Grant boarded the tiny Beech aircraft, taking care not to step off the side of the narrow stairwell that led up from the tarmac. His left hand held the spindly cord that was moonlighting as a bannister while his right hand firmly held his laptop bag.
It was a warm, windy Auckland day and he could feel the jetlag beginning to seep into his body. The flight from LA was tortuous, but that might just have been the past three months taking their toll. His move to New Zealand was more necessity than choice.
Back in LA, Grant had racked up movie after movie of success. He had been the animation artist at the top of directors’ lists, until his monumental meltdown. Two months of therapy had brought him to the point where he could think about it without wanting to vomit or numb the pain with something a little more serious than a succession of vodka martinis.
“3E on the left, sir,” said the co-pilot who was doubling as the steward. It was the smallest plane he’d ever been on.
It would take a while for the Kiwi accent to grow on him, but it was a country that was still willing to take a chance on him. It was only a small contract, but at least he could work remotely from the small Hokianga settlement. He needed solitude - and broadband.
“Hey mister!” Said a little girl seated across the aisle from him.
“Is this your first plane trip? It’s mine. I’m going to see my dad and my uncle in the Hokianga, which is cool because mum didn’t like me to see them, but now she’s gone and my aunty says it’s time that someone else pulled their weight and looked after me.”
Her upbeat voice snapped him out of his own thoughts; her unguarded comments too. He smiled cautiously, taking in the little girl’s appearance.
She was probably eight or nine and wore a faded summer outfit and scruffy plait. She was tapping her feet on an equally faded school bag and looked at him with her beaming face.
Grant was reluctant to respond, knowing that it could enter him into a nonstop exchange for the 40 minute flight. But there was something about this little girl besides the slightly concerning story that she had just blurted out.
“No, I’ve been on lots of flights before,” he said, giving in to her overwhelming warmth.
“I’m scared – are you? A little because of flying and a little about living with my dad and all my uncles and aunties up north. Will you come and visit me?”
Wow, thought Grant, thinking that he should back out of this quickly. He couldn’t help himself.
“Tell me more about your dad and the Hokianga,” he said, not realising where this conversation would eventually lead.
Angela Shaw (NZ)
Writers: Ken Burns, Cocobaby, Donna McT, dannyo, roseyn, Linda Alley, Suraya Dewing, Iliena Bosu