The Sky is the Same in New Zealand
“It is the only place I’ve ever been where the sky eats the land and you can barely see the grass with all those huge clouds in your face.”
August 6, 2014 | Summer 2014
1. We got to Paihia in the morning and walked straight into town from the bus station, our bags left at the luggage storage like we’re bums or something. Desiree had been on the phone with her boyfriend 7,000 miles away for nearly an hour at that point. All five of us, free for the summer and free for the first time in our lives, had finally reached Paihia after two weeks of travelling around the North Island, finally reached a point far enough north for us to turn around and go back without fear of missing much else.
The town was a brilliantly sunny road we walked on barefoot, barefoot like we’d been for the last two weeks. There was little our fatigued teenage-backpacker eyes were attracted to and I remember nothing from my whole time in New Zealand but the bright sun’s reflection on the boiling asphalt, and the tiny tourist information building, with walls that seemed to be lined with metal bus flooring. There we got our Swim With the Dolphins Registered Trademark tickets. Desiree was still on the phone with her boyfriend as we stepped onto the motor boat that smelt like shrimp, and as we, who felt uneasy having to wait for anything, tried to get high in the loos until the dolphins appeared. The boat had felt stuffy and unholy until then, but all of a sudden there they were, and we all squealed with excitement and pointed and giggled not sure what to do with ourselves, everyone apart from Desiree.
2. I met my first New York jew on the boat, a 19-year-old Natalie-Portman-in-Garden-
We stopped on a tiny flat island for lunch, a lump of velvety grass with a cafeteria and picnic tables on it. I was in love with the beautiful New York jew more than I had been in love with anyone in the past five years. Anyone since the parties I was too young to have been at, on Barbara’s terrace, during the summer before I had my first period and falling in love became a bit scarier.
As we stepped off the boat and walked back to the tourist centre made of floors, I thought about how meeting them was a divine sign telling me never to be scared again.
3. I was getting on with everyone ok. That was also new. For the first time in the trip and for the first time in my life I was the one to suggest we played a card drinking game that night, and I was the one to venture into the backpacker common room sober in my underwear, looking for a deck of cards and a date. I was sixteen and delighted to be so, my entire life I had felt I was born to be sixteen. I couldn’t find any cards but I did find a date, a German kid with gums too big for his teeth and voice too soft for a sex fantasy, but you’re crazy if you think that’s the kind of thing I gave a shit about when I was in my underwear in Paihia.
4. We went to the bar downstairs – me, the German dude and two of his friends and I never once had a clue of what was going on. I was sixteen and so disconnected and horny I couldn’t remember what it felt like to think. I wanted the bar to be an amazing place, meaningful in some way just like I wanted Paihia to be, a small seaside town too far north to be anything and tacky in a good way, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells… I wanted to spend the night in Paihia’s only bar, maybe with starfish glued to its changing-room-blue walls. Maybe with waitresses wearing Hawaiian skirts.
5. The bar was not meaningful in any way. An Oasis cover band played inside as we sat on plastic chairs sipping average beer.
His name was Julian. He told mildly amusing stories about his mildly impressive travels, he gave mouth to mouth to a monkey once, he was a tour leader in Milford Sound and had learnt to say a bunch of dirty jokes in Japanese. I pressed my calf against his. That was as far as I dared to go. If they don’t want you touching their calf they don’t want anything to do with you. If they don’t mind it, they wouldn’t mind much else. He caressed my thigh with his thumb, moving his thumb up and down like my thigh was the neck of a furry cat.
6. We both said how much we’d miss the sky in New Zealand. The sky. You hear that all the time when travelling there. It is the only place I’ve ever been where the sky eats the land and you can barely see the grass with all those huge clouds in your face.
7. I moved my hand up his groin and he moved his hand up mine and we held position for another half hour until his friends had to leave and we kissed.
He asked if I would like to go for a walk on the beach and look at the sky.
8. I held his hand because I forgot not to.
9. We walked rather hurriedly to a belvedere-y looking pile of stones right at the end of the beach. I remember thinking I was wearing my lucky pants and feeling smug about it. The lucky pants always work, I thought. We kissed and he fingered me and he asked if I was a virgin and I said no and I said “But not everything, ok?” and he said “What?” and I said “Not everything” and he said “Ok, no problem”, and then we had sex for a bit until the condom broke. I kissed him and felt his hands pushing my shoulders down. I thought, no way. I thought, maybe. But by then it was too late and he was putting his trousers back on.
10. “Look, there it is”, he said feebly pointing upwards, and I laughed. The sky.
11. I had left my bag at the bar. That gave us a reason to run and not have to talk on our way back. Before we left, he said “Wait, first…” and held my face and kissed me gently, with infinite tenderness. He said “You’re a very beautiful woman”.
12. I couldn’t stop repeating that phrase under my breath, for days, listening to Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman like a little sixteen year old dupe. I touched my lips and tried to feel his kiss again. I closed my eyes and muttered, you’re a very beautiful woman. You’re a very beautiful woman. It was the first time anyone’d called me a woman.
Illustration by Geoff Bates
Tali was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is currently settled in the UK after 4 years of nervous globetrotting. She is a pre-school teacher by day, and editor of the zine Other People's Shit, curating anything and everything related to miseries that are not (exclusively) her own.