The author, already well-known to our readers, was born in Feilding and belongs to the Raukawa tribe. He is studying medicine at Otago University.
The matron stopped at the foot of Boy Heru's bed.
“Hello, and how are we today? Still hurt to breathe? Yes? Don't worry it won't be long now. And you won't turn the radio up too loud will you, Mr Bryan isn't very well today. You'll have another friend in the other bed soon so that'll be nice won't it.”
Boy nodded and gave a grunt. He reached over, switched off the radio and pulled up his blankets. What a place! Nothing to do here. Today was the third day too—seemed more like three weeks since that car had overturned. That fulla couldn't drive to save himself.
Wonder who's going to take the empty bed. Boy was sick of his present companions. All old chaps—didn't look as if they could talk about anything but their sicknesses. Real old squares! He was the only Maori in his ward too which made him a bit more lonely and sort of self-conscious. Those Pakehas seemed to be looking at him all the time—that's what he thought anyway and it made him shy of the nurses and doctors. First time in hospital too—everything a bit strange.
The new arrival came in later. He was old, white hair getting thin on top, Pakeha chap. Sister Andrews was with him.
“Next door to you is young Heru. Poor boy. From what we can gather he's a real bodgy. Look at his hair! Honestly, some of these Maoris today—disgusting I say. Just seem to roam around the streets in those ridiculous clothes—none of them look to have decent steady jobs. Ah well, not our fault. Now anything else? Press this if you want me, I'll let you sleep.”
“Thanks sister, I'll be just fine. You know it's good to have a bit of quiet for a while, I can sure do with it. Goodnight.”
Sister Andrews swirled out glancing importantly at the sleeping beds while her nose was held well into the air. Starched white uniforms looked very neat but cold.
Boy wasn't asleep. Disappointing to see that he was just like the rest—old and half bald.
“Hey mate what's wrong with you?”
“Oh! I thought you were asleep. Tena koe e hoa! Charlie Beeman's my name; yours is Heru eh?
“Boy Heru. You got some Maori in you?
“No, wish I did. Lived across the ranges for years and picked up a few words. Good language Maori, reminds me of another world. You from these parts?”
“Gee no; I'm from across the ranges too. Te Kohatu, near the coast, ever heard of it?”
“Too right. I was down at Mariu—working on a farm for forty years. What did you come over this side for?”
“Oh just to have a look round. You know how dry it is back home. Lot of boys came across. Most of us are working at the Freezing Works. Going down South soon.”
Charlie nodded. He knew a lot of young Maori boys who had left home because it was too dead. Now they roamed the cities—a week here and a week there then off somewhere else. Maybe it was the same adventurous spirit that set the early canoes floating in the 14th century only now it was finding no new ocean to explore. Those young people can't be tied down to humdrum routine—not yet anyway. Charlie wondered whether that spirit of life would die as time marched, whether chaps like Boy would soon become “Pakehafied” and be content to settle and work steadily at the one place with money and promotion as the ultimate goal. Perhaps that ‘Get on in the world and do well’ attitude would spoil it all even for wayback places like Te Kohatu and Mariu. A pity but maybe it would be best.
Charlie looked at Boy. About 19 or 20 he decided; good looking but due for a good hair cut long ago; bit sulky looking too—probably fed up with the place.
“Good job at the works?”
“Yeah—Good money anyway. We got £15 clear last week.”
“Wow, not bad. Save much?”
“Me? I'm always broke never get a chance to save.”
“But where does it go?”
“Gee there's always something on here—pictures, dances, parties, taxis into town, and of course a guy's got to have a few clothes. Not much left after all that.”
“I don't know! If I was still single and could clear £15 a week I'd have a few bob put away. Take a trip to Aussie or buy a car or do something. At least I'd have something to show for it.
Guess you fullas get too much money these days to realise its value. You'll need every penny you can get later.”
Boy laughed. He needed every penny he could get now; those 12 inch trousers he wanted, the orange draped coat, a few more new records—thousands of things he wanted now but couldn't afford. Later perhaps. Charlie Beeman's a bit of a square he decided, just how can a guy save enough for a trip overseas with all that? All the same he's not a bad old fulla, at least he can talk a bit of Maori and he comes from home.
“Do you like the city Boy? I mean as a place to live and work.”
“Yeah it's okay. Plenty fun—not like home. Only trouble is sometimes us fullas don't feel like being part of it. You know how everyone knows everyone else at home and yells out in town, well here you rub shoulders with people all day and most of them look the other way. Maybe it's my long hair and clothes or something but they're sort of snobs here—the squares anyway.”
“Give me the country any day Boy. When I was at Mariu everyone was like you said—simple perhaps—but real friendly all the same.”
Well into the night they talked—mainly about the life they had both known on the other side. Friends they had in common, places they knew, even old Maori stones and legends about Te Kohatu and Mariu. Charlie knew a lot about old Maori ways and songs and Boy listened with admiration eagerly, but felt a little jealous that a Pakeha should know a bit more than he. Often he broke in and argued about some little point that he had learnt from his grandmother back home although deep down he knew that the Pakeha was right and that he had forsaken so much of his own life when he went away. In fact Boy felt like a tramp trying to find his way around some barn he had slept in years ago. He was glad when talk got back to the freezing works and town and even outdid Charlie in a bid to show his knowledge of this new world. Charlie enjoyed it all. Sleep came much later.
For Boy the next day passed quickly. This old square was really okay—good fulla.
For Charlie, the same day was a treat. This so called bodgy wasn't a bad kid. Good natured and well meaning. At heart he was a Maori and Charlie didn't know a Maori that wasn't friendliness itself.
They had talked about all sorts of things: catching crayfish, hakas, rock and roll, the black bottom, horses, cars, kumara weeding, shearing sheep, clothes, hair-styles (Charlie reckoned they were like a couple of old women), everything. Then before sleeping late that night they had both gone over the conversation in their minds.
Memories were stirred. Boy thought of his brown and white horse and wondered where it was. He painted pictures of himself out weeding kumara with the rest of the kids and again digging in the sand for pipis with some of the old kuias. He missed them tonight and thought he'd go home and see them as soon as his chest was fixed up. First time he had really felt a bit homesick.
Charlie was trying to think of the second line to an action song he had been taught at Mariu
—“E putiputi koe.” He liked it but couldn't quite remember it—a long time since those days—and now he was half asleep and half awake—dreaming and thinking at the same time.
Boy was a bit tired the next morning—hadn't slept too well. When Charlie woke up he told him all about a funny dream he had.
“I was standing on a hill. Had a real flash outfit on—orange coat and black pants—looked deadly too. Some fullas were in a paddock below weeding mangols. I recognised one of the kids—a cousin of mine—and waved out. He waved back and yelled out, the others looked up and waved; one was Aunty Katie and she called out for me to go down. While I was running towards them, them all started laughing and pointing at me. I stopped but they kept laughing and moving back as if something was wrong with me. When I moved towards them again they laughed even louder and went further away. “Shut up!” I yelled—no use—they couldn't hear me. Then I got kind of panicky and ran down to the beach while they followed me like dogs after a pig. I threw sand at them but they still laughed. I took off my shoes and threw them, then my socks and coat and short till I had nothing on. They stopped laughing now and just looked.
Next minute someone threw me an old pair of trousers—no knees in them and all ripped at the cuffs but I put them on. You know, as soon as I had them on I was okay. I felt like a kid again and laughed as I ran towards them. They slapped me on the back and kissed me and made a real fuss. We all laughed now and walked down to the sea trampling my new clothes into the sand. Must have woken up then. Real queer dream but sorta' real all the same.
“Sounds like a bit of a nightmare to me. Dreams are strange. I have some silly ones some nights, especially when I'm not too well. Best to forget them.”
That morning Charlie was due for his operation—gallstones or something—he didn't seem to be too sure himself what was going to happen but he was cheerful when he had gone down the corridor to the theatre. Boy said he would have been scared stiff but maybe he just didn't have as much confidence in doctors and nurses as an old veteran like Charlie did.
Boy spent the rest of the day trying to write a letter home but was having a bit of trouble. Seemed to be no news. He told them he was going back as soon as he was out of hospital. He had almost forgotten his mates in town, the big rock n' roll jamboree he had wanted to see was in the background and he had one desire—to go home.