Small Towns, Burning Rubbish & River Rats

By Briar Pomana (she/her)

Briar Pomana offers a love letter to small town folk in this short story. She highlights the significance of living in a small town, in all of its mundanity and quaintness, from the comforting traditions to the familiar faces. Briar hopes it’s a nostalgic reminder of home for Māori and evokes connections to loved ones back in these communities.


Small towns always smell like fireplaces to me. A dulled mood board of a place. Sheep are plotted down here and there, the stain of their shit rife in each waft. Along the windy driveways, agapanthus bend and bow, they mirror the people in these towns, those nosy flowers, always in someone’s backyard where they don’t belong. Carried along with the wind, they'll sow their seeds everywhere.


In these small towns, there are the Pākehā that run the businesses, like the postal off ice and mechanics shed. They know everyone and think themselves mayors of these towns. The Māori families work hard and often all together. Their hands turn most of the profit in these towns, though they see little of this. This land knows them and their whakapapa well and their bloodlines never stray too far beyond its boundaries.


Saturdays in these towns are frosty and clean-cut. They're spent on a pitch, on a court, on a field, somewhere down the road, and are accompanied by windbreakers and hot chips. Sundays in these towns are for cups of tea, cheeky cigarettes, and a roast with all the trimmings.


The parents in these towns will pick your kids up on the way there, if you can bring theirs back on your way home. These small town houses never have doors that lock, and always have at least one kid that doesn’t belong at their table, always willing to share the load. Where mailboxes are filled with newspaper but only to hold a fish, a punnet of kina, or a jar of lemon cello neatly inside as a thank you.


These communities where the stark winter river is a dictator. With its ruthless brutality, and cruelty rising further and further above the river beds, making its way into homes and backyards. Destroying driveways and paddocks. The river sees no bounds. Contrarily in the summer, its sweet traces of apple and peach sing in heated ripples. A portal into another realm, the neighbourhood water rats will fling themselves into any part of its body deep enough to make a splash. With their bikes strewn across bush and foliage, their uniforms hanging in the low arching trees, and their holey knickered bums bobbing on the surface. There is no shame existing beyond the riverbank. These royalties solely rely on ugly undies, fat manus and filthy inherited tongues. Such are the glories of rural neighbourhood fame.


These small towns humble our existence and ground us in the quaintness and mundane. The Uncle that plays his guitar and smokes that tangy-smelling grass will always remember our bright faces and crooked teeth. If you don’t call in to go see that Aunty at the end of the lane, you’re gonna hear about it for the next five years at least. You better go home and sit on someone's deck until midnight and chat about old times. And when you’re from a small town like mine, it pays to go for a swim. Even if it’s the middle of May and the water is littered with golden leaves, even if it’s with those same rough and rugged boys, now men, who you hardly recognise behind their patches and new ink. Come home, have a cup of tea, and make sure you kiss the village that raised you. The river calls to you and even the tuna miss your scabby bum.


Nā Briar Pomana