Edna

I last saw my mother in September 2018. Returning home from this trip to my home town of Oamaru, in anger against the horrible disease that commanded her life, I wrote this poem. Sadly, my ninety-year-old mum passed away on September the 22nd.

Edna.
What I want to say, Edna is that it’ll be alright.
Except it won’t. It won’t ever be alright again.

What I want to feel, Edna, is your fiery explosions, your blistering words –
‘That skirt’s too short, that lip-stick too bright, and, my girl, your hair’s a fright.
You’re not to leave this house looking like that, tonight!’
But what I feel is your spirit broken.
No rebukes, no lectures. Words left unspoken.

What I want to smell, Edna, is the passion you baked, the kindness you kindled.
Nourishing all who crossed your door, unreservedly, compassionately,
The dead-beat boyfriends, the lame, the meek or socially poor.
But what I smell is decay.
Lost in solitude, you’re wasting away.
What I want to see, Edna is you in your thriving vegetable patch
And beloved rose garden as you toil. Discarding weeds, snipping thorns,
Watering seedlings, turning soil.
But what I see is an imposter,
A shell, an empty vessel, not my mother.

What I want to hear, Edna is you joyously singing your favourite tune
‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,’ hugging us, swirling us, loving us,
Telling us life is good, life is fine.
But what I hear is your silent shout
Against this bum hand, you’ve been dealt.

Down this alien path entangled by snarly brambles
You ramble. Hideous, insidious vines scramble
Your memory, confuse your mind, fuddle your brain
As blindly, you navigate this treacherous terrain.

Edna, it won’t ever be alright again.

Botswana Safari

Last June, I embarked on a safari to Botswana with my sister. I entered the following story in the travel writing competition at my Hibiscus Coast writers club. I received a second placing.

Botswana Safari
Plop, plop, plop. Basking in the weak morning sun to the soothing rhythm of the pole plunging into the water, my sister and I lean back on our packs in our dug-out canoe, a mokoro. Our poler at the bow of the canoe effortlessly navigates through narrow channels in the Okavango Delta, the worlds largest inland delta. Thus begins our safari.
Reeds sway.
Sedate lily flowers open.
Kingfishers delicately balance on reeds.
Cormorants swoop and dive.
A low bellow of a hippo reverberates in the distance.
As our six mokoro weave through this vast expanse of water, cameras click and whirl, voices whisper. When two hippos are spotted doing what hippos do which is not a lot, gasps of wonder, of excitement. Realisation dawns: I am here, witness to nature in the raw.
We arrive at our campsite on Chief’s Island. A circle of canvas tents, each with their own en-suite chemical toilet surrounds, a large fire-pit with huge logs already burning. A ring of camp chairs is placed between the fire and tents. Once ensconced in our tents at night, due to the possibility of roaming animals, we are forbidden to come out until morning.
Later, led by our two tour guides, Jay and Kenny and one of the local tribes-people, we venture into the grasslands. On this first day, we see herds of elephants in the distance and one lone giraffe, shyly skirting the edges of a clump of bush.
Jay, concentrating his gaze on the ground in the hope of spotting tracks, pauses, pokes his stick into a solid mound and asks: ‘What is this?’
We huddle close, peer at the mound.
‘A pile of dung,’ someone offers.
Jay pokes at the chocolate brown mound some more. ‘Whose dung?’
‘Not big enough to be an elephant, maybe a zebra’s?’
‘Hmm, it’s probably buffalo but more importantly, what do you think happens within this pile of dung?’
‘Ah?’
‘Heard of the dung beetle?’
We nod. Jay continues. ‘The dung beetle eats the poo, regurgitates it and rolling the poo into a small ball, bores a hole in the top. The beetle lays its eggs into the hole and buries the dung ball in the sand. The baby beetles hatch two weeks later.’
Martin, the photography buff in our group, crouches, directs his elaborate camera on the pile of dung, twirls his lenses and clicks furiously. Who’d have thought a pile of dung would generate such interest!
On the following days during our ventures into the interior, our guides reveal more fascinating facts. The sweet, tangy fragrance hangs in the air as our legs brush against sage bushes. The sage bush is a useful insect repellent.
The acacia tree sends messages to other trees downwind when grazing animals are about, who then produce tannin, an off-putting, bitter taste for animals.
Beneath the mopare tree is not the most sensible place to set up camp. The leaves on the tree remain closed during the day offering no shade from the sun and at night, elephants tend to graze on this tree.
The anti-social, knob-thorn tree not only sprouts nasty thorns on its branches but on its trunk as well to dissuade climbing animals.
SOS translates to Save Our Sausage, as in the sausage tree. Named for the shape of the fruit this tree produces and renowned for its medicinal properties, these trees take fifty years to grow to maturity. Due to the scarcity of the sausage tree, local people are encouraged to make their mokoro from fibreglass rather than from the sausage tree as was traditional.
Sparrow weaver nests are a feat of engineering precision designed with entry and exit holes. In devotion to his loved one, the male bird tirelessly weaves together hundreds of twigs and leaves. The female bird scrutinises the stability and aesthetics of the structure before agreeing to co-habitation.
Hamerkop’s nests, wedged in forks of trees, are unmissable due to their enormity. A metre and a half in diameter and strong enough to support the weight of a man, an estimated eight thousand sticks and bundles of grass, are stuck together with wads of mud. A mating pair of Hamerkops toil side-by-side for ten to fourteen weeks to complete the build. Compulsive nest builders, an enterprising pair will add a further three to five nests to their property portfolio per year. Hamerkop’s breed year-round, sharing the incubation of the eggs. Is this the essence of a strong and lasting relationship?
Beside a termite hill, signs of the animal equivalent of a couch surfer, the nocturnal aardvark is detected. With their long pig-like snouts, aardvark’s sniff for ants and termites in and around their favourite hang-out, termite hills. It’s disappointing not to witness one of these curious creatures.
Although the white ring on a waterbucks tail may be considered a fashion statement, that’s not the case. It is a useful beacon when following each other.
The Marabu stork carries its own cooling system in the form of a hanging sack on the breast, an air sack for cooling down.
Once the Botswana tribe’s richest hunting ground, we travel next to Moremi Game Reserve, in a four-wheel drive, open truck. Our lodgings are private tented bush-lodges complete with en-suite, surrounded by bush.
On the following days, we criss-cross this vast area in the truck with the promise of sighting local inhabitants. We are not disappointed.
Elephants plod unhurriedly across the grassland in family herds. The babies, corralled into the middle of the herd, nudged by the trunks of their older protectors, win the prize for cuteness. Often close to the stationary truck, the elephants turn their mammoth heads sideways, eye us as if in a warning. Our cameras click wildly.
The sun glints on the rotund butts of zebra’s, emphasising the uniqueness of their decorous hides as they graze on the grassland. Like human fingerprints, no two zebra hides are the same.
Spindly-legged, gangly giraffe stretch their extended necks, nibbling the upper-most leaves on tall trees. With the grace of cat-walk models, they move from branch to branch, from tree to tree. Their large doleful eyes and long fluttering eye-lashes affirm their ‘model’ reputation.
On one occasion, witnessing hippo’s humping in water, our guide informs us that due to their size, hippo’s can only mate in water. These loved-up pair are afforded no privacy as lenses are hurriedly adjusted.
Crocodiles lurk on the edges of waterways.
Water buffaloes meander.
Jittery impala scurries at the slightest noise.
Warthogs, with snouts to the ground, play tag, chasing one and other in circles.
With serious expressions, motionless kudu poking their heads above clumps of the bush, ears taut, eyes alert, surveying their surrounds.
Monkeys scamper along the ground, scoot up trees and scrunch on leaves.
But what we all long to see is the king of the wild, the mighty lion. And we do. At dusk on the first day, the driver veers off the track, halting at the edge of a small clearing. Three emancipated, scrawny lions and the carcass of a massive hippo lie before us. One lion vigorously tears meat from a gaping hole in the neck of the hippo. Another snoozes. The third lion, the sentry, patrols the clearing. The stench from the carcass is overwhelming. In stunned silence, we attempt to photograph the grizzly scene. Focussing our cameras, shooting our shots while holding our noses to avoid gagging, proves difficult.
Like statues, vultures perch high above in the trees. Their beady gaze directed towards the promised bounty beneath. They watch, they wait knowing their turn will come.
‘The hippo, probably an old male ejected from the herd due to him being a liability, would have lost his way while wandering from one water hole to another. Lying in wait, the lions pounced on him, dragged him down and killed him,’ our guide surmises.
Losing his way on a journey travelled hundreds of times over his lifetime, I wonder if these mighty beasts suffer from dementia in their dotage.
Daily, we returned to the scene. The carcass shrunk, the stench increased. With their bellies engorged, the lions become less scrawny but, in my eyes, not at all regal. Daily, the vultures come closer, anticipating their reward for patience.
‘There is little likelihood we will see a leopard,’ guide Kenny announced.
During our excursions, we follow many tracks. No leopard do we see. Until the last day. On hearing of a sighting, vehicles rush from across the reserve. Each driver, vies for prime position, creeping closer to the mound behind which the leopard reputedly lies. As a pair of ears poke above the mound, breaths are held, cameras readied. Will the leopard grace us with an appearance? On cue, with an air of nonchalance, the leopard emerges, parading around the mound several times for his camera-clicking audience. He stretches, yawns and scrambles up a stumpy tree. Show over.
I am here, witness to nature in the raw; her cleverness, her showmanship, her grace and her despair.

Another white feather appeared in our letterbox today.

“Manaaki, remember, don’t tell your Kuia about the white feathers. It’ll only cause her unnecessary upset,” my mother insists as we pack our bags in readiness to catch the bus from Blackball to my Kuia’s home near Greymouth.
In all, seven white feathers have been shoved through the slot of our letterbox. Who is responsible for these feathers? Neighbours? Friends? Father’s workmates whom he stood alongside during the miners’ strike last year, seeking a pay rise and the repeal of the Military Service Act for compulsory conscription?
Boarding the bus, Mother chooses seats halfway down the aisle.
“The likes of you can’t sit there,” the driver bellows at us from the front of the bus. Mother, clutching her hold-all bag tightly to her chest, looks straight ahead.
“Get to the back.”
As I rose to my feet, my mother pushes me down firmly.
“Don’t you dare move,” she hisses.
The driver stomps down the aisle, leans across me and tries to wrestle the bag from my mother’s grasp. I smell his anger as his bulk leans over me. Spittle dribbles from his scrunched-up mouth. Like a stone statue, my mother sits, her gaze fixed straight ahead. The driver and my mother continue to wrestle with the bag as other passengers board the bus, hesitate, choose their seats. “Conchie coward, shirker, traitor, socialist scum,” the irate driver mutters, returning to his seat and starting the motor.
The seats near us, across the aisle, in front and behind us, remain empty. Three or four people are squished together on some of the benches. I notice the whispering behind hands, sense the sideways glances.
One man from further back in the bus strides towards us. He stands in the aisle beside us. Swaying with the motion of the bus, he holds the hand-grip above him. He makes a noise in his throat. I know what’s coming. Beside me, my mother tenses. She too knows. The glob of mucus, like a plump white-yellow slug, missing mothers hand’s, stick’s onto her bag. Titters of laughter and clapping from the other passengers. The man erupts in laughter. Mother looks straight ahead. As the man returns to his seat, the driver, taking a sharp bend, brakes suddenly. The man lurches and is thrown to the floor. I smile but suppress the urge to laugh.
As the rickety bus winds it’s creaking bones around the bends and twists in the road toward Greymouth, towards my Kuia’s house in the hills, I consider our ‘change of circumstances,’ as Mother calls it. Father’s arrest last month was not unexpected. When his birth-date was drawn from the ballot and he received the notice to report ‘for duty’ he ceremoniously burnt the official government paper.
My thoughts wander to the scene my mother created at school yesterday, the last day of term. As is her custom, she visited the school to thank Mr Johnson, for his administrations. Mr Johnson, a pale-skinned man, with sandy coloured sparse hair and a distinctive limp is a soft-spoken, fair-minded and patient teacher, especially to those who struggle with written tasks. He seldom resorts to the use of the cane, like some of our past teachers have. And when he does, his body shakes.
After any caning, his mouth drawn tight, he’ll say, “Go and play.”
Some people in the community say he is too soft. I think he’s just right.
“You must listen before you act,” he says. “You must understand the full story.”
One time, when Charlie Stubbs asked him how he got his limp, he told us there was still shrapnel in his leg from fighting in the Boer War.
“You’re a hero, Mr Johnson. Fighting in a war, shooting up the bad guys. Peow! Peow! Wish that were me,” Charlie imitated shooting a gun.
“There are no winners in war, Charlie. Differences are better solved through rhetoric, not by the barrel of a gun.”
Yes, Mr Johnson is just right.
Learning has never caused me difficulty. I devour books, as Mr Johnson often comments and mathematical equations excite me. As one of the older students, Mr Johnson tasks me with tutoring the younger ones with their reading and writing.
One day, following a hushed conversation between the mayor and Mr Johnson by the classroom door, Mr Johnson carried my desk to the corridor. He avoided eye contact with me, mumbling that he had no choice. I felt betrayed. That day, my opinion of Mr Johnson became distorted.
My banishment spread to the playground. I now sit alone under the oak tree. The boys, once my mates run past throwing the football, shouting ‘shirker, coward custard, Conchie.’
When my mother saw me sitting at my desk alone in the draughty cloak bay, she flew into a rage. She stormed into the classroom. I watched through the open door.
My mother, her face flushed red, yelled, “You have no right. Your treatment of my son is unfair.”
Backed-up against the blackboard, Mr Johnson trembled, his face depleted of the little bit of colour he had. My classmates sat frozen in their desks.
He tried to deflect my mother’s angry words. “But Mrs Hohaia, a man regardless of his beliefs must serve his country. He must do his duty to defend his country.”
At home, my mother’s mood did not abate. “Why, Manaaki, why didn’t you tell me?”
I hung my head, shrugged. After today’s performance, you may well ask why I kept my banishment a secret, Mother. And how is our secret, about the feathers any different? My inner dialogue spins.
Later, gathering firewood from the woodshed for the stove, that guilty thought about my father returned. Why couldn’t he have just ‘reported for duty’, do the required training and with any luck, he’d not be sent overseas to fight. There is strong talk that the war, the Great War, will soon be over.
I hear my father’s voice. ‘The Great War, hah, what an oxymoron that term is! There is nothing great about the imperialists using our menfolk as cannon fodder, being maimed and slaughtered in some faraway place over issues of no relevance to us here in Aotearoa.’
I shuddered. I tried to shake the traitorous thought from my mind before returning indoors with my arm-full of wood. As I entered, Mother hummed at the bench as she prepared the skinny wild rabbit she’d trapped earlier, for our supper.
The bus rattles on with no further incidents. Time at my Kuia’s is just what I need. Images of catching those slimy, fat eels in the creek behind her cottage, filter through my mind. The driver drives past Kuia’s gate. Stopping some distance ahead, he slams on the brakes.
“Conchies’ stop,” he shouts.
Mother, stepping towards the driver, wipes the yucky, mucus slug from her bag with her hand, bends slightly and pats the driver’s shoulder, depositing the slug.
“Thank you, kind sir,” she says stepping off the bus. “You have a nice day, now,” and waves as the bus speeds off, spraying an arc of dusty gravel.
By the time the two of us reach Kuia’s gate, we are doubled over with laughter.
Mother and my kuia talk long into the night. I lie on my bony stretcher, unable to decipher what they are saying. Mother leaves early this morning to visit my father before his eleven months of hard labour commence.

“Mokopuna of mine, open up those taringa of yours for I have a story you need to hear.” When my kuia speaks, I listen. On the veranda of her ramshackle house, overlooking lush native vegetation, to the wild grey seas beyond, I perch on the wooden bench my father carved many years ago. My kuia rocks forwards and back in her chair, the runners on the chair create a grinding rhythm on the rough boards. She opens the tattered scrapbook I call her Memories Book.
“Do you know who this gentleman is?” she asks, tapping a grainy picture of a man, copied from a black and white sketch. I peer at the picture. A man with a mop of dark wavy hair, a thick bushy beard and moustache, with one outstretched arm, two fingers pointing, appears to be speaking to an unseen gathering. I shake my head.
“This is the great manu korero, the great orator, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai. This sketch was drawn before his arrest in 1881.”
Kuia turns the page of the book. “And this place, Parihaka? What do you know of Parihaka?” The old photo shows a typical Maori village from long ago, only this one does not have fortifications. Again, I shake my head. I shove my bottom to the back of the bench knowing I’m in for one of Kuia’s long stories.
“This is Parihaka, a peaceful, happy place where I spent my childhood and early adult years.”
Kuia pauses, closes her eyes and smiles. My chance to escape. I wriggle forward on the bench, my feet touch the floor-boards. I’m about to sneak away. Too late, the old woman’s eyes flick open. Her chair stops rocking.
“Parihaka is nestled on the slopes of the sacred maunga, Taranaki.”
“How come it doesn’t have a fortress, like other Maori villages?” I ask, feigning interest.
“Parihaka is a place of peace, a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is listened to. There is no need for a fortress. My own family sought sanctuary there when our village was destroyed during the conflicts, in the 1850s, shortly before my birth.”
I nod my head.
“Let me take you back a few years, back to 1832 and the siege of Otaka by the Waikato Tribes. During the siege, Te Whiti, then a young man, witnessed the death of his father. Following the battle, the Te Ati Awa people drifted south.”
“Hah, so the Waikato tribes won?”
“No, Te Ati Awa were the victors. They migrated south through fear of reprisals, settling at a coastal village called Repanga.” As the creak-creak rhythm of her chair slows, Kuia again closes her eyes.
I’m confused. A man called Te Whiti who likes to talk a lot, an ancient battle, a coastal village called Repanga and another village called Parihaka on the slopes of a sacred mountain. What has any of this got to do with my father being imprisoned for being a conscientious objector? So much for eeling, I’m stuck here on this hard bench listening to Kuia’s never-ending story. But I know better than to protest, passively or otherwise!
As if in a trance, Kuia continues speaking. “An ancient prophecy foretold of two birds of knowledge, who, receiving a message from on high, would lead the people to everlasting life. Those two birds were Te Whiti and Tohu-ao-ariki. They moved their people inland to the slopes of Maunga Taranaki, and renamed the settlement Parihaka in recognition of the sufferings of earlier occupants.”
“And this was before your people moved there?”
“Āie. Your taringa are working, Manaaki.” Kuia chuckles. “Te Whiti, who had ‘heard a thunder and sensed an approaching flood’ counselled restraint… ”
“Hah? Thunder and flood? What did he mean?”
“That the European were coming to take our land.”
“And what did he mean by ‘restraint’?”
“That any resistance to the taking of their lands, be passive, not aggressive. As the spiritual leader of Parihaka, Te Whiti preached peace.”
“He wanted peace, not war?”
“Āie. Te Whiti held strong Christian beliefs.”
“And the people listened to him?”
“Yes. The settlement grew in numbers and strength, attracting many disenfranchised people from near and far. Tohu organised the tautohe, the protest actions against the confiscation of our land.”
“Protest action?”
“Under the cover of night, Tohu led parties of men on raids. They pulled out surveyors pegs, cut the fences of the settlers and ploughed their fields.”
“You’re saying that although their land was being stolen, they did nothing but pull out pegs, cut fences and plough fields?” I perch on the edge of the bench. Although Kuia’s story is long and confusing, I am becoming interested. Those eels will have to wait.
“Yes. They fought against the settlers and the government peacefully, not with guns. Through his oratory, Te Whiti continued to urge the people to be manawanui, to stay strong, to show tolerance but be persistent.”
“The government didn’t pay for the land, they simply stole it?”
“ ‘The Settlements Act’ passed in the early 1860s, allowed the government to confiscate the land. In exchange, they promised reserves. They failed to honour their promise.”
“Those nightly raids, Kuia, did you ever go?”
My kuia laughs. “No, only boys and men were permitted to do that. Your koro took part in many raids. Each time he went, my manawa, my heart, would swell with pride.”
“And did any of the raiders get caught?”
“Yes. Many men were caught, imprisoned and sent to the South Island. Some did not return. I became more fearful with each raid, for now, we had a son, your father.”
“But you didn’t ask him to stop?”
Kuia shakes her head.
“What happened to my koro? Father says… .”
“Have patience, Mokopuna. What happened to your koro is yet to come.”
Neither of us speak. The runners creak-creak.
In a whisper, Kuia continues. “The people of Parihaka believe an albatross descended, leaving a white feather, a symbol from the Holy Spirit, sanctioning the growing movement at Parihaka. Others believe the vision was a celestial trail of light from a comet in the shape of a feather. Either way, the white feather, the raukura was adopted as a symbol protecting the mana of the Parihaka movement.”
“No! That’s wrong. That’s not what the white feather means. It’s a symbol of cowardliness. Since Fathers arrest, Mother and I have received several white feathers in the post.” I can’t stop myself from blurting the secret, correcting my kuia.
“Tēna rūkahu tēna! Don’t talk such teka, such nonsense, boy! The white feather represents a peaceful protest.” Kuia’s anger slices the air, the chair rocks rapidly, creak-creak-creak.
“So, what happened? Did the government return the land?”
“Anything but. In the final year of the 1870s, the government confiscated a further sixteen thousand acres and surveying began. The raids intensified. Many men were imprisoned. Te Whiti’s influence throughout Taranaki and beyond worried the government and frustrated the settlers.”
“Yet they still would not listen?”
“Āie. The government were not ngakāu whakaute, they neither listened to nor respected the wishes of the people.”
Kuia rests her head. Rocking gently, she returns to her trance-state, her voice a whisper. “Through his teachings, Te Whiti cautioned his people to remain steadfast. ‘Though some, in darkness of heart, seeing their land ravished, might wish to take arms and kill their aggressors, I say it must not be. Let not the Pakeha think to succeed by reason of their guns. I want not war, but they do. The flashes of their guns have singed our eyelashes, and yet they say they do not want war. The government come not hither to reason but go to out-of-the-way places. They work secretly, but I speak in public so that all may hear.’ ”
“And they remained strong?”
“Indeed. On November the fifth, 1881 when fifteen hundred armed troops entered the settlement, we were ready, we were prepared.”
I squiggle to the edge of the wooden seat, anticipating an action-packed ending to Kuia’s long story.
“The children, including your father, greeted the troops with dancing and waiata. They skipped and played with spinning tops. Us woman offered freshly, baked bread.”
“And then the men rushed forward, surprising the invaders. At the end of a ferocious, bloody battle, victory was yours!” My heart raced at the thought of this great victory.
“There was no battle, no shots were fired.”
“Hah? No battle? You gave up?”
“Listen, with your taringa and your ngākau, Mokopuna. We resisted passively.”
“Hah?”
“Te Whiti, Tohu, your koro and others, wearing three feathers in their head-gear, were arrested and led away. Your father and I weren’t to know that we’d never see your koro again.”
Kuia, her chair no longer rocking, sighs deeply. “Charged and tried for sedition, the men were held in the New Plymouth jail, before being sent to the South Island.”
“And you and Father remained at the village, waiting for Koro’s return?”
“Āie, Te Whiti, Tohu and others returned two years later. Your koro did not.”
“He died?”
“Āie.”
Kuia shudders.
“After the invasion, many fled. Our houses were burnt, our crops destroyed and other unmentionable acts were committed. A constabulary remained at the site for five years.”
I pull my legs up to my chin, cover my head with my arms and shiver.
My koro died for his beliefs.
My father is in prison for his beliefs.
The white feather is a symbol of mana, of courage.
Kuia strokes my hair. I raise my head, wipe the tears from my cheeks.
“On his release, Te Whiti continued his teachings, his influence increased. Your father became a faithful follower of Te Whiti, adopting his philosophy as his own.”
“Hence father choosing to object to war.” As more tears trickle down my cheeks, Kuia embraces me.
“Did you know that in the year of your birth, 1907, your father took you to Te Whiti’s funeral?”
I shake my head.
“Manaaki, promise to always remember the fifth of November and the true meaning of the white feather, of courage.”
I nod.
“Now, get yourself down to the creek and catch a big, fat eel. We’ll cook it over the fire for our supper.”
As I meander through the scrubby bush towards the creek with my eeling pole, I think about Kuia’s long story. Through the sadness, a spark of warmth ignites inside.
Then I see it on the muddy track.
In a splinter of sunlight through the trees, a glow of white.
Picking up the white feather, I tuck it into my shirt pocket, close to my heart.

Read Between the Lines

A spin on a well-known idiom!

Read Between the Lines

‘Reported demise of a lone visitor within the Chobe Wild Life Reserve. Early last evening, two rangers patrolling the reserve, came upon an abandoned vehicle. Alarmed as to the whereabouts and safety of the person or persons belonging to the vehicle, the rangers began their search. As daylight turned to dusk, they located a person, or more accurately, the remains of a person.
In the words of one of the rangers: We followed footprints along the central track leading back to the entrance of the park. Partway along, the footprints veered to the left along an animal path. Two old lions, fondly referred to as Grouchy and Grumpy by us rangers, patrol the territory either side of the track, Grouchy to the left and Grumpy to the right. They, the lions, meet daily at the divide of the path and roar insults at each other before sauntering back to their separate territories. Quite harmless, really.
The second ranger continues the story: First we found the boots bearing a few teeth marks, then a scrap of red bush-shirt material dangling on a thorn bush. Marty noticed the black-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses at the side of the path. With his back turned to me, he bent to pick them up. He jumped and kinda squealed. As he turned, I noticed his ghostly white face. His hand shaking, he handed me a set of dentures, upper case, I think. Scraps of paper, fluttering in the breeze puzzled us both, but piecing a few bits together, we recognised their origins. They were remnants of the map given to visitors on entering the reserve.
Marty concludes the story: Yep, that chap whoever he was, had obviously been caught reading between the lions.’

Wetamorphis

Recently, I experienced the joy of winning first place in a fantasy short story competition run by the Hisbiscus Coast Writers, a group I am a member of. Steff Green judged the competition. Following, are quotes from her comments: ‘so much beautiful, evocative language – you make the weta’s come alive. Very early on you establish the protagonist as sympathetic. This could be a great picture/chapter book. This piece is awesome.’
This posts offering is my story.

Wetamorphis

The impressive Giant weta, the Wetapunga, roamed the world long-ago alongside dinosaurs. Kings of the insect world, the Wetapunga grew to the size of a small dog with the capability of flying long distances. Razor-sharp talons lined their legs. The Weta from yesteryear leapt from tree to tree. Their antennae squirted poisonous venom, paralysing predators and prey alike, and their large mandibles crushed bones in one bite.

The day twelve-year-old Toby Jacobson announced to his classmates that if he was an insect, he’d choose to be a Giant Weta, his classmates scoffed.
“Why would you want to be a Giant Weta? Weta’s are so ugly.”
“Yeah. Wetapunga, the Giant Weta means ‘God of ugly things.’ ” Charlie Hamilton said
“Well, that makes sense. God of ugly things, that’s you, Tubby Toblerone, to a T!” Chloe Ash sniggered. “With your bulging bug-eyes and scaly-raw skin, perhaps you’re meant to be a disgusting weta, living in rotting leaves.”
Toby scratched the red welts on his arms.
“Yeah, scurry away and find a pile of damp leaves to hide in, Wetapunga, if you don’t want to get crushed under-foot,” Charlie jeered, body-slamming Toby into the wall.
Toby, straightening his thick-lensed glasses, retorted in a shaky voice. “The Wetapunga is a noble creature. They’ve been around for one-hundred-and-ninety million years.”
“Hah, he even speaks like a weta,” Chloe said. “Or is it ‘squeaks?’”
“Actually, it’s neither. Weta’s, like crickets, communicate by rubbing their hind legs together. And they chirrup, not squeak,” Toby braved, wishing he could just shut himself up, wishing he could shed the skin that was him.
“Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup,” his classmates chorused. Toby’s face reddened.
The morning bell rang. The students of room thirteen moved to their seats. As Toby pulled out his chair to sit, Henry Stubbs flicked the chair back with his foot. Toby fell heavily. Tears smarted.
“Sit down, boy!” yelled Mr Rathbone, entering the room.
Mr Rathbone, the maths teacher, – otherwise known as Ratty Rathbone both for his temperament and his rodent-like facial features – picking up a white-board pen, wrote an equation on the board.
Toby sat. Without looking, he sensed his classmates’ sneers. The welts on his arms pulsed with pain. The urge to scratch, to tear away his skin, to rid himself of this disfigurement consumed him. The real wounds, the real hurt is within, Toby thought, burying his head in his arms. Word-knives slice my innards, venomous snares (sneers) poison my blood, body-slams broil my brain. I am a decaying husk. Shaking the vision from his mind, he looked up.
Ugh, long-division. He rolled his dark, round eyes as Ratty droned on. Closing his eyes, he imagined wriggling free from his skin like the juvenile weta. My new skin would be an impenetrable armour, he mused, able to deflect barbs, dilute venom, dodge body-slams. Be the real me. He smiled as he slumped lower into his seat.
“Toby Jacobson! Wipe that smirk from your face.”
Jolted from his reverie, Toby gazed glassy-eyed at the thin-faced Mr Rathbone.
“Don’t think you can doze off in my class, boy. Get out here and finish this equation.” Ratty thumped his open palm on the whiteboard.
Toby’s classmates sniggered.
Nor did his day improve in Physical Education. Dodge Ball. Toby stood with his team in the circle, alone.
“Get Weta Boy,” Charlie shouted from the firing line.
Balls zinged through the air. They bounced. They pounded his body. He jumped, he ducked, he spun around, crouched and covered his head. The balls smashed into his body. Sprawled on the floor, the balls kept coming. His skin itched.
“Nowhere to hide, eh Weta Boy,” Henry chortled.
At three o’clock, Toby trudged towards home, wearily.
When he reached the tumble-down barn along the way, he stretched apart the wires of the fence and scrambled through. He entered the dark, derelict barn. Inside, throwing off his bag, he lay on the pile of hay in the corner. With his arms behind his head, he looked towards the roof. Dust motes flickered in the splinters of light seeping through the holes in the rusty iron. Outside, a wind began to annoy the flimsy iron sheets on the far wall, causing them to rattle, to complain. He wrapped his arms around his torso and snuggled deeper into the hay. Nestling into the warm mustiness of the hay, Toby shed the horrors of his day like an unwanted skin.
A rotting-damp smell assaulted his nostrils. Opening his mouth to breathe, the taste of decomposing vegetation imbued. He felt his body being squeezed and pummelled. He tumbled into gloomy darkness, landing with a thump on his back onto a soft carpet. A carpet of rotting leaves.
Toby looked up at splintered shards of light filtering between leaves on tall trees stretching skyward. He scratched his exoskeleton abdomen in wonderment. He heard a chirruping sound and then another. The chirruping grew louder, came closer.
“Oigh! Who are you and where have you come from and why are you here?” Toby, turning his head sideways saw himself reflected in a pair of large glassy eyes. He very much liked what he saw in the reflection. An armour-plated suit, two twitching antennae and six very sturdy legs.
He rolled his body and stood proud on his six legs. An assortment of Giant weta’s scrambled from under leaves and bark, forming a semi-circle around him.
“You can call me Toblerone.” Rasping his back legs together, Toby chirruped. “It’s difficult to explain where I’m from but the reason I’m here is to help you. I believe you lot are endangered, am I correct?”
“Yes. Hordes of rats have over-run this once safe haven, the island of Wetapungapu and decimated our population. Are you familiar with this cunning vermin?”
“Oh yes, very much so,” Toby nodded solemnly.
“No matter how carefully we choose our hiding places, those nose-twitchers manage to ferret us out. Our numbers have dwindled to a mere fifty.”
“You need a strategic plan and I am the man, ah weta for the job,” Toby chirruped. “First we must locate the purple trumpet flower and drink the nectar.”
“The what?”
“The trumpet flower. Suck the nectar before it’s petals close as day turns to dusk, and be transformed into the noble creatures of your forbears.”
“Huh?”
“Long ago, Wetapunga, the size of small dogs, with the ability to fly ruled the land. They leapt tremendous distances, paralysed predators with a venomous spray and crushed bones in one bite with their powerful mandibles. The barbs on their legs were lethal talons.”
“Ah, yes, I have heard such stories,” the Chief of the tribe chirruped, nodding his head.
“By consuming this nectar, we’ll transform into the weta of yesteryear?” another chirruped.
“Yes,” Toby’s glassy eyes sparkled. “But the powers last only ‘till the moon is at its height. You must complete your mission by this time.”
“And if we don’t?”
“Your exoskeletons will be shed for the last time and the nectar will poison you from within. You will die an agonising death. Your tribe will be no more,” he answered in a solemn tone.
“You mean extinct?”
Toby looked into the stunned eyes of his fellow creatures and nodded.
“Let the search begin!” the Chief, standing upright on his rear-legs, rallied. “There is no time to waste!”
The weta’s fanned out. They hunted under leaves, poked behind tree-bark, scuttled along fern branches, scurried over rocks and boulders, and scrambled through the undergrowth. Dusk encroached.
“It’s here, it’s here!” the Chief screech-chirruped.
The tribe gathered. The trumpet flowers drooped from a low lying bush on a mound, their petals beginning to curl inwards.
Toby held up a fore-leg. “You must suck every morsel of nectar. The taste is unpleasant and you will experience discomfort as your transformation begins.”
With antennae twitching, the tribe listened. Heads nodded, fore-legs waggled and reached towards the flowers.
“Wait,” Toby harrumphed, looking into those eager eyes before him. “When the battle is won, I will utter an important final order: Excrete, excrete! ”
“Excrete?” many chirruped in unison.
“Yes, excrete, poop. You must poop every last morsel of nectar from your body, squeeze out every last teeny-tiny droplet.”
“Ugh, that’s disgusting.”
“Disgusting it may be but totally necessary. If not excreted, the poison of the nectar will be fatal to yourselves. Now, choose your flower.”
With flowers clasped between their front legs, the weta’s slurped the nectar. Some grimaced at the taste, others squirmed in pain but they continued to suck and as they sucked, their bodies grew. Wings sprouted, barbs became talons, antennae plumped.
“Let’s do this!” the Chief exhorted.
“Take your positions,” Toby ordered.
With a mighty leap, all but ten ascended into the darkening sky. The flurry of flapping wings caused branches to bend, trees to sway and a deafening, swooshing sound filled the night air. In the light of the early moon, sharp-edged talons glistened from dangling legs as the Wetapunga Army took-up their battle positions.
The remaining ten, hiding under foliage on the mound, began their chirruping chorus.
From beyond, detecting the sound, furry, grey ears perked, trembled. Sharp noses twitched, gleeful eyes gleamed. The mass of sleek bodies surged through damp vegetation like a rushing, grey river. Around sharp stones and rocks, over humpy tree roots, the rodent-river flowed. They paused. They listened. They sniffed the air. They twittered. Their whiskers quivered, salivating the promised feast ahead. On and on they scurried towards the chirruping chorus.
Hidden, the front-guard ten, sensed the approach of the enemy. They listened. A rustle of a leaf, the clang of a rock, the padding of paws. They waited. They held their breath. Their antennae poked through their camouflage. Fear and anticipation pounded in their hearts.
The padding paws reached the mound.
A furry nose poked into the enclave. Sniffed and smiled a mean smile. A talon swiftly slashed the rodent from ear to ear. Blood spurted, a shriek pierced the quiet night. As one, the ten wetas threw aside their blanket of camouflage. A row of stunned rats, standing on their hind legs, squealed shrilly. Flashing talons tore at the bellies, at the legs and at the snouts of those front-row rodents. Cries of pain and panic swamped the forest. Entrails and gore spurted forth. Congealing blood pooled, caking the leaves, soaking the soil.
The surviving rodents fled westward. From the skies came a whooshing flurry of wings. The west guard wetas flew towards the grey torrent, unleashing venom from their antennae. A sticky syrup sprayed the rodents. The rodents collapsed, clasping their bellies. Writhing on their backs, their legs waggling in the air, they howled in pain. A foul-some smell lingered.
In a panic, the remaining rats scattered. From the east, from the north and from the south swooped the mighty Wetapunga Army.
The air sang with the whooshing of wings.
And echoed with the crunching of bones.
The sky glistened with the spraying of lethal syrup.
The forest sparkled with the silver glean of slashing talons.
And roared with the death throes and anguished cries of the rodents.
Rodent carcasses covered the land but still, the mighty Wetapunga was not finished. They searched every tree cavity, lifted every rock and boulder, pounded every rotten log until certain their former foe was no more.
Regrouping on the mound, Toby gave his final order. “Excrete, excrete!”
The great Wetapunga pooping began. Cow-patty splatters, elongated sausages, perfectly spherical marbles, boulder poops, mushy poops, squishy poops and pea-sized poops.
They moaned. They squirmed. They grunted. They squeezed and then squeezed some more. And as they pooped, their bodies shrunk, their wings disappeared, talons returned to barbs and antennae de-plumped.
Exhausted, Toby lay on a patch of vegetation, tucking a purple trumpet flower inside his exoskeleton. His body snuggled into the warmth of the leaves, he closed his eyes.

Rejuvenated by his metamorphosing experience, Toby announced at the dinner table that evening that he is now a herbivore.
“A herbivore, dear? Don’t you mean vegetarian?” his mother commented.
The boy smiled.

Toby woke refreshed from his deep, peaceful sleep. His skin glistened with droplets of early morning dew. A soft chirruping chorus sang. The dawn light trickled through the curtains. He wriggled his toes, bent his legs, rubbed his stomach and stretched his arms wide. Throwing back his bed-covers, Toby bounced out of bed ecstatic in his new skin. Renewed.
As he bent to pull on his socks, he noticed the exoskeleton on the wooden floor by the end of his bed. Gently, he picked it up and sat it on his dresser. From the glass of water on the dresser, he took the trumpet flower and carefully wrapped it in a tissue, placing it in his back-pack.

On arriving at school, several of Toby’s classmates loitered on the steps leading to the main hallway. He leapt up the steps two at a time.
At the top, Charlie Hamilton stuck out his foot. “Hey, Weta Boy’s here. Let’s all chirrup for Weta Boy.”
Toby swiftly swirled, avoiding Charlie’s foot. “Ah, Charlie. You have to be quicker than that to catch-out Weta Boy.”
As the morning bell rang, room thirteen students entered their classroom. Maths was the first period. Ratty Rathbone was not there. The class waited. They noticed Toby’s empty seat at the back of the room.
Tick-tock, the minute hand ticked to five past nine. Still Ratty didn’t appear. Not like Ratty to be late.
Tick-tock. Ten-past nine. No Ratty. The students, becoming restless, squirmed in their seats, fired paper darts across the room, shouted insults at one another.
Charlie Hamilton swaggered to the white-board, picked up a white-board pen and began to draw.
“Guess what I’m drawing,” he laughed, swooping a long black line across the board.
Tick-tock. Twelve past nine.
Charlie kept drawing, chuckling to himself.
Tick-tock. Thirteen past nine.
The brass knob door-handle squeaked, turned. All eyes swivelled from the board to the door. Charlie stopped drawing, erased the marks from the board with his sleeve and slunk back to his seat. Slowly, the door opened. A leg appeared. A bendy-thin leg with a claw at the end. Mouths dropped open. The door edged open a little more, another leg appeared. The students at the front clung to their desks and lent forward to peer around the door.
With an almighty thrust, the door swung fully open. Hands flew to faces and bodies dropped to the floor, huddling under desks. Gasps, shrieks, screams then stunned silence. Frightened eyes shot around the room, assessing escape possibilities. The students whimpered.
The large armour-clad figure strode to the front of the room. His glassy-round eyes glowered behind thick-lensed glasses. Wings, folded across his back, flickered. His large mandible clicked alarmingly as his head slowly swivelled from side to side, surveying the snivelling students.
His antennae twitched as if sensing a foul smell. The creature snorted. His eyes alighted on Charlie in the second row. He took a long stride towards the cowering boy.

A Stream of Yellow

One place I try to avoid for obvious reasons such as noise and general mayhem created by such places are shopping malls. Sometimes, however, shopping malls can be a great source of entertainment!

A Stream of Yellow.

“Scintillate your senses.” The girl behind the make-shift perfumery stall proffered gleaming bottles of scents to shoppers. The shoppers, clutching bags or clenching cell phones to their ears or tugging quarrelsome children, surged past. They didn’t pause. They didn’t glance at Molly-Rose or her wares.
Strains of orchestral notes from the home-ware store feebly competed with raucous rock music booming from the sports store. A red-faced infant howled from its stroller. The infant’s mother frantically searched in the folds of blankets. Harried shoppers stepped around her and the stroller, scowling, sighing, glaring.
“Got it,” the mother triumphantly held a small item aloft, relief on her face. As she popped the pacifier into the child’s mouth, she caught Molly-Roses eye. The girl hopefully waggled a scent bottle towards the mother. The mother smiled apologetically and joined the throng.
“Nail polish, lipsticks, mascara, discounts today only.” Molly-Rose, desperate to make at least one sale on her first day, fluttered her gleaming purple-bloom polished finger-nails, smiled her shiny ruby-rose lipstick-smile and fluttered her mid-night blue mascara lashes.
A woman and a small boy in T-shirt and shorts cautiously approached the stall. Molly-Rose flashed her shiny smile. The woman, picking up a bottle, unscrewed the lid.
“Dab it on the paper.” Molly-Rose offered the woman a strip of paper. The woman sniffed, wrinkled her nose.
“Maybe this one,” the girl offered another bottle.
“Mum,” the boy tugged his mother’s sleeve. “I need to go,” he whined, jiggling from foot to foot.
Ignoring her son, the woman picked up bottle after bottle, dabbed the paper, sniffed, returned the bottle and moved to the next one.
The boy jiggle-danced on his crossed-over legs. “Mummmm. I really, really need to go.”
With dismay at the thought of losing her only possible customer, Molly-Rose extracted a lolly-pop from her pocket and lent towards the small boy. A look of alarm clouded his face. He cast his eyes towards the floor. Molly-Rose looked at the floor. She looked at the stream of yellow urine running down the boy’s legs, puddling on the floor.
The mother and the boy hurried away.
A large red-haired woman in spindly high-heels, cut across the stream of shoppers towards the stall. “Do you happen to have… ” then with a whoosh, the woman slid. She wobbled, flung her arms wide and landed spread-eagled on the floor.
People paused. Stopped. Pointed. Giggled and continued on.
“Isn’t that Zelda Merryweather, the mayor’s wife?” A shopper, munching on a salad roll, nudged her friend. Thick mayonnaise oozed from the roll.
As she struggled to upright herself, Zelda Merryweather reached out and grabbed the cloth hanging from the stall. She tugged the cloth. The bottles rattled, clanged. Zelda, with gritted teeth, yanked harder on the cloth.
Bottles clattered. With a mighty yank on the cloth, the bottles flew through the air, scattering at the feet of the scurrying shoppers. Mayhem ensued as shoppers, scrambling on all fours, swiftly swooped those bottles into bags and pockets.

Poise

Nearly June. Nearly halfway through this ‘new year,’ the year of twenty-nineteen. Did you make new year resolutions? Myself, with an appalling record of breaking new year resolutions early in the year, prefer lists. The main character in this story also prefers lists, however, that is no reason to assume my story is autobiographical – well, not entirely!

Poise.
New. A new bladder, that’s what I need the most, Josie thought, feeling a warm trickle sliver down her inner thigh. I’ll add ‘new bladder’ to my New Year list, she mused, desperately squeezing tight her pelvic muscles. She imagined a damp blotch forming on her fluorescent shorts and fought the urge to race past Cynthia plodding along in front of her.
As the running mates entered their street, Josie could hear Cynthia’s laboured breathing. On reaching her home, Cynthia stopped, clung to her gate-post and holding a hand to her chest, spluttered, “Am I getting faster or are you getting slower?”
Stringy damp hair stuck to the sides of her blotchy-red face. Without pause, Josie half turned and continued running backwards towards her own home, giving a half-hearted wave.
She tore up her steps and flung open her door. Then it happened. With a mighty whoosh, her bladder emptied. The ammonia smell teased her nostrils, her skin smarted as the urine gushed down her legs. The yellow liquid soaked her socks and shoes and splattered the door. In horror, Josie observed the puddle forming on the welcome mat.
She yanked off her shoes and socks and shorts and dashed inside to the bathroom.
Showered and dressed, her soiled clothes, including her trainers, dumped in the washing machine, Josie fetched a refuse bag from the shed and shoved the sodden door-mat into it. She splashed a bucket of soapy water over the door-step.
With her twenty-nineteen to-do list and coffee mug in hand, Josie plonked onto the rickety cane chair on the porch. Not a believer in new year resolutions, having failed so many times in the past, Josie preferred lists.
She scanned the list:
New combination fridge freezer.
Birthday present to self: winter holiday somewhere warm!
Establish flower beds around the water tank.
Abstain from deserts.
She added one more.
The first four were all doable, but the fifth? Internet shopping didn’t cater for new bladders and she’d never seen money back guarantee television info-commercial for one hundred per cent reliable bladders.
A memory of the time she had first bought that personal product for her ageing mother, flashed through her mind. Unable to find this discreet product in the personal care aisle, she sought assistance.
“Women’s personal product?” The young shop girl queried. “Oh, you mean those pads women wear for incontinence,” she said in a voice too loud. Heads turned. One shopper sniggered.
“They’re for my mother,” Josie had muttered.
She remembered her mothers’ tearful protestations when she graduated from pads to adult nappies. From that time, her mother slipped into her own private, impenetrable world, lost to those who loved her the most.
Josie wandered the supermarket aisles aimlessly, trying to remember the final item. Then in the personal care aisle, it came to her. With the poise of a ballerina, she stretched on tip-toes and nudged loose one of the pink packets from the top shelf.
Josie smiled. All you need is poise!