Mark Chatfield sat on the edge of the bed, rocking backwards and
forwards, weeping. The corpse of his niece Holly lay cradled in
his arms, her hand still clutching the greenstone tiki on the leather
cord about her neck. Her dark eyes seemed to be staring accusingly
at him; his fingers gently pulled the eyelids closed. His face,
as white as his hair, was strained. He looked every one of his sixty-three
was crying. Mark's tall, sensitive, thirteen-year-old grandson Zach
was being comforted by his sister Nicole. Although two years younger
than her brother she was coping with the crisis better than anyone,
and in addition to calming Zach she was hugging her stocky four-year-old
sister Audrey. The old grey cat Misty was rubbing himself against
Zach's legs, as if trying to comfort him too.
The only other adult male at Gulf Harbour, tall, red-headed Fergus
Steed was frantically trying to comfort his partner Jessica, her
eight-year-old son Tommy and seven-year-old Gina, Mark's orphaned
granddaughter. As if aware of the horror of an event they could
not comprehend, Jessica and Fergus's twin babies, Marion and Chelsea,
were also crying.
As Mark continued to sob, painful memories of the last five years
threatened to overwhelm him. He remembered his family's desperate
fight to survive as the super-SARS pandemic took hold in New Zealand.
Only he and his brother Christopher, together with their children
and grandchildren, had survived - a mere eleven souls in the whole
of the country. The Chatfield family alone appeared to possess the
crucial gene which gave their bloodline immunity to the disease.
Mark had realised that the group was too small and too closely
related to guarantee the survival of future generations. This had
prompted him and his son Steven to sail to England in search of
other relatives. They had found forty-four of their relations living
under the tyrannical rule of their cousin, Nigel Chatfield, at Haver
House in Kent.
After staging a daring escape, Mark and Steven had returned home,
bringing with them some of those relatives in order to ensure the
continued existence of the New Zealand population. However, they
had arrived at Gulf Harbour to discover a tsunami had swept through
their former home. Only the grandchildren had survived. The remains
of Christopher and his two daughters had been found, but there had
been no trace of Mark's daughter Jane.
Fergus and Jessica, unaware of their uncle's gloomy thoughts, became
alarmed as his sobbing escalated into uncontrollable wailing. Mark's
loss of Jane had been compounded by the loss of his son Steven,
who earlier that morning had sailed for England, taking his partner
Penny, their baby son David, Penny's son Lee and one of the other
adult men, Luke Dalton, with him. Completing Mark's misery was his
discovery that his own pregnant partner Allison, desperate to return
to her family, had stowed away on Steven's yacht.
Mark looked down at Holly, and eventually the peace on the little
girl's face calmed him. At last he was able to speak.
'If only Steven had known the facts, he wouldn't have left. They'll
come back,' he said, his voice suddenly resolute. 'Sooner or later
Allison will be discovered aboard, and when she is Steven will turn
Archangel around and bring her home.'
Jessica glanced up at Fergus. Had Mark seen the look on her face,
he wouldn't have been so confident.
'We need to bury Holly,' Fergus said gently.
'We'll have a tangi - it would honour her Maori heritage.'
A Maori funeral - a tangi - might have been Holly's right, but
Mark was using the ceremony as a delaying tactic, hoping Steven
would return before the burial took place. Then he could explain
to everyone that though Penny's son Lee was an asymptomatic carrier
of typhoid, he posed no risk to the other children at Gulf Harbour.
Mark was now certain Lee carried a modified strain of typhoid -
a strain that was only fatal to those such as Holly and her sister
Zoë, who had also died of the disease, whose genes gave them
dark skin. There had been no need for Steven to take his family
back to England to save them from infection.
There was no Maori meeting house close to Gulf Harbour on the Whangaparaoa
Peninsula where the surviving Chatfield family members in New Zealand
now lived. The closest marae was at Northcote, close to Auckland
city. Mark knew it was not feasible to take Holly there; roads on
the low-lying areas of the peninsula had been washed away by the
recent tsunami. The only practical means of travel, apart from walking,
was on horseback. Hampered by carrying the babies, as well as fallen
trees and landslips, even that would be difficult. 'We'll have the
tangi in her old bedroom at Harbour Village Drive,' he announced.
Zach and Nicole looked at him. Jessica saw the terror in the children's
eyes. They rarely ventured down the slopes of Marina Hill to the
ruined canal-side properties. The memory of scrambling up the hill
as the tsunami swept through the Mediterranean-style buildings continued
to haunt them, as did the terror of the second wave that had trapped
them upstairs in their home when they had returned to search for
their Uncle Christopher.
'We should hold the tangi here - in the lounge,' Jessica said gently.
'This has been Holly's home since the tsunami.'
Mark reluctantly agreed. He knew he had only wanted to be down
by the canal because that was where Steven would land when he arrived
'Jessica and I will sit with Holly now,' Fergus said. 'Why don't
you take the children for a walk?' Slowly Mark rose to his feet,
and passed Holly to his cousin. Nicole took her grandfather's hand
and led him from the room, the other children following behind.
Once outside, Mark's strength and resolve returned. He became the
leader again. Fighting his way through the long grass that covered
the former golf course, he headed towards the clifftop. The going
was tough, but helped by Nicole and Zach he struggled on. As they
reached the promontory his pace slackened; there was no sail in
sight. Archangel had not yet returned. He fought to hold
back his tears.
There is something very beautiful and special about a Maori tangihanga.
The Maori believe that the deceased's body - te tupapaku - should
not be left alone before burial, and this was a practice the Gulf
Harbour community embraced. Holly lay in the lounge in an open coffin,
and the whole community slept on mattresses around her. The coffin
was too big for her tiny figure. It was the coffin Mark had asked
Steven, a joiner by trade, to build for him before he sailed. It
had been his final throw of the dice, a last desperate attempt to
prevent his son sailing.
They all felt the presence of Holly's spirit. When the adults were
busy the children sat with her. Sometimes they would speak to her
in Maori, practicing the language skills they had learned at school.
Misty the cat had abandoned his normal sleeping place on Nicole's
bed and taken up station at the foot of the coffin.
The children stroked Holly's oiled hair, and rearranged the feathers
that had been placed in her locks. Gina and Audrey brought in the
pet guinea pigs and rabbits to visit her and Tommy told her about
the vicious stray dog that had been seen near the livestock, and
how Zach had shot it with a rifle. Nicole explained that they were
waiting for Uncle Steven to bring Archangel back home, and then
they would bury her.
The track to the clifftop became well worn. Fergus lost count of
how many trips his uncle made across the golf course. At night,
he would hear Mark sneak out of the lounge. Sometimes it would be
well into the morning before he returned.
'It's time to bury Holly,' Jessica said tenderly to Mark on the
Fergus noticed the look of desperation in the older man's face.
'We'll take her to the promontory overlooking Kotanui Island, and
bury her beside Uncle Christopher,' he said quietly.
Mark nodded. He knew it had to be done, but again played for time.
'We'll do it tomorrow morning.'
The following morning he suddenly said, 'I want Zoë to be
placed with Holly and Christopher too.'
Jessica looked out the window to the little mound of earth on the
lawn with a white cross above it. Holly's sister Zoë had been
hurriedly buried within hours of her death from typhoid. 'You're
right,' she agreed. 'The two sisters should be together.'
Fergus stood up. 'I'll go and dig their graves next to Christopher's.
We'll bury them at sunrise tomorrow, for certain.'
'Keep a lookout for Archangel,' Mark said quickly.
Fergus hurried off. Later that night, when the children were asleep
and Mark had left for his nightly trek to the clifftop, he exhumed
Zoë's remains and placed them in what had been Steven's old
toolbox. The large box, Steven's apprenticeship project, was just
as beautifully made as Holly's coffin.
Shortly after daybreak the procession left the house on Marina
Hill. Gina, Audrey, Tommy and Nicole led the way, carrying the toolbox.
Behind them followed Mark and Zach with the beautiful coffin containing
Holly. Bringing up the rear were Fergus and Jessica, holding the
twins. As they trudged slowly along the well-worn path, Mark became
aware of how tiny and vulnerable the Gulf Harbour community was.
The loss of one child seemed to have tipped the scales disproportionately.
Nicole began to sing the Maori funeral hymn 'Koutou Katoa Ra',
the words drifting away on the breeze. It was a fitting tribute
to the two little part-Maori sisters; they had been the last members
of their race.
Mark's sense of loss intensified. Steven had to come back. They
desperately needed him, Penny, Lee, baby David, Luke and Allison
As they neared the two freshly dug graves Mark continued to search
the waters off Whangaparaoa; there were no sail to be seen. And
there were still no sail as he trudged wearily back along the footpath
eight hours later to join the remainder of the community.
Blood Roots is now available as an e-book available from Amazon.