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?
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 childhood threat there.
We knew the precarious lurked – it was in those cliff tops which might suddenly erode. Cliffs fenced to stop sheep or cows falling, yet often we found one bloated below , 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 where we played.
We failed to locate perils within our waking life and couldn’t enquire of parents if they might die soon, or how they could know? We didn’t ask even after a strong father we knew had drowned.
Nor did we ask what would happen to us, if we “passed on” as young as the girl in my class at school.
Some fears stayed inside metal railings, in writing we couldn’t fathom.
As we climbed in , to creep towards 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 we heard 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 be there near dusk.
That the language on the stones was unknown to us did not seem a 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 six years later knew it was Maori and 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 have left us all was given no consideration at school.
At nearly sixteen it still hadn’t crossed my mind that we should not climb inside the enclosure.
The graves were not kept neat and, apart from the old woman whose cottage we avoided, we saw no -one on our childhood expeditions, as we made our trek over sandy dunes with cutty grass, and with grated chocolate and ginger sandwiches in a bag.
We went intending only to meet the frightening, then hurry home to safety.
Yet all these years later a boy was threatening to shoot.
These were their graves, men of status, and this teenager, no older than ourselves, claimed this was his land.
He followed us all the way back to the beach, his airgun at the ready.
Then next day he appeared where we swam. He hung around us.
My pretty sister, a year older, said: “You can have him. He’s too young and I prefer a car.”
Something in his readiness to fight was new to me and once I started riding on the back of the fast motorbike, shocking my parents, my interest increased.
Perhaps it was a first inkling that Pakeha assumptions of superiority might be extensions of those old battles for land.
Particulars of our offence remained unclear. But somehow we were in the wrong, in relation to him.
That my sister and I had transgressed made sense, except that almost immediately he tried to pick us up.
His anger was hard to track. 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 good 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 the boy opportunities.” They 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 those graves, who told of Dick’s place in the long genealogy she chanted for him.
His mother 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 whatever he asked for. 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 listening to anything she said.
Dick, like me, was a virgin. He was determined to change that and I was not. My resolve proved weaker.
If exactly where I was at fault had been clarified, seduction through guilt might not have worked.
No doubt we were each stuck in confusions of fractured hearts. But he had the advantage of my easy slide into feeling that, if anyone was in error, it would be me. Not that I knew what it was about me that felt less than acceptable.
On the last day we were both at the beach, I thoughtlessly 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 held disgust.
“That is darker than your head and quite a bush,” he said, disapproving 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 without any 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. That might make it real.
I had risked rejection and, more out of cowardice than daring, done what any good girl would avoid in days before the pill.
Three years later, having moved away to a student hostel, there were two girls from Dick’s town. They looked through my pile of photos.
“You went out with Dick?”
“I can’t believe that – he’s so not your type.”
“He became very cocky with that bike. The town’s great playboy. All the fast girls fell for him.”
That evidence of my past connection was soon ripped up . But humiliation remained beneath the skin. Though there was the beginning of comfort that it might not only be personal to be entered with contempt.