s we were climbing over the surrounding metal, he appeared with a gun and anger.
“What gives you the right?” he demanded.
What could we answer of our childhood claim to the place?
We hadn’t been back for six years, when my sister suggested we find if it was still as overgrown.
It became “ours” after we put threat there.
We knew the precarious lurked – it was in those cliff tops which might suddenly erode and though fenced to stop sheep or cows falling, some below would be bloated and stinking in the heat.
Menace was hard to locate on sunny days, with dry black sand too hot on feet, as we dashed to where receding tide left soothing damp. The wild, dangerous surf having gone, there were sharp rock pools and crabs with pincers for play.
We sensed perils and failed to locate them within our waking life.
We never enquired of parents if they might die soon, or how they could know, after a strong fisherman drowned.
We didn’t ask what would happen to us, if we “passed on” as young as the girl at school.
Some questions stayed inside metal railings, in writing we couldn’t fathom.
As we climbed, to creep over strange territory and three graves, it was to scare ourselves.
They were set back from the sea, across wide dunes and hidden in trees, a distance from the low cottage and long shed “in the middle of nowhere”.
It was said of the shrivelled woman who shuffled alone there that she had left the Pa after a dispute. In another version she considered herself superior, since the writing on the biggest stone was about her father or grandfather.
We were unsure if she would put a curse on us, but that she could was not in doubt.
Did we understand the word tapu?
Scary and exciting was what we knew and that we must never linger, or even think of going near dusk.
That it was an unknown language on the stones opened no puzzle.
It marked what we did not inhabit and helped keep the forbidden and the dead outside our lives.
We weren’t entirely stupid and by the time we went back there had learnt to rattle off a sequence of events for a history test. But how did any of that matter now?
Where wars with the Maori might still impinge was given no consideration at school.
Even at sixteen it hadn’t crossed my mind that we should not climb inside the enclosure.
The graves were not kept neat and we didn’t see anyone on our childhood expeditions, as we made our trek over sandy dunes with cutty grass, avoiding the cottage and with grated chocolate and ginger sandwiches in a bag.
We went intending only to meet the frightening, then hurry home to safety.
Yet, he was threatening to shoot.
It was his grandfather’s grave, a man of status, and this teenager, no older than ourselves, told us this was his land.
He followed us all the way back to the beach, his airgun at the ready.
Then began to appear where we swam.
My pretty sister, the obvious draw and a year older, said “You can have him. He’s too young and I prefer a car.”
Something in his fight was new to me and once I started going on the fast motorbike, shocking my parents, his draw increased.
Perhaps it was my first inkling that assumptions of superiority and entitlement might be extensions of those old battles for land.
Particulars of offence remained unclear, yet somewhere being in the wrong, in relation to him and his, wove a sticky web.
That my sister and I had transgressed made sense, except that almost immediately he tried to pick us up.
Whatever else had been done needed no precision for reparation to be required.
The obvious scores he had to settle were with his mother rather than me. The family lineage should be a source of pride, yet they were looked down on in town.
Despite her ancestry, his mother married a man with so little Maori blood he passed as Pakeha and, after the birth of their only child, moved from the Pa “to give him opportunities” and lived in a spotless house, gave him the name of Dick – not even Richard.
It was his distressed grandmother, having also left the Pa, to be near her father, husband and uncle in their graves, who told of his place in the long genealogy she often chanted.
His mother may have disgraced herself, living where neighbours muttered about “dirty Maoris”, however often she scrubbed her home or made sure her son was immaculate, nevertheless Dick expected her to give when he asked. With both parents earning they could afford that motorbike, which nearly killed him, and the airgun, with which he was quick to challenge, that would get him into trouble.
My mother called him spoilt, with too much money and such a chip on one shoulder it unbalanced him.
But since she also forbade going on his bike, I wasn’t, then, listening to anything she might say.
Dick, like me, was a virgin. He was determined to change that and I was not, but my resolve proved weaker.
If exactly where I was at fault had been clarified, seduction through guilt might not have worked.
But we were each still enmeshed in inevitable confusions of fractured hearts. And he had the advantage of my easy slide into feeling that, if anyone was in error, it was very likely to be me.
Maybe, through him, I might uncover quite what it was about me that seemed less than acceptable.
Not that there was even slight clarity of motive as, on the last day we were both at the beach, I wandered with him to his grandmother’s shed, with its old mattress on the ground.
Right from the moment he said “take them off”, I knew this was no way to lose virginity.
His stare at my naked, goose-bumped flesh seemed to hold disgust.
“That is darker than your head and quite a bush,” not sounding at all approving of my pubic hair.
When his attempting penetration hurt he ordered “stay still, why don’t you!”
No longer the seducing supplicant, he was taking control with no tenderness at all.
Who could I tell?
My bolder sister would not let anyone master her like that.
Besides this was not a shaming to share, for that might make it real.
I had risked such a rejection and, more out of cowardice than daring, done what any good girl would avoid in days before the pill.
The unacknowledged degradation did not heal, as the raw vagina was able to do.
Three years later, two girls from his town, who were in the same student hostel, looked at a pile of photos.
“You went out with Dick?”
“I can’t believe that – he’s so not your type. He came back very cocky after one summer, still with that bike, till he crashed then got a red sports car, to become the town’s great playboy. All the fast girls fell for him.”
Though that evidence was soon ripped up and there was the beginning of comfort that it might not only be personal to be entered with contempt and have it left inside, yet humiliation stayed beneath the skin.