Piwakawaka

Fiction, Travel & Environment, Short Story, Adults, Young Adults, Short Read
Kat Miller | The commuting Book
Kat Miller

Aug 01   ●  12 min read

It’s been nearly 70 years since my children left home. That sounds ridiculous but I am 120 years old. When they left, my house felt empty. I began to notice the piwakawaka that lived in my garden. Their fantails would flit and help them change direction as they flew. I would talk to them and sometime they came inside the house. If my Mum knew, she would have gone crazy. She would say we should listen to our Maoritanga and this was a sign of death. For me, I didn’t see how piwakawaka could be a sign of anything bad. For me, the piwakawaka took away the feeling of loneliness.

I remember the day, two piwakawaka came in my house. They came in together and flittered down and around in a loop before hovering at eye level, looking straight at me. I felt my heart flitter. When they left, I picked up my phone. I’m not sure why but I booked a communal car. Next, I called my daughter, Trinity. I heard myself asking her if she wanted to bring her family to the farm for the weekend. She said she had a rugby match on Saturday. My heart sank. I crossed my fingers and tried my son, Liam. I felt relieved his family could make it. The communal car arrived. I remember looking back at my house in the rear vision mirror as I started the three-hour drive, inland to my parent’s farm.

The next morning, I walked around the garden with Mum. The share milker stopped by. She explained a big storm was on the way so she was going to make sure everything was secured. I walked over to the horopito tree to pick up a trowel. As I stood up a piwakawaka flittered in front of me. I smiled at the familiarity but it made me think of Trinity. I took my phone out of my pocket. She answered straight away but I couldn’t hear her as the wind had picked up. I rushed inside. I felt a surge of relief, as soon as I heard her voice clearly. Trinity first suggested she would try and come the following weekend, instead. I didn’t mention the storm because I didn’t want to put her off coming but I couldn’t think of a convincing reason. I lamely told her the piwakawaka were very friendly that day. For some peculiar reason this seemed to convince her. She agreed to come straight after her rugby match.

The house gradually felt busier as Liam and his family arrived that afternoon. Maybe it was the wind. It had started howling outside and it made inside seem even busier. Trinity and her family arrived even later than expected. It was after 10pm by the time the little ones were tucked into bed. Trinity commented she didn’t want to drive in those type of winds again. I laughed because she was in a self-driving car.

On Sunday morning the house was buzzing. All the little cousins were so excited to see each other. I snuggled them all around me and I juggled turning pages to read a story. We could hear the winds outside and I loved feeling the warmth of their bodies. I could watch the tops of their little heads. They would turn in unison, showing they were listening attentively to the story.

Dad walked in. He had a concerned look on his face. He announced there had been tsunamis in nearly every country. The clash of adjacent weather systems had caused tsunamis… everywhere. We huddled together and watched the current events. I felt my daughter hug me as I hugged my Mum. The memory of the piwakawaka sat in the back of my mind. We viewed the live satellite to see where our houses had been. First, we looked at Liam’s family home, then Trinity’s. Everything had been destroyed. As we looked at where my house was, I thought of the piwakawaka. I hoped they found somewhere safe from the storm. I looked around at my family. In my head, I said a quiet thank you to the piwakawaka for bringing us together.

The devastation was huge. Many people hadn’t made it, including world leaders and there wasn’t a soul unaffected. There were no homes, jobs, lives, to return to. The cost of the clean-up would have been more money than what had ever existed in the world. It was then we realised, money is not real. To get this cleaned up and start again we needed to work together and become a community. Taking away the dollar sign from every item and every action meant the option chosen was the best for the community and the best for the environment. We all took on roles. It was amazing being part of such a productive group of people.

There is less land available now. Extreme weather means coastal areas are volatile. The farm doesn’t look like what it did when my parents were there. Land is not something anyone can own anymore. Every square metre of land has an allocated purpose, whether it is for growing produce or assisting an associated ecosystem. I am a sea dweller with most of my family. I live on one of eleven floating vessels in the same area, called Otautahi 4. The vessel is designed to accommodate over 50,000 people and it lets water pass with little effect to the interior. Tsunami’s are regular but if one is detected a roof comes over the top of the entire vessel.

Everyone in our community does their bit and no-one works for a fictious currency. Everyone has a home and they know they will get food. We share everything, tools, appliances, toys… People who love cooking, often cook for everyone. There are people who love gardening, who plant and harvest food for everyone. If there is something that needs doing, there will be someone who wants to do it. Even the gross jobs. I worked in waste water treatment before, and after the tsunamis, by choice. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a waste water treatment plant for the vessels.

Since having great grandchildren I have changed roles. I am now a teacher aid. At the moment I am teacher aid to Liam’s great grandchild, my great great grandchild, Eva. I call her my Mokopuna and she calls me Kuia. All children have a one on one teacher aid right the way through school. I love teaching Eva guitar. I didn’t learn guitar until I was Kuia for her Dad when I was nearly 90. We learned guitar together and now I teach Eva. It has kept my joints moving and probably my brain going too.

Today we are going outside for a strum. I notice the wind pick up so I help Eva put her windbreaker on. I smile at the patch on the hood. It was her Dad’s windbreaker. It has belonged to many children since then but now it is Eva’s. It was her Dad that caused the patch on the hood. He caught the hood on the branch of a tree and he was left hanging. His Mum, Liam’s daughter, took a photo. I smiled at the idea of Liam’s daughter taking a photo first before rescuing her son. Behind every repair patch, is a story.

Eva starts strumming on her guitar and then her voice joins in. I spot a piwakawaka. Eva’s face lights up. I cherish the look on her face as I do every time it lights up that way. The piwakawaka comes over to us and flits down and around in a loop before hovering in front of us. Eva starts to giggle. I glance across to where the vessel roof could be seen to close in a tsunami. It starts to move. I suddenly feel numb. I take the guitars and grab Eva’s hand, pulling her towards the safe assembly point. She looks confused.
I firmly tell her to quickly come with me, “Kia tere mai!”
Eva holds my hand tight and we walk quickly. I push the alarm and everyone starts making their way to the safe assembly point. It’s not long before everyone is accounted for. We watch the roof closing. I expect the roof to jam and not close properly. But then the roof closes and seals, just like it should. The piwakawaka comes over and perches by another piwakawaka, on a kowhai tree near us. I stand up and tell my story of the piwakawaka to everybody. I look around with concern that I’ve caused a false alarm. Until someone suggests we should wait out the tsunami in the safety assembly point. Some people start making food. Kids pick leaves for everyone from the vine covering a nearby wall. Everyone calls this the plate vine. We share food around. We take the time to stop and chat and then we sing along with the guitars. We are a community. We do everything together.