Most of the huts on the outside of the village bore Tawhiri’s intricate carvings, sticking out from the kunai roofing. Bora’s carried the crocodile, a nod to his love for hiding in the jungle and jumping out to tackle his friends. Juni and Aanapa had two entwined eels. They never could seem to let go of each other's hands. They even went fishing together. Tuplo’s was a shark. He was a warrior to be reckoned with, and had even retrieved the jaw of a shark to adorn the post.
Toward the center of the village the huts were older and closer together. The ground was hard as rock from many passing feet. In the center, a haus wind formed a perfect arc. The posts holding the thatched roof up had been rubbed smooth by many hands through the years, bearing the marks of countless village members. Some were so ancient they had been dented and turned black. The larger ones were carved with intricate designs.
Nested in the bend, the communal fire was kept burning. Around it, a few elders gathered, painting each other’s faces and arms for the welcome.
Tawhiri skirted the gathering villagers, ducking under a few huts that had been built up off the ground. The woman were just returning from the beach. Their hair was pulled up into buns, revealing the fresh-cut tattoos around their necks and shoulders from their initiation. Red paint covered the top half of their face. All of them danced, their lap laps still wet and slapping against their legs.
Kai'ali wouldn’t be dancing like the rest of them. Tawhiri tugged his hair back from the sweat on his neck as he forced his way past some climbing bushes that had latched onto the side of the house.
Omla’ai stepped out of the half-moon of elders and plucked a wreath of fresh leaves from a waiting mother’s hands. Tawhiri didn’t need to hear the words to know what was being said. It was an ancient tradition. An invitation to pass the threshold from childhood to adulthood. He used to listen to those words with rapt attention and wish for the day he would hear them himself. A day when Ooma would weave him a wreath to wear and he could take his place among the warriors of the tribe.
But the ocean was the blood of Mona Laoan people, and he wasn’t allowed to touch it. He couldn’t pass into adulthood without its blessing. His stomach still hurt a bit at the thought, though he was resigned to it now. At least he could celebrate Kai'ali.
If she had made it.