The current changed as Tawhiri sank past the reef. The sloshing of the waves on the surface were replaced with a desperate, grasping swirl, pushing him up and against the wall of the grotto. His hair yanked free of its knot and tugged on his scalp. His lap lap flapped against his legs. He fought through, and just as quickly the current changed again, tearing at his arms and chest, driving him toward the opposite wall.
Should he go up? He had been down for a long time already, but his lungs didn’t burn. The water wasn’t violent, it was exuberant. It was joyful to have him there, just as he was joyful to be there.
Just a little deeper.
The current changed again, dragging him straight down. The dark walls of the grotto rushed past so fast, he could have been falling. A few dark-bodied fish fought the current with him, darting back and forth between the shelter of craggy rocks and stubborn corals. But soon even they were left behind and the water began to grow dark.
His chest still didn’t burn for air. It was still as if he had only just pulled in his breath.
But fighting this current on the way up…
Should he turn back?
Directly below him the ocean floor opened up into a great white expanse of sand. The walls of the grotto receded and the current slowed to an ebb, only just ruffling the soft grains. A few corals clung to the edges of the quiet world, but there was less sunlight here, and they were far from the surface.
Some larger fish, predators, hung in the darker edges. A young barracuda, too big now to escape. A nervous looking eel, mouth agape, peeked out from a hole in the rock.
Tawhiri hung in the stillness of the grotto floor. The current only just caressed his skin, suspending his hair around him like the night sky. Still, his lungs didn’t ask for air.
He turned on his back, looking up through dancing light and deep blue where the butterfly fish still dodged around coral heads. The octopus had climbed back out of its cave, and its tentacles extended out like sea grass. The current was almost visible, rushing in through the crack that lead to the open sea, carrying with it vital nutrients, fresh eggs, and tiny fry.
Tawhiri may not have been breathing, but the grotto was. In the water rushed, and it inhaled. Out it bellowed, and it tugged at the bejeweled fish.
The ocean was a beating heart, sustaining the world. It filled the sky with fresh air. It filled the land with rich bounty, bringing sand and coconuts. It lifted the people of Mona Loa on its back, taking them to new islands.
Tawhiri couldn’t be cut off from this life. If he was, he wouldn’t shrivel up and die, like a limb cut from a tree.
Why would his people ask him to choose? Why would they deny him this?