By Iona Winter
I came home, because of my father. Day 1.
Back here there is always the sound of Tangaroa when I wake up. An ever-present rhythm and pace that unburdens me from whatever has lain there overnight.
For the next three nights I dream that whales are here in the bay. Each time I fumble for my camera but miss them as they swim by.
Last night I stood still and watched them pass—they were beautiful. He would say, ‘that’s a tohu’.
I walk down to the point before I drive in, where waves pound the shore and salt-tinged breezes tickle my nostrils. Skyward the waning moon tells me that soon all of this will be over and another cycle will begin.
Tree roots creep their limbs over disappearing cliffs. They reach into nothingness. Whoever says global warming’s a lie is an idiot.
Visitors let their dogs shit in the middle of paths and leave babies paru nappies underneath rocks for the tide to wash away and the plastic to enter the sea.
It all seems futile, trying to save Papatūānuku.
My father is dying, and we have assembled. It is no magical gathering of the clans, but a disparate group of reluctant people trying to make the best out an awkward situation. The sole connection is blood.
I watch these arrivals, in various shapes and forms, angry and twisted with unspoken riri. This is not the way Dad needs it to play out, with a long, drawn-out rattle of an ending.
Day 4. Breathe in. Breath out.
I wait for the next and wonder when it will stop. His limbs move with eyes closed. There is nowhere to go but wander the sheets in limbo. Between this place and the next. Half here, the other is away with the tupuna.
I recall how animated his face used to be when he talked, and how his hands danced like currents in the ocean.
When I was a kid he’d wink and cock his fingers like a gun, and as he grinned his top row of teeth looked like those candy ones, pink gummed.
He often said, “You’re away with the fairies boy. Haere mai ki te whenua!”
I wish I could say the same thing to him, and bring him back from this faraway place. Sometimes he looks over my shoulder and I ask, “Who is it Dad?”
There is no response. But I can sense there are others here, ones we cannot see, preparing him to leave us.
Day 8. I woke up furious. I’m ashamed that I am angry, because he is still alive. There is no logic to it.
My drive in to the hospice is slow. Avoidant.
Outside his room music plays in the hallway, people speak in loud cheerful tones and I fantasise about telling them off. If Mum was alive she would.
Inside it is quiet, and we listen to gurgles and snores from someone drowning in his own muck.
“It’s only going to get worse”, I hear an uncle say under his breath.
I want to hiss, “He can bloody well hear you!” but I don’t.
I save it all up for later, on the trip back home where I’ll yell my lungs out in the car on the open road, with windows down for the cows to hear. They won’t judge me.
Day 11. “Last day”, they promise.
I love this man. He gave me solace when things were pōuri. But I am powerless to do anything more for him—rendered mute. There is nothing left to say.
I know I won’t return to this room, because I cannot face the blackening of his limbs and the sounds of suffocation in his chest. We said goodbye days ago, before he left himself in limbo.
When I drive home there is no yelling.
I turn off at the point. As soon as I get out of the waka I move from the gravel onto the grass, so I can’t hear the sound of my shoes. I crave silence from anything physical.
At the beach I go barefoot, roll up my jeans and walk out to where Tangaroa greets Papatūānuku. I stand there until my feet have gone numb and my ears ring from the cold karanga of wind and sea.
Wordless, I listen to the map of my tears.