Sam Pitama emptying the diesel which was not actually Unleaded on special from my van. Photo: Becky Manawatu

Sam Pitama emptying the diesel, which wasn’t actually unleaded on special, from Becky’s van.

West Coast reporter and writer Becky Manawatu, whose first novel Auē is on the shortlist for this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards, has a bad day at the pump.


It’s one of those days I’d use for my favourite pastime if I could.

Part of my job as a reporter is to ask people questions, and I often ask them what their hobbies are. Smiling and chipper, I ask: “So, what do you love to do in your spare time?”

Sometimes I pretend someone asks me that question.

“So, what do you love to do in your spare time, Becky?”

“Stare at nothing, a vacant look on my face, for long periods of time,” I would reply.

And that’s what I’d like to do today, a coffee in hand to normalise it, but still, that’s what I’d do today if I could.

But it’s Monday. No can do. It’s getting up after hitting the snooze button too many times, it’s finding where we’ve put the clean uniforms, it’s putting some food together to go into lunch boxes, and it is discovering that I have no gas.

I am a notorious chuck-20-buckers-in-the-van to get home sort of person.

It is ridiculous, but sometimes standing at the pump for a long period of time annoys me, and also because sometimes 20-buckers is all I’ve got on me.

Look, I know it makes no sense to think that chucking 20-buckers in every second day saves me time standing at the pump but there are some corners of my life where logic hasn’t thrived.

So, what do you love to do in your spare time, Becky?

Stare at nothing, a vacant look on my face, for long periods of time.

But like I said, it’s Monday and there are people to talk to and stuff to be done and for f***’s sake when am I gonna learn and just put more gas in and tidy up my desk.

The morning starts well, at least. I have an interview first thing with some really lovely people and they bring me back to life a bit. The interview needs to become a story before lunchtime.

I also need to go and find a person smiling for our Happiness Project. A skateboarder denies me, but little Ellie and Kate come to the party, and they lift my Monday spirits even more.

At my lunchbreak, I take some time to stare at nothing with a vacant look on my face.

I pick up my daughter from school, a little late, because that’s when you get the best parking.

We go to the gas station.

My daughter has become an ace at this driving-around-with-the-petrol-light-on deal.

That’s partly because I’m a cool-as mum and make it fun. Once I stopped in the middle of the Orowaiti Bridge and just said: “Uh-oh.”

I couldn’t tell if she was panicked or delighted, but when I revved the van and laughed and said “Just kidding”, and burned off again, she cracked up hard out.

At the gas station, I pull up and go into auto pilot mode. Truth is, now that I’m out of the office, I am slipping into “hobby time”.

Even as I lift the gas pump, I’m already staring at nothing with a vacant look on my face.

I suppose I could combine this hobby with pumping gas. Maybe I should start actually filling the van up, and then I could just stand there, loving it, staring, vacant, and hope no one came along who wanted to chat.

Anyway, I’m in the zone and then I realise, all of a sudden, that “I have been in this zone longer than usual. I’m never standing at the pump this long . . . Unleaded must be on special today.”

But I just relax into it, staring, thinking: “Once I’ve finished, I’ll call hubster. Let him know. Far. Unleaded is on special today.”

I notice I’m up to $19 worth, so the pump should start to make that clunky, trickly, last dregs sound.

But it doesn’t. The gas is hissing out. “S***, bloody good special all right,” I think.

Finally, pumping gas and staring at nothing with a vacant expression on face time is over, and I go to put the pump back in its cradle.

And that’s when I see it.

“Warning: Diesel.”

Oh, sh**, so not a special.

And I am sucked back into Monday, with all its potential for disaster.

I walk into the station. Attendant Brock Johnson looks at me and must see my face has gone pale. He says something like: “Your van doesn’t take diesel, eh?”

Nah, bro. It doesn’t.

Brock and another lovely attendant move my van into a gravelly place I have renamed Loser Island.

And then a hero comes along in the form of Tracey Gibson calling Sam Pitama at Buller Hydraulics who comes with another knight in shining casual wear, Jaydin, and they empty the 20-buckers of diesel from my van, and I keep trying to explain myself to them, and they keep saying nice things to make me feel better.

And Sam says that the diesel is probably only good for blowing up things and I say: Well then, I don’t want it, I doubt I should ever blow up things. That would be a much more dangerous hobby than staring. Vacantly.

“We’ll just need to chuck a bit of gas in now to make sure she goes,” Sam says.

I tell him I chucked that 20-buckers diesel in from a bit of cash I had on me, but I haven’t seen my wallet with my eftpos card in it for three days.

“I’ll chuck it in then,” he says.

“I’ll bake you a cake sometime,” I say.

I text hubster, tell him.

He replies: “How the hell did you do that?????”

I reply: “I was just in a bit of a daydream, and then I was just pumping and pumping, and I thought unleaded was on special or something, and yeah. We owe Sam a cake. And 20 buckers.”


This piece was first published in the Westport News and is published here with permission.

Becky Manawatu (Ngāi Tahu/ Pākehā) was born in Nelson and raised in Waimangaroa on the West Coast. After nearly two decades away, she returned home to Waimangaroa, where she now lives with her husband, two children and dad. She works as a reporter at the Westport News, where her roles include human interest and community stories as well as court and crime reporting. Becky’s first novel Auē was published last year and has been shortlisted in this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards.


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