‘Cuz, come pick me up,’ Tukz said, his breath laboured. ‘Bloody doctor discharged me. No awhi.’ The words jolted to a stop like a tackle fended off. ‘Damn.’
‘Eh, already Tukz? When I rung this morning the nurse said they hadn’t even worked out a treatment plan for you?’ Her voice arched in volume and caught the attention of two women in head-coverings walking past the field-lights on her right. Both drew bright patterned scarfs across their face as they averted their gaze. She turned and stepped off the footpath. Polite social distancing in the park. Don’t get in anyone’s face. No coughing. No spitting. ‘Shit, you still in pain bro?’
Tukz wheezed. ‘They gave me some pain killers last night . . . tried to sleep . . . this morning. Yeah, nuh, bloody useless . . . koretake,’ he sucked in a breath. Then another.
‘Just take it easy bro.’ She heard a bitten off moan. That can’t be good. She waited, listening to his battled breathing, willed him to get better, somehow, anyhow. She squinted into the horizon, as if some celestial tohu would appear. A Polynesian dude jogged around the football field in sweatpants and a hoodie. Tukz used to have that fitness back in the day. She’d patiently wait after her netball practise for him to finish first fifteen training because she’d been crushing on his first five-eight team-mate. Tukz being a forward had very pushy opinions about backs and first five eights in particular; calling them pretty boys who didn’t like to tackle.
‘That Dork-duh bitch-slapped me, Mere,’ a raspy cough brought her attention back to the present. ‘Bastard thought I was all shit, just being a hoha.’ ‘Shit!’ hissed through clenched teeth.
‘Bastard thought I was all shit,
just being a hoha’
‘For real. How come?’ Idiot! She could hear he was still in pain and not his usual cruisy self. He used to take great pride in being the strong, silent type, the power mover in a scrum. Technique, he’d say. Anchor the scrum, pack down, tackle and drive. Tight-head props manoeuvre, we don’t stop. That’s how they would korero, him talking to her about rugby as if Mere were Melodie Robinson or Aldora Itunu. She’d started calling him bro and asking him if she was now part of his forward pack, a loosie like Joe Moody or Tony Woodcock? She’d been in mourning with him when the All Blacks went down in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
‘Dork-duh says it’s just chronic back pain. Not an emergency. Manage with exercise and painkillers, he reckons.’ Tukz grunted as if someone had thrown a sneaky elbow to his gut. ‘Told him, nah man, it’s something else. The pain is in my bladder and lower back when I try to mimi. My puku hurts bad, hard to eat because it makes me mauiui. Still can’t stand properly.’ For Tukz, that was ranting. He used to love being compared to his hero, Olo Brown. Olo had been famous for his straight back in a scrum, he’d told her more than once after rugby training.
She couldn’t get that comparison out of her head. ‘Is the Doc racist as, eh bro?’
'Ae! Kao? Aua, dunno, Mere. But he straight up threw a dummy pass.’ A rueful laugh sputtered out before it could really start. ‘Wanker probably just wants to be left alone to play with himself. Po noa, ao noa.’
She laughed back in-spite of herself. ‘What, twenty-four-seven? Stink one, with all the Indian doctors out south side you had to find one of the waitis.’ Her gaze was caught by the jogger now being followed by a golden Labrador, some-how she’d imagined he’d have a rottie or a pittie.
‘And now he’s in lockdown, maybe all by himself. Who’d want to be a defective Dork-duh eh?’ Tukz asked. A noise in the background drew his attention away. ‘Taihoa cuz.’
Her crush the first five had wanted to be a doctor. And an All Black. Wanted to be famous in his hapū and iwi, make lots of money and win the rugby world cup. Instead he had died aged seventeen, skunk punched at a rugby piss-up. Tukz had been home, laid up nursing a neck injury and on pain medication. If her first crush had been around, would he be jogging around the park in lockdown with an old fat kuri and her watching from the sideline? She and Tukz still visited his grave.
Four weeks ago, Tukz had complained of abdomen pain at his last check up for his chronic back pain. That was the Thursday just before Pasifika Festival was cancelled. His partner Vaine, (his on again off again wahine) and her whanau from the Cook Islands had been devastated by the festival being cancelled for the second time in a row. They’d brought over handicrafts to sell, now they had to take back the bulk of the merchandise again, they were hurting financially and emotionally. Poor Vaine had already arranged to go back with them after Pasifika for a short holiday, with proceeds from their stall as her spending money.
Tukz had done a lot of running around before he dropped them off at the airport to fly over to Rarotonga. Mere was to find out later his G.P. had told him to have tests at the diagnostic laboratory and he meant to do that straight after Vaine left on March 17th.
A smack as if the phone was slapped on a hand and she heard her cousin’s voice. ‘Even the nurse and the physio are surprised you want to discharge me,’ then background noise or distance faded him out. A bored voice could be heard, ‘Surely your fan-now can look after you.’
It was just over a minute when Tukz’s voice returned. ‘Yeah Mere, I’m outie. Dork-duh said there’s no reason for me to be here.’
Instead he had died aged
seventeen, skunk punched
at a rugby piss-up
‘Yup, he’s an arsehole! Okay, I’m just up at the park. It’ll take me twenty minutes to get home, pick up the car and another twenty to get out there.’
‘Yeah, sweet Mere,’ he sighed, ‘take me that long to get to the front of the hospital.
‘Hey Tukz,’ Mere heard herself saying, ‘take a picture of him.’ She ended the call. ‘Hope you get your’s dork-duh,’ she shivered and retraced her steps on the footpath.
Three weeks ago, Tukz had asked Mere, already working from home because her office had closed down early, to drive him to the diagnostic lab. It was the Tuesday just before level 4 lockdown.
‘Ok bro.’ But had never actually managed to make it to the car. ‘Aue, you just hoha, Tukz,’ she’d thrown at him when he had gone back to bed.
‘Tomorrow cuz,’ he said, that day and the next.
Friday following April Fool’s Day, his back had spasmed and cramped. ‘Take you to your doctor then,’ Mere told him.
‘Can’t today!’ Tukz had replied. Five days later, early on Wednesday morning he finally agreed, ‘Ok Mere, the health clinic should be to open now Easter’s over, let’s go.’
WTF, he had gotten the dates for Easter mixed up!. His doctor had been open, but he’d thought it was Good Friday with everything closed. She’d held her tongue and zoomed him off to the doctors, sighing in relief until they’d discovered the clinic had moved to telephone appointments by booking only. Mere had sucked up a sigh and driven him home. He’d refused to say anything and done his usual self-management, stretching, pill-popping and sleeping. But it hadn’t worked on his puku pain.
Surely your fan-now
can look after you
Tukz had tried phone consultation. The clinic took your details and give a time when your doctor would ring you back. 3.15 pm he was told but his G.P. had rung at 2.45 pm when he was in the toilet. He had rung the clinic back, hoha as, to set up yet another appointment with yet another doctor. Tukz had a brief consultation about his abdominal pain, a diagnosis and prescription had been described. Mere had raced into the clinic pharmacy to pick up it up. To Tukz’s annoyance it was just more of the same pain killers. His condition did not improve, he was in constant pain, lethargic and out of it because he was knocking back painkillers like Minties.
Week three into lock down and it was quiet as. She could even hear tui singing in the trees, there was a lack of cars to roar over their waiata. There was just herself and the three others out and about. Flash brick and tile houses with internal garages were anchored proudly in their landscaped gardens to the east. Sweeping before them was a grassy bank that raised the playing fields on her left like an incoming tide. To the west the unusually quiet wide grassy harbour dropped down on to the lower playing field. She liked the herby smell of mowed grass. Weatherboard and iron houses were perched in mowed, weeded sections, with a handful of detached garages and carports dotted around. The street sloped down to the creek and the industrial area of factories across the bank, as she hurried past the empty playground and the skate bowl. She got goose-bumps, it felt like an apocalyptic movie. So different from Round the Bays, with thousands of people running, walking, jogging and sweating with her as she trundled past million-dollar-plus properties enjoying sparkling sapphire sea views over the Waitemata. Pushing towards the promised mimosa, pasta and salads.
Up until March 23, Mere’s pre-Covid-19 workday had meant leaving home in the dark with dodgem cars motorway commuting and drifting home from supermarket and night markets. Normally she’d be competing with Tukz and Vaine, for the kitchen, the bathroom, the laundry, the kitchen table and occasionally the television, negotiating time and space for cooking kai, doing chores, doing extra-mural study and preparing for the next workday.
Now her work week at home was built around daily team zoom meetings, twice weekly sub-team zoom calls, weekly staff Zoom hui, zui training sessions and waiata sessions. There was Slack chatter rooms, for the whole company, team, sub-team and private one to one; and of course remote work access to the company server, staff intra-net and company email. She found herself working longer hours, zooming here and there to hui starting from 9 am and as late as 7.30 pm. At least the commute was sweet as.
She had a kehua for a flatmate
From her lonely and cramped workspace on the kitchen table Mere had gradually noticed that Tukz was sleeping far more than usual, not eating or drinking, ignoring his tablet and phone and only leaving his room for the toilet or to drink water. She realised that he was in a really bad way, the house was quiet because he was wasting away. She had a kehua for a flatmate.
The house had a burglar alarm, so she’d left her gear at home. Mere unlocked the security door and disarmed it. The flashest thing in there was the laptop and keyboard borrowed off Tukz. He’d been stoked to be able to lend it to her and felt vindicated in having wi-fi in the whare. She had to concede that he was right: it meant the ability to work from home and keep her job. She was re-assigned data entry, a big job that had been projected to be done over two years had turned into her teams unexpected lifeline.
Just this week, his cheekbones started showing, he complained about the taste of tap water and wanted bottled water and orange juice, his favourite brands. It had meant a special trip to the supermarket, waiting in line for forty- five minutes and needing to mimi, just to have him turn his nose up. He got sleepier and withdrawn. She nagged him to consult the doctor again or that she should just take him to Papakura A & E because Takanini A & E had been converted into a Covid-19 testing clinic.
‘No,’ he said.
‘But bro it’s coming up to Easter and there won’t even be phone consultations.’
‘No,’ he repeated.
Finally, she threatened to tell Vaine about his fling on the side last labour weekend and he capitulated. Of course, the clinic rung back early, but this time Mere was half expecting it and answered his phone herself. ‘We need help, he’s worse,’ she cried at the doctor and kept at him until her cousin grabbed the phone away. The doctor told Tukz to indeed go to A&E, but to go to this Hospital not that one because they’d just have to call an ambulance. Finally, she thought.
‘That bastard knows I’m crook
and didn’t give a shit.
Just another darkie'
No one home but the cat, who demanded a feed. Vaine was a cat magnet. The stray was hanging around outside so Mere fed her too and managed to scoff down juice and crackers. She went through the house closing curtains, grabbing plastic gloves, the dust mask that she celotaped an old shoulder pad to, keys, bag, jacket, wet wipes, left the front door light on and she was off to be a commuter again. It was stupid how much she missed driving in her car.
Mere had tried to hurry Tukz to the A&E department the previous afternoon but found that old rugby props were not easily pushed around. ‘Okay, get ready and let’s go,’ she demanded.
He took a long shower, shaved, put on fresh clothes, packed a bag, decided to charge his phone, drank orange juice and ate eggs on toast.
‘Bro, what the heck, let’s go while you still can move,’ she pleaded.
Tukz then suited up as if he was putting on a superhero costume. He donned a face mask, googles and gloves but could only put on one sock. She scrunched down to pull the other plain black sock over his foot as if he was a toddler or a koroua. Tied his shoes. By the time they finally stepped out of the house it was dark. He carried his bag, although she’d tried to take it. But it was all good, he was still mobile.
‘Give me the bag, eh bro, just get in the car, so we get there as soon as.’ She popped the boot and he came over to help. She glared at him, ‘Hop in bro, that’s all you have to do.’ He lifted his bag and came to an abrupt halt.
‘Shit,’ she heard him curse. ‘My damn back locked.’
She lost it ‘Why didn’t you just bloody listen? For once!’ She grabbed the bag and dumped it in the boot.
He limped to the front passenger seat and found he couldn’t bend. He tried for the back seat, with her pushing and pulling him. She’d hurt him by mistake and he swore. His back spasmed and he yelled at her to get his pillow, but she couldn’t see it in the car.
She turned the radio on,
'Pōnga rā' by Rob Ruha was playing
‘It’s in the bloody house, Mere.’
She was ropeable. ‘Stupid idiot, why couldn’t you have just gotten in Tukz?’
Mere stomped off and left him there. Five minutes later she went back with the cushion and took half an hour to scrunch him in. The streets had been empty, the motorway quiet, but the hospital A & E had a steady stream of people. She’d parked in front of the white pre-fab building before she realised it was the Covid-19 testing station. Lucky for her there were no hordes of worried people. Mere had been more worried the drive was going to kill him.
Now less than 24 hours later, on the eve of Good Friday, she was returning to pick Tukz up. Without him having received any treatment for the puku complaint. Without the doctor even believing him or even trying to diagnose. It might have helped if she could have stayed, to tell them his symptoms, to make them listen. But Covid-19 excluded all whānau support at hospitals.
She had stopped the car out front of the A & E right in front of the security guard. An orderly stepped up and they struggled to pull Tukz out of the car. A nurse had assisted and it had been horrible. Tukz had started swearing about how fucking awful the pain was, they were hurting him, making it worse. He was yanked out and pushed into a wheelchair, his bag was taken from him. Mere was told to wait for his call to see if he was admitted.
‘An ambulance should have been called,’ the nurse muttered. Mere felt stupid. But he was safely at the hospital now and he’d get the medical help he needed. Surely?
Mere waited for ten minutes before she realised the hunched over dude hobbling with the crutch and carrying a brown paper bag was her cousin. His body was bent, there were lines on his face beneath the mask, and he was breathing like a defective vacuum. The hell! She leant over and pushed the passenger door open. He fell into the car and cradled gloved hands over his puku. His eyes closed.
She went around to his door. ‘Buckle you in okay bro?’ He just nodded and let her. She shut the car door. Her heart was in her throat, her eyes prickled.
‘That bastard knows I’m crook and didn’t give a shit. Just another darkie. No treatment, couple of panadol and a fuck off.’ His voice petered out in a groan.
It was the last thing they’d expected. During Covid- 19 with medical staff being venerated and the curve being flattened, she thought he’d have the best care. ‘Did you get his mug shot, bro?’
'Was that doctor high or
Tukz’s eyes opened. He nodded and passed her his phone.
‘Shit, he looks human!’
‘Yeah, till a darkie blackens his stethoscope.’ Tukz pulled a sheet of paper out of the brown paper bag. ‘Mere, I got another prescription,’ he croaked. ‘Go to the hospital pharmacy for me, lend me the cash, eh? Pay you back next Tuesday.’
‘Ae, no worries.’
Tukz folded his arms and put his head down. Mere put on her gloves and facemask.
She was returning with the prescriptions when she recognised the man from her cousin’s phone walking out the front entrance into the car park. He had discarded the white coat and glasses and was now in a brown blazer, talking to a pretty blonde woman. Both were wearing blue facemasks. Mere slowed to give the slow-moving couple two metres distance. The doctor’s hand had slipped from the blonde’s back to her backside, the woman jerked away. ‘May I offer you a lift home?’ he asked.
‘No, that’s alright, my partner is waiting for me,’ the blonde woman refused with a soft polite smile and stepped away smartly. The doctor stopped to watch and turned his head, hard eyes caught Mere’s for a moment.
She hurried to circle past him just as the doctor seemed to try to lunge after the blonde. He bumped into her and was annoyed. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘Aroha atu, sorry,’ Mere mumbled through her facemask, ‘didn’t realise you were moving to that side.’ Time to piss off asap, she decided, and wash my hands. The blonde had just gapped it. Don’t blame her, she thought.
‘My wallet’s missing, stop thief,’ she heard shouted after her.
Fuck what do I do? She was shaking.
Her hands were cold.
Eh? He was pointing at her, she kept going to her car. He followed, getting louder and more insistent.
‘Stop you damn thief, give my wallet back. I’m calling security and police.’
She opened the driver’s door. ‘Shut up, I didn’t touch you or your stupid dork-door wallet.’ She sat down in the driver’s seat and chucked her purse in the centre console. Tukz was dozing. A painful grip fell on her shoulders pulled her around before she could shut the door.
‘Give it back I know you took it.’
‘Eh, what the hell, you don’t even know how to be a doctor. I didn’t take your damn wallet.’ She slapped his hand away. ‘Piss off. Go check the security camera if you don’t believe me.’ Her heart was thumping like she was running uphill.
‘I know what happened,’ he spat into her face. ‘I’m calling the police.’
‘Call the cops prick,’ she said and pulled back from his red face. ‘They can watch the camera showing you copping a free feel off that lady in the foyer.’ She tried to pull the door shut, but the doctor held it open. He leaned in and stretched out to grab for her purse.
‘What the fuck arsehole? What happened to social distancing?’ She saw a flash of movement in the dimness of the car, a crutch striking from the passenger seat to fold the doctor up and out, push him away from the car. He dropped like a deflated rugby ball.
She gasped and turned her head. Tukz was wheezing like a whistle and still holding the crutch.
‘We gotta get out of here, cuz, shut the door,’ he spluttered.
It took her two tries to start the car and get it moving.
‘No one’s seen anything yet, hurry up go,’ he whispered. They roared off down Coronation Road like Ricky Baker and Hector in a Hilux, past a hand throwing something out the driver’s window of a Jaguar parked on the side of the road. Two women were sitting in the front.
‘Oh hey, was that the blo-.‘
‘-Just take me home,’ Tukz wheezed.
She was hyped, her breaths quick and shallow. Calm down, she told herself. Keep an eye out for the cops. What just happened?
'Was that doctor high or something Tukz?’ No answer. His wheezing had eased up. ‘Thanks for taking care of him. I wonder what happens to us when he talks to the cops, eh?’
Tukz sighed. ‘Home.’
She took deep breaths and concentrated on driving. She told him about the blonde, which reminded her about the prescription. ‘They only gave twenty codeine, not sure how long that’s gonna last?’
She laughed, ‘Wild as, eh bro.’ No reply. ‘That’s all right’.
She turned the radio on, Pōnga rā by Rob Ruha was playing. She started singing the bits she knew. Tukz really liked that waiata, but his current favourite was Ka Manu. He always sung along to Rob Ruha, this time he didn’t; it made her glance over. His head was against the door jam and turned away as if he were looking out the window. Probably having a little moe, she thought. That’s good bro, you need it. She worried about getting him inside the house.
The sudden smell of urine made her head jerk around, she braked. Please God, no. She pulled over. ‘Tukz, are you okay?’ She touched his shoulder gently, shook him, called out again. ‘Bro wake up.’ Her mind screamed, do something, do something fast. Fuck what do I do? She was shaking. Her hands were cold. ‘Tukz, what do I do?’ She couldn’t get her brain into gear, it was stalled on quick, shallow, jerky breaths. ‘Gotta get you back to the hospital.’ Her hand was turning the key in the ignition when she remembered the dork-duh flat out on his bum in the hospital car park. She paused and looked at Tukz. ‘As if you’d want him to touch you now, eh bro?’ She hugged him. ‘Not even, cuz.’
She drove along slowly with Tukz, listening to the radio and singing for him. The streets were empty, the motorway was quiet. She turned the car into the driveway, the outside light welcomed them home and they just sat there.
Written by Geraldine Warren | Mentored by Becky Manawatu