A very short story for Waitangi weekend

The pā is a lonely place nowadays. Gorse has marched on it like the British troops of old, consuming the hills and leaving the marae looking a bald patch on the head of the earth mother herself. Even the roads have worn thin, weeds growing over the gravel and tanker trucks on their way to wealthier places leaving potholes like a cow leaves shit. The pūkeko don’t even come no more, poor things culled by the same waka who’ve come to take the speed limit as more a suggestion than law. 100, it reads. And beneath in smaller text, or keep on doing whatever the fuck you like. No such thing as a speed camera on the rural roads of Taranaki.

The pā is a lonely place nowadays. The old people are old and their mouths empty of teeth and their hair thin, white and falling out. Time has worn on them even worse than the roads. Every year another inch from their head goes to their waist and the gout swells evermore in their ankles. These days these guardians stand only four feet tall, zooming from kitchen to cupboard in every shape, shade and colour of cane. Peter Jackson should’ve filmed The Hobbit right here. Fella wouldn’t have needed a single special effect.

On the horizon we have Mt Doom, biding its time until one day that mounga tapu blows its lid and comes at the people here like it went at Tongariro, leaking lava like the locals leak runoff into the river. We have the smoking and the drinking and the trolls. Don’t tell the kui I said that though, they’d twack my ears. Proper old elves they are. And that’s not even mentioning our hobbit holes, closest thing to a home we could hope for after the schools ran us out and the factories lay us off every Winter. The icing on the cake has got to be our Gandalf though. Koro and his karakia commanding God to do this, that and the other thing. Fella must have ears like me, deaf – twacked too many times. Or maybe God gapped to the city like everybody else.

The pā is a lonely place nowadays. The carvings have gone blind, their pāua shell eyes fading white, and the kōwhaiwhai is peeling and the roofs of the big house and the kitchen are rusting through. Any day now those buildings will come down and put the old people out of jobs too.

The pā is a lonely place nowadays. Except when someone passes. Then this place explodes with life and we see all that used to live here. The haka and the reo and the poi. The kai and the manaaki and the games. The love and the laughter and the whānaungatanga. Sooner or later even that has got to stop for the cemetery will stretch from the waharoa to the big house and the last Māori to be buried here will be thrown straight from the porch and into his final resting place.

At that point though, I’d like to think the pā won’t be so lonely. Place would be full of ghosts. Peter Jackson could fuck right off then and Taiki Waititi could move right in. Debuting 2052: The sequel to Bro, you know I can’t grab your ghosts chips. Moko, you know I’ll still twack your ghost ears.

The next short story to appear in ReadingRoom is by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall, taken from her collection Tauhou (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $25), available in bookstores nationwide.

Moa Press will publish The Bone Tree, the debut novel by Pātea writer Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui), in September 2023.

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