|Excerpt from Roskill by Neil Coleman|
‘James! You can’t live on music! Do you want food?’
James pulled his earphones out so that he could hear his Mum. She had been trying to attract his attention for the last minute, and it was only when she shouted that he took notice.
‘Do you have to live in that damned thing, James? I just asked you if you want something to eat.’
‘Sorry, Mum. Yeah, I’m starving. Can we have KFC?’
They were driving through Hamilton, avoiding the main street and heading past Frankton.
‘I think there’s one back on the Te Rapa Strait,’ his Dad said, scratching his head as if that helped his memory.
‘Yeah, come on, Dad.’ The magic words had pulled Lucy out of her daydream.
The Campton family had been travelling all day since leaving Wellington at a ridiculously early hour. They stopped briefly at Taupo to eat the sandwiches Moan had made in the motel that morning. She insisted that they needed to save money, but was now relenting at the thought of a greasy mouth-watering KFC meal. Her husband John needed little encouragement, ignoring the advice his doctor in faraway Christchurch had given about a more healthy way of eating. He thought of the letter for his new doctor in Auckland, telling of his high cholesterol, blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Maybe he should just throw it away. Those thoughts were quickly banished by his wife’s next comment. ‘That will be the last feed of KFC you’ll see for a while. It’s back to the healthy stuff once we get settled.’
‘I’m going to damn well enjoy it then, aren’t I?’ John replied stubbornly.
‘Go Dad,’ James laughed. ‘Mmm, I want the Wicked Wings.’
The car pulled into the car park of the KFC and the Campton family ambled into the restaurant, James happily leading the way. It was a hot late January day, the air-conditioning in the aging Nissan was not working at its best, and they were all hungry. After collecting their trays, they found a quiet corner and for the next ten minutes they were relatively quiet. It was James who brought up the issue that had dominated their lives over the last few months.
‘I’m going to miss Christchurch,’ he said quietly.
‘Don’t you think we know that, James?’ his mother chided him. ‘What choice did we have?’
‘It’s OK, Moana,’ John said in an attempt to avoid yet another argument. The last few weeks before the big move north had taken a toll on his relationship with his wife and the children. ‘The boy’s right. We’ve spent our whole life there, and my parents before that. Maybe it’s a bit easier for you, because you’ll be closer to your family in Auckland.’
‘Don’t you go bringing that up again,’ Moana replied angrily, drawing curious looks from other diners. ‘You forget that I’ve been away from them for the last ten years, apart from quick visits every so often.’
‘I know, love. Let’s not fight. Losing my job and moving as well was always going to be hard but it was either that or having a lot less money.’ John tried to be calm.
‘What about me? All my friends and I’m going to miss Granddad and Nana too,’ Lucy said tearfully.
‘Right, if you are all finished, I think we better get out of here before they call the cops on us for creating a disturbance,’ John said, clearly frustrated with his family.
They left the restaurant and it wasn’t until Taupiri that the mood seemed to lift. Moana asked if they could stop for a few moments before the sacred Taupiri mountain. John parked in the car park and they all stood looking up at the mountain. As with most of the family spats, the short-term events were forgotten.
‘Many of your Tainui relations are buried up there,’ Moana said quietly. ‘I think it’s time that you learnt more of your Maori side.’
‘How come you never talk about them much?’ James asked.
‘It’s a long story. Maybe it’s time I told you, but not today. OK?’
John moved closer to Moana and his arm found its way around her shoulders. She responded by pressing against him, as if to say that things were going to be all right.
‘It’s all right, honey. Let’s go’ she said. ‘Mt Roskill, here we come.’
Thirty minutes later they were passing through the southern suburbs that make up the Greater Auckland area. ‘We’ve been on this motorway for ages and we still aren’t anywhere near Sky Tower,’ James observed. ‘I saw it when we passed Manukau city centre but it’s gone again.’
‘Yeah, Auckland is about three times the size of Christchurch, darling,’ Moana replied.
‘It’s got a lot more Maoris. Look—heaps of the cars have Maoris in them,’ Lucy said excitedly.
‘Some of them are Pacific Islanders, honey,’ Moana corrected her. ‘There aren’t so many of them down in Christchurch. I suspect that you will have lots of different people at your new school near the city.’
James’s face took on the appearance of his earlier mood in the day again as he thought of the move to a new school. Moana noticed his troubled look and attempted to sooth his anxiety. ‘You don’t have to wear uniform, dear, and it’s got an excellent reputation.’
‘Yeah, but we don’t know anyone,’ Lucy said in the tone that usually drove her older brother mad.
‘Since when did that stop you from gabbing away with your friends?’ James teased his sister.
‘That’s enough you two. Here’s the turn-off,’ John said, half-heartedly trying to stop yet another argument between the two siblings.
‘Aw, Dad, aren’t we going to drive through the city first?’ Lucy pleaded.
‘We have to meet the movers, dear,’ Moana informed her daughter. ‘We can go for a drive tomorrow and we can also show you where the school is too.’
‘School starts the week after next, so you have a chance to get to know the bus routes too,’ John added.
‘You said I can drive us to school now that I have my licence,’ James reminded his father.
‘That’s when you get your full licence next month and when we sort out a car,’ John answered.
James thought about the upcoming test and when he looked at the crowded and unfamiliar streets they were passing through, he shuddered at the possibility of failing. ‘They have trains here, don’t they?’ he asked.
‘Yes, son, but not through Mt Roskill. But there are plenty of buses and we can get that sorted next week,’ John said.
‘So where’s our new house?’ Lucy asked.
They were driving along Dominion Road near the Balmoral village and she had noticed the old villas. ‘I hope our house is like these. Look at all the Chinese writing on the shops. Is this Chinatown or something?
‘No, but there are many Asian people in Auckland. I think you will find it all really interesting,’ Moana said, hoping that Lucy wasn’t going to become a problem and act out like some of their neighbours had in Christchurch. She baulked at the thought of the skinheads they had often seen in the Square back in Christchurch. Moana secretly admitted to being happy to leave behind some of the attitudes that had prevailed in the southern city.
‘OK, we’re nearly home,’ John announced as they turned into a side street off Dominion Road, not far from the main Mt Roskill shops.
Lucy’s face dropped when she observed the houses they were passing. ‘These houses look like state houses. Yuk, they’re horrible. Look at all the kids running around in the street. I don’t like it.’
‘Don’t be such a terrible snob,’ Moana admonished. ‘Most of them are probably privately owned and if I told you how much they cost to buy, you’d get a shock. The same money would buy a nice house in a good suburb in Christchurch.’
Her words meant nothing to Lucy, who had made up her mind that they now lived in a bad area.
‘Where’s our school anyway?’ James asked. ‘There’s a sign there about a grammar school near here. Why can’t I go there?’
‘You could if you want,’ John replied, ‘but we’re going to buy nearer the area by the zoo, so I’ve managed to enrol you both there on the understanding that we’re buying in the area. It took a lot of persuasion, I can tell you.’
‘We’re only renting here until we find a house we all like,’ Moana added, ‘so don’t get to like this one too much, eh?’
‘Don’t think there’s much chance of that happening,’ Lucy said sullenly, as the car pulled into the drive of a small house. The lawn had not been mowed for quite some time, adding to the run-down appearance.
‘Look, the removal men are already unloading,’ James observed. He jumped out of the car as soon as it stopped and rushed into the open front door. By the time the others joined him, he had explored the whole house. ‘It’s a bit crappy compared to our old house in Christchurch,’ he said. ‘Look at the carpet—it’s got holes in it.’
‘It will take a bit of work to make it nice but remember, it’s not for long,’ Moana reminded him.
‘Right, let’s start getting this sorted then,’ John said looking at the household and personal items the movers were haphazardly unloading anywhere they could.
‘So much for the labelling system we used,’ Moana sighed.
‘They can forget their bloody bonus too then,’ John retorted angrily.
‘At least we get a room each,’ James said hopefully. ‘Can I have the room at the back of the house overlooking the reserve?’
‘I suppose that’s OK, but remember our deal,’ Moana reminded him. ‘I’m not going to be your slave any more, now that I have a full-time job to contend with. We’re are going to need the extra money if we move to Grey Lynn, and looking at the prices; it’s going to be a close call.’
‘I want to get a part-time job too,’ James said. ‘Then can I get a better car, Dad?’
‘We’ll see. But don’t forget what I said, no more than eight hours a week.’
An hour later the movers left, a little disgruntled about missing out on getting their full bonus. John had relented at the last minute and gave them about half what they had expected, but they seemed to get the message that the Camptons were not pleased at the slack way they had worked. By eight in the evening, the family finally decided to stop for the night. At least they had somewhere to sleep. The rest of the unpacking and setting up house could wait until the morning.
‘Right, don’t go getting used to this, but I think it is going to be the second fast-food meal of the day,’ John announced, ignoring Moana’s feigned horror. She was far too tired to argue the merits of preparing a meal.
‘Cool, Dad,’ James said delightedly.
‘I want vegetarian,’ Lucy suggested. ‘I don’t want to get fat.’
‘Bit late for that, isn’t it,’ James taunted.
‘That’s enough of that. I am just about done in and I don’t want to put up with that crap, OK?’ Moana said wearily.
‘In the car, now, before we just stay and have toast and jam,’ John said, hoping that they didn’t call his bluff. The kitchen was not anywhere near ready for that most basic of food preparation.
They drove down Dominion Road until Lucy spotted a small Thai café. ‘Can we have Thai, Dad? James got what he wanted for lunch, so it’s my turn to choose,’ Lucy pleaded.
‘God, you sound like a spoilt kid when you talk like that,’ James accused his sister.
John jammed on the brakes, almost causing the car behind to run into him. The angry driver gestured as he passed them and shouted a few choice obscenities.
‘Welcome to Auckland, dear hearts,’ John said. ‘Let Lucy have this one, James.’ It had the effect of diverting his quarrelsome offspring to something they both agreed on; they were hungry.
A few minutes later they sat down at a table and looked over the menu. ‘What about the chef’s choice for starters?’ John suggested. ‘I see there’s some vegetarian options on it and the mains will be no trouble. You can have ice cream from the diary if you want dessert. That will keep the cost down.’
The food arrived and the tension seemed to disappear as quickly as they consumed their orders. ‘Nothing like good food to stop the quarrels, eh kids?’ Moana said. ‘Perhaps your father will take us through the main part of town before we turn in for the night.’
John looked hopelessly at his wife. ‘Don’t blame me if I get a bit lost darling,’ he said. ‘I’m buggered if I know my way round there. It’s been years since I drove through the city.’
‘Come on my big brave boy,’ Moana teased her husband, while James pretended to throw up.
True to his worst fears, twenty minutes later, John announced that he was lost. They were in a back street near Karangahape Road. As they drove down the narrow street, James noticed the scantily dressed ‘ladies’. ‘Wow, look at those tarts. Shit, what are they doing standing there like that?’
‘James, stop that language right now or you will be walking home. And if you really want to know, they are not ladies,’ Moana reprimanded her son.
John laughed. ‘You have a lot to learn about life, James. Those ‘ladies’ are actually boys.’
‘Yuk, that’s sick,’ Lucy said disgustedly. ‘They do look sort of pretty in a funny sort of way, though.’
‘I guess you are only thirteen, and year nines don’t really know much,’ James said, unable to resist jibing at his sister.
‘You’re just a year eleven arsehole,’ Lucy whispered in a voice she hoped her mother didn’t hear.
‘If I hear one more angry or disgusting piece of foul language from either of you, I will stop your pocket money for a week!’ Moana shouted angrily at her children. ‘No, make that two weeks!’
‘Here we are,’ John interrupted. ‘I think we are near Queen Street. Let’s just go home and we can explore the city more another day. I’m bushed.’
For the remainder of the journey home, James and Lucy managed to hold their tongues—just. Their looks told another story.
‘Home sweet home,’ John said, relief clear in his tone. ‘Now for Christ’s sake let’s have some peace. OK?’