This is the final chapter of the book.
Hemi hacked his basic, alright, he excelled at it. He was fortunate, as Guy had told him what to expect, also, Hemi was simply a better natural soldier than Guy. He won the prize for best recruit; He was a very good soldier. Hemi was fit anyway, after working for Guy’s dad. Nothing in the armywas as hard as working for Mr A. He took orders well; he was good with his hands. He was modest, quiet, a good shot. He was a natural warrior; he had an instinct for it, he was instinctive as well. Hemi had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He looked after his kit and respected it. He had proper respect for authority. His mum and dad, Guy, Nicky, Mr and Mrs A all came to watch his passing out parade. The parade was the same as Guy’s and probably still is today. Eventually, after the marching, the drill, the band, speeches and prize giving, came the final command.
Again, the hats went in the air, the recruits ran into the embrace of the proud relatives and friends. Hemi had never seen his mum and dad dress up before, he was proud as. His dad appeared fit to explode, he’d never seen him smile so much. He could see his mum had been crying. He put an arm around her shoulder. She was so proud of her boy. ‘Ka pai, son, ka pai.’ It was the only time she had addressed him as son, instead of boy.
‘Your grandad Billy would have been proud of you, ay?’
His grandad Billy had been in the Maori Battalion and fought in the war.
‘Aw yeah, reckon’.
Hemi had read about the 28th Maori Battalion during the rare breaks in his basic training. He was really inspired by them. He thought about his grandad Billy a lot now.
There were loads of handshakes and hugs from Guy and his family. This was the best day of his life so far. He thanked Guy again for putting him onto the idea of the army, for helping him out. They all drank too much that night at the passing out party. Plenty of sore heads in the morning.
Hemi was posted to his unit in Waiouru with the engineers to start his trade training as a carpenter. The main camp accommodation was choice, after the crappy barracks of basic training. Hemi thought it was a little bit stink he had to stay in Waiouru, but he’d get posted round the country often enough in years to come, plus exercises and overseas postings. So not too stink, really.
Hemi thrived in the army environment. He was saving heaps. He got his root in the end as well, he hooked up with a hot corporal who worked in the library, really punching above his weight. She was a short blonde, three years older than him. Slumming with a young fulla like Hemi, they were together for a couple of years, until Hemi was posted away. Guy and Hemi caught up regularly; there were always exercises on and the boys from Linton often tripped up to Waiouru for training stuff, plus their trade courses. They renewed their old friendship.
Nicky wrote to Hemi often. She spent the next five years at uni qualifying as a vet. Nicky made an awesome vet; she had a natural empathy, and pragmatism; she loved animals and had grown up on a farm. She was only ever going to be a vet. Hemi sometimes popped in to see her in town. She was always pleased to see him of course. He was a different man now, short hair, a flash uniform, fit and strong, standing straight and tall. His mana radiated from him. He hadn’t had mana in those bad old days, he did now.
Nicky married another vet once she had graduated. A nice bloke called Alex, from a good family. They were well off, had a big farm in Hawkes Bay, an iconic station near the coast. Nicky and Alex moved into one of the several homes on the property. They were both ‘large animal’ vets, farm animals, they covered the area from their home on the farm. They had converted one of the sheds into a surgery for any animal that needed better treatment than it could get in a paddock. The building was an old tractor shed, still in good shape, with roller doors. They lined the inside with composite panels and re-concreted the floor. He installed a block and tackle with a harness to hold cattle and horses up. The walls were lined with white cupboards full of vet equipment and drugs. There was a big operating table and a separate annex for smaller animals, the dogs and cats. They couldn’t only be vets for large animals, not out here, you could specialise but really had to be a jack of all trades. They also had a converted Bedford Horse Box which they used as a large animal ambulance.
Nicky’s husband, Alex, couldn’t have been mistaken for coming from anywhere else other than Hawkes Bay. He wore the Hawkes Bay rural uniform for wealthy farmers of short sleeved Aertex shirt, moleskin trousers, and Blundstone boots for work, RM Williams boots for town. He had short messy blonde hair, which was never brushed, it looked better in its natural state. He had high prominent cheekbones, with that downy, wispy facial hair above the shaving line, bum fluff, it was known as. Alex still had the bum fluff on his face which had earned him that nickname at Wanganui Collegiate.
Alex’s parents lived in the massive homestead, one of the finest in New Zealand. A huge two-storeyed property built by Alex’s great-grandparents along the lines of a grand country home from England. A covered veranda on three sides, corrugated iron roof, even a turret. The entire house was lined inside with imported Oak Panels, carved bannisters on the staircase to the upper floor where the bedrooms and bathrooms were. There was even a billiards room, formal study, a number of lounges and a library. There were 28 rooms in total, set in five acres of parklike grounds with a combination of New Zealand native and imported trees and shrubs. The homestead had a full-time gardener.
Because Alex was the oldest son, they’d move into the big homestead when the parents retired to town or the beach. Nicky was already remodelling it in her head, for one day in the future. She had a large notebook which she wrote her ideas in, it was nearly full. The idea was that their family would move into the big house the following year. Nicky wrote to Hemi about it. Nicky still wrote to Hemi, but less often now. Hemi usually wrote back, letters from faraway places sometimes. She even got one from Antarctica, one from Singapore. Hemi didn’t come to visit anymore, though, he was too far away all the time. Also, life had moved on.
Nicky and Alex had twin boys; they were eleven now. Already tall, like Nicky was when she was their age. Both had matching proper haircuts, no bowl cuts here and matching cheerful freckled faces. They had good reason to be cheerful, they had caring, supportive, wealthy parents. A good school nearby, a huge farm full of adventures. These two boys had a head start which Guy and Nicky could only have dreamed of, a head start similar to that which the girls Nicky went to school with at Nga Tawa had enjoyed. Nicky was proud of the environment she and Alex were able to provide for their boys.
Hemi was really pleased for her when he read the letter; she deserved a nice big homestead. He’d met Alex once, a few years ago. Nice fulla, Hemi approved. After Hemi read the letter, he got to work on a project. He worked on it in the evenings for the next few months in his workshop on the base. He liked to have a good project on the side, but this one was special. He spent his evenings in the carpentry workshop, carving, tapping and sculpting away with his large collection of chisels.
A year later, it was time to move into the big house. It was a mission. Nicky sent the boys, now twelve years old, off eeling. She remembered them all going eeling that day so long ago when as kids they’d caught the giant eel. Nicky was directing the blokes moving all the furniture, pointing here and there. ‘Not there, over there, please.
The rural mailman drove his van up to the gate, tooted his horn. Nicky came out of the house to see the old postman waving at her down the drive. He knew people were home because of all the activity. Normally he’d put the mail in the big mailbox, but there was a big parcel, a wrapped wooden box marked fragile. He shouted to Nicky that she had a big parcel, Nicky loved big parcels and the mailman knew it. So,they had a routine: he’d toot if she was obviously home, to tell her there was a parcel. Nicky trotted out to the gate.
‘OOH, what is it?’
‘Oh gee, I don’t know, Nicky, could be a parcel’ he laughed.
Nicky recognised the writing. It was Hemi’s.
Nicky carried the heavy box back up to the veranda, put it on the outdoor table and tore off the brown paper. There was a box, a handmade wooden box. With a bit of rope to slide open the lid. Nicky slid the lid open and immediately put her hand over her mouth in shock. Inside the box was the most beautifully carved Maori figurine, about two thirds of a metre tall. It was exquisite. It was carved from Rimu, with Paua shell eyes, he looked fearsome, and awesome. Every detail was perfect, she marvelled at the detail of the tattooed face, legs and rump of the wooden warrior, holding a taiaha with a pounamu blade, even the little collar of feathers on the taiaha was faultless.
There was a card written in Hemi’s handwriting, although scrawl might be a better description. Hemi’s handwriting was normally pretty terrible, he’d done his best though. It read:
This is a tekoteko. It’s to protect you and your whanau. Its spirit will keep you safe. I’ve had it blessed by a Tohunga at the marae and asked for its spirit to always look out for you. This is your guardian now.
Your brother, Hemi.
Tears streamed down Nicky’s face as she read the card.
‘Mum! MUM! ‘LOOK!’
Her boys were dragging a very heavy looking sack up the lawn. They emptied the contents out. It was the biggest eel Nicky had ever seen. She quickly wiped the tears from her eyes, composed herself and ran to the boys to congratulate them. She could recall the scene on that sunny day from all those years ago when Guy, Hemi and Mike caught the giant eel.
Nicky remembered her mum suggesting they get it’s picture in the paper, then doing nothing about it. Nicky decided that wasn’t happening to her boys. Luckily, she’d been friends with the sister of the local newspaper photographer, everyone called him ‘Flashy’ because of the big flash bulb he had on the top of his old press camera.
Flashy was summoned, he loved a local interest story. He also had a bowl haircut for some reason, maybe his mum still cut his hair. He wore huge black framed glasses, he was tall and skinny, in a suit with trousers too short and pointy shoes. He buzzed around the boys, getting some poses with the giant eel. Snapping away until he decided he’d probably got a good enough photo somewhere among all the ones he’d taken. The boy’s faces started to ache from smiling so much, their arms ached from holding up the slimy eel for so long. The boys got their picture in the paper, with their eel.
Nicky wrote to Hemi, to thank him for his incredible gift. She sat at her beautiful mahogany roll top desk, inherited from her grandmother, in the large oak lined study. Nicky liked to do her correspondence on formal stationery, there was a large pile of letter writing pads, notelets and cards. All neatly stacked in the desk which doubled as the office for their vet practice. There were a number of wooden filing cabinets against the study walls, for all the client files.
Nicky sat for a while, struggling to put into words how much the tekoteko meant, so, kept her note simple. As she wrote, warm tears again trickled down her cheeks, Nicky had never had such a valuable, personal gift, but she didn’t want to embarrass Hemi, or make him feel uncomfortable by gushing too much. Nicky also told Hemi about the eel her boys caught, after all the fuss about the original eel, and who caught it. The boys argued about it for the rest of that summer, every time they spoke. Nicky didn’t want to say her boys eel, was bigger, even though it weighed one kilo more. Nicky didn’t want to diminish the eel which Hemi, Guy and Mike caught, because Hemi might think that was stink, as he would say. So, Nicky simply said it was about the same size. To round the note to Hemi off, Nicky asked, for the sake of something light-hearted to finish, if the boys ever agreed who actually caught their giant eel.
A few months later. Hemi replied. A blue, airmail envelope, one of those ones where you wrote on a single piece of paper which doubled as the envelope when you folded it shut and licked the glue. The flimsy envelope was crinkled after its long journey in a number of mailbags. Postmarked from Singapore again.
Among the text, acknowledging her thanks and wishing her well was the confession.
‘The eel? Nah, Nicky, we were never going to back down on that, we all knew who caught it, but boys will be boys ay? But to put it to rest, only Guy’s pitchfork was still in the eel after we got out of the creek. Me and Mike had to have another go to help, but Guy saw it first and speared it first. He speared it good. Guy caught that eel Nicky, but don’t tell him I told you ay? Boys have got to have their tall tales to tell.’
Nicky chuckled to herself and shook her head, smiling. The phone on the desk rang, an old-fashioned ring, the phone was black, with a rotary dial. It was Alex.
‘Hi Nic’, there’s a crook cattle beast down at the Barnett’s shed, can you bring the truck’?
‘I’m on my way’.
That’s it. I hope you enjoyed the story.