Saturday, July 31, 2021

When Bella Toa went to jail


“Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on Earth, there’s no cure for that.” Samuel Beckett


She could recite her whakapapa back to the Kingi movement on the north island. She descended from prophets and warriors. But despite her royalty, the charges of cultivation of marijuana still meant she would go to jail. The night before Bella Toa was locked up, she picked two men to sleep with.

One man was her ex-husband. Pete looked like Sean Penn with a few less teeth and was a recovery expert in the local support group. Unlike Bella Toa, Pete’s whakapapa was a vague recollection of Pakeha settler/farmers and shop keepers. Robbie was her best friend, a stoic Ngai Tahu stonemason who used to scoff at Donna Toa’s penchant for Pakeha men and then one day saw the way Pete looked at her.

Robbie and Pete were both sea people and crewed the Taonga around the harbour on Saturday race meets. One day, long before the raid, Bella Toa found a new song and played it for them. I love this song, she said. Listen to this. She’d been divorced from Pete for six months and as the song played, all three stared at each other.

Who sings this? He asked.

David Gray.

And the room, laced with divorce and love and potential, morphed at the sound of this name spoken aloud. The same name of a man who’d opened fire on people across the harbour twenty years ago, when Pete, Bella Toa and Robbie had stood together, listening to the gunshots crack across the water out near the sand spit, near where the albatrosses wheeled about their cliffy nests.

That’s a pretty fucking weird name for someone who wrote such a great song, said Robbie.

Driving. Before Portobello, where the bottom road traces the edge of the peninsula, Robbie pointed out the iron door set into the sand stone cliffs. That’s where his ancestors were locked up at night, he said to Bella Toa, before the treaty, back when they were indentured labour to the colonists. Building this causeway which they drove now, in a Mitsubishi Magna, with buckets of rocks. Bella Toa didn’t know how true this all was, about the iron door in the wall or the buckets of rocks. She was on her way to court at the time. She was probably going to jail. She lit a cigarette and wound down the window a notch, careful not to let in the cold.

They’d grown the crop in the hills up near the hydro. High country on a north facing slope. It was a family venture, she and two of her sons worked it but then, weeks before harvest, her oldest son had a nasty breakup with his girlfriend and that was that.

This is our whenua, our country, our womb, Bella Toa said in court on sentencing day. If I want to grow weed in my own country, who are you to say that is wrong. This is my country. What are your laws except colonial travesties? These are not my laws. This is bullshit law.

A Maori woman arguing on the wrong side of town for her pot-smoking family didn’t go down well. The judge, all but putting on his black cap, said law is law and you are sentenced to two years in prison for cultivation and supply.

The night before, Pete, now to be the full-time parent of their youngest child and ex-husband of a felon, asked Bella Toa for a pre-jail bucket list. I’d like to have you in my bed tonight, she said. And I’d like Robbie too.

And so Bella Toa made a slow dinner of boil up and they sipped on the pork broth, gnawed at the bones and ate huge chunks of potato and kumera, drank wine until her brow became sweaty with anticipation. At some stage of the night Bella Toa got up from the bed to make them all cups of tea. Kettle whistled on the gas flame. She returned with the tray wobbling with cups and teapot and milk jug, to see the two loves of her life sitting side by side in the bed. They’d thrown the covers aside and were comparing their penises.

Like little boys, she thought. She stopped and the tea strainer slipped. Pete and Robbie beckoned her over to sit between them in the bed. She put down the tray, climbed over Robbie and curled into their collective warmth.


  1. Isn't this a breach of copyright???? Oh well, it's too good to keep all to myself...

    1. I wrote it. It's mine Tom, it's all mine (laughs maniacally)

  2. (Screams and stamps his foot, then bursts into tears)

  3. Wow what a great story. And what a great fucking song.

    There's a brand of insect repellant called David Gray's [insert product name]. I'm glad the association didn't ruin the singer's career - probably because the brand was Australian.


  4. Wow what a sensational story.. layered in so many ways and brilliant ending. I felt like the weirdo , peering into your window laughing at the two fellars comparing their tackle!! Brilliant. Thank so much