Taking Wainui, short story by Laura Solomon
They made me drink urine out of a gumboot. Not just a sip but half a litre or so. Disgusting. I was sick everywhere afterwards, no surprise really. Then they told me that was just the beginning. O the joys of being a Prince Mamba leader’s son. People said I was doomed to end up in the gangs – born to it. What a life, what a curse.
My childhood was not a normal one, but of course I only know that now. We lived in a rented state house in Kaiti, with three wrecked Holdens parked abandoned in the drive. A couple of pit bulls kept guard. There were always gang members loitering around the house, chucking their empty beer cans wherever it suited them. I used to try and clean up but I was fighting a losing battle. My two older brothers were initiated at eighteen and they became just like Dad – ruling with iron fists. Mum was dominated by Dad, who ruled over everybody. He would have tyrannized the whole town, the whole of New Zealand, if he’d had his way. My Mum was spaced out on Valium a lot of the time. Dad would have killed her if she’d tried to leave. No family member taught me the practicalities of life – I learnt how to cross roads at school. No adult ever read me a bedtime story.
It was my Uncle Taika who taught me how to surf. Surfing saved my life. Whenever I got sad or angry I would just take the board my uncle bought me and head out to the waves. I had to keep the board at my uncle’s house or Dad and his mates would have just sold it for drug money. I used to dream of being Australasian surf champion. It was in the waves that I met my first and only real friend Kya. Kya was tall for her age and thin and she was a demon on the board. I wasn’t in love with her or anything corny like that but she was a good friend; somebody I could really talk to about all the many problems at home. She didn’t judge me on my background which was more than you could say for most of the herd in my classroom. We just enjoyed each other’s company. It was good to feel accepted by somebody on planet Earth.
I had been dreading my initiation ceremony. There was no question that I would join the gangs, because of who my father was. It wasn’t my own wish at all – it was just something that you did in my family – kind of like some kids growing up with everyone assuming they will go to university. My Dad would have beaten me to a pulp if I ever thought about not joining. My life circumstances made it very tough for me to assert myself. Earlier in the year at school there had been a program run by the police on stopping youth from getting into gangs and a Pakeha lady called Jasmine had come to our school to talk to us about it. Was it just my imagination or had she had taken a special shine to me? When she spoke it seemed as if she was talking directly to me and I wondered whether she knew I was a Prince Mamba leader’s son. At the end of the week she took me to one side and asked me what my ambitions in life were. I told her I wanted to be a pro surfer and didn’t mention that it was a lot more likely that I would end up being a fully patched gang member. She smiled and nodded when I talked about surfing and commented that Gisborne had some gnarly waves. I couldn’t believe she had used the word gnarly, like a teenager. Perhaps she was trying to be down with the kids.
When the big day rolled around, my eldest brother took me to one side and told me that it was time for me to be a man. I had witnessed other initiation ceremonies and did not see how drinking urine from a gumboot was a mark of manhood but I didn’t say anything. I drank as much of the piss as I could and then was sick everywhere. Then Dad’s right hand man Rangi, took me to one side and told me I was going to have to do a burglary. Rangi has ‘We ride together, we die together’ tattooed across his neck. He said he was letting me off lightly and that there didn’t have to be violence or firearms involved. Sometimes there can be rape or even murder in the initiations, or taking the rap for somebody else’s crime and doing hard time in their place. They told me that they had chosen a do-gooder target in posh Wainui Beach so that there would be lots of loot. Wainui Beach residents are all loaded.
We waited till 11pm and then drove the car slowly through Wainui Beach. I thought we looked terribly suspicious and kept telling Jimmy to speed up a bit, to drive authoritatively, so that it looked as if we knew where we were going. I got out at the start of Wairere Road and started walking through people’s back sections trying to find a house that looked deserted. It was hard to tell because most people had all their lights out. At number 35 I stumbled across somebody’s dog, a huntaway, that started barking loudly at me.
Oh God, I thought, just what I need to alert the neighbours for miles around.
Eluding the vocal dog as quickly as I could I darted around the side of what appeared to be a wood shed, I waited for about a minute until the dog became bored and started sniffing under a hedge for the elusive hedgehog he’d been after for months. Adrenaline was coursing through me – I’d never been so petrified in my life; I just wanted this over with.
Thankfully the next house appeared deserted – no car, no lights on and most importantly no dogs.
I skulked up the outside stairs to the back door where I found a cat flap. I had done this once before when I had gone around to my uncle’s house unexpectedly and he hadn’t been home. After shivering on the doorstep for half an hour I had reached up through the cat door and managed to turn the key in the lock. My lankiness I had often been teased about came in handy in this instance.
Reaching through the cat door I discovered it was a lock with a push button in the handle – this was unnervingly easy. I was in! Heading straight for the bedroom, unzipping my bag as I walked, I found an Ipad on the duchess that became my first stolen item. Opening the drawers next, I found a phone, some jewellery and a wallet. I put it all in my bag. I hesitated, thinking that I could hear a noise downstairs. Listening intently I heard two car doors close. I froze, something touched my leg and I jumped. Looking down I saw the fattest, fluffiest cat I’d ever encountered rubbing against my leg as if it had known me forever. I had to get out of here. There were sounds outside. I scanned the room looking for a window, found it, ran over to it – then remembered I was on the second floor. The sounds were inside now. I couldn’t think straight so I dropped to the floor in between the bed and the wall.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs and began to freak out even more. Although I was a gang member’s son I was no hardened criminal, I only wanted to spend my life surfing. I had seen what gang life had done to my father and my brothers and I did not want to end up like them. Footsteps up the hallway now, I felt like a stoat in a trap.
The door opened and I saw two long shadows cast upon the far wall. A man spoke.
“Hey, why is the top drawer of my duchess open?”
At that moment my body took over my mind and I stood up and tried to make a run for it. The man, who was solid and looked like a rugby player blocked my path. There was a brief scuffle, then he grabbed me in a headlock.
“Jasmine call the cops. We’ve got ourselves a thief!”
“Hang on a minute Nick. I think I know this guy.”
At that moment our eyes met and I recognized her. It was the lady who had come to my school and taken a special interest in helping me stay out of the gangs. I felt so ashamed. Why did I have to target her house? The gods had it in for me. I groaned and sank to the floor despondent.
“I didn’t get away with anything” I said. “Just take back what’s in the backpack and let me go. This was meant to be my initiation into the gang. I didn’t even want to do it but I had to. They made me.”
Jasmine gave me a long look then said “Come into the lounge, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
Nick grabbed the backpack from where it lay on the floor and checked its contents.
I followed Jasmine through into the lounge. She boiled the kettle and made us both a cuppa. I put three spoons of sugar in mine – I was in need of a pick me up. Then I remembered Jimmy who was driving the car. He would be wondering where I was by now. What should I do? I decided to forget about Jimmy and concentrate on Jasmine. If anybody could help me get away from gang life it was her.
“So tell me about tonight,” she said. How did you come to be burgling my house?”
“I was told to by my father’s right hand man. I was told that it was time for me to join the gang and that I had to take part in initiation.”
“Is this the life you want?”
“No, definitely not. I can’t stand violence and drugs. I’m into surfing. I don’t want to end up like my father.”
I breathed a heavy sigh.
“I can help you break the cycle”, said Jasmine. “But you have to listen to what I say. I think you should stand up to your father and tell him that you don’t want to join the gang.”
I was silent. She obviously didn’t know my father. We talked on for half an hour and I began to think that I had found somebody other than Kya who cared about me. It can be hard, letting your guard down and trusting somebody, even a little bit, when all you have known is cold, unkind treatment. Jasmine gave me a ride home. We talked in the car further. I knew what I had to do.
# # # # #
When I walked in through the front door I found my father pacing the living room as my mother nervously busied herself in the kitchen.
“Where the hell have you been!?” bellowed my father. “And where’s the bloody loot!? Jimmy came by here an hour ago. Who gave you a lift home?”
I remembered Jasmine’s words. Stand up. Stand tall, like a man.
“Look Dad, I don’t want to be in the gang. I want a normal life, like a normal person. I’m not into the kind of life you lead.”
My father’s right fist hit my jaw with a thunderous crack.
“Don’t you get cocky with me, boy! Bloody mamma’s boy! You’re nothing but a sissy. It’s time you were toughened up.”
He punched me hard in the stomach and I fell to the floor. My mother was crying and screaming for him to stop but he didn’t. The beating went on for what seemed like eternity and only stopped because my uncle came in and pulled my father off me when I was on the verge of unconsciousness.
Laura Solomon has a 2.1 in English Literature (Victoria University, 1997) and a Masters degree in Computer Science (University of London, 2003). Her books include Black Light, Nothing Lasting, Alternative Medicine, An Imitation of Life, Instant Messages, Vera Magpie, Hilary and David, In Vitro, The Shingle Bar Taniwha and Other Stories, University Days, Freda Kahlo’s Cry and Brain Graft. She has won prizes in Bridport, Edwin Morgan, Ware Poets, Willesden Herald, Mere Literary Festival, and Essex Poetry Festival competitions. She was short-listed for the 2009 Virginia Prize and the 2014 International Rubery Award and won the 2009 Proverse Prize. She has had work accepted in the Edinburgh Review and Wasafiri (UK), Takahe and Landfall (NZ). She has judged the Sentinel Quarterly Short Story Competition. Her play ‘The Dummy Bride’ was part of the 1996 Wellington Fringe Festival and her play ‘Sprout’ was part of the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Laura’s new collection ‘Tales of Love and Disability’ will be out soon from Woven Words Publishers. www.laurasolomon.co.nz
© Laura Solomon