On the Road to Wainuiomata

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You can just about see it if you squint.

I won a local writing competition! Well, I won the ‘all ages’ category. There was also a ‘youth’ category, and the winner of that was the overall winner. So, what I’m really telling you, is that I was beaten by a twelve-year-old.

To make it even better, when asked if he was surprised to win, the overall winner (allegedly) said ‘oh no.’ Ah, such confidence!

The competition was called ‘Write Wainuiomata’. For my overseas readers, Wainuiomata is an area in greater Wellington (which is in New Zealand, which is where I live). For the competition, you had to write a short piece containing the word ‘Wainuiomata’ – beyond that, anything you liked.

Here’s my winning short story, On the Road. It’s around 900 words, so a quick read.

I hope you enjoy it.

 

On the Road

He said his name was Tamati. He lived in Wainuiomata. He said he liked reading too.

That’s all I knew about him.

That is, I knew the warmth of his hand in mine. I knew the touch of his fingers on my face, smoothing the hair out of my eyes. I knew he was calm in a crisis, that his voice was like warm honey. I knew the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled.

Although, he didn’t smile much, and when he did, I could see the worry behind it. His eyes were shiny as melted chocolate, but I don’t think he was holding back tears. He didn’t know me, after all. I think he just looked like that. Like a man whose soul is near the surface.

I bled on his jacket. I apologised. I knew it wasn’t necessary, but I was close to tears, and I always apologise when I’m upset.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s the oldest jacket I own. You’re doing me a favour. Good excuse to get a new one, eh?”

“You must be cold,” I said.

I was so cold I was shaking. An icy southerly ruffled his hair and plumped up the sleeves of his white business shirt so he looked like an Elizabethan gentleman.

“Nah, I’m hot-blooded,” he said, winking.

I noticed something moving by my head. I thought it was an insect, but it was blood seeping along a crack in the asphalt.

“Do you think I’m going to die?” I was aiming for matter-of-fact, but my voice wavered.

“No, of course not.”

He sounded as if he knew what he was talking about. I looked away from that thin red line, into his eyes instead. If I looked deep enough, I might not slip away.

“What I think is you’re going to read lots more books,” he said. “For example, you need to wait for George RR Martin to finish Game of Thrones.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“You like to read, don’t you?”

“Yes, I love books.”

I thought he knew by magic, because that seemed as likely as that I was lying by the side of the motorway, huddled under his jacket. Then I saw a page from a book fly past in the wind off the harbour. Then another page whisked by, and another.

“Oh,” I said. “Are those my books?”

“It doesn’t matter. You can buy more. What matters is that you’re going to be around to read them.”

“Do you—”

There was a terrible choking, gurgling noise behind me. Voices rose and fell, sharp, panicked.

“What’s happening?” My voice came out high-pitched and thin.

Perhaps oil was spilling out of my car. I could hear the pinging of hot metal. I could smell burnt rubber and petrol. Was something going to explode?

“Nothing,” he said. “That’s just some people looking after the other guy. They’re on it. Nothing to worry about.”

“The other guy?”

“The guy who hit you.”

He gazed off to where I couldn’t see. His brow creased.

“You won’t go, will you?” I said, holding his hand a bit tighter.

“Course not. I’m waiting with you. We’ll talk about books, eh? I love to read too. At the moment, I’m reading Jack Kerouac.”

“I’ve never read him.”

“You will one day. Maybe I can lend you my copy.” He cocked his head. “Listen, can you hear that? That’s the ambulance on its way. That’s good, eh?”

“Yeah.”

It seemed darker, suddenly. The sky was the pale, pale turquoise of a piece of glass you find on the beach; a piece of glass that’s been there forever. The stars were coming out.

“Hey, hey,” he said. “Where were you going?”

“The sky,” I said.

“No. Where were you going with your books? You were going home, right?”

“Silverstream,” I said. “I live in Silverstream.”

“I know it. It’s nice. I have a mate lives there.”

“I want to leave. It’s my parents’ house. I want to live in town.”

“You will one day.”

“Where…where…were you…” I couldn’t get the words out, but he understood.

“Wainuiomata,” he said. “That’s where I live.”

“You’ll be late.”

I was proud of that. It sounded so sane, like I knew what was going on, and I felt as if I was losing it. It was like being drunk, only a lot less fun. Everything hurt.

“No worries. No one’s waiting for me,” he said.

“I’d wait for you,” I said.

“Are you flirting?”

He didn’t look angry. He grinned.

There were flashing lights and a bald man in green was bending over me. Another man in green was doing something to my arm.

“Tamati,” I said, but no sound came out.

I couldn’t see him anymore. Perhaps I’d dreamed him.

The men in green shone a light in my eyes, asked me questions, put me on a stretcher. As they lifted me into the ambulance I looked across the harbour.

Have you ever noticed how the streetlights on the Wainuiomata Road form a perfect, graceful curve over the dark hill? They arch up into the sky like a magic road. If only you could walk that road of lights, up over the hill, into the sky, I think you’d be happy forever.

END

Did you like it? Did you count how many times I used the word ‘Wainuiomata’?

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like my book Mended with Gold which is out now from MLR Press. 

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