New Zealand election day has arrived. And despite a shortage of aviation fuel at Auckland Airport, so have Kate’s parents.
“They’re due at one.” Kate stops for no-one on our drive out to Faleolo airport, not even a couple of chickens busy crossing and recrossing the road. “We don’t want to be late.”
“No, we don’t.” I watch black clouds massing above the runway. It starts to rain.
New arrivals emerge from behind a plastic curtain, a bit like the exit from the chopping room in a butcher’s shop. Taxi drivers in ladybird shirts swarm at the top of the exit ramp, while palagi wait in their white hordes at the bottom.
The plane lands on time. Passengers trickle out. Some wheel out one small bag, barely big enough for a couple of hankies. Others push trolleys stacked skyscraper high with food.
At last, we see Chad and Huhu coming through. They’re smiling, pleased to be here. Hopefully pleased to see us too.
“We didn’t bring any chocolate.” Huhu points with her good arm at her small black bag. Her other shoulder is in a sling from recent surgery. “It would have melted anyway, in all this heat. We did manage to squeeze in two bottles of gin.”
“If we can get some tonic water somewhere.” Richard wheels the two bigger cases. “Then we’ll be all set.”
The ride back to Apia packs in forty travel minutes of island information. This church here and that museum there. The dried-out palm leaves still wrapped around lamp-posts from Teuila, and the house with the purple curtains where Josie lives. Kate points and drives, drives and points, eager to explain. Three months worth of local knowledge crying out to be spilt.
We arrive at their hotel, the Toana Tusitala. Chad and Huhu unload their luggage and inspect their room. Then we all sit down to a liquid lunch by the pool.
“How was the journey?” I say, a question I probably should have asked before.
“We had to get up very early.” Huhu frowns, sounding disappointed. “And there wasn’t much to see on the way here, hardly anything green. Still we were flying over the Pacific. I suppose it has to be blue, being water.”
“We had plenty of legroom.” Chad kicks the table to demonstrate. “Better than when we flew to Australia. And a nice Air New Zealand breakfast too, scrambled eggs and chicken sausage.”
“You aren’t hungry now?”
“We could manage something.” Chad studies the menu. “The taro chips with bolognese sauce for starters.”
Two beers later, we ascend to their room. The election results will be on TV soon. If there is any TV. Kate and Chad fiddle with the remote, flicking through the channels.
“I told you how we drove six hundred kilometres to see Roger Federer, didn’t I.” Huhu sips from her gin, a glassy anticipation in her eyes. “When we were in Australia, in the camper van that is, looking for somewhere to watch the Wimbledon men’s finals.”
“And what happened?”
“I’m not sure it was worth it.” Huhu smiles. “We were directed to a very expensive hotel where they assured us it would be on. We had a cup of tea in our room, relaxed a little, then switched on the TV at seven and discovered we couldn’t pick up a thing.”
“Not even Cliff Richard singing on centre court? Or the Wombles ?”
“I don’t think so.” Huhu squints. “Anyway, we promptly checked out and found another motel, much cheaper, and fortunately they did have Wimbledon on TV there. Unfortunately, I fell asleep. I woke up for the last ten minutes.”
Chad is still wombling through all the TV channels. He picks up NZTV news on station thirteen. There is no Roger Federer, no Cliff Richard, no Wombles, but then none of them is going to be the next Prime Minister of New Zealand, however well they sing or dance or serve. That privilege will go to Bill English or Jacinda Ardern, both attendant in full colour on the TV right now.
Gin is trickled, tonic water splashed, and the first results filter in, already predicting a coalition. We watch in trepidation, switching the air-con off, then on, then off again, as the temperature rises, chills, then stagnates. So many percentages to keep track of: the number of votes counted, the number of votes wasted, the number of spaghetti pizzas and barbecued sausages and cocktails consumed at party headquarters. The hour waxes, one hour ahead of NZ, and our interest wanes. The last straw to break our concentration isn’t the TV signal failing, the gin bottle falling over, or The Opportunities Party reaching five per cent. It’s not even a plastic straw in our glasses, we wouldn’t dare. No, the final straw is the antediluvian, pre-ferry, prosaic proclamation by Winston Peters that the election isn’t blue or red or green. It’s black.
We drown our gins. Extinguish the TV. And go downstairs in search of a late night dinner.