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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 14 July 6, 1938

Colour — A Short Story


A Short Story

It was a long time since I had felt so happy. The crescendo of the train's gathering sped coincided with the ecstasy of my mood. I wanted to hug myself for the sheer joy of my good fortune. To think that here I was sitting by this much-travelled American and had been talking to him for over four hours. The journey from home, which by repetition had become, thick by repetition had become so boring as to be heartily detested, had this time hang to a thrilling experience. As I had calibrated on the peculiarities of the country we were passing through, and had explained the local customs, my mood had become more and more rapturous; I had been unaware of my powers as a raconteur. Again had again I congratulated myself on the turn of chance that had brought me to this particular seat. As I had listened to him I had gloated as I visualized how I would be able to retail the information I had gathered of the Americans and the East.

Then as the train turned south the sun streamed across my chest, and in this strip of warmth I relaxed a little. I began to succumb to the rhythm of Travel—the tap of the wheels, the telegraph posts beating past, and the rise and fall of the wires as they crossed and recrossed between one tier of insulators and the next. Really feeling too comfortable to talk. I made an effort lest my companion should become bored. With the aid of a man I began to explain the drainage system of the Manawatu, but noticed that he was not paying attention. His interest had been diverted towards the Maori Family who were now sitting on the opposite side of the aisle.

The family, consisting of an elderly Maori woman, a younger woman, presumably her daughter, and two small girls, were seated so that the old woman was facing her daughter and the younger child. The other child had been put in a seat two rows back. As my companion was trying to study unobtrusively the tattooed lips, the gold-mounted shark's tooth earrings and the black shawl of the old woman I leant over and said quietly. "As you will have observed, we have no color question in New Zealand." He nodded sententiously.

For the next ten minutes I dozed and only woke at Palmerston in time to see the trim back of the young Maori woman going out the door. A few seconds later a drunken man lurched into the carriage, muttering to himself. He came opposite, and seeing the smaller maori child standing on the seat, said to the woman, "Is this seat taken?"

Without expression she merely replied. "Yes."

"I'll sit here for a while, I'm tired." He stood the child on the floor and mumbled, "Nice little girlie." Then he belched loudly.

The young woman returned balancing two cups of tea. At the sight of the man her face hardened and, giving one cup of tea to her mother, said, "That's my seat."

"No it isn't it's mine now," was the truculent reply.

Quietly the woman gave the second cup to her mother and, taking the man by the ear, pulled him out of the seat. A low titter rippled through the carriage as the man lurched down the aisle and stumbled into the seat opposite the elder child. From there he kept up a steady but indistinct babble, directing his remarks to the child. Pressed up against the far side of the seat the child, except for an occasional apprehensive glance at the man, directed her gaze towards the back of her mother's chair. The young woman appeared to be ignoring the man while the elder had neither spoken nor changed her position from the time she had taken her seat.

Suddenly the young woman jumped up, cigarette in mouth and, stepping towards the man, hit him heavily on the ear, saying, "Leave the child alone!"

On the defensive, the man staggered to his feet, but with the push the woman gave him, went sprawling into the vacant rear seat, where he collapsed. Several people laughed audibly. The woman whipped round. "That's right; laugh, you ——. Sitting there letting him say a thing like that to the child. Why? Because you're white and we are not. What are we? We are Maoris. We are black. We are dirt!"