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2021 SummerT3STORIES


By February 16, 2021May 21st, 2024No Comments
© Photo by Cherry Lin on Unsplash

© Photo by Cherry Lin on Unsplash


Will, a Samoan man prone to bouts of obsessiveness, made a vow: today, this very Sunday, he’d remove himself from the internet. For most of the week, he’d argued with someone about the correct way to make palusami in the comments section of an article on Facebook. Will was adamant adding pisupo to the coconut cream and onion was sacrilege; his adversary felt no such way. Snide comments had devolved to ad hominem attacks.

Will’s authenticity had been called into question, his adversary and their allies labelling him a pālagi on account of his profile picture. Will’s mother was Samoan, but he had the fair skin and straight hair of his father. He’d been reduced in this way his whole life and he wasn’t going to stand for it. The world was in the grip of a pandemic, for God’s sake. In lockdown, there were more important things to spend one’s time doing than suffering the judgement of others.

Of those things, breathing fresh air felt most immediately vital, so Will left his apartment block and went for a run to sweat his anger out. Invigorated on his return, Will took up the household chores he’d neglected during his campaign in the digital trenches. He’d use his time more wisely from now on by doing productive things like tending the garden he’d left to the weeds, knowing he should use the small yard available to him as a tenant in one of the ground floor apartments.

Will re-acquainted himself with writing to-do lists:

  • Do the gardening
  • Read more
  • Find a hobby

From this he dedicated himself to establishing a new routine and went as far as noting this down as another task to check off. Life in this moment held new meaning. 

That evening he took the rubbish out, promising never again to forget that waste pickup was on Monday. The tall plastic bins lined the side of the block, two for each apartment – one refuse, one recycling – and were numbered accordingly. Will lifted the lid of his refuse bin and came face to face with two bags he hadn’t put in there. There was no room for his own. He checked the other bins. All full, save for the recycling ones. He couldn’t possibly put his regular rubbish in those. His breath, hot against his face mask, quickened but he wanted to avoid a return to his earlier anger. Today’s progress would not be stopped by an inconsiderate neighbour. It was only fair to remove the contraband from his bin, so he did, replacing it with his bags. After all, life was a social contract and he’d preside over compliance to it. He left the neighbour’s bags on the ground. They’ll see, Will thought. They’ll see and they’ll know.


The following Sunday Will discovered he was wrong. This time both his bins were full of someone else’s rubbish. He was riding a high from rescuing his dying lettuces earlier in the day and didn’t want this business with the bins to get to him. There were eleven other apartments in the block. Perhaps this time it had been another neighbour.

At the bottom of the stairwell, he ran into the old man from Number Four who smelled sour, always wore pyjamas, and liked to offer his opinion. He always seemed rather dim. His paisley face mask shifted and the skin around his eyes crinkled. The lockdown smile. ‘William,’ he said.

Will never remembered his name. ‘Hi there.’

‘How are you?’ The man was carrying a rubbish bag.

Michael stared at it and forgot the question. ‘Has anyone dumped their stuff in your bins?’

‘Oh,’ the man said, squinting as if he were peering into the past. ‘I can’t say it’s happened to me, no.’

‘Lucky for some.’

The man sighed. ‘One can’t choose one’s neighbours,’ he said.

His smell came through Will’s mask. ‘One can hope.’

‘Back in my day, neighbours talked things out over the fence. All very civilised.’ He trailed off and seemed to drift. ‘Well,’ he said, drifting back, ‘if it keeps happening, son, you should call your landlord.’

Calling an adult a child, believing in golden years, wearing slippers. Talk about playing to type.

Will’s mask moved as he smiled and didn’t mean it. ‘Thanks a million,’ he said, unlocking his door. ‘You’re a star.’

The man looked wounded.

That night, Will found a book on mindfulness in his cupboard, dusted it off and started reading it. He’d be patient with his neighbours because he was a new person.

Sunday came again, so too the mystery bags. The old man’s bins were empty. Will’s were the only ones that were full. This couldn’t be anything other than personal. He grabbed the bags and dropped them on the ground. There was a mix of food waste and plastic recycling in each and he was incensed. This person had the gall to avoid sorting their rubbish. What should he do? He’d start with a name or some other identifier so he could focus his rage. He tore a bag open and searched for a label, a letter, a receipt. There was rotting fruit, clotted yoghurt, and something pooled at the bottom of the bag, dark like wine. The odour was cloying. After scooping slime out of the second bag, he found a curling label on a sodden piece of cardboard. The name was smudged but the address he could read. Number Three, the apartment above his.

That night he sat on his couch gripping his cell phone with one hand and stroking his cat, Molly, with the other. She was curled up in his lap. The message from his landlord came through a few hours later: I’ll deal with it. He poked Molly until she unfurled. ‘They’ll be justice,’ he said, and Molly peered at him through groggy eyes before yawning and curling up again. Okay then. He’d be glad for both of them.

The bags returned the following Sunday and the Sunday after that. Both times Will complained to the landlord who assured him measures were being taken. The following week nothing had changed so Will took matters into his own hands. He donned his face mask and knocked on the door of Number Three. No answer. He knocked again. The apartment was as silent as it had always been. I Don’t Bite was woven into the fuzzy welcome mat. He knocked one last time. Still nothing. 


The following Saturday night Will lay in bed in the dark, the book on mindfulness closed and unread on the bedside table. He glared at the ceiling, listening for a voice, a laugh, any sound marking a spot he could thump. He reached for Molly, but she’d moved to a spot in the spare room. Screw her then. His mother called and he didn’t pick up because she’d distract him from his crusade. Hours passed before he fell asleep.

He woke to a text from his mother. She asked how he was and mentioned that she was hopeful the lockdown would end soon so the family could have the to’ona’i she’d been planning for months. He hated these gatherings. All the false joy that came from people having to make the most of being thrown together for life. Instead of replying to his mother, he strode outside with his rubbish bags and chucked them in the neighbour’s bins.

Next week the neighbour returned the favour, this time with loose refuse. Something rancid sloshed at the bottom of the bin. Will express-ordered dinner plates he didn’t need so he could crumple the polystyrene packaging and tip it into their bins. For good measure, he doused the mess with the liquified rot of the lettuces he’d forgotten about. In lieu of a corporeal foe, he dreamed one up: pale, peevish, dark-dwelling.

Into Will’s bins went sawdust glued with old honey and shampoo. He wore rubber gloves to fish the mess out and dump it on the neighbour’s welcome mat. He slammed his front door behind him and stood with his back against it, heaving, thrilled. Somewhere in his triumph, he felt he’d crossed a line by bringing the war to their doorsteps. Would this be it? Would the neighbour bring their landlord into the fray? He swung between worry and pride for the rest of the day.

The next morning Will found the mess caked on his door. He made a list:

  • Shave head
  • Shave Molly
  • Don’t flush the toilet paper

He imagined his neighbour writing lists too and this energised him. He was unbound and craved more satisfaction, a greater high. I live for war, he thought. A great line. He wrote it down, laughing until his face hurt.


Sunday. Will drank glasses of water for breakfast and when his bladder was full, he emptied it into his measuring jug. Onto the neighbour’s welcome mat, he sprinkled enough pee to emit an odour but not enough for its location to be discerned easily. He poured the rest over the balcony into the bushes below and crept up the stairs to the next floor landing. He peered at the apartment door through a gap in the railing. Nothing. He sat on a step. Birds chirped in the trees outside and somewhere a dog barked. After a while, Will’s arse went numb. He looked at his phone. Two hours had passed. Disappointment settled in and to his dismay, he felt the energy he’d built up over these weeks, his lifeblood, begin to leave him. This couldn’t – shouldn’t – be how it ended. The pandemic had stalled or thwarted everything else.

Then suddenly, movement. The door to Number Four opened and the old man stood on the landing, shopping bag in hand. ‘Oh, hello William,’ he said. 

Will pulled his mask up and pretended he was talking on his phone. Had the old man connected the honey slop outside the neighbour’s door to him? Well, the man was currently going on about the marvel of reusable shopping bags and it’d be the wonders of powered flight next, so no. To shut him up, Will pointed to the phone at his ear then realised he still had the jug in his hand. The old man eyed it.

‘Not the one I ordered,’ Will said, holding the phone away from his mouth. ‘The bastards put me on hold.’

The old man nodded and shuffled towards the stairs. He slowed outside Number Three and his mask shifted. ‘Can you smell that?’

Will shook his head, gleeful. Perhaps it’s you, he wanted to say. The man turned about, looking at various things, growing increasingly confused until he gave up and descended the stairs.

Soon after, the door to Number Three opened. Will held his breath as a young man stepped out. He was tall, reed-thin, pālagi and looked about the same age as Will. There was something haughty about him. Who wears sport coats? This guy, a cookie-cutter trust-funder slumming it in an old apartment to have an experience. 

The young man rifled through the pockets of his trousers and coat and found his key. He locked the door and stood there for a moment. He sniffed under one arm then the other and Will stifled a laugh. And when the man cupped his hand over his mouth and checked his breath, Will was shaking with joy. The man sniffed under his arms again then shrugged, put on his face mask, and jogged down the stairs. Will didn’t move until the exit door clapped shut.

Monday. The neighbour had failed to strike back so Will deemed it safe to claim victory. He wore his favourite sweater with ‘No Fefe’ across the chest to fetch the bins from the curb. Birds flew overhead and clouds daubed the sky. Across the street, children played in yards while their parents, glad to be outside for a few hours, watched on. Everything seemed to have its own light.

Something rushed up behind Will and he stumbled. A moving van was pulling out of the driveway. He let it pass into the street. The driver, whoever they were, didn’t apologise but it ruined nothing of Will’s day. At the curb he looked for his bins amongst the others. Nothing. He looked again and couldn’t see them. Perhaps when the collectors had emptied the bins into the rubbish truck, they left them in a different spot. Will walked up and down the street, scanning the footpath and every front yard. He even snooped in a few open garages but it was in vain. His bins were nowhere to be found. Rage surfaced and he marched back to the block, up the stairs and pounded on the door of Number Three. No answer. He thumped. Again, nothing. ‘Give them back!’ Spit beaded on Will’s lips. ‘I know you have them.’ He began hammering the door. ‘If you don’t answer me, I’ll—’

Someone called out. Will turned. The old man stood in the doorway of his apartment wearing a dressing gown. ‘Is everything okay?’ he asked, looking concerned.

Could this idiot not see that it wasn’t? ‘The guy who lives here,’ Will said. ‘He has my bins.’

‘Oh,’ the old man said, ‘you mean the young man there? He doesn’t seem to be home.’ 

Will wanted to scream at him.

‘Wait, he was doing something, wasn’t he?’ The man started tapping his chin with a finger. ‘Did he move out today,’ he said quietly to himself, ‘or was it yesterday?’

Will swore and swore again. How could this happen? How could he have let this happen?

‘Are you sure everything’s okay?’

‘Yes,’ Will said, avoiding the man’s gaze. I Don’t Bite. The young man had left his mat behind. Will would take it from him and did so, picking it up, feeling barely satisfied. Then he remembered the jug and dropped the mat. He felt like crying. No, not in front of this idiot. Will had lost the war and admitting it infuriated him. The old man stood there, staring. ‘God,’ Will said and sniffed. The tears had already come. ‘Am I sure everything’s okay?’ He sucked air in, laughed and looked at the old man. ‘God, I’ve never been better.’ 

Silence. ‘Well then,’ the old man said after a few moments. He narrowed his eyes. It was a look of sudden resolve. ‘About your rubbish.’


It had been six weeks since the young man had left and taken the knowledge of the bins with him. In that time Will had gone from angry to despairing to embarrassed to something approaching normal which, according to the book he’d finally finished, was how an emotional cleanse was meant to go. Molly had done her best to avoid him until her fur grew back and he’d done his best to avoid the old man who’d threatened to report him to the council for improper disposal of biological hazards.

The lockdown ended and life returned to the streets. Will started gardening again. On Sunday, his mother called. She hadn’t heard from him in a while and asked what happened. What had happened? It was his shame and he’d never admit to it. Well, not until he could laugh about it or, as it had been put in the book, push the feeling out to sea. His mother talked and talked. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘uh-huh,’ and before she let him go, she told him the to’ona’i was the following Sunday.

‘It’d be good for you to see everyone.’

‘Uh-huh,’ he said.

Will arrived at the park in his sweater and heard his family before he saw them. He brought the palusami his mother had asked him to make and handed it to her on one of his dinner plates. They hugged and she held him. He was glad she could have him here. He made his way down the line of great-aunties, great-uncles, aunties, uncles and cousins, hugs and kisses dotting his face. At first, he nodded and smiled to be polite, but the more he made himself talk, the more he wanted to. Perhaps he, like them, had been starved for attention, for nearness. Perhaps he could enjoy these people, even if he hadn’t chosen them. 

‘Come,’ his mother said, ‘there’s someone I want you to meet’ and Will approached her and a knot of more cousins at a picnic table. ‘That’s Ashley, your uncle Mosese’s child.’ She pointed at the cousins but Will wasn’t sure who she was referring to. ‘You used to play together when you were little.’

‘I don’t remember,’ he said but she wasn’t listening to him.

‘Ashley,’ she called out, and from behind the others he appeared, in trousers and a sport coat, holding a plate of palusami.

Todd Barrowclough

Todd Barrowclough hails from Aotearoa New Zealand and currently lives in Melbourne, Australia where he works as a librarian and creative writing teacher. He is a graduate of the Master of Creative Writing programme at the University of Auckland.