I wait until the water has left my clothes, skin, and hair before walking back to my village, just in case someone had, in fact, observed what I had done and what happened, and the Tribe Leaders were alerted.
As I walk, I hunt, catching a few squirrels and, luckily, a small fox on my way up. I force them onto the wooden hooks made of strong and sharp tree branches hanging from thin twine rope around my hips. The carcasses dangle down, hitting my legs as I reach the steep incline up to my village. I have to stop a few times to scratch at where they irritate my skin, then carry on trekking up.
Pulling myself over the ledge, I glance around. Nothing has changed since I left to mourn, aside from a few things that had been repaired. I can tell there are less sounds of sadness echoing from behind closed doors, but I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. With the numbness towards the babies that die out…
The sun lights up the now second largest village on the island: my village. I heave a heavy sigh as I walk up to the line of Tribe Leader houses and unhook the food from my belt I’d caught. I set them on the long table as Rai-si steps out of the middle Tribe Leader house and looks me over.
He glances down at the food set out by the other hunters as I place the single fox I’d captured on the surface of the Feasting Table, the animals’ red fur ruffling in the soft wind blowing by. It’s the only animal that isn’t a squirrel. More should be coming out soon.
Rai-si looks at me for a moment, a moment that seems like an eternity, and then walks around the table to stand before me. He touches my hair gently, his eyes seeming to study it closely.
“Why do I feel like you’ve touched the sea?” He asks suddenly.
My heart jumps at the question, not knowing what to say to him. I don’t want to tell him the truth but I don’t want to lie either. The penalty for even touching the water… My hands begin to shake.
“I was near it,” I say, my voice cracking.
“Did you touch it, Cressa-la?” He asks, leaning down to where his face is just before mine. “You know the punishment for touching the water. Did you touch it?”
Horns bellow from the distance, their sounds sweeping over our village. Rai-si stands up straight and looks around in alarm. I follow his final gaze to the woods behind the line of houses for the Tribe Leaders. The horns sound once more before he looks back down at me.
“This conversation is not finished, Cressa-la,” he growls quietly and I nod rather stiffly. He will not forget about this incident, and once this distraction disappears, I’m in for a world of hurt.
He moves to stand between his house and Marin-na’s, looking out into the dense ascending trees. The crunching of footsteps approach as another sounding of the instruments takes over the noise of the island. Suddenly, I can see their faces.
A single bright blue streak makes its way from the edge of their hair and down to the top of their top lip, it making a trail on the top of their noses. The women have three blue dots beneath their eyes as well, the ones old enough to bare children having another one just above their eyebrows. The men have three bright blue stripes on their cheeks, angled to remind me of whiskers on a big cat. Men old enough to have children sport one dot of blue in the center of their chin.
A shudder washes through me as the twenty-three individuals march closer, shuffling past the Wall of the Dead. Although they are few and we are greater, a swell of fear grows inside of me as I look into their different colored eyes. What are they doing here at our village?
“What brings you here?” Rai-si calls out to the tribe.
A boy pushes forward, maybe the age of eighteen. He holds up a hand, not bothering to look behind him as he approaches Rai-si. The tribe stops walking and one more horn sounds its low bellow. Everything is quiet once again, the sounds of the forest growing in a crescendo, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to hear the conversation about to take place before me.
My thoughts are proven wrong as the boy opens his mouth to speak.
“We have news. We thought you would like to know about it, considering you are the closest to the sea.”
“What’s happened?” Rai-si asks, his eyes focused on the boy. “Are you a Tribe Leader?”
The boy nods once. “Our eldest died last night.”
There’s a short silence as the boy shifts his weight, as if he is about to say something uncomfortable.
“Spit it out,” Rai-si says a little too loudly.
The boy looks back at a girl, seeming about a year younger than him, and she nods as if to give him encouragement.
“As I said, we have news. However, before I reveal it to you, I would like to set up a deal.”
“What kind of deal, boy?” Rai-si says, his voice sending chills down my spine. “Just remember that you and your tribe are outnumbered.”
The boy nods and looks at the ground before looking back up. “We want you to travel back up the island with us so you are safe.”
“Safe from what?”
The boy takes a deep breath. “From the tsunami.”