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Chapter Seven. Driving to Town

Chapter 7

One of the down sides of living so far out in the sticks, is how much of a mission it is to get your supplies.  Sure, you can grab groceries and that on the way home from work, but not the other stuff you need, like clothes. You have to go back into town at the weekend for that. Hemi still hadn’t told his mum or dad about his carving. The school had rung up, but nobody answered because nobody is home during daytime and there’s no way of taking messages if nobody answers the phone. So Hemi still hadn’t got around to telling them about the native carving workshop offer. He was still trying to figure out when and how he might bring that up. Mrs Hohepa had asked Hemi to get his mum to ring her, he hadn’t done that yet.

Hemi had torn his only school shorts when he caught them on the barbed wire fence at home one day, so he needed another pair. It was early Saturday, still no sign of Guy coming home. Hemi climbed off his sagging mattress and pulled the clothes on that he had thrown on the floor the night before. He could smell and hear the morning happening in the kitchen. He’d heard his father go out while it was still dark, saddling up the horse and trotting off to do some mustering.  He heard the dogs excitedly charging around; he could see them in his head, running along beside each other, into each other, play fighting, like they were doing a warmup for the big day ahead. Then his dad barked at them in the darkness, ‘GET IN BEHIND!’ The dog’s fun noise stopped; they would have got in behind.  The noise faded as the man, his horse and company of sheep dogs rode off into the slowly emerging morning. 

Hemi looked out the dirty and cracked window of his bedroom, across the road to the plantation of pine trees that hid the view of the huge expanse of farmland and forest he knew lay beyond the trees. Hemi could hear crockery, cutlery, a boiling jug whistle, he could smell cigarette smoke coming into his room like an invisible poison gas worming its way up his nose. He wrinkled his nose in disgust, ‘Fucken smokes.’ He would only think it though; his mother would give him a hiding if he ever swore around her. Which was a bit hardcase because his mum swore all the time. Hemi wondered how old you had to be when you could start swearing in front of your parents. So, for now, he just thought his swearing or saved it for when he was out of earshot of his mum. He could smell and hear eggs being fried, the toaster popped, and he knew what was coming next. 

‘Come and get your kai, boy, we’ve got to go to town today’.

Hemi’s mother, Hine, never gently roused Hemi, she only shouted at him to appear when his kai was ready in the morning. She was too busy getting her own day organised; she’d already been up cooking a feed for her husband, as she did every day. He went early every day, before Hemi got up. Hemi and his sisters would only get in the way anyway, even if they did get up that early. Hine got out of bed at about 5a.m. every day, to feed her family and get ready for work. Her only day which had any sort of rest, was Sunday. Saturday there was rugby, the housework, dealing with the kids, you name it. She might have time to pause during the day, but the day always started very early.

Hemi emerged into the kitchen, mismatched plates on the Formica table, a mug of Milo, two eggs on toast waited for him. His two little sisters sat at the table, scraping their spoons on the mostly empty plates, a small mug of Milo and a glass of cordial in front of them, too busy concentrating on not getting any food on the floor to look at him. His little sisters were twins, they had short black messy hair, no matter how often they saw a hairbrush, their hair was messy again moments later. They both had snot visible in their noses, little chubby faces typical of four-year-olds. They had the same clothes on, pink t-shirts which needed a wash and a simple knee length cotton skirt with an elastic waistband, bare feet of course.

‘Morning, boy. Eat your kai and we’ll get off; Aunty is going to look after the girls; she’ll be here any minute’.

‘Aw yeah’.

Aunty was an old shearer’s widow who lived in a broken-down house up the road. She was a general domestic help in the district now, everyone called her Aunty. Hemi didn’t know what her name was. He liked Aunty though, she was kind and always smiling, she called him ‘young man’ when she greeted him. She never called him boy. Aunty had a very dark wrinkled but kindly face. Silver hair was in a bun on her head, she had a ballpoint pen instead of a hair pin holding it all together. Teeth missing, her eyes always lookedlike she was about to cry, always on the verge of tears. As though she was always sad, the sadness was belied by her constant smile. Aunty always wore a thin cardigan over her simple blouse, no matter what the weather was like. She wore long slacks with flat shoes and carried a walking stick although she walked okay apart from having a slight limp. Soon enough, Aunty was there. Hine went out to the grass drive and fired up the big V8 Valiant Charger. 

The car wasn’t parked in the shed because there was too much crap in there, plus the birds that nested in the shed would shit and drop all their nesting leftovers on the car, so it lived outside. Hemi loved the car, it was bright orange with black bonnet stripes. It was cool as. He was looking forward to when he could drive it. Only a year to go now until he could get his license.

‘Let’s go, boy, get in the car, See-ya, Aunty, be back about afternoon smoko time’.

Smoko is as much a time as a break in New Zealand. Smoko is 10:30am and 3pm There are local variations, but it’s almost always 10:30am and 3pm. To this day, most New Zealand companies still have the two smoko breaks. They call it morning and afternoon tea in many places these days, but it’s largely still smoko, and it is sacrosanct. It’s not all that uncommon to phone or visit a company at these times and be told the person you want to speak to is unavailable because they are at smoko.

So, they set off for Dannevirke, rumbling along the dusty metal road until they hit the smooth hum of the tar seal. They didn’t see another car for the first half hour of the trip. Hemi took the opportunity of the companionable trip with his mother to bring up the carving offer. 

‘Mrs Hohepa in Maoritanga wants you to call her’.

‘Why? What the fuck have you done at school, boy?’

Hine always chose to default to the worst when anything new was introduced like this. 


‘Then why would your teacher want me to fucken call her?’

Hemi hadn’t really thought too much about what he might say in his conversation about the carving, only that he should have it, so he paused a bit to think how to word his answer.


‘I carved a tekoteko in woodwork, she said it was good. So, then this fulla she knows at the native carving workshop came to school and said he wanted to help me learn to carve better. Mrs Hohepa and Mr Dawber and this fulla Ropata said they would sort it out with you.’

It was just about the longest sentence Hemi had ever strung together and Hine stared at him for a moment.

‘Since when did you learn to carve, boy? Where did this come from?’

‘Sometimes, you know?’

‘No, I don’t fucken know, boy’.

‘Sometimes after school, on the weekends, in the shed, I was just trying the carving stuff out, you know?’

He looked out the window as he said this, rather than looking at Hine.

‘True? Well, I’ll be fucked, ay?  That’s actually pretty choice, boy, good on you, ay’.

It was the nicest thing Hemi’s mother had ever said to him.  

‘So, carving, ay? I’ll phone Mrs Hohepa, boy. Let me suss this out before we tell your dad, ay? Gotta think how we tell your dad; you know he doesn’t like surprises and secrets much, ay?’

Hemi knew only too well. Too many times in his young life had he walked the delicate tightrope of choice between telling his dad he’d broken something or keeping it secret and hoping he wouldn’t find out. Both had a hiding at the end of it, but at least by keeping it secret you had a small chance of avoiding a hiding, but the hiding was worse for keeping it secret. 

‘Aw yeah, he might think it’s stink’.

‘Aww yeah nah boy, he’ll think it’s cool I reckon, we just have to pick our moment, ay?’

Hemi sniffed and smiled out of the window.

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