Wings and Kiwi Cravings, poems and short story by Powhiri Rika-Heke
Pōwhiri Wharemarama Rika-Heke, of Ngāti Horohia from the Mangakahia Valley in Northland, Aotearoa/New Zealand was born into a dairying family and raised by her maternal grandfather surrounded by extended whānau. Words have been an essential part of her life since Pōwhiri was a toddler attending meetings with her ‘Daddy’ at which the Treaty, Māori politics, genealogy and land issues were discussed. As a six year old, writing letters to her grandfather, penning ‘poems’ and reading began her love of the written word. Pōwhiri’s childhood was filled with singing, particularly Māori songs, ballads and folksongs that told stories. That love of storytelling lyrics continues to this day, as does Pōwhiri‘s involvement in singing as a member of two Auckland choirs, one of which is GALS (Gay and Lesbian Singers). While Pōwhiri has written and had published academic articles, poems and short stories, she does not consider herself a writer.
Adding Salt to the Wound: A Familiar Story
Despite a Treaty protecting all that was ours
That stated, in two languages, that everything we owned would remain so
Those words were just irrelevant marks on parchment, because
In the end
They took away our land
They took away our language
They took away our culture
They took away our dignity
And replaced it with imports
A lack of direction
Violence against each other, especially the women and children
To top it all off
Blaming us for our position at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder
Was the salt rubbed in the wound
Wings and Kiwi Cravings
Red Bull wings fade to nothingness when compared to one’s new love or how hokey-pokey ice-cream makes us feel. Now, you might think that hokey-pokey ice-cream doesn’t come anywhere near Red Bull wings, but tell that to an Oz-based Kiwi who craves New Zealand’s iconic ice-cream. I’ve heard of Kiwis travelling the length and breadth of Sydney, which is a considerable distance, just to buy a hokey-pokey ice-cream. And the euphoria on their faces after that first lick? You’d swear they had wings.
The taunts followed me along the street and past the church that should have offered me sanctuary, but only looked imposing and uninviting with its black stain-glassed eyes staring without seeing and the stone of its walls cold and grey as graves in a fog-wreathed cemetery. Funny, how forbidding the church looked today.
Last Sunday, my Mum and Dad, my grandparents and my brat of a sister were intently listening to the words of comfort from the priest. Afterwards, our voices lifted in praise, notes soaring into the rafters, seeking a path to God’s all-hearing ears. The clasping of hands and well wishes of those seated beside, behind and in front of us gave me a feeling of warmth and belonging as the light streamed through windows alive with the coloured images caught in their frames.
But that time and feeling seemed like a million miles away. Today, there was no comfort and no warmth, no angels’ voices, no presence of God. Today, I felt more alone than a boy should ever feel.
I can’t believe that the life that was, until an hour ago, filled with love and comradery and friendships and acceptance was being, so cruelly, wrenched from me.
My name’s Aaron. I’m fourteen years old. Maggie, a girl from the city, arrived at our school at the beginning of term two. There was something different about Maggie. She seemed older, more knowing, and worldlier than the rest of us. When she was around, the boys seemed to lose all sense. They panted after her like dogs after a bitch. And Maggie, so my best mate Robbie said, allowed them to pant and drool over her.
Robbie was popular. Captain of the school football team, smart, good looking – if the trail of girls following him every day was any indication – and my best friend since kindergarten. I, on the other hand, was not popular. I was okay looking, but I wasn’t a jock, hated sport, loved music and drama, played violin in the school orchestra, had super uncool dress sense and too-long blond hair that flopped over my forehead, obscuring my vision, so that I was always having to brush it out of my eyes. It didn’t help that I wore Harry Potter-glasses, something I regret now that I was no longer nine and intent on the comings and goings of characters like Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and, of course, Harry. And it was only Robbie’s friendship and loyalty to his sandpit friend that meant I had a crew to hang with.
I’d seen that Maggie had set her sights on Robbie. But Robbie seemed to be the only boy oblivious to her charms. That was because he was conscious that he had to work hard to keep his grades up so that he would have a chance of a scholarship to university. Since his father’s accident – a fall from the height of the fifth storey of the new building he was working on when the scaffolding, on which he was standing, gave way – Robbie was determined to get a good education. That good education would get him a good job so that he could support his family. Robbie had always been responsible and protective of those he cared for. I liked that about my mate.
Even though Robbie liked some of the girls in our crowd – in a boy-girl way – he was always respectful of them and their feelings. He certainly wasn’t the sort of guy who would kiss and tell, like some of the jerks at school. Having three younger sisters impacted on how Robbie treated girls. He treated girls the way he would want other guys to treat his sisters: with dignity, honour and respect. Robbie was just that sort of nice guy.
Anyway, Maggie had been making a play for Robbie since she arrived while, at the same time, actually “playing” with lots of other boys. He was his usual attentive and charming self, but Maggie, being new to our school and not knowing Robbie, thought his response to her was more than it was. Of course, the girls at school hated her, called her names behind her back. But Maggie just laughed at them. She didn’t need them. She had all the boys. Except for Robbie and me, though she thought she had Robbie, him being so nice to her and all.
This morning, Maggie had cornered Robbie in the hallway. He and I had been talking about the holiday our families were planning to Rotorua. You see, it wasn’t just Robbie and I who were best friends, our mothers were too. They had also been sandpit buddies, our grandparents were friends and we all went to the same church. Yes, our families were close. Anyway, Maggie had spotted Robbie and me talking and had sashayed – I learned that word from grandpa – her way over to us.
“Hey, Robbie,” eyes twinkling, lips pouted, hair flung over her shoulder, a hand on her thrust out hip.
“Are we still on for the movies on Saturday?” A little flutter of her eyelashes, a smile from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
“Sure, Aaron’s dad will be driving us.”
“What do you mean, Aaron’s dad?”
“Well, my dad can’t drive since his accident and Aaron’s father said he’d take us so that we could use our bus money for snacks and stuff. He’s going to pick us up too. Isn’t that great?”
“I’m confused. I thought we were going on a date. You know, just the two of us? Is Aaron coming too?” The incredulity in her voice was so out there. It was also obvious that I was invisible to Maggie.
“Sure. That’s okay, isn’t it? Aaron and I always go to the movies on Saturdays when there’s something decent on. We’ll pick you up at half six. That way, we’ll be early enough to get good seat in the middle.”
“Wouldn’t you rather sit at the back? That way no-one would disturb us.”
“No, that’s where all the kids who want to make out sit. I can’t stand that carry on. It’s so undignified. It’s better to sit in the middle where we have a good view of the screen and the back row acoustics don’t disturb us.” Robbie grinned. I could see Maggie working up to a head of steam, but the wind was taken out of her sails by Robbie’s total lack of subterfuge and she walked away, trying very hard not to flounce.
Man, Robbie, you are so not tuned into this girl. I mean, Robbie was still a virgin, like me, but he’d kissed his fair share for a fourteen-year-old with a prime section on Handsome Street, season tickets to a sporting scholarship if an academic one was just a drop-kick too far, though he had enough smarts to have excellent grades for all his NCEA assessments so far, and charisma. Charisma: compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. Yep, Robbie was a dictionary definition.
Don’t get me wrong. Robbie was a straight up guy. He liked girls, but he also had tremendous respect for them. He wasn’t into ‘hooking up’. For Robbie, despite all the temptations put in his way because he was this great athlete, an A student, the original Mr Nice Guy, he stuck to his own code of ethics, his own morality, his own sense of right and wrong. Robbie was not someone who succumbed to peer-pressure – from anyone.
The rest of the school day was uneventful. After we had been released from the torment of Mr. Woolf’s statistics class, I walked Robbie to the field where he had footie training. Then, hitching my lurid green backpack higher on my not very wide shoulders, I turned for home. Deciding to take a short-cut, I headed across the field to the small, wooded park that edged the main town drag. On the other side of that park is the church, and the way home.
I had just entered the park when four of the school bullies stepped out from behind the trees. Two were in front, two behind. They had tried picking on me before, but Robbie had always been nearby and his presence had brought a halt to their nastiness.
“So, Robbie’s bitch! I hear you’re standing in the way of our Maggie?” said the top dog of the bunch of mongrels. At that, Maggie came out from behind another tree. She walked towards me. The smile she’d had for Robbie was replaced by a sneer.
“You’re the reason why Robbie won’t go out with me on a proper date. Is he into you?”
“No, Robbie’s my friend. He’s not like that!”
“Well, then. Are you into Robbie, Blondie?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“What I mean is that I think you’re a poof, that you like boys, that you’re bitched to Robbie, which is stopping him from being with a real girl. You think you’re a girl with your mincing walk, your girly hair, your crappy violin. I mean, what real boy plays a violin?” Her laugh sets the thugs off and they slap their thighs and each other’s arms, guffawing as if Maggie was the world’s best stand-up comedian.
“I’m not gay. I’m not a poof!”
“Well, prove it then, Blondie. Show me what you’re made of.” With that, Maggie pulled me to her, grinding her pelvis into me, her lips and tongue mashing my mouth. I felt like puking. Not only was her tongue shoved half way down my throat, but she’d also been smoking. Blah!
The thugs were making grunting noises and shouting, “Give it to him, Maggie. You can do it.” Maggie continued to push herself into me.
“Stop!” I wanted to shout. But I couldn’t. She was grabbing at me, down there. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I had to get away. So, I pushed her as hard as I could and she fell into the ferns at the side of the track. Her goons were so surprised that they didn’t react until I had sprinted past them and was almost to the street. Then the chase was on. The chase and the name-calling taunts. They wouldn’t catch me, though. But their words hurt.
I liked girls, but not the way Robbie liked them, not the way other boys liked them. I liked Robbie and, in a way, loved him. But I don’t think it was in a sexual way. I certainly didn’t like the boys of my age in that way either, but my favourite actors were all men. My favourite singers were men. I had a bit of a crush on my violin teacher, but only because he was such a kind person who always helped me to get better at my playing. He also talked to me like an adult and not like a child. He asked me questions about what I had been doing at school and seemed genuinely interested in my responses. Mr Duff was just great.
As I ran, my eyes teared, my mind in a whirl. I’d never thought about my sexuality before. I was too busy being a boy with boyish fantasies that didn’t involve girls, or boys, and kissing or sex. Why did Maggie have to spoil my life, my boyhood, my innocence with her boorish and over-sexed behaviour? I continued to run past the church, to run past neighbours’ houses, to run towards the safety of my home, to run to a future I would have to face.
“Scaredy cat, scaredy cat, cry-baby scaredy cat! What’s the matter with you? Are you a poof or what? Girl‘s blouse? Homo?”
© Pōwhiri Wharemarama Rika-Heke