Au e ihu, Short Story by Potaua

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First breath. My brain could sense a small wash of light breaking into the room. Though I wanted to drop back into my vivid dream, my eyes were slowly opening. Must be time to wake up. Tihei mauri ora.

He piko taku tinana. Time to stretch and reach out long, yawning again and shaking my body awake. I love a good moe. It was winter here in California, which is kind of deceiving as a cool day here is similar to a warm day back in Rotorua. Our whanau were visiting on holiday , staying with the inlaws for a few weeks. E tama, I could feel last nights taco wanting to make a hasty exit.

Kei te horoi taku tinana. You know, the water smelt and tasted different here. It’s not the same as the fresh spring water of Awahou or Okere but Los Osos could easily be Maketu. To a city slicker like me, this place always felt like it only had 2 gears and even then, no one really sped. It was so dry here and the leaves looked winterly brown, if there at all.

Into the lounge I dragged my sleepy self, noticing that no one else was around. Left home alone. Again. Aue.

With a glass of iron-tasting water, it seemed best to head out into the backyard and grab a few more winks under the warm winter sun. Ko mangere au ktk.

It had been a sad time in the lead up to leaving Aotearoa.

Our Koro Dutch had passed away a couple years back and his hura kohatu brought back many painful memories. He was our chief, a man of quiet authority who worked his entire life to ensure our whanau, hapu and marae did more than just survive.

We all remembered his stories of growing up in Waimana, the cows, the many hours out milking, the long journeys to far away lands with his Haahi, learning from his tupuna, the old school Maori. To us, he was the last link to the 20th century our whanau had. In sadness, I sang an old waiata that he had been taught by his uncles who had served in world war 2.

“Aue e ihu…tirohia….arohaina, iho ra…” The words lifted slowly from my throat into the floating clouds above. A few birds stopped to rest in a tree, cawing as ravens do. Having just woken up, I couldn’t be sure why I had started singing. Still, once started, it’s better to finish. That’s my motto.

“Whakaania, ake au….i too uma, piri ae…”

And then we invisibly went into the call & response chorus, in which Koro Dutch would take lead, and I would echo his mournful repose.

“I te wa/I te wa…he ake ai/he ake ai…enei na/enei na…ru kino nei/ru kino nei…I te wa/I te wa…e keri ae/e keri ai…enei na/enei na…whakaaha mai…whakaha mai…”

I stopped suddenly.

My tears flowed faster than the rays of sun that sharply shone upon my cheeks. Each breath shook in my chest as it sucked my words away. Sad. So sad to know that the last time I had heard this song was in Te Teko at the marae when he and some of his old tohunga mates sat and sang. My head bowed.

“Aaaaaaaamine” came the last words drifting from my now uncontrollable upper body.

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

What the?

“Howdy neighbour” came a voice from the other side of the fence. “How ya doing?”

“Umm”. Speechless.

“My name is John and I couldn’t help but hear that there song you were just singing”.

“Ahhh”. Again, speechless.

“By chance, are you a Mowri from Nuuu Zeaaaalaaand?”

Not being sure if I had heard that right, my politeness kicked in and I apologised. “Excuse me?”

“Well Sir” the voice from the other side of the fence continued “…that song. I once heard it many years ago, in a land far away, in darker days than these.”

Wiping away tears, I raised my head and spoke up, “ae, I’m Maori and yes, I am from New Zealand”.

No sooner had the words left my lips when a large hairy strong white hand came shooting through a small gap of the fence. Timidly, my shaking tattooed Maori hand matched his and we shook. Well, more he shook mine as my surprised limp hand just wriggled.

“You see son – just moments after we broke out of some near-death Nazi encirclement in the desert back in world war 2, some of your boys stood as one and sang that song over our my buddies” my neighbour said with a enunciated sharp bass American tone.

“We fought in Cypress, then again in Libya, before all heading into Berlin – and for the life of me, that one song, well I can hear it clearly being sung in beautiful harmonies above the whizz of bullets and the explosion of bombs overhead”.

Third time in the same day when I was speechless.

“Well, we found ourselves surrounded by a cunning German Field Marshall called Rommell – the Desert Fox, some called him, and his damned Panzer tanks” came the affirmative tone.

“..and as we made our way out of the sticky predicament we found ourselves in” he drawled, “…with the Brits running one way, the Aussies hauling into another direction and us running along with your boys” he recalled.

“Now what caught my attention was that some of your kiwi soldiers were dancing and poking out their tongues during the entire way during and after the break and then, subsequently into a fierce hand to hand battle we all had to get messy on”.

My heart spiked. He’s describing a haka. He pukana. It could only be my Koro’s. The famous 28th. The Maori battalion.

“So” he continued “…we ran and ran, arriving in a small town after many hours, collapsing with heat exhaustion, dropping our buddies who had been shot, falling over ourselves to find a bit of shelter” he said in quick succession.

“And then as we ran about shouting and panicking, a beautiful melodic choir could be heard above the din of war and the screams, and as I turned to see who had turned the radio on, we all witnessed something beautiful – we could see your Mowri troops all lined up into rows, with heads bowed to the ground, singing like angels, over my fallen friends”.

It was then when I realised that he was now crying on the other side of the fence. His sobs were similar to my own.

His hand held loosely on to the simple fence.

My wairua the moved me as I reached my hand to hold his.

Then I felt my Koro Dutch rise inside me and began to sing…

“Aue e ihu…tirohia….arohaina, iho ra…whakaania, ake au….i too uma, piri ae…e te wa…”

I then took the lead.

“I te wa”

And then, from the other side of the fence, I could hear my friend join the chorus.

“I te wa”

“He ake ai/he ake ai
Enei na/enei na
Ru kino nei/ru kino nei
I te wa/I te wa
E keri ae/e keri ai
Enei na/enei na
Whakaaha mai/whakaha mai”

Amine.

The air stood still and held for the longest minute of my life.

Our hands squeezed tightly, and them relaxed before we both let go, bringing our hands back to their respective sides.

“Papa, it’s time to go!” shouted my daughter, as she came screaming through the house and was now pulling my hand. “We have to go and see Oma and Opa now”.

I looked back to see my new friends’ head look to the clouds overhead, and then bowing again to the earth. His hand slowly rose and waved. “Safe travels my friend. And please pass on my regards to your people.”

I waved and made my way inside, taking one last look back at the fence that had just changed my life.

“Nga mihi aroha, Matua” came my final reply as the door closed.

That song hung between us like the souls of the departed friends he had left, and the many lives that our kaumatua had rescued. I blinked hard as we made our way to the car and out the door. Right there, an old link had been made anew. Over the tears, I smiled. My baby asked what was wrong. I smiled. “Just remembering your koro, my baby”.

Kua mutu.

Short fiction story by Potaua Biaisiny-Tule. Inspired by Ginger & Rangi Rakuraku. (C) 2014. TangataWhenua.com

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