Ooma snored like an old boar.
Most nights Tawhiri would have slept through it. He worked hard, carving the wood for the huts and putting them together and tending to the other needs of the village. Sleep came easily. But not tonight.
The initiation song still beat on in his head. The words repeating over and over again. The powerful movements echoing back to centuries of tradition.
He was a son of Mona Tao too. It meant something to him, even if he would never dance it.
The tapa covering that formed most of the wall lifted, and a shadow passed in. Kai’ali. Her gait was unmistakable.
“What are you doing?”
“Shhhh, you will wake her.” Kai’ali grabbed his arm and pulled him off his mat.
“She’s deaf when she is asleep just as when she’s awake.” Tawhiri jumped down to the thin grass.
“You shouldn’t be so mean. You know, you will be an old man some day.”
“If I don’t fall off a cliff, or get bit by a snake or something.”
Kai’ali giggled and tugged him towards the sound of the surf.
“You know, you are a woman now. This is very childish behavior for a grown member of the tribe.”
Kai’ali practically glowed. The moonlight glinted off her teeth. “Can you believe it? This was my fifth try. I told myself I would do it, or drown.”
“Are you sure you didn’t drown?”
She hissed and climbed over a downed log. “Close your mouth, rooster.”
“Where are you taking me?”
Kai’ali pushed through some low-lying foliage. The grass and dead leaves turned into sand. The tide was high, and the waves frothed just inches from the trees.
“Kai’ali. I can’t.”
“You can’t,” she mocked. “There are no one here to see us. Just you and me.”
Tawhiri laughed. Yes, it was just the two of them. No reason why he couldn’t put his feet in the waves at least. He tied his lap-lap up and glanced toward the village. The foliage was thick here. Even if someone woke up, they shouldn’t be able to see him.
Kai’ali was already in the waves, her long legs reaching from the water like palm trunks. Letting the smile break out on his face, Tawhiri jumped into the surf.
The waves were like a long drink after labor in the sun. He couldn’t force the smile off his face as he wiggled his toes in the shifting sand.
“You could do it too, you know. It would be easy for you. You were always the best swimmer.”
Tawhiri pulled his attention away from the rushing waves. “What has gotten into you? Are all woman so foolish when they are grown?”
“You have always been able to stay under the water longer than any of us. You could swim through the cave easily. And if you came back with the stone - ”
“No, Kai’ali.” Tawhiri held up a hand. “I know what you are thinking and it’s foolish.”
“Why? You can do it. You can bring back the stone and they will have to accept you as a member of the tribe.”
“Or, they could expel me from the Island for it. You forget. I’m not being held back for some deformity, like you. You could work hard and overcome it. Me?” Tawhiri shrugged.
“But if you accomplish the trial and you are still just as you are now, won’t it prove that you are not what they think?”
Tawhiri shrugged. Maybe it would. Maybe it would make them all the more afraid. In the stories and traditions, a demigod’s call to the water could happen as soon as they entered it. Or it could come back months or even years later. Sneaking softly in and changing them from the inside out, like a guava full of maggots. The surface was golden and sweet smelling, but the inside was writhing with rot.
Wasn’t that how everyone changed? Slowly and in secret.
“So what? You are going to live the rest of your life on the shore. Clearing ground, carving canoes and making hut for others, for their families. But not for you. Don’t you want more?”
“Of course, I do. But I’m content. I will stay in Ooma’s hut and care for her.”
“And when she dies?”
Tawhiri slapped the water. “Stop! Stop it.”
“I just want you to have peace.”
“Peace? I have it, I am fine. Why can’t you leave it alone?”
Kai’ali stared down at the water for a long time. “Ihaka asked me to marry him.”