Amanda Orr (2009)

[Henderson, West Auckland]

The Train Ride Home

In a bid to prevent my entire student allowance lining my landlord’s pockets, my cat and I shifted to a cheaper part of town: from the East of Auckland to the West; from a stunning seaside two storied holiday-home to a workshop in the industrial estate of Henderson.

Yes, wretched, but fortunately - only temporary.

A week into my transient western nightmare I was shocked to discover I (a woman raised in poverty flats in Wanganui – or is it Whanganui?) was actually a snob. Now, this discovery is infinitely shocking because I was raised to view snobs as abhorrent, bottom of the barrel, brainwashed capitalist clones who lack free-will or any independent thought. Simply put, snobs are worthless. This God-forsaken cruel joke bestowed upon me hit like a thunder-bolt after shopping in Henderson Township for a new duvet cover. Let me fill you in.

While looking for a locally owned linen store of some kind I stopped to admire the courage of a young Maori boy busking for money in the main square. He beat-boxed and rapped impressively, but quickly I realised he was actually provoking a fight - his red hoody friends were ‘staunching out’ their blue hoody foe.

I attempted to flee across the road but there were a dozen or so enormous islanders also provoking a fight with the rappers. Their disguise as mobile flower gardens didn’t fool me, brightly adorned with multi coloured lava lava’s and slow motion hooves protected by jandals the size of roasting dishes which dragged painfully testing the asphalt.

‘BANG!’ - “SHIT” I screamed as I was knocked to the ground. Grasping my throbbing elbow, I looked up to see a teenage boy peering down at me.

“You right?” he muttered.

“No” I replied, adamantly.

His glazed red eyes were obviously incapable of remorse, his appropriate ‘White Zombie’ t-shirt (seemingly worn as a warning) was smothered in his long dishevelled blond locks. Within a second he leaped back on his skateboard and took off with his long blond hair chasing him; flickering in all directions as though it was just as retarded by the marijuana as he. I staggered upright and found myself unwittingly mimicking the slow dragging of calloused monstrous feet, in what seemed like a ceremonial crossing of the road - mobile-garden style.

Nevertheless, determined to buy a duvet cover from a locally owned shop, I didn’t see one over the price of fifteen dollars, and it was difficult to find any that didn’t have an indigenous design on it. Though in many ways this is inspiring, I did not want to have an unsettling duvet cover with even more loud colours than an assortment of M&M’s, or a political symbol such as the Tino Rangitiratanga flag.

After finally purchasing a ten-dollar duvet cover which smelt second-hand I began my limp home (which is only an unfortunate few minutes from the main square). On three separate occasions I was asked for ‘change’: “Miss, have you got change for the train?”

In only five minutes being asked for change became a given, and it was always required for the same reason – public transport. Accompanied by the screeching sirens of police cars I finally reached my workshop. While double-checking the deadlock on the shut front door, I thought “What the hell am I doing in this sess-pit? I’m better than this” – and that’s when the epiphany thunder-bolt hit. I slowly sat on my old tattered sofa, feeling sick to my stomach and, short of oxygen, gagged on the word “snob”.

I felt ill with this realisation – where did this judgement come from? Who do I think I am? While washing my new duvet cover I received a phone call from an old friend, “Hey Hun, it’s me – Jan, come over to my place next Monday for lunch...” and on she went with the details of how to get there, “easier to take the train, you couldn’t possibly get lost that way, I live right next to the Waitakere train station”.

After our conversation I felt a small loathing at having to get out and about in my new surroundings – ‘why can’t I still be in the East’ I thought, shamefully. For the following week I only went outside only to get in my car and drive straight to a motorway – EXIT. I really missed going for morning runs, I missed window shopping or walking down to the dairy just because it’s a beautiful day, but not once did I step out the door without heading straight for my car.

The following Monday I put together a small contribution for my lunch with Jan; bananas, lollies, muffins and lemonade, then began my short walk to the train station for my first public transport experience in Henderson.

With my hat and sunglasses hiding my face (a bid to be unnoticed by those needing change), and a long dark coat (possibly a symbol of armour) I began my deafening journey to the train station. I agreed with myself; ‘why does TV2 only have ‘Motorway Patrol’? ‘Henderson Patrol’ would be far more interesting’.

I arrived on time at the station; precisely five minutes before the train was due to arrive. While sitting in the station shelter I couldn’t help but notice the cleanliness; everything shone – literally. Ignoring the ‘No Smoking’ signs I finished my cigarette and walked the 20 or so metres to the rubbish bin to dispose the butt, I just couldn’t throw it on the spotlessly clean asphalt (I felt guilty that I had ever done so elsewhere).

The train arrived when expected, gratefully I stepped on and took a seat right at the back of the last carriage. It was completely empty until two Maori teenagers of opposite sex ran from separate directions into the carriage just seconds before the train left. ‘BEEP BEEP BEEP’ - the doors slammed shut.

Again I was appreciating the cleanliness of this experience; the train was surprisingly cleaner than my car (my pride and joy), the carriage even smelt like lavender - it was a welcoming environment. I was shocked that I was so shocked.

The young Maori boy adorned in gangster colours stood up and began to walk in my direction, ‘what the...?’, I felt my hands clench my handbag, I made the decision to use my keys as a weapon, I drew a deep breath and reached into my bag - just as I grabbed my keys he sat down next to the Maori girl – I panicked – ‘what’s he going to do to her’, at that moment they embraced and exchanged a most passionate kiss.

They giggled the whole time – oblivious to their surroundings – they laughed out loud obviously overjoyed to be together. She cuddled into him patting the back of his blue hoody, he pulled her red hoody back off her head. Together they held each other tightly, eyes locked, cheeks blushed, hoody colours insignificant.

The giant passenger operator had a name badge saying ‘Selau’. He approached me with a cheery smile which illuminated his teeth against his dark complexion, his gentle voice and island accent almost made music of his words: “Where are we off too today, Maame?”

Still looking over at the teenagers’ embrace, I told him my plans.

While he exchanged my payment with small change I needed for the return trip home he remarked, “You haven’t been on this train before, Maame?”

I smiled and explained it was my first ride. He must have had spare time, because he proceeded to explain to me how the service works, he gave me pamphlets and timetables while patiently explaining the various arrival times, ticket types, concession fares, ticket agents and so on.

Appreciating his kindness, I still could not help my wondering eyes admiring the teenage affair.

Selau looked over at them. Lowering his voice, he said, “This train seems to be the meeting place for those two.”

My reply was a confused frown.

He continued “They can’t be together; they are from rival families.”

I asked, “Is he a blood and she a crypt?”

Selau nodded. “That’s the way it has to be for them out here where they’re from, but every now and again they meet in this train, then get off at Waitakere.”

Immediately an ex-boyfriend's face flashed in my mind. He was the ultimate forbidden fruit: a skinhead raised by skinheads. I was only 15, but we really loved each other. My Mother ended that.

Looking up at Selau I asked, “What is it with the gang issue in Henderson? Why is it so full on?”

Selau smiled even more openly, then replied, “Unfortunately in many parts of the world it’s safer to be part of a gang sometimes.”

I suddenly understood, my mind and heart came together and felt an acceptance of Selau’s words – and with that I felt enormous gratitude towards my safe home in a workshop, my loving boyfriend, my supportive family, my reliable student allowance complimenting my University study, my entire life.

Then Selau told me to ask if I need anything. I thanked him, and the first conversation I’d had with an islander in Henderson then ended.

While looking out the window I nibbled on M&M’s, I could have easily enjoyed the surprising spectacular views; various blossoming trees, spring lambs and ferns. But, instead I focused on the graffiti; the ineligible, colourful, clever assortment of gangster symbols blended together like a melting pot of alienation, which actually seemed to unwittingly unite the taggers with us all – who isn’t searching for acceptance? While finishing the last of my M&M’s Selau came by to let me know the next stop is Waitakere Station. Stepping off the train I realised I was looking forward to my train-ride back to Henderson.

I walked the short block back to the train station after a leisurely lunch and a few good laughs about Michael Laws and the prohibition of gang patches back home in Wanganui (or Whanganui). Delighted to see Selau waving to me from a carriage I immediately made that carriage my welcoming home for the 25 minute journey back to Henderson. He asked me about my lunch and I asked him about the previous two hours; just like that we are friends.

This time numerous people boarded the train, all sitting individually from each other – no conversation, no clues of their humanity. Though, I was rather intrigued to see a man in his late thirties (I suppose), wearing bogan regalia to the hilt; black jeans, studded belt, leather vest, a long blond ponytail and goatee to boot. I smiled – God bless those westies. But, we must ask – ‘How the heck does a grown man get away with that get-up?’.

BEEP BEEP BEEP, the train doors slammed shut, away we went. I couldn’t stop looking at the grown-up bogan, I mean – seriously – could he have a regular job when he looks as though he’s just left an Iron Maiden concert on a Monday afternoon? I was prepared to bet ten bucks this guy would be getting off the train at Henderson. Again, I felt the shameful snobby part of me make judgement... but this time I couldn’t shake it; he reminded me too much of myself when I was a teenager.

Looking at the graffiti out the window I remembered a long time ago doing the same while adorned in studs, a trench-coat and Doctor Martin boots – but we would use a vivid to draw anarchy symbols or giant penises (depending on how drunk we were from the cheap rum). I found myself smiling, I had forgotten about all that. “See”, I mumbled, “don’t ever speak too soon. I was a bogan-gangster,” I chuckled.

The train slowed down and then jerked to a sudden stop, we reached Henderson station. Surely enough Bogan-Guy was exiting – ‘I knew it, I bloody knew it’. Looking at my watch I decided to follow him for no more than ten minutes, this is creepy – yes – but it felt like a small public experiment (and I liked the idea of following someone – God knows why).

I slipped on my sunglasses and began stalking Bogan-Guy while keeping a safe 10 metres behind him. Across the clean train station we walked, up the escalator, a left turn towards the city council buildings, down the steps into the city council grounds, and then he turned right into the city council offices. I quickened my pace and swung open the door into the giant office block just in time to see Bogan-Guy say a cheery ‘Gidday’ to the office workers and pick up a folder from the front desk and enter an office at the back.

Now, realising Bogan-Guy worked for the Henderson city council was the most hilarious moment I’d had in weeks – possibly months, or even years. I walked out that building and headed home giddy with the light-bulb moment which had rightfully proven me wrong about all I thought I knew.

Yet I did not feel ashamed of myself, instead I was encapsulated within the feeling of the free-spirited teenager I once was – the girl who tested boundaries, loved equally and fearlessly and dreamed of huge success, a girl who was passionately determined to do whatever the hell I want. God, I missed her, and yet – here she is... she never left, she just got lost in an older body slowly losing itself to cynicism.

I reached my workshop and quickly replaced my jeans and shoes with shorts and sneakers. In 2 minutes flat I was out the front door jogging across to the Henderson Domain – it felt so good to go for a run. While passing a large group of Maori teenagers in blue hoodies I smiled – I saw myself in those kids, they were inspiring, they were a piece of me, and who I really am is wondrous.

Then one yelled out at me, “Miss have you got change for the bus?”

‘What a good idea’ I thought, ‘take the bus next time’. I turned to the boy and yelled, “No I don’t. Have any of you guys?”

“Sorry Miss, we’re all out.”

I waved.

“Thanks anyway”.

You know what? That was nearly two weeks ago, since that day I have been out and about in Henderson enjoying the parks, bushwalks and shopping, and not once have I been asked for change again. I realise now that for some years in my adult life I was lost inside a far more hostile place than West Auckland; I was at the bottom of a barrel filled with brain-washed capitalist clones who lack in free will or any independent thought. Alas, since the ride on the train I have felt like a part of this community, I now embrace its honesty instead of judging its truths.

Who would have thought a train ride in West Auckland was going to take me home – back to my child inside?

© Amanda Orr

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