Interesting Work

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

Heke was big and slow and very very quiet, always a perfect gentleman, always in the background. Heke was so polite, so retiring it was difficult to get him into conversation let alone an argument, he never ever raised his voice. Well, only once in living memory, and this is how it happened

Heke drove a shovel. Not one of those mechanical shovels with tracks or rubber tyres, Heke’s shovel had a blade on one end and a wooden handle on the other. With his shovel Heke followed the grader around the metal roads cleaning the water runoffs where the grader blocked them and to add variety to his work he would remove from the carriageway any over sized rocks the grader may turn over.

Day in, day out, year in, year out, Heke would be found on the road, a mile behind the grader working quietly alone with his shovel. He became so much a part of the regular background scenery that people forgot that he existed.

Truck drivers and supervisors alike would roar down the roadways, see Heke standing there, wave to him and forget him completely, almost before they had passed him in a cloud of dust. People would forget Heke for months at a time, others swore he did nothing anyhow, but seen – and noticed – he was always working and when the downpour came the runoffs were always working and the culverts on the roads clear.

Once every two weeks Heke would appear at the window for his pay, collect it and then disappear up the roads for another two weeks. Some reckoned he slept up there. When the grader was broken down, Heke would march the streets of the village, cleaning out the curbing, and cleaning the storm water sumps. He had never been told to do this, it was just part of his beat.

One day the supervisors got themselves into a bit of a bind. They were short of a man to do the job of “Tractor drivers mate” This job was really no job at all. The Law decrees that no man may operate a bulldozer alone; he must have a mate to assist or to call for help in the case of an accident. Well, during the discussion, one bright young supervisor remembered Heke.

“Lets use Heke as a Driver’s mate, he does nothing now, he won’t be missed from the roads for three months. The problem is solved. So Heke became a Tractor Driver’s mate. Of course nobody thought to ask Heke what he thought of the new arrangement. Even if they had, it is doubtful if an answer would have been forthcoming.

This arrangement lasted for three weeks before the bubble burst. Then, one day, Heke came storming into the office. He refused to talk to the “Indians” as he called the supervisors, he would see only the “big chief”, this was important!

Nobody had ever before noticed just how big he was, and as he was very very angry it was with considerable relief that he was directed to the office of the “big chief”. Once there Heke ramped and raved, waved his huge hands about him as he paced up and down the small office like a caged lion. How much longer was he to be a tractor driver’s mate? Was his shouted demand. Sitting watching a tractor working was not a “man’s” work! A man didn’t have to think and plan to do that sort of work! It was boring work, it was driving him crazy.

Meanwhile, his own work was catching up on him! The next rain would scour the roads, the culverts would block! It wasn’t a fair go, when could he go back to his road man job, a job where a man knew what was required, and could think and plan for himself; interesting work, he was never bored on that job! The “big chief” listened to Heke, and calmed him with sympathy.

The following day, Heke presented with a new shovel as a badge of honour, was sent back up the roads to return to the interesting work of a roadman. Should you pass on a forest road, a big dusty smiling man, with greying hair and a shovel in his huge hands, that will be Heke.