ReadingRoom

Saturday short story: Botched, by Marino-Moana Begman

"By the side of the road, Heemi is waiting. There are paddocks in every direction but no cars, houses or people, and nothing seems familiar": a short story by Marino-Moana Begman

Little Heemi stands on the side of a forked gravel road. Each arm of the road extends for miles. His mother places him on the only patch of grass – a triangle right between the Y. She is so exact about where she puts him that Heemi thinks there must be a big X on the spot. There isn’t. Heemi looked.

Leaving him there, she goes back to the car for the potato sack in the boot. Heemi watches her drag it towards him and leave it at his feet.

"Son, someone will be by shortly to pick you up, okay?"

Before he can answer, she starts brushing down his clothes and slicking back his hair with her spit-covered palm.

"You’ll be okay,  son. You’re  saving us today,  you know, and    I promise you, I will never forget what you’re doing for us. Never!"

She jumps in the car and winds down her window.

"Be good, Heemi!" she yells, and she speeds off, leaving Heemi, and plumes of dust, in her wake.

Back home, Huia gets started on dinner. Hone and Grace are nowhere to be seen, and the house is a mess.

"Typical teenagers," she moans to herself.

Her babies – who at four and five aren’t babies any more – come bounding in, causing a ruckus.

"Knock  it  off,  you  two!"  she  yells,  but  they  ignore  her  and continue with their boisterousness. "I’m sick of these  bloody  kids," she mumbles to herself. "I’m sick of it all." Thoughts of little Heemi keep darting through her mind. "He will be fine. What’s done is done."

By the side of the road, Heemi is waiting. He doesn’t know how long  it’s been, but he knows it’s been ages because his legs are itchy. There are paddocks in every direction but no cars, houses or people, and nothing seems familiar. He crosses his legs and plonks down onto the soft mound of grass. He lies down, curling on his side and tucking his legs in – but his stomach grumbles and he realises he’s hungry.

Maybe Mum’s left me some food, he thinks, tugging at the opening of the sack. He pulls out something wrapped in an old tea  towel.  It’s a hinu sandwich, his favourite, and even though the edges are hard and curled, he eats it up quickly. There’s an ice cream container too – it’s half filled with water; he gulps that down before throwing the container down at the side of the road.  A bundle of his clothing tied with twine is left in the bag, and  a crinkled note is stuck in the string: 13 July. 4 p.m. Y junction.

He shoves the note to the bottom of the sack before wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Fed and bored, he fidgets around and kicks up  some  dirt.  He’s  sleepy  now  and  lies  down,  using  the  pile  of clothes as a pillow.  When he wakes it’s dark and cold.

Back at the house, dinner is over and Kiro hasn’t noticed Heemi’s absence. How can that idiot of a man not realise his own seven-year-old son isn’t here? Huia thinks. The kids have though, and Huia has told them Heemi’s gone to Aunty Urma’s. They buy it, but Huia is sure it’s only because their tummies are full, for once.

Kiro has fallen asleep in the lounge. Huia secretly hopes he’ll stay there all night, allowing her respite from his usual nightly advances.  She knows that’s wishful thinking, so she sits at the dining table – waiting.

She flicks her eyes to the phone; if it rings now, it might wake Kiro, and he’ll want to know what’s going on. He might even give her the bash again, but she’s used to that, so she wills it to ring anyway.

It doesn’t ring.

Huia has pinned all her hopes on Heemi. She’s reasoned with herself that he’s the only one who can pull himself through this, and she’s convinced that, one day, she will find him and explain everything. He is her last hope for escape. For now, though, she can’t  shake  the  feeling  that  she’s  botched  it.  Why  haven’t  they confirmed pick-up yet? she wonders.

Kiro sits up and orders her to bed.

She puts her babies down for the night, yells at her teenagers, Hone and Grace, to go to sleep and creeps down the hall to her bedroom. The door is ajar, and it’s his musky stench that hits her first. She shuffles through Kiro’s discarded clothes on the floor  and makes her way to the marriage bed in the  middle  of  the room. Her secret hope that he’s fallen asleep again is denied, and his body shifts. After undressing, she slides between the sheets, repulsed at what she must do.

Wasting no time, Kiro mounts her. She lies still and silent. Within minutes, he’s finished and rolls over. She reeks of his odour now, too, and wants nothing more than to scrub him off her.

When the snoring begins, Huia slips out of bed and heads to the bathroom. She turns the shower all the way to hot. The scorching water burns, but she welcomes it and sits on the floor of the shower until the water runs cold. She hopes that somehow the contrast in temperature will relieve her of shame. When  she steps out, she is met with an icy breeze, rushing in through the open window.

Lost in that state, she remembers the letter from social welfare. She throws on her robe and heads to the kitchen, convinced the letter will shed some light on why she hasn’t heard from them yet. Fumbling through her bag, she finds it. Scanning, she reads:

Dear Ms …  pick  up  your  son  Heemi  …  14 July  at  4  p.m.  … Y junction … confirmation phone call … agreed $20,000 … transfer within 24 hours.

"Wait,  what’s  the  date  today?"  The  realisation  kicks  in.  "Oh,  my god! What have I done!"

She grabs her keys, shoves her feet in her gumboots and races out the door. She drives at full speed out the gate and narrowly avoids crashing into the ditch. With the wheels kicking up loose stones, she manages to adjust her steering and follows the only beam of light on the road – her own. The car skids to a stop   as the headlights shine on the stark reality of her actions. She leaves the engine running and rushes towards her son.

"Heemi, Heemi! Oh, please, please!"

Lifting his limp body into her arms, she lies him gently on the back seat. She throws the rug across him and turns the heater on full blast, hoping his cold body will start to defrost. She slams the door behind her before speeding off towards home.

Little Heemi starts to rouse. "Mum?"

"Oh, Heemi, I am so sorry! So, so sorry."

She’s botched it again.

Taken from Huia Short Stories 13 (Huia Books, $30), a superb new short story collection by Maori writers. Next week's short story is by Owen Marshall.

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