Grains of sand grate against the soles of Hope’s feet, sticky specks of beach memories. The city pavement seeps up through her rubber Jandals, fingers of ice slicing between her toes.
Last night she’d dreamed of Tokomaru Bay. The old wharf reaching out into surf-tipped sea, its greying timber worn, polished by thousands of bare feet. Her big brother, Hōhepa, and Aunty, sat fishing from the end. Their rods hung over the side, bobbing as waves licked the lines. Close by was a bicycle, silver and purple with yellow-painted wheels. It was the bike she and Hōhepa had found at the back of Aunty’s wood shed.
‘Man, what that doing here? What do I want with an old mountain bike?’ Aunty had yelled after they’d dragged it up through the clumps of mānuka.
‘Can we have it, Aunty? We’ll clean it up. You still got that rust cleaner stuff?’
Hōhepa had fixed the chain, greasing round the links and tightening the pedals. Hope had worked at the rust till her arms ached. Afterwards they’d taken Hōhepa’s pocket money and walked to the store to buy paint, purple and yellow, as yellow as the sun at the bay.
Her feet are freezing. She plunges a hand inside her pocket, fingers searching for a few coins. Not enough for the bus. She needs to keep some dollars for the Porirua train. Tāne, her cousin, and his whānau have a place in Tītahi Bay. They’ve made it her place too, letting her sleep in the old caravan out back. Hope wishes there’d been a room inside with the kids.
It had been Tāne who’d helped her get the job at Countdown. There was no work back home, just the odd bit of shearing. He’s cooking Indian tonight. Hope’s stomach grumbles – she’s worked through her lunch break.
The city is quiet. Most shops are closed; their pulled-down shutters are blank walls of nothingness. A few bars ooze laughter and music. It reminds Hope of the Dalgety rep. He’d stopped over at the bay’s tavern, taken her mum out drinking. Some nights, she hadn’t come home. Then one morning, there’d been a note beside the toaster. ‘Sorry, my darlings, I’ve gone away. Aunty will look after you.’ There’d been hearts along the bottom, and lots of kisses.
Once, Mum’s love had been Hope’s dad. They’d laughed together and danced to Madonna and Bon Jovi. But then the freezing works at Kaiti had closed. Her dad headed to Wellington, landed a job at Taylor Preston. At first he used to ring, send money every second Friday. It was always fish and chips that night. But pretty soon it was nothing, no words, no money.
Sometimes, when Hope walks up Cuba Street, past the old James Smith Building, she imagines the doors swishing open, her dad walking through. But it never happens.
She crosses the street. It’s darker on this side. She trips against something hard, jammed underneath a rubbish bin. She shuffles sideways but the sole of her Jandal is stuck. Bending down, she pulls it free and picks up the square, black object. ‘Panasonic’ it says across the side. The camera looks new, shiny. Hope rams it into her shoulder bag. She could put it on Trade Me. If she sells it, gets some money, she could go to Tokomaru, visit Hōhepa and Aunty.
The ride home seems long. The train is crammed, bodies slicked close. Hope stands, her arms around the bag, feeling the camera, heavy, uncomfortable against her chest. She wishes it wasn’t there.
‘What are you telling me, Hope?’ Tāne yells when she explains. ‘That you’ve goddamned nicked something.’
Hope shakes her head. Tears sting her eyes, dissolving the new, city-smart mascara. ‘I just didn’t think!’ she shouts back at him. ‘It was an instant thing.’
Tāne’s dark eyes stare down at her. They are wide, unblinking. ‘First thing tomorrow we’re off to the cop shop. Understand? Now, get yourself some tea.’
Hope doesn’t like the Porirua Police Station. The building looks unfriendly, cold in next morning’s tepid light. A group of Mongrel Mob gang members hang around the doorway, their red bandanas cheerful in the greyness. One of them winks at her. He has really black hair and white, straight teeth, just like Hōhepa.
She feels better once they hand over the camera. Tāne puts his arm around her shoulder. When Hope smiles up at him, Tāne’s eyes crinkle, he smiles back. ‘You all good?’
Hope nods. She’s pleased he’s not mad any more.
Afterwards, as they drive up the hill towards home, Hope looks down at the little boatsheds lining the beach, bright splashes of colour, like bits of Lego. She counts them, but they turn a corner. Dark rows of pine block her view.
When she gets home later that week, Tāne has news.
‘The police found the guy who lost the camera. Nice man – he’s left fifty dollars. Reckon honesty does pay, eh?’ Tāne laughs. ‘Got some other news as well. Come out the back.’
He leads her through the kitchen. Hope can smell the night’s mutton roast, and the warm aroma of baked spuds wraps around her.
Outside in the wood shed, amongst the gumboots, seed potatoes and piles of macrocarpa, Hope sees a splash of yellow. As the moon leaves its cover of cloud, purple and chrome emerge.
She moves forward, but Tāne waves an envelope at her. A big smiley face is drawn on the front.
Hope rips it open.
Hiya, little sis
Guess what? I got myself a job. It’s down at Matawhero. I’m living on site, close to the vines. Reckon I don’t need our wheels. You have them, baby girl.
Hope strokes the handlebars, runs her hand across the seat. Is it a dream? But the cold of the chrome bars is real; the seat curves under her hand the way it always did.
‘Ya know what, Tāne?’ she says. ‘It’s my day off tomorrow. First thing, I’m taking the bike down the hill to the beach. Can I borrow your fishing stuff? Maybe catch us some dinner?’ She grabs his hand and laughs. Tītahi Bay isn’t Tokomaru. But it’s okay really.