Ivan On The Island
The first thing Ivan sees as the minivan taxi pulls out of Chatham Islands Airport is a rusted tractor with a tree growing through its engine. It’s stranded in an ocean of yellow-flowered gorse prickles. Unfortunate place for vehicles, here. Dangerous. Plus the choppy plane ride soaked him with sweat. Ivan never wanted to leave his apartment, his books, his cat, the PC he’s building. He can’t wait until the week is over.
Ivan tugs on his fraying seatbelt, testing its durability. His flabby body weighs 108 kilograms, all awkward height and girly bum-fat. He runs the numbers in his head. The accelerating force of the minivan’s momentum will add 22,000 newtons to his body’s pressure against the weakened seatbelt, considering a force of (1/2mv2)/d, estimating 80 kilometres per hour velocity and 10 metres stopping distance. Any crash on these unsealed dusty roads will kill him, Ivan concludes, but that’s fair. He never added much to the world, anyway. The senior citizens on their package tour who fill up the minivan with him? These are people who’ll actually be missed. People who’ve earned a place in the world.
The minivan increases speed, closing the distance from airport to town, scraping the dust off the road surface. Ivan squeezes the roof handle as the van jumps and groans. This holiday to this gorse-covered wasteland was forced on him because he had too much annual leave saved up, ostensibly, but everyone in the office knows the holiday is also about clearing out an annoyance for a week. Ivan is a tower of anxious sweat and facts that no one asked for. He’ll be the first to admit it, anytime. The office is relaxed with him gone. Putting an ocean between him and his colleagues is his gift.
Moors and peat bogs and tussock are pulled past Ivan’s window for an hour. Jagged macrocarpa, mountains of yellow sand, lakes freckled with cow shit, stacks of orange crayfish cages. Buoys and boats far inland.
The minivan slows as it approaches the only town, a huddle of harbourside sheds dubbed Waitangi. Children in a tiny one-building school stop and wave. The woman driving the minivan, dry and gnarled as a shrunken head, slows down, rolls a cigarette on her lap, brakes, exits, yanks Ivan’s hiking pack out of the rear of the van with a puff of blue smoke. She is brown as a dried fig and her tendons flex as she hauls the side of the van open while Ivan battles to escape his seatbelt.
‘You ain’t got much,’ she says as she dumps the pack into Ivan’s chest. Perhaps she means There isn’t much to you. Perhaps she means you have little substance. You’re hollow. A depressive neurotic with the chutzpah to walk around like an equal human being.
‘Hate to be a pain but there’s actually another, s-sorry.’
‘Don’t say fuckin sorry. It’s me job, innit, shunting people’s shit for em.’
Ivan studies the milk-coloured flesh under his wrist watch. ‘Can you tell me what sun protection factor I’ll need while I’m here? I’ve br-br-brought some SPF-50?’
‘Grease yourself up black as me if you want. Minivan Maureen never gets burned. Smy claim to fame.’
Ivan’s entire body cringes. Blackface is still acceptable here? Christ.
Check-in time. Boots off, parked in a tidy pair. Ivan waits politely at the front desk of the Hotel Chathams, rucksacks strapped to his front and back, patting the pockets of his cargo pants every thirty seconds to ensure his passport and wallet are safely in there, and his Effexor, plus breath mints, a pen, Post-It notes, some plasters. Oh, and spare cash. His emergency locator beacon, too.
In the front of the line, a fat man wearing a John Deere cap arranges a wake-up call so he can go fishing at dawn. Next in line is a woman who needs to book an ATV quad bike. ‘Garna fetch some pigs up back country,’ she tells the teen behind the counter, who throws a set of keys at the woman.
Ivan, a vegetarian, doesn’t need to organise fishing or shooting or killing of any kind. He checks in, receives his complimentary map of the island, with skulls and crossbones stamped over the private properties.
‘Key, perchance? Swipecard?’
‘No one locks their doors here, mate.’
Ivan, apologising, asks directions to the town’s library.
‘Don’t got one,’ the girl on reception tells Ivan, jaw hovering.
‘Not a problem, not a problem,’ Ivan says. ‘Your nearest bookshop, perchance?’
‘There’s a couple books up at Black Tik’s,’ she replies, resuming her chew. ‘That’s the marae for Morioris. Minivan’s going out first thing tomorrow. Jump on it, fill your brain up.’
So as not to inconvenience the tour party of Pukekohe senior citizens he’s flown in with, and to make the job of the hotelier as easy as possible, Ivan lugs his own bags up the creaking stairs. The less conversation he has, the less chance of stuttering.
He dips his head under the 200-year old beam of white-painted kauri, enters his hotel room. Ancient window with rippled glass. View of a green harbour, jagged white waves, stone-coloured clouds. Low ceiling, only six feet three above the floor, judging by the way it scrapes his hair. He takes out his laptop, his contact lenses and cleaning solution, his pillbox containing a colourful cereal of red and white and yellow drugs. Quetiapine to stabilise his moods; Symbyax to stop the turbulence behind his eyes. Lorazepam to soften his stabbing guilt.
Ivan spreads his futon and sleeping bag on the floor so as not to inconvenience whoever made the bed. Climbs into a funnel. Shivers himself to sleep.
The rear of the minivan is the most hidden-away part of the vehicle. A good place to hide and read while the vehicle crawls across sand and gravel toward the temple of the Moriori people, a wooden octagon on a distant knob of land in the corner of the island. Ahead of him in the minivan, stretching up to the driver, are three rows of white hair and shiny freckled scalps. At 44, and unmarried, Ivan is considered a playboy.
‘Here to find yourself a lassie, I take it?’ asks the man beside him. John McGraw, ONZM, according to his name badge. ‘Tamara the bar babe’s the one you want. Village bicycle, eh!’
Ivan holds up a long slow silence finger while he finishes his paragraph.
‘No, oh-ho, no lassies for me, no. Noooo, archaeological geology’s my bag. A few obsidian tools, some sedimentary layers and an excavation pit and I’m a happy chappy!’ Ivan cringes. This morning he practiced speaking like a relaxed person in the mirror in his room. He hopes he sounds convincing.
John McGraw’s warm face cools. ‘Not into the lassies, then?’
‘You’re a man’s man. A buftie boy.’
Ivan’s lips quiver and flap. His throat is dry.
‘No one’s criticising ya, for crying out loud, sensitive bloody… .’ John McGraw ONZM turns away, mumbling, and stares at the distant volcanoes.
Ivan replays the conversation for the rest of the minivan ride, trying to figure out where it collapsed.
After stopping to shoo sheep off Croons Road and to open farm gates at number 1010, the minivan tips down a mountain and halts outside a marae named Te Kopinga.
A fat old brown man with the colour flushed out of him hobbles up the path, resting his chalky forearms on a walking stick. The welcome is interrupted by a squat, red farm bike pulling up a few metres away, on the far side of a wire fence, buzzing like a chainsaw.
The senior citizens bend and creak and hobble down from the van then file inside the marae, kissing cheeks with the fat hobbling elder. Ivan is about to join them when he is snagged by the man on the ATV quad bike. Blue Swanndri. Bitter black mouth. Fierce eyes.
‘You with them?’
‘Guilty as charged!’ Play it cool, Ivan. Act natural. ‘Ivan Chong. Pleasure to meet you.’
The quad biker has two huge ugly hounds in the tray on the back of his bike. He spits in the direction of the marae. ‘Listen up: you don’t come near my land. Don’t touch me fuckin diesel or me fuckin jet fuel. Stay on your own side of the fence, y’hear?’
‘Yeah yeah, Derek, we know where the boundary is and I’m not parked on it,’ Minivan Maureen says, tugging Ivan away.
‘Pleasure to meet you, Derek!’ Ivan calls, wincing.
The dangerous man stares after.
Inside the glowing golden wood of the meeting hall, in the middle of a lake of carpet, elder Tiki Solomon, with crazed white hair and bulging belly, narrates the history of the Moriori people. He tells the nodding senior citizens that the Moriori arrived in the 15th century, established a covenant of peace, were marginalised and massacred and deprived by hordes of incoming Maori and Englishmen in the mid-1800s, and only had their suffering acknowledged within the last decade, not that any recompense occurred. The package tour people click photos of so-called ‘Black Tiki’ Solomon, ask him about a rare subspecies of fantail and where they might hope to spot the Chatham Islands forget-me-not.
After tea, the group pour into the garden out back. They take photos of weka and wood carvings with paua shell eyes and lichen-blotched tombstones, which Ivan points out are clearly basalt, you can tell by the distribution of quartz crystals. Ivan falls away towards the fringes of the property, giant cold macrocarpa pines like pillars, darkening the sky. Mountains of firewood, crayfish cages drizzled with rope and buoys, cracked orange lifejackets. He toes some greywacke, unearths a cobalt-rich geode, clambers atop a boulder which could be metapsammite or metapelite. Surely metapsammite, judging by its protoliths.
A humming motor. An approaching buzz. Ivan has reached the edge of the property of the brusque man who issued the ugly introduction earlier. Derek.
Over the wire fence, Derek zips past, standing up on his quad bike, glaring, then drives away to bully some sheep.
Fingers squeeze his shoulder.
‘Only me,’ says Black Tiki Solomon. As he settles, he rests his gut on his walking stick. ‘It’s quiet, eh. You can hear the ghosts.’
Ivan snorts. Superstitious tripe.
‘You don’t have to believe,’ Tiki Solomon says, ‘But you do have to listen.’
Ivan lets the wind talk in his ear for a minute, watching the trees nod and sigh.
‘They’re on his land. Our people are. Buried. Soiled.’
‘Literally, I take it?’
Ivan winces. ‘Your people are… under that soil? On his farm? I apologise if the question’s inappropriate, it’s just you must hate to have your people’s, er… remains… stuck over there?’
‘We don’t hate. That’s a word we can drop.’ Tiki pulls a long, deep breath into his belly, adjusts his stick. ‘Bein hateless is part of Nunuku’s Law. Covenant of peace. Still, though. Hard to think our people are buried under all that sheep shit and he won’t let us bury ‘em proper.’
‘Is there not a law allowing you to, er, how shall I say, retrieve your, er… remains?’
‘If there was, d’you think we’d have this fence here?’ Tiki toes the wire with his gumboot. ‘All this land ought to be ours. And here’s us, separated by imaginary lines on paper. He’s got ‘em in his lounge, you know. Pours whiskey into our people’s skulls and drinks out of them when he’s liquored up. Stands in the nude in front of that window of his, looking down onto the marae, sticking his ding-a-ling into – well, never mind. People’ve been disrespecting our koiwi for centuries. Grinding up the bones, putting it in mortar to glue their houses together. It’s the calcium in the bones, y’know. Mixed up with seashells. Any stone building you see out here, it’s our people holding em together.’
Ivan performs a quick calculation. Cement needs a calcium compound such as calcium phosphate to form a bond with silicon and iron ores, and the calcium hydroxylapatite of human bones combined with calcium carbonate from seashells would work sufficiently. What’s just been suggested is plausible, though obscene.
‘Would you like me to, how shall I s-say, intermuh-mediate?’
Tiki laughs. ‘We’ve been trying for two hundred years, son. If you can find a new approach, all power to you.’
Ivan fiddles with the straps of his backpack, slides his glasses to the top of his nose. ‘If it makes you feel any better, you have unrivalled accretions of scalenohedral crystals in your stone here!’ Ivan holds up a piece of sparkling schist.
‘Mate, if she’s not worth money, don’t get us excited,’ Tiki says, taking his belly off his stick and lumbering a few steps back towards the meeting house. ‘That ambergris whale-gold shit is the only thing that’ll pull us out of a hole, not that we’ve seen a speck in years… .’
‘Au contraire, if you don’t mind me s-saying, I thought I spotted some ambergris in the rubbish tip behind our friend’s house. I wonder if that explains his, er, reluctance, shall I say, to invite people onto his property.’
‘Reluctance, schmuctance. Old Derek’s just bitter cause his missus carked it and he ain’t got no famly, less you count his mutts.’
Ivan points to a pile of waste behind the house with brown chunks of what look like mud.
‘I can spot turbidite deposits a mile away, if you’ll permit a boast! I’d be happy to fetch the ambergris for you, sir?’
‘You wanna get munched up into berley, mate, be my guest. His dogs is always with him. Always.’ Tiki straightens up, pats Ivan’s shoulder hard enough that Ivan is almost knocked over with surprise. ‘Don’t go being a hero. Let sleeping dogs lie, son. What you got on this afternoon?’
Ivan pulls the itinerary from his pocket and unfolds it. ‘Viewing a collection of rare Chathams postage stamps. One to four pm.’
Tiki’s face brightens. ‘Attaboy. Stamps, yeah. Sounds like you.’
‘Whatchu reading for?’
At first Ivan doesn’t hear the question, hunched over his computer screen in the corner of the pub with a small pile of books walling his fortress. Outside the port hole windows, he can sense waves sweeping the beach, gravel shifting under tyres as Hilux trucks arrive and depart.
He realises the shadow darkening the pages of his text book is the minivan driver, Maureen, wearing a black apron this time, holding a plate. Moonlighting as a waitress.
‘Says whatchu reading for, Ivan?’
‘Sorry – yes! A Bill Hicks reference! Marvellous, marvellous, and here I was writing you off as uneducated!’
‘Beg ya pardon?’
Tamara the black-haired barmaid pauses midway through pouring a beer. She’s staring, listening. So are six other locals, half-turned on their barstools.
Ivan blinks ten times. ‘Sorry I was, er, just finishing up this spreadsheet. Hoping to give you guys some leads on where your upthrusted schist deposits are most likely to be found.’ Ivan closes the lid of his feather-thin Apple notebook. ‘One of the most muh-misunderstood types of rock, schist is.’
Minivan Maureen studies Ivan, her eyebrows wiggling.
‘I’m also curious as to whether you’ve conducted a survey of your sandstone deposits to determine where more of the Moriori, er, remains, as it were, might be located. I can help. All it requires is we tr-triangulate three dimensions of data and Bob’s your uncle, so to speak, er, acknowledging your uncle is actually Tiki, I apologise if I’ve mispronounced, er… anyway, I’m thinking of vuh-visiting the police station this afternoon? I’d be happy to testify?’
‘To bring the case to court. The theft. Of your people’s bones. That gentleman in the property next to Mr Tiki, he has your, how shall I say, koiwi? Skeletons?’
Maureen chews slowly as a cow. ‘Aw, that. Yeah, Tik told me you got your knickers in a twist. Nah, anything you can drag inside your private property you can keep out here, pretty much. Police don’t give a fuck.’
‘He was outside the hotel, this morning, picking up a case of b-beer, I spotted him, he had these two ugly dogs crammed in the passenger seat forming a wide beast with three heads like Cerberus. Greek mythology was one of my top ten favourite subjects at school, actually, yourself? In the world of Homer, one could leave home a n-nobody and return a hero and– ’
Minivan Maureen yanks out the chair beside Ivan and sits. ‘Settle an argument, Ive. You’re a bit of a Indiana Jones over in the big smoke. Right?’
‘Oh, me? Oh, no no no! No, Iiiiiiii archive the notable rocks brought in by the archaeologists at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, to be perfectly honest, they’re the real Indiana Joneses… er, Jonesii… .’
‘So tell us: who are ya in New Zealand, then?’
‘Well, er, in New Zealand, as you put it, I provide data analytics to the field of geological survey.’
‘What about Ivan on the island? We’re an hour ahead on the clock. Closest to the international date line. You can see yourself in the future. Everyone’s got a different persona on the island.’
‘Oh, I can assure you I’m the same person I left behind!’
‘Mate, lotta sofskins say that, but then they get here and… poosh. Old self washed away.’ Minivan Maureen collides her hands like waves crashing on rocks. ‘Oi, listen though: If you do wanna have a stab at getting our people back, go for gold.’
After knocking several times on Derek’s door, Ivan climbs a crayfish cage and peers in the window.
The laser-eyes of Derek surprise Ivan and he tumbles down into the grass, landing inches from cow pat.
The man’s pigdogs bellow and their chains tinkle as Derek lowers the dogs to within a metre of Ivan’s face. Hot fishy breath. Dripping drool.
‘PLEASE, please I’m so sorry, I’m-I’m-I’m here to make you a lot of muh-muh, er… money?’
Derek stares for long seconds before snorting and spitting.
‘Gold, coal or oil? Fuckin oil, presumably. You wouldn’t be the first.’
‘Ambergris. The world’s most valuable wax, I-I-I n-n-noticed you had some, er, some lumps in your, your-your-your gravel pit, it looks like dirty rocks, grey, yes, grey and black. Fatty, waxy lumps. Around the back of your house.’
‘Been snoopin on my property, have ya?’
Ivan wipes dust and grit out of his eyes with a knuckle. ‘I just, just, just couldn’t help but notice, when I was on tour here, over the fence, I just, it’s, um, ambergris is worth $10,000 an ounce. I’m not lying, it-it’s-it’s a fixative, um, it’s an essential part of high-end perfume and-and-and you can s-sell it.’
‘Show us then, Four Eyes.’
Ivan leads Derek and the dogs through a wasteland of charcoal and burnt bones and paua shells. A black pigskin hangs upside down from the washing line, bristly as a black doormat.
They arrive at the ambergris.
‘What ones are worth money then?’
‘These.’ Ivan holds a tennis ball-sized lump of black wax against the sky. Derek snatches it from Ivan’s grasp immediately.
‘I can estimate their-their-their purity, if you like.’
Derek nudges Ivan’s bottom with his steel-tipped boot. ‘Go on then. Back up the house.’
They climb the hillside then Derek mounts the deck and opens the ranchslider with his knee. The dogs chase him inside and make circles in the kitchen.
‘Feed em these,’ Derek says, toeing a sack of Champ ShinyCoat. He unfurls the waxy laminated bag of dog biscuits, reaches in and retrieves two of the hard, smelly brown triangles. The dogs’ skulls bob up and down, headbutting Ivan’s stomach. As Ivan cowers against the fridge, the dogs each seize a biscuit then scamper into some distant room.
‘Champ ShinyCoat’s like vanishing cream to them fuckers. Makes ‘em disappear like magic.’
Ivan is barely listening. He’s stunned by the human skulls perched on the deer antlers over the fireplace. Teeth and jaws and beige bone fragments on a pile of junk mail on the kitchen table. A skull painted in red, green and yellow Rastafarian stripes with cigarette butts in it. A bucket of coal and firelighters mixed with various bones of someone’s hand – scaphoid, capitate bones… two metacarpals, no, three. Tiny distal phalanges.
‘You plan on eating one yourself do ya, ya queer cunt.’
‘How-how d’you mean?’
‘Dog biscuits. What else you hangin inside my house for?’ Derek tosses his $18,000 lump of ambergris up and down in his palm like a tennis ball.
‘I beg your p-pardon, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten… I w-wasn’t staring at your bones. I promise.’
Derek stomps over to the door and holds it open.
‘Cheers for the help, egghead. Fuck off, now.’
Friday’s activity is the Butterfly Pond, a dune lake with a rope safety barrier.
They rest on benches every hundred metres. Thermoses of hot tea are poured into mugs of milk with patterns of wildflowers. Everybody wears a wide-brimmed hat. Ivan lingers at the back of the queue, anxious not to look like he’s racing too fast.
‘You remind me of my son,’ Gladys tells Ivan, ‘He died of spina bifida. Not hard enough for this world, he was. Soft as a pansy.’
At 2.30, the tour party drives over to Linda Hokotehi’s house where the Boggle Party is to begin. As the van wobbles 500 metres down the dirt driveway, Ivan eyes the Emergency Stop handle, wishing he had the guts to pull it and get out and hike into the wild. At Petal Gardens there is a 4.30pm entrée of soup and rolls which everyone agrees tastes divine, followed by supper, speeches, Mah Jong and plum pudding.
Midway through nodding over a debate about the best brand of easy-open grip glove, Ivan abruptly pushes his chair back and stands up. He has an excuse prepared about feeling queasy, asking to be excused, needing to lie down.
Instead, he strides towards the exit, peels aside the sliding door and walks down to the minivan, where Maureen is dozing behind the driver wheel.
She wakes with a gasp.
Ivan asks Minivan Maureen how much it will cost him to be dropped at 1010 Croons Road. He throws a hundred dollar note towards the front of the cab, which seems like something a person with courage would do. A person with courage asks Maureen to stop at the grocery store. A person with courage buys a bag of dog biscuits.
Champ ShinyCoat. The ones which make dogs disappear.
Ivan knocks three times on Derek’s door. Six knocks. Ten.
Ivan thinks of his future, thinks of Indiana Jones, thinks about the sedimentary topography of Derek’s property, sloping down to the ocean’s gnashing mouth, how the incline of the land makes it easier to slide a boat down into deep indigo water.
That’s presumably where Derek is now. Out fishing. Please, God, let him stay out there.
Ivan mounts the steps, thrusts the backpack off his shoulders, reaches in and pulls out a pair of brown triangles. He folds the door handle. The dogs leap at Ivan’s hand. He drops the biscuits, squawks, falls back.
When he dares to look up, look in, the dogs have disappeared into some distant bedroom to devour their snack.
The innards of Derek’s lair are waiting for him to enter.
Ivan puts his foot inside. The kitchen reeks of something offensive and yellow. Formaldehyde, preservative, woodsmoke, diesel, cigarettes.
In his head, Ivan rehearses his excuse, if caught. His spiel. If surprised, he will provide Derek advice on which parts of the ambergris lump to shave to make it sufficiently photogenic for buyers on the Antwerp minerals exchange. Some lie like that, after which he’ll probably be shot and fed to the dogs. Ho hum. Better than Boggle.
Ivan finds himself three metres deep inside Derek’s house. Four, now, six, eight. A long way to come back from. Impossible to explain if ambushed.
The door slams shut and a dragonfly of fear buzzes in his throat.
There is an 84% probability Derek is nearby, and a 50% chance he’ll receive physical violence if he is spotted in the house. Ivan walks to the northern end of the lounge and peers out into the endless backyard.
Where the slope dissolves into rocks and foam, a man is climbing a ladder onto a pier. He’s hauling up… an orange bucket? Paua in an orange bag? Guns and rods, too, it looks like.
Cripes. Derek’s ATV quad bike roars to life, 300 metres down the hill. Maybe as few as 250 metres.
Ivan unzips his backpack hurriedly then grabs every bone he can see, painted jawbones, half-crushed, dusty ribs, long tibia mixed in with cooking utensils in the greasy kitchen. The Protection of Biological Remains Heritage Act 1987 section 16, article 4 states in no uncertain terms that anyone failing to report the discovery of archaic human remains will face a fine of up to $250,000 or two years imprisonment. The femur lying beside the dogs’ dishes could earn Derek a prosecution under the Burial and Cremations Act 1964. The ashtray skull painted rasta colours is in breach of the Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga Act 2014. And the jawbone nailed to the wall under antlers and a pig skull… .
Ivan grabs person after person. Remains from ten adult individuals, at least, perhaps eleven. A tin filled with cannabis buds and teeth – he opens the pocket of his cargo pants, tips the teeth in.
Derek is closer than 100 metres now, motoring up his hillside, then 80 metres, then 60, when Ivan zips his backpack shut, steps back out onto the front doorstep.
40 metres. 39, 38. Ivan can hear the bike clearly. The two heads of Cerberus emerge from the bedroom. They wheeze, asking Ivan a question. Ivan is about to toss them a second biscuit each when boots tread on his eardrums.
Whistling. From the opposite end of the house, a man is saying ‘Fugger.’
20 metres. 19, 18.
Derek is on the rear deck, stomping, muttering curses, chinkling his keys.
Ivan doesn’t have time to close the door.
Clutching his backpack against his chest like a newborn baby, he turns and runs.
‘You done good, son. You done good.’
In the bar of the Hotel Chathams, Black Tiki Solomon and Minivan Maureen and Tamara From The Bar and twenty miscellaneous Moriori are poring over the bones Ivan has produced from his backpack and lain on the tabletop. The windows are steamed white. The forecourt is littered with 4×4 trucks.
Ivan is still panting, eating chunks of air, out of breath, resting his hands on his knees, wild-eyed, trying to shrug off the compliments and praise and thanks and kisses on the cheek when a buzzing, sawing sound arrives.
Arfing. Chinking chains. Angry thuds in the hall.
A man kicks the door open. Icy wind pours into the pub. Derek parks his dogs in the foyer, struts into the centre of the pub floor.
‘YOU.’ Derek’s eyes are wet with rage. The crowd has parted. Ivan is on his own.
‘Been up to my house, have ya, Nerd Boy?’
Ivan looks at Tiki with drowning eyes.
Derek pokes Ivan’s shoulder with a finger hard as a steel bolt. ‘IT’S RUDE NOT TO LOOK AT PEOPLE WHEN THEY’RE TALKING TO YA. D’YOU STEAL MY FUCKIN BONES, DID YA?’
Ivan licks his lips, swallows. Tries to think up a response that won’t get him punched.
Black Tiki Solomon, standing straight as a fence post, holding two skulls, fills his chest with air and moves in front of Ivan. Minivan Maureen positions herself beside him. Now Derek has two people to beat up. A shape in a tight-fitting black t-shirt, Tamara, moves out from behind the bar, elbows through the crowd and stands at the sides of her granddad and grandmother. They’re joined by a man in an oilskin coat clutching a spiky crayfish. A painter in splattered overalls joins them, and some Afro’d teens in basketball singlets, and five more. John McGraw, ONZM, has never seen so many Moriori together. He snaps a photo.
Derek, surrounded, looks for an escape. A final pair of Moriori builders stand behind him, folding their arms so the muscles expand. One holds a hammer, the other a prying bar.
A voice cuts through the crowd. Tiki Solomon, holding a skull against his ear.
‘So that’s what you want us to do with him, okay, mm, yup,’ he mutters. He’s talking with the skull of his ancestor. ‘Right-o. Okay.’
The mob parts so that Tiki can walk up and put his nose under Derek’s chin. Derek’s back is against the wall. He bumps the 1992 Surfcasters Masters trophy and it falls from its hook, dangling. He looks over his shoulder for a way out, finds none.
‘For two hundred years, we’ve held a vow of peace lain down by Nunuku, boy. We ain’t about to fuck our traditions up for the likes of you.’
Tiki’s arm shoots out from his side.
Derek winces, raises his hands slightly.
Tiki is pointing at the door.
‘On your bike, son.’
Derek splutters. He gets two half-threats out, but can’t form a whole. He stomps out of the pub, revs his ATV and rumbles away. The pigdogs chase him up the street.
Crusty tentacles creep inside Ivan’s fingers. It’s Minivan Maureen. She’s squeezing his hand and whispering ‘Thank you.’
Tomorrow at 2, Ivan will board his flight out of here. He’ll return to his apartment, his train, his cubicle, his mug in the staff kitchen with his name on it. He’ll run database queries. He’ll write reports. Back on the mainland, he’ll be a wuss. A cowardly blubbering jellyfish. But until then, he’ll be something else. He’ll be Ivan on the Island.
The slow, limping gaggle of Moriori fetch spades, shovels, trowels, buckets. They descend the promenade and walk onto the beach one by one, wind whipping their hair. They each carry a jaw, a skull, a fibula or clavicle. They head towards the sand dunes in a tight procession, single file, following Black Tiki Solomon and the big pale man whose hand he holds.
As they walk, they begin to sing.