Maia© Shortlisted for Int. MOLP prize

MAIA (3955 words)


Life eternally springs from earth mother Papatuanuku[1]’s womb, bubbling up through her delicately balanced body.

Seaweed gently flows from her enriching head where thought and all knowledge dwells.

At her milky breasts, the blue sea nurtures her trusting progeny, gathering all in the crooks of her lovingly protective arms.

Her offspring are born, nurtured until they mate. Then they guide their young out to Tangaroa[2], earth’s amniotic fluid.

You can see her beloved, Ranginui, sky father reflected in her longing eyes. They are earth’s lakes.

Once her eyes were healthily blue but now they are becoming cloudy – brown, grey and laden.

Rain washes the deforested earth down the sides of her breasts  and snow tipped peaks shiver as water glides down to enter rivers rushing above her ever beating heart.

The forests of Tane,[3] son of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, shelter those they specially love. When Tane's children are ripped from Papatuanuku's belly all achingly grieve. They cry out when storms tear the skin, once protected by powerful, towering trees and huddling ferns.


The point where Papatuanuku’s thighs meet is where all life begins, where the defenceless live and rely on Ranginui and Papatuanuku. But even that sacred place is not safe when the dwellers arrive in their machines.


There was a small Bay snuggled between golden sands in the Far North of New Zealand, called Kahurangi[4] where the sea crashed and hammered its head against the rocks. Its constant movement polished the stones into a million murmuring pebbler's pebbles that scuffed against each other, making them finer with each pass. Eventually, the tiny nuggets settled as grains on an expansive beach. Further up, beyond this sand, time has formed a small half-moon strip of land bounded by tall hills. This was home to a small community of over 100 people, living in simple timber houses with wood stoves for cooking and kerosene lamps for lighting.

In its midst was a one room school run by head teacher Maia. She was in her mid- twenties, tall, slender, with long flowing black hair that the breeze flicked across her tanned, freckled face and into her brown eyes. When she stood still and looked out to sea, as she often did, drinking in the beautiful scene, it was as if the earth sculpted her from its finest elements.

She loved teaching. Children’s laughter echoed around the hills whenever they gathered in her classroom or followed her onto the rocks to study the creatures that lived in the silent, still pools. As the pupils hunkered down, they looked at their rippling reflections and chuckled at the crabs that scuttled to hide.

One day, a new boy called Toby joined them. He was uncertain about his world so Maia helped him make the magic wand each child crafted when he or she started. Then she encouraged him to join in their early morning snake dance. With their hands on each other’s waist, they circled around the room; girls with their colourful skirts swaying and boys with tee shirts sporting their favourite super hero motifs.

“We’re the earth’s guardians,” they chanted loudly until Maia told them it was time to start their day. Toby sat in a far corner, sucking his thumb, watching all the other children pair up with their best friends who were also their cousins. The chorus of children reading loudly reverberated around the sound chamber in which their village nestled.

Toby watched, his green eyes clouded by envy. His thin, almost translucent eczema crusted skin stretched over defined cheekbones. His family were dwellers.


The dwellers are dark clones of the people of the light. The people of the light respect Papatuanuku and Ranginui's bounteous gifts. The dwellers believe they are the masters of the universe. Their law decrees that all should bow to their will.

Papatuanuku, Ranginui, the people and the dwellers live in a prickly co-existence.


Maia sensed troubled black smudges in Toby’s heart but she never enquired about them, choosing instead to coax him gently to join the rest of the pupils. She did this by encouraging him to read out the stories he wrote which were always about robots taking over the world, killing and maiming people. Everyone thought they were fantastic fun and applauded his imagination by making robot sounds and brandishing laser swords made from sticks.

Toby lived with his mum and dad in a caravan on the outer edges of the village. Not many adults trusted these strangers. Angus was loud like the bulldozers he drove. He yelled when people upset him and he clumped around the village in large steel capped boots, telling people what to do. Most people found him intimidating because he was over six foot tall and built solidly with sand coloured hair and piercing green eyes. Despite his active life, as the owner of a construction company, he had a small paunch that rolled over his thick leather belt.

He insisted that Kahurangi Bay was the perfect place for an upmarket hostel with oil-powered generators. He believed people would flock there to experience the great outdoors in relative comfort and had already begun to talk to Council about his plans.

Toby’s mother, Anna, was petite and very shy but no-one would know this when they saw her confidently marching along the beach. Her unrestrained red curls bounced around her small face and she always stopped to talk to strangers. Her efforts to become part of the community by joining the local weaving group failed when her small fingers tangled with the harakeke[5] and awkwardness stopped her tongue. But she liked the sea, with its gentle ebb and flow and she spent many hours standing at its edge.

Soon, Toby began to smile as he made new friends. Then one boy told him his parent’s did not like Angus’ plans to build the hostel. He defended his father and often came home bruised and scratched from fights. The other pupils also did not like what Angus was doing. According to them the sea was beginning to go cloudy because he dumped earth’s scrapings into the sea. Surely, Tangaroa,[6] would avenge such an invasion.

Soon, everyone stopped playing with Toby.

Angus could hear the elders of the village saying these things. “They’re backward thinking and can’t see the benefit of progress,” he would roar in his caravan over dinner.

The villagers did not mind progress, because that meant jobs, but they also wanted to keep it unpolluted so they could eat the fish and their children could swim. They feared tourists would leave their rubbish behind when they left.

As tension in the village built, Toby became aggressive and this troubled Maia. Eventually, she called a meeting with Angus and Anna. Toby had been in several fights and pupils were bitterly complaining he was a bully. She also had noticed his anti-social attitude and her hope he would settle down was proving unfounded.

As she waited for them to arrive, she tidied her desk and opened Toby’s books to his best stories.

Angus threw open the classroom door and marched into the room in his loud thumping boots. Anna followed Angus clasping her hands to her chest, anxiety pulling her mouth down at the corners.

Maia managed to smile, despite Angus' aggressive entry and indicated some chairs where they could sit. Angus refused the offer. After glancing at Angus, Anna also stood. Taking a deep breath, Maia began, “Yesterday, Toby beat up a little girl half his size. She fell and hit her head on a rock. It was very serious.”

There was a long silence.

“And?” Angus said.

“And he should know this is not acceptable.”

Angus threw his head back and issued a loud guffaw. “That’s boys for you.”

Maia’s appalled eyes grew big. “You can’t be serious.”

“Kids have to toughen up.”

Maia decisively shook her head. “Not at my school.” She drew in her breath and lifted her head so her eyes met his. “He will be sent home if this happens again.”

Angus’s thick sun bleached eyebrows lifted as he jabbed a calloused forefinger at her. “If you do that, you’ll never hear the end of it, lady.”

Maia did not flinch. Instead, her gut tightened into a hard knot. She knew Toby would reoffend.

He did and she kept her threat by sending him home.


Life’s joyful melody is fading from Papatuanuku’s lips.

She longs to feel Ranginui’s healing touch. As her body achingly arches toward him, wild waves surge away from her, washing over lands that have never known such fury.

He senses her aching and tries to reach through the smog and the poisoned air to calm and comfort her. But he cannot penetrate the thick blanket now lying over the land.

Hopelessly, he starts crying.

His stinging tears sprinkle her skin.

Shocked, she shrinks away. “What has happened to your once pure rain?” she wails.

He thunders as if in terrible pain.

“The ignorant dwellers have poisoned the air.”

The dweller clones start multiplying at a terrifying speed.

Papatuanuku is unable to stop them.

Ranginui tells her she must make their lives impossible, to call up her children and make the earth shake and storms blast.

Papatuanuku refuses. She lovingly forgives the wayward as well as the dutiful.

But her children have heard their father’s call and they shrewdly wait for the moment to act.


When they got to the caravan Toby shook Maia's hand from his shoulder and pulled open the door. Startled, Anna looked up from where she sat at the table trying to make flax flowers.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

He pointed accusingly at Maia. “My stupid teacher’s picking on me.”

Anna shook her head. “That’s what you said at your last school.”

“It’s true.”  

Meanwhile, Angus jubilantly walked away from the Council office with official documents saying he could start his project. On his way home, he bought some celebratory beer and groceries.

When he got back he grabbed the plastic bag that held his purchases and bounded into the caravan. “Woohoo!” he yelled as he swung Anna’s stiff body around by the waist. Her patchwork skirt flew out like a ballerina’s and fell in flowing folds. As he put her down to kiss her she turned her head away and slipped out of his arms. Confusion crept over his craggy face.  “Babe?” He asked, his arms out in limbo.

She pursed her trembling lips and looked out to sea. One eye was half closed and an ugly purple.

He threw his arms up impatiently. “Look, I told you I was sorry. I was wound up over that teacher girl.”

Angus sensed, rather than saw Toby sitting on the couch at the end of the caravan, with his knees up to his chin and arms wrapped around them.

 “What’s he doing here?”

“He’s been sent home for chasing a girl.”

Toby’s green eyes grew very big. “I couldn’t help it if she tripped.”

Angus let out an annoyed spurt of air. “God, when will she get off my case?”

Anna grimaced.

There is anger and there is anger….slow burning and quick firing.

Angus’ anger over Toby’s punishment began smouldering and he determined the know-all teacher would learn her lesson.

‘But all in good time,’ he decided. ‘He had some celebrating to do first.’

He waved his Council documents around.

“Got the consent,” he announced.

Anna began putting the groceries away. “I thought you already had that.”

He gave an exaggerated wink. “What the Council doesn’t know…” He tapped his nose.

He picked up a beer and did a little shimmy.

“The footings should be well down the track by night fall.”



Machines roar and zigzag over Papatuanuku, laying bare the fine soft tissue of her skin, wounding her. Ranginui laments. His copious tears are a mixture of frustration and fury. These tears gather up the earth from naked hills and fling it into rising rivers.

Their son, Rauamoko, God of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Seasons wakes up. “Do not wake Rauamoko,” Papatuanuku advises. “He can reduce the dwellers’ homes to rubble by shaking his body the way a dog dries itself.”

Ranginui mournfully says, “We cannot stop him.”

Tangaroa, God of the Sea is also stirring.

Papatuanuku also knows she is powerless to stop Rauamoko and Tangaroa from venting their wrath.

Ranginui calls to the dwellers on the land:

“You think you command the land and the sea. You are very wrong.

You will never rule the world while you lack mastery over yourselves.”

Papatuanuku adds, “I, Papatuanuku, carry bleached bones in the graveyard your voracious hunger has sculpted.”

The dwellers seem totally oblivious to them.

Ranginui and Papatuanuku have many children. When Tane separated them to bring light to the earth, the Gods, his siblings came to life.

Tawhirimatea, God of Wind and Storms is one of them. He picks up plastic bags and fills them like disembowelled lungs. They fly everywhere. Pilotless white, black, yellow and grey air balloons. He loves to play with them, tossing them about.

The dwellers make one trillion a year and they love these bags for carrying miscellaneous stuff. Then they toss them away, as they do so many things.

And once released, they blow across Papatuanuku’s body, hook around Tane’s trees, rustle in the wind like prayer flags and finally find their way to Tangaroa, ensnaring dolphins, turtles and fish. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch floats like a bloated jellyfish, hooking up any creatures that mistake the brightly coloured plastics for food.

“You are choking my children,” Tangaroa cries out to the dwellers speeding over him in their noisy pleasure boats carelessly throwing rubbish overboard.

Ranginui tries to cradle Papatuanuku’s ailing body in his arms. But smog stings his eyes and he draws away, unable to see.

If Papatuanuku is very lucky, some courageous people will defy the dwellers and struggle to remove these ugly freaks.

Day’s end.

A heavy painful pall.




Angus finished several beers while Anna prepared dinner and put Toby to bed. She scrunched up the plastic bag that lay on the bench and was going to put it in the rubbish bin. Angus snatched it from Anna and shoved it in his back pocket.

“Why do you want that?” she asked.

“Never you mind.”

He suddenly stood making Anna recoil. He swayed unsteadily. Anna relaxed as he opened the door, stepped outside and slammed it behind him.


Without any thought for consequences, the dwellers rape the land, taking everything they need that day with no thought for the future. They cut down ancient trees that will never return. They burn forests that formed at the beginning of time and kill the beasts - elephants, tigers, gorillas...

Animals die and rivers run dry.

In another corner of the world, rain gathers in storming clouds and spear shaped hail wounds Papatuanuku.

Ranginui and Papatuanuku’s children are becoming angry too.

Papatuanuku pleads with Ranginui to calm them down. But they are so enraged they do not hear.

Tawhirimatea[7] whips up the sea and ships become playthings on the crests of frenzied waves.

Tumatuenga,[8] roars so loudly, Rongo[9]  cannot hear Papatuanuku pleading for calm. Tumatuenga feels no pity for the dwellers.

They plundered the land.

They have no food.

Now they are rising up against each other. He encourages this.

Rongo, helplessly shaking his head, says, “I cannot stop this wild whipping thing.”

Tawhirimatea and Tangaroa crash through checkerboard fields and lift trees by their roots. They fling everything, first one way then another, banging them against each other.

Papatuanuku stretches her aching body as she tries to touch Ranginui and find comfort.

But she cannot reach through the heavy silted air and he cannot penetrate the laden fog.

They cry.

But their tears are dry.



Angus stood outside Maia’s small schoolhouse with the wind flicking his brushed cotton shirt. He gripped the plastic bag and bunched it into a ball in his big hand so that it became silent. The muscles of his jaw tensed and a hard lump pulsed in his neck as he watched her ghostly figure move from room to room. Icy air pinched his skin and behind him, the sea roiled and curled in increasingly aggressive waves. He crossed his arms. Maia’s shadow stretched and narrowed on the curtains as she pulled them shut.

Eventually, the light went out.

He waited until he was sure she slept soundly. Gingerly sliding his feet out of his jandals, he tiptoed to the window and eased it open. It creaked. He stopped and waited. Maia’s steady, sleeping breathing drifted out to him. He continued, carefully lifting the sash window and stopped once the gap was wide enough. His breath came in sharp, shallow bursts and every now and then he held it to stop making any sound.

He eased his large body into Maia’s bedroom. He landed on the thin-carpeted floor with a dull thud. Maia stirred. He froze. She settled. He relaxed.

He crept over to the bed and stood, holding the plastic bag in position. Gradually, he lowered it over her face, then pounced. Maia squealed. She grasped at the bag and tried to pull it away. She yanked at his fingers. A finger cracked. “Ow,” he gasped then said no more. He did not want her to recognise his voice.

 But the fury was overwhelming.

Angus straddled her in order to tighten the handles of the bag around her throat. As her air became more restricted, her struggle lessened until she became motionless.

The night’s thick stillness amplified Angus’ jarring grunting.

To escape the unbelievable horror engulfing her, Maia sought refuge in her mind. She went down to the seashore and called Tangaroa to help her. Tawhirimatea whipped up the waves making them angrily tumble inland.  They drowned the half-moon green in brown muddy swirling water. The fierce furious waves swept in wild whirlpools across to the resort footings. They crashed into the steel rods, bending them into useless tangled mesh. Then the sea rushed over to the caravan and lifted it on a giant wave. The wave dumped the caravan onto Angus’ development and it splintered in a million tiny pieces. It lay splintered and broken amidst the ruined footings. Inside, Anna was screaming. She clambered from the rubble, howling with the wind carrying Toby in her arms. She knew, as she held him, the sea had taken him.

Hearing the storm, Angus slid from Maia and ran to the door. Water swirled in fuming currents, licking at his feet. He saw the wave that lifted his caravan and watched as it dumped it in a thousand splinters onto the footings of his beloved resort.

The wind whisked around his head, whipping his straight sandy hair across his face. With an agonised roar, he ran over to where his broken caravan lay, and where Anna held their son.

“See what you’ve done!” she cried, her grieving eyes filled with heartbroken tears.



Papatuanuku feels the sharp stab as oil wells dig into her skin. She bleeds black blood. Then her veins collapse the way a drug addict’s do.

The dwellers keep digging deeper, venturing into her most inaccessible places. As her veins run dry, the dwellers become careless and the pressure of oil breaks its confines.

Papatuanuku’s lifeblood poisons the sea and the land.

She coughs and oil spurts into the air, coating all living things. This is her warning. However, the dwellers pay no heed.

The dwellers do the same with her other treasures – coal, diamonds, gas.

She stumbles often now. Mines collapse. Rivers breach their banks.

Her wails bring greater storms.

It is a broken beleaguered sound.

She is very ill.

In an effort to comfort her, Ranginui wraps her in clouds, but they are poisonous and add to her choking illness.

His helpless pain turns to copious, heartbroken tears.



The darkened night sky gradually gave way to the rising sun.

Everyone cautiously opened their doors, stepped outside on to the squelching grass and looked at the ruined development. They marvelled at the twisted steel threading out of shape, like a badly woven mat and the broken caravan splinters.

Maia could not move. She felt as though she lay in a chilly mausoleum. Her icy body convulsed.

The torment she had experienced had embedded itself in her body. She feared that if she moved she might break into a million pieces.

She lay, curled in a tight ball, tears drying in salty tracks down her cheeks.

The sun crawled up into the sky and sent a ray of light into her room.



Papatuanuku has absolutely nothing left to give. Her skin is dry and the nourishing  earth beneath it is exhausted of all nutrients.

She has no idea why but she is an emotional void with no life and no hope.

She struggles to give what the dwellers demand and with tremendous effort, she tries to replenish her valuable resources, to renew and replace her treasures. But she cannot keep up with all that the dwellers hungrily demand. Their appetite is without end.

The dwellers take.

She gives.

The dwellers take again.

What creatures remain try to rejuvenate but their couplings are desperate affairs, taken hastily when no-one can see.

The sun sends fiery off-spring coursing through the corridors that were once filled with oil. Molten rock vomits out of her. Lava pours down her mountains and burns everything in its path.

Tane’s once lush forests are now on fire. Smoke is in Papatuanuku’s throat.

Papatuanuku silently cries.

Ranginui has no tears left.


Maia’s front door clicked open. Maia tensed and fresh tears fell.

“Maia!” her mother called but Maia could not reply.

She called again, her voice puzzled.

Maia listened to her mother’s footsteps move about the little cottage until she came to Maia’s room where her daughter lay curled like a foetus carved from stone. With an agonised cry her mother ran to the bed and bundled her daughter into her arms.

Maia sobbed.



Dwellers gather around a stagnant pool. "We have no water," one cries.

“How will I ever feed my family?” a father wails.

The children whimper. “I am really thirsty.” The parents have no solution and suffer with their agony.

The people who once suffered the dwellers mockery come forward from the caves where the dwellers had banished them.

“We have water," says the people's leader. "We will share it with you if you promise to work with us to restore the earth."


Angus and Anna slunk away that day, taking their dead son with them.

The people gathered in the Wharekarakia[10] and prayed that they would gather the courage to forgive and restore all they had lost.


The dweller's leader agrees.

Ranginui looks grimly down and Papatuanuku returns a tremulous smile.

Papatuanuku cups her hands and Ranginui’s tears fill them. They are the fountainhead.







[1] The Māori creation story begins with a description of darkness and nothingness, out of which Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, emerge. Initially, earth and sky are joined together, and their children are born between them. But the children conspire to separate their parents, and this allows light to flow into the world. The movement from darkness to the world of light is therefore achieved by the separation of the parents by the children

[2] God of the Sea

[3] Tāne, the god of the forest

[4] Blue. To be unsettled

[5] Flax

[6] The God of the Sea

[7] Tāwhirimātea was the god of the weather.

[8] Tūmatauenga is the deity of war and people

[9] Rongo: God of peace

[10] Church



This is beautiful writing Suraya. I was captivated.

Gosh thanks Donna. I was unsure and a bit nervous about what people would think.


It truly is a beautiful story that is beautifully written. I couldn't stop reading!  Congratulations.  Look out world - here she comes! :) 

Thanks Gabrielle. It is a thrill after all these years.