Congratulations to all our winners!
1st Damian Pullen
Today I did two things I’ve never done before: end a relationship, and pick up a hitchhiker – a Maori woman called Marama, with a whisky-and-cigarettes voice, and a breathless laugh. She laughs and swears a lot. She didn’t ask about the bruise on my cheek.
We talked about her: how she’s been living in her sister’s garage in Auckland with her three kids, but has been up north, packing kiwifruit, doing 12-hour night shifts, and sleeping in her car, which won’t start, but her sister’s getting evicted, so she’s got to find somewhere else.
I was heading back to the airport, to return the campervan and get a flight home. I should have known this holiday wouldn’t work out, but everything was booked and paid for, and I was still devastated by his cheating, and the IVF failing again, and I couldn’t make a decision.
Yesterday was tense – jetlag, me premenstrual, him hungover, no talking. Separate beds.
This morning, driving along, he gets a text, which I open. From her. I throw his phone out the window. He loses it; pulls over, screams in my face – stupid bitch – then hits me once, hard, and gets out to look for his phone. I drive off, turn round, pass him, shouting and pointing at his phone.
Marama’s kids come running out to meet us – wide-eyed little livewires in bare feet – overjoyed to see her and full of questions – who’s this lady? Can you take us on holiday? Can I sleep in this bed?
So tonight Kahu, Amiria and tiny Te Ako are asleep in here, while I babysit and Marama packs. We’re heading north in the morning. The kids want to show me the big kauri tree, 90 Mile Beach, and the sand dunes at Cape Reinga.
2nd Rob Burt
A Gift from the Sea
See the old woman, eyes dark, wide-open, alert. A marble moon hangs high in the dawn sky.
The kuia begins her descent. The empty whare stands bereft of colour in the muted light. Kikuyu snakes up and ensnares its uprights.
Three months already? She shakes her head. Work he had said. Cash in the pocket, eh Mama? Anger surges then fades. Can’t complain. Money in the mail, kai on the table.
“Why the hell are we way out here?”
Yet it’s her mokopuna who still spear her heart. Ata marie Nan, they would cry, as they clambered over her.
Are they eating proper kai down there? Are they warm?
“An old Maori woman’s in the town, talking to herself, singing to the sun.”
She squats on the black sands. Her long-still-supple fingers seek out the plump tuangi. Soon her kete is chocker with this gift from the sea.
“Let me finish! It seems she parcels up shellfish and sends them to her whanau down the line. Two days, they’re a rotting mass, taking everything in the mail bag with them.”
She struggles up, ancient limbs groaning. Hoisting her bag, she will climb to her whare and start readying the kaimoana for its journey.
“The police got involved; talking to yourself is one thing, destroying His Majesty’s Mail is another. A court order to Mental Health and here we are.”
See the old woman. Her known world recedes behind her. Darkness descends. She is weary, weary of trying to understand what cannot be understood.
She closes her eyes, leans against the seat, resigning herself to whatever lies ahead.
3rd Kim Martins
They Came That Night
“It was April and your father, Moshe, loved to walk with your mother in the Alexandrovsky Garden to see the yellow tulips and purple lilacs.”
Rosa listens to my story. She lifts the teapot, pours me another cup of tea as if I need encouragement.
“Your father would light the Shabbat candles in our tiny apartment, after the first three stars appeared at sunset on a Friday night.
We would go to the synagogue the next morning, carrying plates of pickled herring and, on this Saturday, matzah. I couldn’t sleep the night before, worrying about how we would make it through the streets, the warm smell of the unleavened bread giving us away.
Moshe, your mother would plead, you know the secret police hide in the bushes outside the synagogue, it isn’t safe to be Jewish these days.
We walked through the mud-puddled streets with our suitcases full of matzah. Pillars of snow were melting and you gripped my hand, fretting that your new shoes would be ruined.
A lean-framed man in a dark grey suit stood watching nearby, his milky skin stretched over jutting cheekbones.
A couple of kicks to the ribs and heavy blows to the head was all it took. He looked down at your father lying in the brown mud, tiny pearls of blood peppering his face, and hissed:
Moshe Rabinovich. We are building a Russia that you have no place in.
Your father printed banned texts and passed them around. Every night, we would hear the elevator creaking as the Soviet secret police searched the apartment building, taking people away. One night, they took your father.”
He was tall with kind eyes, Rosa says. I should remember his voice, but I don’t.
I falter when I hear her words.
4th Clare Matravers
The buzzer scared the quietness away, summoned the reference librarian. He stood up, joints creaking in chorus with the swivel chair.
“Wednesday’s edition of The Advocate, please.” Middle-aged ewe, dressed as spring lamb, flirted with him. Wafted cheap perfume - he stifled a cough, displayed his wedding ring, handed the periodical to her.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” She primped a compost-heap of bleached- blonde hair - the wedding ring hint clearly hadn’t worked.
He turned a wince into a polite smile and said nothing.
A shriek of triumph: “I know!” Readers stared. “You look just like that Jeff Ivory!”
“Who’s he? An All Black? Or does he race a V8?”
“No!” Impatient now. “British rock star, famous in the eighties - you must have heard of him? Lose the beard and glasses and you’d be the spitting image - well, an older version at least.”
He seethed quietly. No need to remind him he was aging.
“Ever thought of trying out for Stars in their Eyes? You’re bound to win!”
He gave a dry laugh. “Just because I look like this Ivory chap, doesn’t mean I can sing.” He trilled a note off-key, delighted in watching her wince.
“Of course you’re not him. What would he be doing working here, in a backwater town library? No, he’s probably living it up somewhere, surrounded by adoring fans.” She shrugged. “He might even be dead.”
“Excuse me, I have work to do.”
“Of course. Sorry to keep you.” She didn’t sound it, reluctantly moved away.
That was close. Fed up with the high life, he’d craved obscurity—and found it on the far side of the world.
Perhaps he should try out for that programme - it might be fun to impersonate himself. Jeff sauntered back to his desk, humming a tune. In perfect pitch.
After the walk, we returned to the hotel. In the dining room, I sat with strangers for the meal. Mother didn’t sit with us: she helped serve the meal, seemed interested in the others too. She hovered round me, and these others, as I ate. One person she had to feed. Don’t know why she was staying here; the woman seemed aged, not like a baby.
This afternoon Mother took me for a walk in the garden. The hebe were out. Coloured scimitars, covered in bees. Purple fronds drooping as if it were the end of day. The gardener was a young Englishman with felted hair. I don’t know why he wears it like that. I have seen similar thick-spiked hair before. On our honeymoon in Jamaica. Derek took photos that time. The man was angry and tried to grab the camera. I must tell Derek about the gardener.
Mother helps me get ready for bed. I kiss goodnight the black-and-white photo of Derek. I turn and say, “Thank you, Mother”. Her eyes grow bigger. Holding my hand, she takes me to the mirror. I gaze at two figures. I see her, and hear her speaking beside me. I don’t know the other person. She says, “How can I be your mother? Look at us”. I move my hand to my cheek, and watch the old woman do the same. I turn to face Mother, she who was Mother. I hurry to my bed and pull the bedclothes over my head. I hear a wailing, feel tears fall.
Who am I?