OPINION: One should, I always think, take a compliment when one is forthcoming. You can never be sure where your next will come from.
Pay no heed to its source. Care not a jot for its truth. Lap it up. Which is why, when an older woman, as wide as she
was tall, hair cut to a buzz, wearing hoodie, jeans and steel-capped boots, recently gave me the glad eye, I smiled
I was in my car, at the lights, on my way to work. She was crossing the road. It's true I'd made an effort with my hair that day, but still I was surprised by her enthusiasm.
Five times she turned back, winking and miming that we should go for a drink. She was obviously quite mad.
And then, as the flashing green man turned red, her demeanour changed.
I followed her gaze. In the BMW next to me a suited-up, middle-aged man was giving my admirer the finger.
W*****, she mimed back in the universally recognised hand signal.
I could not hear him, but I could see him, laughing smugly. She started to approach his car, and he motioned
as if to get out, demonstrating how he would punch her repeatedly in the head.
He was a particular mix of aggressive and arrogant. Seat semi-reclined, one hand drumming the steering wheel. She was, every inch of his stance conveyed, a piece of s***.
But at the same time, I realised, he wanted this. Was hungry for it even.
He looked over at me and I ducked my head. I did not want him to think I was complicit. He gunned his engine.
The lights changed. All that rage, over in less than a minute. The conflict that had briefly brought us together dispersed into the thin morning sun.
There was a time, in my teens, when I sought conflict out. When born-again Christians took over the school field at lunchtime, speaking loudly in tongues, denouncing heathens and urging conversion, I staged a protest, requested
a meeting with the headmistress.
On Friday nights, after the movies and a shawarma at the Middle East Cafe, I hunted down the anti-abortionists
on Auckland's Queen St disseminating pictures of foetuses with their throats slashed to unsuspecting young women.
I was particularly enraged by the middle-aged, white, male pro-lifers and rejoiced in engaging them in verbal battle. At family gatherings I took members of my extended family to task over their racist asides and scarcely disguised homophobia.
You see the world in such stark relief when youth is on your side. But I have grown increasingly conflict-adverse.
Partly it's because, where once I could see only black and white, I now see the grey. I fight for causes from afar.
Signing petitions. Sending letters to embassies for countries I have never visited. Giving money - shrapnel to the collector outside the supermarket, a monthly pledge to a climate-change awareness fund.
But on a personal level I steer clear of clashes. Maybe I'm a wuss, but when I exchange cross words with
a friend or a colleague, sleep doesn't come easy. Fighting can be exhilarating, but it is draining, too.
And these days I hanker after calm.
Sometimes, though, a fight presents itself. I have marvelled in the past few months as a dear friend, a mother
of small children with no lobbying experience, has taken on the big guns.
When Bunnings declared they wanted to put a warehouse store on a site in her quiet inner-city street and Auckland
Council ruled the consent be processed on a limited notification basis, she, along with others in her neighbourhood,
took action. They have fundraised like demons, argued their case eloquently and come together in a way modern
communities seldom do.
Sometimes, as history has borne out, conflict is necessary. Despite initial plans to ban all toy guns from our house, I long ago realised I was waging a losing battle. Gave in. Boys - and girls when given the opportunity - like to pretend to shoot each other.
And actually, as I discovered last weekend during a game of outdoor laser tag combat, I quite like shooting people
too. It was a much-pleaded-for school holiday treat. One I intended to sit out.
Yes, I thought, as we entered Deliverance country, complete with camo-clad yokels, dank woods and tufts of
bracken, missing only the twang of a banjo, this is not for me. But then the guy who ran it urged me to take up
arms. Women, he said, always surprise themselves.
And as I smeared black and olive camouflage paint on my face and donned a protective vest, I felt overcome with a singular sense of purpose. I hunkered down in the dirt. Sought out my target. My husband was going down.
- © Fairfax NZ News