the likes of Barnaby?”
“I don’t know. He was one of the first people I met when I came here. He seemed so passionate. Alive. I thought he represented what I came to the city for”.
“What was that?”
“Some sort of worldly truth”.
He stared intensely at her. He had a way of doing so that made her feel like the only person around. He absorbed every word she spoke, with genuine interest.
“I know. It sounds naïve. You probably think me foolish?”
“Not at all. We all search for ‘some kind of truth’. There’s nothing wrong with that”.
“I found myself in a place where people never stop judging, questioning, and accusing, long enough to really find the truth to anything!”
Her words were more enlightening than she gave herself credit for. In his eyes, she was wise beyond her tender years, and he couldn’t deny that it was just one of her many qualities he found so endearing.
“Maybe that’s the point?” He concurred.
“The truth isn’t an absolute. But, merely a perception. Therefore, it’s only real to the person who feels it. Could that be why we get frustrated when we don’t find what we’re looking for in others?”
He taught without condescending. His effortless wisdom captivated her.
“So, why did you come here?” she asked coyly, taking a drink of her wine, and hoping to move on from discussing her situation”.
“To the university? Or this country?”
“Both” she urged.
“I came here at the urging of a friend in 1935. I was a young man, fresh out of university”. He paused in thoughtful reflection, running his fingers along the rim of his wine glass.
“A lot like you, I guess. Things were not great in Deutschland, but none of us could have predicted the tumultuous times to come”.
He picked up the glass and took a swift drink.
“I guess it was fate?” Anna suggested.
Her infallible optimism made him smile.
“Fate, or maybe just a young man’s foolish heart. Well, life as a German here during the war wasn’t friendly, but it was certainly better than the alternative. I’m grateful for that. I wasn’t allowed to fight, but they found use for me as an interpreter. I offered correspondence for your government throughout the war. It made me feel useful, I guess”.
“Are your family still in Germany?”
“Those that the war didn’t claim”.
He took another drink of his wine. Anna joined him, in commiseration.
“We’ve all known loss from the war. Perhaps you too?”
“My uncle and my cousins. I was young. I didn’t really know them well. But I could see how it broke my father. He was always a peaceful man, and the war just seemed so pointless. He doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body. Some called him a coward, but I’ve always seen him as a hero”.
“He sounds like a fine man, who evidently raised a fine young lady”.
Anna smiled, which seemed to trigger something in him.
“Well, I think maybe we should be getting home” he suggested.
“You could be right” she agreed.
He pulled out her chair. She stood up a little unsteady on her feet, from the wine. Sensing her need for an escort, he insisted on seeing her home.
They walked quietly for a while
“Thank you for a lovely evening”
“Thank you. It was your shout, after all”
“I meant for showing me something new. Marco’s was amazing. I had no idea”.
She was starting to realise that the world she knew was smaller than she wanted to admit.
He stopped walking and looked at her.
“There’s plenty more to experience”
He stopped short of directly asking her out. She made it tempting, but he didn’t want to cross the line.
They continued home. But just before they had reached her building, a young man approached them urgently. He appeared anxious. He was a friend of Barnaby and Anna.
“What are you doing here Tony?”
He caught his breathe and began; “Look, I thought you should know, Barnaby is crazy mad”.
He looked directly at Erich;
“He’s been telling everyone you’ll pay, and he sure seems serious” he warned.
Turning his attention to Anna, he continued;
“and he said he’s going to get you back, whatever it takes. He thinks you have something going on with this guy. He said nobody leaves him, especially not for a dirty Krout”.
He gave Professor Bauer an apologetic glance, before continuing.
“He’d kill me for saying something, but I like you Anna, and it’s not right. I thought you needed to know. He won’t let up. His planning something. I don’t know what he’s capable of? You know who his father is. Just be careful”.
He looked around, as if worried someone may be watching them and quickly left.
Anna was visibly shocked. Erich put his arm around her reassuringly and escorted her to her flat.
“Do you have someone who can stay with you?”
She nodded, still in a daze.
“My flatmate, Eleanor”.
Surveying the room, he noticed that she didn’t appear to be there.
“I think I should stay until she gets home?”
Anna already felt guilty enough for involving him.
“No. Please, I’ll be fine”.
He could see that she was not fine and would not leave. She sat on the sofa whilst he made his way to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. He handed her the glass and sat down next to her.
“Don’t worry. It will be ok”, he assured her.
Anna wasn’t sure, but his presence did comfort her. They sat quietly for a while. Eventually Anna fell asleep. He carried her to what he assumed was her room and settled himself back down on the lounge. There was still no sign of Eleanor, so he waited. Eventually he too fell asleep.