One day I go up to the house to start dinner, I find her collapsed on floor. I scream for my husband because she not breathing. We turn her over and I breathe into her mouth. Then after I think no-one could go this long without breathing, God send her back to us.
After that Mrs Ziotto want me to stay and live with her. But I tell her I can’t, I didn’t leave my own family to live with her. She upset so I tell her it could still be months before we leave. But because this the way life works, three days later we get our papers.
I meet a couple of the wives leaving for Australia too — they going to buy clothes for when they arrive. They say they don’t want to look like nothing the day they get off the boat. I say I can’t go, I have no money for clothes.
When I get home I tell Mrs Ziotto what’s wrong, she go into her bedroom and come out with $500 dollar — American dollar. I say no, I don’t tell you so you give me money — I tell you because you my friend. But she say no, take it, it’s nothing compared to what I have.
So I go and I buy clothes, for me, for my husband, for my boys. I buy so much I can barely carry them home but even then I could only spend $200 dollar. I give the rest of the money back to her, she no want to take it but I say I cannot take more than I need.
The next day we leave for Australia. We come to Sydney. My husband he find a factory job in the Marrickville. I take a job sewing because I can do while at home, with my boys. All day I sew. Sew, sew, sew. Even on the toilet I sew. Then people start to hear about me, they ask me to make something for them, something special. One young girl come to me because she need a christening gown for her son but she worried she can’t pay — I say, then of course you will not pay, I will make for free.
But that very month my husband lose his job in Marrickville. By the time he a find new job we were already behind in our rent, our landlord say this what happens when you rent to migrant, when you rent to wog, they will rob from you.
The day I have to go see landlord and beg him for more time to pay I put on my bravest face. I put on the suit I bought for the day I arrive in Australia, because it make me look older and stronger than I feel. I go downstairs and knock on the landlord’s door. That’s when I see my hands are shaking. I put my hands in my pocket so he won’t see… that’s when I find Mrs Ziotto’s $300 — the $300 I tried to give back to her.
Mrs Ziotto saved me from my shame that day.
The landlord find me there like that, holding $300 American dollar and with tears in my eyes. I give him $100 and say, this for the month’s rent, and next month’s rent, and the month after, and I let you give me change in Australian dollar.
Slowly we save enough to move out of city to our own house, with backyard. We make our memories in that backyard — we have BBQ’s, pizza nights, the birthday parties for the kids, we live. We live.
Mrs Ziotto's Three Hundred Dollars has also been published by Voices of Women and Verity La.