By the end of the day I'm tired and want nothing else but to curl up on the couch with my dinner and lick my work-inflicted wounds. I've long since learnt that I hate fifteen year old office juniors, thirty year old secretaries, ancient, grumpy solicitors and, most of all, arrogant firm partners. I abhor public transport, I loathe office shoes and, finally, it is beyond my comprehension why there are so people collecting for charity in our CBD, peskering the hell out of me when I'm trying to race to work before anyone realises I'm half an hour late.
I'm mumbling bitchy comments under my breath when Matthew scares the living shit out of me by walking into the kitchen from the courtyard. How on earth did I manage to forget I have a housemate?
'The world isn't appreciating you mate?' he asks.
'Yes,' I reply quickly. 'I mean 'no'. Well, you know.'
He grins by way of an answer and retrieves a beer from the fridge. He offers me one, to which I hurriedly decline, and sits down at the kitchen table, watching me try and heat up soup in a saucepan.
'How did your job hunting go?' I inquire.
Matthew shrugs. 'I've got a job as a second-class welder. Actually, I may have two jobs, there's after hours work going in some factory and I thought I'd see if I could do that in the evenings, at least until I get myself some semblance of a social life.'
Well, that was certainly...quick. So much for my assumption that finding work was going to be a long and tedious uphill battle. Perhaps there are certain benefits to being a rather well-built six foot than a scrawny little short-ass like myself. We talk uncomfortably as my soup heats up, until suddenly the conversation's intriguing and my dinner's boiled over and I've got nothing but a burning, liquid mess to my name.
'Would you like me to cook?' Matthew asks dryly as we mop up the not-inconsiderable mess.
'That would be nice,' I agree, taking the four dirty tea-towels to the laundry and dumping them in the laundry tub. I feel rather guilty accepting his offer to cook when the only person I was cooking for - the only person I was thinking of - was myself. This, however, does not prevent me from eating the steak he fries up, steak which, unlike mine, is tender and actually tastes like something fit for human consumption.
As we wash the dishes - Matthew washing, me drying - my curiosity as to how he found work so easily overcomes me.
'Labour hire company,' Matthew replies simply. 'Rang 'em before I left home. Besides, I was working in the mines before I came, and if you can work in a mine, you can do anything.'
'You worked in a mine?' I repeat stupidly. 'Like a gold mine?'
Matthew doesn't even bother to try and stop himself laughing. 'Nah, mate, aluminium. I did see the seven dwarves though, once.'
Snickering, he pulls the plug and swishes the dirty water down the drain. 'Alex, mate, you suit your occupation.'
I realise he's utterly taking the piss out of me and flush red, mopping the water from the steak knives with my damp, stained tea towel. I'm starting to wonder how long it will be before Matthew comes to his senses and tries to find a housemate whose a little less gullible and a lot more world-wise. We watch television and smoke together, Matthew's legs splayed out in front of him, his arms flung over the armrests. I try and imagine what sort of man he's looking for, and how likely he is to find him. My mind paints a picture of someone similar to him, tall and muscular, with piercings and tattoos and a laid-back attitude to life and a work ethic that most Australians would be unable to comprehend. Instinctively I understand that he's one of those men that work hard and think nothing of it whilst entirely failing to notice the great bodies their occupations reward them with.
And God does Matthew have a great body. I look like a pale little shrimp alongside him, my arms scrawny, my legs slightly bowed and my chest virtually concave, whereas he is a solid, perfect example of masculinity. He's clad in well-worn, faded blue jeans that are moulded to his legs and ass and a white singlet that hides not only his ugly swastika tatt, but a chest and back that look to be very nicely defined. My gaze rises to his face, watching him flick his tongue against his lip ring, spinning it in circles. His left eyebrow is pierced twice, his septum is pierced and both ears have those stretched piercings in them, a look I don't normally appreciate, but on Matthew they appear not only entirely normal but rather appealling. Whoever ends up being the lucky man who gets to fuck him already has my envy. Screw the clubbing muscleboys, Matthew not only looks better but he looks natural somehow, as though nature created him with the intention that his body should be modified and decorated.
'Why did you stop being a skinhead?' I inquire timidly. Having made the stupid, stupid, mistake of telling my smoke-break buddy about Matthew's swastika tatt, I was ordered to find out more about his neo-nazi days. And truly, I'm more scared about what Katrina will do if I don't ask than I am about Matthew's reaction. Katrina can be one scary lady.
'I ran into some trouble,' Matthew replies, reaching for his cigarettes. 'I'm guessing you want the full explanation?'
I nod stupidly, already feeling guilty for having agreed with Katrina to interrogate my housemate. What Matthew's done in the past may not be nice, but it isn't my business, and I shouldn't have asked the question. For heaven's sake, I'm twenty-four, and it isn't as though Katrina's opinion bothers me...much. Nonetheless, I cosy myself into the corner of the couch, cigarettes and ashtray in front of me, waiting for Matthew to begin.
'Well,' he commences with a shrug. 'When I was twenty I was probably at my worst. You know, lots of beatings and going round setting fire to people's house, breaking their windows, that sort of shit. I was arrogant as all hell and that's when I had the swastika done. Anyhow, there's this big meeting of sorts between our guys and some ANM guys from down south. Now, someone's put in a fairly hefty drug order with these bikies and I'm sent to collect, because these blokes know who I am. So, being the good little skinhead I am, I pick up the drugs, we all end up fucked off our heads and listening to these fucking speaches about how the cause is going. Two days later, I'm in shit.'
Matthew pauses, drawing deeply on his cigarette and gesturing for me to mute the television. He waits until the sound's been cut before continuing.
'See, the drugs haven't been paid for, and the order's in my name. I was in my final semester at Uni at the time, was only working part time and hell, I didn't have the dosh that was owing. Not that this matters, cause these guys want their fucking money. Now, being the jackass I was, I did a fucking runner.'
'I would too,' I agree wholeheartedly. 'I'd disappear off the face of the earth.'
He rolls his eyes in response. 'Yeah, well that's probably the dumbest fucking thing you can do. Anyway, I've spent all this time at Uni and to get my degree, I just needed to sit these two fucking exams. These bikies have found out I'll be in Townsville and have been making plans to meet me there. Finally, I use an ounce of sense and get in contact with them. They beat the shit out of me, demand their money, and tell me I now owe interest as well. I'm like, fucking shitting myself, and try an' explain I don't have any money and they'll have to wait. They ask me if I want to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I think 'fuck no' and these blokes all but point me in the direction of the mines. I'm still a kid, they don't like the guys I'm hanging with, and they want to cut all ties with 'em, but they also want their money and no hassles. So, I get the luckiest fucking break in history, the right chains have been pulled, and a day after I turn twenty-one, I start a one year contract in the mines.
I spend six months paying back this fucking money and interest and everyone's debt is cleared. Seeing as none of my 'brothers' bothered to protect me when I tried to cash in my chips, there was no fucking way I was being loyal to them. Besides, if I'd been caught beating up some ch... Asian or whatever, I could end up in jail. I wouldn't be working, couldn't pay my debt, and my back'd be broken. So I was out. Finished my contract, had a good hard think about what I was doing and decided to stop being such a bastard,' he looks at me apologetically as he finishes. 'And that's it.'
Now that was certainly enlightening. I stare at the soundless television in wonder, trying to imagine might would have happened if I'd met Matthew in his skinhead days. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if he hadn't found work in the mines. My middle-class mind can't comprehend what it must be like to have someone threatening to break your back, all because somebody else didn't pay for an order.
'You want to put the sound back on?' Matthew asks.
'Uh, sure,' I reply stupidly, un-muting the television. I spend the next few hours just sitting and mulling over what I've learnt about my new housemate. I try and imagine him angry and vicious, spewing forth words of hate and actually believing in them. The image is rather hard to conjure up; Matthew's too...intelligent...for that sort of crap. You can see it in the way he treats life, the expressions and intonations as he speaks, that he understands how ridiculous he was, and yet for six years of his life he believed in white supremacy. It goes beyond all reasoning how someone with half a brain could be drawn into such a bullshit, fascist, racist, homophobic, group.
'Why did you become a skinhead?' I inquire meekly during an adbreak.
He shrugs helplessly. 'I was a faggot and I knew it. But unlike everyone else who was to weak to fight it, I considered myself better. I was stronger, superior, because I could fight the urge, I could fuck women, I could force myself to be heterosexual. And I thought that being a skinhead would give me, I don't know, some sort of purpose, rather than hanging around some dying country town, bitching about the government and Asian immigrants.'
'Oh,' I reply simply, noting the irony in his voice. 'Well, welcome to gay-dom.'
He shakes his head, smiling and appearing relieved that I'm not angry. I can't imagine it's easy telling a Eurasian you once thought their white ancestors should have killed and demeaned, and not fallen in love with, Asians and I feel a stirring of respect. As he stretches and announces he's going to bed, I have two more questions.
'Did you get your degree? And what were you doing, anyway?'
'Yes, I finished,' he replies with a small smile. 'I graduated with honors. History major.'