Mira straightened her back with a stretching motion, threw down the grubber, and while gently pressing a blister, surveyed with tired pleasure her first morning's work on the section.
During the weekend Dave and some of his pals had knocked up a rough-looking builders' shed and the Power Board had promised to bring in the electricity today.
‘Wish they'd come this morning,’ thought Mira, who did not relish the idea of lighting the primus for her lunch time cup of tea.
Dave, who was one of the Road Service's most reliable drivers, had shown surprise and pleasure this morning when Mira said, ‘You can drop me at the section on your way to work Dave.’
‘Gorry you're a one, but will do,’ replied the happy hearted husband. ‘I'll pop next door and borrow Pera's primus. You'll need to boil the billy.’
Then, just a few steps away from the next room in the big old house which the four young couples shared, Dave had stopped, as if it were not such a good idea after all. ‘What about the baby?’ he'd said.
‘Aw Dave, I'm as strong as an ox. Besides I'm only four months.’
‘P'raps you'd better not go. It's pretty hard work.’
‘Aw, get out with you Dave! Go and get the primus. I'll be all right,’ and as Mira turned to rescue the burning toast, she'd said as if to reassure herself, ‘At least I hope I will.’
Mira had felt strange and lonely when Dave drove off after settling her in the shed with lunch, primus, electric jug—just in case the Power Board came, and a motley selection of garden tools.
‘Twelve bob at the auction,’ Dave had said excitedly the day he brought them home and dumped them triumphantly at his wife's feet.
But Mira found grubbing out manuka roots a good cure for loneliness, and as she worked, an eager anticipation lightened the back-breaking job. By the time their house was advanced enough to move in, she hoped there would be greens ready to eat.
‘Must have greens with the baby coming.’ Funny how everything was—‘because of the baby’.
Dave's first reaction to the news of his approaching fatherhood had been, ‘Can't have kids in bed-sitters. Must get a loan.’ Most of the houses around their section were new, and in varying stages of completion; some with concrete paths, others marked out with boxing. There was a general show of ‘do-it-yourself’ every weekend.
The house nearest them was one of the first to be built on the new estate and was bigger than most of the others. Certainly grander than Mira and Dave's would be.
Mira had caught only glimpses of these neighbours, and thought they seemed a bit stuck up, but Dave said, ‘He seemed a good cove.’ They had two young children.
As Mira turned towards the shed a little voice said, ‘What are you doing.’
Mira smiled at a little chap about four years old, and said, ‘Just grubbing out some roots. And what's your name?’
‘David,’ and then as an after-thought, ‘David John Bell. What's yours?’
‘Gee! I can't say that. Mum says you're Maoris.’
‘Yes, we are.’
‘Got any children?’
‘Not yet,’ and Mira would have liked to add, ‘… but we will soon.’
‘Mum was hoping you wouldn't have any,’ said the honest little David.
So Mrs Bell hoped she wouldn't have any children. Mira's heart seemed to tighten, then she bravely smiled to herself as she wondered if all Davids were so frank and honest. Must be something in the name. Her Dave was like that.
During the weekend when Dora, Reti and their husbands were helping on the section, Mira had sensed her neighbour's reactions.
After all they were Maoris, and Mira felt
that she wouldn't like to live beside some of her own people. She wouldn't like to live beside some of the Pakehas she had met and worked with either. She had found in the factory there were good and bad on both sides. She remembered how snobbily they had treated poor little Sally. Just because she went off the rails a bit. Poor kid didn't have a chance.
Mira gave herself a mental shake and set about pumping the primus. Tricky things primuses. She wished Dave were there to throw a chip at her and say, ‘Snap out of it Hon, what's the worry! We got plenty of friends—Maori and Pakeha.’ Dave never worried unnecessarily about anything.
After an hour's rest Mira tackled the roots with fresh vigour. She enjoyed watching the passing traffic. Truck drivers sometimes gave a friendly wave. One even gave a cheeky whistle.
Now a telegram was being delivered to the house opposite. Telegrams, They received dozens when they were married. Johnny the best man had made the best of reading them out too.
A door banged! The girl from over the road was running towards the Bell's house. She seemed upset, and dropped the telegram. She tried twice to pick it up, but it blew near to where Mira was working.
Handing it back, Mira asked, ‘Are you all right?’ By this time the girl was sobbing, and Mrs Bell, having seen the little drama, was coming to help. David looked anxiously at the three women. ‘What's the matter?’ he said.
The telegram was to say that the girl's mother had met with an accident and was in hospital.
‘Please take me in Jill. Our car is out of order. Besides I couldn't drive, I … and I've just put Sandy down for her sleep.’
Mira, who up till now had been a most uncomfortable witness and was feeling a bit bewildered at this unexpected introduction to her neighbours said, ‘Please let me help. I've already met David. I could mind Sandy. I'm used to children.’
‘Oh would you Mrs … uh …’
‘Hutana,’ supplied Mira, ‘But I just like Mira.’
‘And I'm Jill,’ said Mrs Bell (not at all stuck up), ‘And this is Helen, Helen Bates.’
‘We'd be most grateful Mira.’ Helen managed
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to smile and looked less strained.
‘You take David and go over with Helen now Mira. I'll fix up a bit and get the car out,’ said Jill.
Mira made a mental note that Jill was going to prove a down-to-earth neighbour. One you could rely on to keep a cool head.
Mira received instructions about Sandy, helped Helen get ready, and managed to calm her anxiety a little.
David was told to look after Mira and to see she made herself a cup of tea.
The roots of destiny stirred within Mira's heart as she stood holding David's hand and waved the other women out of sight. Then giving the little hand a gentle tug she said, ‘Come on Davie, help me put the tools away. No more grubbing today.’