Sucker

Welcome, 2020! My first post. I believe this crazy hot summer has fried my brain. We have had no rain in the Waterless North since before Christmas. Right now I am receiving my sixth load of water.
Just for fun, today’s teaser has a touch of fantasy.

Sucker

Toby jiggled the coins in his pocket as he gazed wide-eyed into the display cabinet.
“I can’t decide between the liquorice, the jelly-beans or the gob-stopper.” He looked despairingly at Candy Sweet, proprietor of Sweet Delights.
With a twinkle in her eye, she replied, “You have quite a conundrum, lad. The liquorice strap will lead you down a road which will fork. One fork leads to despair and desolation, the other to a place of fun and happiness.”
“But how will I know which fork to follow?”
“There are clue’s, but… .”
“But what?”
“You’ll only have a split-second to decide.”
“And the jelly-beans?”
“Each jelly-bean you consume will whisk you to a place resplendent in the colour and taste of that bean.”
“Wow, that sounds exciting and not near as risky as the liquorice.”
“Does it? What does red remind you off?”
Toby thought of the bloodied-knee he’d received when he fell off his bike recently. He shuddered.
“And the gob-stopper?”
“Ah, the gob-stopper is a whole other dimension. See how the colours swirl and mingle like waves in a churning sea?”
Toby nodded.
“Imagine a fragile sailing boat in a raging sea storm. The sucker of the gob-stopper will be tossed and tumbled upon those tumultuous waves until… .”
“Until what?”
“Until the vessel washes up on the silky sands of magical Gobligook Island where you’ll be king for a year and a day!”
“Awesome! One gob-stopper, please.” Toby slammed his coins on the cabinet.
Candy, resting her arms on the cabinet, lent towards Toby. “Not so fast, young man.” She tapped the side of her nose. “Should you be bounced from the sail-boat, you’ll be sucked to the depths of the ocean floor where lurks the fearful Gobble Monster.”
Toby jiggled from foot to foot. He bent and scratched his scabby knee.
“What’s it going to be then, eh? The liquorice, the jelly-beans or the gob-stopper?”
Toby hesitated.
“What’s your decision? It is a beautiful and terrible thing and should, therefore, be treated with great caution.” The woman advised.
Visions of the magical island flashed in front of Toby’s eyes. “One gob-stopper, please,” he beamed.
He left the store, plopped the gob-stopper into his mouth and sucked deeply. The sugary-sweetness teased his tongue, watery juices slushed around his mouth, swirls of rainbow colours dazzled his eyes.
Toby looked to the sky, looked to the dark, hovering clouds. In the distance, thunder boomed lightning crackled, and Toby trembled with fear. A splash of saltwater sprayed his freckled face, as a sudden whoosh of wind snatched him, tossed him and tumbled him, and flung him into a fragile vessel. Toby clung desperately to the sides as mighty waves relentlessly lashed the tiny boat.
As Candy Sweet prepared to close her shop for the day, a distraught woman bustled in. “My boy, small, reddish-blonde hair, a splattering of freckles, have you seen him? He’s not come home. He’s never done anything like this before.”
“Is he fond of gob-stoppers?” Candy Sweet asked.

#White Feather

# ‘White Feather’ is a story inspired by a slice of our history which today continues to be an issue of contention. I’m proud to say, my story won second place in the Hibiscus Coast Writers’ faction competition, announced this past weekend.

White Feather
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? Fellow miners’ whom he stood alongside during the last year’s strike, seeking a pay rise and the repeal of the Military Service Act for compulsory conscription. They won neither.
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 increasing 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, driver,” she says, stepping off the bus. She 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. Shortly after my birth, my family sought sanctuary at Parihaka, our village having been destroyed during the conflicts.”
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 resistance. As the spiritual leader of Parihaka, Te Whiti preached peace.”
“He wanted peace, not war?”
“Āie. Under the leadership of Te Whiti and Tohu, Parihaka attracted many disenfranchised people from near and far. The settlement grew in numbers and strength. 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. Our men fought against the settlers and the government peacefully, not with guns. Through 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? That’s not fair.”
“ ‘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. Towards the end of the 70s, many were caught and imprisoned. They were 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 speaks. 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. The white feather is a symbol of cowardliness. Mother and I have received several white feathers in our letterbox since Fathers arrest.” 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. “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 village, 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: 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 be an objector to war.” As 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 November the fifth and the true meaning 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.

* K9 Bone Alley

K9 Bone Alley, a light, fun read, this story gained second place in our club’s (Hibiscus Writers Club) children’s competition. Enjoy!

Hello, my friends. Let me introduce myself. My name is Harvey and I currently live at K9 Bone Alley.
I have no pedigree to speak of. I’m a mutt, a bit of everything. I am not the most attractive canine you’re likely to meet. My body is stocky and, my legs are short. I am brindle in colour. Like a beacon, my tail waggles in the air.
Excess flaps of skin kinda droop around my mouth and, when I get excited, globules of slobbery saliva slither down my jowls. It’s not good etiquette to dribble, and I try my hardest to not to do this.
But it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? And I do have one endearing feature: my eyes. Round and soulful, my eyes are difficult to resist especially, when I tilt my head to the side. Being a rescue dog, I am desperate to win the affections of my new pets and make this, my third home, my for-ever home.
At K9 Bone Alley, I have a large yard to romp around in during the day, my own special house with a cosy blanket and soft pillow providing shelter from all weathers’ and, the yummiest food ever! Who could want for more?
Best of all, there’s no pesky cat, like at the last place.
A pesky cat got me evicted from my last home. The day I sent that furry feline scurrying up the lounge curtain, spelt curtains for me, so to speak. With a flick of his tail, that cat tumbled a ballerina figurine from a shelf to shatter on the floor.
Let me introduce my new pet family. Firstly, there’s Dad Hominid who every evening takes me for a long stroll along the riverbank. I race around like crazy, sniffing and barking with wild abandon.
Mum Hominid feeds me the most delicious morsels. She rolls me on my back and tickles my stomach and scratches me behind my ears. Bliss.

Boy Hominid and I play fetch with a ball or stick in the yard. Boy is sports-crazy.
Girl Hominid is learning to play the trumpet. She produces teeth-clenching, ear-splitting sounds. With my head held high, I attempt to harmonise with melodious yowls. Girl is applauded where-as I am shunted outdoors with a stern telling off.
Granddad Hominid, with his walking stick by his side, sits in his big chair all day. He watches game shows and Reality TV. I’ve tried bonding with him by flopping on the couch or at his slippered feet, giving him my endearing eye-look. My effort is a dog-gone waste of time. He ignores me.
Granddad never speaks. The only sounds he makes are his epic farts. They are whoppers, capable of clearing the lounge in ten seconds flat.
Cute Toddler Hominid with his curly blond hair, – yes, you call it hair for humans, not fur – is the one I most enjoy spending time with. When Mum is distracted, he drops me tidbits from his high-chair. Toddler and I spend hours digging holes in the sand-pit together.
Like a meaty bone from the butchers, life at K9 Bone Alley is sweet. But lately, dodgy happenings have hounded this happy arrangement, beginning with Dad’s missing toothbrush.
“Has anyone seen my toothbrush?” he shouted from the bathroom.
No one had. Two days later, Mum found it buried in the soil near the geraniums.
“My trumpet is missing,” Girl howled.
Dad found the trumpet under the tarpaulin covering the wood-pile.
“Mum, I can’t find my rugby socks. I need them for the game,” Boy whined.
One sock was discovered under the pillow in my outdoor house.
Today, Mum baked a cake, leaving it to cool on the bench. “Who has eaten a chunk of my cake?” She glowers at us all.
“Own up!” No-one confesses.
One of Granddad’s slippers is missing. “Granddad, I’ve found your slipper.”
Dad emerges from the toilet holding a sodden article resembling a drowned rat, in his hand.
All eyes focus on me.
Granddad points his walking stick at me. “He’s the culprit. The toothbrush, the trumpet, the socks, the cake and now my slipper. It’s him. That mutt’s gotta go!” he says dogmatically.
My eyes water at such hurtful lies.
I give my most soulful look.
I tilt my head.
I’m ignored. I’m in the dog-box, as the saying goes.
Mum returns to the kitchen. The cake mixer begins to whir.
Dad and Boy retreat to the yard and throw the football around.
Granddad increases the volume on the TV remote.
An ear-splitting noise trumpets over-head drowning the canned laughter from the television.
Disgraced, I lie down, cover my eyes with my front paws and ponder this conundrum.
I feel a gentle stroke on my back. Turning my head, I look into the sorrowful eyes of Toddler.
My ears perk upright.
I feel a dribble drooling at my mouth.
My whiskers twitch.
I know the truth.
With my nose, I nudge Toddlers’ hand. I wag my tail and pad outside to the sand-pit. Toddler follows. This time, we don’t dig. We talk.
“I did it. I did it all,” he sobs. “I wanted you to be my pet, only mine.”
I don’t correct him on this technical point. I whimper.
“I’m sorry.” He wraps his arms around my neck. “I don’t want you to leave.”
With a sloppy face-licking, I forgive him.
Later, snuggled close to Mum on the couch, Toddler tearfully confesses to the happenings.
With his head tilted to one side, his round soulful eyes, glisten. “Please, let Harvey stay.”
Mum nods and smiles.
I’ve been pardoned!
I’m dribbling with excitement!
K9 Bone Alley is my for-ever home.
Everyone showers me with attention, everyone except Granddad.
This evening, the pets and I watch a reality show called ‘Survivor.’
I squiggle-worm my body close to Granddads feet, one slippered, one not.
I let rip a real plonker, a mighty Grandfather stinker.
My pets jump to their feet, holding their noses, and shout in unison:
“Granddad!”

Short, Shorts.

Can a story be told in one hundred words? A collection of short, short stories.

Mother-of-Pearl.

“One more button to sew on, then you can try on your party dress,” Fatima told her daughter Pearl.
“Where is that button?”
Pearl squirmed. She blushed. She rubbed her nose.
“Oh Pearl, not again!”
Pearl nodded. “It won’t come out,” she whimpered, delving her fore-finger into her nostril.
Pearls predilection for inserting objects into orifices had compelled Fatima to resort to tweezer therapy on many occasions.
Last Christmas a tingling silver bell from a cracker was painfully extracted from Pearl’s ear. The bell tingled no more.
Pearl sneezed. A glunky, globulous glob spectacularly exited the nostril, splattering the dress.

A Gift From the Dead.

Clyde’s tragic, sudden death shocked Julia deeply.
The day following Clyde’s funeral, his bereaved wife sat sobbing at the kitchen table, clutching a courier package.
‘What’s this, Cora?’ Julia quizzed her sister, picking up the package.
‘Arrived this morning, must be a mistake.’
‘It’s addressed to you, open it.’
‘I can’t.’
Julia, opening the package, retrieved a shiny red box. She opened the box. A delicate silver bracelet, nestled on a silky, satin cushion. She read aloud the engraved inscription. ‘My darling Cora, twenty-five years of bliss. Adoringly, Clyde.’
Clasping the bracelet to her wrist, Cora’s eyes sparkled.

New Years Eve, 2016.

Denis, intoxicated on the prospect of becoming a father, stepped onto the country road. Brakes shrieked. Wham! His body, like a rag-doll, catapulted into the air, descended, smashed the car windscreen and bounced onto the road.
Cradling his head, I whispered his name. Sirens pierced the still night. He twitched, convulsed, his life extinguished, my world shattered.
Alone, I stumbled through the pregnancy, my belly growing with my sorrow.
Clutching this fretful baby to my breast, I scan the jumbled words on the letter from Fair-play Insurance.
‘Reparation sought: one broken windscreen caused by one Dennis Holmes, December 31st, 2015.

Sizzling Hot Date.

Magnificently manicured nails.
Perfectly pedicured toes.
Legs waxed.
Hair coiffured.
Smokey, alluring eye-shadow.
Mascaraed lashes.
Blushed, accentuated cheekbones.
Ruby-red lipstick.
Sensual perfume, liberally sprayed.
Black, lacy push-up bra, hooked.
No panties, not tonight!
Slinky, silky gown zipped-up.
Elegant drop-pearl necklace, clasped.
Killer stilettoes.
Mirror twirl.
Perfection personified.
You give me fever, fever all through the night.
The woman gyrates her hips to Peggy Lee’s melodious tones.
Champaign bubbles tickle her nose.
Reclining on the chaise lounge, she flicks to the first page of E L James’ latest red-hot novel, ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ and…
…her sizzling date begins.

A Not-so-boring Crossing of the Ionian Sea.

The rowdy, raucous young Italian’s preceded me on the slippery gang-plank boarding the ferry bound for Corfu. One tripped, his suitcase plunging into the water below. A quick-witted crewman hooked the bobbing case with a pole and hauled it on board.
On the open upper deck, the gaiety continued as the sodden clothes were hung over the railings.
The ship’s engines rumbled, the clothes flapped listlessly. The boat picked up speed, the clothes fluttered with greater urgency. As each article was snatched from the railing and swept out to sea, the merriment increased.
Hilarious hi-jinks, crossing the Ionian Sea.

The End

Boarding the school bus, the boy resolved to end his daily nightmare.
End the taunts, the shoving, the foot-tripping, the not-so-quiet whispering.
End the fear.
After much deliberation, he chose a window seat, with occupied seats in front and behind. Terry his tormentor, boarded at the next stop. He dawdled along the isle, eyeing his prey and nodded at the occupant of the seat behind. The seat vacated, Terry triumphantly sat down.
“Anyone else smell that stench?” Chortled laughter.
Now or never.
The boy spun around, landing a forceful punch.
‘Ou-ch!’ Blood spurted, tears welled.
Shocked silence.
The end.

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.