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Clement's Corner: Sandra's Dream

Owen Clement's story involves a strange dream and an astonishing meeting.

One hot summer night Sandra had been woken by a dream. She was meandering down a palm-lined road, with the sea gently lapping the beach on one side and a steep bank leading up to a row of thatched roofed shanties on the other. A couple of teenage brown-skinned frizzy-haired boys clad only in shorts with their arms around each other’s shoulders had smiled shyly at her as they passed by along the beach.

Working her way up the sandy slope she had arrived at a bungalow with newly limed walls. Inside the same stark white walls contrasted with gaily upholstered dark teak furniture and large-leafed greenery. As she entered the high-ceilinged drawing room where a fan barely stirred the humid air, a slender dark-haired young man dressed in summer whites had walked in through French doors off the veranda. Surprised at seeing her, he had stopped, stared at her for a few moments, turned and strode out again.

It was then that she awoke.

Disturbed by the strangely familiar figure, she slid out of bed and moved to the window where she curled up on a chair with her arms clasped around her legs, her chin on her knees. Her thoughts went back to her childhood as she wondered if that was where she had seen the sad-faced young man.

Her husband Peter awoke and seeing her forlorn figure sitting curled up by the window called out, “You all right, Darling?”

“I’m fine, it was just a dream”. She sighed and pushing herself upright said, “I’ll go and make us a cold drink.''

They walked to the kitchen together where seated at the table sipping fresh lemonade she described the dream to him and of how vividly it had remained with her. His interest grew when she mentioned the young man.

They returned to bed. He turned over onto his side and was soon asleep. She lay awake, thinking.

A couple of weeks later, while enjoying a coffee al fresco in a café with an office colleague, she saw an older version of the man in her dream sitting at a table nearby. When he caught her watching him, he in turn studied her. Feeling uncomfortable at his scrutiny she excused herself, left the table and returned to work, deciding not to tell Peter.

Another week passed before the man reappeared. She approached his table nervously. “Excuse me,'' she said, ''have we met before?”

After a long pause he said with a Scottish brogue, “Not that I can recall, Miss.''

“I beg your pardon,” she answered stiffly. “I am obviously mistaken.'' Embarrassed, she turned and strode back to her table.

She was just finishing her coffee when she noticed that he was still watching her. She immediately got up and left.

Peter noticed Sandra’s distracted mood that evening. Onn questioning her he learned that she thought she had seen the man in her dream. They tossed ideas around as to the best way to find out his identity. Peter suggested looking through the cardboard box containing old family photographs to see if any could jog her memory. It proved a mammoth task with well over a hundred small and often fuzzy black and white snapshots to sift through. Eventually they were rewarded. In a picture of a group, taken in the grounds in her family’s house in Port Moresby, a figure closely resembling the man in her dream was standing beside her mother, holding her elbow and smiling affectionately. Turning the photograph over, they saw names scribbled in her father’s scrawl. Peter produced a magnifying glass and saw that the man was cakked Roger Dalby. The name brought a gasp from Sandra. She told Peter that Roger, with no family of his own in the Britain, had adopted her family as his own. “My parents, particularly my mother, were heartbroken when he disappeared one day without saying a word,'' she added. "Could it really be the same man?''

Peter made her promise that if she did see him again she would telephone him immediately and they would approach him together.

The very next day, as she drove past the café she saw him sitting at the same table where she had seen him previously. He was having lunch. She returned to the office and rang Peter who arrived within ten minutes. To their dismay the man had gone, leaving most of his meal uneaten.

“You go looking in that direction, and I'll go this way,'' Peter suggested.

“No, we will go together,” Sandra said, taking his hand.

They spent nearly an hour looking around, but without success. After days of searching and checking the Sydney telephone directory, their quest remained fruitless.

“There is only one thing for it,” Peter said one evening, “we will have to put an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald and ask him to contact us.''

“Oh, I don’t think so, it’s not that important.”

“I do. Let’s just say that I am intrigued. I’m sure you must be too. If it is Roger Dalby, what is he doing here? I am convinced that dreaming about him was no coincidence. If we don’t try, we will always wonder.”

Sandra sighed. Once Peter decided on something nothing would stop him from seeing it through.

The next day Peter rang the classified section of the Sydney Morning Herald and placed an advertisement asking Roger Dalby to please contact Peter and Sandra Walker (Matheson), giving their phone number.

One evening at the end of that week the telephone rang. The same voice Sandra had heard in the café said, “Roger Dalby here, I believe you want to see me?”

Sandra collected her thoughts before saying, “Mr. Dalby, this is Sandra Walker, Helen and Phillip Matheson's daughter.''

‘Oh aye.''

“My husband Peter and I would really like to meet you.”

There was a long pause. "If you wish, but I canna imagine what you would want of me.''

They invited him to dinner the following evening, which, to their surprise, he accepted.

While they were dining Sandra mentioned how distressed both her parents had been when he suddenly disappeared without saying goodbye or leaving a forwarding address.

Roger put down his knife and fork. trying hard to control his emotions. “The reason I left so suddenly, was because I thought it would be best for all concerned. A few months later I reconsidered my decision and wrote to them but my letter came back marked “Return to sender”. I didn't know they had left Australia. Not until a few weeks ago did I learn that your parents had been killed in a car accident. I had contacted an investigator who provided me with that information. I didn't want to believe it. They were the two people I loved most in this world. The woman investigator also managed to trace you. I came here in the hope of seeing you. I was astonished when you approached me in that cafe. I am intrigued as to how you recognised me.''

It was then she mentioned her dream.

"That’s very strange indeed,'' said Roger Dalby "but it still doesn’t explain how you knew it was me.”

Peter pulled out the snapshot and handed it to Roger. Roger took it and to Sandra and Peter’s dismay he broke down in tears.

“Here drink this,'' said Peter, offering him a glass of water.

Throughout the evening Peter had been closely studying Roger. Sandra glanced at her husband. A silent message flashed between them. She too had been aware of the likeness between Roger and herself, the jet black hair, the deep blue eyes, the same sharp nose and the high cheekbones. She had recalled her father saying when she was a child, “She certainly doesn’t look like any member of my family.'' Her mother had become very angry, declaring "You must never say that.''

Roger took out a handkerchief and dried his eyes. Speaking softly he said, “Your parents were the kindest and dearest friends I ever had. I still miss them very much.''

“Mr Dalby did you have an affair with Sandra’s mother?”

Peter’s directness made Sandra bite her lip.

Roger Dalby sighed deeply and after a long pause said, “I was afraid you’d ask that.'' He looked at Sandra. “You my dear must never think badly of your parents. You see, your mother desperately wanted a child. Your father couldn’t, you know, have one. He was impotent. You must remember that we three were very close.'

“Your father asked me if... You know. I could think of no better or more loving gift for them. Then, when I realised that your mother was pregnant, I decided it was best for all concerned if I returned to Scotland.''

Sandra was numb with shock. Questions raced through her head. Only one answer came to mind.

Her parents had arranged the meeting.

© Clement 2006


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