My father had the ability to poleax us with a look. This is not an uncommon thing in any parent child relationship – the cues of imminent woe embedded in a look. But to give scale to the gravity of this look and what it meant to act in contravention to his dictates, I will tell you a thing that I should not; that in our early years, whenever said look would fall upon my brother, he would vomit.

I have no memory of this vomitus history.

This is not a trip down trauma-memory lane, the point is simply that the man had a predisposition to bending his environment and the living beings therein to his will. 

He was not easily overset. Not the conditions in which he grew up, not the Irish missionary priests and their ways for ‘educating’ with belt buckle and cane. Not the father who disappeared or the alcoholic follow-on patriarch who unfortunately stayed. Not even the military coup that had seen us displaced to Australia, homeless, dependent on the goodwill of others and the fish we could catch off that jetty – which was probably the most fun and most quality time I ever spent with him. 

None of this had disturbed his total control of himself, others and any natural or unnatural phenomena that came into his frame of reference. 

Except this once. And so, I can never shake the memory of this particular day, contrasting as it did to every other interaction I had with the man. 

It was first in the hesitancy of his walk as he came up our snaking driveway. The manner in which he paused at the glass sliding door as though surprised to find it there and in his way, though he had walked through this entrance for the past thirteen years.

He carried his leather briefcase as always. It was the one we bought for Father’s Day and the only one he would ever own. Poverty had bred into him an understanding of the value of things such as we could never imagine. Newly bought items were rare in our house. We were a make and do, necessity only, second hand haggled it down. Which I rather loved, because every object came with a story in a way new purchases don’t. Things bought new seemed to treble in their designated lifespan upon entering our abode, whether through the fastidious care shown them or the ability to repair all things. 

On this occasion though, he carelessly discarded his briefcase on the dirty ‘outside’ shoes at the outer door. A complete contrast to his need for order. All things had their place in our house and returned to their locations when their function was complete – including us. 

The briefcase looked unsure as to why it had been carelessly abandoned among the dirty outside shoes instead of being back safe and secure in the study next to my Father’s home desk. 

That he still sat in his own living room chair confirmed that he was indeed our Father, despite the way he sat – no, he flopped – into said chair. 

‘Unbelievable,’ he muttered. 

‘This, today, when I tell you…’ 

He was animated again. 

‘Dee listen -’ he called for my mother and brother, who unlike us daughters, were freed from obligation to be stationed at the door upon his arrival and departure from our home, but only if they were at other designated duties. 

When everyone was presented and accounted for, he began the retelling. It started with the usual humdrum of the beginnings of the new academic year, and the invite he would give to international students that they were welcome to dinner at our house. The date for that was hastily noted on the calendar by my mother as he spoke. 

We mentally clocked this also, as it meant that week, we’d have to have all homework and assignments done early. There’d be cooking to do the day or days before to prepare. 

I don’t think the white people who we had to make food offerings to in order to obtain some level of human value ever understood the work involved. 

Did they know the cost of their dinners and drinks and ‘Don’t the –s make the most exquisite samosas and that kakonda…’ was paid for in any notion of play, leisure or rest for me? 

Or that the time allocated to entertaining them caused a math or spelling test result to fall short of a hundred percent and led to draconian, tedious punishments to restore the missing percentages? 

No. White people think of the generosity of ‘good migrants’ as reward for having allowed them entry to countries they had empirically stolen in the first instance. None invited us first to their homes, and few ever returned the graciousness. 

But to return to him.

A spark had come into his eye now. He leaned forward and we leaned forward, for we sensed the real story was coming. 

‘There was one new Fijian student…’ he said, ‘…a girl.’

Ahhh, we thought, a girl. Well now there’s the thing, rare enough a girl in the Electrical Engineering course but a girl from Fiji back in the 90s. Impressive. He did not stop there. 

‘She had trouble coming over, started late and didn’t have books.’ All fairly normal. Immigration still took the White Australia policy as strictly as ever. 

‘The bookshop was out of stock and the library only has for reference, not borrowing, so I said she could borrow the set from me and return at the end of the course. I’d have no excuses for falling behind.’ 

And he wouldn’t, especially not from one of our ‘own.’ The sermon was one we had heard many times over, as no doubt it is echoed in many a migrant and brownskin family: we needed to do thrice as well as to be seen worth half as much as any white person. Education was the key to betterment.

The sense of duty as an Elder to a student abroad would have ensured that no lack of resources would impede her learning.  

‘But you’ll not believe what she said when I went to give her the books.’ 

‘Teacher, she said, you may not want to be lending me these.’

‘Why not, I said, return them as they are, study hard and that is all I ask.’ 

‘If you know who I am. I… my surname… I only use my mother’s name you see…my father’

‘I waited.’ 

‘Sitivani Rabuka’



We had gone from listening intently to completely frozen. Like a frozen tableau. 

That name. That name. That name. 

It had changed our trajectory. 

Ensured we were denoted half-caste, impure, unclean. Tainted beings in our own home and the only home we’d known for generations. 

Sitivani Rabuka. The military general who had started it all. The coup that took everything.

Stunned silence was the only reaction possible, until my brother broke it with the other emotion that made just as much perfect sense – deep, burning anger. 

‘Did you kick her out,’ he said, voice soft and low with rage born of years of grief.  

My father frowned and my brother shrunk back, caught in a misstep.  

‘I told her, why would that matter to me. Here you are a student and what matters is only that you learn, and from that, perhaps you will create a better world.’ 

There now. We were in awe at the sage wisdom of this judgement. 

Sometime after, she came for dinner and we reminisced about homes left behind. I kept musing if in another life we might have been friends, shared colleges and talked of things we had in common. 

Like what it is to be the daughters of dictators. 

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

CategoriesFlash Fiction

ShivaRJoyce is a BrownSkinIslanderGal Poet & Printmaker. Her 'Bottled it' series, in Maleny Printmakers Collectables, is her first Australian exhibition, while she also is currently a Digital Writer in Residence at Sirius Art Gallery, Ireland. She is finding her way back to the art and poetry of her ancestors through creative play - & with ink and word seeking to change exclusionary narratives. She has studied at Oxford University, UK in Creative Writing and Crawford College of Art and Design, Ireland in Creativity & Changemaking.