‘There!’ I looked at my room, satisfied. It looked angelic now.
I caught sight of my alarm clock.
‘Sheesh!’ I screamed in my head. I had promised to pick my friend up at 3.45pm – and that was just five minutes away.
Thoughts occupied me as I hurried down the streets. My friend is called Eugene, and he, too, is from Singapore. A friend’s wedding brought him to Wellington and he took the chance to backpack around. Auckland was his last stop before departing for home. In the months leading up, I had been busy with schoolwork and only responded intermittently, lukewarm at best. So it was with guilt that I strode towards Sky City, where we had promised to meet.
A young man with a huge backpack sat on the stone seats, staring up at the towering building. I smiled.
Almost tiptoeing, I sneaked up behind him and attempted to do my usual ‘pounce-and-greet’ when he turned at the exact same moment. Groaning, but laughing, I gave him a hug. Within moments, Eugene and I had slipped into our comfortable colloquialisms and it seemed as though nothing had changed.
‘There is, honestly, nothing much to do in Auckland,’ I sighed.
‘Well, there are the gannets at Muriwai Beach, black beaches at Piha, but you need a car to drive there… which I do not have…’ I trailed off.
I stared at the grey pavement we were walking down that I was oh-so-familiar with. Symonds Street was my daily fare and there was nothing too interesting about that. I gave him a tour of the university too, which was completed in less than half an hour. What now?
‘Let’s go cycling.’
‘It’s one thing that I haven’t checked off my list.’
‘Uhm. Okay,’ I could feel my heart palpitating slightly. I had been wanting to cycle ever since I arrived in Auckland. But fear at the thought of cycling on roads had put me off.
Before I knew it, we were standing outside the bike shop, helmets and bikes in hand. There was an unsettled sense of unfamiliarity. I was holding my breath for the first few moments, concentrating furiously on the road. Eugene turned and gave a little laughed, ‘Such a serious face!’ I barely responded.
When I dared look up though, the view took my breath away. I had never felt so close to Rangitoto Island before; I had only stared at it from the windows on the upper floors of the library. The people milling around on the beach, sail boats waiting patiently in their docks… I felt truly alive.
We scrambled onto the top of the playground, like kids.
‘Why had I never done this before, in the five months I’ve been here?’ I wondered.
There were many other magical experiences when evil brother came to town (It’s a nickname I have for Eugene). He asked in earnest if we could go to church on Sunday.
‘That’s something I still did not manage to do in NZ,’ he said ruefully.
Being of a different faith, that was not a thought that I was immediately comfortable with. But, wanting to display the hospitality that Kiwis are known for, I agreed to look up one for him.
We entered St Paul’s Church, marvellously built and welcoming. I was stunned as I gazed at the beautiful architecture within, again feeling regretful. Being blown away by the movie we watched Academy Cinema, truly enjoying the moment at Queen’s Wharf… these all amounted to the realization that I had not actually bothered to admire what had always been around me.
True enough, not every weekend can be spent like this as this all requires a bit of cash. But I know for sure now that I would no longer say that ‘Auckland is boring’ when someone comes to visit.
Evil brother left on Monday but he left me with a precious pair of eyes that viewed Auckland in a renewed light. The cycling map I have pasted on my brick wall is my reminder that I could do much outside my comfort zone, if I had the courage to try.