Max Johansson-Pugh

Rawhiti

 

I

 

The small hours of the morning was an impenetrable darkness, a darkness so thick it’s any wonder first light managed to cut through it. Crashing waves and a strong sea breeze were all that could be heard on the island. The smell of the sea wafted throughout the island, in equal parts because of the sea’s strength and small size of the island.  The island is home to fishermen who live in shacks and take advantage of the lively surrounding waters. They take their fish to the various buyers and markets in Auckland – the monolithic city that stands across the water. Rawhiti was one of these fishermen. The only separation from Rawhiti’s home and his work was the white, restless sand of the island’s shore. 
    Rawhiti lay, face down, on his haggard mattress, his tanned body naked and sprawled. A tanned and lean body is what you get from extended labour in the Hauraki Gulf; the tan always dirty and cracked; the lean always tending toward impoverished. A passing traveller might think it local fashion, however the fishermen have little choice in the matter. The morning’s wan light unveiled Rawhiti’s white, weather-boarded shack.  The weathered shack’s roof, part corrugated iron, part thatch (all equally weathered), was victim to incessant sea winds and the shack’s location near the water – the last guard before an unstoppable force. Wild wheat and toetoe litter the island, rustling in the morning sea breeze. Rawhiti’s aluminium skiff rested in the shack’s shadow; thoughts of thievery or damaging fishing gear never cross the minds of the fishermen. The island banded together in poverty, sympathising with one another; a chain-gang of sorts, though rather than manacles, bounded by fishing line and tackle. Rawhiti’s bedroom faced eastwards, the new light illuminating his room through a quartered window, leaving a shadowed cross over the sleeping fisherman. 
    He made the first movements of another long day of another week. Rolling over like a boulder, barely moveable, his countenance looked dark and tired. Bags begot bags under his heavy eyes; his muscles loosely hanging onto his bones; sinuous cracks upon his skin begged for shade. An innate grimace that suggested terrible dreams, though it was the reality that was terrible, fell upon Rawhiti’s face, echoing the day’s prospects. With a great sigh he began blinking his eyes open, picking sleep out of his eyes and rubbing his sore body.  Sitting up on the edge of his mattress, the morning sun warming his back, Rawhiti rested his face in his hands, waiting for energy. In the light you could see, like the island and the house and the skiff and everything else on the island, all was beaten by the sea. Rawhiti sat this way for a while.
    Pictures of family littered a solitary table, adjoined by a solitary chair. Aunties, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, all had a place at that table. A bottle of cheap whiskey, empty to the bottom of the label, stood among the photographs like some shrine to remembrance. The whiskey helped him feel like the family were at the table eating with him. There was never any water to cut the cheap liquor with. ‘Got to conserve water.‘ Rawhiti grabbed his shorts and shirt to combat the morning air, and made for the stove, the wooden floor boards moaning with every step. Being clothed took a few years off him; a man looking and feeling a decade older than he was.
    Here began his morning routine. The gas stove had two elements, one for the kettle and one for his canned breakfast. Canned beans, canned stew, canned soup, you name the can and he had it. The element’s low, cultish light illuminated the kitchenette side of the shack. Rawhiti would consider running the generator to use one naked bulb that hung from the patched ceiling, but always resolved not to expend the fuel. An exact cup worth of water would enter the kettle, slightly less would come out. Water was scarce on the island. The summer months were especially unhelpful in keeping Rawhiti’s water tank full. The howling and splurging of the kettle and stew is the sound that breakfast is done. Turning off the stove quickly to conserve the bottle, Rawhiti threw a tea bag into his mug and poured himself a black tea and dished up the stew. The day had not started until these warm goods awoke motion in him. 
    Sounds of his neighbours waking up began to seep into his porous abode. Delighted barks came from his closest neighbour, whose dog was feasting on yesterday’s scraps, gnawing as fervently as you would imagine a hungry island dog eating food would. Derek was Rawhiti’s closest companion on the island and Rawhiti often wondered how he got by providing for himself and the dog – you would never ask such a question; poverty may have banded them, but they did not like talking about it.
Rawhiti swept the photo and bottle on the table aside and threw down his bowl and mug. He dropped his flesh and bones down on the wooden chair and began eating furiously. He was hungry and knew he would be for most of the day, unless he got lucky at sea. 
    Rawhiti was usually out the door before six, but last night had been nursing a drink longer than expected. Leaving his mug and bowl, Rawhiti filled up his bottle with tank water, put on his tattered sneakers and large brimmed straw hat and made his way to the tackle box before walking out. 
    “Gidday, Rawhiti,.” Derek said, standing outside the shack.
    “Hello, Derek.”
    “Guess it’s a late one for both’ve us!”
    Rawhiti chuckling, “Yeah, guess so.” Derek’s dog scampered around to the sounds of their voices.
An orange band wrapped around the horizon, topped by a deep blue, progressively becoming lighter the more it tended toward the water. Rawhiti’s loose button up shirt whipped about in the breeze; golden toetoe moved with grace above the tussock grass undergrowth. The sun gradually rose behind Rawhiti as he stood head on to the ocean breeze staring toward Auckland city. The city of sails. Great white towers stretched toward the heavens, all rising toward the Sky Tower – a building that, put simply, lives up to its name. Lit up in the dawn, it looked like hallowed ground. 
    “Forget about it, it’ll never happen,” Derek smiled, looking at Rawhiti’s contemplation.
    “What’re you on about?”
    Still smiling, Derek shook his head and turned. “Good luck on the water, Rawh.”
Rawhiti knew full-well what Derek meant. Each morning he stood thinking, ‘What I’d give for one of them apartments. Nothing flash. Just something nice to be proud of. A place to eat well, sleep well and get by. Doesn’t have to be much!’ Qualifying the wish made it more plausible to Rawhiti. What Derek did not understand was the clause that always preceded this; not for lack of compassion, but because Rawhiti never spoke about such things, thinking it better to ruminate over alone. ‘I could be close to my family, my whanau. God I’d kill to have ‘em ‘round. Have big meals together; laughing, singing, drinks and kai.’ Rawhiti would get sad, then angry with himself. Remembering he had fish to catch pulled him out of brooding. 
    He poured fuel into the motor’s tank and, throwing his fishing rod, trawling net and tackle box into the skiff, dragged it to the waters edge. The skiff tracking through the damp morning sand is wasa familiar grating sound; the sand getting into his sneakers a familiar feeling. Onto water now, he jumped on the skiff, the engine howling with ignition, and cut through the calm surface. He was getting some speed. Rawhiti’s hat would blow off if he did not hold it down. Looking back at the island he saw the inviting toetoe sitting beneath the early sun and behind that, disguised, his decrepit shack in shadow. Rawhiti kept one hand on the ruddered motor and the other on his hat while his shirt was blown against his lean body. The wake of other fishermen and the faint sparkles of their vessels could be seen in the distance so Rawhiti aimed away and dropped his trawling net. He would catch fish in the net, mostly undersized, but on certain occasions he would forget to throw them back and happen to have enough food for the day. The motor purred as he continued across the water. 
    The skiff was Rawhiti’s most prized possession and one of the last things he brought before leaving the mainland. Without the skiff, Rawhiti would have no means to work, no means to move, no means to live. He was well aware of this, frequently patting the motor like some house pet. His pace quickened, gently squeezing the accelerator, pointed away from the island and the glowing city toward the Hauraki Gulf. Most headed toward Auckland, perhaps hoping the auspicious city would rub off on their fishing, but it was always better to work somewhere else than fight a crowd. 
Golden discs surrounded Rawhiti when caps caught and reflected the sunlight. He stopped after trawling through an area of activity and turned about to go again. Nothing. He pulled the wet net in and baited the sinker on his line before casting off into the gulf. Rawhiti sat on the thwart, patiently waiting, fighting with sea life and occasionally reeling in a fish.
    It was hard to ignore the volcano which accompanied Rawhiti in the gulf – Rangitoto. Like mother nature placing her loaded gun on the table, Rangitoto sat a squeeze of a trigger away from levelling everything in sight. Light travelled from east to west, consistently bombarding his straw hat with the particularly carcinogenic New Zealand sunlight; the water danced gold and blue.
Rawhiti spent the time, and there was a lot of time, between fish looking toward Rangitoto and the city, day-dreaming of getting back to the mainland.
    “If I caught a case of money or some gold, that’d do it.” Rawhiti sat slouched on the thwart chuckling to himself at the absurdity of these thoughts. He pressed his cracked lips together, whistling something along the lines of Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’, his dry mouth garnishing the song with unexpected mute notes.
    A tug at the line piqued Rawhiti’s focus. The line began to run and Rawhiti, immediately standing, pulled the rod up. Struggling with the fish, he adjusted the drag dial keeping the rod high. The surface of the water was calm, but Rawhiti, and surely some creature beneath, were writhing with fight. Rawhiti dropped the rod, spinning the crank as it fell, and quickly pulling back up pointing the rod toward the sky. Sweat formed on his forehead as Rawhiti continued to drop and pull, urging the fish closer and closer to the skiff.
    “Ah, c’mon you little shit!” Veins grew on his tensed forearms. “C’mon!” His arms began to shake, he had caught something big. He knew it and his body was beginning to understand. 
    The calm surface broke with ripples. ‘Here she comes,’ Rawhiti thought, exhaling a tight breath as he wrenched the rod up; furiously spinning the crank, sweat now dripping off his head and glistening on his skin, he pulled up again. Ripples turned to splashes – again. The rich blue of the water was tainted by a mustardy green below – again. Scales and floundering now reached the surface – again. Rawhiti’s eyes widened as he saw the size of the fish, but there was no time to be distracted by the haul, he had to bring it in yet. Rod erect, Rawhiti looked about the skiff for his mallet. One last crank and the fish, a kingfish, was thrashing in the air. Rawhiti braced his legs for stability and muscled the fish and the rod onto the skiff. He threw the two down over his gear and quickly made for his mallet, smashing the kingfish’s head with a series of blows. 
    Quiet – the skiff rocked to a still and the sea breeze picked up. Rawhiti breathed heavily, smiling. Next to the Kingfish, Rawhiti howled on his knees, exultant at the catch. It had to be at least a meter long. ‘Not the biggest kingfish that ever swam, but big enough!’ Rawhiti grabbed a mesh bag and fitted it over the kingfish, the fish’s mouth jutting out of the end. He tied the bag to the thwart and lugged it into the water. ‘This may be my biggest catch!’ Exhausted, Rawhiti collapsed into the end of the skiff, tilting his straw hat over his face. Rawhiti enjoyed a well-earned rest knowing he would not be hungry tonight. 
    Day time turned to dusk and the ocean took on a darker shade of blue; sea birds headed home to nest. Rawhiti fought with trevally, moki, snapper at one point, but had not caught anything quite like the day’s kingfish. He was still fatigued from that fight. He brought in the line, secured his gear under the thwart, and headed toward the city with lips curled in a smile.


The means by which Rawhiti sold his fish was not strictly legal. An old friend, Andreas, from a time long before Rawhiti ever imagined he would be a fisherman, runs rana small restaurant on the city’s waterfront. Andreas encouraged small time fishermen to sell to him. He would pay a good rate because it saved him going through the incumbent fishing companies’ costly supply channels, which eateries were supposed to do. ‘Supposed to’ – a term Andreas had little or no regard for. Rawhiti breathed deeply as he approached the city, one hand on his head, the other guiding the motor. The other island fishermen would do the same. Few of them had freezers so when the handful of illicit restaurants did not want their fish, they would save it to sell, or eat, another time. Rawhiti could not afford a freezer and all the power that compliments the appliance, so when he could not sell fish it was particularly hard. Though, the bottom line of purveying fish is that, assuming you have caught something, you have dinner. Other goods may be missed without a day’s income, but at least you will have something to put in your belly.
    Rawhiti knew he would not be able to eat the entire kingfish before it went off and wanted to get some money for it. He was nearly out of drink. Also, and more importantly as immediate emotional responses are concerned, he knew that Derek’s dog would happily eat the rest of the kingfish. This image annoyed him and remembrance of how that mutt survived so long came flooding back. 
    A red neon sign reading - CARRUTH’s – bled into the darkening sky. Rawhiti loosened his grip on the motor and slowed as he approached the quay. The kingfish floated alongside the skiff. The back of the restaurant loomed dark over the quay; all the show and glamour was on the other side – a false-fronted building of lights – you could hear the muffled sounds of festivities with the calm lapping of water and the sea breeze. Rawhiti made sure the fish could be seen from the backdoor and tied up to the according piling.
    Humming and smiling, he wondered how much he was going to get, the delayed smack of his shoes’ detached soles echoing with every step toward the alcoved backdoor. Two knocks and Rawhiti patiently waited. ‘God I miss my family.’ He suddenly craved a drink. 
    The door opened and a boy, no more than seventeen, stood in black pants and a white tucked shirt, taking a drag from a cigarette and raising an eyebrow in lieu of asking Rawhiti his business.
    “I have fish.”,s Said Rawhiti, stepping aside to show his catch. 
    The boy looked over his shoulder, “Andreas!” Amid the noise of the restaurant he could hear the kitchen staff talking, more specifically, commenting on their approaching boss.
    “…thinks it’s the Jazz age, how deluded can he be?”
    “I’m not gunna be the one to tell him, I like having a job!” They broke out into laughter, then hushed silence as a short, stringy man in a bespoke suit sauntered to the door. “Walks like he’s a wise guy,” they murmured. The boy stamped out his cigarette and headed back inside, face unchanged, beside that notable inflection of the brow. The boy must be new not to know Rawhiti by now. He could not keep up with the ever-changing staff. His mind had a way of either coasting or delving into details, no middle ground. Over analysis or forgetfulness. His mind was mostly occupied with thoughts of his family and how much he would love to see them, eat with them, laugh, everything. Though he was also nervous of what Andreas would offer him – his wet palms reflected this.
    “Rawhiti,” Andreas said, arms wide as if to embrace, “how’s things?” He wore a half-mouthed grin.
    “I have a treat for you, Andreas!” Rawhiti wiped his hands on his shorts.
    Andreas was in dark green pants and blazer, accessorised by gold; rings, necklace and bracelets. Add a fedora and you had an Al Capone henchman. He stepped outside, out of the restaurant’s light and view of his watchful staff, and into the red of the neon sign. “Rawhiti,” drawing out the ‘a’, “this must’ve been some hard work.” They walked toward the skiff.
    Rawhiti exhaled, looking at the kingfish, “oOh yeah! She’s close to one-twenty I reckon.”
    “I reckon!”
    The back door opened abruptly and the young boy leaned out. “Hey, Andreas! Once you’ve finished being a wise guy, Mrs Peterson wants to see you.” Sounds of laughter poured out from the kitchen and were snuffed when the boy quickly closed the door.
    “God damn it, I’m this close to sacking the lot, I swear!” he took a breath and pocketed his ‘C’ shaped gesture. There was a silence; Rawhiti waited for the financial realization of his catch. By this point he was drenched in sweat. Food, water, drink was all on the line – innocent collateral to this man’s, Rawhiti’s friend’s, discretion.
    “Kingys are good at the moment.” ,he said composedly, grinning over to Rawhiti, sunken eyes looking back. He stared at the fish, dissecting it, undressing it, thinking of all the angles. Friend or not, Andreas, who could not hold onto a scruple if he tried, had mastered how to get the most out of any opportunity. He was the kind of man that was compounding interest on friends and family since the first dollar was loaned. As his eyes feverishly looked over the fish, he began to nod. “Two hundred… Two twenty ‘cause you’re a mate.”
    “Deal!”
    “Good.” Clapping and rubbing his hands. He knew how much he had saved. 
    Rawhiti’s breathing became exaggerated. He was heady with all the prospects now afforded to him, all rushing through his head, then naturally concluded with the pictures on his table. “I could see the whanau with that much money, it’s been too long.”
    Andreas’ grin fell. He stood rigid, looking askance at Rawhiti. “Since when have you been saving to see them, Rawhiti?”
    “It’s always at the back of my mind, you know, can’t forget family,” he said, giddy like a child.
    Andreas embodied severity, “Ffix up your house Rawhiti, the family can wait.”
    “Why are you so serious all of a sudden Andre, that’s a big catch!”
    A moment passed and Andreas put his hand into his blazer and pulled out a wad of cash, flicking through two hundred and twenty dollars’ worth of notes. He passed the money to Rawhiti.
    “Here, that is a mighty catch Rawhiti. Hope it didn’t give you too much grief.” Andreas feigned a smile though his eyes failed to follow suit.
    “Na, not too bad, I’m pretty shattered though.”
    “Using a motor?”
    Rawhiti chuckled, “Na man, just off the shore, all legal ‘n’ shit, don’t worry.” They shared a laugh. Andreas, however, looked uncomfortable. 
    Still overjoyed with his pay check, Rawhiti failed to notice, continuing, “How’s things with you? Restaurant’s still afloat?”
    “Fine, fine – the staff don’t respect me but what’s new. That boy you saw spends half his time staring off into space. How someone can have that much to think about, I don’t know.”
    “He’s probably thinking of ways to get his hard boss.,” Rawhiti said, laughing, slapping Andreas on the arm. Water lapped over the following silence. “Anyway, I’m gunna go to the shop before it closes, next time you see me I’ll be hauling a three meter kingy, I’ll bankrupt your restaurant!”
    Andreas looked cautiously at Rawhiti, though tried to meet his mood halfway. “You keep ‘em coming and I’ll keep on payin’.” Another moment of silence passed. “Hey, Rawhiti, go buy some timbre with that money and board up your roof, I’ll come help you do it up this weekend.”
    Rawhiti slowly walked backwards toward the skiff, chuckling, “Yyeah, what do you know about putting up rooves? And since when do you care about mine? I’m not gunna pay ya!”
    Scoffing in amusement, Andreas turned toward him. “Yyeah, yeah, yeah, forgot who I was talking to. Take it easy Rawh.”
    “C’ya mate.”
    Rawhiti got into his skiff and took off into the night, heading for a convenience store before driving into the black sea, toward the island. He turned his head as he left and saw Andreas standing, cigarette in mouth, staring back at him. He thought Andreas had acted strange but did not think too much about it. 


Andreas took a final drag of his smoke and threw it down, stamping out the final embers. 
    “Shit!”
    Exhaling a cloud of smoke, he turned, leather scuffing on the concrete, and made his way back into Carruth’s, swallowed by the sounds of patrons and staff. 
    “Boy, get your arse over here!”
    The red neon sign lit up the quay, where the smell of smoke and fish lingered with the memory of this pivotal exchange.

 

II

 

With more money comes more drink and with more drink comes greater hangovers. Being so disabled, and flush with food and money, Rawhiti did not go fishing today. Instead he cooked up some food and decided to rest on the beach. Pictures were sprawled across the table from a night of family evocation. He used the door frame to support his weight, holding a bowl of hot food and slowly spooning it into his mouth. Derek walked by with his dog.
    “Hey, Derek.”
    “Ay, Rawhiti. Not going out today eh?”
    “Na man, got a big pay yesterday. Pulled in a kingy this big!” Signalling with his arms the great length; the dog’s head following the hand that held the bowl.
    “Nice, could take a couple off,” Derek chuckled to himself.
    “Yeah, was thinking of going to the mainland ‘n’ see the family.”
    “Didn’t realise you had family Rawh, you haven’t gone see them since you came here, they haven’t come see you either.” Derek’s eyes winced as the midday sun escaped from cloud coverage.
    Rawhiti pondered this point, slowly replying, “Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be missing me ya know.”
    Derek nodded, looking about for his dog. “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’re not missing you too much.”,he said, laughing and ruffing his dog’s neck. Rawhiti looked down at his bowl as he had another spoonful. “Anyway, we better be off, some of us catch fish for a living!” Rawhiti looked up and nodded at Derek, who then headed for the sea. 
    He walked back inside contemplatively and sat at the table staring down at the pictures, pouring himself a drink as a smile began to appear on his face. He would not make it to the beach today.
“Cheers, brotha.” He raised his glass to a photograph, drinking whiskey that travelled hot down his throat and warmed his belly. “Cheers!”


He tried but for the life of him could not remember why he had not seen his family in so long. Derek had sowed a seed that Rawhiti now compulsively mused over. ‘It’s ‘cause I’ve never had enough money,’ he told himself. As the days tended toward Friday, Rawhiti’s drinking and cheer increased and no fishing was done. He knew that the family got together on Fridays at his cousin’s house and the closer it got to Friday, the greater his resolve to join them was. 
    The days that passed were warm days. Birds lazily swung through the air chasing the scents of dead fish. Derek’s dog lay about listlessly. All the island’s activities slowed down and amongst it all Rawhiti sat in his shack looking over the money and pictures that littered his table. Not once did the thought of doing up the shack come into his head. His mind was fixed, all day to day concerns were winnowed away, and nothing but the family germ remained. 
    Rawhiti poured himself a drink and took a sip. The sluggish mornings beat Rawhiti but lacked the strength to distract his mind. ‘I wonder how everyone looks these days. Do my brothas still play guitar and sing their hearts out. Maybe they can sing now!’ Another sip. ‘Do the boys still kick the ball around, the oldies telling the same stories, talking family. Do they talk about me? Do they miss me?’ A final gulp to finish the glass and Rawhiti made his way to his mattress. His mind continued posing questions concerning his family, which had remained untouched for years, tucked away in a dark garret of his mind, ignored and forgotten with the toys, and now he craved answers. Rawhiti lay his head down, putting an end to the day – Thursday – knowing that tomorrow he would head to the mainland.

 

III

 

Rawhiti went about his business the same way he always did. The intense light of the new day affronted his eyes while they slowly opened. He waited for energy, considered running the generator, ate his canned breakfast – the money having little effect on his meals – and sat a while with his family. He would wait until afternoon before leaving to see them unbound from photograph. 
    It was already midday; Rawhiti had slept in. Anticipation and excitement all mixed in his stomach and sickly bubbles rose to the surface. Rawhiti moved sluggishly to the door - more sluggish than usual at least - where he saw Derek on the ground, leaning against the house, crying. He had never seen Derek cry.
    “What’s wrong, Derek?”
    The day was hot and had no remorse for Derek; his few tears being the only relief on his otherwise dry skin. 
    “She finally kicked it,” he said.
    Rawhiti walked over and sat next to his friend. “How’d it happen?”
    A large exhale. “She’d gone too long without food. Both of us had. I couldn’t skim any more off the top for her.”
    Rawhiti began to notice the buzz of flies and turned and arched his head into the open doorway. The dog lay dead in the corner of the kitchen. 
    “I was a fool to think I could keep her in a place like this!” Derek took a moment to catch his breath then continued. “The silly dog was all I had.”
    “I’m sorry Derek.” Rawhiti sat with him for a moment then stood up and made his leave. No money was offered to Derek in his plight as Rawhiti had allocated each dollar to some means of connecting with his family, the amount needed to alleviate some of Derek’s stress going toward fuel for the skiff, or food to bring, or something else integral to his success.
    He knew Derek needed that dog as much as it needed him but could not lament on the point long before his own emotions returned to the forefront; again, he felt the sting of his nerves. He walked toward the beach, hanging his hands in the wild wheat he passed, and sat staring at Auckland; the toetoe moving in the wind; the azure sky offering no distinction between the sea and the heavens. 
    Derek’s sobbing could be heard in the distance and other fishermen from the island gave him compassionate support as opposed to Rawhiti’s distracted apathy. He sat on the beach with his mind unfazed and focused.


It was time. Rawhiti buttoned up his shirt, the first time he had used all his buttons in a long time and stuffed his remaining money deep into deep pockets. Closing the door on his wanting shack, he brought the petrol container down to the skiff, his ragged sneakers treaded over the amber coloured sand of the falling sunlight. After filling up the skiff, Rawhiti pushed it onto water, boarding it with the rest of the petrol.  A howl and smoky cough started the motor; a steady purr propelled it. Rawhiti quickly pulled away from the island and toward Auckland. His hair was thrown around in the wind while any exposed skin felt the passing air’s cold sting. Without looking back, Rawhiti squeezed the throttle and quickened his pace, squinting his eyes in response to the prevailing wind.
    His senses were all consumed by the sea; its smells, sights, sounds, . Only in his nerves did he find relief. ‘They’ll be glad to see me. I can’t wait to see them all. All the cousins chatting away. The young ones running ‘round the place, causing trouble. I’ve got so much to catch ‘em up on. I should get some food.’ Rawhiti travelled alongside Rangitoto then bee-lined toward Auckland and its harbour bridge. To anyone else the view and travel would be spectacular but this whole process, weaving through islands, the city and harbour in the low light of the evening, had all been standardised for Rawhiti. He carried on with a stoic visage. 
    He was passing Carruth’s now, where Andreas pushed, pushed to realise his dreams of dinning flappers and wise guys, realisations shattered by the contemporary men and women he was tending to; a hep-cat trapped in a den of staffed lions, Andreas continued to push against time. Rawhiti briefly thought of how his friend and how his big business was doing, surmising ‘well’ from a glance, then made his way under the steely truss that connected Auckland’s isthmus to its north shore. He would not manage to sell anymore fish to Andreas. His heart kicked and punched in his chest as the Te Atatu peninsular, where his family would be, came into view.
    Rawhiti pulled into a beach reserve and dragged the skiff into a covered thicket, disguising it with foliage and severed boughs. He followed a trail to the road where he recognised the neighbourhood well. It had been a long time since he had walked through the suburbs with its identically weather-boarded houses – all different colours to show there was some distinction between the various hosts. Ordered and regular light posts passed Rawhiti by as he walked along the furrowed sidewalks, dividing the houses from the front-most part of their unkempt lawns. 
    Rawhiti used his next immediate goals to placate his nerves – ‘I must get some food’. He dipped into a corner dairy and used scrunched notes to buy various frozen products that he assumed would be crowd pleasers. The shopkeep watched him suspiciously, his brow was wet with sweat and his tattered clothes hardly hid that the rest of his body was similarly saturated.
    “You alright, mate?” 
    “Yeah, just these thanks,.” Rawhiti replied, receiving a doubtful look from this inquisitive shopkeep. Rawhiti did not realise that he looked like a man of serious ailment.
    Paid for and back onto the street. It was not far now. Down one street, left down another, all becoming more familiar. Dread came over him and slowed his dogged steps. He recognised cars, houses, bends in the footpath. One house, where the windows shone with festive light as if a fire was contained inside, he remembered fondly as his cousin’s house. ‘God, why didn’t I come back sooner.’
    Rawhiti could not remember how long he had been waiting for this moment. One wipe of his brow and he walked toward the house, straightening his lapels as he went around the side of the house toward the back yard where he heard a frenzy of conversation with brief injections from familiar voices. A hissing grill accompanied the mirth. His heart was pounding furiously now, he felt his stomach making its way up his throat. Three deep breaths and Rawhiti stepped around the corner. Immediately, a piercing scream ended the gaiety. Gasps of disbelief quickly followed.
    “What the fuck are you doing here!”
    There they all were, the uncles, aunts, cousins, children; a little boy was being whisked away, a boy with Rawhiti’s eyes. One of the uncles yelled at Rawhiti, standing up and coming towards him in a show of strength. “Get the fuck out of here, we’re calling the cops!”
    Neighbours opened their windows and looked out, coming tentatively out of their homes to stand on the sidewalk, watching. Rawhiti stumbled backwards in shock, dropping his food as the men came towards him ruffing him up and yelling at him to leave. Rawhiti tried to catch the boy’s eyes one more time but it was too late.
    “They’re on their way scumbag, leave!”
    He was in shock and could not string a sentence together in rebuttal. Rawhiti quickly moved toward the street in the wake of thrown cans and bottles, eyes wide in disbelief, and rushed back to the skiff. Sirens were going off in the distance and getting louder. He broke into a sprint. ‘I don’t understand! I love my family, I don’t understand!’ He felt sick. The sirens grew louder, the whirring sound exacerbating his already dazed state. He could not close his widened eyes. Rawhiti uncovered the skiff, eyes wet with tears. ‘The boy, he had my eyes, that’s my boy!’ He moved quickly into the water as blue and red tinted the upper foliage of the reserve’s thicket, constantly looking back to see if some mistake had been made and jumped into the skiff. Sobbing into the wind, Rawhiti sped his way back to the island. All he wanted was his family and could not understand what had just happened. He looked back again but no family was there to tell him it was all one big misunderstanding, only the police.
    Rawhiti looked back.  The twilight left the peninsular silhouetted in front of a burning orange sky. He was being pursued. Rawhiti knew police boats would apprehend him in no time but this truth was not strong enough to distract his mind. ‘My family. My boy. My boy. What have I done?’ Speeding out of the Auckland Harbour, past Rangitoto, he got to the island, leaving everything in the skiff and walking with heavy steps, as if intoxicated, to his shack.
    The police followed Rawhiti to the island. They pulled up on the shore next to Rawhiti’s skiff and cautiously approached his home. The cries of a man could be heard. There was particular interest within the department in getting Rawhiti, an interest that made the policemen’s actions seem motivated more by passion than from the upholding of any law. With guns pointed ahead, the few policemen who first got to the island approached the door. Various hand signals were shared, and an officer kicked in the rickety door to find Rawhiti sprawled across the table, weeping over photographs, a withered shell of a man.


The sky faded to black, the toetoe and wild wheat swayed on the island’s white sandy shore. A salty breeze passed through all the downtrodden shacks, spurred by the tide that incessantly broke on and drew away from the island’s shore, both taking and giving in each bout, on and on.
Derek saw everything from his shack, watching the police take Rawhiti away in handcuffs who protested the malevolent charge he was indicted for. He never knew Rawhiti had a partner, let alone that they had a kid together. Derek did a lot of thinking that night, sitting opposite his dog which still lay in the corner, and decided it needed burying. He stayed sitting and thinking until the early hours of the morning, then smiled to himself, as if a great weight had just been lifted off his tired shoulders, letting out a sigh as he went to make himself comfortable in bed. “My lot ain’t too bad.”

 

 


 

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray