I visited the grounds of a local church today, it happened upon me, one minute I was walking past a shop and then I spied some trees. I wanted to pay my respects to a statue for fallen soldiers, there were fresh flowers and little hand written notes. Walking to the centre of the garden, a few homeless guys walked past, one of them smiled at me and came and stood by my side while I read the plaque. He had a few teeth missing but a nice warm coat and huge brown eyes. He cleared his throat like a kaumatua and took his beanie off, bowing his head and surveying the bright wreaths. After a few moments in silence he turned to me and asked to see my hand, a few other people in the small park were looking over concerned. I could see men on the church steps huddled together, their eyes squared wondering if my new friend was about to take off with my bag, or stab me in the side and take my Ray Bans.
I showed him my hand, my tatau, that’s what he wanted to see. He reached out gingerly, his fingers were tobacco stained. I told him it was ok to touch the birds, he barely let the full print of his index finger rest on my knuckle, but he said he was daring himself to, because unlike my birds he would never know the sky. He hadn’t been on a plane before, or sailed across the sea, he had no idea what the sea felt like, or what it looked like, from the sky. I told him about my culture, my family and what the symbols meant. He started nodding, stepped back and put his beanie back on “oh you are lucky, you believe in something real.” Then something extraordinary happened, he thanked me for being kind, he said kindness was greater than food “you have a culture, you have something real that believes in you.”
He went to walk away and stopped for a moment, looking back, “you know, everything is close for you, I just live here, this is all I’m going to be. Most people just want to be warm, but you might have a family and people who look for you at night if you don’t come home. Don’t forget how close you are little sister.” And he walked away, puffing on a smoke shaking his fist at the sky.