An epic short story set at a tangi. Part two runs tomorrow.
Sian’s key was barely in the café door before the news reached her.
‘Terrible thing,’ the lady from the Salvation Army store said. ‘That lovely old man. Dead in the creek.’
Sian crossed Ārani Creek several times a day. The path and bridge made for an easy shortcut, skirting around the back of the hospital on the walk from her house to her café in town.
‘A dog-walker spotted him from the path,’ she heard one of the council workers saying to another. ‘Just below the boulder trap there. Must’ve slipped and fallen. Poor thing.’
Sian’s hips throbbed and she paused. She didn’t like to take her anti-inflammatories in the morning. Some days they fuzzed up her thoughts and other times they made her feel near manic.
In summer, the creek was a series of glassy riffles that moulded around any stones larger than a pebble, leaving their tops dry and dusty. The water gathered in a deep, silty-bottomed pool before gliding under the bridge and into a culvert that funnelled it away from the hospital. Sometimes on her walk home she saw swallows chase hovering insects over the pool, kissing the surface and sending out ripples like waveforms.
Sian had seen the orange and white of police tape and the yellow glow of hi-vis from Ārani Road on her way to work that morning. She had altered her route. Police had a way of eyeing her brown skin and curly black hair that she didn’t have the energy for.
‘Anyone know who he was?’ she asked.
Her barista Brian shook his head. If Brian didn’t know, no one in town could know yet. ‘They’ve brought in cops from Hamilton,’ he said over the shriek of the milk steamer. ‘And they’re not talking.’
‘Terrible way to go,’ her waitress said, leaning heavily on the counter.
‘Order up,’ Sian repeated.
‘Imagine being alone out there in the cold.’
‘It wasn’t cold last night,’ Sian said. She remembered her thighs sticking to each other in bed.
‘Terrible,’ Brian said, shaking his head.
Sian pictured the white of the moon and the orange of the streetlights glittering on water that barely altered its path around a crumpled body. It wouldn’t have been quiet. The cicadas had been screeching at full volume and even in drought, the creek gurgled and chattered.
She tried not to compare it to a too-hot house with every window tightly shut, the only sounds the mechanical blast of the central heating and the beep of the syringe driver.
She shrugged. ‘I can think of worse ways to go.’
The retch originated deep in Rua’s guts. It rolled upward as sweat pricked under his thick curls and emerged as a blast of warm air that tasted of McDonald’s breakfast. His hand flew to his mouth too late.
Sian had walked several metres away from the car, fending off questions from her phone. She threw Rua a crooked half- smile of sympathy.
‘Okay, but I really have to go now,’ she tried for a fourth or fifth time. ‘There’s no reception in the valley so you’ll just have to . . . you’ll be fine. She’ll be fine. I’m going now. No, I’m really going. Ka kite!’ She hung up and looked over to Rua. ‘You okay?’
He sat half out of the car, his bare feet on the gravel, his head on his knees. He tried to nod. His stomach clenched in protest. ‘Yeah. Just a bit of carsickness. And you know, anxiety.’
‘Yeah, I know.’
They had left Hamilton before dawn. It was barely light when they stopped outside Pukekohe, where one of Sian’s mates filled every spare space in the car with cabbages and onions. They were now on the final stretch of the journey to their little tributary of Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe to farewell their Auntie Kuini.
The smell of cabbages didn’t help Rua’s stomach. He took in the gold-brown hills with dull splashes of bush in the gullies and bordering drains and creeks under a flat, grey sky. He searched for any feeling of familiarity, anything to say he’d entered his ancestral whenua, the one place he should feel at home.
‘You’ll ask if we have to . . .’ Rua trailed off. Sian turned the car off State Highway 1 and onto a narrow side road. A reassuring yellow and black sign read Marae.
‘We don’t need a pōhiri,’ Sian said. ‘It’s our marae.’ ‘I know. But it would help my anxiety if you’d ask.’
A Te Rūnanga-ā-Iwi o Ngāpuhi gazebo was set up at the main gate. A large man in a hi-vis vest sat at a trestle table with a sign-in sheet and a walkie-talkie. From a tall bamboo pole, a Tino Rangatiratanga flag and a Confederation of United Tribes flag hung limply.
‘Bernie,’ the man said with a grin. He kissed Sian’s cheek and solemnly pressed noses with Rua. ‘Youse the ringawera?’
‘That’s us.’ Sian scanned the Covid QR code and brandished her phone at Rua in delight. ‘See? No reception! If Linney and Brian burn the café down, it’ll have to wait a few days.’
‘Drive round to the wharekai,’ Bernie said, raising his walkie-talkie. ‘I’ll let them know you’re heading up.’
‘Um,’ Rua murmured to Sian.
‘My cousin here’ – she jerked a mocking elbow towards Rua – ‘would like to know if we need to be properly welcomed on first.’
‘You’re tangata whenua?’ Bernie asked.
Rua felt his face grow warm. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I mean, sort of . . .’
‘You got tūpuna on the wall in there?’ Bernie jerked his thumb in the direction of the tiny whare where it sat across the paddock. It was a small, simple building of white weatherboard and red-ochre corrugated iron. Rua always thought it looked more like a classroom than a whare hui.
‘Yeah, my granddad’s picture is up there.’
‘My great-uncle,’ Sian chimed in. ‘And my granddad, who’s Rua’s great-uncle.’
‘Then you’re tangata whenua.’ Bernie’s deep laugh leapt up an octave to a high-pitched giggle Rua couldn’t help joining.
‘Go on up.’
‘They can wait,’ Sian said as Rua hoisted a massive cabbage under each arm. ‘Let’s see Auntie first.’
They walked across the sun-bleached concrete and entered the little whare. It was cool and dark inside. The curtains were drawn against the glare and a huge air-conditioning unit was blasting frigid air towards the casket.
Two kuia with moko kauae sat vigil either side of the casket. One sang a waiata under her breath while the other ran wooden rosary beads through her bent fingers. They both nodded at Rua and Sian but didn’t move from their posts to greet them.
Kuini’s simple casket sat on the most beautiful mat of woven flax Rua had ever seen, the fibres tight as cotton, and was draped with a korowai trimmed with red, white and brown feathers.
‘Doesn’t she look lovely,’ Sian whispered. She brushed a non-existent loose strand of hair from Kuini’s forehead.
Rua murmured in agreement. He hadn’t seen Kuini since the last tangi he’d made it up to five years earlier. Her skin was smoother than he remembered.
He looked up to the wall of portraits above. Christianity had declared elaborate carvings false idols, and the walls of the whare were instead hung with pictures of tūpuna: painted portraits, black-and-white photos from the late nineteenth century, all the way to crisp digital prints in modern frames. Rua smiled imagining his ancestors working their way around commandment number one with faux innocence.
His granddad was easy to find. His mother had the same framed picture in her room at home, a faded print from the eighties.
‘Biggest tangihanga this marae has hosted in years,’ voices behind him said.
‘She marched alongside Dame Whina Cooper, you know.’ ‘And wrote her speeches for her!’
‘That can’t be true,’ Sian said.
‘Tonnes of VIPs . . . four or five MPs . . . the race relations minister, maybe even the Governor General . . .’
Rua stepped out of the whare and into the glare. The usually boggy paddock looked parched. The field beyond had been partially reclaimed by the creeping tidal mudflats and mangroves. Low cloud hung just above the Maungataniwha Range and the smaller, closer line of hills. Rua could just make out a glint of sunlight on the brown water of the Waihou.
‘If we put one of those big gazebos here for some shade then we can keep the kitchen doors open all day,’ Sian said as they walked to the wharekai. ‘Get as much air moving as we can, it’s gonna be a hot one.’
Rua found a bottle of liquid soap and counted to twenty while his hands turned red under the scalding water. Sian buzzed around behind him, making occasional clicking sounds with her tongue and consulting a clipboard.
‘We can feed three hundred tonight,’ she said as Rua searched for a towel to dry his hands. ‘You and the other tāne can put the hāngī down first thing tomorrow morning. It’ll be a late night of prep after we’ve fed everyone and then an early start.’
She gave Rua a look. You sure you’re up for this?
‘Āe,’ Rua said. ‘I’d better get those cabbages out of the car.’ ‘Then you can find the old bug zapper. I won’t have flies in this kitchen, and the mozzies will be out later . . .’
Rua’s hands were dry from overwashing. The wharekai had sat empty for months and he had spent over an hour scouring it clean of dead cockroaches and filmy spiderwebs. Tiny cracks around his nails stung when he switched to hand sanitiser. He picked at flakes of dead skin.
The walkie-talkie next to the sink crackled into life. Rua looked around the otherwise empty kitchen and raised it. ‘Kia ora?’
‘Kia ora, Rua,’ Bernie’s staticky voice said. ‘The first group of manuhiri are here.’
‘Already? There’s no one here!’
‘I’ll come up and speak for us. One of the aunties can karanga at this end if Sian can do your end. Can you lead the singing? Unless you want to speak?’
‘Fuck no.’ Rua hoped Bernie wasn’t from the Mormon side of the family. ‘You speak. I’ll do the singing. Does everyone know “E Hoki Mai Rā”?’
‘Everyone is about four of us. We’ll figure it out.’ ‘I need to put on a shirt . . .’
Rua half jogged to where he had pitched his small tent on the far side of the paddock, where it would catch a little shade from the mangroves in the afternoon. He kicked off the bright orange crocs that Sian insisted would ‘save his feet’ and struggled into a black shirt and trousers. He hoped his guitar was in tune.
He reached the whare hui just as the first note of Sian’s karanga pierced the close air.
More tangata whenua had materialised out of nowhere and Rua joined the small cluster standing in front of the paepae. Someone handed him his guitar. Rua hadn’t had time to feel anxious, but it stuck him in the throat as he plucked the guitar strings, checking their tune. He swallowed and whispered, ‘E Hoki Mai Rā?’
There were murmurs of agreement. Rua ran over the chords in his head.
It was a small group of manuhiri that slowly approached the area of dry, spiky grass before the whare. Rua’s eyes drifted to the tallest of the group. For a split second he was sure he wasn’t seeing right. But with each step, his face grew sharper, and Rua knew it was him.
This country is way too fucking small, he thought.
He hoped nothing showed on his face, but Sian’s had a knowing look as she joined them on the paepae.
‘Can you believe it?’ she hissed as she lowered herself onto the bench. Bernie stepped forward to begin his whaikōrero.
‘Believe what?’ he whispered back, aware of glares from the aunties.
‘That’s he’s here!’
‘How do you know him?’
‘Cos he’s that fucking cop from last week!’
Bernie kept his speech short. Rua, Sian and the other tangata whenua stood again.
‘Give me a chord and I’ll do the opening line for you,’ she said.
A fucking cop?
The line of manuhiri moved past him. Rua kissed cheeks and pressed noses. The cop was near the middle of the line. He showed no sign of recognition as he grasped Rua’s hand and looked into his eyes. They pressed their noses and foreheads together.
A fucking cop, Rua thought. ‘Tēnā koe,’ he said.
Sian shuffled up the hill towards home, imagining her view if she were taking her usual route along the creek. The convolvulus that crept along fence lines and up the California redwoods were in bloom, their flowers like old- time gramophone speakers in the shade between indigo and violet. Did the redwoods know they were on the wrong side of the Pacific? Could they feel it in the angle of the sun and texture of the rain and soil? This isn’t quite right, she pictured them thinking as imported ivy climbed their branches and the moon’s face was at the wrong angle.
The trees, birds and stones helped distract her from the shooting pain in her groin.
Try to keep as mobile as you can, everyone told her. So she did. A kaumātua had come into the café that afternoon with more information. The body had been removed from the creek, but the tapu wouldn’t be lifted for several more days.
Sian remembered the soles of her feet feeling numb from stamping the last time she’d been part of such a ceremony.
There was an unfamiliar man outside her house. He was leaning against a car with no hubcaps and too many aerials, but stood as she drew nearer. Sian didn’t quicken her pace. It seemed to take an age to reach him.
‘Ms Mata . . . Mata . . .’
‘Sian is fine,’ she cut him off. ‘You’ll have to forgive me, I need to rest my feet.’ She lowered herself onto the wooden steps up to the front door.
‘We could go inside,’ the cop suggested.
‘On such a lovely day?’ Sian squinted in the sun.
‘I’m Detective Constable Nick Alexander,’ he said. ‘My colleagues and I have been doing some routine door-to-door due to the incident at Ārani Creek last night.’
He said the ‘r’ in Ārani the Pākehā way. His emphasis was on the wrong ‘a’. Poor thing. She reminded herself that the A in ACAB stood for all, and that the traitorous brown ones were worse.
‘You came all the way from Hamilton to do routine door- to-door?’
‘We’re being especially thorough on this case due to . . .’ He looked as though he wanted to sit down too. There would be room if Sian shuffled along a little. ‘How long have you known the deceased?’
‘I don’t know who it is.’
The detective riffled through a folder and produced a picture.
‘Mr Dennis Hastings.’ He handed her a photo of a non- descript white man. ‘You know him?’
Sian studied the picture. ‘I don’t think so. He might come into the café, but hundreds of people do.’
‘From what I understand, he and his um . . . group, are permanently banned from your café.’ He handed her a crude photocopy of a second picture. In it, the same man held a sign reading PROTECT EVERY MEMBER OF THE FAMILY over the image of a foetus with an adult face and a simpering smile.
‘Oh,’ Sian said, her voice flat. ‘He’s one of . . .’ She cut herself off from saying those cunts. ‘Them,’ she finished instead.
‘Speaking for the Voiceless.’
Sian snorted. ‘They aren’t banned,’ she said. ‘As I’m sure you know, my staff and I retain the right to refuse service to anyone we choose. And we choose not to serve members of that group.’
‘You’re pretty active in that local community Facebook group. And you’ve shared and liked many posts from an account called Niho Maunene.’
Sian stifled a laugh at the name. ‘That account hasn’t been active for months – and it was banned by the moderators pretty quickly.’
‘Is it you?’
Sian’s fingers dug into the wood of the steps. ‘Do you think I’d tell you if it was?’
‘It threatened members of Speaking for the Voiceless with violence.’
Sian looked down at the boards between her feet. They needed repainting. ‘I don’t remember that.’
The detective found another paper. ‘This is from one of Niho Maunene’s posts last year – which you shared,’ he said. ‘In Māui’s final quest he aimed to defeat death by reversing the path of life. Crawling into the womb and out through the mouth of Hine-nui-te-pō, goddess of death and the underworld. He was immediately cut in half by the great lady’s vagina dentata. Sharp teeth of black obsidian and waxy pounamu . . .’
‘. . . Our storytellers made it very clear what they thought of men messing around in uteruses that don’t belong to them, and what the consequences should be.’ He paused. ‘That sounds like a threat of violence to me.’
Sian felt her patience give way at last. ‘You take things very literally, don’t you?’ she snapped. ‘This Mr Hastings, was he cut in half by a vagina with teeth?’
She was pleased to see the detective blush. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Head wound.’
‘He fell in the creek and landed on his head?’ Sian smiled. ‘I see why you’re involving me in this. Aren’t you going to ask me where I was at the time of the murder or whatever?’
‘No one is saying it’s murder –’ ‘Then why are you here?’
‘Sian?’ someone called from the back of the house. ‘I’m out front, babe,’ Sian called back.
‘What are you doing out here in this heat?’ Linney’s voice grew louder and clearer as she rounded the house. ‘Oh,’ she said as she spotted the detective. ‘Hi there. I’m Linney.’
‘Linney is a work colleague who lives a few doors up from me,’ Sian said. ‘This is Mr –’
‘Detective Constable Alexander.’
‘Sure,’ Sian said. She shifted along the step and Linney sat down next to her. ‘He was about to start asking me some actual questions, or he was going to leave.’
‘Sorry about her.’ Linney smiled. ‘She gets grouchy by the afternoons. Sore hips.’
‘Thank you, Linney.’ The muscles in Sian’s thighs and lower back were cramping. She was overdue for her muscle relaxant. ‘Linney?’ the detective said, consulting his list. ‘Is that short for Lindsey? Lindsey Warner?’ ‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘I need to talk to you too, please. And is there also a Ms Veronica Mata . . . Mata . . .’
Something must have shown on Sian’s face. ‘Is that your sister, Sian?’
‘That was her wife.’ Linney’s voice sounded like static. ‘Who is no longer with us. You need to update your records.’
‘It’s fine, Linney.’ ‘It is not fine.’
The detective looked mortified, his face red and crumpled. Sian felt a tear burn a path down her cheek and turned away from him to wipe it. ‘I’m very sorry,’ he said, his voice thick. He made a show of looking in vain for a tissue.
‘Sorry,’ he said again. ‘Can I just ask, both of you, if you heard or saw anything unusual last night? Between 10pm and 2am?’
‘No,’ said Sian. ‘No,’ said Linney.
‘Thank you. Have a pleasant afternoon.’
Sian and Linney sat in silence as the detective returned to his car.
When he had finally gone, Sian held out a hand and Linney pulled her to her feet.
‘Handsome,’ Linney said. ‘Don’t,’ said Sian.
Āniwaniwa (moon halo)
‘I’m just gonna . . .’
‘The bathroom is next door,’ Rua said.
‘Cool.’ The man rolled over and stood, picking up the towel from the bed and holding it to his crotch. ‘Is it okay if I have a shower?’
‘Yeah, man,’ Rua said. ‘The towels hanging up in there are clean.’
He still didn’t leave. Rua felt a bead of sweat dripping down his back and another forming in its place.
‘Oh, and can I grab another puff on your vape before I head off? I haven’t had weed since before lockdown.’
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘Cheers.’ He pulled the bedroom door shut behind him.
Rua wriggled out of bed, untangled his discarded underwear and climbed back into them. The flat was empty – his flatmates were scattered across Te Ika in their family bubbles – but he still felt exposed being naked there. He padded down to the other bathroom to clean himself up.
Rua flushed a stiffening wad of tissues. He could hear the clunk of the gas hot water and the hiss of the shower. His toothbrush was in there with . . . had they exchanged names? His profile name had been ‘Looking’. He found an old tube of toothpaste, rinsed off the dried stuff from the tube and swished a chunk of toothpaste around his mouth with a swig of water from the tap. There was still a pleasant fuzz in his head from the sesh they’d had earlier, and the hum of relaxed muscles and worn-out nerves in his pelvis.
The pipes stopped gurgling as the shower was turned off. The flat was silent again. It still had a sulky, neglected air, mad that it had been left to sit empty during levels 3 and 4. Rua towelled the sweat off his chest and back and found some body spray to apply. He would have a shower after Looking had left.
Looking was sitting on the bench out on the deck. He wore just his K-mart brand black, trunk-style underwear and a damp towel draped over his shoulders. He took a deep inhale on Rua’s dry herb vape. He patted the space next to him on the bench. Rua sat down, arms folded across his bare chest, oddly pleased that Looking hadn’t got all the way dressed.
‘Aren’t you cold?’ he asked. ‘No. Are you?’
‘No.’ It was warm for June. He took the vape and inhaled. They’d probably look quite cool passing a joint or blunt back and forth. No one looks cool vaping.
Rua took in Looking’s shaggy lockdown hair, not overgrown enough to hide his widow’s peak. His brown eyes were big and a little too far apart. It somehow made him look more handsome.
‘What are you thinking?’ Looking asked.
‘I’m thinking . . .’ Rua looked up. The full moon was surrounded by a perfect halo of white light, though half of it was obscured by a rimu tree in the corner of the section. ‘I’m thinking how considerate it is of ice crystals high in the atmosphere to refract light in such a way that . . .’ He pointed up at the halo. He felt his mind soften and loosen at the edges. Some of the tension in his jaw and temples gave way.
Looking chuckled silently, his shaking shoulders brushing against Rua’s.
‘And that I wish weed were legal,’ Rua added, blowing a cloud towards the moon.
‘Soon,’ Looking said. ‘Hopefully.’
‘Hopefully. Though then cops couldn’t use the smell of weed as an excuse for warrantless searches of brown people –’ ‘A shame we can’t see the whole thing.’ Looking stood up and looked towards the back fence. I bet we could from your neighbour’s place. Is anyone home there?’
‘No, not for months.’
‘Then let’s do it.’ Looking crossed the lawn to the fence and started feeling for foot and hand holds.
The silhouette of Looking vanished over the top of the fence. Rua’s feet left dark patches in the dew on the lawn. His hands were unsteady on the damp wood of the fence and his stomach scraped against the boards. He glimpsed the jagged shape of Mount Pirongia against the deep blue of the sky
before half tumbling into his neighbour’s garden.
Looking was lying on his back on the trampoline. Rua joined him, moving with exaggerated care to stop the springs creaking.
‘There!’ Looking pointed up.
The moon was directly above them, the entire halo visible, enclosing a circle of richer blue around the white disc. Only the brightest stars were visible: the three points of Orion’s belt, Venus and Mars, the pointers and the bottom star of Te Punga. Takurua, the dog star.
‘It looks like a lid on the dome of the sky,’ Rua said. ‘Like a giant would lift it off to look through to check in on us. They’d probably be mad. Look at the fucking mess they’ve made!’
‘Can you let some carbon dioxide out while you have the lid off, please?’ Looking asked the imaginary giants.
‘No that’s ozone,’ Rua cried. ‘We need that.’ He felt Looking’s shoulders shaking again.
Looking reached over and traced the pale scratches on Rua’s stomach, his touch the slightest tickle. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah,’ Rua said. ‘This is nice.’ He could smell his own bodywash on Looking. He liked it. ‘Āniwaniwa,’ he said. ‘A halo around a heavenly body. Āniwaniwa.’
Their hands found each other.
After the first group, the manuhiri started arriving in a steady stream. The kitchen sounds were punctuated by the wail of karanga, the crackle of the walkie-talkie and fragments of whaikōrero carried on welcome breezes. And waiata, new and old. Thighs, arms and chests were slapped, guitars thrummed, feet stamped.
The ringawera joined the singing as they worked.
‘PIKI MAI KAKE MAI RĀ!’ Sian heard Rua’s voice from his place at the main sink. From there he directed mugs and glasses into the steriliser, plates to be scraped off – green bin for the pigs, keep the napkins separate for the compost. Any paper over there – it can be used to start the fire in the morning. Sian had never presided over a cleaner or more efficient kitchen.
Rua’s parents arrived before dinner. Rua’s mother, Maia, hugged him around his waist while his nieces and nephews clung to his legs and shoulders.
Sian greeted them too, hugging her favourite aunt and uncle and kissing the kids on the tops of their heads.
‘You two are so good,’ Maia said. ‘How are the hips?’ ‘Holding up,’ Sian said. ‘And the doctors keep telling me
thirty-nine is too young for a double joint replacement.’
Maia touched Sian’s cheek and smiled before she was whipped away by two of the aunties.
Koha were delivered to the kitchen door almost too quickly for Sian to direct.
A chilly bin full of snapper. ‘If someone could gut those,’ she said. ‘No need to fillet them, we’ll roast them whole for tonight. Save some to marinate. Or we could slice it up thin for sashimi – do we have soy and wasabi?’
An even bigger chilly bin of live crayfish. ‘The important manuhiri can have the tails,’ she said. ‘Make sure the cop gets one. A big one. We can make stock with the shells, heads and legs. Keep all the flesh that comes out. We can do a deluxe mac and cheese, that way everyone can have a little.’
She left the oysters for others to shuck. ‘Half shell is much quicker. Then we can grill half and leave half raw for those that prefer them . . .’
She sliced the pāua herself, simmering the dark meat in a rich sauce of cream, onions and bacon. ‘It’s for the VIPs,’ she said when it attracted longing looks, but she let anyone try a spoonful or two.
‘Here.’ Sian forced a small bowl into Rua’s hands. He had tied a bandanna around his forehead to keep his curls out of his eyes. It was already soaked with sweat. ‘Take this somewhere cool and eat it before you pass out.’
Things ran more smoothly than Sian could have hoped. Everyone wanted the same thing. To impress the guests, to make Kuini’s spirit proud, to avoid the shame of not providing every manuhiri welcomed onto the marae with more than they could eat.
And they had their own reasons too. Sian knew Rua never felt like he was Māori enough to belong on the marae. That his eyes dropped when his reo faltered. That he wished he could live closer to Te Tai Tokerau. Dishes were something he felt he could do.
And Rua knew Sian’s reasons. The whole whānau did.
They know I didn’t get to do this for you, Ronnie, she thought. To cook for you. To make your spirit proud.
Ronnie’s mother, Debbie, had been scandalised at the idea of Sian doing the cooking. ‘No of course not!’ she’d said. ‘It’s too much for you to be dealing with on top of everything else. I’ve already spoken to a nice caterer, she did Paul’s mother’s funeral and I tell you, it was lovely . . .’
There was no ‘everything else’. They had just wanted her to sit still and look sad.
‘Can I do anything for you?’ they’d asked.
You can let me cook! she had wanted to scream. Let her pretend it was onions making her eyes water and steam and heat flushing her face. Let her use her hands instead of forcing mugs of tea into them and patting them with dry skin.
‘Oh wow,’ Sian said as she was presented with six eels, already split and gutted. ‘We can smoke those in the morning when the fire is going. Hang them in the walk-in.’
She instructed a group of younger cousins on how to prepare stuffing for the next day’s hāngī.
‘Everything for the hāngī goes back in the big walk- in fridge,’ she said. ‘I don’t want it getting mixed up with tonight’s dinner.’
She spotted the cop entering the kitchen. Trying to help. Drying a dish with a hand towel instead of a tea towel. Kotahi, Rua’s older brother, showed him his mistake.
The cop looked lost. Sian felt an unexpected pang of sympathy.
‘Kotahi,’ she said as her cousin breezed past her. ‘When the tāne put the hāngī down in the morning, ask Rua’s cop if he wants to help.’
Part two of “Ringawera” runs tomorrow in ReadingRoom. The story is taken from Middle Distance: Long stories of Aoetearoa New Zealand edited by Craig Gamble (Victoria University Press, $35), featuring the work of Maria Samuela, Jack Barrowman, David Geary, Vincent O’Sullivan and other writers.