One of the reasons Leeland moved away was because of the ghosts. Pakeha ghosts to be precise. Less pakeha, less ghosts – went the plan.
White seduction, golden maps and hemisphere migration had sacrificed his ancestral tongue. He got an English one instead – complete with Kiwi twang and mumble. It had served him well. It also meant pakeha ghosts took a liking to him. Leeland often wondered if he had known his mother tongue, would Chinese ghosts speak to him too.
Leeland felt the Maori spirits stirring. That wasn't a special thing about him, everyone could feel them, coudn't they?
Especially today. Waitangi Day. Day where the pakeha got prickly, and the 'others' were confused and vulnerable to pakeha angst in the media. Day where Papatuanuku tugged at her children up through the soles of their feet and gripped the crowns on their heads.
Leeland, like many men, excepting his father, didn't cry much. Not because he refused to, but because feelings that rode with tears, didn't make it up far enough from his chest to his eyelids.
The karanga was like a magnet that made all his tears feel like they would spill not just out his eyes, but out of his skin. He could feel all the passed before, running their fingers and breath all over the tiny hairs on his body as they were called onto the marae by the haunting, realm-crossing call.
Maori ghosts didn't talk to him, they didn't need to. Their stories were ready on the lips of their descendents, written in tears on so many parchments, and all online now too. It was in the soil, and chanted by trees, rivers, lakes and mountains if you knew how to listen.
It was the pakeha ghosts that had so much to say. Their descendents that had silenced their song, sought to erase it. The tales, ordeals, sacrifices and crimes of their migration journeys and new settlements barely six generations back. Time doesn't mean much for ghosts. And they found Leeland's tongue. Made him sing their mournful ballads, and listen to their stories.
At first it terrified Leeland. Then he was angry.
Leeland couldn't speak to his own living grandmothers as they had different languages in their mouths and ears. Yet these pakehas ghosts, demanding in passing, as in life, followed him around until they'd spoken and sung enough to move on. Everyone needs an audience.
So he watched. Used this ghostly gleaned knowledge to supplement in living conversations. Ghosts spoke with their bodies, or the shapes and whisps of their bodies. Spoke emotion like that. Leeland tried to stitch the holes in the living pakehas with his words. The pakehas were hurting, dead and alive. So like school yard bullies, played it out on the backs of Maori. And Maori, dead and alive, continued to struggle.
Against the battering rams of Westminster Law, privatised prisons, poisonous health care and lobotomising, heart-dehydrating curriculum, the people of the land continued. And the earth sung to them quietly in caress, balm to wounded souls. Leeland knew the land would never stop singing to her children. And those songs made him weep.
You had to pick a side.
You couldn't live with your eyes and ears open, and not realise what's going on. But once you picked that side, you realised it wasn't about sides. It was about remembering. The memories that live through bodies, and words, and actions, and refuse to be erased or re-written.
And the bully stomped on and threw its toys.
There aren't really sides to understanding. Being quite short seemed to help Leeland. Easier to not get caught in tall poppies heads being chopped off.
Standing underneath the rhetoric, propoganda, denial and hot-air, to see where it's all leading.
For wounds to heal, the thorn must be removed; not ignored and 'moved on from'. Common sense really. Unfortunately commonsense was not so common these days.
In time Leeland realised it was merely a price for living on this contested lands. Though he wasn't a pakeha, to Maori maybe they were all colonial settlers. White, yellow, red, black, rainbow, off-white. So he tried to pay his part, taxes and rent perhaps. Someone had too. The price was too great and could never be repaid, but maybe the act of trying spoke in volumes.
So he hoped.