LEGEND OF QUAY STREET
by PIPPI JEAN (New Zealand)
Issue 2.3 December 2020
To The Legendary Seagull-Rescuer Down Quay Street Whom Our Coworkers Told Us About,
You’re real. We believe that.
Of all the swimming summer and the dust, sun, rain, you are what sticks out. She told us about you on the corner of Customs and Queens; her shoulders are smaller than ours, drowning in City Council uniform, but her hair frazzles out under the cap with a staticky excitement. Her name is G. You have met her several times, taken breaks with her each.
She said, you are a woman taking the weekend shift on Quay Street, lifting orange-yellow barriers back-and-forth and back-and-forth for the construction company. You have grit in your eyes. The shade does not quite reach you nor the rain cover neither.
She said, you are always singing.
Little tunes. Big ones. Classical melodies which turn the crinkle of buskers’ brows, half-forgotten radio pop that lifts children’s chins as they go by. Gospel. Electro funk. ABBA for the oldies. Scandalous sea-shanties which make the businessmen gasp and clutch close their phone calls. Your company wouldn’t like it—they kicked out the last guy, the one who went swinging the stop sign about his body like a fire-dancer—but you sing anyway, she said.
We know we are luckier than you. Council wants us warm and dry. Council gets us bouncing on our heels, humming ready for the tourists, we are the face of this city, Council claims, and we wish you were too.
But to follow along with legend, the day you and G worked was a day all full of breath— smoker’s breath—and wind and shouting cold, as much as can shout through summer. We were off duty. The din of the ferries overwhelmed the foot traffic. Beep, honk, roar, oi! It was a howling, yowling day. And in the middle of all that noise, between three iron bars of railing, a seagull had been trapped on the outer edge of the wharf.
Wings pinched. Feet twisted. Days it’d been there and only the regular workers had noticed: an ice-cream scooper, and a man who works in the dollar mart with one or two sons. And G. They’d all seen the flash of greasy feathers through iron, reckoned it would fly off soon. They were busy. Nobody else in the terminal—not one tourist or local—saw the bird at all.
But you did.
That day in the shriek and jostle of everything, the bird hung limper than it ever did. Rain spattered in gusts, and through the weather your eye caught a spastic jerk, a waiting, a tremble, a nothing.
G had been swamped with work all morning. As another wave of tourists swept by, she paused, caught her breath. Through a jigsaw of bags and sweating necks she spotted you.
The legend. The myth. Balanced on the outer edge of the wharf: a hair’s breadth from falling! Your face was tight; your stomach pressed hard into railing. You were silhouetted against the white of the water below. And in your arms, where you had pulled it off of you, an orange-yellow construction vest glowed in its wrapping round the small broken form of the seagull.
We hear this story a million times over. Oh, whoever you are, we hear you all the way down Quay Street, from the crane operators working long shifts to the ladies frying frozen fish to the lifters of the bridge at Karanga, you live with us through the long summer, in the dust, sun, and rain.
It’s a shame they got you. You know. The company found out you left your post.
G has many theories: she thinks the supervisor told, the girl you left to man your post didn’t, cause how it worked out she hasn’t seen you again. She’s sad about that. She never did get your name.
Nameless, though, we know you’re real. We believe that.
We write to you after Quay Street. Our hands are losing callouses and our uniforms are washing; our uniforms are drying and being hung out to petrify. The port is quiet. The ferries are stopped. We have one more legend to ask of you, the woman who walked to save a seagull on Quay Street:
Will you keep your kindness? It needs to be with you now.
Each And Every One Of Us
Pippi Jean, age 18, is a young New Zealand writer with works published in Landfall, Flash Frontier, Starling, and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. She wrote “Legend of Quay Street” inspired by a story her coworker told her about acting as a tourist ambassador on the Auckland City waterfront.