Ngaia has come home.
“Nan first,” she says. “I’m on my way, Nan”
She has thick waves of hair, naturally parted. Her eyes are as dark as the soil that she walks on, oblivious to the million pieces that shatter underneath her every step. A forgotten smile paints itself on her freckled face, rose-pink lips stretching to each corner, forming a number of creases on either side and an indentation on the right side of her cheek. A smile that was lost for so many years. A smile that should’ve come sooner. Regret sinks in.
Before she knows it, she’s at the river. It seems to have carved its way through the greenery even more deeply than she had remembered. She offers a reflection to the towering giants that sit along its bank. They hug the earth in such a way that they can move their limbs in every direction, picking and choosing to let the sun in. It’s like a game to them. A rustling against one another that resonates all through the forest. A welcome back performance. Just for her.
This is the river where Marama dropped her love note from Tamati, back when they were in Form Two. They looked for hours to try and find it, but the river was too quick. It took it from her, enjoying the heartfelt words that filled a ripped-out piece of paper from English class. Shades of pink appeared, were glimpsed, then disappeared into a cloud of mud.
Green hairs sway to the current. Tingling sensations shoot up her arms as she cups her palms to gather refreshment. She rubs her hands together for friction’s heat, and blows warm air into them until the tingling stops.
She looks up. She catches Taranaki peeking through the trees.
“Kia ora, Taranaki, you miss me, nē?”’ Cheeky.
He’s wearing a white hat today, masking his true form. It takes her by surprise, on a day like this. A blanket of cloud pans his beauty from behind, admiring him as much as she does. In that moment she realises how much she has missed this place.
She can almost hear the mischief that she and her cousins got up to. After the pā dishes were done they would sprint to the forest. Sprint as fast as they could, racing each other to see who could get to the forest edge first. Bare feet, and all climbing and swinging off the giants that populate the forest. Time flew when they were there. They had to be back before dark or else Nanny growled at them.
She giggles to herself.
Pockets of yellow sneak past the giants, revealing creatures lurking in the shadows. Glossy eyes emerge from the black. It’s hopping as if it had springs built into its tiny legs. A brown and white feather fan perks up and down, up and down, as it stabs the soil in the hope of finding a juicy worm. One last stab. A squirming worm is clenched in the beak, taking one last look at the world. The fantail gulps its late supper.
“Aren’t you beautiful.”
She rubs her thumb over her index and middle finger. Come on. Come on. The fantail clicks its head side to side like clockwork. Tick tick tick. Wondering whether to approach her. A cautious stare. He hops a little closer. She pats the little feathers in the curve of his neck, his wings tucked under. Reaching into her basket, she pulls out her phone, forgets to check the settings.
Her little friend scurries away.
Strands of her woven basket are coming away, dangling, like children on the monkey bars challenging one another to see who could hold on for the longest. She’s had it for as long as she can remember. Her Nan could make anything out of harakeke. Baskets, flowers, hats and even cup holders for Koro’s beers. That was kind of their thing. Her and her Nan. This basket was perfect for picking kawakawa, the medicinal herb that Nan always used on them whenever they were sick.
She finally reaches the forest edge. Where the forest bed met a field of grass. There she is, perched up on the hill. At that exact moment, the sun pushes the clouds away and glows. Just on Nan. Exposing all the curves and corners of her beauty.
Her dark eyes are wet. A salty taste is in her mouth. She sits at the stone that is all that is left of her Nan. Surrounded by other whanau. At the top of the pā hill. Overlooking her marae, her river, her mountain and of course her mokos who she loved so dearly.
“Oh how I miss you. We all do”
While she wasn’t looking, the sky has changed. Changed to a dark orange with splashes of yellow. There’s a faded crescent moon.
It’s time to go.
“I’ll come see you more, I promise. I’ll bring the mokos with me next time too! I know how much you’ll love seeing them.”
As she gets up to leave, she notices her glossy-eyed friend. The claws of his feet are wrapped around a green branch, swaying from side to side. A kawakawa bush. She rips off some leaves and places them in her basket. Gestures to the air, a little wave. A sign to say thank you.
She winces out the words. “Ka kite, Nanny.”
Drew Davey is a medical student at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. She has recently completed a writing paper as part of the humanities selective programme that Otago medical students undertake in their third year of study.
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