Hemi enjoyed his footy. Luckily, because his mum worked at the freezing works on the other side of town, he could get to practice during the week. Footy practice was an hour and a half after school, on the top rugby field just across the road from School. Dannevirke High had large sports grounds forthe size of its roll. The school had a handful of rugby teams and Hemi’s position was a second five in the 3rd XV. Not bad for his second year at high school. He was daydreaming as he made his way across the rugby field, with that unique smell of liniment from the changing rooms and freshly mown grass hanging in the early winter afternoon air. He’d played rugby all through primary school, starting in bare feet as all the kiwi country kids did. The big day was when you turned 11 and qualified for ‘juniors’ instead of midgets, which meant you got to wear boots. Wearing boots was bloody awesome after freezing your feet off on those frosty Saturday mornings.
The 3rd XV was an ordinary side, playing in an ordinary league of ordinary schools. Dannevirke High wasn’t very big or well respected, so all the talented players went to other schools outside the district, boarding schools in the cities, such as Palmy Boys where Guy was. He hadn’t spoken to Guy much since he went away to school. He never seemed to come home much now, that seemed stink to Hemi. What did Guy do at school seven days a week, how come he hardly ever came home? Hemi hadn’t found out about that stuff yet. Guy certainly didn’t talk about it.
The ordinary 3rd XV played against other average schools in a cycle of average that’s hard to break out of or get noticed in. That didn’t really matter though; Hemi enjoyed the game and he wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Man, he was never reckoned he was going to be an All Black. He also wasn’t that close to the other guys in the team mostly because they were Pakeha, and he was Maori, and he’d had that fight with Stuart Gardner in town last year. Things had never been the same after that. But he was a good second five and the boys respected his skill. He was a tough player, fit, strong and fast, but he could lose interest if things went against them in the game. He only liked winning; losing was stink and if you’re already getting a hiding early in the game then you know it’s over, so you just want it to finish.
Anyway, he was lost in his thoughts for a while. The boys ran back and forth, up and down the grounds passing the ball. The backs watched as the forwards packed down some scrums and as usual laughed, as they felt they had the better job out there scoring all the tries. The forwards always felt they did all the work and those useless backs stood around waiting to feed off the fruits of their labour. So, it has always been in the footy XV. Of course, it’s all good-natured stuff, but the backs and the forwards are like two different tribes in the same team. Each one thinks they do the most valuable job. Each one completely dependent on the other, a team. Hemi liked the team aspect, but he always felt one part removed from it.
The nights were getting shorter as winter closed in. Now the boys’ breath was hanging above them, shapes like ghosts of former players in the crisp air. Steam was rising off the boys’ sweaty rugby jerseys, the sounds of the practice echoed off the school buildings and trees. Shouts, grunts, whistles, mild or accidental swearing, and laughter. The lights above the park came on; it was only 5:30, but night was already turning up. A whistle rang out; practice was over, and the boys jogged, sprinted, jostled their way to the changing rooms, the rhythmic sound of dozens of sprigs on concrete as they marched into the sheds like a steam train passing nearby. Hemi didn’t shower, just pulled on his school uniform, said goodbye to the boys and trudged off to wait for his mum to come and get him on her way home from work. All the school buses had long gone, and it was 30 k’s to home. A long way to walk. Thankfully, his mum had that job at the works now.
What Hemi didn’t know though, was that his mum had a stink day at work. Hine was fuming, bloody clowns on the cutting floor had been buggering around with the hose again and given her a soaking. She bloody hated getting wet; you get wet in the works and it’s bloody freezing all day. Even though you had a spare overall to change into, you never shook off the cold. Those wankers were always pissing about on Thursdays, bloody payday; all they could think of was getting to the pub to spend all their hard-earned wages on jug piss, wankers. She stormed out the minute the knock-off siren went for the end of her shift. Hine punched her time out, wished she could have punched those wankers in the face, and marched off to her car. The Valiant Charger wasn’t really the sort of car suited to a metal road and a family with five kids, but they never went anywhere as a family, plus Hemi’s dad liked it and it made him respected in the district because he had the coolest car for miles.
Hemi liked the lift home with mum rather than the school bus. His mum was an okay driver, but she smoked all the way home, which was stink, but the car was cool. He would always hear her coming up the hill to school before he saw her. He could hear an engine now; it wasn’t her car, though, but it was a V8, a big one. The big black Chevy Impala rumbled up beside him, pulled up and stopped. It was full of the Bros. Gang members, six of them, three in the front seat and three in the back.
The Impala is a huge American car, so plenty of room for everyone. They each had tattoos all over their faces and arms which was all he could see; tattooed faces looking at him from behind dark sunglasses, even though it was almost dark, and arms resting on the car windowsills. They all looked at him for what seemed like a minute. It was only a few seconds. Hemi didn’t know where to look. He bloody knew well enough not to stare back at them, so he glanced at them quickly then looked away, looked down, looked up. Trying to look like it was all cool, but he was shitting himself of course.
‘What are you doing here, bro? Did you miss your bus?’
Gales of high-pitched laughter, more like giggling rolled out of the car, along with a strong gust of the smell of marijuana and beer. Hemi wasn’t sure how to answer so he just looked at them, deciding what to say. They called him bro, though. They didn’t sound threatening, they were laughing, laughing in a good way, not the mocking laughs-just-before-a-fight way.
‘Bro, what the fuck are you doing here?’
‘I’m waiting for my mum,’ he said, and it immediately made him sound like a pussy. He thought that was a dumb thing to say, but he was still shitting himself.
‘Waiting for his mum, you fulla’s’.
More giggles from the car….
All four doors opened at once and the car physically lifted a few inches as six giant Maori gang members got out. Heavy boots, jeans or leather pants, denim and leather, head scarves, the works. These Bros were serious shit. Hemi’s life was becoming a lot more complicated in ways he didn’t know, couldn’t guess at and would never have imagined. Where was his mum? She was late. She was never late. Now he was in the shit, big time, although not in the way he thought.
‘We’ll wait with you bro; you can’t hang out here all by yourself. Come on, fullas, let’s wait with our new mate’.
‘Wait with our mate’.
They giggled among themselves, those infectious giggles you mostly hear from Maori men and boys.
‘What’s your name, bro?’
‘What? Hemi like the engine? Did you know a Hemi was the first Maori V8?’
More laughter….Hemi thought geez, these fullas are dags, ay?’ He hadn’t known about the Maori V8, though.
‘Well, we better introduce ourselves, ay bro? I’m Toots’.
Toots offered an elaborate handshake. Hemi let his hand get shaken and manipulated.
Toots pointed to the other bros.
‘That’s Billy, Whetu, Jake, PK and Bung Ear’.
The other Bros all gave the kiwi greeting. There was silence for a while; nobody really seemed to know what to do next. Bung Ear? What sort of a name was Bung Ear, Hemi wondered, then he saw Bung Ear’s ear. He had a cauliflower ear, he had a bung ear of course, simple when you think about it. Bung Ear went to the boot, opened it noisily—the car seemed to complain about the boot being opened. He hauled out a crate of Tui, crate piss (as 12 large bottles of beer in a wooden crate are referred to by crate piss patrons.)
‘Let’s have a beer while we wait with our bro’.
He opened seven bottles using one bottle’s cap as a bottle opener, handed the lukewarm beers round and offered one to Hemi.
‘Have a beer with us, bro’, it wasn’t an offer, more like an order.
‘Oh no man, I can’t have a beer, my mum will kill me’,
‘You better fucken harden up, bro. Have a beer with us, be a man. Does your mum run your life? Where is your mum? Oh yeah, she’s not here, is she? Reckon you’ve been left behind, bro, she’s forgotten you.’
Hine was half-way home, still angry. She had some reggae tunes on to destress her a bit. She glanced at the passenger seat and suddenly realised it was supposed to be filled with her son.
She slammed on the brakes, swung the car round too fast and sped back towards town.
It was a quiet afternoon in the local cop shop. Early evening in small-town New Zealand was a quiet time for the cops, everyone was at home having their tea. It would get busy later after a few beers at the pub on payday. Doug Dresser, a local constable, was making his way back to the station after talking to a farmer about a stolen motorbike. He had his speed radar on, though, just in case. The cops have radar that can see out the front and rear of the car. Hemi’s mum was speeding. Doug Dresser was a tall, lanky balding redhead. He spoke with a Scottish accent because he had moved to New Zealand with his parents from Scotland when he was a boy. His hair was half-way across the top of his head, so it was a good thing he had a job which required wearing a hat. She saw the cop car coming towards her and the blue and red lights started flashing straight away. She’d been done.
‘Fuck man, could this day get any worse?’
‘What’s the hurry?’
Doug asked, smirking at her. He wasn’t really interested;it was what he asked everyone he pulled over for speeding. Just his way of starting the conversation.
‘I’ve got to pick up my boy from rugby practice’,
‘Did you forget him, Hine?’
Doug knew Hemi’s mum worked at the freezing works. He knew she lived in the opposite direction from where she was coming, and she still had her overalls on. The local cops know everything. She didn’t want the cop to think she was a stink mother.
‘Ah, yeah nah, I just had to do some stuff and the time got away from me, ay? He knows I’m going to be a bit late and you’re making me later, man’,
‘Yeah, I can see that. I don’t want to hold you up, Hine. So, I’ll post you the ticket. You better get on, but take it easy, ay? He’s not going anywhere, don’t want to make your boy motherless, do we?’
He wandered back to his cop car like he had all the time in the world. Hine drove off a bit slower. She was spewing now. Angry at the situation, angry at herself, angry at her ticket, angry at the smart-arse cop. Her anger wasn’t over though, even Hine in her wildest dreams couldn’t have imagined where her already shit day was going next…. Maybe Hine should have had a better imagination.