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Suffering is political

By Briar Pomana (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Rakaipaaka) (she/her)

feature writer

A fictional short story that isn’t really all that fictional.

I live in a cold, damp flat in Mount Roskill and pay nearly $300 a week including my share of utilities. There is mould growing on my clothes in my wardrobe, and the only window in my room is structured with wood that feels closer to sponge than timber. I live with three other people: Tapu, Moses and Dot, whom I met upon moving in. I saw the room on Facebook in one of those Auckland flats groups and hit Moses up over Messenger.

The person who had occupied the room before me was Razor. He moved out on a Friday arvo and I moved in on the following Saturday morning. It’s a tight turn around in Auckland and the changeover of rooms being emptied and filled could compete with some CBD hotels. Razor was an indoor smoker, so I had to use the little money I had left after the move to buy some knock-off Jif so I could scrub the walls. My other flatties reckon he’d smoke at least a pack a day. Razor had a shitty call centre job where he’d work from home, so it was easier to light up in the room than walk out onto our front porch. For the first few months I used to wake up in the morning with this metallic nicotine taste in my mouth. Now, everytime I smell ciggies, I have the urge to rinse my mouth out.

Tapu told me that the only reason Razor had to move out was because he’d lost his job. The company he worked for made him and fifty other people redundant. “He thought he’d be able to tough it out for a bit and eventually find something, but the cracks in the Jobseeker system became too large for anyone to clamber out of.” Moses told me that he moved back to Tokoroa and was living with his Nan, because her superannuation was getting cut and she needed the support from his benefit money. Heaps of my friends have left Auckland for the same reason, but it’s just as bad out in the regions. People are getting desperate and are making all kinds of fucked up decisions.

Last night there was a homicide at our local pub. The owners are a Māori couple from Ahipara who’ve lived in the area since the 80s. Their pub has an open fireplace, so the flatties and I will sometimes go there for a drink or two to warm ourselves up and watch TV. The elections are coming up, so there’s been lots of debates both on the telly and in the pub lately. None of us were at the pub when that fatal fight broke out, because it happened on a Sunday. It’s hard to know how it started, but apparently it involved a heated conversation about politics. Moses was woken up by the sound of choppers circling the area, and in the morning there were pigs everywhere. Apparently, the guy who’d done it had sprinted off and jumped a few fences. We’d wondered if he was the one who had smashed Dot’s little Suzuki, but thought that was probably just some of the neighbourhood kids being bored and lonely again.

Not having a car in Auckland is like shooting yourself in the foot.

My car got towed the other day, and I’m still trying to come up with the money to get it back from the yard out in Manurewa. Not having a car in Auckland is like shooting yourself in the foot. I had to dig my AT Hop card out of a pair of jeans at the back of my mouldy closet – to my surprise there was already $20 on it. My luck disappeared the moment I had to use it. I think I waited an entire hour to get into town the other day, and there were about three ghost buses. A ghost bus is what we ‘public transport girlies’ call buses that are scheduled on the AT app, but they never arrive. By the time a bus finally showed up, it was so full that it drove straight past the group of us queued at the stop. There’s been lots of cancellations because of the strikes too. Bus drivers are in high demand, but no one wants the job because it’s shit pay, and you have to deal with some of the worst of the worst. I don’t blame 'em for striking, but it’s all a bit of a shit show, and having more cars on the road makes everyone more agro and impatient.

My mate Selena is jumping between places at the moment and she’s noticed the shift in people too. People are less likely to open up their homes now that everything has tightened up and households are under immense stress. Especially when some of our other friends have young kids to worry about – I can’t even begin to imagine the juggling act. My mum was in a similar position last time we went into a recession and I remember her saying it was like a constant dash to get to the finish line, but that it was like this for most families in our community so she never felt alone in the struggle. There were rich families who lived on the hills and voted blue, and then there were families like ours who lived below in the swamps and didn’t vote at all. During that time where mum struggled the most, I remember asking her about who she voted for. She answered, “I had no gas to get to the polling booth.” I wonder how many people’s voices in our community remained in the swamp, still sunk there somewhere.

Suffering is political, and people like Razor, the owners of the pub up the road, Selena and my mum bear the brute force of it. Without suffering, what leverage does one candidate have over the other? It’s a messed up game they play, where poor and vulnerable communities pay the price. Systems are failing the people they were built for. It leaves us displaced, unemployed, unhealthy and without hope. As politicians come and go, wardrobes continue to be mouldy, people continue being reduced to numbers, and the only certainty is that people will die because of decisions made by those who sit up on the hill.


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