To The Race—A Son
After the meeting the old man sat under the shade of the old puriri tree, watching the antics of the laughing, half-naked children as they tusselled each other in their play. For a while he sat there, peacefully leaning against the tree, thinking back to the days of his own childhood. Of the times he fought and yelled like these children before him now—of the times he was the fastest runner—of the times he was battered and beaten in a fight—of the times when no one would play with him, for a reason that he couldn't recall, and of the mischief and accidents that befell him. And the tanning he used to get from his father and the constant worried expression on his mother's face; he could see it all now—how each incident overlapped.
Suddenly a cry of ‘a fight! a fight!’ broke in upon his thoughts, and his attention focussed on the children, who had suddenly gathered into a circle. He couldn't see what was going on for a while, but as the children slowly moved away from the scene of the fighting, he saw a young boy standing alone.
Raising his carved stick, the old man reached out and jabbed one of the boys, who was playing a type of ‘Simon Says’ game with a companion, and pointing the boy out to them, he asked if they knew who he was. ‘Ah, do you know Rusty Gage,’ volunteered the biggest, ‘he got caught pinching some things off a boat, well, that's his sister's kid. She used to work for Mr Cunningham, the blacksmith, you know him, he tried to put a stop to all that tohunga stuff. My mother doesn't like him because of that, and she said that he was a bit of a devil himself.’
The old man glared at the two, then slowly rose and walked to where the boy was standing. He stood a few feet away from him, looking at the small poignant face with its sandy-coloured hair, and the thin straight body. With his colouring and build he looked so out of place amongst the other brown-eyed, thick-set children.
‘Hey you there boy.’
The boy turned with a start to see where the voice was coming from, and as he turned the old man was surprised to notice the clear
greeny-grey eyes. ‘Yes, you,’ called the old man, ‘come here, I want to talk to you.’ The young boy slowly turned towards the old man. His hands were stuck in the pockets of his trousers, which were miles too big for him, and he trailed his bare feet in the dust as he shuffled over to where the old man had squatted himself. They looked at each other, and for a time neither spoke. ‘What's your name?’ asked the old man at last, and spat in the dust.
‘Boy Boy,’ was the laconic reply.
‘Who are you staying with boy,’ continued the old man.
‘With my Aunt Luey,’ replied the boy.
‘I notice you are not playing with the other kids,’ the old man began quietly. At this the boy's body began to shake, and tears came into his eyes.
‘Whenever I come to the Pa, all the other kids tease and chase me for nuthin’,' he sobbed. ‘And when I go home my auntie gives me a hiding for nuthin' too,’ he went on fiercely, surreptitously wiping his eyes with the back of his arm.
The old man listened to the boy's words. ‘Seems to be getting the rough end of the stick,’ he thought. ‘Skinny, snivelling brat, but I like the way he holds himself, and his jaws have a determined set about them. He's got the makings of a good leader. Born a mongrel, but with the right teachings and background he'll have the qualities of a pure bred.
‘You don't know it yet boy, but you are going to rise above me, and those of us who have the arrogance to boast and live in the glory of our ancestors. Who says so, I say so, I the Ariki of my people, the renowned and respected elder of both Maori and Pakeha. I, who know myself to be a confused, proud, arrogant, worthless body of a man. The title of leadership is mine through birth, but not through striving. I don't deserve it; give it to someone who does.’
‘Would you like to come and stay with me?’ asked the old man.
The boy dropped his eyelids and looked slyly at the old man. He hoped that this was not another of his numerous uncles and cousins. He was so used to being shuffled from one place to another. At first he was glad to go, to be rid of that particular place and people, but he found that all that his so-called relations wanted was for him to keep an eye on the kids and bring in the cows, weed the kumara patch, and fetch water from the creek or the well. If he ate too much, a cuff under the chin would put him in fear of asking for more. The chores varied from place to place but they were always much alike.
‘I don't wanna go,’ he thought, ‘I'm getting used to all the blows and screamings of my relations. It don't hurt me no more, nuthin’ hurts me now. I suppose I'll end up going if he asks Auntie Luey.'
‘Well,’ grunted the old man—‘coming?’
The boy looked at the old man, startled. ‘Was I talking to him, he thought, or can he hear me talking inside of myself?’ ‘Yeah, all right,’ he stammered. ‘I'll get my coat.’ He ran to where he had left it, slung it over his back and made his way back to the old man.
The old man and boy made their way to where the carts and gigs were standing. Putting his thumb and forefinger to his lips, the old man gave a piercing whistle. Immediately one of the horses that were feeding nearby cocked up his ears and made his way towards them. ‘Good on you, Nugget old boy,’ chuckled the old man. He hitched the horse to the gig and both climbed aboard, and made their way to the back of the eating house.
As they drew level with the back door of the tin-roofed punga shack, the old man sang out to a group of women who were busily preparing food for the evening meal, ‘Who's the mother of this kid?’
‘She's inside,’ one of the women shouted back. ‘Hey Luey,’ she called through the open door, ‘you're wanted’.
A rather pretty girl whose figure was beginning to run to fat poked her head round the door.
‘How 'bout letting your boy go with me,’ asked the old man, looking at her.
‘But that's my Auntie Luey, how can she be my mother,’ the boy wondered.
‘You take him with you, for a mate for you Uncle,’ whined his Auntie Luey, as she made her way towards them. ‘And you be a good boy for Uncle won't you—and you help Uncle, won't you—and you do what Uncle says, won't you?’ The boy cut off her droning and concentrated on the straps lying on the rump of the horse. And as her voice droned on and on he became aware of himself, sitting there and yet not being there. He felt as if he was able to speak to her, scream at her, laugh at her, make faces at her. Everything that he had bottled up inside of him was streaming out of him, the things he wanted to do and say; the good thoughts seemed to be jumbled up with the bad.
‘Are you listening to me?’ Aunt Luey's voice cut in on his thoughts. ‘Bugger,’ whispered the boy under his breath. ‘Why does she have to
yell at me like that, I can damn well hear her.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said out loud.
‘Come along there Nugget, get up,’ called the old man. He turned the gig around, and acknowledged the boy's Aunt Luey with a wave of his stick.
Neither spoke as they drove along the dirt track on to the metal road. Then, as the shadows of the overhanging trees cast silhouettes across their faces, the boy's fear of the dark overcame him. His eyes grew large and he felt a ting [ unclear: ] ling in his skin as the wind blew over his face and body.
‘Koro,’ whispered the boy, ‘I'm frightened. Let us go back to the Pa.’ He stood up to get off the gig, and the old man grabbed him to stop him from getting down. The boy screamed, digging his hands into the old man's arm, and the horse, sensing that something was going on between the two of them, neighed, stamped his hooves, reared up and bolted down the road. The old gig creaked and groaned with the sudden wrench, and bumped over the potholes and loose stones on the road.
‘Whoa, you bloody crazy animal, whoa!’ The old man tugged and pulled at the reins. ‘Look what you've gone and done to the bloody horse, and get your hands off me, can't you see that I'm trying to stop him’, he bellowed, trying to loosen the strangling hold the boy had got around his neck. The boy suddenly let the old man go, and they both fell to the bottom of the gig. Holding on fast, they waited till the horse had ran himself out.
‘The horse has stopped running,’ the boy whispered after a while.
‘I know,’ the old man answered, scrambling up in the shaft. Whoa there Nugget, whoa.' are those reins? There they are, all tangled up in the shaft. ‘Whoa there Nugget, whoa.’ The horse stopped immediately, throwing the old man forward on top of its sweating backside. ‘Ahgh!’ spluttered the old man, trying to wipe some of the horse's tail from out of his mouth and nose, ‘I've got a good mind to kill you, you know Nugget.’ He untangled his feet from under the seat and regained his position beside the frightened boy, who had now sat himself on the seat of the gig. ‘That was a good ride, eh boy?’ chuckled the old man, in an attempt to calm the youngster's fear. ‘Old Nugget there still has a bit of kick in her yet, never knew she had it in her, although you
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can never tell with animals the same as with humans, eh boy?’
‘Koro’, whispered the boy, ‘when I get to your place, promise you won't lock me up in a dark room and leave me by myself. Can I sleep with you? I'll do anything for you, I promise, anything you say so long as I don't stay in a dark room by myself.' By now the boy was crying again. ‘I wish I could find someone to look after me, to want me. Koro, be good to me and I'll be good to you,’ he whimpered pleadingly. The old man looked down at the taut, serious, tearstained face of the boy and took one of the cold trembling hands in his, but could not then put into words what he would have liked to have said to him. Instead, he looked at him long and hard, tucked him closer to his side, and began to whistle softly. The boy slowly relaxed his grip on the old man's trouser leg, shifted himself to the back of the seat and sat there quietly. And so they continued their journey in silence, each looking at the other, each unable to comprehend what the other was thinking. Unknown to them, both their thoughts were running parallel.
‘Koro,’ went the boy's thoughts, ‘I feel like I never felt like this before. I always felt it inside of me at times, wishing that it could be my mother or perhaps my father, I wish I had a father. I feel different, but I still have the same hands, legs, probably my eyes have gone brown, I wish they weren't greeny-grey as everyone seems to think—it's a bad thing to have that colour eyes and they are always bringing that up whenever I get with old people. But I not to worry now I have you Koro. Nobody is going to take you away from me, no hidings, no dark room, nothing. I feel so happy I want to die, and then I'll have to be a ghost but I won't go round scaring the other kids, I'll play with them when their mothers and fathers go out at nights. Goodnight, Koro.’ With that silent parting, the boy curled himself up beside the old man and was soon asleep.
‘“My son,” how new those words sound,’ thought the old man. ‘I have always wanted a son. God, how me and the old woman wanted one, but after she died the feeling went too. Somehow I feel at peace with everything, even with myself. The present, the past, the future: you are given the freedom of how you spend your life, the onus is on you. But also we are partly responsible for each other, as I shall be responsible for only part of this boy's life. I'm glad you have Pakeha blood in you, boy. I'll take you to all the meetings, you must sit amongst us old people and listen to what we have to say, come on all the visiting trips with us, learn to stand well, talk well, and know when to shut up; learn to work and take your place amongst the people: learn to know the full meaning of humbleness, and pride. I know you will, because of your mixed blood. I will send you to a good school, and I won't have you getting swell-headed, that's no way for a leader to behave. Well kid, I had that nice feeling of what I want you to be but funnily enough it doesn't last. It's gone now. But you are still here with me. Sleep boy, sleep.
‘Gee up there, Nugget.’
Ramai Hayward photo
Miss Consuella Taimana, recently back in Auckland visiting her parents, is a highly qualified occupational therapist specializing in the care of children with cerebral palsy. At present with a clinic in Newfoundland, she hopes later to further her studies in London.
Consuella's parents are Mr and Mrs Te Moanaroa Taimana of Auckland. After gaining her university entrance and studying at the N.Z. Occupational Therapy School in Auckland, Consuella went to the U.S.A. to do post-graduate work in Los Angeles. She says that she is deeply grateful to her parents, who have seen to it that all of their six children have had a good education. This has been a real effort, for they have had no assistance from educational grants and have managed with Mr Taimana working as a labourer.