Ivan was the man about town – the one they’d call when they found a pile of bones or a suspicious looking piece of dirt. They’d phone through with that anxious tone in their voice, desperately hoping that he’d be available to look at whatever it was straight away. Mostly they wanted him to simply identify that potential pa sites were in fact natural landscapes and that the bones belonged to cows.
Every town has an Ivan. A boorishly intelligent, belligerent rebel so unfortunately useful that the town is stuck with him, precluding the nickname, “Our Archaeologist.” The knowledge that his hometown has finally claimed him does something quiet in Ivan’s spirit, particularly on days when the rugged West Coast is showing her colour. After all, his life’s work has become the landscape of her hills and the stories of her people, all the way back before the Pakeha ever set eyes upon her.
It’s because of his fascination with the district that Ivan became an archaeologist, just so he could return home after the years of study in the North, bringing reference libraries and an old set of digging tools in an appropriately aged army kit bag. No one needed to know the bag itself had been claimed from the bargain bins at the army surplus mere hours before leaving the city for the last time. After all, he had the signed piece of paper in his hand and his first offer of work on the new bypass site. He had every intention of being an traditional archaeologist, one of those types that was really in it to tell the stories of the people that had ‘been before’.
The longer it went on though, the more he saw all the places where the ‘been before’ had lived and understood the scope of the work, the more Ivan changed and the more he stayed the same.
“It’s so easy to get caught between the two worlds,” he said to Eva, who lived very much in the present. “I’m neither Pakeha or Maori, while I’m telling the stories of one in the face of the other. I’m elbow deep every day in the mess and sewage of history.”
He walked to the fridge with a swagger in each inch of his legs, hips thrust forward in the balancing posture of someone too tall for their body. Fingers wrapped around the green longnecks, he threw the twist caps to the floor and thrust one into Eva’s outstretched hand. He strutted between the balcony ranch slider and the kitchen door frame. The itch under his skin rattled around his wrist, until he finally rubbed his fingernails furiously along the side of his arm.
Eva’s eyes dropped on to his nails, still quick deep in clay and grime. She reached for him and caught the back of his thigh with her hand, an unusual gesture of affection. She was deeply reserved but his manner today seemed surly like the gathering clouds, causing her to want to connect with him. Her touch stilled his pacing but the tension stayed tight throughout the muscle, as if he was garnering the strength to leap forward.
Eva sighed, letting her thumb press slow circles into his flesh. Some days he appeared to her still like a caged bird, not yet knowing that his wings were clipped. His desire to leap into the air and flap his now castrate wings still unsettled her.
Ivan and Eva is one of the multiple writing projects currently underway.