Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Chapter 35: Longest Day II




Davey and Amos returned, flushed and warm to nestle into their mother.  Elle stroked their hair and praised their efforts.  It was Ruthie and Nola’s turn.  They ran hand in hand to the far field goal where Ihaka had carried over a large crate.  Miles began dispensing pairs of sticks from the crate – they must be rakau.  The senior schoolers took their staffs and formed two parallel lines, facing each other. 

“Is Nola already 10?”  Neith asked Elle – she’d heard Ripeka outline the age group for the next event.  Neith hadn’t thought Nola was a senior.

“No!  No.  She’s seven.  But she spends plenty of time at the senior practises, tagging along with her dad.” 

On Miles’ signal, the lines of (mostly) seniors threw and caught their sticks in time to a chant – knocking their sticks in front, sending sticks sailing, catching incoming sticks, and tapping their sticks to the ground.  It took Neith’s breath away.  She’d never been a part of anything like this either.  The group had obviously rehearsed the item, and she could see Elle’s pride in her daughter and niece – perhaps others.  How many of these children had Elle delivered, she wondered?

Neith realised the children’s anticipation of Longest Day was not only tied up in the day off school and other work – as Ulysses had pointed out – but the coming together.  Everyone was here.  She supposed the birth party had offered similar, and again felt overwhelmed to know the Snows and Flynns had returned to be with her instead of staying longer at the party. 

Neith joined in applauding the performers and watched Ruthie help Ihaka gathering in the rakau.  Davey called to his “La.”  She came to his call.  Miles saw Nola had run back to be with the Snows.  Miles became visibly mired in the dry field for a moment, then tucked in his chin and walked towards his daughter.  Towards Neith.

“This should be interesting.”  Elle muttered under her breath.


Ripeka was back on the megaphone.  Jamin pointed to the adults around the fringe.  It appeared interested soccer players indicated as much by standing or putting up their hand.  Jamin was numbering them off.  Ripeka briefly reactivated the megaphone to announce “ones” were to come to her end, “twos” were to go down to Jamin’s. 

None of the Snows or Flynns made a move for soccer.  Nola was saying something to Miles about how tired she was of being patronised.  “She uses baby words, when she talks to us.  It’s so annoying!”  Who did?  Neith hoped Nola wasn’t talking about her.  Nola’s complaint-string stopped mid-sentence.  “Papa!” Nola was shaking Miles. 

“Hmmm?” 

Nola pointed at Jamin, who was standing mid-field pointing at Miles.  Miles waved him away dismissively, and Neith added mental subtitles; Miles: You go ahead without me – I only just stopped running around.  Then Jamin did an action that looked like reloading a big gun in an action movie; cha-chuck.  Was this Nydia humour?  Threatening people if they didn’t play?  Neith realised Jamin was asking for the stack of coloured sashes Miles was wearing, not sending a violent warning a second before Miles did.  “Oh.”  Miles stood and jogged over to join Jamin.  He pulled the sashes up over his head and sorted them into two colour piles between his fingers.  Neith attempted to ignore his shoulders throughout this process.  Jamin put an arm on one of them and spoke softly to him.  Miles nodded, then joined Jamin in dispensing green sashes – returning one across his own frame.  Miles was in.  Ripeka had come to claim the red bands and took them back to her team, opposite.

Both teams huddled briefly near their end-goals. Neith smirked at the sight.  Ihaka was on the red team, whose goal was closer to where Neith and the Snow family sat. 

Miles, for all his protestations, appeared to be speaking the most within the clump of green team players.  Neith continued to smirk. 

Eleven a side, they fanned out to face each other, much like the rakau display had begun.  Rosa’s husband came to take the whistle from Ripeka.  Neith decided he must be the referee.  He wound its cord into a ball, and put it and both hands behind his back.  Jamin came forward to join Ripeka, jostling her once before planting a kiss on her temple. Jamin and Ripeka pointed to a concealed hand each.  The new father presented his hands to their view. The whistle flashed reflected sunlight in the open palm of the hand Ripeka had chosen.  Jamin bowed politely and returned to his team.  Ripeka returned to hers, scooping up the ball that had been resting centrefield.  Back with her red-sashed band, she placed the ball on the ground.  She eyed up a trajectory and kicked it skyward.  Both sides exploded with energy.  Another game had begun.

Neith had watched some archived sports matches, but the City she knew lacked enough players in the right demographic to sustain professional sport.  She knew Wilson played some kind of Frisbee at The Green with his tower buddies, but once again, Longest Day was presenting something new for Neith to see. 

This was a community like none she had ever known.  And everyone was here, and seemed united and interested in each other and what was going on.  No one was dragging fishing nets, no one was felling or planting trees, sheering sheep, pressing cheese, or sewing.  No one’s strong shoulders were taking school.  It was Longest Day. 

Neith briefly closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun’s rays on her lids, which were bright orange inside.  She would love to see more Longest Days.  She loved that no one here was casting this – everyone they cared about was enjoying it alongside them.

Wait, where was Koro?  She couldn’t see him anywhere, and felt sure he would have joined the Snow-Flynn band, had he been in attendance.  “Where’s Koro?”  She’d asked Elle.  It seemed a fair question.

“Milking.  The cows don’t know that it’s Longest Day.”  Ah.

Neith returned her attention to the game.  She noticed Ihaka had taken it upon herself to mark Miles.  Tai was on-field and aggressively dribbling towards the green’s goal.  Miles signalled he was open.  Tai carried on. He sent the ball into the top corner of the net, out of the reach of the goalie – a man sporting a pony tail.  Backslaps abounded.  Father-ref blew the whistle and the Goalie-Pony kicked the ball back into play from there, the game resuming.  Neith watched Tai.  She couldn’t blame him for his hostility towards her.  If she had lost someone here – her eyes flicked to Elle, then Amos – who was sitting on her shoe asking Neith to bounce him – she’d be riled too.  But Miles didn’t act that way. 

Neith said, “Okaaay,” slid Amos off of her foot onto the grass, crossed her legs, and jiggled the foot – now dangling in the air.  Amos took her hands like reins and climbed back onto her foot while she bounced her suspended leg.

One more day of justifiably-riled looks. 

One more day of bouncing curls.

Then unknown.

Neith heard a disturbance to the usual shouts of names and “nice ones” and looked up.  A small group of players were in a tight hug?  No, Jamin peeled some banded players off of the mass to reveal Tai and Miles at the centre of some kind of clash.  Miles had one arm braced over his head, the other pushing outwards on Tai’s chest.  Tai pressed on through Jamin, leaning inwards until reaching Miles and driving his hands into him one last time, before backing off,

“What just happened?”  Neith turned to Elle, who was having her hair plaited by Nola. 

“I don’t know either.”

“Aren’t they in the same team?” 

“Yeah.”  Elle looked worried. 

Neith saw Tai’s wife and the first game’s hawk sharing the same concern.  The woman was waving Tai over, motioning for him to sit down.  He dismissed her with a push of the air.  Jamin looked back and forth between Tai and Miles with a shrug of his hands.  Miles lowered his head and excused himself from the game.  He came and sat on the bench next to the Snows and his daughter.  Nola dropped her braid-work and came to sit beside him.

“Papa, what happened?”

“Never mind.  Sport gets everyone’s adrenaline pumping hard, is all.” 

Elle looked back at Tai on the field. Her eyes argued with Miles’ dismissal.  She didn’t think that was all that had happened.

Nola leaned onto her dad, then leaned away. “You’re sweaty.”

Miles pulled her into a hug. “Thanks!”  The pair laughed.

The game continued without incident until the reds – who had one player up on Miles’ old team, Neith noted – emerged victorious.  Miles went back onto the field and shook hands with the other team. Ihaka placed both hands over Miles’ one when they met.

Maybe she was part of the complicated.  Maybe things would be just fine if Neith left the field.

Neith managed to spend all of the shared lunch and afternoon kayaking race with the Snow family.  She exchanged zero words with Miles Flynn and zero looks with Tai – she hadn’t even seen the latter since the game ended.

Nola had whispered a one-word apology over the midday meal, and they’d since talked about the rakau display and which boy Nola thought was cutest.  Seeing Nola’s face when Miles came back to find her on the old phone had been enough for Neith to know – the girl hadn’t intended to hurt anybody; there was nothing to forgive.

After the boat race, the next event needed no announcement.  Old and young alike began peeling off outer layers and running, high-legged for the beach and into the waves.  They splashed or swam while the littlest ones stayed with the non-swimmers, building in (sometimes eating) the sand.  Ripeka sat on the dock as an additional watch for the swimmers.  Elle’s face was a combination of sadness and yearning.  Seeing this, Neith offered, “Elle, you can go.  I’ll stay with Amos.”

Elle looked to her.  “I think it might be good.  It’s been more than two years.”  Neith knew Elle didn’t mean how long it had been since she had been swimming. 

“Go.” 

Elle called to Davey and ran for the water.  Davey squealed and ran to his mother.  Ruthie looked over from where she was splashing and stood still for a moment.  She looked at her mother, then to Neith back on shore, and then resumed splashing a group of boys unknown to Neith.

Elle was laughing.  Out, with everyone. 

Meanwhile, Amos was with Neith.  He’d expressed his dislike for the cold, rushing waves earlier.  Neith was surprised, since nothing else had seemed to deter the kid – he was fearless. 

She took in his sand-coated bare feet, his hands digging a trench, his mouth working as well – as though guiding his efforts.  She tried to memorise everything about the moment.  Nola had joined Ruthie in the splash fest.  Jimmy was trying to get Nola’s attention, and Davey was trying to get Jimmy’s.  Jamin, referee-Dad, and a handful of others were returning with their laden arms, from the hall – carrying all of the bowls and dishes families had delivered that morning.   Another group were firing up barbeques and laying buffet tables in the shade of the kayak racks. 

It was magical. 

Take it all in, Cole.  Take it all in.


<<Chapter 34: Longest Day I                             Chapter 36: Longest Day Evening>>