It was not long after the war, and girls like her shouldn’t have even been looking at blokes like me. But there she is, up there in her father’s buggy, and glancing at me just out the corner of her eyes. I’m lifting bags of flour, sugar, boxes of tea, and moving them from a wagon, across the planks of the veranda and into the shop. It helps that she’s independent, a thinker in her own right, but I knows her father hates half-castes, and he glares at me while I work, unable to finish his conversation quickly enough to take his daughter away.
It’s probably a good thing we were spared the worst of the wars by getting in on the deals supplying the troops. We supplied everyone and anyone who needed feeding while they ranged up and over this part of the country, and while the money was good, there was always the chance some Colonel would walk in and requistion everything you had for some part to impress the daughters of the local gentry, or that Doctor’s daughter sitting in that buggy, right there.
They still called us half-castes behind our backs though. “Niggers”. Us. Hard-working locals who’d come back up here from down Otaki-Levin way. My grandfather had been a whaler, and he’d married a girl out of the Puketapu Hapu, Te Atiawa, and so when we came back up here to Taranaki we just slotted back into a half-way house between the tribes and the settlers, an awkward, uncomfortable spot between two increasingly different worlds. Shop-keepers. The middle class between slave and land-owner.
All this fuss about race… It’s because the British are getting uppity, you know? They’ve come out here to a land that’s increasingly filled with all the things they want, and they think they built it all. Sure they cleared acres of bush land and put those damn sheep on them, but that forest used to be productive land. You could always find decent food up in there, but nowadays it’s all grass that’s useless for anything but horses and hay unless you have money.
But the Maori don’t complain, do they? Not after the redcoats were brought out here with their stinking, foul ways. The old people say the sailors were bad enough, and then the soldiers started demanding things. So they sit in their poverty, and think about how it was in this rich country before you needed white blood to so much as ask for a by your leave.
So I smiled at that rich Doctor’s Daughter, and she giggled.