Above me the stars twinkled, like tiny jewelled lanterns, set in an everlasting pattern of velvety deep blue sky. Already the bush-clad mountains of the nearby Hauhangaroa Ranges are shrouded in their gowns of white mist. Above the chapel a single light shines, through a carpet of fog, making it look like a floating halo. Outside the cold wintry wind blows, sending spasms of chills to those who venture outside the warmth and cosiness of their huts. Around me the night is filled with the sounds of activity, while across the bay the compound speaker blares forth a rowdy honky-tonk tune. Somewhere a guitar is being strummed, while in the hut next to mine, a news commentator with his acquired accent speaks of the news of the world.
From the common room a burst of happy laughter echoes out into the night, followed by the rowdy gaiety of a group of contented males, matching their skill at shuffling cards or throwing darts. In some of the huts, the magic splendour of tales and happenings in distant lands, that bring happiness and enjoyment to the heart of the tourist and traveller alike, are eagerly read through the good services of the Country Library Service and magazines from home. I open the door of the chapel, where this morning the padre brought to those of us who needed it, spiritual refreshment and Christian fellowship. Now it is filled by a group of native sons, from every corner of this land of Maui, for tonight is our Maori groups' practice period.
“Shut the door, you Ngapuhi”, comes a chorus of voices, and as the latch clicks behind me, I take a vacant chair beside one of my cobbers.
Smoky wisps curl lazily upwards to the ceiling, giving a hazy atmosphere to the room, while men sit in various positions, a few rock backwards and forwards on their seats as if they were rocking chairs. Gazing around the room, I picture the different ones in their own homes. How many of these are fathers?
That one in the corner by the piano, gazing fondly at a picture of a youngster in a magazine. I almost feel as if I can read his mind. He closes his eyes for a second. Is it the smoky effect, or is it a glimmer of memory, or is it an awakening of reality? The entrance of the leader is announced by a boisterous shout of ribaldry, for being a few minutes late. Almost immediately the group is formed into three lines, each in its own positions. And very soon, the rousing hakas, chants and action songs are being sung as only Maoris can sing them, the voices of many blended as one, harmony sweet, sad and pure, unfolding the deeds, legends and songs of past glories and history of a race. The rhythmical beating of feet, the swaying unison of bodies, all help to keep perfect timing. Did our ancestors sing these songs and chants, as they sometimes paddled large canoes, on quest to the distant land of Kupe, amongst the relentless waters of the vast Pacific ocean?
“Of course they did”, says the Maori spirit of my mother. “Not damn likely, these songs are far too modern”, replied the European blood of my Pakeha father. All too soon, our two hours' time is up, for tomorrow's new dawn is another work day. Chattering and joking, we step out into the foggy crisp night, bidding each other goodnight, thankful for the urn of scalding hot cocoa, from which we each take a mug. How good it tastes, and it makes one's body tingle with warmth, after the near freezing conditions outside. Inside my hut I prepare for bed, taking long gulps of cocoa to keep myself warm. Soon I am comfortably snuggled up deeply in my blankets, rather like a cocoon, or thinking this is how a snail lies, with just its head protruding, and that is how I feel with just part of my head out, and one hand holding Sir Peter Buck's Vikings of the Sunrise.
Reading, I think, keeps us from being lonely, for how can we be friendless where there is always the companionship of a novel? Later the
crunch of footsteps on the gravel, and the click of light switches tell me it is time for lights out. I take a last look around my hut. Cobwebs in one corner, the many nail holes that were used to tack pin-ups and pictures, the many hundred holes caused by the far too healthy appetite of the wood-happy eating borers, spread over the timber like tiny ants, acting a ballet scene, from some Disney natural life film. Magazines and novels together with my writing papers, ink and water paints. All in a mad topsy-turvey jumble, clothes hanging from nails, at all angles, while at the top of my bed, my abstract painting of a famous American film actor looks down at me, its brilliant colours clashing with the dull green of the interior of my hut. The footsteps are much nearer now, and the sound louder. Then a click and all there is is darkness, and the long hours of night. Now is the time to travel the winding pathways of memories paved with thoughts pleasant and sad, and as my head nods with drowsiness, I am filled with a heart-warming conviction that sleep, and the ability to do so, is truly one of Our Creator's kindest gifts to mankind. For when we are asleep we forget the little daily incidents, things big and small that clutter our lives, bringing to us treasured dreams and golden visions of hope. By the way I forgot to tell you, I'm a Maori prisoner doing time.