Out the Office Window: Ginger

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Ginger was born in the town of Gore on New Zealand’s South Island. Gore is a small, rural town which is not getting any larger. Ginger’s father spent the greater part of his adult life working for Fleming and Company, makers of Creamoata porridge. When the company moved to Australia in 2001, he switched to dairy-equipment sales and service. He was never happy about the change. Ginger’s mum was carried off by cancer when Ginger was only two.

Ginger was a pretty girl with five older brothers, who raised her and treated her like a little princess. This had the effect of nourishing her feminine side; she didn’t grow up to be a tomboy. She was a bright penny, an innocent flirt when she got older. She had high hopes for romance and adventure in her life, despite the countryside around her, mostly inhabited by cows. She would visit Invercargill and Dunedin with her family, but neither was the big city she had in mind when she daydreamed about her future.

A young fellow named Aperahama Snow came down to Gore from Tapanui in the forests at the foot of the Blue Mountains, after graduating from Blue Mountain College. He moved to Gore to continue his education. He became close to Ginger’s brothers, hunting and fishing with them. They’d bring home brown trout from the Mataura river and Ginger would clean and cook them and serve them to the boys, including Aperahma. In time, Aperahama was spending more time with Ginger than with her brothers.

Before they became absolutely serious, however, Aperahama began missing school due to a peculiar lack of energy.

“Are you ill, do you think?” Ginger asked him.

“It’s Tapanui flu,” he told her, from under the covers in his bedroom. “I’ve had it before and now it’s come back. I’ll need to go home to the clinic for treatment.”

“Oh, Appie, I do hope you’ll get well soon!”

“She’ll be right,” Aperahama said weakly, not moving in his bed.

Ginger knew of this flu, which was in fact chronic fatigue syndrome, and understood her young man’s need to go home. Rather than waiting for his return, Ginger realized, she wanted to leave Gore too.

Home life was gloomy with her unhappy father, who was short with her and her brothers. None of Ginger’s girlfriends – the girls she had grown up with – seemed interested in doing anything other than marrying local boys, setttling down, and starting families. How could they stand that, Ginger wondered. Didn’t they want to see the world, have adventures? She understood that she had grown apart from these young women. She realized that all along, while they had enjoyed listening to her talk about her plans, none of them had ever had any intention of joining her in them.

With her boyfriend gone, she was ready to leave. She wasn’t interested in country music, cows, or any other of the blandishments of the area. She craved crowds and lights and department stores. Especially department stores. And boutiques.

When she graduated from St. Peter’s College and found herself doing no more than mooning over her lost love and imagining herself in a big city, it was away with the fairies and off to Auckland for her. She left home with a hug for each brother and the greatest of delight, off to a place that in her mind had acquired the status of Oz. She was ready and anxious to make new friends, learn about the latest trends and fashions, and shake the dust of the Southland region off her new Overland fashion boots.

Out the Office Window: Brittany

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Brittany put in a long stretch as a homeless, or disadvantaged, person in “the world’s most livable city.” Being an energetic soul, she was one of those itinerant window washers who hung out in the winter at the big bus shelter under TVNZ headquarters on the corner of Victoria and Hobson Streets. She was there when Auckland Transport initiated its anti-roosting campaign, during which AT began removing all the benches it could lay its hands, or tentacles, on. This did not cause Brittany and her friends to push off, only to move into doorways and stairs when they needed to rest or sleep. Brittany took her meals at the Auckland City Mission when she ate, but more often she drank. She was gregarious and could make friends with anybody; contrariwise, she was quick to defend her turf and her rights against all comers. Her best pal was old Haeatatanga, who would match her bottle for bottle when they took a break from window washing to binge. The Future Focus Policy, which went into effect in January, reduced her welfare benefits by half. Most of her friends were also affected. The purpose of the policy was to encourage single parents and other recipients to find employment, but between childcare needs, transportation difficulties, mental illness, substance abuse, lack of work skills, so forth, most of Brittany’s acquaintances sank even further into destitution – with no benches to sleep on, thanks to the relentless AT. Perhaps on those occasions when Brittany and Haeatatanga sought help from the Sallies, Shirley’s occasional contributions to the Salvation Army were used to assist them. Brittany had a daughter who she didn’t talk about. The girl lived with her poppy in Manukau City. That winter, old Haeatatanga had been complaining of the dreaded lurgy. She carked it the day after her benefits were halved. Her passing was not easy. Brittany held her hand at the end. Alone with the woman’s body, Brittany experienced an awakening. After seeing to it that her friend’s remains were properly collected, she made her way over to the Methodist Church on Pitt Street to wait for the next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Suddenly, she had a desperate craving to lift herself up out of the cold, damp street. Her transition and recovery were hard. She attended many AA meetings. When the time for restitution arrived, she made the journey out to Manukau and found that her father did not want to see her or for her to see her daughter. Brittany remained on the street. There were no AA meetings in Manukau, so she attended those held in the Old Central School in Papakura. In time, her father let her spend time with her daughter. This proved to be a healing process for both mother and daughter; they helped each other. Brittany’s greatest fear had been that her daughter would hate her and be filled with anger. It wasn’t so. Her daughter was an angel. Once Brittany felt that she had reestablished some sort of relationship with her father, and with her daughter, she returned to the city. One day soon after, she was on the street in front of Sean’s building. It was hosing down and she stepped close to the building’s entrance to wring out her cardy and drip on the mat. A sympathetic maintenance woman, the same one who helped Shirley get in, held the door open for her and arranged a spot in the building for her to call her own, if only temporarily. The woman fixed her up with some castoff clothes and Shirley, renewed, took thought of her future.

Out the Office Window: Shirley

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Shirley was born in Auckland and grew up in a Mount Eden villa, an only child with an emotionally distant mother and a father not often seen. She was never clear whether her family was comfortable or simply hanging on, as she heard her cousins say that her dad was a bit of a bludger. She knew, at the least, that her parents weren’t welcome in the old-money mansions of her great aunts and uncles in Epsom and, more recently, Remmers.

She had a view from her bedroom window over Grey Lynn as she grew up, and developed a taste for views in general. For this reason, and perhaps because of her father’s absence – he was supposedly downtown attending to business – she found herself attracted to tall buildings. She’d trek downtown, find a window high above the city, and settle in front of it to meditate on her lonely life.

Her father was short and bald. Shirley herself had an unruly mop of black hair. Maori hair, according to the kids at school, including those who were Maori themselves. Everyone respected her temper and strength and attributed both, like her hair, to the mixture of blood types they imagined to be flowing in her veins. She believed that her mother knew the provenance of that mop of hair, but her mother would not speak of it. Clearly, though, it did not come from the pipsqueak who was her titular dad.

Because Shirley was a big ‘un and her father was diminutive, he would step up onto her foot on his rare visits home, and give her a hug. She came to associate these moments with deep feelings of happiness and contentment, perhaps as compensation for her concerns about her true parentage. Later, young men learned to step up onto her foot and Bob’s your uncle. Contrariwise, let her step up onto your foot and you might expect the same, but let your hand wander and you’d be well and truly smacked.

Once she was out of school, Shirley found a job downtown in a fitness center on Queen Street. As a personal trainer, she was in great demand by men and women alike. She was approached by operators in the wrestling game. She was drafted by the Auckland Storm, the women’s rugby team. She passed on these opportunities. Despite her physical prowess and tendency to lash out when provoked, she was not naturally aggressive or combative. Instead, she was drawn to meditative pursuits – those of an only child left to her own devices. When she found those high places downtown to which she was attracted, she would sit and gaze out over the city, and think. And brood.

She was no nun. She was familiar with the male landscape. At the gym, she found herself on several occasions in the wrong shower room with the wrong co-worker. But in the final analysis, she lived more in her mind than in her body, despite the daily use of that body to earn a living. She was attuned to the world around her, concerned about the planet. Perhaps one of her donations to the Salvation Army found its way as aid to Brittany during Brittany’s homeless period. Perhaps as Shirley drifted through the city, she passed Sean leading one of his walking tours.

On the first day of March, exploring during her lunch break, she spotted a tall building that intrigued her. With the help of a maintenance woman (who also helped Brittany), Shirley took a lift to the penthouse on the 38th floor and there found a windowsill that suited her.