Kahuraki (an excerpt from Pōkai)
The first sky Kahuraki saw was deep stormy blue. Dimpled clouds puckered with withheld rain. A waiting sky. He watched the deep blue clouds and waited for whatever was going to happen.
What happened was raindrops, big fat ones, that could wet his whole face. He laughed.
Kahuraki learned all the ways the sky could be blue. Eternity blue, cobalt blue, dusk blue and blue like faded wings. Thick milky blue like glacial melt. Clear blue almost transparent. Opaque blue so solid you could hit it with a fist. Night sky blue like fists pressed in your eyes. Clouds coloured blue on stormy evenings, when everyone would rush around in the wind making sure their shelter was secure.
The second sky that Kahuraki saw, really truly saw, was on the day his sister was born. It was a sky like oil-spills in water and a pattern of clouds in feathery lines like a korowai. His father said ‘That sort of sky is promising us a storm tomorrow. She’s gonna be a terror, your new sister.’ That’s why they named her after a such an adventurous tipuna, so she’d have something productive to put all her stormy energy towards.
Hinepipi wouldn’t leave anyone alone, she would grab anything she could and pull it really hard and gurgle. She liked pulling fingers, curls, pounamu, anything—the louder the yelp of pain, the happier she would be. Kahuraki’s parents were pretty tired out all the time, as was his Taua, because Hinepipi wouldn’t stay still. It was such a pain! Why had they called her such an adventurous name? Kahuraki took to collecting bits of fern and supplejack and sticks he found in the forest for her to pull on instead of people’s ears. She liked that. But he had to pick carefully because she’d put it in her mouth.
Kahuraki was glad when Hinepipi was big enough to run around with him, but no one else was. She started walking at nine months old and their mother let out a wail of despair.
‘Auē! How am I ever going to control her now?’ It was a fair call. No one could control Hinepipi.
Kahuraki took to looking after his tuahine. He was told he must make sure she didn’t fall in the river, and keep her away from the big cliff in the bush towards the mauka, and she mustn’t climb as high as he did in the trees, and make sure she didn’t eat the tutu berries, and keep her away from the tuahu and Aunty Mura.
‘Okay’ Kahuraki said, and ran into the trees, with Hinepipi tumbling after. As soon as they were out of sight of the whare, Kahuraki forgot all of the warnings and instructions he had been given, but held on to a sense of pride and importance, that he was trusted to look after Hinepipi.
Kahuraki was looking out at the sky (long orange clouds burning against orange horizon), sitting perched in the fork of his favourite rātā tree, when he realised that Hinepipi had disappeared. He didn’t know how he knew, because nothing had changed around him, except that he couldn’t hear his sister’s chuntering, and her absence was seared into his wairuaas vividly as the shining clouds seared into his eyeballs. She wasn’t there, and he was meant to be looking after her. All the things his parents had told him when he went into the forest with her roared through his mind.
He climbed down the rātā and looked around. He could feel his heart skittering. The sun was leaving, but in this last light everything glowed, orange-tinted. The forest thrummed with life: tītiripounamu hopped and washed in puddles held by tree roots; cicadas stridulated lazily in the cooling air. A miromiro called once from a nearby mossy stream, then darted to the water, then returned to its perch. The trees themselves whispered to each other. And Hinepipi was nowhere.
Kahuraki started calling, and searching through the ferns. Fern pollen filled his nose and throat. He found hollows under tree roots, mossy dips off the stream bed, tunnels among boulders. He looked through all of them, but found only spiders and wētā in the cracks. The light was bleeding out of the air, leaving the forest black and grey and deep blue. Rurucalled, Koukou. Koukou. ‘Where is she, where is she?’ Kahuraki kept muttering, asking all the beings that he searched among to help him find his sister. Perhaps he should go back to the kaik, he would have to tell his parents, they would all come out to search. There were tears blurring his eyes and he blinked them away, still searching.
He stumbled in the darkness, tumbled down a slope onto damp moss. He stared up through the trees at a sky full of stars. A mosaic of leaf patterns and shining bright points of light. The world felt infinitely large, and cold, and unaffected by his troubles. Ruru called. Screeee. Koukou.
The moon was rising, shining light onto the tree leaves, and something rustled behind Kahuraki, something different from normal forest rustling. Something delicate and precise touched the top of his head. He jolted, awkwardly hoisted his cold body upright. A being stood behind him, as tall as his father, lost in the shadows but parts of its body catching the light; a huge bulbous head, mandibles. Long antennae came out from the front of its head; that was what had touched him. Spindly, spiny limbs. But also, inexplicably, it was the shape of a man. The being was looking at him and clicking, rubbing spindly legs together behind itself.
‘I brought you your sister back, little crying child,’ the being rasped, creaked, cracked.
Kahuraki saw Hinepipi, standing close behind it.
The relief that flooded through him washed away any fear, released his tight and aching muscles. He called out to his sister, and she came running up to him. She looked very grubby and tired, a very hōhā toddler.
After he had hugged her, and told her off, and asked where she had been, and checked to make sure she wasn’t obviously hurt, he looked back up to thank the being. But it had gone. Wētā don’t like to spend time visible to humankind, and this one was no exception.
Hinepipi seemed completely unaffected by her strange disappearance; she couldn’t or didn’t say anything about where she’d gone, although she kept talking about the Wē-tā he led them home, slow and stumbling through the shadows and spotlights of moonlight. It was Kahuraki who was changed. He couldn’t let go of that feeling, the utter destitute feeling of losing Hinepipi; the feeling of seeping moss under the infinite, cold, uncaring night sky. ‘I will never be a carefree child again,’ he thought, and he gripped Hinepipi’s arm tighter than before.
At the kaik, fires were burning and food was cooking, and their whānau seemed to be relieved when they slipped back into the whare, out of the damp and dark.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tōrea Scott-Fyfe (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha, Pākeha) spends her summers galavanting around Te Rua-o-te-Moko and her winters trying to write about it. She has just finished her MA in creative writing at the IIML.