We drove down the main street, then out to the Seafood Barbecue at Jimmy Armers Beach. I opened the window and could smell fish being fried in garlic butter, and it made me hungry again. ‘Can we get fish?’ I asked Tom Aiken.
‘Got worms, boy?’
Tom Aiken parked the truck by the caravan. ‘You two go. I’ll wait,’ and he handed Beth a ten-dollar note.
We went to the counter. A tall skinny man with long dreadlocks and skin the colour of Milo leaned towards us. His white apron was smeared black with pāua.
He grinned as we walked towards him. ‘Out for a date, huh?’
‘Piss off,’ Beth yelled, folding her arms. ‘Guess you don’t want our business.’ She waved the ten dollars in the air. ‘We were gonna buy a whole crayfish, but probs won’t now.’
The man smiled. ‘I’m sorry. That was rude of me.’
‘You should be. Now, what are we having, Django? My shout.’ I looked at the list of things we could choose from written on a whiteboard. Pāua pattie $10, Grilled fish $7, Scallops $8, Whitebait pattie $8, Crayfish $25+
I nudged Beth and pointed. She looked at the board, pressed the money into her fist, twisted her lips.
The man leaned forward. ‘Can I tell you a secret?’
We stepped closer to the counter. ‘Honestly, the last time we got fresh crayfish was a week ago. We’re still selling it off to the tourists who don’t know any better, but I’d be embarrassed to sell it to you two. I bet you know your kaimoana.’
Beth beamed, then leaned closer. ‘I didn’t want to say anything, but I thought I smelled something a bit rank.’
He nodded slowly, ‘Look, I’m going to be honest. The best thing we got at the moment is fresh tarakihi. How about that?’
‘Sounds good.’ Beth nudged me. ‘Okay?’
‘I wanted fish anyway,’ I said.
The man grilled the fish in garlic butter and made a half sandwich each, instead of one, so we didn’t have to share.
‘Enjoy,’ he said, handing them to us carefully. He took Beth’s money from the counter and slid her back some coins.
She winked and left them on the counter. ‘Shout yourself a beer. For your honesty.’
He laughed, shook his head. More people came up behind us with backpacks on. We started back to the truck. Beth yelled out to the new customers. ‘I highly recommend the crayfish,’ she said to them.
It was magic to eat fish sandwiches so close to the sea, with gulls squawking, the water hitting the rocks and all the salt in the air.
After we ate, Tom Aiken took us to the seal colony. There we could see the mountains on both sides of Kaikōura.
‘This is the best spot to understand what a peninsula is,’ Tom Aiken said.
‘What’s a peninsula?’ Beth asked.
‘Just land. Land almost completely surrounded by water. Except for one piece, one small bit, which connects it to the rest, and that little bit is all that’s stopping it from being an island.’
We looked out the car window, where the seals were lying in the sun and on each side of us were mountains, and everywhere else was sea.
What would happen if there was an earthquake strong enough to break the land away? Or if the sea rose up quick and suddenly that tiny bit of land stopping us from being an island was swept away?
This extract is from the bestselling novel Auē, written by Becky Manawatu (Ngāi Tahu) and published last year by Makaro Press. Becky was born in Nelson and raised in Waimangaroa, and has now returned there to live with her whānau, working as a reporter for The News in Westport. Auē is available in all good bookstores and online at www.makaropress.co.nz.
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