About five minutes from the beach and the shops at Brown’s Bay, on a curve in a leafy crescent, is the house where we are staying: a two-storey, four bedroom house of no great note worth 1.3 million dollars – like all the houses on the crescent, and on the road that connects the crescent to the suburb, and the suburb to Auckland.
The family who own the house where we are staying are on holiday. They are a couple from Holland and Burundi with a daughter. The last time I stayed at their home was in 2007 and they have made a few changes since. They have painted, replaced the carpets, and tiled the bathrooms. In 2007 I became fascinated by two things at their house: a particular book and their downstairs toilet roll holder.
In 2007 I noticed that the toilet roll holder, plastic and grey, was also an AM/FM radio. Being suitably impressed by the chain of thought and action that led to someone designing such a thing, making such a thing, shipping such a thing, and buying such a thing, I turned it on. It was therefore from an AM/FM radio toilet roll holder that I learned about the death of Sir Edmund Hillary. That was a death that sent New Zealand into a spasm of reflection and special newspaper supplements and rolling coverage of a funeral. The death of one old man is sometimes significant.
It was a gift to the new queen. The summiting of Everest. Like how the very rich get complimentary champagne. In this case, someone else’s goddamned champagne.
It was also in that house that I learnt about the genocide in Rwanda. I read a book there called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. That story felt like it had two strands: the detail of the genocide in Rwanda and its aftermath, and the failure of the United Nations and that thing that sometimes gets called “the international community” to do anything. Gourevitch recalls visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. during the genocide and being struck by all the signs saying “Never Again”.
Rosamund is sleeping in the bedroom of the daughter. The daughter is about 13 and there are photos of friends, and statements about dreams and stars on the walls, or propped up on a desk where there is also a yearbook. Eleanor is interested in the cheerleading uniform draped over the chair: the combination of sportswear and rhinestones is irresistible.
Before they left on their holiday Cathy’s friend related a “funny” story to Cathy about getting a traffic ticket. The ticket was for driving with only one person in the car in a T2 lane. The funny part was that her husband was actually in the car in the passenger seat next to her. He has very dark skin and the person or machine reviewing the images obviously didn’t pick him out of the shadows. They were contesting the ticket. Contesting his invisibility.