Mike Subritzky

TE HOKIANGA MAI

The Aussie piquet woke us when it was still dark.
I was still weak and feverish from the tick that was in my leg,
Ash was nursing a hangover,
and Mac was shaving.

We packed and stumbled down to the dispersal area,
all the while trying not to think to myself that
in five hours time the whole Rhodesian adventure
would be forever,
just another bad memory.

We boarded the C130 and strapped into para seats,
then sat ‘knee in knee’,
rifle in left hand and the right hand gripping
the top of the para straps.
A roar of engines; the hot sweet kerosene smell of
burning JP4, and then we were airborne…
Australia slipping slowly beneath us.

Feverish… dozing in and out of Africa,
with its angry black faces, Kalashnikovs and blood:
Woken for a neatly folded cut lunch
courtesy of Qantas, then dozing again.

The attitude of the C130 dips and it’s
belts on again, then ‘knee in knee’,
rifle in left hand, right hand gripping
the top strap of the para seat.

The aircraft thumps and bumps its way down
towards the shimmering Tasman.
My mind is a kaleidoscope of emotions…
stress, and fear, and anger…
telling myself “Keep your shit in one sack
and don’t loose it when we land!”
From the front of the plane a Maori voice yells “Aotearoa!”

One solid crump! then the high pitch roaring of the
engines reversing thrust. New Zealand. Home!
The aircraft taxies down the runway while our
Loadmaster monkey swings above us spraying
everything and everyone with insecticide.
Someone starts a coughing fit.
“Keep New Zealand Green!” laughs the Loady
and he continues down the plane.

The ramp opens and a sudden rush of
cold air greets us. Through the rear
of the aircraft I catch my first glimpse
of a sunny New Zealand morning,
and the beautiful green grass of home.

Then we’re up and shuffling towards the
rear door and the smell of JP4.
I exit the aircraft and stand blinking
in the sunlight, while a roller coaster
of emotion spins inside of my head.
‘Don’t loose it!’ I tell myself.

Whenuapai terminal is all but empty…
ours is the last aircraft home,
so the ‘story’ is now 24 hours cold. Good!
Then I see them, smiling and waving
excitedly at me from behind the fence. Fuck!
She broke the golden rule. Never see me off,
and Never come to meet me. Never!

Berkett’s driven her out and he’s standing
beside her, in civvies, yelling abuse at me.
Some fuckin’ mate, he knows how I feel
about welcomes.
The boys are standing between them,
all smiling and waving; baby Josh is
gathered in her arms.

I nod hello at them and walk in file
to the dispersal area.
The doctor checks my fever while
my rifle is taken from me.
I am issued with a further month’s
supply of malaria tabs and a months pay.
I straighten up and walk out into the sunlight
where Berkett shakes my hand and I quickly kiss
all four boys and Marilyn.
I tell Berkett to drive me straight home.

The boys are all happy to see me,
except Joshua who is frightened of me
and snuggles in close against his mother.

We arrive at the house…
a detonation of splintered and fragmented
feelings.
My mind is spinning almost out of control.
I shoulder my combat pack,
then walk deliberately and alone to the door,
open it and step inside… glad to be away from
the prying eyes of the world.
No-one can understand that I want to be
alone with my thoughts, fears and pain.

On the lounge wall is a simple coloured poster,
made from sheets of typing paper,
taped together and coloured in by
inaccurate little hands, with blobs of
paint and crayon.

“WELCOME HOME DADDY”

I drop my pack and stumble blindly to the bedroom,
reaching it and slamming the door behind me
leaving Marilyn to try and explain to the boys why
Daddy is an emotional and sobbing wreck…
huddled on the bedroom floor.

Author’s Note: “Te Hokianga Mai!” translates as “The Return Home” and the word “Aotearoa!” means “The Land of the Long White Cloud!”, the Maori name for New Zealand.

Submitted for the May 2001 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Coming Home