By Feana Tu’akoi
Check out the opening chapter of Leana Tu’akoi’s latest junior fiction novel, Lopini the Legend.
Chapter 1: Taha
“Ugh!” yelled Lopini, as soon as they’d got away from school. He booted a stone and watched it skitter across the path.
“What’s up with you?” asked Fi. As if she didn’t know.
“Only the worst day of my life — ever,” complained Lopini.
“Why?” she asked. “What happened?”
“You know why,” snapped Lopini. “You were there when they took the kapa haka leadership off me.” “Ohh . . . that,” said Fi. She smiled and gave Lopini a nudge. “They didn’t really take it off you,” she said.
“As good as,” insisted Lopini. “I’ve been leader for two years and suddenly they hand it to someone else?”
Fi laughed as they stopped at the crossing. “Hemi wasn’t at our school two years ago,” she told him, “or he probably would’ve got it in the first place.”
“Wow,” growled Lopini. “Thanks a lot.” He hunched his shoulders and glared at her.
Fi let out a giggle, as the crossing light turned green. “Don’t be so grumpy!” she said, following him across the road. “You know what I mean.”
Lopini did know what she meant. Not only was Hemi Māori, but he was fluent in te reo. Perfect for kapa haka leader. Lopini could only speak English and a smattering of Tongan.
“It’s not the point,” he said stubbornly, even though he knew it was. “They shamed me, in front of everybody.”
Fi shot him a funny look. “That’s not true,” she said. “Matua Ānaru checked with you first. You said it made sense.” “It does make sense.” Lopini groaned. “That’s the problem. There’s nothing I can do to get it back.” He heaved a big sigh and strode off towards the field.
Fi ran to catch up with him. “I don’t understand,” she panted. “I thought you’d be pleased. You’re always going on about how you wish you didn’t have to do it. You hate being out in front.”
“That’s not the point, either,” he told her.
Fi had had enough. She glared at him and slammed her hands onto her hips. “Then what is the point?” she snapped. “You hate doing it and now you don’t have to. You should be happy!”
Lopini dropped his head and his ears went red. “But I failed,” he mumbled. “In front of everybody.”
Fi didn’t mean to, but she let out a snort. “This again!” she cried. “Get real, Lopini. Do you know what they call you at school? ‘Lopini the Legend’. That’s because you’re a superstar. You’re the best in class, the best at sports, the best at art, the most popular . . . even the teachers love you.” She was counting things off on her fingers. “You’ve never failed at anything in your life.”
Lopini’s eyes were starting to burn. He swiped a hand across them and tried to laugh. It came out kind of choked. “Star’s falling now though,” he mumbled. “The whole school knows I’ve been replaced.” Fi stared at him for a moment. Then she shook her head. “You’re my best mate, but sometimes I think you’re crazy.” She laughed at his shocked expression. “Only you could feel like a failure about this,” she said, giving him a shove. “Everyone else thought you were amazing — the way you stepped aside for Hemi and told him he deserved it. You oozed mana. Are you saying you didn’t mean it?”
Lopini rolled his eyes at her. He was starting to feel a bit better. “Of course I meant it,” he said. “Hemi will be awesome. He’ll be able to do all the welcomes in te reo, without having to learn them off by heart, like I did. He’ll be a great kapa haka leader.”
Fi grinned and punched him lightly on the shoulder. “There you go, then,” she said.
“Yeah,” shrugged Lopini. “I s’pose.”
They crossed the rest of the field in silence. Then they headed for the corner.
“You know,” said Fi, as they turned onto their street, “you’re lucky you got to be leader at all. I’ve never been chosen to lead anything.”
Lopini nodded. He knew it was true. He reached out to squeeze Fi’s shoulder. “How do you do it?” he asked, softly. “How come you feel okay about missing out all the time? It makes me feel shamed.”
Fi decided not to be offended. She thought for a moment. “Lots of practice, I guess,” she joked. “I’m good at failing.”
Lopini stared at her. “That’s it!” he cried. “I need to get better at failing.”
“You’re sounding crazy again,” warned Fi.
But Lopini shook his head. “It makes perfect sense,” he told her. “I freak out every time something goes wrong because it hardly ever happens to me. I haven’t had enough practice.”
Fi rolled her eyes as they stopped at her gate. “Crazy!” she groaned.
“It’s not crazy,” he insisted. “All I need to do is practise failing, until I’m good at it. Then it won’t be a problem anymore.”
Fi’s eyebrows shot up so high they disappeared in her hair. “The world’s biggest perfectionist wants to be a failure?” she spluttered.
“Exactly!” cried Lopini. He flicked her a high-five, then headed up the path to his place next door.
“In fact,” he called, stopping on the verandah to kick off his shoes, “I’ll be the perfect failure!”
He laughed as an even bigger groan came from next door.
Lopini the Legend
By Feana Tu’akoi
Published by Scholastic