A novel featuring a Chinese doll, a French woman and a flute

29 November 2007

52. SHE IS NOT HERE

- She isn't here, Elle said as she sat again in the car next to Tiss, I left a message... I'll come round another day.

As he started the car he said he'd prefer people did not know they were together. Elle's friend she was to meet was his former boss's wife with whom he had had a row about some bamboo to cut.

They drove to Kaikohe where he had planned to do some shopping that morning. He had planned to do his laundry at the laundromat and to buy a sweat shirt. They walked around a few shops touching everything and buying nothing. Just to check prices, just for fun. The fun to act as a couple going shopping into town. As if... they weren't alone anymore. He took ages to choose a sweat shirt, asking Elle what she thought about it, if it was the right size, the right price. Then he left her at the laundromat while he fetched some special paint for his car. They ended up in a café where, after some negotiations, he managed to be served a German styled coffee with cream, and where he offered a patisserie to his wife. Well, to Elle. The game was intoxicating.

Before driving back to Kerikeri, Tiss wanted to stop at a farm where there was a job offer to milk the cows. While they were waiting for the herd that could be seen in the distance followed by the farmer on his 'quad', he sat on his car's bonnet and rolled himself a cigarette. They were already making a happy couple's plans, the husband coming home all dirty to a sweet smelling cottage. After a short talk it was clear that the farmer had already found someone. Farewell the dream!

25 November 2007

49. We knew something was going to happen

- We knew something was going to happen, but what?... everyone had enough... we were scared of the Russian tanks. If our government called for the Russian army, we would have had little chance. we were heading for a massacre... A lot of people had fled to Czechoslovakia... But then I thought: "to end up where? all my family is here"...

Slender and muscular, tatooed on one arm, a long beard, with sparce blond hair, he was talking of the fall of the soviet empire, as he was leaning on the kitchen sink at the hostel called The Lodge. Elle, while peeling vegetables, was listening to him with interest. In his cold blue eyes she could detect some powerful scary drama. She was irresistibly attracted.

Back in Kerikeri she tried to avoid starting life again where she had left it. As she preferred to begin someting new, she had settled at The Lodge outside town. Some thirty to forty people lived there working in nearby farms or orchards, in transit, like migrating birds. English young people from Manchester or Birmingham, Germans from East or West, people from Switzerland, Japan or Korea, all seeking some paid work to enable them to go on with their world travelling. The English folks called it a 'working holiday'.

- When the wall fell, what happened? Elle asked.
- We didn't hear about it straight away! One day on the radio in the middle of a trifle of other news they announced: "by the way the border with the west is open...", he said laughing.

She could hardly picture this political and economical earthquake that had happened over there in Europe some years before. They had talked about the 'iron curtain' for so long. How had it been for people on a daily basis when they raised the curtain?

- When you were able to travel to the west, what did you see first?
- The butcher shops! he replied without hesitating and laughing as if to apologize for such triviality, ...the quantities of meat and sausages... I bought meat... with the hundred marks the west German government had given us.

The he started describing the border. A bit like talking about a very painful operation he would have kept a sharp memory of.

To start with the border could not be seen even from a distance. There was a wide border zone of about twenty kilometers in width where people could only visit with a special pass. Only people who lived there could go across. He had a pass for it to go and visit his grand-mother. In any case you could not come closer than two kilometers from it. That border, you just could not see it. Never. The last few meters were mined and some mines triggered shooting from machine guns. Every two kilometers a mirador manned with soldiers round the clock . Several lines of electric wire and barbed wire. Between them, a space where killer dogs watched. Had people died on this thing? Yes, of course. He knew some, of course.

The boarders at the Lodge started arriving to get their dinners ready. Elle went back to her room she shared with Liyan only. She started plaiting cotton bracelets. For no one in particular. Just to build up her stock.

- You're not saying anything, Liyan complained.
- No, she replied.
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Liyan in the South Pacific, book 2 Polynesia is now available for purchase on the net at blurb.com
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19 November 2007

48. SHE DROVE ON TO THE MARINA

She drove on to the marina, read an offer for a crew job sailing to Australia and ran out of petrol on the way back to the house. As she arrived back by bus, Doodoo said to her:

- Someone phoned for the car. They'll come and see it to-morrow.

After a few days none of Elle's plans had worked out. F-sharp and Liyan started commenting on the course of events:

- I have the feeling we're not about to leave New Zealand, F-sharp said.
- Yeah, it's kind of stuck, isn't it? Liyan answered pulling a face.

The two of them had a friend and an ally in the little girl, Mandy, who loved listening to the tunes Elle played on the flute. Liyan found Mandy very beautiful and the little boy very sweet. Sometimes she thought she'd love to be a little girl too, rather than a doll. "One does not decide of one's destiny", used to repeat F-sharp. So she was content with being a doll.

Olympic did not find a buyer. Elle decided to give up the idea of a big departure. She asked Doodoo to give her a lift to the north bridge the next day. She would leave her car at her new friends' place and she would hitch-hike back to Kerikeri and get back to work.

Doodoo had left her at the exit for Davenport. Elle and Liyan were standing on the other side of the big bridge, on the left side of the motorway where three lanes threw up loads of vehicles driving full speed northward. It was twelve thirty.

- Well now! Elle muttered.

The past was in Kerikeri. What did she have to go back there for? What would she appear to be coming back after this farewell party a fortnight ago at the hostel?

- Don't worry too much, Liyan suggested, to-morrow is another day! You will not go back in time, even if you retrace your steps.

A delapidated car on the side lane. The passenger door had a bizarre do-it-yourself system of opening. The driver apologized for it, said he was a baker and that he was back from delivering hot buns in town. He asked if she smoked before lighting his cigarette. About twenty kilometers after the end of the motorway he was leaving the main road to drive home. Thank you, good bye. Elle found herself on the side of the road facing the traffic going north, with her navy blue leather bag on the shoulder and her small bag at her foot on the ground. Her thumb up as a sign that she was asking for a lift. A short while later a big utility stopped to take her. A young couple said they had hitch-hiked a lot themselves. Solidarity binds. They dropped her some fifty kilometers further up. As she was hardly settling in a favorable spot at the exit end of a small town, a powerful four wheel drive stops and takes her in. He was driving up to Kaitaia, in the very far north, on the other side of Kerikeri. And he drove fast.

Elle was dropped at the hostel's door at 4.30 sharp, four small hours after her departure from Auckland. She had broken a record of a type. "A good omen", she thought to herself, "what is next to come?"
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Liyan in the South Pacific, book 2 Polynesia is now available for purchase on the net at blurb.com
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12 November 2007

45. The next day a yacht captain

The next day a yacht captain looking for crew phoned. Elle ran to the quay and found the boat. The man asked her on board, offered a cup of good coffee and said he was making for Australia soon. Sorry no, never mind, thank you. She chatted for a while and walked back to the hostel disappointed. Meanwhile Olympic was bored to death waiting on the car park at the supermarket. After three days it became obvious. The old car did not appeal to anyone. Elle drove her back to the hostel.

The day before departure the hostel's helper who was vacuum cleaning in the corridor said out of the blue:

- The French are bastards who blow bombs in our backyard!

Flabbergasted by this sudden spurt of hatred Elle reacted by answering louder:

- To start with, we don't blow bombs. No one died. We've been doing nuclear research for the last ten years. And second, the atoll where it is taking place is not in your backyard but three time zones further, the same distance as between Paris and Moscow, or Bangkok and Tokyo.

Then she walked past and the hostel assistant went on pulling his vacuum cleaner apart. Some time later in the common room, after this first volley, Elle had another try:

- But why on earth do you have so much hatred for the French in this country? What did we do to you?
- De Gaulle asked New Zealand to come to defend France and we sent our soldiers to die there!
- What!!! Elle uttered completely dumbfounded, what war are you talking about?

For the first wold war of the twentieth century Kiwi soldiers fought valiantly in the trenches and died on French soil. That was right. They had left en masse to Europe at the call of their home country, Britain, to defend the British empire. They fought in the Dardanelles too and paid a heavy tribute to their attachment and loyalty to the British crown. For the second world war of the twentieth century Kiwi men left en masse again to England calling. They fought in Africa and elsewhere under the British flag. Not in France where there hardly was a battle. Except at the landing, of course, of the Anglo-American armada. De Gaulle? After the invasion of France by the Germans he had the role of an outlaw decreeting on his own that the French government was exiled in London. He made a call for help, that's right, but to his own countrymen to make them fight on against the invader...

The Kiwi man didn't listen. Elle shrugged her shoulders, thought that New Zealand did not have updated history books and went on preparing for departure.

She was just having her periods.

- Ah shit! she said out loud as if to herself.
- What's up now? Liyan asked.
- Lucky you, you don't have 'periods', you can't even imagine the pain in the neck it is... a fountain of blood running between your legs for a whole week, every three weeks... count, Liyan, count the number of bloody days it makes in a year!
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Liyan in the South Pacific, book 2 Polynesia is now available for purchase on the net at blurb.com
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11 November 2007

44. A CASSEROLE DISH

At the Whangarei hostel one night at the dinner table there was one called Richard who said, as he was smelling Elle's casserole dish on the cooker, that it smelt yummy. He had just messed up his rice which, found to be too sticky, ended up in the bin. She offered to share her casserole knowing that there is nothing worse than eating on your own in front of someone who's just messed up his rice. Richard agreed with pleasure. He offered all the ingredients he had in store in his box in case she needed some.



- See here? that box marked Richard? you take whatever you want, when you like... mm! it's really nice, that dish.

- It's very easy to make, you know. It's a recipe from the islands. Listen carefully: you fry bits of chicken, you throw in some fresh ginger and garlic cut finely, shreds of capsicums of all colors for looks, you put a lid on, you lower the fire and you simmer. At the end you throw in a can of coconut milk. In a separate pot you boil a few sweet potatoes, kumaras, if you like...

- You have them, in the islands? Richard asked.

- In New Caledonia we have sweet potatoes, taros, yams, all that, but I find local kumaras here very tasty.



Liyan had just heard them talk about 'Caledonia'. That same evening she asked where it was. Elle admitted she had lived there. In fact that's where she came from before she got to New Zealand. Liyan would have loved to share this piece of information with F-sharp but the flute was stuck, filed away, snug in her box. "Too bad, I'll tell her another time", she thought.
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Liyan in the South Pacific, book 2 Polynesia is now available for purchase on the net at blurb.com
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13 May 2007

43. The Whangarei Youth Hostel

The Whangarei Youth Hostel was hanging on the side of a steep hill above the river. After having set up her sleeping bag on a bed and paid for a couple of nights, Elle left Olympic in front of the hostel's door and walked down the hill. She wandered amongst the boats moored on this side of the river, then crossed the bridge and wandered on the city side where the marina was to be found. A great place, this small yachties harbour was, tucked away from the ocean, right in the middle of the city.

The following morning she parked Olympic on the supermarket's carpark with a sign '4 SALE' giving the hostel's phone number for would-be buyers.

She distributed about 20 little notes to yachties saying she was looking for a crew job to sail to Rarotonga or Tahiti, with that same phone number. Placed an ad at the marina's office. Then waited.

When she went up the hill again, she found a group of Maori school kids had taken the hostel over. They were visiting basketball players and were to play a few games against the local team. As they seemed to be wanting to rule the place, Elle stood up and said out loud that everyone here came from somewhere else, from Japan, Germany or Switzerland. That they'd better leave some space to those not belonging to their group. And that everyone had ethnic particularities too. Having said so much, she put a cassette in the music player, poped up the volume to loud, and, on the sound of 'rolling on the river' she started dancing.

- "Come on! come on now!" she was saying trying to get the young Maoris to dance too.

But nobody moved. All pending activities and conversations in the kitchen or in the reading corner were left hanging until the end of the music. Elle lowered the volume and said:

- "I am French."
- "Ha! Green Peace saboteurs!" one threw in.
- "Yes, we do boat sabotage and we dance too," she replied sharply.

Before her theatre act, Elle had been chatting with Dwam, a Kiwi guy on the move who knew the area well. He gestured to her and said:

- "Come, let's talk outside."

They settled on the bench against the entrance wall, where the hostel's dog was dozing.

- "I think you stun them! They haven't got over it!"
- "Oh, I just wanted to do a bit of culture exchange, you know. Do you think it worked?"
- "Yes, it did. They'll remember this," Dwam told her.

They chatted on about various issues and ended up on the subject of Kerikeri.

- "So you know Kenji too?" Elle asked in wonder.
- "Yes, he's my best friend. You know, I studied Japanese at school. I really like Japanese people."

Dwam had been born in Christchurch, had a German name, a Kiwi mother of English background and a Maori grandmother. He was rather 'metis' in style. His parents had divorced when he was a young boy sending him to a boarding school to live his life separately. A drunken father. A mother who was wed to another man who couldn't stand him. There was no bitterness in him though. He didn't seem to have the punch to battle on, either. He didn't know whether he should resume his studies at the agriculture college that he had dropped out of interest, or else, work. But work in what? He couldn't think of anything he could do really to earn money. To earn money fast.

- Only Kenji knows my secret, he said.
- Ah!
- I have a Japanese girlfriend, we lived together a bit and she went back to Japan. I'd like to go and look her up.

Elle was touched by the trust Dwam had just put on her. They went on chatting for a long time, talking of Kenji, agriculture, travel. He said that in a couple of days he was planning to go down to Auckland.

15 March 2007

42. THE EVENT WAS SOON FORGOTTEN

The event was soon forgotten as neither the moment nor the mood was for a conversation. A few kilometers after Kawakawa a particular noise coming from the engine put a strong doubt on the stone assumption.

The dashboard never indicated anything much except the rough amount of petrol in the tank. So, in doubt, Elle stopped Olympic by the side of the road and listened to the engine. The radiator! The radiator's belt!

Under a beating rain she went round to see the car's front grid. Smoke was coming out of it. She didn't manage to pull the handle to open up the bonnet from inside but she was sure of the diagnosis: the radiator's belt that cools the engine had gone. Luckily it was raining and the cold water on the car's bonnet could cool the hot mechanic a little bit.

Liyan was sound asleep inside the bag where she layed snug. The flute was well set in three parts in its box. Elle stayed thus a whole half hour watching the clouds going past the landscape. She delighted in seeing the various tones of green of this hilly countryside according to woodland or pastures and the various tones of grey above.

It was raining so hard that the earth was making furrows under the car as it crossed the road to get to the ditch on the other side. With the rain as her ally Elle thought she could drive for five minutes at a time, then stop for fifteen minutes and get to the next garage this way.

At long last, a house by the road. Running under the cloudburst Elle went to knock at the door. A young lady looking after a baby told her that the next garage was not very far.

It took ages however to get to the sign showing a petrol station ahead. The mechanic opened the bonnet, found a brand new radiator's belt to fit and wished her 'bon voyage'.

12 March 2007

41. The day before she left

The day before she left, the hostel's regulars prepared a farewell dinner for her. European and Japanese dishes were placed side by side on three tables put together. Kenji and Bab came back from the dairy for the occasion. They gave Elle a card where everyone had put a nice word and signed. She was very touched by this and swore never to forget her good traveling friends with whom she had just shared a slice of her life. But, disliking sentimental departures, she decided to leave early the next morning without much ado.

Early the next morning she found all her friends embushed behind trees. They wanted to say farewell. She couldn't dodge. With tears in her eyes she sat at the wheel of her car and started the engine.

"Departing is the first move to another life", she thought as she was changing gear on the main street in Kerikeri. "Leaving is dying a little". Sure. It is a new beginning too. And she was already keen to know the new life ahead of her. She was going to find a sail boat and sell her car. If it didn't work in Whangarei she'd drive down to Auckland.

It started to rain and the sky gave signs that it would last the whole day. At the speed she was going it would take an hour and a half to reach Whangarei. Lined with green pastures the winding road was going up and down crossing hamlets with Maori names.

A bit before Kawakawa a sharp noise was heard from somewhere under the bonnet.

- "What's that?" Liyan asked straight away.
- "Oh nothing, a stone that hit the chassis perhaps..."

07 March 2007

40. THE MONTH OF AUGUST WAS GETTING ON

The month of August was getting on. It wasn't very cold but not very warm either. Winter in these parts of the far north of New Zealand was wet and mild. The temperature never got below 5°C at night. Elle figured out she would survive the cold season with two thin sweaters and two pairs of socks. No more. Specially since she had the privilege to work in a warm green house looking after orchids and out of the rain.

- "Now tell us", Liyan threw in one morning, "your God sent miracle is going fine, is it?"

Elle was just back from her breakfast and was sitting quietly thinking for herself on the edge of the bed.

- "No, it's not going fine!... Well, yes, ...in a way, I have learnt a million things."
- "Hey, you're still here?" Scottie asked as she burst in room 6.
- "Are you going to work right now?" Elle asked in turn, "if you like I'll give you a lift. I have time for a detour."
- "O.K., let's go."

In the car Elle admitted to Scottie that she expected to be leaving soon. She had learnt the job of looking after and harvesting cymbidiums. She had worked at all the different positions in that job. The boss had even allowed her to pick the tall flowers. Only the final packing job had been left out of her scope. But the atmosphere there was unbearable.

- "You know, I think it's a case of the French woman syndrom again!" she said to Scottie with a laugh, "You know... the 'femme fatale' stealing husbands!!! I can't stand it any more. I don't want to be with these girls any longer. I'm leaving. I've had enough."
- "What are you going to do then?" Scottie asked.
- "I'm going to see at the Whangarei harbour if there's a boat leaving for the tropics. And you?"
- "Oh me? I'm staying here. As long as I can earn money in the orchards I'll be staying in Kerikeri. I'll travel next year... O.K., you can stop here. It's alright. I can walk now on the path. See you to-night!"

Pretty soon everyone at the hostel knew Elle was going to leave New Zealind. Neither F-sharp, nor Liyan saw any objections to that. Liyan had become used to the idea of sailing to exotic places. And F-sharp, as she hadn't been able to attend concerts after leaving Motueka, was in favour of this wandering way of life with her two friends.

03 March 2007

39. A carrot cake

Here's the recipe of the carrot cake Elle made using Edmonds Cookery Book:

Ingredients needed:
150g butter, 1 tablespoon of grated orange rind, half a cup of brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 cup of grated carrot, 1 cup of plain baking flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 of nutmeg, 2 tablespoons of milk.

Cream butter, orange rind and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in carrot. Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder into creamed mixture. Stir to combine. Stir in milk.

Elle's note: add bits of wallnuts.

Spoon mixture into a well greased and lined 20cm ring tin. Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. When cold ice with Cream Cheese Icing if desired.

For the Cream Cheese Icing, beat 2 tablespoons of softened butter with half a cup of cream cheese until creamy. Mix in 1 cup of icing sugar beating well to combine. Spread over the carrot cake.

38. BAB PUSHED THE OTHER COWS

Bab pushed the other cows with authority to make room for the little calf and prompted it to stand up. Once on its legs the new born calf followed her all wobbly. She put her fist in front of its muzzle as if to feed it.

Calves were taught from birth to get milk from an oval machine on wheels with twenty big rubber teats all around it. She called this device the 'cafeteria'. Calves were quick to transfer from her fist to the cafeteria where they were fed with a nourishing synthetic milk.

Bab had been working there for a while now. She spoke English with a strong accent in chopped rhythm sounding more like a dialect. Even Scottie had problems understanding her at times. She explained her work, said it was rough but she enjoyed it very much. She used to roll her cigarettes and to drink and swear like a trooper. She was also very motherly with the calves.

Along a track between two pastures a long line of black and white cows were arriving. Seven hundred of them, Bab said. The herd was heading for the building where Kenji was working. To get there everybody had to stride over fences and wade in the mud. Young playful dogs were jumping up at the visitors.

One by one each cow came to take its place nicely on the merry-go-round that was turning clockwise slowly.

Sitting below, Kenji placed the four tips of the milking machine on the cows' udders. You couldn't hesitate, lag behind, nor miss. The merry-go-round turned slowly but relentlessly. It turned just long enough to empty the cows' udders. Once arrived at the other end of the circle the cows were freed from the milking machine by someone else pulling it sharply. Each cow then knew how to walk backwards a bit to get out of the merry-go-round before returning to caper in the meadows.

Kenji was in no position to hold a conversation. His visitors went to the house where he was staying with his Kiwi work mates and left the cake and some cigarettes on the kitchen table. Hanging around a bit more they eventually got back into the car and drove back to the hostel.

26 February 2007

37. Ah alright Scottie said

- "Ah! alright!" Scottie said and, leaving the Japanese to their quaint ways, connected with the idea of making a cake.

She walked to the kitchen corner and pulled out of her pigeon hole a small book which was regarded as the bible for cooking matters. After fingering a number of pages she made up her mind to make scones. She had never succeeded in making scones in Scotland, she was saying, but in Kerikeri it had become her great specialty. Shiho's specialty was to make tiny cakes that she loved to pass all around afterwards.

Elle said she was going to make a carrot cake that could be brought to Kenji the next day. The recipe was on page 39 of the cook book according to Edmonds.

All swore by the 'Edmonds Cookery Book'. The success story of this family in New Zealand was not ordinary. It marked out a whole century of lady pioneers who were making their bread in places and at a time when it was hard to find good flour and above all yeast that would be... 'sure to rise'. The Edmonds family in Christchurch had launched into the making of reliable yeasts and into publishing a family cookery book that was still all the rage. All the dishes in that book were interesting to make and pleasant to eat.

"Pity we eat so fast in this country and with so little art", Elle thought.

On Sundays she had found some tutoring for extra money. A lady living in a large house in the midst of green pastures and fields of daffodils was learning French. For an hour's teaching she often spent the whole afternoon there chatting and sipping tea.

This Sunday she had cancelled the lesson. Shiho, Saa, Maa, Hiro and Scottie, all boarded valiant Olympic for a visit to the dairy.

The old car that was leaking when it rained, dragged its load on the main road at first and then along a few kilometers of dirt road. The exhaust pipe hit the ground at the slightest bump and the shock absorbers threatened to give up the ghost.

It was parked along a ditch, not far from a cemented paddock where numerous Dutch dairy cows stood waiting. They were all pregnant. One of them was about to drop its calf.

The cow was standing in the midst of others pushing and mooing. The two front legs of the calf appeared under the cow's tail. Slowly it came out and just fell on the gooey cement floor. The cow turned around, smelt it and licked it vaguely. Then it walked off further mingling with the others. The calf was desperately trying to stand up. Other cows around tried to help with their muzzle but the gooey cement was no favorable terrain for the exercise. Pretty soon the figure of a manly woman appeared.

- "Bab!" they all said.

23 February 2007

36. A PEACEFUL DOMESTIC LIFE HAD SETTLED IN

A peaceful domestic life had settled in among the hostel dwellers who had decided to spend the winter in Kerikeri.

Elle went on lighting and fueling the wood stove with logs that the Japanese boys split up. She even had a customised stick that she used as poker where she had carved in French, English and Chinese: 'this is my stick'. This way she found it again every night and didn't have to go and get a new one in the underwood each time she collected kindle wood.

- "Buddhism is rather contemplative, isn't it?" said Elle one night, "does it correspond to a national trait?"
- "But Japan is not really buddhist. It is rather zen... that's different..." Kenji answered.
- "Personally I don't like the way poverty is praised. It doesn't suit me at all! Can you see yourself as a begging monk?"
- "Not in the least..." he replied laughing and holding his cigarette between his teeth.
- "Me neither! It's easy really to be a banker's son, to give up everything and go begging, isn't it?"
- "Yes, that's easy," Kenji said with force, "What's harder is to start from nothing and become a banker's son! In my case that's what I'm trying to do... By the way I'm leaving my part-time job at the organic farm to go and work full time at the dairy. I heard they need labor."
- "Does it pay well?"
- "By the hour, not really, but you work all day non stop and seven days a week, full board paid. If I can hold out long enough, that will give me net savings... I'll be able to go on with my travelling."

Elle knew that Kenji was from Hiroshima. He had no uncle, no aunt of any kind, his parents being survivors of the atomic bombing in 1945. She could feel his critical eyes on everything, including Japan, but also his fierce passion to defend his country. He didn't like those who judged without knowing.

- "Where will you go?" Elle went on.
- "I'll take a look at the South Island, I think, as a tourist, just to visit... not to pick apples!" he said mocking.

After Kenji's departure from the hostel, Massa left to go and live at the Lodge, on the other side of town. He had found a good job working as a team with Wataru, a friend of his. The circle of hostel's regulars became much smaller. Scottie had started learning Japanese in exchange of some consulting in English. She asked Shiho one Saturday morning, after the usual greetings:

- "Aren't you working this morning?"
- "Yes," Shiho replied.
- "Alright, but at what time then?"
- "I don't work this morning", Shiho said embarassed.
- "Are you working or aren't you?"
- "Yes, I don't work..." Shiho stressed.
- "How can you say: 'yes, I don't work'? In English it just doesn't mean anything. You've got to say one or the other!"

And Elle felt she had to add:

- "You can say 'yes, I work' or else 'no, I don't work'!"

The embarrassed Japanese girls looked at each other. Shiho finally said as if to apologize:

- "In Japanese you can't say 'no'."

Scottie and Elle looked at each other. Shiho went on:

- "If you say to me 'you are not working this morning', I say yes meaning that 'yes, you are right, I am not working this morning'."

The Scottish and French women couldn't get over it. They were slowly becoming acquainted with the Japanese soul. The main thing was not to agree on facts, but to approve people, to avoid coming up against them and to take into account the other speaker's feelings.

20 February 2007

35. Elle had bought the car on a Wednesday morning

Elle had bought the car on a Wednesday morning. She drove with Scottie to Opua to the other side of Pahia on that very Wednesday night. They wanted to have a drink at the yacht club's bar. Into a pitch dark night they drove, under a beating rain.

All of a sudden in a bend the driver's door opens in a great crash. Bursts of laughter. The two associates drove on, one holding the steering wheel and the door, the other managing the gear stick.

The giggles never left them for the whole night. On the way back, after having fixed the door with a shoe string, they had to work the windscreen wipers by hand. Everyone was asleep at the hostel when they parked Olympic, nicely backing up against the fence.

- "To-day I'm going for a walk in the forest with Kenji!" Liyan announced triumphantly.
- "...Don't do that! just don't do that!" F-sharp replied obviously alarmed, "I am going to explain, just listen carefully. The Japanese are frightening people... I was in Shanghai when they invaded China."

For once, the flute was not talking about Remi. Liyan wanted to hear more.

- "And so?" she said.
- "And so?!... Can you picture how it might feel, to see a foreign army invade your country? It's like a rape. You're ripped naked and you get done. And you can't even defend yourself... the Japanese soldiers broke and killed everything and everybody... The howling in Shanghai... I will never forget that sound."

After a pause the flute had added:

- "Go for a walk in the forest, but don't forget you're Chinese."

Walking up to the Rainbow waterfall was the favorite occupation of visitors at the hostel. It meant a pleasant two hour walk along the river in thick forest.
Kenji was walking in front. He was wearing soft rubber shoes shaped like socks used by deep sea divers. The big toe which was apart from the other toes gave a better grip on the ground, especially on rough terrain like the path going up to the waterfall. European walkers they met, wore thick and heavy walking boots.


Half way up, Kenji's friend, a Japanese teacher on a course in New Zealand, started chatting with a group of walkers coming down. And then, at the top of the waterfall, the rainbow promised in the tourists brochure didn't appear... But who cared!

Back at the hostel Liyan hurried to tell F-sharp that she had had a very good time. The flute did not reply.

17 February 2007

34. ELLE BOUGHT THE OLD ENGLISH CAR

ELLE bought the old English car which had been rotting away on the lawn in front of the hostel for some time. She got the little money she owned on a bank account in France sent to her and she received the car keys in exchange of a bunch of notes. Without further ado. She signed a small docket provided at the post office to say she was the new owner of the car registered under IS7949.

Hiro, Massa and the others were adamant that the car should be baptised. It had to have a name. It was customary... So, the car was called Olympic.

Elle then declared customary that there should be a dance at the hostel.

The hostel keeper promised to leave the radio on in the common room that night. Unfortunately the loud speakers stood in the reading corner, on a Japanese looking platform raised above the ground with a long low table in the middle. There were long sausage like cushions on each side where to kneel on one's heels. It didn't seem convenient to dance there. Therefore the loudspeakers were pulled as far as the billiard table below. Stuck together around them the small group of Franco-Japanese backpackers danced madly there until dawn.

- "Why didn't you stay last night?" Elle asked Scottie in room 6.
- "It's not my kind of scene," she answered.
- "What do you do in Scotland on Friday nights then?"
- "We go to the pub to drink beer."

And Scottie started telling of the first time she took her sister to the pub when she turned 18.

- "She's not really my sister," she went on abruptly, "...well, ...we have the same mother but not the same father. My brother is the eldest. Apparently my mother was pregnant with me when my father and her started arguing. One day he just left... when I was wee... I don't even know him. He was never seen again. He never sent any news. They say he went to South Africa."

- "Would you like to meet him one day?" Elle asked.
- "Yes but..."
- "You could go and have a look in South Africa."
- "Yes but I can't do that to my mother. He completely abandoned my mother with my brother and I as babes. She has provided for everything to bring us up. My father is a coward."
- "No, maybe not, he probably left with the idea he was going to become wealthy in south Africa and he would come and pick you up later," Elle raised as an objection.
- "He never ever gave any news!" Scottie retorted.
- "Maybe he had the nomad's chromosome! You left too, didn't you? You take after him, don't you!"

Scottie did not reply. She had never thought of it that way. In any case she hadn't given up her family. She had left because she had seen herself getting old full speed, working in the same place, living in the same house and for ever spending her Friday nights at the same pub.

- "That's what I'm saying," Elle stressed, "You have the nomad's chromosome. You are compelled to see on the other side of the hill at all cost... And what about your younger sister?"
- "Later my mother remarried. Her husband adopted us, my brother and me... We have his name... And then they had my sister... In any case they didn't get on either... My mother lives on her own with us three... Well... My brother is married now but he doesn't live very far."

Scottie stopped talking. She was now working in an orchard pruning kiwi fruit plants with a guy from south Africa who was building a boat.

13 February 2007

33. Elle remembered her visit to a college

Elle remembered her visit to a college in Motueka when she was still in the South Island. All the walls in the classroom for French had been pasted with propaganda such as: "they blow bombs in our backyard". She had been amazed. These were lies, Elle had thought, but who on earth had an interest in triggerring hatred for the French, in a school moreover?

- "Trigger hatred for the French?!" a kiwi lady had interjected when Elle asked her, "but you are the ones who blew a Green Peace boat here in our harbour in Auckland!!!"

The tone had not left any room for debate. Elle had remained silent.

The boat that had been sunk by the French spies more than ten years before was now laying on the bottom in the Bay of Islands. It was used successfully as a tourist attraction for underwater exploration. Divers of all nationalities came to get a photo taken of themselves surrounded by colourful fish and shellfish. They would be making the divers sign of a zero with the thumb and forefinger while the other fingers are extended, thus meaning all was fine, in front of the Green Peace sunk boat called the Rainbow Warrior.

- "I'm going to buy a car," Elle said one night to Scottie in room 6, "we will be able to drive to Opua on Wednesday nights for drinks, you know... I have to keep an eye on yachties likely to sail to Rarotonga..."

- "You told me it was not the right time!" Scottie answered seeing that Elle was talking about leaving again.

- "You never know," she said evasive, "...have you got news from home in Scotland?"

- "My niece is going to be two years old. I must send her a birthday present."

- "And your boyfriend?"

- "Which boyfriend?"

- "Didn't you leave a friend behind, like you told me the other day?"

- "No, he was no boyfriend, just a friend," Scottie answered, "...he had been my brother's best friend in fact until one day when they became the worst enemies, for an unknown reason, back from a trip to the United States..."

- "A common girlfriend?" Elle asked.

- "Oh no!"

06 February 2007

32. AT THE END OF HER FIRST WEEK THERE

At the end of her first week there, Elle had managed to keep up with the pace at the orchids greenhouse. The lady was saying that care was more important than speed. The smallest spot on a flower ruled it out of export. Japanese customers were expecting the very best.

On the other rectangular table the lady boss used to pack each tall stem in a clear paper wrapper. She then hung them up again upside down on the trays hooked above her head. She could spend a whole week-end placing them with art according to colour and size in cartons, three, six or eight long orchids together.

From time to time the trays had to be taken to the final packing room across the yard. One or two trays of these dressed beauties were carried by hand above their heads by the workers. The packing room was also the place for tea or coffee break, at 10 am, at lunch time and at 3 pm every day. Slowly day by day the room filled up with conditioned orchids, long flowering stems hanging upside down from the beams. There was sometimes not enough room left for three chairs at lunch break.

On the TV turned on as background to the conversations during lunch break, the Olympic Games were being retransmitted from Tokyo. To view them live you had to stay up all night due to the time gap between Japan and New Zealond. The Japanese at the hostel, keen to follow the latest news from their teams, used to take turns through the night in front of the hostel's TV to follow the Games. When Elle left to work every morning, they used to call her out and announce the latest French performances. Thus at lunch break she would have loved to watch the particular Olympic sports that had earned France a medal according to her Japanese informants. The third lady who used to sit next to the TV set turned it off systematically as soon as there were news of the French athletes.

- "Why is that?" Liyan asked when Elle told her.
- "Well, I wonder actually!... specially since this particular lady had a daughter studying French at school and she had been all proud to tell me that... when her daughter came to visit at work the other day, I said to her: "bonjour, comment ca va?" in French. The girl stood there gaping as if she didn't understand. So I said "quelle heure est-il?" because that's what one learns in the first few lessons usually and she still didn't understand. So I stopped saying anything. Perhaps she's mad at me now."

- "Why would she be mad at you?" Liyan said.
- "I don't know... because I didn't make a big deal of her daughter, I guess."

29 January 2007

31. Days were spinning by.

Days were spinning by.

In Kerikeri's main street as Elle was walking towards the supermarket, she found herself crossing over the street suddenly. She thought she had seen Him. Once on the other pavement, she explained to Liyan that she didn't even want to see him again. She had kept a bad memory of the desire and constant frustation he had maintained between them artfully. Now she was alone, lonely even, but at least no one was here to stir her up.

At the beginning of July she left early one morning to the orchids greenhouse. She had put on the two thin jumpers she owned and wore thick socks to keep warm. She was taking a lunch box she prepared in the hostel's kitchen after the large bowl of porridge she had eaten with joy for breakfast. This job at the orchids greenhouse was a miracle, she kept thinking to herself. God sent.

The lady had a small white poodle dressed with a blue and red pull-over. He used to bark nastily to any stranger coming near the greenhouse, also to unknown cars parking in front. She introduced her husband who was the boss and three other ladies. One of them was the boss' right arm. When he disappeared in the rows of those tall orchids called cymbidium, she followed him before reappearing with two long orchids in each hand. She hung them upside down on special trays fixed on the ceiling in the middle alleyway. Picking was the boss' prerogative. He kept this delicate art for himself.

In the middle alley stood all the adequate equipment for the conditioning of these snobbish and haughty flowers going to be sold at a mad price on the Tokyo market. One by one, each flower was packed in a transparent case, each long stem dipped in a plastic container full of water. A drink for the trip by truck down to Auckland and then by plane to Japan. The flower market is like the stock exchange. Highs and lows, not necessarily in connection with demand and offer. The boss was complaining that this year it was not worth the trouble. The New Zealand dollar was too high. You couldn't make profit with exports.

On one of the two rectangular tables in the middle alley, the boss' right hand had shown Elle how to unhook the stem off the ceiling trays, how to peel off the bottom leaves and how to stick a water test tube on the end. You had to push the slanted end of the stem hard into the rubber top.

Water used to splash up every time as the water test tubes were vacuum packed. As it was, an old milking machine was used for that job. Someone had to keep an eye on the machine to make sure the water test tubes were delivered as needed. Otherwise the whole production line stopped.

- "I don't know what I'm going to cook for dinner," said the second lady who was working opposite Elle.
- "Neither do I," said the third one at the other table.
- "Come on, you don't need to know. Your hubby darling will cook for you!" the second one interjected.
- "And you then, your stallion, what will he do?" the third lady retorted.

The radio was tuned on a station telling a serial story. No loud music here. Except when the lady boss was not here.

- "The young one dropped his blanket on the floor during the night. He cried. I had to get up to cover him again... It's quite cold now, isn't it?" the second lady said.
- "Nothing like a good woollen blanket," interjected the third lady at the other table, "but since I moved, I just can't find mine..."
- "But that's a year ago! Haven't you emptied your cartons yet?" the lady boss said as she was working opposite the third lady.

27 January 2007

30. UNDOUBTEDLY THE JAPANESE IN ROOM 6

UNDOUBTEDLY THE JAPANESE IN ROOM 6 were rather peculiar. So Liyan had noticed. Saa, for instance, used to give herself a moonlike face by applying kaolin white makeup foundation on her skin, perhaps to hide her freckles. She walked with little steps like an old lady. Liyan had even seen her completely subdued sitting next to Kenji waiting for him to utter a word. She thought she felt a bit jealous. But with all due respect to F-sharp, Kenji had really talked to her.

- "Tomorrow I'll check with the Conservation Department on the way to Waipapa," Elle said to Liyan one night as she had just finished work in a poultry, "...I can't go gon like this doing odd jobs that don't pay."

Scottie, whose bed was above Maa's, had found a job picking clementines in a citrus orchard. She was very happy with it. She had a pair of walking boots which she used to clean every night with devotion before leaving them to dry in a prominent place. Maa had hung a line across the room leaving her washing on it permanently. With Liyan sitting there, F-sharp and the photo of Saa's cat, Room 6 was a haven of domestic tranquility. The final touch was a heater with a timer that was turned on every night.

- "What a nice and cosy room!" said Chris, the hostel keeper and gardener, when he was there once cleaning with a vacuum cleaner on his back with straps like a backpack.

When Elle came home the next day, she told Scottie, Liyan and everyone in the room her day's adventure. She couldn't get over it. It was a miracle.

As she had been hitch-hiking to Waipapa, a lady had stopped for her and had offered her to work in her orchids hot house. Well paid. For several months. She was to start at the end of June. And she'd better get herself a car, the lady had added, in order to arrive on time every morning.

- "That's God sent," Elle said to Liyan, "and I'm going to buy a car... Did you see Kenji to-day?"

The tanned Japanese guy was Elle's favorite. She sat a bit closer to him every day and staid a bit longer chatting with him in front of the wood stove. She used to leave messages in Chinese for him in chalk on the kitchen blackboard. She had even gone as far as inviting him to share her evening meal once or twice. He hadn't refused.

Liyan shook her head. She had seen Kenji in the reading corner all afternoon, his nose in a complicated book about budhism. He read in English with the help of a small electronic dictionary. Liyan was sure he preferred her to Elle and to all the others. Only, he simply didn't show it. That's the way of the Japanese. They hide what they think and what they feel. F-sharp was saying that it was because they actually didn't feel anything. But F-sharp was starting to get on her nerves anyway, with her Remi and his enraptured pizzicatos. By the way they hadn't yet had the opportunity to listen to the CD of flute and oboe music Elle had bought in Auckland.

- "You're right, I will ask Chris if we can use the small music player in the office... The loudspeakers are in the reading corner... It would be nice."

Liyan didn't even tell F-sharp. Elle invited Scottie. The three of them listened happily but agreed that there was no reason at all to fall in ectasy over it.

24 January 2007

29. Are you learning Chinese?

- "Are you learning Chinese?"
- "Yes, I am," Elle had replied without wavering.
- "Why are you learning Chinese?"
- "Because I'm going to China."
- "Do French people learn Chinese?" Kenji had asked.
- "Not really, but China fascinates them."

At the evening chat that day, the subject of conversation ran on the economics and politics of the Middle Empire, a serious talk interrupted by the latest report on Bab's pranks. She was the Scottish woman from Edinburgh who swore and drank beer like a trooper.

One day when Liyan was quietly sitting in the main room, Kenji took her on his lap and made her dance speaking to her in Japanese. To F-sharp, Liyan had declared later:

- "You know, the story between Him and Elle, can it happen to a doll?"
- "Yes, certainly. Why?"
- "Among the Japanese boys, one of them spoke to me..."
- "A man? A man speaking to a doll?... No, there, I'm sorry, you must be dreaming!" F-sharp replied sharply before she went on, "the orchestra conductor didn't like Remi... he used to take him up all the time... true, he used to be rather lazy, he didn't work as hard as I did... but he was talented!... very talented!"

F-sharp could remember a particularly romantic piece where, in a duet with Remi, she came close to total rapture. Liyan went on saying that Kenji had really talked to her.

- "A Japanese guy? Drop it!" F-sharp stressed without explaining further.

23 January 2007

28. IN THE MORNING ELLE PUT A MAGNETIC PHONE CARD

In the morning Elle put a magnetic phone card in the sliding slot of the phone hanging on the bathroom wall and called several plantations growing kiwi fruit, citrus or macademia nuts, all sorts of nurseries and even organic farms. She ended up pulling out citrus saplings, cleaning their thorns off with a sharp knife before planting them again in wider rows in some fresh ground.

On the third day she was in the kitchen dipping her scratched hands in a pot of boiling salted water when Kenji, the keen Japanese young man, asked her if this was the way French people usually healed themselves.

- “Yes, most certainly,” Elle answered without wavering.

They concluded that Japan and France had definitely things in common. Some time previously the young Japanese had seen Elle cover the checked pages of an exercise book with Chinese symbols. She was up to page 12 of her Teach Yourself Chinese book and was making serious efforts at writing long lines of the same symbol.

Kenji read above her shoulders and whistled with admiration.

15 January 2007

27. So, what do we do now

- "So, what do we do now?" Liyan asked after a few days.

She could see very well that Elle didn't have much fun at work.

- "To leave? Or not to leave?" Elle answered good humoured.

She liked it in Kerikeri actually and everybody agreed that the winter was mild and pleasant. The flaura, a bizarre cross between English and tropical species, made this narrow spire of New Zealand territory a cousin of the tropics. It streched as if to reach the Capricorn parallel only making it, though, to the 35th South.

Kerikeri had the air of a friendly township, active and businesslike, tightly knitted to make it possible to wander through the streets and the shopping areas on foot.

- "The YHA is comfortable, the main room fantastic. I think we can spend the winter here. What do you think, Liyan?"

Liyan loved living in room 6. She didn't contemplate leaving at all, specially since she could now talk with F-sharp at length. The room was a dormitory for women, Saa and Shii in the bunk beds next to the door, Maa and Scottie in the bunk beds opposite. Elle's bed was the single one on the floor next to the window along the wall where she had hung her usual metly piece of cloth as tapestry.

What Elle particularly liked was the wood stove in the common room. As it started being chilly in the evenings, she took it on to light the fire with twigs and branches gathered from the gum trees underwood, on the way to the river. The fire was then fed with logs pulled out from under the dining room. The logs had to be split with an axe. Massa and Hiro used to bring a large crate of split logs that they filed neatly next to the stove.

After dinner the hostel's regulars made themselves cosy on the old sofas in front of the fire to enjoy an evening of old. Travel or pub stories, hearsay and gossips, all got on well with various points of view on politics and philisophy.

- "You know what?" Scottie said once, "Massa took a swim in the nude at the waterfall... Yes, I'm telling you!"

- "Was he drunk?" asked Saa, the Japanese girl from Hiroshima.

- "No, not even!"

- "Not like the other night at the pub!" added Chris who had seen Massa deeply asleep have his eyebrows shaved by a fan. As a result he had shaved the left half of his skull to match.

- "What are you going to do if you don't go to the mandarine plantation any longer?" Liyan asked the day Elle had left the sorting hangar out of the blue.

Her palms turned upwards and pulling a face she shook her head to mean she didn't have a clue. But she would find something.

26. THE TALL, DARK AND QUIET BUILDING

THE TALL, DARK AND QUIET BUILDING had become an ant's nest when Elle found herself assigned to the sorting the next day.

She was standing in front of a conveyor belt relentlessly taking the mandarines from the left where they arrived to the right for about two meters where they fell in a cardboard box. She had to pick out the mandarines coming through if they had a mark, were too soft or not of the right calibre. She would throw the marked ones or the soft ones with her right hand into a box at her feet. She would throw the wrong sized ones with her left hand into another box.

The rhythm was 6/8 or 9/8 according to the batch or the urgency of sorting. Their eyes riveted on the belt and juggling with both hands, women working in the hangar managed to cover the crash of manchines with their voices. Music beats of a radio set could be heard over the general commotion.

At the end of the two meters of conveyor belt, men came to pick up full cartons replacing them swiftly by empty ones. They weighed each box and threw extra weight mandarines out into the new box. Then they closed these pretty mandarine boxes with the producer's mark and piled them up by scores...

By hundreds and thousands, these New Zealand mandarines were going to reach Japanese fruit markets where housewifes would inspect them with a sharp eye before paying the price. "Pretty mandarines, pretty clementines of Kerikeri, bon voyage!" Elle whispered when she saw them leave.

13 January 2007

25. Liyan, Elle and F-sharp boarded the bus

Liyan, Elle and F-sharp boarded the bus the next morning taking them as far as Pahia, in the north of the North Island of New Zealand.

- "This is real bad luck," the Opua harbour master said when Elle turned up, "all the yachts have left only last week. They left earlier than previous years as the weather forecast was predicting bad weather for the end of May. They fled!"

- "Well... perfect timing, isn't it?" Liyan said to Elle when they were back at the Pahia hostel.

Elle scowled at her. It meant clearly that they will have to wait for a whole year before the next departures.

- "Because sailboats always leave in May!... They sail up to the tropics to avoid spending the winter in New Zealand. They sail south in October to avoid the cyclone season in the tropics... I told you ten times already!" Elle added in anger.

- "No, you never told me!" Liyan hurled back.

The compact disc hadn't really pacified the situation between them, specially since Liyan couldn't even listen to it as they didn't have a CD player and specially because Elle had added:

- "You will not let F-sharp listen to it, do you hear me?"

- "That's the limit now!" Elle had hurled back.

- "It's no use turning the knife in the wound, you know," Elle had explained, "she doesn't feel like remembering things."

Liyan had shrugged her shoulders. "Talk for yourself," she had thought truly determined to exceed Elle's orders when she gets the opportunity.

Elle arrived at noon at the Kerikeri hostel further north where she had heard that mandarine pickers were needed. She pushed the wooden gate and let her bags fall on the ground.

- "Good timing," the hostel keeper said, "I've just sent a couple to the plantation. Maybe they'll need more than two. Run there now!"

Elle didn't wait for a repeat. Her purse was flat and her stomach empty.

The hangar where mandarines were sorted and packed was a tall rough concrete building. She hesitated a moment and then climbed the steep straight stairs to a large dark room. A very long table cut whole in a rimu tree was waiting for the workers at lunch break, so it seemed. A couple sitting in a corner was discussing some point in an unknown language, not paying any attention to Elle's arrival.

Minutes later they were all using their clippers in rows of mandarine trees. At the end of the day they found themselves discussing work at the hostel. Elle was saying she wanted to do something else like trying the sorting perhaps. They would continue to pick until they had enough to go on with their travelling in the southern hemisphere. Between them they spoke hungarian.

12 January 2007

24. LIYAN WAS NOT HERE

LIYAN WAS NOT HERE. The night before, the pair had had a violent row about the flute. Liyan wanted Elle to open the flute case, put the flute together and play a tune. Elle had squarely refused. It was completely out of the question to play the flute in this tiny bedroom of the first floor. Out of the question. Liyan thereupon was brooding, hidden in the army sleeping bag.

- "You are the one who advised me not long ago NOT to open up the flute case as long as we were in Auckland!"

- "Yes but I badly want to talk to her."

- "No way."

Yohitchi wanted to go to the beach.

- "The beach?... On foot, it won't be possible. Let's walk down to Quay Street and then we'll see."

Elle would have liked to visit the maritime museum on the quay, but thought promptly that it had no interest whatsoever for a blindman. Hand in hand they wandered, mingled in the Auckland crowd on a sunny day of May at the end of summer. Autumn hadn't reach Auckland yet. She thought that further north it would be even warmer.

At the bottom of the street in a shopping arcade she led Yohitchi in a music shop. To ask for Liyan's forgiveness she was going to buy a compact disc of flute and oboe music. She nosed about for wind instruments and managed to find one. It didn't seem terrible common. She wondered again if this inbredible love story between F'sharp and a oboe, told by Liyan, could be true.

Yohitchi was standing still behind his dark sun glasses, his white stick planted straight in front of him.

Elle went and asked if she could listen to the c.d., then came to stand by his side and listen to the music holding his hand.

Out of the music shop with a square box in a plastic bag marked Marbeck, they walked towards and along the quay, slowly, inhaling the tide's many scents, listening to the various shrieks of some arrogant city seagulls. They had to thread their way through the passengers of the Davenport ferry just arrived or between the outside tables of a restaurant. They ended up sitting on a bench in the sun, right on the edge of the sea where they could hear the lapping of the waves against the wall of the quay.

Yohitchi told her that in Japan he had recently been to a piano concert of Chopin music. The pianist, his friends had said, looked like he had ten fingers on each hand. Then he went on about his life in Tokyo since his accident.

- "How did your girlfriend react when it happened?" Elle asked.

- "I didn't have a girlfriend, I never had one," he answered with a smile.

Elle looked into his face, incredulous.

- "I was terribly shy before," he said calmly, "within a few month in the same year, I became blind and I knew a woman. I was very reserved, an introvert, when I could see. I drove a sports car... typed on a computer's keyboard... Now I am self assured. I live in a flat in Tokyo and I came to New Zealand to better my English."

He would stop and then resume his narration. Elle, leaning against him, was looking at the boats moving in the harbour. The idea of spending the night with him came across her mind. But terror overcame her when she thought of his gaping and burnt eyes that she would have to look straight at.

And when, approaching the hostel after their long walk, Yohitchi felt Elle's hand grip him, he said: "A penny for your thoughts?", she shook her head and replied: "No, nothing, nothing at all."

11 January 2007

23. Yeah, said Liyan

- "yeah!" said Liyan who had been watching for a while a Japanese man with a white walking stick. He was now walking towards the mis-shappen kitchen. "Look at the blind man trying to get into the kitchen!" she interrupted.

The Japanese was hitting his white stick on the wall a the left of the door without finding the entrance.

As the other Japanese people sitting at nearby tables didn't seem to worry much about the problem, Elle stood up and grabbed the blindman's sleeve without ceremony.

- "If you're looking for the kitchen, it's here!" she said.
- "Yes, thank you."

Opening the palm of his left hand for him to touch what she was going to name, she showed him the sinks, the pigeon holes, plates, mugs, forks and knives, pots and pans and the fridge.

- "Thank you, thank you," the blindman said suddenly pulling his hand out.
- "But I haven't finished!" Elle interjected.

She wanted to get him to understand that the kitchen was neither square, nor rectangular, but rather like two trapezoids in a cross whereby not one side was perpendicular to the other.

- "It's alright, it's alright, thank you, I shall try to remember this," he said.

- "He only wanted to make himself a cup of tea," Liyan said to Elle once they were back at their table, "not to be instructed on the geography of kitchens!"

They laughed and left.

Since no yacht from Westhaven was setting sails to the Cook islands, Elle remembered that there was one more chance for a crew job in Opua further north, as a skipper had told her. She booked a seat on the 8.30 bus for the day after to-morrow. She would arrive at the Pahia youth hostel around 1 pm. And Opua was only 5 km from there.

The next morning at breakfast the Japanese blindman was sitting at a small talbe near the kitchen. Elle sat obliquely on the chair opposite and said good morning. His name was Yohitchi. He had only been blind for a few years. It had been an accident in a laboratory when he was in his last year for chemistry. A lab experiment that blew up in his face. No, there was no hope, the optic nerves having been burnt.

He was saying all this with a smile and no bitterness. "I lost my sight, he commented, but I gained something else. I have grown taller inside. I see other things."

Suddenly aware that he couldn't see if she had a decent hairdo, or if she pulled a face for the circumstances, Elle felt like joking, take his hand and go for a walk with him. He accepted the invitation and a few meters away from the hostel, right at the top of Queen Street, she left his blindman's arm and took his hand in hers. He put the white stick he was pointing in front of him to probe the terrain under his arm as if it was a riding whip.

- "I am a happy man," he said laughing squarely.
- "I am a happy woman," Elle said very seriously.

10 January 2007

22. THAT EVENING AT THE FARM

THAT EVENING AT THE FARM, dinner had been prepared by two Danish girls backpackers. They were going to replace Elle who was leaving the next morning.

They had cooked for eight people a yummy lasagna dish which was occupying the place of honour in the middle of the table. One of the Danish girl was serving generous portions with a ladle.

- "I don't want any," said one of the little girls pulling a face after having poked her helping with a fork.

- "Me neither," the second one went on.

- "It's poop, disgusting, yuk!" the youngest one carried on pushing her plate away.

- "You don't have to eat it, darling," their conniving mother said.

The girls' helpings went into the rubbish bin, still warm. The remaining of the dish as well. Elle held herself back not to leave this household right away. After having swallowed the tasty lasagna with a tight throat, she excused herself to go and join Liyan and tell her the whole mishap with the mare.


Liyan and Elle found themselves back at the Youth Hostel in Auckland with great joy. Ambling down Queen Street and walking down to the Westhaven marina was a great pleasure. And the flute had not disapeared!

Elle read all the notes on the marina's notice board. Not much hope.

- "Sail twenty days with an American on an eight meter sailboat? No thanks!" Elle said shrugging her shoulders.

- "You don't really want to sail away, do you? Say that rather!" Liyan answered.

- "Yes, I do! Just watch, we're going to find a boat this afternoon."

And Elle dragged Liyan on all the Westhaven pontoons, from A to L and from M to Z, inspecting each and every hull. She was looking for one that would appear to have been sailing across oceans.

Nothing. Twice, a busy skipper told her to keep looking in Opua from where yachts normally leave for the tropics at this time of year.

Back at the Youth Hostel Liyan asked why they had to leave, and where to. She had the feeling Elle was not terribly determined with her plans to sail away. Maybe she was still hoping to meet Him if she hung around long enough in Queen Street. But she didn't mention the subject.

- "First of all, you see, we are here," Elle said pointing her finger on a map of the Pacific spread out on one of the small square table in the common room at the Hostel, "...and we want to get there!" pointing her finger on Hawaii. "As a sailboat doesn't know straight lines and because we have to make with the winds, we have to travel this way," she went on dragging her forefinger from New Zealand to the Cook Islands, then to the Marquises after passing through Tahiti, and stopping on the big island of Hawaii in the archipelago of that name.

09 January 2007

21. Elle felt she had won

Elle felt she had won the animal's complete trust. And when Jim arrived with the van, they both very naturally walked towards the outside gate, the reins between them dragging low on the ground.

- "Get her back in the shed," he said surprised, "while I secure ropes from the van to the posts before opening the gate to prevent her to run away."

- "There's no need for it, she'll go into the van no problem," Elle said now surprised of so much caution.

- "Go and wait at the shed, I'm telling you."

Jim's precautions were useless. The mare walked into Elle's steps in great confidence. Right in the middle of the ramp, she stopped, in a flash of doubt.

- "Come on, old friend!" said Elle who was already inside the van, "it's comfortable in here, two more steps please!"

And the mare walked up into the van. Elle gave the reins back to Jim.

Late that night, when Elle was telling her story to Liyan, a strange emotion overcame her.

- "When they put her in a dirty paddock covered in mud, without a blade of grass or another horse in sight, she started neighing pathetically. It was for me, Liyan, as if to say: "You've cheated me, you've really cheated me". She had followed me in such great confidence, you know. She now found herself in that thing... and I was pretending not to know her."

Silence. Liyan felt sorry. Elle went on.

- "I remember reading in a novel once the vivid description of a horseman mastering his horse at a level crossing, as a train was coming through in a thundering noise of hell. The writer had compared the rider to a god who demanded the animal's obedience. A relationship of trust had to be established between them. The animal thus subdued outshone by far the easily frightened wild animal... And what if it was the kind of relationship God had with humans? Hey, Liyan?"

After a long silence, Elle had concluded:

- "God can certainly take us to a dirty paddock covered in mud and leave us there."

08 January 2007

20. ELLE THIS MORNING WAS WALKING TOWARDS THE MARE

20. ELLE, THIS MORNING, WAS WALKING TOWARDS THE MARE steadily holding the bridle bit in her left hand and talking about the weather in a reassuring voice.

The mare turned her head away as Elle presented the bit to her and stepped aside. No more. Elle followed her move and started again. The thing was that Elle's right hand could only reach the mare's ears if she willingly bent her head to have the bridle put over. Now the mare lifted her head. Just so. So Elle threw the bridle bunch over her neck and, still holding the bit in her left hand, led the mare in this fashion towards a more favorable terrain. She walked steadily and talked softly. This time being at the right level the mare didn't waver and let herself be bridled. Elle's hands were shaking... she had just put the bridle upside down.

- "Oh blast!... sorry! wait there! don't move... this way... there you are... that's it, that's it..."

The valiant horse was bending her head down out of pity for sure. Once the chin strap secured Elle took the reins to the front and let the mare to the shed. The nasty poney followed. When they reached the gate to go to the other side of the shed, he wanted to cross too. Elle told him to get lost and closed the gate on his nose. He started neighing to protest. The two animals had not been apart for ages and were both nervous. On the lookout and blowing strongly through her nostrils the mare followed Elle in confidence but on the verge of panic.

When they reached the gate to the outside of the property, the last one before the road, Elle stopped the animal and leaned against her trying to reassure her. The mare jolted her head, her ears like a windvane, answering the poney's distant neighing. The mare was not calming down.

Elle came back a little, sat on a grassy bank in front of the animal and holding the reins with the tip of her fingers just so, she undertook to convince the four legged animal that there was nothing to fear, that she would soon be back on her native farm and that she was going to be reunited with old pals, et ceatera.

The mare finally calmed down and started grazing diligently.

07 January 2007

19. The shearing was finished

The shearing was finished. The boundaries had been checked. The one thing left now was to return the mare to her owner somewhere in the Waikato district. The owner had lent the mare to Jim on condition that it would be returned before her foal was born.

On the last day Liyan could keep quiet. She hated this icy cold house, not really meant for a Chinese doll, friend of a flute.

- "You can go to the shed on your own, I'm staying here to-day," she said to Elle in the morning when Jim knocked at the door.

Sheep, dogs, horses, nothing was of any interest any more. She locked herself up in the room wishing to avoid to meet Victoria again at all cost. According to her she would have easuly burnt the doll without trial.

In short the mare had to be returned to her owner, that was the last assignment. As a horse trailer had to be rented Jim had made a few phone calls to get the best bargain and as he was getting into his car to go and get the van, he had said to Elle:

- "You'll find her bridle in the round roofed shed, where the straw is stored. It's the blue one. Try and put it on her. See you later."

She found the bridle. The reins were made of worn out blue nylon. "That's quite some time I haven't put a bridle on a horse", thought she, "I'm glad Liyan stayed in the house, there'll be no witness!"


Day after day she had nonetheless managed to make friends with the two horses. The jealous and bad tempered poney remained aloof still but he could follow the mare when she trotted towards Elle. Perched on a wooden fence Elle had persistantly called the mare by her name until she decided to come for a pat of her own accord. Diplomatic relations had not gone any further.

18. EARLY ON MONDAY MORNING

Early on Monday morning Liyan started her moaning about the dangers of having left F-sharp back in Auckland.

- "Are you coming with me?" Elle asked to cut her lamentations short.

- "To do what?" Liyan asked.

- "What do we do to-day?" Elle asked Jim sticking her head in the corridor.

He was in the kitchen making porridge.

- "We ride the boundaries and check the gates... Before the shearing a big storm has made the creek to flood, there will be sure some damage!" Jim shouted from the kitchen.

Liyan nodded yes, that she was coming too.

Riding the boundaries on an estate of that size counting a few hundred hectares, up vales and down dales, took all day. Sitting on the grid at the back of Jim's bike on his left side, her two feet wedged in such a way as not to hinder Jim's left foot when changing gear, Elle found herself propelled full blast on the bumpy dirt tracks that roughly followed the boundaries.

Opening gates, closing gates. Jim took shortcuts, charged, drove down steep hills, crossed fords in fourth gear where a horse would have thought it twice over. "This 4WD bike can only stick to the ground", thought Elle privately to feel reassured, "these machines never turn over, do they?" She didn't even bother checking if Liyan was still in her pocket.

The torrential rain had washed some of the poles away and some barbed wire on the side of the swamp was missing. But there were no cows stuck in the mud as a neighbour had claimed.

About twenty sheep had escaped the rounding up and the shearing. They were the tough ones knowing how to deceive the shepherds and were still running free outside their given paddocks. They would have to be fetched on another day with the dogs.

From the track at the top of the ridge the view onto distant Hamilton was splendid. Jim and Elle stopped to admire the sight.

17. Tension was growing

Tension was growing between Jim and Elle. Liyan had noticed it and had mentioned it to Elle in the evening in the green room.

- "Even the girls have noticed it," Liyan said commenting on the incident when they had leagued, refusing to bring a basin to Elle at the door which would have spared her from taking her rubber boots off. She was going to put the washing on the line. "Lazy bastard!" they had thrown at her, giggling. Elle had taken her boots off, had fetched the basin inside the house, had put her boots back on and had gone to hang the laundry on the line. Jim had punished the girls into their room for lack of cooperation.

- "But that wasn't the reason, was it?" Liyan said.

- "No, it's not the reason," Elle commented lucid, "either they are jealous that I spend so much time with their father, or their mother tells them I am the bad French woman who is going to steal their father from her."

- "What do we do?" Liyan asked who contemplated going back to Auckland with glee.

- "We will leave as soon as most of the job is done..."

- "Yipee!" Liyan exclaimed.

There were still the ewes in lamb to scan to know how many lambs were to be expected and when.

On the Sunday morning Jim and Elle were waiting at the shed. The scanning man was not a vet. He had the needed equipment and the know-how. He could be called on Sundays. The ewes couldn't have held out any longer withoug eating. They were parked in pens and yards since the beginning of the shearing. Some were sick. Jim had already cut the throat of two of them which he left lying on a trailer. Hard to know why they were sick. The vet was too expensive.

The scanning man arrived. He set up his equipment and work started. Elle, a counting meter in hand, was to stand on the other side of the machine where ewes were held still a few secons, long enough for the scanning man to stick his arm up their passage with a soundreader.

Sticky jokes about the two or three rams that had got them in lamb were running high, somewhat tempered, Elle thought, by her being there. The tone was squarely male chauvinist, praising the all powerful male sheep with which the men in the shed seemed to identify.

A neighbour had arrived to give a hand. Jim was pushing the ewes from the pens into a narrow corridor, the neighbour was pushing them into the scanning machine. The shorn and scanned ewes were piling up in the pen at the end, now very mucky and covered in stagnant pee. Elle, from time to time, would walk across this pen to open the gate. The ewes would engulf in the way and hurl onto a grassy bank opposite.

After a number of hours, the work was done. The percentage of sterile ewes was passable and the number of lambs to be born before spring sufficient to make the boss happy.

The 1500 animals, spread out on the bank around the shed, were going to rejoin their paddock some kilometers away. Two bikes, three dogs, three people and a number of hours later, they were left to graze on a few hectares of bad pasture.

Jim and Elle had come back to the house worn out.

- "Six per cent failure," he had said to his wife who could count, "it could have been worse."

05 January 2007

16. One day

One day there was no more sheep to shear.

There were some left in a pen that had to be sorted out for the 7 o'clock truck the next morning. Some lambs were going to the Hamilton market to be auctioned. Some ewes in lamb were staying at the shed to be scanned.

In the evening in the green room Liyan was worrying about F-sharp in Auckland.

Elle, as for her, had had to bear Jim's sarcasms all day long. He seemed to take great pleasure in denigrating France and the French on any issue.

- "Maybe someone will steal her", Liyan was saying, "or else she will run away to find her oboe of the Philharmonia orchestra..."

- "I am sick of listening to these stupid stories..." Elle was saying.

- "But..." Liyan interrupted.

- "Do you know, Liyan, that volcano eruptions and earthquakes, air pollutin, skin cancer and the hole in the ozone layer, all that is because of the French!" Elle went on laughing, "Yes, it is!... Moruroa, Tokyo and Taupo stand in a triangle... ah! Liyan... a triangle!"

Liyan did not follow.

- "But it's true she could run away", the doll went on, "She told me she didn't want to be stuck in her box and she was sick of doing Gs and Fs and playing Green Sleeves."

- "She said that, did she?"

Elle thought it over.

She had adopted the flute because she wanted to be able to play music while travelling. It didn't take much room and it was easy to carry. She liked the sound of the flute but she was no virtuoso. Times and places where she could "work" her instrument proved to be rare. What should she do. Sell it again? Send it back to Motueka? Liyan would not stand being separated from F-sharp now. Elle promised herself to play her flute more often.

Very early the next day the lambs for Hamilton were loaded onto a big blue two storey truck. The dogs busied themselves to make the sheep get onto a wooden ramp built there to this effect. The driver of the smelly and bleeting truck counted the animals as they went into his truck one by one. The counting was more accurate this way. Their attempts of the day before in the sheep yard had never given the same figure.

At the Hamilton market's sheep yard that morning, the sheep pens overflowed.

The offical auctioneers were perched on a plank running as a patrol track above the pens. They were addressing a crowd of farmers in rubber boots, check shirts and leather hats. Some were wearing the brown oilskin coat in fashion in the area. It was a real oilskin you had to rubb with oil regularly in order to keep it waterproof. Elle had wanted to buy one. They were expensive and heavy. She had come out of the co-opshop without an oilskin but with a gate lock. A super simple and efficient system, she thought, which could be used one day perhaps in her native village in France.

15. The following day

The following day Liyan went with Elle to the shed.

Walking past the mare, Elle talked of the weather and patted her neck.

- "She's filthy!" Liyan commented.

The old poney rolled his eyes and shook his head nastily. He was jalous and quarrelsome. Jim was telling how he already had sent the little girls flying off his back and how they didn't want to go horse riding anymore.

The mare, on the other hand, was an old roader from the time when you worked the sheep on horse back. Not so long ago really. Now Jim swore by his bike, a four wheel drive and machine of all trade. On horse back you needed three days to ride the boundaries. With a bike, one afternoon.

At the shed the shorn sheep were waiting jam packed in the pens.

Elle had decreed that a good shepherdess leads her sheep from in front. Jim had not insisted on the method. He trusted her, giving her orders to send back the sheep from a pen back to a given paddock. Elle was doing her shepherd's job with pleasure, opening gates, closing gates and walking in front of her flock of shorn ewes. Once this lot sent off she'd come back to the shed for another lot.

Jim was giving a hand up in the shed to close the wool bails.

He shouted to Elle to let ewes still to be shorn come up. She would go under the floor boards, would open the pen gates, shout yo-o-o's while gesticulating to make the ewes walk up a slippery passage. Once, she appeared up there behind the ewes, climbing over the pen's partitions and coming out at the door where the shearers took the animals to be done. Her appearance there had its effect. She could read a certain respect in the shearers' eyes. "Not scared of the shit, hey?!" seemed to be the message.

At smoko they had a mug of tea with milk and a piece of cake, lounging on the wool bails that were piling up.

14. AT THE HOUSE

At the house Liyan was terribly bored. She didn't dislike the big bedroom painted green with a big window on the very green pointed hills. But the whole house was so cold, so naked, so much not pretty. That's it, so much not pretty. That's what she'd tell F-sharp when she sees her again.

She had met Victoria, Jim's wife, the day before when she came home from her office work in town. Straight as a pole, dressed in somber looks and without warmth, Victoria did not share Jim's passion for sheep. She was an accountant. She worked in an office without windows all day long while Jim was running the hills on his 4WD bike behind the ewes. They had in common three little girls, a piano, a computer and debts. Loads of debts. The threat of financial disaster was weighing hard on everything they did and said.

The evening meal done with in fifteen minutes, the family scattered in the bedrooms and Elle joined Liyan back in hers.

- "Pity we left F-sharp in Auckland!" Liyan said.

- "And the camera", Elle added.

They were cold. Houses in this country are built in papier machey, Elle thought. Not even able to insulate them from the outside temperature, she went on annoyed. Hidden in her sleeping bag, she let her thoughts run loose to Motueka. Was Him still there? Would she see him again one day? She recalled his eyes, his built, his hair, his hands.

- "One day at smoko he was sitting in a spot where I couldn't see his face, I was looking at his hands caressing his coffee cup... are you listening, Liyan?"

The little doll had fallen asleep. The fresh air of Hamilton's hills, no doubt.

Elle went on remembering. How she had had the feeling of belonging to him. How he had seemed so possessive the day Gary drove past in his battered old truck blowing this horn, on the road by the orchard. Gary always parked his old vehicle up behind the kitchen to make sure he could get it started down the hill. He lived in romm 5 next to the kitchen and he was mate with everyone. Elle told herself she would not stand a man who would make a scene whenever she'd greet another one passing by. She had to find major defects to Him. Get rid of this mad urge she had to do anything to see him again.

13. As Elle was walking

As Elle was walking down to the shed, she greeted a mare and an old poney planted there on the way as if to have a better look at the new backpacker. They had seen lots of backpackers, all kinds, from all sorts of countries. They staid a while, on full board, working with the sheep, then went on their ways without looking back. Backpackers, the mare and the poney had seen lots of them walk by! They preferred not to get involved at all and Elle's efforts to pat them remained vain.

- "Stay there until I come back", Jim had said at the shed's door.

Elle, standing as a sentry, was observing the three men bent over in halves on their sheep, held by a belt under their stomach hooked on a spring hanging from a beam for more comfort or less back pain. The radio full blast. Their clippers full speed. The dirty wool falling from the clippers was pushed by three women with a broom towards a fourth man who picked it up and loaded it up into a kind of square barrel. From time to time he jumped into it and crammed the wool with his feet. Technology of a previous century. Dust and smell of ewes parked under the floor boards waitinf for their turn. No panic among the animals. They looked like they had seen it all before. It was autumn shearing. Less wool but of better quality, the boss had said, and once shorn, as they are cold, they fatten up quicker.

- "Take that bike and follow me, we go and get the ewes left in the bottom paddock."

The bike in question was a four wheel drive, a cross between a horse and a jeep. You drove it like a moped. Jim had two of them. The one Elle had, did not reverse. At one stage, she drove too close to a post and got her right back wheel stuck. She pushed and pulled the machine until it became unstuck, then opened up the throttle to catch up with the boss who was rushing in front, not bothering with bumps or holes, nor with dead steep hills. They had to open the gates for the flock to go through, round the ewes up and make them walk towards the shed. The dogs were running at full muscle power all along.

12. IDLE AND ALONE

Idle and alone Liyan finally decided to go and explore the hostel in all its corners. Downstairs in the common room lots of people from lots of different countries were walking around and talking. Some were preparing a meal in a quaint kitchen full of pots. The Japanese tourists didn't pay any attention to her. Gigi, a black woman, called her over and told her she came from Paris and was on her way to the South Island.

- "Funny! I just come from there," said Liyan proud, "the crossing of Cook Strait is a bit long, there's a falafel shop in Nelson and lots of apple tree in Motueka..."

Gigi was not going to Nelson to pick apples or to eat falafels. She was meeting up with Aaron she had met in Australia and loved madly.

One morning finally Elle got out of her bag and led Liyan towards the harbour. They hung around on the pontoons. Thousands of sailboats were dozing on their moorings under the Harbour Bridge that spans the bay of Auckland. No. No sailboat was likely to sail north east as Elle had thought. Nothing interesting on that side. Deciding in the end that she was not in a hurry to sail away anyway, Elle took Liyan down town Auckland.

Back at the hostel a fresh note on the notice board was offering free accommodation and food in exchange for some work on a sheep farm for the autumn shearing.

The next day Elle was in Hamilton in the Waikato area with rubber boots on, counting sheep.

- "That's a shame we left F-sharp in Auckland, isn't it?" Liyan said in the evening in the bedroom.

- "And the camera!" Elle added.

Then she was silent.

- "It's a bit of a mess here, isn't it?" Liyan was going on finding the atmosphere rather cool, the people distant and the house not pretty.

As Elle was not answering she became silent too.

The second day Elle was up at 6am.

- "Go this way and let the dogs out," had said Jim the sheep farmer boss, "and meet me at the shed."

The three dogs were in small cages on stilts near a semi-circled shelter where bridles for horses were hanging, half way between the house and the sheep shed. They bounced out of their cages, mad with impatience and passion for their shepherd's job. Elle had seen them work the day before obeying Jim's orders to muster the sheep and make them go where he wanted.

About Me

FOREWORD

This is not a novel really. It has no plot, no beginning and no end. It is a slice of life, the way it happened, portraying real people. A slice of life set with fantasy. This text is my own bad translation of what I wrote in French between 1996 and 1999.

COPYRIGHTS

Copyrights 2006-2010 Frankie Perussault All rights reserved.

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