The sun was just about to retire for the night and here we were in an off-road picnic area, with no idea what to do. Tania was in a grumpy mood and I wasn’t much better. I thought about walking back to the Carvers, and if Tania didn’t follow, then that was too bad. Come to think of it--- where the hell were those social workers or Mick? ---surely they would have followed us. I guess they were playing the ‘tough love game.’
‘Hey you two--- what you doin here?’ the guy from the truck asked. ‘You should be home with your parents.’
Tania’s face did a flip. I thought she was going to have a real little hissy fit, but no--- sometimes I wonder at the bullshit she can spin.
‘That’s where we were heading Mister. We didn’t know the bus stopped down the road in that town. We thought it went to New Plymouth.’
‘Tania--- that not---‘
‘This is my big brother Tom,’ she continued. ‘He’s supposed to be looking after me and he shouda known about the bus. He’s such a dumb ass sometimes. You wanna give us a lift?’
The guy seemed to think for ages before he replied. ‘Can’t you see I’m going the other way? I’m heading to Auckland with a load of furniture. Don’t you have a cell phone to ring your parents?’
‘Nah--- stupid ass here dropped it back at the bus stop somewhere and when we tried to find it, it had gone. Some bugger must have took it eh. ---Oh I meant to say we were going to Auckland--- I don’t know why I said new Plymouth--- that’s where we came from.’
‘Tania--- don’t you think you should----fuck--- that hurt you little bitch!’ She had kicked me. It had the desired affect I guess. I looked at her. What was her game? So many thoughts raced around my head. Should I just grab her and take her back to Waitara or should I go along with her crazy little game plan? Part of me wanted to head the hell out of the town and try Auckland. It was so far away and we didn’t know anyone there. What the hell was I going to do? --- I mean----me at fourteen and her just a kid--- we’d soon get picked up by the same lot who were trying to make us live somewhere down here. I don’t know what came over me--- but it certainly wasn’t common sense.
The guy pulled a cell; phone from his jeans. They had seen better days---mind you that ripped look was supposed to be fashionable, but he didn’t quite make that grade somehow. His hair was a mousy, no colour look and his white T-shirt wasn’t. To top it all off, he stank of stale cigarettes and a hint of booze. I know that odour from my old man; not a nice combination.
‘Do you want to use my phone then? I reckon you should let your parents know where you are.’
Tania was having none of it. ‘Look mister—why don’t you give us a ride. The sooner we get to Auckland the better and Mum and Dad won’t worry. They let us hitch all the time.’
I don’t think the guy believed her but he didn’t push any further. ‘Look, I’ll take you to Te Kuiti and you can stop at the police station there—they’ll help you--- looks like there’s no coverage here for my phone anyway--- that always pisses me off in this area--- sort of half way to nowhere.’
Before I could stop her, Tania had climbed into the truck, sending me a withering look as she propped herself up next the driver’s seat. I followed her. The guy spat something he was chewing into the long grass and followed suit.
‘My names Ted--- who might you two be then?’
‘I’m Tom and this is my sister, Tania.’ I had a thought that I should have given false names but everything was happening so fast I wasn’t thinking straight. As we pulled out onto the road, a car sped past us--- I was sure it was the social workers, but I didn’t say anything.
‘Mad bastards,’ Ted said. ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have seen that and then--- hey pronto--- up the road, they are in a ditch.’
‘Mum doesn’t let me swear,’ Tania said disapprovingly as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. I chose to ignore both her comment and my thoughts about the two social workers.
A few minutes later, we saw the car heading back towards Waitara. Tania looked at me sideways as if to say---‘shut the f—up.’ I shrugged, hoping that Ted hadn’t seen the little interchange. We needn’t have worried.
‘You two hungry? ---- You seem to just have the clothes you’re standing up in.’
‘We’re sitting actually,’ Tania said with a smugness that sometimes drove nuts, but this wants the time to air family washing.
Ted just chuckled like he had a dopey sister or two. ‘How about I stop at this place coming up--- there’s a take away that I know does some real mean fish and chips. I know I could do with a bit of a fill up.’
For a moment or two I thought that ted would hear my stomach grumbling. It had been just over an hour since I had been stuffing my face at the Carvers, but, anytime was good enough for me, if it was free.’
As if to back me up Tania said, ‘Yeah, we left all our stuff with Mum and Dad. I bet he’s gonna be in the sh’--- she stopped herself---‘anyway, thanks Ted.’
‘You’re a real swinger aren’t you luv,’ Ted said. He glanced at the side mirror and veered slightly to the left as a police car came screaming past, siren bellowing out for the benefit of no one but the cows munching away at their supper. Ted turned on his lights. ‘Don’t want a ticket now do we----OK---- here’s the place.’
The sun was well and truly gone and the lighting in the little seaside village wasn’t the best, so he left his parkers on.
‘Right follow me then. Are you happy with a couple of pieces of fish and some chips each--- and a drink of course?’
‘That’s real nice of you Ted,’ Tania gushed.
Sometimes Tania can be a real greaser. What the hell--- a feed is a feed. There were some seats outside on a grassy verge, so Tania and I sat there while Ted placed the order. I kept an eye out on the passing cars, thinking that things were happening too damn fast. Part of me like the adventure, but with most things on the shady, I expected a bite on the bum real soon.
‘Ah---- don’t ya love that smell? You can’t beat it I reckon---- nothing like the good old greasy fish and chips lark.’ Ted sat down and opened up the steaming package. It was getting a bot cold sitting outside and neither Tania nor I had real warm clothing on. Ted must have noticed.
‘Do you two want to eat tis in the truck--- you look a bit cold.’
‘It’s alright ted,’ I said. ‘We don’t want to go mucking up your truck. That was a bit rich because Ted’s truck looked like a rubbish dump just behind the driver’s seat.
‘OK then, we’ll eat this and we should be in Te Kuiti in a few hours. I don’t really like driving this rig over Mount messenger at night--- but I don’t have much choice. The owner of that stuff in the back says he needs it first thing in the morning.’
Tania actually shut up for about ten minutes. I think she was hungry. I didn’t remember her eating much back at the Carvers. She was probably hatching out the plans for this latest escapade. Finally Ted rolled up the rubbish and threw it in the bin. ‘Bring your drinks with you and we’ll be off then.’
‘Thanks ted--- that was cool. We haven’t had Fish and chips for ages. Mum didn’t have much money after Dad le---I mean, you know--- times are tough.’
‘I looked at Ted, wondering if he noticed Tania’s little give away. He didn’t show any sign so I nudged Tania under the table and she got the point. For someone so young she was getting a damn sight too wordy. Where the hell she got her ideas from, I don’t know.
‘If you two want to sleep, that’s fine with me. I don’t particularly like this part of the trip,’ Ted said, making me feel a little nervous. Was he a truck driver or not? Come to think of it, he looked a bit fazed when the police car shot past us too.
Ted put the heater on once we were underway. The cabin soon became a tad stuffy, so Tania was the first to drop off. Ted prattled on about the trip north and I was soon bored with the conversation. I decided to pretend to sleep. He was going on about his sister been like Tania when I actually dropped off. I dreamed of police cars chasing us and being arrested for stealing money from the take away place. I even vividly saw a cell door crashing shut as we were shoved in. The crash was real, but not a cell door.