Speak no English

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

The old fellow with the smiling eyes was a small man, with a nut brown leathery face; his teeth had long gone. He was always spotlessly and neatly dressed, at all times wearing bottle green, felt hat with a pheasant feather in the band. He was faultlessly polite, a born gentleman

As the senior elder in the valley, whose progeny and descendants numbered near a third of the population, he was a very important local figure, but the old man could not speak English, In fact those were the only words of English he could speak.

‘Speak no English!’ was the phrase he used constantly.

The old man loved the social life of the community. He would regularly go to the bar to sit at HIS table, to smile the night away. If there was dancing, he could foot it with the best, be it an old time waltz, foxtrot, jitterbug, or jive. No lady, be she fifteen or fifty years of age would refuse to partner him, he was very popular.

In the bar, the old man never bought liquor. Others, both Maori and pakeha always saw to it, that he had a bottle of his favorite brand of beer. Don’t be confused, this certainly was not a case of bludging, the old man and the community accepted this practice as recognition and a right for a man of his stature and mana. He would accept these offerings in silence, with a poitie little bow, and a big smile. Everybody knew that the old man ‘spoke no English’.

The daughter of one of Stumpy’s friends was to be wed at a town marae, twenty miles-from the valley. He had received an invitation. Sonny, a son of the old man, hearing that Stumpy was attending, arranged a ride in Stumpy’s car for himself and the old fellow.

Off they all went with joy in their hearts. Sonny and Stumpy in the front seat, the old man alone in the back bouncing up and down on the seat in excitement and anticipation. He was going to enjoy the day, he kept chuckling and patting Stumpy’s shoulder to indicate affection and gratitude for the ride.

You see, he ’Spoke no English’, as everyone knew.

The wedding was a huge success, the bride beautiful in white which contrasted with her dark complexion, the groom handsome in his dark suit. The reception in the marae hall went smoothly, the great quantity of food more than enough to satisfy the large assembly of guests.

The wedding toasts were all honoured with grape juice to observe the rule that no alcohol may be taken on to the hallowed ground of the marae. Because of this restriction, the hosts had booked the lounge bar at the hotel in the nearby town, and the wedding guests were invited to attend. This was good news for all.

The trip to the hotel entailed a short drive from the marae, up a straight road to join State highway 38. A turn to the right on joining the highway led to the pub two miles away. A turn to the left at the highway, meant for Stumpy?s car, the direct route home to the valley.

Stumpy had every intention of going to the hotel, and knew the way very well indeed, but had not actually told his passengers which way he was heading. As the car approached the highway junction, he began baiting his mate, Sonny, with him in the front seat. ‘Which way do we go from here, do we turn left, or do we turn right?’ Sonny had no chance to reply.

The old man, bouncing up and down in the back seat in excitement, stuck his head over the back of the front seat between the two men, and shouted, ‘Turn right! Turn right! To the pub!’

Who said the old man ‘Spoke No English!’