If you have been following my blog over the years, you’ll know I’ve been prevaricating about writing a ‘novel’ for years. I’ve started it. But couldn’t start to finish it. My new year’s resolution for 2016 is to finish it. Happy New Year by the way.
Here you can have a preview of where the book moves on to from ‘A Giant Eel’ and ‘The Wrong Place’. Those chapters are available on this blog as well. This is the next chapter. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Hemi didn’t get to go to boarding school. He didn’t know anything about where Guy had gone to school. Just that he had gone away. Hemi was going to the High School in the nearest town. The one Guy’s mum didn’t think much of.
It used to be a good school, once upon a time. Maybe that was a story the older people used to tell as you can’t really prove any of that stuff, except by how good the First Fifteen was in the old days. Too many New Zealand High Schools have the fame of their first fifteen being the thing people talk about the most. For all our progression as a young country, we still set too much store by sporting accomplishment instead of academic achievement. That’s not what this story is about though. I digress.
Hemi was going to take the bus to the local high school. He’d been given his uniform to start his first day at High School. His mum had borrowed bits of uniforms from other people who didn’t need theirs for their kids anymore. None of if fitted properly of course and it all looked pretty second hand, which was what it was. Hemi thought it looked stink, but he’d never had a brand new bit item of clothing in his whole life anyway. It wasn’t that it was second hand, it was that it stunk of mothballs and they hadn’t bloody worked anyway if the moth holes were anything to go by. It was more than stink, it was ‘shit house’ Hemi thought to himself.
His parents had no advice to give him about School. It was a bloody long time since they went there and they didn’t pay any attention when they did. Hemi had never had any sort of conversation of any sort about education with his parents. His mother made him some sandwiches to take. Stale bread sandwiches, with Marmite and cheese in them. Bloody awful by lunchtime after a morning in a hot school bag, he knew that much about school anyway. He didn’t reckon high school would make his crappy lunch taste any better.
He’d met some of the kids who were going to be going to his new High School though as he’d played Rugby with and against them in the winter. It was a rural community so you pretty much knew who everyone was within a 50 kilometre radius. Which was about the size of the catchment area for the High School.
The School bus is a microcosm of New Zealand society. There’s no class system, but there is definitely a hierarchy. Kids from different backgrounds stuck together. They sat together on the bus. Farm owner’s kids mostly went to boarding school. On the school bus the farm manager’s kids were the top of the table at provincial High Schools, then the people who owned businesses. The local stock truck company, or the rural pub. Then there were the shepherds kids, the shepherds might be farm managers one day. Then there were the shearers and the fencers kids. The people doing the hard physical stuff, that required skill with the hands and repetitive experience, were often Maori.
There actually aren’t a lot of Maori in rural ‘middle New Zealand’. What they call the heartland. The Maori tended to live in town, or at the coast, up the East Coast, or up North. Not out on some country road in the middle of nowhere, not as a general rule anyway, not unless it was in some little community on their Turangawaewae, their land.
So Hemi was going to take the bus. He waited out by the old bus shelter on the dusty road. The bus shelter was an old corrugated iron water tank that had been cut in half with a piece of wood for a seat. He sat and waited, watching the morning happen, listening to the gentle sounds that penetrated the silence. He could hear Magpies, warbling to each other in the Macrocarpa. There was also the sound of sheep coughing and then bleating contentedly. That maaa, sound they make with a mouthful of grass, as if passing comment on the quality of the pasture. Off in the distance there was a Fletcher top dressing plane working some far valley. He could also hear the bus making it’s way up the long winding hill road, changing up and down gears. There was quite a lot to hear in this rural semi wilderness. He wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just watching and listening.
The bus doubled as a mail bus, It had already been travelling for a few hours before it got to Hemi’s place. It came from down on the beach, a small community a long way from anywhere, beside the sea.
He knew how long the trip was going to take, and wasn’t looking forward to it. He lived so far from town that getting to and from High School was 3 hours of his day, every day. That’s a long time in an uncomfortable seat. The bus ride to town from Hemi’s place took over an hour and a half, it was half an hour until they even got to the tar seal. Hemi was the 2nd kid to get on after the bus left the beach. The beach was 40 k’s away. The 1st kid on was from the big station in the hill country. Hemi could choose his seat .
Choosing a seat for the 1st time on a new school bus is a minefield of social etiquette. He had to decide where ‘his place’ was. He wouldn’t go down the back, as he’d find himself marooned among the hard kids, or the ones who thought they were. You had to earn a place at the back of the bus. He couldn’t sit at the front either. That’s were the goody goods sat, the tell tales, the kids who would dob you in for anything. No, he wasn’t one of them either. He needed to be in the middle, but he might sit in someone else’s favourite seat, he could bugger up the dynamic of the natural unstated seating plan.
He decided to sit across the way from the kid from up at the Station. He knew her by sight only. It’s funny. He’d lived within a couple of k’s of this girl for all of his 13 years. She was just up the road. But he was the shepherds boy on a different farm. The people in the big station didn’t mix with the other people out here. He didn’t know why she didn’t go to boarding school. She looked a bit strange though. Not quite right somehow. He gave her the standard New Zealand greeting of someone you see but don’t want to use any words to say g’day. When you are just acknowledging them rather than actually greeting. It’s a physical expression, you sort of jerk your head up a bit, sometimes while also raising your eyebrows a bit or sticking your chin out slightly, all in one swift fluid movement.
That’s how you say g’day in New Zealand without using any words. It says all you need to say with one movement of your head.
He sat in his new seat and looked out the window. The bus pulled away and he watched his place get smaller in the distance.
The bus stopped and started, picking up more kids, young adults, the chatter increased. Nobody stopped to say g’day to the new boy. There was no need, they knew who he was and he wasn’t one of them. He was the Maori shepherds boy.
All the kids who got on the bus knew exactly what seat they were going to. They sat where they always sat and with whoever they always sat with. He wasn’t in anyone’s seat yet. He didn’t reckon the bus would fill up either. He might even get to have his double bench seat to himself. Choice!
Then she got on and sat beside him.
She came out of some crappy house on a run down block not that far from town. The house was in a shittier state than his and that was saying something. She was a Pakeha, with dirty hair and a scruffy uniform. It was dirty. Then he smelled her. She smelt of piss. There was always someone at school who smelt of piss. Like she’d pissed herself and hadn’t had a wash. It was Monday morning, the start of a new school year and she stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes. What the hell was that about? Why did she have to sit with him? He couldn’t get up and move. She was in the way and he didn’t have any reason to move, other than he was embarrassed to be sitting with her, a Stink Pakeha girl.
It’s a real dilemma for a young fella on his first High School bus ride. What to do man? This sucks. She was ugly, stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes, sharing his seat, what if people think he’s mates with her. His mind was swimming. He looked out the window, trying to pretend she wasn’t there. But she was inches away from him. She said hello. Well not so much as hello as Hi. She said her name was Beverley. Beverly Simmonds. Hemi’s heart sank, now he had to say g’day, so he gave her the wordless greeting. She wasn’t going to settle for that though. She asked him where he was from, she hadn’t seen him before, she wanted to talk to him, make friends, that was bad enough, then the penny dropped who she was.
She must be old mad Bert Simmonds daughter. Everyone for miles around knew about old mad Bert Simmonds. He had no nose, blew it off himself with a shotgun when he tried to kill himself when his mrs left him. He missed, how the hell do you miss your own head with a shotgun? Jeez man, how could something so stink happen on his first day. He did not want to be making friends with this dumb stink Sheila. He was getting all worked up now, but not showing it though ay. He was just going to have to suck it up until he got to school. He had a look around the bus for where he could sit on the way home. He wasn’t going to make this mistake again that’s for sure.