Chance Encounter Chapter 1

Lunch With Stephanie

Johann Kavel checked himself in the mirror as he entered Rydges Hotel and noted to his satisfaction he’d been quite presentable at the Lutheran Church in Darlinghurst a short travel distance away from the hotel. Proper attire for church had been instilled into him by his pious German family for his ancestors had come out of Europe to preserve their faith and freedom to worship as they thought fit and the family counted men of the cloth who had the Protestant ethic. The first large group of Germans had arrived in South Australia 1838, not long after the British colonisation of South Australia. These “Old Lutherans” were from Brandenburg (then a Prussian province), and were trying to preserve their traditional faith. They emigrated with the financial assistance of George Fife Angas and the Emigration Fund. Not all subsequent arrivals shared this religious motivation, but the Lutheran Church remained at the centre of the German settlers’ lives right into the 20th century. Germans formed the largest non-English-speaking group in Australia up to the 20th century. St Paul’s was Johann’s most favourite church in the city and he always attended on a Sunday when on one of his business trips to Sydney from his home in the wine country of Barossa Valley, South Australia.

While he was always addressed as Johann in the family circle he was more commonly known as John in the trade as he did the rounds of contacts in Australia and increasingly abroad. He was the engine of change within the family and he’d catapulted the family winery into a substantial business enterprise. His father Friederich had recognized his potential as he studied his son’s grades through elementary and upper levels of education and the family had sacrificed to see him through university where he’d made an impression as he gained his MBA. Friederich had long ago stepped aside to give Johann a free hand in the business expansion of their vineyard holdings but retained an iron fisted control over the quality of their production and care of the vineyard. Similarly, his brothers Hans, Franz, and Josef, and sisters Louise Marie and Caroline deferred to Johann as their benefactor as they knew dollars rolled in to enhance their lifestyle because he was an astute businessman. Johann loved and respected his parents Friederich and Anna and never sought to manage the family lives. For him family, not money was of prime importance. But the one he felt most comfortable to delegate part of the business side of their enterprise was his sister Louise Marie as she had an entrepreneurial flair. They were very close.

There’d been many a woman during his university years and in the German community within the Barossa Valley who’d eyed him as a potential partner for life knowing he’d be as loyal to them as he was to his family. But for some strange reason their approaches both subtle and not so subtle had gone completely over his head until they lost interest and moved on to other possibilities. His mother Anna had raised the prospect of marriage to him many times lately pointing out he was now twenty-seven and she was anxious to see him settled and producing her more grandchildren to spoil with her superb cooking. In consultation with her friends in the German community she’d developed a list of potential German Australian women she favoured after careful scrutiny but was frustrated when Johann would laugh at her suggestions and tell her it was too early for him to consider marriage. He had more in the business world to conquer and it took all his time and effort.

Johann moved to the familiar area where the elevator would take him to the floor where his favourite room was. He always booked this room early when making a travel itinerary so he could enjoy the scene from his window overlooking Sydney Harbour where the imposing image of the bridge always thrilled him and his view of harbour with its constant water traffic and berthed cruise ships would relax him after intense business negotiations. Soon he was in his room and removing his church clothes. He showered and slipped into something casual then deposited his tools of trade in the room safe just to be sure before locking the room and heading for the restaurant area. Perhaps he’d spend the rest of the day reading and in the evening check out his favourite restaurants in Circular Quay before calling home to catch up before watching TV and an early night. There were a few places he wanted to check out as potential business contacts on Monday and needed to be clear minded.

Johann had taken this elevator so many times over the years he’d been doing business in this area. He’d tried some other hotels in his initial travels but once experiencing Rydges and its wonderful views he’d never been tempted to try another hotel again in Sydney. He headed for the buffet to look the menu over. Somewhat standard for a Sunday he thought and began methodically stacking his plate with familiar items there to his taste. Johann was a fitness crank so chose everything on his plate carefully. Good rest, healthful diet, and exercise preferably in the sun was his mantra. Of course, being in a large city like Sydney exercise in the sun was not an easy ask so he had to make do with gym equipment. However, if there was time a seat by the harbour in the afternoons on weekends was a luxury he could sometimes enjoy. He was not into the weekend beach scene. His growing up years in the Barossa Valley had not permitted that and his family worked six days of the week with little time for the kind of pleasures the average Australian enjoyed.

He was on his way to a table to enjoy lunch when he noticed a woman and her young daughter having an obvious disagreement as he walked by. The young child caught sight of him and broke out in a wide smile extending her arms to him looking like she wanted to be picked up.

The young woman continued to scold the child. “Stephanie I told you to stop making such a fuss. The waiter said he’d bring your ice cream as soon as he’d finished taking orders from the tour group who don’t want buffet food. Please be patient!”

Johann was just passing the table but couldn’t help smiling at the child reaching out to him. He hadn’t caught all the conversation. It sounded like German but different, so he tried to decipher what she’d said. He didn’t have to wonder any longer as the woman without looking at him still trying to hold the jumping girl down so she wouldn’t fall out of the high chair switched to English noting the shape of a man in her peripheral vision.

“Thank you, just put it down on the table. I’m sorry my Stephanie has been disturbing your guests. We’ll leave as soon as she’s finished her ice cream.”

Stephanie eyed the items on Johann’s plate and looked disappointed but subsided and stopped jumping still reaching her arms out to Johann to be picked up.

Manja turned apologetically to the man she assumed was the waiter and let out a little gasp of surprise. She began to chuckle. Continuing in English she said. “I’m really sorry about that. I was distracted by Stephanie who has been quite fretful today. Maybe she’s teething, I don’t know why she’s acting this way. It seems like she has decided to like you even though you were not the bearer of an ice cream.”

Johann realized just how much he missed his nephews and nieces as the little girl continued to smile at him and hold out her arms. “I have a suggestion the waiter seems to be really busy with this demanding tour group so I’m going to get the little girl an ice cream if you don’t mind me leaving my lunch on the table.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, I’m sorry!”

“I want to!” Johann placed his lunch on the table and went to tap the waiter on the arm. He had a brief conversation and the waiter nodded in appreciation then went to the deck where self-serve desserts were located. He carefully selected the scoop and put a double helping on a small dish quickly returning to the table to place it in front of the girl who opened her mouth and pointed to the spoon. Johann glanced at the woman who was red with embarrassment, then took the spoon reached over the table and deposited a spoonful into the little girl’s mouth. She smiled broadly and clapped.

“I really am embarrassed. Tears came to her eyes. She was not having a good time on this holiday. When her brother Berend Smit had bought her a ticket thinking she needed a break to hopefully cure her depression she’d jumped at the chance to get away from work with the company and memories for a while. But Stephanie had been out of routine and the air trip over had been a disaster. She just wanted to go home and be with family again and nothing seemed to interest her in the tour line ups. Johann saw her distress and made to hand over the spoon to Stephanie’s Mom, but the girl shook her head and pointed at him, so he continued until she was satisfied. It seems he’d put too much into that dish.

Johann wasn’t sure what to do next so looked at the woman to see what she wanted him to do. She smiled back through her tears, “Why don’t you just finish your meal here, I’m so grateful for what you just did to help me out but quite embarrassed too. At least Stephanie seems quiet while you are here, and she has been quite a disturbance in the restaurant much to the annoyance of some people.”

Johann addressed her in German, and she looked at him in surprise. “Your German is very good, but it has an accent I’m not familiar with. Which part of Germany are you from?”

Johann smiled. Our family has been in Australia since the early eighteen hundred’s so of course my accent has been affected. Originally we were over on the Prussian side before migration.

She smiled. “I’m Dutch and my name is Manja. I’m from Utrecht and our family have been in the electrical engineering trade for a very long time. I’m from the Smit family but my married name is Weber. My husband was German.

Johann nodded in recognition. “My name is Johann Kavel and our family are in the vineyard business. I’m here in Sydney on business for the family. Your husband must be proud of his daughter.”

“Stephanie doesn’t know him as he died soon after her birth. He was German and we met on family ski outings in France. My brother Berend and he became firm friends and later he took an interest in me and proposed. He was killed in a ski accident five years ago, but I was not there when it happened.’

Now it was Johann’s turn to be embarrassed. “I’m so sorry!” He murmured.

“Have you seen much of Sydney?”

Manja shook her head. “Stephanie didn’t react well to the plane journey, so we’ve been somewhat tied to the hotel for a couple of days while she adjusts to the time difference.”

Johann’s heart went out to this woman in sympathy. “Why don’t you let me take you out on a harbour cruise then. It’s worth seeing the harbour in its entirety and I think it would settle Stephanie. It’s OK. I’m not married in case you thought otherwise.”

Manja was about to refuse but changed her mind. “OK, but I don’t want Stephanie to be out late. What do I wear? Do they dress up as I only bought casual wear?”

Johann laughed. “You’re in Australia not Europe so what you’re wearing is the acceptable dress.”

Manja looked at him in surprise. “Shorts and T Shirt is acceptable on your harbour cruise? When were you thinking of doing this?”

All Johann’s plans for the day went out the window. “Now if you’re ready.”

“OK I’ll go and change Stephanie as she seems to have enjoyed that ice cream all over her body. Meet you in the lobby in fifteen minutes then.”

To be continued,

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© Copyright 2020 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved

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