July 2012


As a child I thought myself special, the way children do. I grew up in a town of mediocrity, so being only a little above mediocre I naturally assumed I was somehow gifted. Lately thought, I’ve been reflecting back on a comment by one John Wright, of Tyler Texas. He said, “When I left Arp I thought I was a genius.” Now, if you know Arp, it’s a tiny place, so anyone with 3 degrees of gumption would reasonably think themselves a cut above.

Over the years I’ve done pretty well. I breezed through school, I succeeded in getting an AFS scholarship, then was extremely lucky to have someone arrange sponsorship for me. I then did sufficiently well at uni to get a scholarship to a decent Aussie varsity. Now I have a square job and a fabulous family, and we’re paying off our own home. Just middle of the road stuff, right?

So nothing I have done is exceptional. In most ways I’m just kind of ordinary. Just a tad over mediocre in every way even to this very day, and sometime I’ve worried that I missed a trick. And I ask myself why I’ve never been hugely successful in my career? Why have I never been hugely successful at anything? I do plenty of “making it just fine’, but have never done anything spectacular.

And then today I find myself talking to a friend about his daughter. It’s not my place to talk about her challenges, but let’s just say that she’s a sick little girl. When I was talking to him, I wanted to begin to talk about my own “internal rearrangement” and how lucky I was not to have gotten sick when I was a child (a medical professional Uncle tells me many children with misaligned internal organs can have a pretty hard time). Fortunately I my New Year’s resolution a couple of years back was “It’s not all about you Che”, so I bit my tongue.

Reflecting on the conversation this evening, I realised that my life has been special. Special because despite all the many, many impediments placed before me I have always been above the curve of “OK”. And what struck me is that the gift I have been given is normality. Of all the awful things that could have befallen me? None have. My life has merely being a little above mediocre, and well inside the range of the everyday. But, considering the many pitfalls life has presented me, and which I have avoided, normality has been a great and special gift.

And you know? That is a great comfort to me.

The Older Man looked up to see the Younger Man smiling broadly as he walked out of the bush and towards where he sat with a friend from Jonsville. They’d been discussing the grazing in the hills towards the south, and joking about the predilections of the Karori herders to relieve the tension.

“What that?” he asked as the Younger Man sat, indicating what looked to be a large round Ocker shield.

“Lucky me” replied the Younger Man, “Parker says I landed a stone right on the crown of this Ocker headman. Maybe kill him outright! So he tells me to keep this shield we take from two Ockers the Tawa Men kill.”

“A good morning!” exclaimed the Older Man, now returning the broad smile, “You did good!

Two Ockers those Tawa Men kill?!” He craned his neck up a little to try see past the Herders milling around the field, but couldn’t see parker near his bivvy, “What Parker thinking now?”

“Dunno. Those Tawa Men are flensing the Ockers, and probably put their heads on spears…” He looked around expectantly, “Any food left?”

The Older Man reached around behind him and brought out some potato bread, and stopped to look at the shield.

“You know,” he asked, “that shield is very big for a wee man.”

The Younger Man smiled again, and reached over to take the bread. “Would probably make a good swap for a handy buckler tho, I reckon. A buckler is more suited to a slinger than blademan?”

“Probably… Hey, why those Tawa Men flensing those Ockers?”

“Parker’s idea,” said the Younger Man past a mouthful, “The wind is South, so they’re gonna roast the meat, let the smell head down to the Ockers. Later,” he gaffawed, “they chuck the bones over the dunes, scare them fuckers half to death!”

The Older Man returned a chuckle, “You better eat up, the women all headed back up to the Pa this morning. Some saying enough of the Herd is here, so we muster on Tahi Bay this afternoon, get stuck in tomorrow.”

“Good thing I got you a real big shield then.”

It was a dull ‘thud’ that made Kevvo turn. The Big Man was slumping sideways in the kind of fall that said either blind drunk or stone dead. The yelling started shortly after, with men pointing towards a low run of dunes, hauling up shields, and looking to him for permission to advance. Confused, Kevvo took a step towards the dunes, and looked, stunned at one of his crew falling in front of him, a stick of some kind embedded in his neck. A man was shouting “Shield wall!! Shield wall!!” and a huddle began to form around him, the occasional cracking noise audible above the din. Ducking under the wall Kevvo heard another ‘pop!’, and over the shield bounced a stone half the size of his fist.

Kevvo looked around. It was barely first light, with many of the men still wiping sleep from their eyes as the slow rain of stones bounced off the clustered shields. Occasionally another stick would fly through the air and lodge itself in a shield, or if lucky, an exposed foot or arm. Cautiously, Kevvo glanced past the shields he was hiding behind. He caught a glimpse of something on the dunes, and his second peek out he saw it, a boy twirling what looked to be a leather strap.

“Them kids!!” He shouted to the men around him, and pointed to the dunes. The men in his huddle nodded, and cautiously they began to shuffle out of the camp under their protective wall. As their confidence grew they began to walk quickly, eventually breaking into a jog when they saw that their surprise visitors were, as Kevvo had said, only boys. Seeing the men starting to roar, and run, the boys bolted back over the dunes and out of sight. The Ockers laboured through and up the loose sand of the dunes and over the crest. The boys were running as fast as their legs could carry them down the back of the dune and towards a string of low trees that marked the edge of the bush, before disappearing into the foliage. One Ocker threw his spear towards a final retreating figure, but it lodged harmlessly at the edge of the trees.

“Stop!” Kevvo shouted, “Them gone…” he looked back towards the camp. A few more men were trailing slowly towards them while the remainder of the camp was in chaos, some tending wounded, others roaring at the surrounding bush. He could make out the prostate form of the Big Man, Jacko crouching near, perhaps inspecting the wound that caused the collapse. Kevvo looked back to see a couple of his men heading down to collect the stray spear.

One man, a Sinny-sider he knew to be brave but as stupid as a ox, was peering into the bush cautiously, his shield raised near to his eyes. The other man bent to pick up the spear when out of the bush a Herder stepped. A huge, brown man. He held a long bamboo spear that darted forward and down, slamming between the bending man’s shoulder blades. He collapsed in a heap while the Sinny-sider lunged forward, shield raised. The brown man roared, stepped outside the spear thrust towards him and seized the edge of the shield, tearing down and sideways as another brown man stepped out of the bush and stabbed with another bamboo. A short spray of blood soaked the two Herders before they  grabbed an Ocker each and dragged them into the bush.

The Ockers stood gobsmacked at the crest of the dune, before a third huge Herder stepped from the bush and shouted. Everyone ran.

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