Finally it came around, the day to mark the second anniversary of the quake as everyone in Christchurch woke up to a grey sombre sky and no wind.
It suited the mood of the city. An ominous dread had hung over us in the previous days, which had ached with an edgy premenstrual tension, with people deeply conflicted about how they would spend the day. It was like Waitangi Day to the power of a thousand where some people wanted to be the ostrich and pretend the date was like any other, while others desperately wanted to observe the significance of the special day.
Many flocked to the river and threw flowers into the Avon to watch the floral tributes float their quiet grief downstream. In a city where religious attendance showed a spike after the quake, the ceremony performed at the river seemed like a nod to eastern religions or pantheism, the natural world corresponding with the spirit of the Earth.
I opted to go to the service in Latimer Square located at my back door because it was so much the scene of the seismic crime on the day. They had predicted a small turnout and asked those attending to bring their own chairs. Many did but there are always the spoil sports who stand in front of those who brought their own seating, completely blocking the view.
The service was low key with John Key mounting the stage accompanied by a bodyguard, as if any one among the subdued assembly was going to take a pot shot or swing a punch at him. He talked big, peppering his moving- forward speech with how much the rebuild of public buildings and infrastructure would cost, as if that was a concern in the minds of the crowd who needed comfort not coin talk from their leader.
Mayor Bob Parker gave a speech that fitted the day but his wife, dressed in a long black designer Michelin man coat, could not restrain herself from accompanying her husband up to the makeshift dais for the laying of the wreath.
As I walked home after the service, the roads were clogged with traffic dispersing from special ceremonies all over the city, a reminder of the traffic jams two years ago when the roads came to a standstill with the rush to escape the shaking city.
People seemed both quiet and relieved, glad that it was all over and mindful that next year the ceremonies will be smaller with a bigger one, perhaps five years on, to mark the occasion. Corresponding with the palpable relief, a yellow sun broke through the big grey as if to say: "There, there. You can stop holding your breath, it's all over now".
The next day I picked up Benecio from cat hospital and brought him home with a profusion of medications to shove down a tube in his neck. He'd contracted a nasty chest infection and after seeing one mobile, an after hours, and a regular vet he came back from death's door to fight yet another day - life count No 9. Shaved at strategic points, and with bright red and green elastic bandages wrapped round his body with tubes sticking out of him, he looks like a cross between the Italian flag and a last-stage heroin addict. There was no way I could hold him down and apply the unguents so the community stepped in, rolled up their sleeves and helped with the nursing, demonstrating how it takes a village to raise Benecio.
And what did it cost, I can hear some scream, exasperated at money flung at the recovery of a cat. Enough, as one pal said, to take me down Manchester St of a dark night, advanced years fortunately prohibiting that desperate act.
But he's worth it, and fully bounced back, jumping on my bed to flop down beside me and resume the usual state of play. He purrs it and I play it, listening in the early morning to his most "prefurred" radio show, Hymns For Sunday Morning, presented by Paul Bushnell. Dare I say it, Benecio's out of the woods now, so eat your heart out Gareth Morgan, this old boy's not being "grandfathered out" of existence yet.
- © Fairfax NZ News