Treasure in the poverty zone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 1997, 12:00am

Fracture Zone by Jonathan Harlen An old saying for those sorting through their possessions is: 'If in doubt, toss it out.' But others counter: 'So much of the rubbish we throw away could prove useful another day.' Some people make their living from the rubbish you throw out. Have you ever wondered about how these 'scavengers' survive? Andrejs did not like to even think about these street people. Until one day he found a key with a tag on it - and written clearly on the tag was the number '10'.

His friend Danny asked him who lived in apartment No 10, but Andrejs didn't know.

So they decide to return the key, but once they reach the flat Danny cannot resist the temptation to act like a spy in a movie and so he opens the door.

Andrejs knows this is wrong but when his friend reveals the contents of the flat, he is lured in to investigate.

The boys can't believe their eyes. Piles of newspapers tied into bundles, old clothes hanging from the curtain rails, out- of-date encyclopedias on one bookshelf, and a row of chipped coffee cups on another.

Beside a sewing machine lies a pair of driving gloves and also a cloth handbag in need of repair.

Danny is not usually the person to spot anything - it's always Andrejs that finds things.

But this time it's Danny who notices an envelope on the table and he starts counting the money inside it.

Excerpt from Page 5 Andrejs came up behind him and snatched the envelope from his hand.

'Hey!' Danny turned. 'What are you doing?' 'Don't be an idiot. I wasn't going to take it. I was just counting it. There must be three- or four-hundred bucks in there.' He took the envelope back from Andrejs and resumed counting. There were 50s inside as well as 20s. Andrejs felt out of his depth - they had done nothing wrong, and yet they had done everything wrong.

He felt as if he had disturbed something private in himself. Danny must be thinking the same thing, but he seemed used to it. Excited by it, even. His eyes were bright and he kept giggling nervously.

Suddenly the old 'bag lady' who lived in No 10 returned home.

She is too intent on searching through the treasures she's collected from the rubbish to notice the boys at first.

Without warning, Danny makes a crazy dash for the door, colliding with the woman and knocking her to the floor.

Andrejs also runs but his first concern is for the woman, who he checks is still alive before he leaves.

Andrejs cannot forget his fears that their carelessness may have led to the murder of an innocent victim, so he's relieved when he sees her scouring the streets in search of useful refuse.

While watching her try to climb into a large bin to add to her collection, Andrejs witnesses a second fall.

This time he unashamedly runs to help her and offers to wheel home her heavily laden trolley.

Thus begins a very unusual friendship which ostracises Andrejs from his friends at school and gets him into trouble with his family.

Fracture Zone is a novel that investigates some deep moral issues, such as prejudice against the poor and destitute, the problems of adjusting to Australian life for refugees, the values of our materialistic society, and the purpose of recycling.

Jonathan Harlen writes vividly, reflecting the language and scenes of inner-city life. The Australian Office of Multicultural Affairs shortlisted this book for an award.

It is available at Skywalker Books Ltd, 17/F, Tak Woo House, 17 D'Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2521 5222.

Ms Wolstencroft is a teacher specially trained in children's literature and English as a second language. She conducts seminars for teachers and story-times for schoolchildren in Hong Kong and Macau