An American Au Pair in Bondi is slated for worldwide release on November 9. It will be available from Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and other digital platforms. Due to restrictions, I am only permitted to put up the first four chapters of the e-book on any free sites.
Thank you for your understanding.
1: The Year Before Lockdown
EMILY HAD BEEN BASED IN SYDNEY for two weeks, staying at the YHA near Central Station in the heart of the city. She was fortunate to get a bed in a twin-share converted train carriage for these were very popular and so were often booked out.
On her first day, before she was even fully recovered from jet lag, she just had to see the Sydney Opera House. Every tourist must see it and she was no different. To her delight, the performing arts centre, world famous for its sail-shaped roof, did not disappoint, especially from atop the harbour bridge. It was doubly satisfying since she had not intended to climb the "coat hanger" as the Bridge was colloquially known, but she was pressed into it by her new Danish acquaintance. Overall, she did not like heights, although she was not afraid of it either. She just preferred her feet on the ground, both in the physical and emotional sense.
Atop the Bridge, however, the panoramic views of Sydney Harbour were so breathtaking that she did not regret paying "big bickies" for the climb. There was minimal cloud cover that day so the blue of the sky above reflected upon the waters below, creating a mesmerising landscape.
She spent a further three days exploring Sydney's central business district. She mostly walked everywhere to get the vibes of the city. She fell in love with The Rocks, a centuries-old enclave near the Quay. It was very touristy, she must admit. Its main attraction was the high-end shops, like Ken Done's gallery, whose colourful paintings made her smile. There were many attractive market stalls, but their wares were too pricey for her limited funds. So, she treated herself to endless browsing, and occasional ice cream treats.
But the locales that pleasured her senses the most cost her almost nothing—the arts museums, of which there were five world class ones in proximity of each other. Herself a closet painter who dabbled in still-life, she spent hours upon hours studying the exhibits in each venue.
Her newfound friends teased her endlessly for choosing arts over more daredevil activities, like rock climbing. She reasoned, in her defence, 'I can rock climb in the States, but I won't be able to see these art exhibits there.'
She gave her weekly Opal ticket a workout taking ferries to different destinations not frequented by tourists. One day, to her fellow backpackers' dismay, she opted for a leisurely hour-long ferry trip to Parramatta.
'Where's that?' they asked.
'West of the city,' she replied as she consulted her Google Map app.
'What's there to see?' asked her Danish friend, O. She had not bothered to ask him what "O" stood for. For all she cared, it could be Oscar, Olaf, or Otto.
'Probably nothing special,' she admitted, 'but there won't be many tourists, that's for sure.'
In the end, she went alone. Some of her friends went to Manly; the others went to Bondi yet again.
The weather was glorious, just the perfect autumn day to celebrate being young and free. She stood on the ferry's upper deck to drink in the views of mega mansions that boasted of manicured gardens and low-rise apartment buildings, all with unobstructed vistas of the water and the bushland.
Sydney, she thought, is truly magnificent.
Parramatta was at the end of Sydney's Western ferry line. From the wharf, guided by her GPS-enabled smartphone, she made her way to Lackey Street, off Bourke Street, to the start of a walking trail. She aimed to walk all the way to the Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush.
Lake Parramatta was now a family-friendly recreational area, with three marked bushwalking trails. Every now and then, a signboard hailed the efforts of volunteers whose uncompromising commitment to the environment had made significant changes in the once contaminated industrial area.
The river had suffered severe degradation until rehabilitation began prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Now, both birdlife and the wetlands were thriving. She even heard frogs croaking in the background. For a fleeting moment, she was reminded of a park near her home in Columbus.
Since it was a weekday, Emily saw few people in the three hours she spent there. For long stretches of time, she was by herself, accompanied only by birds.
She sat on one of the park benches overlooking the river and munched on her sandwich. There were better places to see in Sydney, she admitted. Places that were more attractive, greener, quieter, more photogenic, and more popular, but they were also more hectic.
She looked up, overhead, and saw an eagle performing aerial acrobatics as it hunted for food.
The solitary hike from Parramatta to Homebush gave her time to reflect.
Life is beautiful, she thought. She certainly could not think of anything to complain about. She had had a charmed life, all things considered.
'ARE YOU COMING?' her Korean roommate asked.
She shook her head; she would not go out again until she checked her bank balance. It was time to be sensible before booking another tour.
Alone in the hostel's converted train carriage that she shared with Kim, she checked online and tallied all the loose change she could find. They summed up to $19,387.52 Australian dollars.
She was gobsmacked. Just two weeks of gallivanting and already her fund was down to almost two-thirds of what she started with.
She had visited the Blue Mountains to hike, gone to the Hunter Valley for the wine tasting, and flown to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island.
But still, how could I have burned through all that money?
It was beyond her.
I hadn't been that extravagant, she thought. But things, she realised, always have a habit of getting away when one is having fun.
She had budgeted for five thousand dollars to last a month, but they were gone in just fourteen days; and she was supposed to be the astute one.
Her mother used to say, 'You're such a sensible girl; too sensible for your own good.'
She did not feel so sensible now.
How am I going to make it to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea at the rate this is going?
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, Margie, her dearly beloved mother, passed away from a long, painful, and protracted battle with cancer. Months earlier, it was nothing more than an innocent-looking mole on her nose. It turned out to be a potent form of melanoma. Near the end, cancer was also found in her lungs.
It was not fair. How could her Mommy, the kindest, most God-fearing woman she had ever known be visited upon by such cruelty?
She said so as much.
Margie shushed her up with one of her folksy wisdoms, 'We will all go one way or another. God knows we all hate surprises. So, He is giving us a chance to prepare.'
TEARS WELLED UP in her eyes as she recalled how she got to Australia, a country farthest from her origin.
When they were little, Margie used to say, on repeat, 'When I can afford it, I will travel.' Fat chance that was for a single mother of three girls. The odds were astronomically long that she might as well had wished for a lottery windfall.
Then she got sick, so she used to say, 'When I am better, I will travel the world.'
Margie did not get the opportunity to fulfill her dream. First, she could not; then, she should not.
Instead, she satisfied herself with gazing at distant places on the big screen from the comfort of her home. With a wide grin, often holding a glass of water pretending it was wine, she would tell them, 'Nothing could be better than seeing the world without having to walk or get tired or lost or thirsty. This is so much better.'
But, sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, she would have this wistful look in her eyes, whispering, 'I wish I could be there.'
In truth, she longed to taste rain as it poured down from the skies in a rainforest. She would have loved the feel of wet sand on the beaches of Galapagos and to survey with her eyes the playful, and sometimes, violent wildlife. She would have loved to climb the mountains and to explore the mysteries of the ancient world.
Alas, it was not to be. Instead, she passed on this unfulfilled desire to her daughters. She would love nothing better than for her girls to see, feel, taste and smell what she never could in her lifetime.
The last thing Margie told her three daughters before she closed her eyes for eternity was, 'Go see the world.'
The three girls knew it was their mother's way of making sure they did not wallow in self-pity after she was gone. As a single mother, Margie had always been fiercely protective of them, even right up to the time of her death.
On her death bed, she made them all promise.
'Promise me, you will see the world.'
In the end, they knew she did all she could for them, for she was the best mother they could have wished for.
SO, THAT'S WHAT THEY DID. They sold the house they grew up in, in a white-picket-fence suburb of Ohio, auctioned off their mother's collections of dolls and porcelains, and cashed her death benefits.
First, they paid the hospice bills, gifted a small amount to Margie's long-time nurse, and settled all the obligations against the estate, then they divided what was left evenly between them.
In the end, they each had thirty-thousand dollars in pocket money; more than enough to see parts of the world Margie could only see on the big screen.
Henrietta, or Henri for short, left first. She went to South America to see the ruins of the Aztec and Mayan civilisations.
Two weeks later, Nicky boarded a plane for Iceland because she was the least sensible of them all.
Emily opted to go to Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. A rather ambitious itinerary for a sensible woman, but to her credit, she took plenty of time to plan carefully before setting off. She researched and planned the trip to within an inch of her sanity.
Eventually, six months after her mom's passing, just before Covid-19 swept around the globe and countries locked their borders down, twenty-four-year-old Emily ditched her sensibilities and bought a ticket for her dream destinations.
Little did she know that her life as she knew it would never be the same again.