A girl walks in.
You notice her hair is dirty blonde, not quite brunette; skin sun-kissed, but not dark; eyes hazel, almost brown.
Her parents are rich; it’s evident in the brand on her shirt, the quality of her shoes, the iPhone shaped bump in her back pocket – not that you were looking, of course.
She sits down at the bar, and she pulls out her phone. She’s texting someone, maybe the person who should be sitting next to her. She frowns, and your mind begins to wander, dreaming a story for her. You’re sitting at a table drinking the beer you don’t really want when a guy walks in.
He’s the type of boy you used to hate in high school; tall, with hours spent at the gym filling out his shirt, hair that’s bleached at the tips, clothes identical to any other jerk. He sits down next to the girl, and she smiles at him. They greet each other, and he asks if she wants a drink. She does.
They talk, and even through terrible music you can hear every word they say. So, you listen, because you’re lonely and you’re bored, and this bar is quiet and your beer tastes sour anyway.
You learn that the girl is called Jess and the dude is Mitch. You also learn that Emma is great, Jackson is fine, and did you hear that Jack got that promotion? Unfortunately, Tristan is suffering from an oh-so-painful heartbreak, which makes him a weak pussy. Mitch spits these words out halfway through his lager, seconds before calling Tristan’s ex a little whore. Jess tenses but doesn’t say anything. The conversation continues and they talk about nothing subjects, work and school and stupid movies.
He doesn’t tell her how her hair shimmers when it moves, or how her voice sounds like the music of a forest. The conversation begins to die, and you could tell without seeing that he’s looking at the walls and ceiling, hoping for conversation to jump out of nowhere.
“Hey,” Mitch sneers, “look at that Mowri over there. Bet that’s his fifth drink tonight.”
“Excuse me?” asks Jess.
She seems shocked, but you’re not.
“It’s statistical,” he tells her, “Drinking and drugs, it’s in their blood.”
Your head’s down but you can feel him glaring at you; distaste piercing the back of your head.
“You know,” she says in a measured voice, “I’m from Tainui.”
You sneak a look and he’s not looking at you anymore, but he doesn’t look too ashamed of himself either.
“It’s just the truth, baby” – his voice is patronising – “the truth ain’t always what you want to hear, but it doesn’t stop it from being the truth.”
She’s tense, obviously insulted. You see her raise her head and square her shoulders.
And that’s when she begins to speak.
“It wasn’t the Māori who brought alcohol here, it was the Pākehā.”
Her voice slowly begins to rise.
“It wasn’t the Māori who brought the guns that slaughtered thousands,” she tells him, “It was the Pākehā. It wasn’t the Māori who beat children at school when they spoke their native tongue,” she continues, spitting out her words: “it was the Pākehā. “
“Our language was almost lost, thanks to Pākehā beating our children when they didn’t speak an alien one. My koro, burdened with memories of canes and belts, was scared to teach his children the language of their ancestors. My father grew up not knowing how to speak the words that ran through his veins. Pākehā belittled us and discriminated against us, making us strangers in our own land. Many of us lost te reo, and without our reo, we have nothing. We cannot waiata, or karakia, or mihi, or haka, or tell our pepeha. We cannot know the tales and stories of our tūpuna and atua. We never know our whakapapa. We lose ourselves as our culture disintegrates. And as our culture drowns in the ways of the Pākehā, we begin to drown ourselves too.”
She glares at him one last time before taking a drink.
You don’t notice you are holding your breath until you let it out. Almost everyone in the small bar is staring at her now, and silence hangs over you all, daring to be broken.
“Tēnā koe,” somebody says.
You realise it was you.
She turns to you and gives you the most amazing smile. Mitch is still sitting there, struck dumb. Idiot.
She finishes her drink and leaves, and you think for barely a second before leaving your hardly touched beer and following her out the door.
Tainui – Tribe from the Waikato region
Te reo – The Māori language
Waiata – sing/song
Karakia – pray/prayer
Mihi – speech/greeting
Tūpuna – Ancestors
Atua – Gods
Whakapapa – genealogy