Saturday, 29 August 2015


Thunder rolls, breaking and exploding through the thick grey clouds. As the torrential downpour ceases, young boys kick a football around on the grass between the houses and lopsided cooking sheds that lie underneath hanging electrical wires. The young bodies throw themselves towards the ball, brown limbs and flashes of white soles as they run, fixated. A goal is scored and they whoop, one cartwheeling, another attempting a one-handed handstand, showing off for invisible spectators. The game ceases momentarily as the ball flies over a hedge and against the mosquito-netted veranda of the town pharmacist. A lithe body runs through the trees, throws the ball back and the game instantly continues. Fat, lethargic rain drops slowly slide off the leaves of banana trees, and sleeping bats hide from the rain under the fronds of the coconut tree.

I walk down the main street in Buka, beads of sweat wearily rolling down my spine. The market on my left hand side, it’s high, woven dome sheltering women from the heat. Piles of mango and coconut amongst the elongated eggplants, yellow tomatoes, tiny capsicum, and endless piles of choko, ibica, cabbage and pumpkin tips, green leaves spilling out from tightly wound vines onto the abraded concrete floor. To my left, the bright signage of Chinese-owned trade stores and men taking refuge from the sun under the narrow awnings, exhaling exhaustion and spitting the juice of the buai on to the dust. Viscous, crimson marks on the white coral road. Further on, the boat stop, full of banana boats jostling for a position in the small bay. Some are loaded with rice and beer to take to the mainland, some full of school children, so packed that six-year-olds perch on the bow like minute figureheads. Skippers converse with no words; a raised eyebrow, a tilt of the head, a brief hand gesture, and the chaos is transformed in to a complex ballet of churning motors and imperceptible motions. 


The temperature has dropped and the clouds have been hanging low for weeks. The hot, thick, searingly blue heat that I love has turned in to a grey, humid, heavy lethargy. The cooler weather has brought the rarely-heard song of the cicada out of the fractured and thirsty ground, a sound that makes my heart ache for New Zealand. We haven’t had a proper rain in a long time. People dig wells in their back yard in the anxious struggle to find water, while the newspaper stories outline failed crops, uncommonly cold frosts, schools having to shut early to allow children to go home to search for water. Brightly-coloured buckets stand guard around the house, collecting the last few drops of water that fall from the gutters high above. I sit and watch the droplets painstakingly hang on to the rusting aluminium and finally, slowly, fall in to the buckets. The air smells sweet and as I breathe in the rainforest and smoking rubbish and the ancient reef and damp grass, I listen to the cicada and think of the brackish wind that means home, of standing atop the hills at Makara, of feeling like I could be the only person left in this world.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


I fly through the air at 4000km per hour, the red earth I had returned to hurtling below, eucalyptus dotting the ancient earth. Tired, dried out husks bearing the weight of the world. I am leaving again, but now I don’t have anything to return to. She had been a constant. She had sat in her armchair, fingers embraced by golden rings; a colour for the ages, so she said; she had sat amongst the trees which bowed to the river and the sun, boughs of green and then grey and then green again, seasons changing and still she sat amongst her gold. Then she moved and again she sat, this time surrounded by three small walls and one of roses, sitting amongst papers and that which she loved; and then she lay down, and she didn’t sit up again. I flew to her, over the banana trees and coconut, over the deep green of the sea, and then over that red earth and over the dry eucalyptus. She lay amongst us and we didn’t leave her; we whispered and laughed and cried and we massaged her feet and stroked back her hair and we kissed her forehead and we said things we felt guilty for, as she lay with her eyes hooded and mouth agape, each breath accompanied with a deep rasp, a clenching of life in her fists, a refusal to go without a fight. I sat and I whispered to her; “I love you, I have been so shaped by you, I didn’t even know you, but I knew you were in me.” As I watched her cheeks sink and her chest fall with each moan, I couldn’t help but think of the dog we’d had amongst the bananas and coconuts, whose chest had fallen and eyes had faded in the same way. But that dog had died quickly, with no one to mourn as the edge of the spade fell from the hands of the villager. Perhaps it had been surprised at this final betrayal. Its bones and the skin that held them together had ceased to shudder, and as I watched her eyes slowly lose focus and forget me, her fingers with their golden rings loosen their grip on mine, I absurdly thought of the fall of the spade and that dog with the kind eyes and the heaviness in my heart. And then she was gone. Her papers and her room and the pungent sweat and incense and smell of sickness ceased, replaced with stripped sheets and second hand donations and the unsettling feeling that I hadn’t cried enough. Yet I loved her, and had been shaped by her. So now I fly over the red earth and the eucalyptus, this land I never really claimed but always felt a part of, unable to brush the ochre dust off of my palms, relishing the dry, acrid taste of the bush on my tongue.