Ockham Winner 2020: Auē by Becky Manawatu
Below is an excerpt from the novel Auē by Becky Manawatu which won both the Best First Book fiction category and this year’s Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the. Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
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About the writer:
Becky Manawatu (Ngāi Tahu) was born in Nelson, raised in Waimangaroa and has returned there to live with her family, working as a reporter for The News in Westport. Becky’s short story ‘Abalone’ was long-listed for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, her essay ‘Mothers Day’ was selected for the Landfall anthology Strong Words. Auē is her first novel.
About the book:
Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding, and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to a violent home.
But Ārama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow. As long as there’s aroha to give and stories to tell and a good supply of plasters.
Here is a novel that is both raw and sublime, a compelling new voice in New Zealand fiction.
Extract from Auē
The next morning Jade discovers a light pink stain in her underpants.
……..The contractions peak at midnight. And the pain comes so good. So deep and deserved. She is in the galley when her waters break on the floor. She gets disinfectant and a mop and cleans up her mess.
……..On the bed, Toko sits at the head so she can hold him. She has his arms in her grip and she claws into them and cries, ‘Oh my god.’
……..Toko tries to get up.
……..‘I’ll get Aroha, now,’ he says but she holds him, almost pins him to the bed.
……..‘No,’ she says.
……..‘But the pain?’
……..‘It’s okay. It’s okay.’ But she’s swept up in the thundering current of another contraction, and she screams and she wants him to just sit and let her hold him, but he can’t. He climbs out from under her.
……..‘We need Aroha,’ he says.
……..‘Fine. Get her. Go get your sister, Toko. She’ll do it for us. She’ll do it better.’
……..‘What’s your problem?’
……..Where’s her cocky Toko? Her man who can do everything, needs no one, maybe not even her. ‘Just go,’ she says.
……..She wishes that their baby is born while he is out getting Aroha, then he’ll be sorry.
……..While he’s gone she must hold herself steady. Hold herself steady against three long, hard, punching contractions. And those contractions make her feel sorely abandoned.
……..When she sees Aroha running up the dock to the gangway, a bag in her hand, her hair back tight, wearing a cotton shirt and pale green pants, and Toko following with a gas canister, Jade wants to lock the door and hoist anchor, but she has no energy. Maybe tomorrow, she thinks.
……..‘How’s our mummy?’ Aroha asks, putting the large bag on the bed, then correcting herself, ‘Mummy-to-be.’
……..‘God,’ Jade says, ‘if I wanted a hospital I would have gone to one.’
……..‘We’re not taking any risks. I have every scenario covered in this bag. Now, how’s your pain?’
……..‘And what does that mean? On a scale of one to ten.’
……..Toko stands back behind his sister. And Jade wants to scream at him.
……..Instead she sneers, ‘Zero.’
……..And a contraction is upon her, a slow squeezing burn inside, and fuck it hurts. Oh God it hurts and, oh, this is beautiful, she thinks. Aroha is still standing between her and Toko, and she goes to take Jade’s hand but Jade shakes her off.
.…….‘Help your wife, Toko.’ she says. ‘Come on, stop acting useless.’
……..By the time Toko gets to Jade the contraction is already falling away, giving out, giving up, and Jade resolves to leave him tomorrow at first light. And she’ll leave with their baby and Toko will never get to see it again because he is a useless son of a bitch.
……..He needs to know that, so she tells him: ‘Why don’t you just go, Toko? Your sister’s here now. She’ll take care of this now. Off you fuck, boy.’
……..He seems stunned by her words, her language, the look in her eye.
……..Jade hears Aroha console him. ‘Don’t listen to her. She’s in pain.’
……..‘I said zero,’ Jade yells.
……..‘Go to her, Toko,’ Aroha says.
……..‘Listen to your sister,’ Jade growls as another contraction begins building a house in her womb, a big house from hot round stones.
……..He goes to her and he leans close to her and his sweat smells beautiful like it always does and the contraction rises up in her belly, and she squeezes his hand. ‘Huh?’ she says, her own sweat rolling down over her lip, down her chin, onto his arm. ‘Why don’t you just piss off.’ And she takes his elbow. ‘You shouldn’t have bothered coming back.’
……..He cries now. ‘I’m sorry.’
……..She screams, from the pain. ‘You should just piss right off forever.’
……..‘The pain now?’ he says, and he kisses her.
……..But she can only howl.
……..Then Aroha tells them it’s time for Jade to push.
……..Jade shuffles, then stands, she pivots and turns and roils like a cat. Is she going to turn inside out, is everything inside her going to fall out, her heart, her lungs, her tīpuna?
……..She squats at the end of the bed. Toko stands behind her and starts rubbing her back.
……..‘No,’ Aroha says. And she nudges him to the bed. ‘Sit,’ she tells him. Then softly, so softly nudges Jade to him. ‘Hold her,’ she instructs. And Jade thinks it’s the best thing she’s done, though it was not in her bag of tricks.
……..Toko takes Jade under her arms, and she holds his waist and rests her head against his belly. She pushes and he sobs. He sobs and sobs.
……..‘Oh baby, you’re so brave,’ he says.
……..But then his sobs grow too loud, too base, and Aroha sounds as if she’s getting bothered by him. She yells, ‘Quiet down, Toko. I can’t think.’
……..But he can’t. He just doesn’t. And Jade adores him for it.
……..Then Jade is angry with Aroha, because Toko is crying for her pain, he is sobbing for it, and he is feeling it. And nothing can ever replace that. No bag, no knowledge, no crisp white shirt.
……..And as Jade heaves their baby into the world, she resolves to never, ever leave her Toko. Not in the morning, not at first light, not with his baby. He’s not a son of a bitch, never could be.
……..Aroha has their baby in her hands now, and they hear his soft cry and Jade licks a tear from Toko’s face then she struggles up, to her feet, on shaky legs, and she rips her T-shirt off and takes her baby and presses that lovely silken baby to her breast, curls up at the foot of the bed.
……..Toko nestles behind her. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he says.
……..‘You should be.’
……..‘Sing your family a waiata then.’
……..Toko sings ‘Akoako o te Rangi’.
……..Aroha goes to Jade’s galley to boil water.
© Becky Manawatu, 2019, published in Auē, Mākaro Press.
'Novels stand outside time, with their narrative structure of beginning, middle and end. They outlast politics, which are by nature ephemeral, swift and changeable and can quickly become invisible, detectable only to the skilled eye. ' - Fiona Farrell