Road cones are ubiquitous in Christchurch. As the earthquake recedes from our immediate memory, the road cones linger, vivid, distinct, occasionally filled with flowers, one response Cantabrians take to remember the tragedy of the 2011 earthquake.
At my house, they fill the roadside every Friday, marking out the parking for the faithful attending prayer at the mosque next door. We live close enough that its golden dome gleams in the windows of my children’s bedrooms, and that my friends ask if I am bothered by the calls to prayer. I never hear them, even though I often wish I did.
I’m surprised the mosque goes light on the cones… Christchurch certainly has enough of them and there is never enough parking outside Masjid Al Noor. I often grumble when I find the driveway of my house filled with unfamiliar cars. Once, I watch as a man strolls over the glistening seal of the drive, stretching up to reach for a peach dangling from one of the trees in the mosque. I harangue him as he smiles and shrugs, bites his peach and placates me as he gets into his car and moves away.
My daughters and I receive a formal, slightly stilted invitation from the mosque for tea. Several days later there is an amendment to the date, but it’s too late, I’ve already diarised it, and I’m forgetful. So when we arrive, we’ve missed the party.
My daughters and I turn up on the doorstep of the mosque. We’re holding head scarves because I am not sure what the etiquette is. We slip our shoes off. The stoop of the mosque is tiled, faded, filled with others’ shoes and notice boards with slips of paper pinned to them. When we enter, the corridor is quiet, and it’s clear immediately that we’ve arrived at the wrong time. But someone hears us coming, and they poke their head out into the corridor to greet us. We are welcomed in, my children’s hands filled with chocolates. They take them home and slowly suck each one, the chocolate melting in their mouths and between their sticky fingers. We feel blessed. My children ask when we can go back.
Yesterday someone else drove up my driveway. And they took much more than just a parking space or a peach.
I know this much only later in the day. The first thing I know is the sound of a colleague screaming my name as she answers a phone call. We are both teachers and her family is in the mosque as a tragedy far bigger than we can imagine unfolds. Her father has been hurt and we bolt from the school, tearing across the city to get to them. We Google as we go. There are rumours that four people are shot. It grows to a possible six dead. Later, of course, we realise the number is much, much greater than that.
On Deans Ave, where we both live, the police turn us away. I’ve stopped the car at a bank of orange road cones across the road, but the police we approach for help send us back behind a concrete wall. They are worried we may be shot. Around us, men from the mosque, made obvious by their socked feet, make anxious phone calls.
I have never seen police like this. I have never seen guns like this. More emergency vehicles stream into the street. They do not pause for the road cones, they merely knock them flying, like flares calling for help, or run them down with heavy thuds.
Later, my colleague, with her family in the hospital, calls me to tell me the shooter was in my driveway. I watch the news and they show footage of the scrubby hedge I always think I should fix, of a man reaching into the boot of a car.
From a house safely far away across the city, I watch and wish that I could go back. Not to my house, but to the mosque. I want to stand in solidarity with my colleague, with my community. I want to watch the sun stretch slowly over its golden roof. I want to fill the mosque’s road cones with flowers.