Koro and his moko had finished lunch and moved outside to sit on the porch. The wooden floor was old and the paint peeling in places, but it was home. Koro took his usual seat on the hand carved wooden bench while Moko settled himself on the woven mats against the wall. They had done this enough times now that Moko knew to wait for Koro to speak. He closed his eyes and leant back into the wall of the house, listening to the sounds around him. He could hear his grandmother moving around inside, with the TV on low volume in the background. He could hear at least five different types of birds adding their voices to the sounds of the forest. He could hear the very distant and very infrequent vroom of a car engine as it passed on the main road. He listened to Koro’s breathing, counting the beats between each breath.
“Moko. Tēnā, tirohia te maunga. Look at the mountain.”
Moko turned his head and looked through the trees to where the maunga rose above everything else in sight. The sun was high in the sky and he had to squint his eyes against the glare. Although there were no clouds anywhere else, the very tip of the mountain was draped with grey fog, as if it were trying to protect the last of the winter snow from the heat of the sun.
His koro began speaking. As he spoke, he wove together words to make characters, characters to make stories, and stories to create the tapestry of their shared ancestry. With eyes closed, he recited their whakapapa, starting way back at the Great Migration and ending with Moko, sitting on the mat laid at his feet.
“Look to the maunga, moko. He aha tāu i kite ai? Tell me what you see.”
Again, the little boy turned his head to look at the mountain. The sun had shifted, dropping lower into the sky and lengthening the shadows of the trees. Small clouds had formed – not enough to threaten rain, but lazy clouds, the type that skit across the big blue at the leisure of the wind. These too threw shadows across the mountain, fleeting things that chased each other across the tops of the trees.
Koro resumed his storytelling, but every hour or so he would ask his moko to look at the mountain and describe what he saw. Each time Moko turned his head to the mountain it looked slightly different, as the sun sank lower into the horizon and the clouds moved across the sky. His grandmother called them for dinner and Moko was told to look to the mountain one last time. It looked ominous at this time of night, merely a dark triangle set against the fading pinks and deep purples of the setting sun.
At the table as she was serving the kumara mash, Nan asked Moko what he had learnt that day. He recounted the stories his grandfather had told him, and about watching the mountain change costumes throughout the afternoon. Towards the end of the meal, a debate ensued about what they should watch on TV. Koro was saying that watching the news would be much more interesting than watching Moana for the third time. Nan and Moko just looked at each other and said at the same time:
“Well Koro, that’s your way of looking at the mountain!”