“Get to Shore”
We floated lifeless among pieces of our lives. Sky and sea were black. The wind had died down a bit, the current curled ‘round our waists and pushed us further and further into the unknown.
By morning we found ourselves beached like great fish on a rocky black sand beach; our hair braided with seaweed, our noses full of sand, our legs and arms slashed with tiny reef cuts. We lay waiting for the end.
A young boy, no more than seven stood on a hill watching. I could barely make him out. My eyes would not focus. He was small, brown with tattoos across his mouth that were unfamiliar. He carried a gourd that I prayed was filled with water. He came to me and knelt beside me and washed the sand from my nose and mouth. He poured a little between my teeth. I swallowed. I looked up into his face and saw the future. He was the prince of the Qudaytaka and I would be his slave.
The boat had left the village on the first day of Settanui-mara and on the last night of Pakazaki-na. There was a great celebration because I had just been named the next sham; inheritor of the wind, keeper of the book, starwalker and guide. I had just turned seven and decided to run away. I crept aboard the big ship traveling to the outer islands of our domain, the islands of Amunori-ka. It would pass through hostile water of the Qudaytaka and onto the fertile spawning grounds of the great dragons of the sea.
They carried us from the shore to the foothills. We started out from our village with twenty men and now there were only eight, three had been killed in the storm and two were badly injured and left to die on the beach. I was taken with those remaining to the village on the high cliffs.
“He has two tongues”
The blind man was covered with moles and dried moss. He smelt of burnt grass and bear gall. I know, because father hunted bears. He examined me, read my tattoos, each one told a story and held the secret of my people. They chanted and drummed all night. There was something in the water they gave us that caused me to dream. While the others slept my voice spoke from the book of the dead and named the unborn.
I was seated on a mat in the center of the round house surrounded by old men. My throat was dry. They had the eyes of wolves. They sharpened their teeth with sticks. I listened to their deliberations. I could not understand everything. I wished I had paid more attention to my grandfather. Their tongue was the ancient tongue of our clan that my grandfather tried to teach me. I escaped those lessons whenever I could. Grandfather was old and could no longer catch me. I ran from the words and the world they described. I ran from the memories, the stories of who and what we had been and what we would be.
Grandfather would always begin the same way.
“We were one; in the beginning, only one. We lived on the back of the great turtle. We share what we had with each other and we lived in peace. Then the rains came, and we floated and floated on the never-ending sea. A yellow bird appeared and whispered to Taka that he knew the way home, the way back to the land and away from the water. Taka told the people and they grew afraid. How will we leave the great turtle? Who will provide shelter, clothes and food?
Taka replied. “I will, if you will give me your eyes.”
The people followed Taka and became the people who walk in darkness. The others who did not follow him became the people who sought the light.
Sitting in the roundhouse under the smoke-filled roof I knew they were the Taka people and that they wanted my eyes.
Karen Frederick is an avid reader and runner.