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

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


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


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.


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


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


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 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.


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.


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.


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


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 2006-2010 Frankie Perussault All rights reserved.

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