Fact One: If a long-eared owl and its chicks are threatened, it will fan out its wings and fluff up its feathers. This makes the owl look big and frightening and may scare the enemy away.
I thought it was kind of her to pick me over the other girls. Maybe it was risky for her to do that too. It might’ve isolated them more. I don’t know. We were the only Samoan family in the whole neighborhood. My English wasn’t very good at the time. But maybe it was my difference that made her pick me. Maybe it was the anxiety in my eyes. Anyway, Tom didn’t mind me that much, so maybe it was that.
The job wasn’t hard. I cleaned the house for two hours a day after school. I washed the dishes, dusted, mopped, and vacuumed. Sometimes if Mrs Hezzler needed to go out then I stayed with Tom. Tom didn’t need much looking after, though. He was older than me by five years. He mainly kept to himself, and whenever I was there, he usually stayed in his room.
I only ever went into his room once, when Mrs Hezzler and Tom were getting ready to go out one time. While Tom was in the bath, I went into his room to clean. His room was a shrine to owls. Plastic owls, ceramic owls, large knitted owls, and even real stuffed owls, too. Owl books, pictures, and posters. There would’ve been hundreds of owl things, filling every single space in the room. Mrs Hezzler came in and saw me there.
“Mele! Don’t ever come in here again. Please. Tom is very protective of his owl collection and he gets upset when people touch his things. Especially these.” She waved her arms at the owls.
“I was dust them.”
“No, that’s okay. Let’s just leave them as they are. Just as they are. Tom gets annoyed, and he can get very angry if we move his things around. No, don’t worry, Mele, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. . . . he just likes his owls to be left alone. That’s all.” [End Page 277]
Mrs Hezzler hurried me out of the room, just as Tom finished his bath.
Fact Two: Owls see the world in black and white, not color.
We didn’t see my father much in those days. He worked all the time. My mother stayed home and was always washing, cleaning, cooking, and looking after my sisters, baby brother, and my grandma. Otherwise she was asleep—exhausted. My uncle Vito, his wife, and their son stayed with us too, for a long time, until they were able to find their own house and jobs.
I was in Form Three. They put me in a lower grade when I came to New Zealand. It shamed me to be in the same class as kids who were a year or two younger than me, and their English was so much better than mine. Most of the time, I didn’t understand their fast chatter. I pined for Sāmoa where I once belonged. My friends, my family. Most of all I missed the wide-open spaces. I missed the vastness of the sea. Here everything was so boxed. Houses were separated by fences. My house. Your house. Within the houses were rooms separated by walls. The sitting room, bathroom, bedroom. My room. Your room. Doors that locked. Yards and gardens with gates. No ocean in sight. Even the sky seemed less majestic in New Zealand.
It was toughest for my mother and father. They worked hard for us. So that’s what I resolved to do, too. We came to New Zealand for a better life, after all.
Fact Three: An owl cannot move its huge eyes in their sockets. Instead it swivels its head, which can turn almost full circle.
I was scared of Tom that first time I met him. He sat at the kitchen table with a group of plastic owl toys arranged like little army soldiers before him. He sort of looked like an owl too...