Kai'ali hung in the back of the small group of girls. Now women. She couldn’t dance with them, but a smile hung on her face. Her limp did seem more pronounced from the exertion.
Grinning, Tawhiri circled around the back of the group and sprinted for Kai'ali. Her smile faltered for a moment when she saw him.
Releasing the laugh building up in his chest, Tawhiri ducked down and grabbed her good leg. She just managed to stay upright, gripping the shoulder of Yemi beside her.
“Ah, curse you, you little rooster.” She slapped at him and her smiled returned.
An older woman glared at Kai'ali from the gathering crowd, but they ignored him. He was, after all, still a child.
He dodged around a line of women coming back from the gardens and slowed his pace. Some of the warriors had returned from fishing. Men his own age, who he had played with as children. Back then none of them saw the harm in letting him swim with them. Old men and their rules were far away when you were only looking for fun.
Ihaka had been the biggest rascal of them all. He and Tawhiri had often crept out of their beds to swim out on the reef at night, when the waves were rough and the sharks were feeding.
Even now, Ihaka was a good friend. Not what he was once, though. He was a warrior, and the son of the chief, and he couldn’t waste his time with a child.
Ihaka offered Tawhiri a slight nod of the head, before focusing back on the line of women accepting their wreaths. He would be leading the dance tonight.
It was hard to be happy for Kai'ali when everything around him was only a reminder that life was moving on without him. He was a man any all aspects but one. And while Ihaka could marry, and go to war, and make a name for himself, Tawhiri would always live in the shadows.
It was worthless to get angry. He couldn’t do anything about it. At one time he’d thought about stealing a canoe and finding a new tribe, but that was foolish. They would hear about him soon enough, and their fears might be more violent than the Mona Taoans, who knew him well. Besides, this was home. And Ooma was old, and needed him.
Kai'ali had reached the elders now. Last. But the final rays of the sun caressed her red cheeks and made her glow. She leaned down to let Omala’ai place the wreath on her head, and whisper the well known words in her ear.
Tawhiri completed his circle around the haus wind and the gathering village just as Ooma hobbled down the trail. She was breathing hard, and accepted his arm as he slowed down beside her.
“Are you angry?” she asked.
“Why would I be angry. She did good.”
Ooma nodded, her hair falling across her forehead. “Yes, she did. You are right to be proud of her. But you would also be right if you were sad to be left behind.”
“Quit pretending to be wise.” He batted a knot of her hair. “It will make your old head ache.”
“Quit pretending to be a child. You are making my old heart ache.”
Tawhiri shook his head, trying to laugh it off. “Go dance, if your joints can still bend.”
“Rascal.” Ooma shot him one last exasperated look before hobbling to the haus wind.
Kai’ali and the other women lined up on the far end, legs set far apart and knees bent. The village took up a similar position on the far end.
Ihaka took his position at the front of the formation, and began beating the tamped earth with the end of a decorated staff.
The rhythm made Tawhiri’s blood boil and churn. Hundreds of feet hit the ground, until it drowned out the surf and the hollow thud of the staff. Tawhiri burned, his feet ached to slam into the ground with the drumming.
Ihaka started the chant, leading off the dance.
“Listen, my son. Listen, my daughter. I will teach you. .”
Like one being, the villagers repeated the phrase, adding a flourish of abrupt movements to each beat.
“I will teach you of the ocean. I will teach you of the Island. I will teach you of your people and of yourself.”
A few children on the edges mimicked the movements clumsily, laughing. Older boys and girls watched carefully. Tawhiri had once been an intent learner like them. But he would never dance with the village.
As the dance continued and old wisdom was passed on to the younger generation, the initiates joined in. Some waited to consider the words and the promise they were making a few minutes longer. But they would all dance the dance, make the promise, and enter into full membership with the village. It was the way of all the people on Mona Tao.
Kai’ali was one of the first. She had been waiting longer than most of them. She struggled to copy the beat of the dance, with her foot perpetually twisted under her. But she always had been determined.
Tawhiri grinned at her movements. They were beautiful, even if they were not the perfect pattern of the others. She would be her own kind of woman. It was fitting that her dance was her own.
He knew this dance like he knew how to breathe or walk. He would have fit in perfectly if he were given the chance.