The Legend of Tawhiri the Heart Thief. Part 1
The hollow thud of Tawhiri’s stone ax against the roughened exterior of the bamboo nearly drown out the hushed rush of waves. He paused for a moment to look over his shoulder at the surf against the lava rocks just through the trees.
“Look at my son. He is such a strong, handsome man now, and how talented he is.” Ooma’s grass skirt hissed around her legs as she approached him. “This hut is going to make the whole village jealous.”
Tawhiri grinned at the woman who raised him and slapped a trail of sweat from his forehead.
“But I have built half of the huts on the island, old woman. What is going to make this one any different?”
“This one has a turtle on it. The last one had a dolphin. I like turtles better.” Ooma crossed her legs and sat on the tamped dirt beside the bamboo Tawhiri was splitting. “You know, there was a sea turtle swimming around the sandbank where I found you.”
“Maybe It laid me there like one of its eggs. It is good you plucked me up before the frigate birds did.”
Ooma grabbed a handful of the bamboo leaves he’d cut off his current load and slapped them across his calves. “You tease me so bad, you rascal.”
Tawhiri chuckled and turned back to his work. He would have much rather been out on the boats with the other men. There had been a whale shark spotted off shore earlier in the day. The water was rich and the fish were spawning. The haul would be good today, but for Tawhiri, it would be generosity of the village that would be feeding him. Again. Not his own two hands.
It was nothing to be ashamed of. His strong back was needed on the Island, and it freed up others to go out, but it was the injustice of it that made his stomach hurt.
They were a people of the ocean. But he could never even put his toes in the water without the elders shaking their staffs at him and warning him back.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping with the yams. Why are you bothering me, woman.” Tawhiri kicked a pile of husks from the bamboo and tossed them at the seated matron.
She shoved them aside, hissing. “Devil child. You’ll give me splinters.”
Still laughing Tawhiri turned to look back over the water. The sun was getting low. Fishing boats would be coming back soon. And perhaps some other water crafts as well. A canoe had headed out for Ata’ai Kalu earlier today, carrying girls who would be winning their womanhood from the giant volcano. He’d been sure that, among the familiar heads of dark hair, there was one, unexpected face.
“She’s back already.” Ooma pushed herself up, moaning like the winds in hurricane season.
“So she went? And if she’s back…”
Ooma nodded slowly, her eyes peering up at him. Shards of obsidian between the winkles of her sun-wizened face. She was the mother of all the village. Loved by everyone.
While younger couples worked in the gardens, or built huts and fished, or plucked coconuts from their lofty towers, Ooma often kept an eye on the naked children who ranged over every inch of the island. Many villagers came to her for coconut oil to make their hair and skin shine, or remedies to heal their infected cuts and puckered burns. She was the most steady hand for tattoos. And yet, no one could claim she wasn’t just a little crazy.
She wore lizards, tied alive around her wrist, just like Tawhiri himself had as a child. A cruel entertainment of the village kids, not behavior for a gray-haired wise woman. And every few months she would take a good part of a day, walking around the entire island with two halves of a coconut in hand and sea shells tied around her waist, making an awful racket.
No one ever got a straight answer about what she was actually doing.
Perhaps that is why, when she had found Tawhiri squirming on a sandbar, abandoned and barely a day old - as she told it - she had decided to keep him. Some women would have just pushed him back into the sea. Less heartache.
“She passed the test.” Ooma waved towards the path running toward the center of the Island, as if to invite him to see for himself. “Never thought I’d see the day, but she’s a tough little bird.”
Tawhiri set his ax among the splintered bamboo and pulled his tapa cloth lap-lap up between his legs, tying it up so that he could be free to run. It was one of the good things about being considered a child still, in the eyes of the village. He didn’t have to worry about acting like a mature warrior.
“Tawhiri, wait for your old mother.” Ooma called.
Laughing out loud, Tawhiri broke into a sprint and circled her twice “I want to get there before sunset.”
He took off down the path, leaving Ooma far behind. Most likely shaking a shriveled fist in his direction, as she was prone to do when she was angry.
The hard-packed earth cut through thick undergrowth and low-bent hibiscus plants. At the edges of the trees a few children hung from a plumaria tree, throwing down flowers which they strung through palm frond stems to make leis and headdresses. A few children dropped from the tree, matching pace with Tawhiri for a few strides before he outpaced them. Their laughter followed him into the center of the village.