Hitting the road
As soon as we’re out of Auckland, I can’t keep my eyes away from the landscape. I’m mesmerized, there’s green hills that roll without end only interrupted by patches of pastures growing wild on the side of the road. There’s thousands of cows and other farm animals, and I can see the reflection of my smile on the window as we go past another herd of sheep.
My hands are sitting on the ledge of the window, my forehead resting against it, and I can feel the coldness of the glass almost touching my nose.
It’s a little surreal being here. I imagined this moment for months, and reality is so much more vivid than anything I envisioned. The insecurities about both of the shocking news from yesterday still linger in my mind, but I’m doing my best not to worry about neither. Tane seems like an alright guy, so I guess that one worked out okay, and there’s nothing I can do about my grandfather's inheritance yet.
I try to stop myself by keeping my hands fisted for a while, but I can’t, a minute after I thought about the inheritance, I take my phone out and open up my emails.
Mum’s email is sitting right there at the top, unopened. I can see various attachments, so I click on it. There’s a short message from mum telling me to enjoy the trip, that she loves me and hopes this doesn’t bother me, and then there’s a few spreadsheets and documents.
I open up the first one, and find a transcription of the will. As I read the title, I realise I never even asked mum about my grandfather's name. Does that make me a bad person? Should I care for someone that I never knew? There are so many mixed feelings inside of me as I read, but I try to keep to the things I’m good with; so I collect the facts.
Grandad’s name was Mikaere Kauri Tutaki.
He got married at the age of 23 to a woman named Ani Newea Wihone.
A couple of years later, Mikaere and Ani had a son: Morris Iaka Tutaki.
It states my father’s date of birth, and also the date of passing.
Reading the dates makes me feel a bit queasy, so I put my phone away, deeming that enough information for one day.
We’ve been driving in silence for a while, and silence is not my thing, so I start playing around with some music. I change from the chilled background music we have at the moment to my sing along playlist. I look around for a minute until I find the song I was going for.
I’m hoping this will cheer Sam up a bit. After the chat at the cafe, we went for a good walk together around the city, and she told me about the conversation she had with her mother. She seemed a bit upset with the news at first, she said it was too much responsibility and she was scared, but she hadn’t even looked at what the assets were yet. I took her out for a coffee and cake to cheer her up, and that seemed to do the trick. I think she actually really enjoyed walking around the city, going up the Sky Tower and then up Mount Eden, I know I did.
As soon as the song starts, I feel a little excitement, but Sam’s looking out the window, and I don’t think she’s noticed it yet. I start humming along, and as soon as the chorus nears, I start singing louder and louder.
“Like the moooon,” I sing at my full potential, making Sam laugh in the back seat.
The music is blasting through the stereo now, and I have the window rolled down, my hair dancing in the wind, my arm dangling out of the car and tapping the door at the rhythm of the song. I lift my bare feet and pop them on top of the dashboard as I keep singing and bobbing my head.
“Remember the winter, when we weren’t able to move like we used to, but we never change,” I turn around and look at Sam again as the singer keeps on going with a long ‘no’. “That’s the essence of us,” I sing, a smile tugging on my lips, teasing Sam. She smiles back and joins in, surprising me by singing her heart out in front of Tane. But why wouldn’t she? This is our song.
“We’re the one thing we don’t fuck up!” We both laugh, huge grins on our faces as we keep on singing. “That’s the essence of us, everything else we leave erupts!”
I turn back around to look at the road, and I see Tane glancing at the rear-view mirror, a little smile tugging the corners of his lips up.
“I’ve got another one!” I say as I look through the list. A few moments later, I’m singing as loud as I can.
“And a thousand times I’ve seen this road…”
“A thousand times…” Sam joins in.
“I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground,” we sing together. “I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground.”
“I’ve got no ro-oo-oo-ts,” I sing alone, and we are both laughing again.
“I’ve got no ro-oo-oo-ts,” Sam mimics, and then we both crack up laughing.
There's nothing in this world, that's brighter than my best friends laugh.
After a bit more singing, I turn the volume down and find some nice background music.
“So, Tane,” I say after a while. “Tell us, what was your plan for this trip?”
“Oh,” he glances quickly at me. “As I told you yesterday, there’s some family business I have to attend here and there… and I thought I’ll do a roadtrip while I was at it.”
“Where exactly did you plan to head to?” I ask as I shift my body to face him.
“Hm,” he seems to ponder for a moment before answering. “I was actually going to head to the beach first, so agreeing to your itinerary wasn’t hard in that sense, Coromandel sounds as good as any other beach to me,” he replies with a little one shoulder shrug.
“Oh, that’s perfect! But, it’s Sam’s itinerary, not mine.”
He glances at the mirror once more, and I look at Sam through the corner of my eye just in time to see her look up at the mirror, and then back down to the floor.
“Is it?” Tane asks.
“Yes, Sam is the big organiser here, I’m more like a free spirit, I just like to play along and see what happens, seek adventure, you know,” I wink, but his eyes are back on the road and I don’t think he notices. “Are you an adventurer, Tane?” I add after he doesn’t reply.
“Oh, I don’t know…” He looks thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe I am,” he says after a while. “Why did you come over to my country, anyways?” He asks, turning the questions our way.
I look at Sam, and she shakes her head ever so slightly, letting me know with just one look that she doesn’t want him knowing about her family dramas.
“Just holidays!” I say. “We thought, ehm, it was time for a good… adventure!” I say after a moment's pause, and I wonder how fake that sounded. I hope not too much, I don’t know why I mumbled so badly, I’m normally better than that at lying.
We keep talking for a while, me and Tane that is, as Sam leans over the window again without saying a word, and she seems to drift off.
I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I can tell I’m dreaming the moment I realise I’m sitting in the backyard of my childhood home. I’m covered in dirt and dust, but I don’t care. I feel small. My back’s against the wall, my short legs and feet stretched in front of me. They look tiny. I look down at my hands and notice their size too. I’m probably a child. I kind of remember this spot from when I was little.
There’s a line of five cypresses running along the wall, their trunks all twisted, and their green leaves sheltering me from the Sun. I used to come here all the time when I was 5 or 6 years old during my kindie years… I had completely forgotten about it.
I hear footsteps approaching and look up.
“Sammy, what are you doing there?” It's my mum, she looks younger but somehow the same.
“I’m waiting for him,” I hear myself say in a tone that sounds like a whisper. It’s a sweet, innocent and childish voice.
“Who are you waiting for, darling?” She asks.
I look at my hands, and the dirt in them turns red. I look up, and my mum is gone, a dense forest around me now. I look back down, and there’s blood in my hands.
“Sam,” I feel a hand shaking my shoulder lightly and I open my eyes.
“Oh, wow, did I fall asleep?” I say in a rough voice.
“Yeah,” says Em with a chuckle. ”You’ve been asleep for like an hour, we’re almost there, but we’re stopping to eat something. Come, let’s go sit outside,” she adds as she nudges me on the shoulder.
I roll my neck and rub my eyes. Then I peek out of the window, and find that we’re parked up on a little grass field, a wooden picnic table set under a tree. Tane is already there, and I watch as he unwraps a pie, neatly folds the plastic wrapper and puts it in his pocket. I open up the door and jump off the car, then follow Em towards the table.
“Did you have a good sleep?” asks Tane with a smirk as I sit down. Oh my, my cheeks flush and I look down, hoping I wasn’t drooling again. I grab the pie that Em is handing me and start unwrapping it as I speak.
“Yeah, it was alright.”
“Emma was telling me that you’ve been great friends since you met, is that right?”
I look up at him while I take a big bite, I’m famished. The filling is made out of chicken and apricot sauce, and it’s so delicious that I need to make an effort not to moan and end up looking like a complete weirdo. My mouth is so full, I only nod and half smile as a way of response.
I can tell Tane is trying not to laugh, and I can imagine I probably look terrible, with sauce dripping over my chin and pastry crumbs all over my face. So I look back down and concentrate on my food. My brain’s still a bit foggy and I’m always grumpy when someone wakes me up, so I’m not in the mood for conversation.
“The best of friends actually,” Em says after a little silence, “Since that day I saw Sam in the classroom for the first time and told her she looked like a diluted cup of hot chocolate.” I look at Em with wide eyes, my mouth still full. Oh my God, why would she tell that story?! Not all people of color are happy to be compared with a piece of chocolate! I’m so used to Em’s comments, I know she means no harm, but sometimes I wish she'd think before talking.
“Oh, really?” Tane says, and to my surprise, he sounds amused.
“Yeah, not quite perfect though,” says Em in a cheeky tone. “I like my chocolate even darker, stronger.”
With that, I completely lose it. My mouth is so full that I choke as I half laugh, half gasp. The crumbs from the pastry tickle my throat as I do, which sends me into a coughing fit that I don’t seem to be able to stop. I can hear Em’s laugh as she tries to apologize, but my eyes start to water, so I lean down on the side of the table. I rest my elbows on my thighs and drop my head almost between my knees as I keep coughing. My throat is itchy and sore from forcing myself to swallow the food too fast so I wouldn't spit it all over the place. My chest’s starting to burn.
I feel a warm hand on my shoulder, and a bottle of water appears in my line of sight. I grab it and take a sip, closing my eyes to concentrate on my breathing. Once I manage to calm the itch a bit, I take another gulp of water, and feeling better after what feels like an eternity, I wipe the tears off my eyes and open them.
Wow. I find Tane’s face 10 centimeters away from mine.
“Are you okay?,” he asks.
His hand is still resting on my shoulder, its warmth sweeping through my sweater and into my skin. His eyes are looking right into mine, and he’s close, so close, that I almost forget how to breathe. The words won’t come out, so I just nod a little. But he keeps staring at me, so I push all my will power into my lips.
“I’m okay, thanks,” I manage to say in a small and strangled voice.
He seems satisfied with that, so he rests a hand on my knee to push himself upwards, and then walks around the table back to his seat. Em apologises again, looking at me wide eyed, and then we keep eating. The conversation resumes after a minute, but I can’t pry my mind away from the memory of Tane’s hand resting on my shoulder... And then my knee. My skin still feels warm under his touch.
I nod and smile when it seems appropriate, but I don’t really listen to the conversation around me until we get up to return to the car.
“Do you want to ride shotgun?” Em asks. “I can go in the back for a while, Tane said he’s happy to keep driving.”
“Oh, no, no,” I say, maybe a tad too quickly. “It’s fine, you go at the front, I’ll stay in the back.”
I open the back door and jump in.
The drive to Coromandel isn’t too long, only three hours including a few stops on the way, and I highly enjoyed the ride, the music, and the company. After having some proper lunch in town, I drove us around a few beaches and got to enjoy the views around the amazing peninsula.
This trip is already proving to be everything I hoped for.
As we drive towards another beach in the afternoon, trying to see as much as possible of the peninsula, a random thought crosses my mind.
“Hey Tane, do you have accommodation booked for tonight? I can’t believe we didn’t discuss this earlier.” I say, turning my head a little to look at him on the passenger seat.
“Oh, it’s okay, I planned on camping, I have a tent and everything I need, so wherever you’re staying, I’ll just find a place to camp nearby.”
I jump a little on my seat, excited, and glance over the mirror at Sam… Who’s looking at me poker faced. I raise an eyebrow, silently asking her a question, and then I look back to the road as we take a curve. The good thing about having a friend for so long, is that you don’t need words to communicate.
I look back up, and Sam opens her eyes wide, staring at me. I raise both my eyebrows a little bit higher, and then I glance at Tane quickly. I look back at the road, take another turn, and then look back at Sam. She rolls her eyes. I win!
All that happens in a matter of seconds, while I can feel Tane’s eyes on the road as he pretends he doesn't realise what’s going on. Or maybe he really doesn’t.
“Would you like to stay with us?,” I ask him, my attention back to the front. “We’ve booked a little house right by the beach at Whangapoua and it has two bedrooms, me and Sam are used to sharing a double bed, so you can have the other room.”
I look at Tane through the corner of my eye, expectant, my toes wiggling inside my shoes. He looks at me for a second, and then I see him looking at the rear-view mirror.
“That would be great for me, if that’s okay with both of you,” he says.
“Yes!” I yelp. “This will be so good!”