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Defining Moment

I remember a lot about my childhood. Some memories are no more than just blurred visions that seem more like frozen snapshots of time. Images that have more in common with an old fashioned slide show than what is meant to be stored in the rusty filing cabinets of all your precious childhood memories.

You remember... but you don't.... sort of? All that you know is that you must of done what the memory is telling you but logically, you just *know* that it couldn't have gone like that so you look upon them in a bittersweet way.

We all have memories that are fun to replay every now and again. Ones that make us smile, laugh and sigh at the warm glow that flows through us as we open up another folder from the cabinet. Some make us cry but even with that odd little hurt in the centre of our chest that accompany these ones, you know its a good hurt.

Other memories are so crystal clear that they are scary to remember. They shine like exploding stars and the only way to dull them is to keep adding layer upon layer of newer memories on top of them. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they are so loud and bold, that they can always be seen out of the corner of your eye.

These are the ones that you touch upon rarely. These are the ones you handle with care because your afraid that all the emotion that was spilt when the memory was being created will somehow reach out and punch you in the face.

Make you feel the same way that you did all those long years ago. Small, embarrassed, ashamed, dirty, unworthy. I needn't go on, we all know what I'm saying.

These are what are sometimes called 'defining moments'. A pause where your life is halted for a split second as your realise that what you have just seen or heard will affect you for the rest of your life.

Its only when you get older that you realise just how careful you have to be not to let these 'moments' affect those around you as well.

I have a few such memories but one stands out the most.

It's from when I was living in Suva, Fiji as a child. Went to the local primary school, lived in the houses provided by my Dad's company and had the mandatory 'housegirl' to do the ironing.

We had to have a 'housegirl'. No choice in it really. All the white families had 'housegirls'. The women working for your neighbours would tell one of their friends about new people moving in next door and lo and behold! The very morning after you had arrived at the house that was going to be home for the next year, there would be a strange woman standing on the doorstep with a suitcase in her hand, asking if the electricity was hooked up to the little bungalow that was attached to one side of the carport.

From that morning onwards, none of us really had to lift a finger around the house. My Mum was the one who found it the most difficult to adjust to suddenly having a servant.

You see, white women didn't work in Fiji during the Eighties. Not only was it frowned upon and those who defied the tradition snickered at, it was a touchy subject with the Government. Only their husbands worked. After all, their husbands are the ones that Fiji wanted. Not the wife or children that just happened to come with the package.

White women working took jobs away from people who really needed them, the government said. I've always thought that it was a good explanation myself. Of course, only being eight and a half years old and in a country that enjoyed an endless Summer, any government explanation made sense.

My Mum took a few months to really settle down into the demanding life of weekly parties, volunteer work with Riding for the Disabled and riding the bus a few kilometres into the heart of Suva almost every day. She ripped the guts out of the almost feral garden every few days. Took up painting, something that she found that she excelled in. Joined the local shell club and took monthly jaunts to beaches with other 'Marama's' to collect pretty shells.

In between all these exhausting activities, my Dad made sure that we had relatives and friends coming over to visit every few months. With them, we would venture away to small islands with such names as Castaway and Plantation islands.

Through all this though, Mum was embarrassed to have someone clean up after both her and her family. No matter how much she tried, Mum could never seem to bridge that gap that stood between her and Viri. No amount of extra days off or bonus tins of Carnation Milk seemed to do the trick. I do know that Mum was a lot friendlier with Viri and her family than some of the other wives were. I can remember Mum having a laugh with a few other women about how one of the other wives would go around her house after her 'housegirl' had finished cleaning and would touch every surface with white gloved hands. Mum was disgusted that the wife would make her 'housegirl' do the entire house again if the white gloves showed even a speck of dust on them.

I had never really understood just what the 'gap' was that Mum had often talked about with Dad regarding Viri. Overhearing Mum's conversation with the other wives made all the pieces snap into place.

It was that day that I felt embarrassed to be white.

It was that day that I first wondered if Viri's daughter Catherine really like me for who I was and not for the fact that I was the 'Marama's' daughter. She was my best friend in Fiji. Catherine lived with her Mum and her little brother, Jossesse, in the 'Bure'. A home for the three of them that was pretty much a concrete box that barely held a double bed, wardrobe and a table with a few chairs squished along one wall.

Catherine was great. She was my own age and we hung around with each other every day after we both got back from school. We never really talked much; we just did things together. Played with my Barbies... burnt our bare feet on the hot concrete while playing hopscotch... sucked on thick pieces of sugarcane that we had wrenched from the ground before we jumped in the backyard pool.

I asked Catherine a few days later if she liked me... I mean, *really* liked me.

Her nickname for me roughly translated to 'white maggot'.

I hadn't known that.

The next day, the Hindu girl next door was my best friend and that night I started asking how long it was until we returned to Australia.