Excerpt The house had always been the Old Lady, even before it had belonged to Amiri's Auntie Moana, when Mount Eden was still a genteel farming community and not a posh, leafy suburb. Then, of course, the street that rambled past the Old Lady's tree-swaddled drive had been dirt, not even rating a paved road. Of course, his house was the only one in the neighborhood that still didn't have a sealed drive leading tidily up to its gingerbread-laden front porch.
The Old Lady was a lonely, rambling sort of house, far too big for him and Graeme alone. He and Auntie had rattled around in it all throughout his secondary and uni years. Graeme hadn't taken up too much space in his six months of residence, working his first locum position all those years ago. And just months ago, Amiri's first Old Lady, his dear old Auntie, finally passed on, bequeathing him the second in her will. It made sense, when Amiri thought about it, since there never had been any children. And it wasn't as if Auntie could even pick his sister out of a police line-up, even in her lucid days.
The house, a ramshackle monster, had always been run down. Auntie never had the money or the energy to fix it up, and the ten years of neglect showed on its peeling white paint and poorly hung door and window frames. Even the faded red tin roof was discolored in places, green showing through to make the house look like an overgrown pohutukawa tree. He and Graeme didn’t intend to stay long--long enough to take care of business, sell the Old Lady, and then get back to their own lives in Sydney.
Except "long enough" was something hard to define, and harder still when they'd both taken up locum positions: Graeme over at Starship, where they were always in need of pediatricians, and himself down the road at a local surgery, where one of the doctors had recently gone on maternity leave. It gave them something to occupy their time, especially since this backward little country would always be in need of underpaid doctors. It was why Amiri had left New Zealand in the first place. And the money coming in would help repair the old house, if he could ever find a contractor willing to take on the job. Which was another issue: the severe lack of people with technical skills, like plumbers and electricians and construction managers.
Until then, he and Graeme did what they could. The tunnel-like drive leading up to the Old Lady deterred most visitors, and none of his old friends knew they were here. As for family, well, he'd written them off as quickly as they'd exiled him to Auckland all those years ago. But it had been better that way, for himself, for Auntie, and for Graeme. If his dad hadn't sent him away all those summers ago, Auntie wouldn't have whipped his marks into good enough shape to qualify for Auckland University's medical school, much less getting into the Maori and Pacific Islands Admission scheme. Instead of two years in the Medical Corps, traveling from island to island in the Pacific, he probably would've been down in the mines of Buller with the other Coasties, hauling up what was left of the coal. If he hadn't taken that internship at the hospital, he wouldn't have met Graeme and subsequently left his native land for greener pastures across the Ditch. Then, of course, he came back ten years later to take care of some property he intended to sell at first chance. Sure, his life had lacked a few things, most noticeably the contact of his loud and explosive family, but he'd gained so much. At what price, he still had to determine.
He just wasn't sure he could handle any more time in this leafy suburb of his and all the memories it brought back.
"I don't care if your mum sent you away when you were sixteen," was Graeme's favorite rallying cry, especially when those nights when Amiri all but begged to go back to Australia. "I don't care if your family cut you off because you were gay. I don't care what kind of betrayal you think you're suffering. We're not leaving until we settle this, one way or another!"
Ten years since he'd set foot in Auckland, and another ten on top of that since he'd even seen a member of his whanau, his family. He was thirty-eight, for God's sake, and while it seemed too old to be kowtowed by even the thought of his family, he didn't care.
Kia mau ki to Maoritanga. Hold fast to your culture, one of his mum's favorite sayings. It stuck in his mind every time he walked down Queen Street instead of Symonds Street just to avoid the big marae, a Maori gathering house, over by AUT. He'd helped build that marae nearly twenty years ago. He'd held fast to his culture and his beliefs, despite the fact that everyone he loved from that whanau seemed to forsake him, as if he was some sort of homosexual Judas. It still hurt, walking past those familiar, red carvings. Graeme thought he was being a stubborn arse about it all, but Graeme didn't know. Not with his family who accepted all of him, Thai and white and gay and all.
"Kia mau ki to tahau!" he'd shouted back, that last night before his mum put him on a plane back to Dad, and then from Dad onto Auckland, and old Auntie Moana. Hold fast to yourself.
He still remembered the words of Te Reo, as much as he tried not to speak them. Maybe it was melodramatic. Maybe he did make too big a deal of some things. But he was tired of it all and just wanted to retreat into his static life.
Not that he actually expected life to allow him to do that.