Just as I am wondering how much further it can be to the beach, there is a bench by the road, placed so that weary feet can rest above the estuary. The view is not quite wild, with houses in the distance and plantings in careful layers of mānuka, harakeke, reeds. My mind smudges out the houses and the path, imagining everything as it would have been. Two pūkeko stalk about, plunging their beaks into the water. They zig-zag closer to the edge and clamber out among the grasses. One balances briefly on the other’s back, wings extended, before strutting ahead of her, tail feathers raised, the white plume underneath fluffed up proudly. I wonder how he knows his tail feathers are worth showing off, and I decide he must believe he looks the same as other pūkeko. Better, even.
I am not like him. I am still afraid that my tail feathers are meant to stay hidden. I don’t yet trust that I’m the same kind of creature. I am too used to being deliberately misunderstood, to only being kept because I’m useful, to being told I see things wrong. There are two seats on this bench, and I’m glad that one of them is empty because now there is room for me.
I wander past a house for sale, past some workers digging up gutters, past some whitebaiters reclining on the bank and jeering at each other’s meagre catches. A Labrador grins at me, begging me to admire the size of the branch in its mouth. The sand is etched with the memory of waves, and the island is too close to fit in a photo.
I pick up a piece of gnarled driftwood and notice that there is beauty in the deconstructing as well as in the creating: sand made from pummelled shells, driftwood carved from flood-wrenched trees, courage found in discarded hearts.
I wonder if choosing where to walk will make me into something beyond useful. I wonder if the pūkeko even knows it has feathers.