New fiction: A sneak peek at RECOIL

For the past few months I’ve been working on a movie treatment and script with director Amarbir Singh. We’ve written two versions of the treatment and we’re now preparing the screenplay. It’s a revenge movie, of sorts, that takes place following an assault in an Auckland dairy. The context of the story is the clash of ideologies following the massacre in Christchurch, set within the more troublesome issue of immigration and immigrants’ place in New Zealand society. The following is a sneak peek at the first few scenes, taken from the second treatment:

It’s a dairy like any other. And Nilesh Patel is like any other dairy owner’s son, working another night in the shop as he saves up to study something at university, anything, that will make his life better. He never for one minute thought his last night in the dairy would achieve that very thing — just not for him.

We don’t see Nilesh Patel at first, though. The first thing we see is the front of the dairy, and the multicoloured neon lights that glow in the windows. Perpetually on, as soon as the sun sinks behind the Waitakere Ranges, which you can see as you stand here, looking at the shop from the road. It’s an old shop and the white paint is flaking from the walls. But the flaking paint and the cracks in the walls are difficult to see when the lights in the windows are so bright, so seductive, like the lights out the front of a cheap strip joint and cigar bar.

Let’s go inside.

Slowly towards the shop we move, and as the pace quickens we hear footsteps, in stereo, left and right and from slightly behind, getting louder as they pick up the pace and pass us, quickly, charging towards the shop out of the darkness, out of nowhere, with no warning, no prelude, no logic, just two figures, hooded, male — but seriously, how would we even fucking know these days — rushing into the dairy as if it was, indeed, a cheap strip club or a haunt for whores and this was their first night off the leash, desperate, hungry, confused by desire and rage and that thing that happens when they’re rolled into one …

And there’s Nilesh, his face anyway, suddenly afraid, suddenly aware that this is his random moment. A flurry of arms and legs, the noise of lollies falling from the shelves, that chaotic sound that occurs when too many bodies press their way into too small a space. In a moment we’re on the floor, arms up for protection, body curled for protection, shielding the head because it’s the head that matters. The rest of it, well, that can be bruised and broken, but the head … cave in the head and we’re fucked.

But we’re fucked anyway. It’s obvious. There’s no way out of this. This crazed and wild attack with feet and fists, and — what’s that? — a cricket bat, of all the fucking things. Raised high, higher, so high that we know if this connects, if the willow smacks us full on the cranium, we’re gone.

Blackness. Silence. The ceasing of all things. Even time.

Nothing like a random killing to bring the police from everywhere. From the doorway through to the back of the dairy, Sushila Patel watches, as they fill the dairy like the dairy has never been filled before, not even at the height of Diwali or the days before Christmas. Down to our right, just there on the floor where the blood hasn’t yet been cleaned up — and who does that in this situation? — that’s where the body was, not hours before. Not any more though, it’s gone, with Nilesh, with everything really. What’s left? Sujata, that’s what. His sister, standing with Sushila by the door, trying with all her might like Sushila herself to stay out of the way of the police so they can do their job. One of them even alludes to it.

‘It’s terrible. It’s awful. I’m so sorry. We just have to do our job.’

It’s a woman who says it. A Kiwi. Kiwi accent. For sure. And a uniform, Sushila thinks. It’s so hard to know. All the details, even a memory of her face, impossible to hold. There’s just noise, movement, official words and frowns and serious faces and men standing looking at the floor where Nilesh was killed, then back up at Sushila, to see what? She shows them nothing. Gives nothing away about what’s going on inside. Because she has nothing to show.

A light flashes. A light from a camera. Or a blown bulb. Who knows? A constable pushes past from the back room.

‘I’ve got the tape,’ he shouts, to anyone who’s listening. No one is. They’re too focussed, too caught up in their own thing, the one thing that might make all the difference and that no one wants to miss.

That’s our hope anyway, standing there with Sushila and Sujata, watching it all unfold, like a movie, like a blur, like a nightmare. Not quite real. But also, too real.

Constables inside. Detectives outside. Is that the news people out on the road as well? Neighbours and customers are out there, for sure. We can see them, milling about, wanting information, when there’s no information to give. Except the one bit of information Sushila never, ever wants to hear mentioned again.

‘Do I make them a tea?’ says Sushila.

‘For God’s sake, mum,’ says Sujata.

But no tears. Not yet. This is no time for mourning. This is time for work. Police work, that is. There’s no dairy work today. There mightn’t be dairy work for a while.

The wailing rises from behind us, and from the side of us, just like the footsteps right before the dairy attack. Except this time there’s no hint of threat, no sense of panic, just grief, and maybe a touch of anger in those crying voices. No professional mourners are needed at this cremation. The community has come out in force, and Sushila, with Sujata beside her at the very front of the mourners, seated in the very front row, feels the groundswell of sympathy ebbing and flowing behind her, from her friends, her family, even people she has never seen before. This is the kind of death that creates a scene and causes some noise.

Beside us are Sukhpal Singh, and Arjun Singh, Sushila’s friends. Sukhi’s wails ebb and flow with those of the voices behind us — but beside him, Arjun is as Arjun always is — stoic, proud, unmoved. If anything, he’s confused by the noise and the tears and the dramatics. Funerals are not for him. He’s here for Sukhi. And it’s Sukhi who’s here for Sushila. It’s Arjun who sees Sushila’s stiff posture, her stony features, the peculiar angle of the head that is neither bowed in sorrow nor raised with rage — an absence of feeling. Sukhi wouldn’t have a clue, which confuses Arjun more than Sushila’s posture. Why can he not see? Sukhi’s hand is to his face, sobbing into his palm, rocking forward as if he’s comforting a child. Arjun also sees Sujata, beside her mother, one seat further along the row. There’s no mistaking what she’s feeling. Pure rancour. It’s in the narrowing of her eyes and the steely tension of her jaw, the twitching of her high cheek bone, the folded arms and crossed legs, one foot tucked behind the other. Arjun knows it. He’s felt it before. In another time and place.

‘He was a fine boy,’ says a woman from the microphone. ‘Aye, Sushila? A fine young man, really.’

And more words of conciliation and comfort, thrown out towards Sushila in the monotone of the bereaved family member suddenly and unexpectedly cast in the role of chronicler.

Sushila doesn’t hear any of it. Can’t hear it. Won’t hear it. She stares ahead, to a point in the middle distance, deaf to the wails that have quietened now that someone is talking, but just as deaf to the voice coming from the front.

‘Was this all about cigarettes?’ shouts the next one on the stand. He’s more familiar with the spotlight. He knows how to make the most of his five minutes on the soapbox. His voice is rising, heated and loud, and something in that wakes Sushila from her dreaming. Arjun sees this too.

‘How long do we have to put up with it, aye?’ the man continues.‘Nilesh, man, he loved his cricket. He loved his mother’s dairy. His father would have been so proud.’

His hand goes to his chest and he casts his eyes down to the ground.

‘But why, man? Why him? Why this dairy? What did he do? Nothing. Nothing at all. All for the cigarettes.’

He’s shouting now, and the noise behind us rises to echo his voice. The sound of bums huffling in seats. The soles of shoes tapping anxiously on the industrial carpet. The muted sobs gaining volume yet again. Shouts even, from the back, from voices Sushila cannot recognise.

‘All for CIGARETTES?’ he shouts again. ‘These kids, man. They’ve got it coming.’

And then he sobs. Openly, uncontrollably, in a way he’ll regret whenever he thinks back on this moment. That’s what Arjun thinks anyway. Arjun, who folds his arms, looks along the row again and sees that nothing has changed, and feels a peculiar anger rising in him also.

Outrage? A sense of injustice? Or just the simple desire to get this display over with?

The air carries a song, and the song floats on the breeze, and the clouds above us, and around us, hang in the breeze like a fine mist, holding us in a prolonged state of suspension, perhaps rising, perhaps falling, it’s impossible to know in this state, half-dreaming, half-awake, yet fully joyful and alive, the expectation rising in our chests like butterflies.

A glimpse of an arm in the cloud, then a head, and a hand, waving slowly and unnaturally in the air like a hand held out from the window of a moving car, weaving against the breeze and feeling the mist as if it’s the first thing its fingertips have ever touched. It’s Alex Corrigan, rising high above a wave, so high it looks like she’s flying, rising through the mist on the pulsing rhythm of the song, then falling again, slowly, as if suspended on wires or hanging from a chute … and as we pull slowly back, we see that she is glistening from the mist and the water and maybe even the clouds, as she twists around with her surfboard so that she’s most definitely falling now, though not without a plan and not without a clear intention, as the board’s nose points downwards towards the curling wave, through the mist that is cast off from its crest as the offshore breeze holds the wave upright, and cushions Alex as she drops slowly from the sky.

Alex, with the board beneath her as if fastened to her feet with glue, hits the curl and leans into the wave as it peels away from Lion Rock and along the Piha bay. She bends low and we can almost touch the wave, run our fingers along its icy face, feel the chill drill down into the bone so that our fingertips first feel shock, then feel numb, then feel pain. The wave crests above us, pulling Alex into the tube. We follow her gaze out towards the mouth of the pipe, determined to reach it this time, urging the board along the curl and bending so low we are almost crouched into a ball … then the wave has us, rolling us over and over, flashes of colour and light, deep green and pale blues and the bright yellow winter sun, then white foam, masses of it, forcing us down towards the sandy floor of the bay. Alex hits the ocean bottom with a heavy thud, but bounces up again, pulling the board to her chest as she rises through the turbulent white water like a rubber duck in a bath.

‘WOOOOOHOOOOO!’ she’s screaming, the sun glistening on her cheeks and eyelids, her blonde hair dragging behind her in a wet mane like the leather tongues of a chamois mop.

The smile on her face is like the mouth of a Great White. Wide and white and wonderfully joyful. There is no life better than this, anywhere.

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