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Net of Blood

Net of Blood

 

By Selmoore Codfish

Copyright 2015 Selmoore Codfish

Shakespir Edition

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Table of Contents

Net of Blood

About the Author

Other books by the Author

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[]Chapter 1

Bam! The plane shuddered in the turbulence.

“Mr. Harris,” called the attendant over the intercom, “I hope you are buckled. It is going to be a rough landing. The air strip is just ahead.” I was already secured so tightly in my seat that the circulation could have been cut off to my legs.

I looked out of the window. In the sea, straight ahead and just to the left of the plane nose was a landing strip. It hung alone in the water. No island country of Truro Shoal was there. It might be across the nose of the plane where I couldn’t see, but I didn’t know.

The plane shuddered again as if it were resisting landing on such a small strip in middle of the blue sea. One sudden gust as we touched down could throw us into the water on either side, or a sudden updraft could throw us off the end of the runway. There was no room for error, just pavement then water. The plane turned and I couldn’t see the runway anymore. I couldn’t tell from looking out my window how high above ground we were. All I could do was hold tight, and close my eyes and pray. I had to trust.

I told myself that the pilots must have made the trip many times before. I was the only passenger on the chartered 16-seat Jetstream. We’d taken off from Taiwan several hours earlier and headed south.

My employer had arranged my flight to Taiwan on a commercial air carrier, then the charter for the second leg. I hoped that the staff at work had told the charter to go to the right island, or I’d be left stranded in the middle of the South China Sea.

The plane shook to the right in the agitated air and I briefly saw other land from the opposite window.

We swayed back left as the pilot fought the elements. It was as if I was being told “Don’t go here. It is a mistake.”

Maybe it was God’s warning to leave things alone. If so, I would have gladly stayed home, but I wish that he’d have told me sooner.

I hoped that this trip was worth the rocky ride. I worked for the church in insurance, but occasionally I’d been called to perform other duties, such as I had in this case.

Out of my window the waves looked very close. I grabbed the armrest, and chewed my gum nervously. It looked like there was a reef under the waves. An atoll would be a nice straight flat place to build a runway. I was here because the leader of the island nation had expelled the only clergy. That meant that the believers there had no means to partake in the sacraments. In the eyes of the church, that was a tremendous grievance. It was the one thing the leaders cared about. It was above everything else.

The church asked to send representatives, but all men-of-the-cloth had been threatened not to come. As a lay person, I was sneaking in on a tourist visa.

Suddenly, one wheel and another touched ground. I could see the side of the pavement and the water, not far away. As the front wheel touched, the pilot braked.

For better or worse, I was here and I was relieved to be down. I didn’t know yet how much I’d personally benefit from the trip. I had been struggling with what I believed and it would turn out that my journey would help me understand what I had been missing.

The plane stopped, then made a tight turn and then taxied back up the runway. When we stopped again, the engines powered off.

The co-pilot came from the front cabin. He smiled.

“Whew,” I said. He laughed.

The flight crew unloaded my suitcase and I stepped off the plane. I saw the main island clearly for the first time. It was a few miles wide, with one large black hump, possibly volcanic.

“We radioed the ferry,” said the flight crew. “They’ll come for you.”

“Did they reply that they had heard you?” I asked.

“No, but everyone in Fusang would have heard the Jetstream land,” he replied. That was the capitol city.

I looked across the water at the city which was about a mile away. It was a small town with a few hundred buildings. There was a cove at the base of the city and I couldn’t see any ferries coming.

“Anyhow,” said the co-pilot as he shook my hand. “We need to head back. It’s a long trip.”

“Thank you,” I said.

I moved down to a docking platform as the crew closed the plane door. They taxied to the start of the runway, turned, then roared past into the air. I held my ears. It was such a big plane to carry one passenger, but I supposed that it had to be large to have the long range to get here.

It was a sunny day. The island looked pleasant. There were lots of palm trees. I had brought my swim trunks. This could be a relaxing vacation if I wasn’t beheaded and thrown to the sharks for representing the church.

I noticed a boat headed out of the cove. It turned towards me. I hoped it was the ferry, and not someone looking for live shark bait. Several minutes passed as it neared. The island was small enough that I had a good chance of meeting its leader. When I got my passport stamped after setting foot on land, I would ask the official how to find the island president.

The boat pulled to the dock. It had several rows of seats so it was obviously a ferry.

The captain shut the engine off. A boy jumped off with a rope. Then he wrapped it around a support on the dock.

They appeared to be the only crew. They both had round faces like ethnic Chinese. The writing on the side of the boat was in Chinese too.

I had been good with languages, but I’d never picked up that one. I hoped that the church administration hadn’t messed up and sent me somewhere that I needed an interpreter.

My relationship with my employer had been rocky. I’d upset the money changers’ tables a few times and I’d made some enemies. Maybe by sending me here they were trying to get even.

Maybe I worried too much. Most of the people that I’d upset had retired. The ones who remained thought more highly of me.

The captain of the ferry stood at the door, gesturing me in. The boy pulled my bag.

“Thank you,” I said, “I’m Neal.” I was trying to be friendly.

He didn’t make eye contact with me. He kept his head down.

I stepped onto the boat. It was very nice. I could tip the boy, but I had no local money, and he set down my bag then went back to untie the boat. After that he disappeared through a doorway.

“Did you get the radio call from the plane?” I asked the ferry captain. He obviously had. He stood silent for a moment in front of me. His head was still bowed. Then he went to the front of the boat. He started the engines and pulled out. The sea wasn’t as rocky behind the atoll.

The boy returned. I assumed he was probably ready for his tip, so I reached for my wallet.

The boy held a small trash can towards me. He looked straight at the ground.

I was confused. Was I supposed to put a tip in the trash? I wouldn’t do that.

“Uh?” I said, and shrugged. It was the universal sign for not understanding.

He pointed at his mouth and chomped it while continuing to avert his eyes. I connected the ideas of my mouth chomping and trash. The boy wanted me to spit out my gum.

I impulsively did so. I couldn’t believe that this little boy was making me give up my gum. This place had much different rules than I was used to. I was a fish out of water. I guessed that it was better than being turned into shark bait.

With his prize, the boy disappeared again. Then I walked around the ferry and looked out of the windows.

As we neared the cove, the small capitol was coming into better detail. It was so small that it probably had only one barber, one doctor, one nurse, and a few teachers. Hopefully I wouldn’t be there long enough to need those services. I promised my family that I’d return as quickly as I could. I had a wife, young daughter and possibly another child on the way.

Along the shore of the cove, I noticed one small warehouse and a wharf where a moderately-sized vessel could dock. A few shipping containers sat near the water. We were headed to the back of the cove where the town was centered. I noticed a few people walking. None of the buildings were very tall. Most looked like single family homes, but rather than homes they looked like shacks. Most had metal roofs. The walls were white plaster.

At the center of the city, the buildings looked in better condition, but made from the same basic materials.

We passed a landing with four fishing charter boats. The berth that we approached had another boat tied next to it. The lights on top suggested it was a police vessel. The wake from the ferry caused it to slosh around.

We docked and I got off the boat. There was no one waiting to check my passport and no place that was obvious to go to do so.

The boy started pulling my suitcase up the ramp and down the street. Either he was stealing it or showing me where to go. I followed him to find out. I passed a person on the street who kept his head down like the others.

The largest building in town was just ahead. However, it looked more like a hotel then a customs office.

My instructions included a note that I had reservations at the Xing Presidential Resort. My hopes were lifted when I saw the exact same words in English on the hotel sign.

The boy led me through the front door and to the main desk. A Chinese man stood there and smiled.

“Welcome, Mr. Harris,” he said.

“I believe I have a reservation,” I said.

“Of course you do,” he replied. His name badge said, “Jing-Sheng.” He looked me in the eyes, not shyly down like the others. It was how I expected to be treated.

I pulled out my wallet to show ID. While it was out, I thought of tipping the boy. I turned but he had left.

“Thank you,” said the clerk. “Your room was paid for through the week.”

“I hope I’m not here the whole week,” I said.

“In the offseason, we only rent on a low weekly rate. In a couple weeks, when the Taiwanese tourists start coming, we charge daily.”

“You speak English very well,” I said. “Do you get many English-speaking tourists?”

“A couple per year,” he said.

“The ferry crew didn’t seem to understand what I was saying.”

“Very few on the island speak it.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” I said. “Where do I go to get my passport stamped?”

“It’s not necessary,” he said. “We are a Taiwanese protectorate, so they manage on their end.”

I nodded.

“So are you part of Taiwan?” I asked.

“No.” He shook his head. “Truro Shoal is an independent country, but don’t say that near the President.” He tried to smile.

I nodded.

“I’ve never heard of a country like that,” I said. “Are there strong political connections between the countries?”

“Actually, no. Taiwan does little other than patrol the coast. The two islands are very different. Our political system is communist.”

“Then, it seems that you are aligned closer to China,” I said.

“Yes, but if we connected with them, they’d swallow us up—hence, the need to have a protector.”

I nodded. Then he handed me a key. Another man approached to carry my bag.

“While I’m here,” I said, “I’d like to consult with President Xing.” The clerk stared at me a moment. “Is it anything I can help you with instead?” he asked.

“No,” I said. He paused and thought about it.

“If you must, then when you are ready, I can give you directions,” he replied.

After I got to my room, I laid down a moment to rest. When I woke up sometime later, I didn’t know what time it was. I checked my watch. It said three o’clock, but I hadn’t reset it since leaving home. I pulled out my cellphone, but there was no service, so I didn’t think I should trust the time on it. The room had no clocks. On vacation time didn’t matter.

I called the front desk. I hoped I could use the room phone to call Angela later.

“What time is it?” I asked when Jing-Sheng answered.

“3:00pm,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said and hung up. It was exactly twelve hours difference between home and the island. I couldn’t call them now, because they’d be asleep.

Being mid-afternoon, it seemed like a good time to try to talk to President Xing. I got dressed into my formal clothes. It was an island and people were likely casual, but I wanted to meet the President.

On the way out, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the outdoor pool area in back of the building. I was groggy when I’d arrived, so I hadn’t paid much attention to the hotel. This time I noted where the café was located.

At the front desk, I approached Jing-Sheng. He was smiling again.

“Hello,” I said.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“First, does the island have cellphone service?”

“No, but we have Wi-Fi,” he replied. I nodded.

“Next, you said you could help me get to the Presidential office,” I said.

“Yes. The town has two main roads and several spurs. One main road is the one right here that loops around the harbor.” He pointed out the door. “The other one is parallel to it in town. It is the next block up the hill. Take it to the right three blocks. Then look for the building with the flag.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Do the roads have names?”

“Yes, that is Flamingo Road, but there are no signs.”

“Are there flamingos around here?”

“No, it was wishful thinking by the colonizers.”

I thanked him again and walked out. I looked around for a moment to make sure that I knew where I was so I wouldn’t get lost. A one room police station was straight across from the hotel. It was a small town with two roads, so I felt confident I could find my way.

I walked to Flamingo Road and turned right. I saw the flag on the capitol building already. There weren’t any vehicles on the street. There had been an old SUV back at the police station, and one pickup truck was parked ahead. Some of the buildings were shops, but I couldn’t read their names. Through one window I saw bric-a-brac for tourists.

The capitol building was as big as a one-story single family home. If I was going to put myself in danger, I was doing it blatantly by walking up to it and greeting it.

I went in and approached a man sitting at a desk. A nameplate said, “Min.” Then it had his title, “Secretary General” in a few languages. I waited for him to look up before I spoke.

“Hello,” I said, “I am Neal Harris. I represent the interests of the worldwide Assembly of Churches. I would like to talk to the President about his policies on allowing religious sacraments.”

“Is this something you want to do?” he asked. His reply was odd. Obviously I wanted to see the president.

“Yes,” I said. Maybe he hadn’t heard me clearly. “I would like to see him. May I?”

“It is unusual for Our Earthly Lord to welcome visitors,” he replied.

Wow, I thought. They must think very highly of their president to refer to him by that title.

“I am not really a visitor, but a representative. I’m a regional manager of the Sacred Recluse Self Insurance Group, not a tourist.” SRSIG was the business arm of the church.

“Our Lord might not entertain the idea of meeting you,” he replied. Mr. Min was hearing me, he just spoke oddly.

“I’d like to attempt to see him,” I said.

“The President may be occupied with other matters of the state,” he said. Min started working again. I stood in front of his desk thinking.

The Secretary General was essentially telling me that I couldn’t see the President. I needed to be persistent or my trip would be a waste and the local believers would be stuck.

Now that Min and I were quiet, I heard a television in the background. It sounded like a cartoon, but in Chinese.

A man laughed at the TV show. I thought it could be the President. The small building was his office and I saw or heard no one else besides Min.

I stayed there waiting and considering my options. Then, the television show seemed to transition to a commercial. Instead of a cartoon, it was a woman’s voice.

Another man crossed the hall behind Min’s desk. As he went into a second room, I got a glimpse of a wash basin in the room.

A minute later, the door handle rattled. I decided to speak.

“Mr. President,” I said as the man came out. “May I speak with you?”

“Uh?” he said as he turned.

Min scowled. I stepped past his desk to be in better conversation distance with the president.

“I’m Neal Harris,” I said. “I’d like to talk to you about allowing people to take communion.”

“Ah ya,” he said. “Why you do this?” That sounded like an expression, but I took it as a literal question.

“It is important for believers,” I said.

He furrowed his eyebrows and stared right at me. I had to avert my eyes for a second, but then he was still staring, so I looked downward. He was probably used to that from his subjects. They all had downcast eyes.

“You are a preacher?” President Xing said as if he was charging me with a crime.

“No,” I said. I didn’t want to be made into shark bait. “I’m a civilian employee of the church.” I nodded in the direction of the Secretary General to show that I was comparable to him.

The President made an exasperated expression by smacking his lips. At least he wasn’t angry.

“No, they are not permitted,” he said. He meant the believers were not allowed freedom.

“Why?” I asked. “They don’t harm anyone.”

“They do,” he said. “This isn’t your country. You come here with your individualistic assumptions. You don’t see that when you act for your own benefit you are being destructive to society.”

I hadn’t heard that the local believers had been causing problems. Yet, that wasn’t quite what the President had said.

“How are they harmful?” I asked.

The President impulsively turned when he heard his cartoon start again. However, he paused and stared back again. I turned my eyes down as before.

“The choices we make will define our society,” he said. “We can’t allow individuals to make decisions that distract us. We need a consistent message to follow the same course.

“It is more important to maintain an orderly society. The shameful acts of a few can spoil society.”

“Who makes that choice?” I asked. “Is it you?”

“It is the collective will of the people. They want to uphold continuity. If they didn’t, do you think that I would be their leader?” He was defiant as he raised his voice.

“I am the leader of this system,” he continued. “Everyone must submit to the law and submit to me. Anyone who disobeys is a traitor who is spurring rebellion.”

He went into his office and closed the door. He had made his final point and was done talking to me. If I pushed any more, in his eyes I’d be spurring riots.

I walked out of the office. I said “thank you” to Min over my shoulder.

My brain was getting foggy again. My nap hadn’t been enough to catch up on my sleep. I started heading to the hotel.

I really couldn’t do anything. The dictator wasn’t going to change his mind and I wasn’t going to start a civil war.

As long as I hadn’t offended Xing too much, I could enjoy a nice little vacation then go home. I had been bold with the President, but not so much that I thought he’d send his hit squad.

As I approached the hotel door I had wasn’t so sure. A police officer walked from the station across the street and went in just behind me. President Xing had been busy with his show when I left, but maybe he’d yelled instructions to Min.

I went straight for the stairs. As I got to them, I looked back to see that the officer had stopped at the front desk.

Once in my room, I changed into comfortable clothes. If I was going to sit in jail I didn’t need to be dressed in a suit. I packed my bags so that they could easily ship them back home after I’d been made to go missing.

However, no one came to my door. I guessed it had been a fluke that the officer was here.

I decided to look out my door to check just in case, and there he was coming down the hallway. I closed the door again then sat on my bed with my hands on my face. I waited, but no one knocked. Finally, I went to the door again and looked. No one was there.

Relieved, I thought I should call Angela. Rather than messing with Skype, I picked up the phone and followed the written directions for international calls.

“Hello,” said Angela. She had been asleep. I looked at my watch. It was almost 5:00pm here, so 5:00am at home.

“It’s Neal,” I said. “I made it.”

“Good,” she said. “Hey, it’s 5:00am here.”

“Is it? I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m messed up by the time changes.

“Was your flight good?”

“Long,” I said. I didn’t tell her about the plane dancing between the waves.

“How’s Melanie?” I asked.

“Asleep,” replied Angela groggily.

“Good,” I said.

“Do you think you’ll be long?”

“No,” I said. “I bet I can leave in a couple days.”

“Okay,” she said with finality.

“Okay then, goodbye,” I said. “Love you.”

“Love you.” We hung up.

I laid back in my bed and closed my eyes. I woke up twelve hours later still dressed in my clothes. Through the window I saw a few streaks of light in the sky.

I was famished. I didn’t remember the last time that I’d eaten. I checked the hotel pamphlet to see that breakfast was at 6:00 a.m.

I wondered if chewing gum would tide me over, but I worried that the dictator would send his minions to pull it out of my mouth. I took my time changing into fresh clothes and grooming.

Then I went for a walk because I thought that it’d take my mind off my stomach. I went out the pool door. A haze hung over the water in the cove. A couple people were out in rowboats.

Yesterday after meeting the President, my mind had been too cloudy to think much about what he’d said. It sounded like he had total control despite being called a President. If he had been elected, he was likely the only one who had run.

The President had said that he didn’t allow the church to offer sacraments because he was protecting his people from too many conflicting opinions. Life was confusing. It would certainly be easier to be told what to do and to think.

Did that make sense? I knew with my young daughter, it was better if I was clear with rules. If I waffled with too many exceptions she would be frustrated and not know what Angela and I expected from her. When she grew older we could allow more flexibility.

Was Xing being a good parent to his people? I looked back at the two boats in the cove. The residents lived a simple life. They had no cellphones, and very few cars. Choices might not mean much to them.

However, I thought that Xing’s policies were more likely created for his own benefit. If no one was allowed to challenge him, then he was safe as their leader and in total control. If he started permitting people to do what they wanted, he’d have to deal with dissention.

I headed back to the hotel. It wasn’t time yet for breakfast, but I was so hungry that I wanted to raid the snack bar or candy machines if they had them.

I went to the main entrance, eyeing the police station as I went past. An officer was sitting on a chair in front, but he wasn’t the same man that I’d seen yesterday.

Jing-Sheng was at the hotel desk. He was settling in and a female attendant was leaving.

“Good morning,” I said to both.

“Good morning,” replied Jing-Sheng.

“What day is this?” I asked.

“Saturday, the fifteenth of May.”

“Okay,” I said. “What time does breakfast open on Saturday?” I tried to pretend that I was unsure.

“Not for twenty minutes, but help yourself if anything is set out yet.”

“Thank you,” I said and went to the café.

A woman was arranging a buffet. Several platters were out, but it wasn’t set up.

The server noticed me but kept her head low. Her ID said, “Mei.”

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” she said in accented voice.

“May I snack on something while you finish setting up?” I asked. She stood without acknowledging my answer. She stared at the food. It was as if she was saying, “Does it look ready?” “Jing-Sheng said that I could begin breakfast if it was out.” However, I was becoming weak and might even faint if I didn’t eat.

She nodded, so I grabbed a plate and a pastry. I sat and slowly nibbled on it to tide me over until the buffet was set up.

Once the buffet was set up there were lots of different foods to choose from. I still hadn’t seen any other hotel guests. It was a lot of food to put out for just me.

After I ate I went back to my room. It was 6:30 a.m. which would be a very good time to call my family.

I fiddled with the Wi-Fi and Skype for a while and finally got both working. Angela opened my online call.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Did you get much done today?” she asked.

“I slept the whole day. It’s a twelve hour difference. I just ate breakfast.”

“Oh,” she said.

“I plan on using today to write up my report. Unless I think of anything, I’ll be headed home.”

“Great.”

“Is Melanie there?” I asked.

“Yes,” Angela replied, and then she called her. In the background, I heard her say to Melanie, “Your daddy’s on the computer phone.”

“Hi daddy,” said my daughter. She came into view.

“Hi,” I said. “I’ll probably go swimming later. They have a pool and an ocean.”

“I want to swim, too.”

“Talk to mom about it.”

“Thanks,” said Angela sarcastically. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to call because of the time difference. At least I’ll let you know if I’m on my way.”

“Okay,” she said. Then we said our goodbyes. I was glad that I could talk to them, even just a short conversation. While on the Wi-Fi, I checked email from work.

Then, I started working out how I’d tell the church administration that my attempt to reach out had been a failure. I spent a long time staring at the wall and not coming up with a good way to do it.

I could explain the facts, but that wouldn’t make it easy for them to accept. A letdown like that might reflect back on me. I had thought the bad apples in the administration had all retired, but there could be a few left that were looking for excuses to point a finger at me.

Maybe there was another way to approach it. If I got lay people outraged about the dictator’s actions, they’d see how fixing this was beyond what could be done by one person on a short visit.

That would be unfortunate for the believers on the island. I wondered if there was a church building on the island and if the believers lived next to it. That would be the only way to find them and see what they felt. All I could do was to tell their story to others.

I decided to write an editorial to an international church-related magazine. First, I let my frustration loose and wrote whatever I wanted to vent. Then, I went back and organized it into a more professional article.

If President Xing read the magazine, he would be outraged. However, there was no chance that it was on his reading list. Besides that, it would be a couple weeks before the next issue came out and I’d be out of the country before that. However, I needed to get the article sent because it would be too late if I waited until I got home. My employer would be looking for a report by that time.

I submitted my writing to the magazine editor for review. Sometimes, I felt that I should wait before sending things out too quickly. It would give me a chance to double check grammar and reconsider my points. Nevertheless, I liked the feeling of accomplishment of sending things out and being done with it.

I looked at my watch. The hotel would be serving lunch now. I’d had a big breakfast and wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t want to miss it, so I put on my shoes. I hated being under someone else’s control about when I ate.

As I opened my door I saw Mei, the café staff, handing a food tray to an older man across the hall.

I followed Mei back to the café. No one was there. It pleased me that I wasn’t the only guest, but still I had no one to keep me company if the other guest ate in his room.

The food looked good, but I didn’t recognize much of it. However, I felt more willing to eat adventurously at lunch than I had at breakfast.

I felt alone. When Mei came to check the platters, I spoke to her.

“Are there many guests at the hotel? I saw you with a man.”

She moved backwards and away one step, and she dropped her head even lower.

“Jing-Sheng is the appropriate person to answer your questions,” she replied.

I took her reply to mean that she was shy. I didn’t need to pry about the other guest.

After lunch I decided to stop at the front desk and ask about the pool. I thought that it was better to swim in the pool than the cove because I didn’t need to give the sharks an excuse to come after me. I wanted to ask about the pool. This island had many rules and I didn’t want to break them. At the pool, they were written in Chinese.

“Lunch was great,” I said to Jing-Sheng. “You can complement the hostess for me.”

“I will.”

“Is the pool open?” I asked

“Yes.”

“Is there anything I need to know before swimming?”

“No, you are fine,” he said with a smile.

I nodded and went to my room. I did a few things on my computer before putting on my trunks and going to swim.

Floating in the water, I was thinking about the islanders. As little as I have done, at least I should attempt to reach out to believers. Since tomorrow was Sunday, it seemed like the perfect time to walk past the church and see if anyone noticed me there.

Still, I might not even recognize it. However, in a small town like this, Jing-Sheng would know where it is at. After I showered and changed clothes, I went back to the desk to talk to him.

“Jing-Sheng,” I said, “I would like to pray to my God tomorrow on the Holy Day. Is there a church that I can go to?”

“No, you should pray in your room,” he said. Atypically, his head was down.

“Was there ever a church here? I am curious about what it might have looked like.”

“You don’t need to go there,” he said with a discouraging tone.

“I would like to see it. It would make me a happy patron of the hotel.”

“It is a long walk—five kilometers,” he said. That was about three miles. Maybe I could get a ride.

“That’s fine,” I said. “Where is it?” He thought for a moment before responding.

“It’s east on Flamingo Road, and in the Village of New Truro.”

“Okay,” I said. “Also, do you know if there are any taxis?”

“None,” he said. “There’s little reason to go out of town.” I nodded.

“Thank you,” I said, and I went back to my room. Except for supper, I spent the rest of the day there.

New Truro would be a long walk, but not a problem for me. I wondered if the people there spoke English. It would be a wasted six mile round trip if they didn’t.

Before it became late, I grew tired. I had woken early, so I prepared for bed.

  • * * *

Chapter 2

Sunday morning I put on my jeans and tennis shoes for my long walk. At home people put on their nicest clothes for church, but I didn’t expect to find an active service. Also, I wanted to be comfortable for the walk.

After breakfast, I followed Flamingo Road in the opposite direction of the President’s Office. Along the way, one building had bins of local foods in front. A shopper gave the attendant a coin and put a coconut into a cloth bag. There were also bins of tropical fruits that I didn’t recognize.

Two more blocks past them I came to the edge of the town. The last house was in bad repair with part of the roof missing. I wondered if the island had been recently hit by a typhoon.

The road turned there and went up the side of the island hill. In the lower portions of the road I walked through a grove of palm trees that were in rows. Then it came to the end and entered an area with patchy strands of bamboo. The bamboo was in lower spots where the water collected. The sun rose over the top of the island and came into my eyes.

I took my time walking, I was in no hurry. I stopped a few times when I heard a bird call, but I couldn’t see it.

Eventually, the road narrowed to one lane with a rut for each tire. The soil was black, and weeds grew low on the path. I reached down and pinched a loose piece of soil. I inspected it for a moment and decided that it was probably volcanic.

The road started to slope more up the hill and the bamboo became sparser until the ground was either weed-covered or bare, with large black rocks. I put in more effort to climb the hill. At times, I paused and looked back at the cove and airstrip.

Then after a while, the road reached a high point. It didn’t go directly over the top where the peak of the volcano would be. There was much more climbing to do if someone wanted to ascend that far.

As the view to the east became clear, I could see there was a large outcropping on the side of the road. I sat on it a while and rested.

The sea was endless in that direction. I thought I noticed a ship on the water, but I squinted at it and saw that it was a small island with a few palm trees. It was a few miles out into the water.

I looked for the town that Jing-Sheng had mentioned. The road went down the hill about a mile then curved towards an inlet. About twenty buildings stood there. If that was New Truro, it wasn’t very big. I couldn’t see it clearly from that distance. Walking would be easier going downhill.

I felt the wind coming up the road towards me. A few puffs of clouds were in the sky. In the distance, the clouds and sea came together. I noticed the cloud’s shadow on the water not far into the sea. The shadow and cloud were moving together, connected by rays of light.

As clouds approached me their shadows would race up the hill. The hill wasn’t high, but I imagined the clouds were down at my eye level. The shadow and cloud would join at me.

Experiencing this was not a feeling that I could have at home in the city. The view there was obstructed by houses and other structures. The realities that I was used to didn’t apply here. At that moment, I had a different sense of distance. My reality was of wide space.

After a couple minutes, I began walking again. Part way down the hill I could make out the buildings more clearly. Most appeared to be small homes. They were different construction than back in Fusang. Initially, I thought that they might be log cabins. Then, I saw that they were made out of wood planks. They were built on short stilts. The windows appeared to be open-air with no glass.

Next, I started to see several people moving around. There was quite a bit of activity for a small town on mid-Sunday morning.

A couple people were down by the water. Several small wood boats, and one larger one, were pulled onto the shore there. The larger one was a catamaran or outrigger with a mast on each side.

I was coming closer to the town. A couple people were on porches of their houses. All of the homes faced the water.

Most of the people outside were around the two larger buildings near the center of town. One was made from white stone. I thought that if the town had a church then that would be it. I thought the villagers might be going to church despite having no preacher. That would show persistence. However, without a way to participate in sacraments, the church would consider them lost.

Most of the men wore T-shirts and shorts. Who was I to judge that they weren’t dressed fancy? It was fine with me. The children wore shirts with cartoon characters on them. I didn’t recognize the toons. One of the kids ran to her mother when she saw me. “Ama,” said the girl. The mothers were in sun dresses, probably handmade. The women all wore a necklace with a single pearl.

I nodded at one man as I approached. I didn’t rush in too quickly so I didn’t surprise anyone. Most of the people were talking as if they were standing and waiting for something. I didn’t understand the language they spoke. The people looked more Polynesian than the residents of Fusang.

They could have been speaking one of the many Chinese dialects. I knew about five words in Chinese, but they’d have to speak slower for me to understand even those few sounds.

One more man came out of the door of the stone building carrying a wood statue. He saw me and showed a welcoming smile.

“Here, son,” he said as he handed the statue to a teenage boy. Then the man came to me.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m James.”

“I’m Neal.” We shook hands. I was glad that at least one spoke English.

“Are you here for the parade?” he asked.

“Oh, I didn’t know there was a parade.” They weren’t there for a church service.

“Yes. It is the time that we honor our ancestors. It is a special time to uphold traditions.”

Did James think that I was a tourist? They couldn’t get very many in New Truro considering the long walk.

“That’s nice,” I said. “Actually, I came here because I thought there might be a church where I could pray.”

“Oh,” he said. “This is the church but we aren’t allowed to hold service.” We were both speaking tentatively, but I felt safe about opening up since I’d found the right people.

“I know,” I said. “I’ve been sent to help reopen it.”

“That’s great,” he said. He smiled more genuinely. Then he spoke loudly. “Hey everyone, he’s from the church.” Some of the people grouped closer to me and James.

“Welcome,” said one woman. “Have you eaten?” I nodded.

A young girl stepped right in front of me so I’d see her.

“Are you a preacher?” she asked.

“No,” I said, smiling.

Many other people asked me questions in English. They wanted to know where I came from and how I got there. As we talked, more people joined from their homes.

A couple minutes later, most of the crowd had gone back to talking among themselves. James and a few men still stood near me.

“Hemi,” said one man to get James’ attention.

“Yes?”

“Is Ahohoka carrying Atu in the pageant?”

“Oh,” said James. “No, I wanted him to hold it while we talked.” They paused, so I spoke.

“It seems that some people here are speaking another language.”

“Yes,” said James. “We are bilingual. We speak the languages of the colonialists and the native tongue.”

“Was this a colony?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “The harbor was more of a waypoint for protection from storms. Most voyagers kept going after a brief stop.”

New Truro was like an original tourist spot. People came and went.

“You seem to mix in words from both languages,” I said. “What does ‘Hemi’ mean?”

“That is my name,” said James. “Literally, it’s the translation of ‘James.’ We all have a colonial name and a traditional name. I’m James Hemi Kupe. My son is Ward Ahohoka Kupe.” He gestured towards the teen.

“…and I’m Edgar Ihorangi Kupe,” said a man. A few other men introduced themselves: Charles, Winslow, and Elias. They all had the last name of Kupe.

“Are you related?” I motioned around the group.

“Yes, we are all the same family at New Truro,” said Edgar.

“We all have descended from Kupe. He was one of the twelve brothers that were born of Atu, the first man created by God,” said James. I thought it interesting that they’d come up with their own name for Adam. “Kupe came to this island many generations ago,” James continued.

“The Sheng aren’t Kupe,” said Winslow, “they came later.”

“He’s referring to the residents of Fusang,” said Charles. Charles seemed to be always smiling. I also noticed he was a little older—he had wrinkles under his eyes.

“Yet,” said James, “Sheng was a son of Atu also. They are our brothers and we welcomed them with open arms. We even adopted their local way of speaking. It’s said that the first men had another dialect, but could understand Sheng when he arrived.”

Still more people joined the crowd. At about 100 total, it must have been nearly the whole village. Several people held statues or painted portraits. I looked around to see the faces on the paintings. All were men.

“Who are in the portraits?” I asked the group.

“The ancestors,” said Edgar. He looked around too.

“Is it Zou Sin?” asked Edgar, looking back to James.

“It is not time for the parade yet,” replied James. Where is Makelesi?” he asked himself. “Ah, Ben brings the old mother now.” He gestured up a path. A boy who looked 10 years old held a woman’s arm as they walked. She walked carefully and relied on him to keep her stable.

James and the other men retrieved the images of their ancestors. I moved out of the way.

When the old lady arrived people looked to her. Then she sang a song, but I had no idea what she was saying. It was sung their local language. A different woman went around to the men holding statues and paintings and put leis around their necks. She had one extra and looked at me a moment. Then she gave me one too. It was made of pink flowers.

After the song ended, the crowd started clapping in rhythm. I joined them.

The older girls started dancing to the rhythm. They moved to the center of the yard in front of the church. A few of the very young children were encouraged to dance. They went up and stumbled around next to the girls. Then the men held their ancestors high and walked in a circle around the girls. Some people hummed; or exclaimed things loudly, or chanted.

When the dance stopped, the girls returned to the crowd. James moved forward to the center with the statue of Atu. He told a story in English about how the first man rode a whale down from Heaven and tamed the seas. However, sometimes when Atu slept the seas became riled and made noise to wake him again. Other men took turns talking about their own statues, but most spoke in native voices.

“Let’s not forget Daniel Keoni. May he be safely returned to us,” said one.

“Yes,” said a woman. Many others people nodded. Some spoke among each other briefly.

Then another man came forward who I hadn’t met. He was facing away from me. He held a small statue I couldn’t see.

“Gei Duk,” he said, “Our Lord and Savior first came to us through the colonialists’ ancestors. He was a New Son of God. Hundreds of years ago, he ate with them and shared his goodness with them. He was killed by his people because of his love for us, but he was raised to the sky by God.

“Amen,” said the crowd.

I moved sideways until I could see the small statue of him wearing a crown of thorns. I thought it was thrilling that they used their native word, Gei Duk, for the Savior’s name. I’d use it too while I visited them.

However, I thought that they were infringing on the law about not having church services. Maybe that was one reason that James had been very cautious when I arrived.

Then it seemed the parade was over. The women dispersed, sometimes a daughter joined her mother. Most of the rest of the crowd sat or stood talking. James approached me carrying a statue.

“Is it over?” I asked.

“No. It is the Feast of Zou Sin. You should eat with us,” he said.

I shook my head. I could tell they were poor and I didn’t want to consume their meager food, but I hadn’t made plans for lunch. I guess that I’d thought I’d stop at a fast food restaurant on the way. That was before I had realized where I was.

James nodded for me to follow him into the church. It was one large room. The pews were wood benches and had been pushed into a circle.

The men hung the portraits along the walls and found places for the statues on stands with Gei Duk on the altar. I went with James near the front to where he set down Atu.

I thought of my own church. The saints were depicted in the stained glass windows. Instead of saints, they hoisted their forefathers who were important to them.

“Aren’t you taking a chance with your parades?” I asked James.

“How?”

“You’re pushing the limits of President Xing’s rules.” The other men approached as we talked.

“Yes,” James said, “but Ancestor worship is something that the Sheng also does. When the people there honor their forefathers, they honor Sheng, one of the twelve sons of Atu. Xing claims to be a direct descendant of Sheng. That means when people worship his ancestor, they affirm his leadership.

“We even have a statue of Sheng,” he said as he pointed to the back, near a closet. “Xing may think we honor Sheng, but that one rarely comes out to be honored.” Winslow laughed at the comment.

“Rarely,” Winslow emphasized.

I glanced around again.

“I don’t see any women in the walls with your forefathers,” I said. Charles poked at Edgar.

“The women are there,” Charles said to Edgar. “They are standing right behind, telling the men what to do.” Charles grinned.

“Yes, they’re saying, ‘Sit up straight. Comb your hair, honey’,” said Winslow. Edgar frowned. I noticed that his hair was disheveled.

“Careful,” said James. “If the forefathers hear you, we’ll have a storm tonight.” I wasn’t sure if James and the others really thought that upsetting their saints would cause the weather to turn.

Edgar’s frown went away. At other times he seemed to always have a look of surprise on his face. He stepped closer to me and tapped the lei around my neck.

“My wife Lucy must think that you are a man of the Kupe now too,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “I appreciate your welcome.”

“The colonialists that stayed became part of our families,” said James. “We all have them in our family histories.” The other men nodded. Their faces and skin tone were different than the people in the village.

“That’s nice,” I said. “I’ll be staying only a short while. I have a family back home.” They nodded again.

A couple women came into the church carrying food. The feast was a potluck.

“Elias,” called one, and a man went to help.

The women spread the food next to the altar. I saw every woman come with a fish dish and some sides. Elias retrieved plates from the closet.

“Do you catch your own fish?” I asked.

“Oh course,” said Edgar. “Don’t you catch it for your family?” I smiled at his belief that everyone lived by the water and caught their food.

“No,” I said. “I am bad luck at fishing.” Edgar stepped back. His eyes were showing even more surprise than normal.

“Some people have to eat food from a can,” said Winslow nodding towards me. “Xing has a cannery in Fusang.” The men looked at me with sympathy.

The room looked full, and the women must have all returned. James handed me a porcelain plate.

“Let’s eat,” he said.

“Nobody else is eating yet,” I said. I didn’t want to be an inconvenience.

“They are waiting for you. You’re the guest. It is good food. Taste and see.”

I nodded and stepped to the front. There was lots of food, so I decided I was not depriving anyone by eating.

I sampled a portion from many colors and sizes of fish. Most were cooked whole then split. A couple were fileted and one looked like it was raw.

“That one is best when uncooked,” said James. That was reassuring, so I took a sample.

There were also fruits, root vegetables, and other foods to take. I returned to where I’d been standing. James and others followed me with their own platefuls.

“Eat,” he said. I tried everything. It was all unbelievably flavorful. When I’d vacationed on the coast, I’d had fish that tasted good, but usually at home it was flavorless. It was like my mouth had been dead, but now suddenly it had come alive.

“No manna fish today?” asked Edgar. The others shook their heads and continued to eat. We stood, but most others sat on the benches. Groups of children clustered together on the floor. They ate the quickest then ran out of the door.

A woman approached. She looked at my emptied plate. Then from behind, she put her hand on James’ shoulder. He turned to her.

“This is my wife, Lydia,” he said.

“Hello,” I said.

“You must eat more,” she said. “Does your wife never feed you?”

I shook my head. I’d eaten a large plateful.

“You’ll offend us if you don’t,” she continued. I smiled and nodded. I went back and tried a vegetable that I’d missed, and more of the sushi. I returned and started eating it.

“Leave a little on your plate,” said James. “An empty plate makes your hostess think that you are still hungry.”

“Okay,” I said. The last vegetable wasn’t my favorite, so I left some of that. Some older children who’d occupied benches left and the men and I took their seats. A couple of the older girls collected plates. I gave mine to them.

“That was very good. Thank you,” I said. Even Edgar smiled a moment. Then he started picking at his teeth. The other men got up, leaving me, James, and Edgar. Groups of women remained too.

“It is nice that you are keeping many of the traditions of the church going,” I said. Edgar left too as I spoke.

“However, the essential one you are lacking,” I continued. “You are prevented from communion.”

“…but we did do it,” James said. “We partook of the breaking of the bread.” I hadn’t seen them do the sacrament, and there had been no priest to bless it.

“When did you do that?”

“You took part too,” he said as he gestured to the food along the altar.

Had I missed something? There hadn’t been bread or wine, and their preacher had been deported.

“Do you consider eating lunch to be communion?” I asked. I wasn’t intentionally trying to be difficult. I wanted to understand him.

“It was more than having lunch,” he said. “We all brought food and shared it.” It sounded like he meant potluck was communion.

“How does that make it a sacrament?”

“Food is life, and without it there is death. Food was scarce in Gei Duk’s time and that is sometimes true now too.

“The scarcity made our ancestors share food only with family members. A family shares the same blood. We came from the same father, so our fate is tied together. By preserving our kin, we support our own extended self, and our forefathers, too.

“Giving food to strangers is not done. The street people were strangers to Gei Duk, but by feeding them he made them his family. He was making them his body and blood. The same is true for the twelve disciples; he was sharing himself with them.

“You are our family through the church, so you may eat with us.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“That food is in your blood now. We are in your blood. The energy it gave may go away, but the life preservation does not. It stays with you as long as you live.

“Likewise, the gift of bread and wine from the colonists is still in us, passed down through generations. It is the blood and life of Gei Duk. Despite having no priest, Xing can’t take away our blood and the life that the Lord has given us.”

“I see what you are saying,” I said. However, the church wouldn’t agree that they were in communion with Gei Duk and the saints.

It didn’t bother me if it really counted or not. I felt that a loving God wouldn’t penalize them for the actions of President Xing. Nevertheless, my employer would absolutely never accept their way of the sacrament. The dogma said that God’s authority came down from the church leaders to the clergy and then to the people. Lay people had no power to invoke the sacraments. Therefore, it made no difference to my goal. I had to arrange for the President to allow a priest to return.

The women were picking up the leftover food. Also, I felt a need to use the bathroom.

“James, where is the toilet?” I asked. He arose and we walked out of the door.

“That is the closest one.” He pointed to an outhouse. I nodded and went to use it.

When I came out I looked for where I could wash my hands. Along the road were some of the girls rinsing off plates near a stone well. I walked over to them.

“Is this where I can wash hands?” I asked.

“Yes,” one said. Also I got a drink from a cup.

I didn’t see James. He may have gone into the church again.

Some boys were kicking a ball around. I watched them for a minute, trying to see if I recognized the game. It was similar to soccer, but more like keep away with two teams.

I looked for James again and went to the church. He came out with Lydia.

“Hello,” I said.

“It was wonderful that you could join us,” Lydia said.

“Thank you,” I said. I felt like it was a good time to leave. “Will you be around tomorrow if I return?” I asked James.

“Here or there,” he replied. “You are welcome to return.”

“Good,” I said. I started walking back to the hotel. I looked back a few times to see if I could catch which house they went to. It was the same as where the old woman had come from. Since it was a small town, everyone probably knew where James lived, but I was glad I wouldn’t have to worry about where to find him.

It would be another long walk back to the hotel. The road was steeper going up on this side. I had to put effort into the climb.

I thought about how the people of New Truro, the descendants of Kupe, had views that disagreed with teachings. They’d made their own version of the sacraments. That made me reflect on what I believed.

I had struggled with lots of issues, even whether I believed in God. However, over time I’d come to accept him.

I’d had a few conflicts with the church because my ideas didn’t always line up with what was said on Sunday mornings. I believed that Gei Duk was Savior, but what did that mean?

The story the preachers told was of a magical being, essentially Superman, who could do any miracle that he wanted. It didn’t fit with what I saw in daily life. Men of God could not perform magic, no matter their claims. They said they got their power through communion with Gei Duk, but when they failed to move mountains it made me question whether the Savior could have done them either. It seemed that God very rarely made a big show. Nothing was unexplainable.

The key miracle of church was resurrection. It was the center of my current doubts. I had been back and forth many times about it.

The way that his followers behaved after his death was the source of my questioning. When Gei Duk died they scattered. I can understand how seeing him dead would have unsettled them. He was their leader. However, if they had seen daily miracles, they should have expected his resurrection.

Then the way that he appeared to them later didn’t give me much confidence about resurrection either. The scripture describes how he appeared to them in a locked room, and still they don’t recognize him. Also he approached them as another person and they didn’t recognize him then either. In both those stories it is as if the storytellers are using fanciful language to dance around the truth. Was it really Gei Duk or did they merely see him figuratively reflected in that person?

If I had to rely on those stories, I wouldn’t believe in his resurrection. However, I had other ideas that made me hesitate about making a decision. For example, when the disciples proclaimed that he was resurrected, if it hadn’t happened then their naysayers could have gone and found a body to disprove it. Something must have happened, but I didn’t know what.

This issue was related to communion because it defined who we communed with. Did we connect to a magical being or to a man? The question for communion is ‘How does it work?’ but the question of resurrection was ‘What does it mean?’

I’d gone past the top of the hill and was walking quickly down the other side. I was headed into the sun like I had been in the morning. A small freighter was edging into the cove. It approached the wharf as I came to the hotel.

It was soon suppertime. I wasn’t very hungry, but I ate a little anyhow. Again, no other hotel guests joined me.

I thought about calling Angela. It would be Sunday morning there, but still early. I forgot about it for a while and checked email. When I checked my watch again I thought it was almost too late because they’d head to church soon. I quickly buzzed them and Angela picked up.

“Hello,” she said. I told her about my walk, meeting people, and lunch.

“It’s hard to believe that you are half a planet away,” she said. “That’s so far.”

I had an idea. I could see the setting sun out of my window.

“Do you see the sunrise at home?” I asked. I knew that if it was a clear day there, she could see it from the kitchen.

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m looking at it too. Our eyes are meeting in space. We are not so far if we see the same thing.”

“…but you shouldn’t look at the sun,” she said.

“I know, but just for a second right now we both see it.”

“Oh,” she said. We were both silent for a moment. Then, our daughter said something in the background.

“I still have to get Melanie dressed,” Angela said. “We need to hang up.”

“Okay,” I said. “Love you.”

“Love you.”

The call ended. We were connected by more than a Wi-Fi signal despite having great distance between us.

  • * * *

Chapter 3

The next morning I ate breakfast and then walked towards New Truro. I’d put on plain everyday clothes, since even on Sunday, the people didn’t dress up.

I knew it was Monday, but it didn’t feel like it. I was out of my normal routine that gave the day context. Also, I realized that the only times that I’d looked at my watch was when I was in Fusang and wanted to know when to eat. The people in New Truro had no watches. I could guess the approximate time of day by looking at the position of the sun. That was probably what they did because they had no reason to know the exact minute. I put my watch on anyhow.

As I headed up the hill past the bamboo stalks, I noticed a person coming down the hill. A couple minutes later I could see that it was a young man. He walked quickly as I went slowly. He looked familiar from Sunday, but I didn’t know his name.

“Hello,” I said as we got close. I stopped to talk.

“Hello,” he replied.

“I’m Neal.”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m Roger Aji.” He slowed down. He looked twenty-five years old.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Work,” he said. “I am at the Cannery Monday through Saturday.”

I nodded.

“Do any other Kupe work in Fusang?”

He shook his head. He looked distracted. I didn’t want to keep him from his job, so I didn’t say anything else and he continued on his way.

The sky was clear and the sun was already warming the day. The wind was still, so it didn’t cool me as I walked. I thought about wading in the waters of the inlet ahead.

Roger walked six miles roundtrip every day to his job. It didn’t seem necessary since the village looked self-sufficient. I wondered why he made the daily trip. For my second day in a row, I was doing the same thing as him but backwards. My motivation for the walk was to solve a problem for my employer. However, the villagers didn’t seem to believe that not having a priest was the end of the world.

Also, I wanted to go to New Truro for my own benefit. Talking with James had sparked me to bring out some troubling thoughts that I’d had. Maybe I’d benefit more from visiting the people than they’d gain from me.

As I approached the village, I saw that a few small boats were on the water. The people were probably fishing. Also, I saw a group of boys on the side of the hill where there was a spring. They weren’t doing much when I passed them.

I didn’t see James, so I headed to his house. There were no glass in the windows and the doors were haphazardly left open, so when I got close, I called in.

“Hello,” I said loudly.

A girl came to the door. She was about five years old, which was a couple years older than Melanie. Her mother, Lydia, came behind her.

“I’m Anna,” said the girl. “You are Neal.”

“Yes,” I said.

Then to her mom she said, “I was hoping it was old father Keoni.”

“Is James here?” I asked.

“No,” said the girl.

“He’s fishing,” added Lydia. I nodded.

“Do you know when he returns?” I asked.

“When he’s done catching fish,” said the girl.

I smiled at her. She had a simple logical answer, but I wanted to know what time. Lydia didn’t add any detail, so I assumed Anna’s answer was good enough.

“Should I wait?” I asked.

“It is up to you,” said Lydia. I nodded. When I didn’t say anything else, they went back into the house. I overheard hem talking in another language. Their tone sounded like the mother was instructing the girl how to do something.

I stood for a moment then decided to sit. The edge of their porch was a good place to rest. From there, I looked out over the water. I couldn’t tell if any of the people fishing were James. The older ones were farther out beyond the inlet. Two boys shared a boat that was a little closer.

With nothing to do, I sat silently watching the waves. It was as if I was asleep with my eyes open. My mind was quiet, only being aware of the sea. I didn’t look at my watch, but as I sat there the sun rose higher in the sky by length of a hand.

Then, I noticed a woman approaching. My attention snapped out of my wave-watching and smiled at her.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

Anna came out.

“Look what mother showed me, Clara,” said the girl. She held up a doll made of folded strips of leaves. It was probably made from a palm.

“That is good,” said Clara. “Is it someone special?”

“I don’t know yet,” said Anna.

“Oh,” said Clara. She smiled. I saw two more women approach from neighboring houses.

“It’s a warm day,” I said.

“Yes,” said Clara, “and it is still the morning.” We remained quiet as the other women walked up. Then they introduced themselves as Lucy and May. Lucy was the oldest.

“Charles said that he enjoyed meeting you yesterday,” said Clara.

“Thank you,” I said. “Is he around?” I thought I could ask him a few questions, James was slow returning.

“I have no idea where he’s at. He disappeared early.” I nodded.

Lydia finally came to the door to greet her guests, and one more woman showed up. She turned out to be Abigail. I stood so I wasn’t the only one sitting.

“How is old mother holding up?” asked Clara to Lydia.

“Fine,” she replied. They looked back at me.

“Edgar said that you eat food from a can,” said Lucy, “because you can’t fish.”

“Yes,” I said, “but we heat it up first, and put it on a plate.”

“Can’t your wife cook?” asked Lucy. “Can she get fish from her neighbors?” She had a sly look on her face.

“She can cook and so can I,” I said. “The food we eat comes from lots of places around the world. Such as fish from the ocean, and fruit and vegetables from southern countries. There’s not much that grows near where we live but lots and lots of corn.”

“Oh,” said May.

“You must like corn,” said Lucy.

“I do, but not as much as I used to,” I said.

“Yes, too much of one thing,” concluded Lucy. Her voice had a superior sounding tone.

“He looks healthy. His food must work well for him,” said Clara.

“Anyhow, women, come in,” invited Lydia. They advanced into the house. I heard them say hello to Makelesi, the older woman. Then they talked in another language to her. I didn’t want to listen to them so I walked past the church and the water well to the shore. Near the church, a small group of teen boys just stood around, not talking or doing anything.

In the water, I still couldn’t see anyone clearly but the boys. They were swimming.

I waded in the water. While moving around, I looked at the black sand mixed with light colored shells.

The water was clear and I didn’t see any fish. However, as I approached the outlet for the spring I saw guppies swimming together. The small creek also had lots more plant life in it. The creek seemed to be a more likely place to catch fish, although relative to the sea, it was much smaller.

I waded back to where my shoes were then I sat in the shallow water. A man was rowing closer. It looked like James.

When he pulled his boat onto the sand, I went to offer help, but he had already finished doing it by the time I was close. He pulled a spear and a string of yellow fish out of the boat. Each fish was a foot-long.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” replied James.

“Do you often spearfish?” I asked. His spear was a bamboo pole with metal trident.

“Yes, the men prefer it. You can pick what you want to eat. It is not as random as pole fishing, although it doesn’t seem to matter recently.” He held up his string of fish.

“You didn’t want that one?”

“No, Yellow Snapper gets tiresome,” he said.

“Kind of like corn,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“Oh, I was telling the women there is lots of corn where I live.” He nodded.

“Well, this is lunch,” said James. “Did you eat?”

“No,” I said. It looked like a lot of fish for his lunch, so I didn’t think I’d be causing a hardship.

He led me up a path that wasn’t directly to his house. When he approached one house, a girl came out.

“Give this to your mama,” he said as he handed two fish. The girl went back with them. Then, James approached another house and left one fish on the porch.

“You give your fish to others,” I said.

“This couple is older, and they didn’t produce any sons,” he said. “Edgar would feed them, but he and Winslow wanted to go further along the island today. I also need to give Lucy a couple.”

“She was with Lydia earlier,” I said. He nodded.

We walked to James’ house.

“Lucy,” he called. “Do you want your lunch?” She came out, saw him. He gave her two fish that left two for his wife. Lydia took them and the other women went home.

James sat on the porch and I joined him. I heard kitchen noises from behind.

“Was it a long walk for you today?” he asked.

“It seemed quicker. Maybe I am adjusting to it,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. He picked up his spear that was leaning against the column and took it in. I thought I should follow him since we were having a conversation.

He suspended the shaft on hooks above the door. It was awkward for him as I was just coming behind him. Another one hung there which looked more traditionally handmade.

“Excuse me,” I said.

The house seemed to be just two rooms, a main front room, and a back kitchen. Anna played with doll in the living room while sitting on the floor. Lydia and Makelesi were in the kitchen.

The living room had several wooden chairs as the only furniture. At the end of the room was a shelf with several carved figures, a few books, and a couple pieces of coral.

I followed James back to the porch. It seemed a good place to sit. Other than the chairs inside, it was the only other choice. The height of the porch was just right to dangle legs to the ground below. The earth below had been packed hard with generations of feet resting upon it.

“Fusang is much different than here,” I said.

“Bigger,” he said. I would have said less tiny.

“Also the Sheng are not as open,” I said. “They don’t welcome me the same way as you. It’s hard for me to think of you two groups as one people.”

Lydia brought out two plates. It had fried fish and cut fruit.

“Thank you,” I said. We started to eat. James’ sons, Ward and Ben, appeared on the path leading to their home. Either they saw or smelled the food, or just had an internal clock which told them lunch was probably ready.

They got plates and joined us.

“We welcomed the Sheng as our own family,” said James. “We call them cousins, not brothers as we call the Kupe.” The boys paid attention to his father as he spoke.

“Did you share food with them?” I asked.

“Yes, but it was difficult to do regularly since we lived across the island. It was only special occasions.”

I nodded.

“Then when the colonialists arrived the Sheng became jealous of our favored status. They didn’t accept gifts anymore—at least that is what tradition says.”

“You’ve mentioned colonial times,” I said. “What was it like then?”

“We were a small outpost,” replied James. “Then before my time President Xing’s father stirred the Sheng against colonial rule. He broke us free. However, we had such minor status by then. In the age of modern shipping, we have become insignificant, so it was likely that nobody even noticed we were suddenly gone. No full-blooded colonialists lived here by that time, anyhow.”

The boys ate fast. Another young man walked up to the house. He looked to be in his early twenties.

“Nicholas,” said Ward, “what are we going to do?”

“It’s hot. Let’s swim,” said Nicholas.

“He’s Charles’ son,” said James. I nodded to him. The teens left and Ben followed behind. After they were down the path, I spoke again.

“I like how you give food to everyone,” I said. “It reminds me of what Gei Duk did. He fed the hungry. I didn’t know how hungry I was until I tasted your food.” He laughed.

“Yes, he fed them fish,” said James. “It is the symbol of the church. I feel that Gei Duk led a life very much like ours. He spoke to thousands of the simple people. They did not bring food with them, but one boy who had a few fish fed them all.”

“They must have been very big fish,” I said.

“Yes.” He laughed.

“…or it is really a story about thousands being inspired to share,” I added. He thought about that and nodded. I paused before talking again. Life here was slow paced and we were in no hurry.

“I doubt that the people in Fusang share food with each other,” I said.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “We are more similar than you think.”

“How?” I asked.

“We share the same ideals, such as supporting the whole village. We do it because it reflects on our ancestors. They built these homes, and we have their faces. Our success or failure as a community is their success or failure. Our father’s blood is on these boards and our mother’s milk is in our stomachs. Our ancestors are here every moment watching over us. The Sheng believe this too.”

Lydia came to get our plates.

“Fusang has the problem that it is too big,” James continued. I didn’t think that it was big. “They don’t know each other’s lives well. You can’t be close family with 1,000 people. It is too easy to let people fall through gaps.

“Therefore, they have to use laws to clearly state expectations. They make all able-bodied people contribute their efforts to the community. Some of them fish, some tend the land, and some work in the cannery.”

“I met a man that works there, Roger,” I said.

“Yes,” said James.

“Why does he work there if it isn’t his responsibility?”

“He’s trying out a different life.”

“Do they pay him? It is a communist system.”

“Yes, they pay,” said James. “They pay all of the workers, but it is very low. The profits from the cannery support the people in Fusang, and President Xing.”

“It sounds like they don’t value his work,” I said.

“I hope they value him,” said James. “Here we value all people equally. Even if they are unable to fish for themselves, they still deserve to eat. Here we call it communal living, but in Fusang they call it communism. In church, we call it communion. It is the same word. They all mean one thing: sharing.”

“I don’t see how it is the same idea,” I said.

“The Sheng have had to make sacrifices to make it work,” James said. “That really makes it look unlike New Truro.”

“It is much different in Fusang than here,” I said.

“Undoubtedly,” said James.

Anna came to the door. She looked at the inlet. Half the town was in the water.

“Momma, everyone is swimming,” she said.

“Okay, see if Daddy can take you,” said Lydia.

“Come,” said James to the girl. She ran ahead as James and I walked slowly behind.

Anna found friends and was already splashing by the time we got to the water. We waded for a while. Most people swam near the shore, but the boys dove from boats.

“There are Winslow and Edgar,” said James. When they rowed to shore, we joined them. A couple other men headed that way too.

“What did you catch?” Charles asked.

“Nothing good,” replied Winslow. “We brought back only a few grouper.” They were larger fish.

“Are you trying a new way of catching them?” Charles asked with a humorous tone. He pointed at one fish with the spear wound in the tail.

“That was Edgar,” replied Winslow.

“I’ve been worried today,” said Edgar. “The spirits of the fathers are not with me.”

“Did you have to fight it long when you missed the kill shot?” asked James.

“I even let go of the spear,” said Edgar. “I had to chase this guy over the reef to retrieve him. Luckily, he swam in circles.”

“I bet it was really tiring to chase it, fight it then row all the way back,” said James.

“Yeah,” said Edgar.

“…and just for a grouper,” said Charles. “At least go for a manna fish if you want a rewarding race.”

“We didn’t see a single one,” said Winslow.

“Not one?” asked James.

“No,” said Winslow. “We stopped all along the coast just to check and see.”

“It’s a bad sign,” said Edgar.

“Do you usually see them?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Edgar. “We usually see several, and if we hunted them, we could snag one or two. However, there have been fewer recently.”

“Mostly grouper and snapper,” said Winslow.

I was concerned about overfishing. Maybe they’d eaten all the manna fish, whatever that was.

“What has changed recently? Have you been taking more fish than in the past?” I asked.

“No, we are a stable population,” said James. “We’ve always done things the same way.”

“The cannery is new,” said Winslow. “The President sells what should be free.” The men nodded.

“Is the cannery new?” I asked.

“No, but its productivity was very low before. They’ve recently sped it up,” said James. Maybe that was why they needed Roger’s labor.

We stood thinking. Elias kicked the sand around. I’d noticed he didn’t say much.

“It can’t be Xing’s boats,” said Charles. “They fish in the deep sea, and catch different sorts of fish. We don’t even see their boats when they are out.”

“Then he is poisoning our fish,” said Winslow. “Maybe he wants us to all work in his factory.”

“How?” asked Charles. “We never see him with poison.”

“Sometimes his charter boats come close,” said Winslow. Charles nodded and looked down as if he was thinking about it.

“It must be the forefathers,” said Edgar. We must have offended them.”

“What did we do?” asked James. “We had stood for their values and for their faith even when it costs us one of our own.”

“We know you suffer,” said Charles.

“We are all guilty of offending the ancestors,” said Edgar. I thought Edgar was dwelling too much on the problems.

“You look tired, Edgar,” said James. “Can I carry the fish for you?”

“Yes,” said Edgar. “One to here, and here.” He pointed at a couple houses.

“Come,” said James to me. He handed me a large fish, then we walked up the path and distributed them.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m missing information,” I said. “For example, you mentioned consequences that you’ve suffered for your faith.”

We walked, but he said nothing. I didn’t think that he was going to reply to my questions.

“The whole village has suffered,” he said. “Their ‘old father,’ Leoni, who is my own father, has been taken by Xing.”

“Oh,” I said, “why?”

“As the eldest, he is our voice. It is his responsibility to stand up to the President, so Xing took him to punish us for our crime.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. He nodded.

We headed back to the shore. Edgar was still there sitting on his boat, but the men were dispersed to their own families. Winslow’s fish dangled over his own boat.

I stood in the cool water. I made swirls in it with my hands. The waves were very low in the inlet but higher out past the end of the inlet.

It was harder for me to walk away now that I knew their leader was in prison. Their problem was not only whether their way of communion satisfied church officials. They also had real hardship.

In President Xing’s communist Fusang, no one had individual rights. His rationale was that collective human rights were more important. One person’s wish to pray was outweighed by society’s need for conformity.

Xing felt that any doubt could upset orderly society. However, it looked like he was the one that benefited from keeping things like they were. The people obeyed his wishes. He was the one that got to watch cartoons all day. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cannery profits were secretly held in a bank elsewhere.

I thought back to their national flag. It was a patch of cloth with several long loose strips flapping behind. It reminded me of an octopus—one head, but eight legs to support it. Xing was the head, and the people were the legs.

New Truro was opposite of Fusang. The decisions appeared to be made on an ad hoc basis while considering the effects on people they had commitments to.

The boys made noise as they splashed and played. Then their activity sounded more like yelling. A few people looked out to where they were on boats a few hundred feet away.

Suddenly, they were screaming. More people looked at them. Then they screamed again.

“Maganta,” someone closer yelled. That got everyone’s attention. Everyone froze in fear.

Some pointed out to the boys. There was a large fin in the inlet. It came out of the water between the boys and us.

“Maganta,” people repeated. Others said, “Shark.”

“Come ashore,” some adults started yelling. Mothers grabbed children. A mess of bodies ran out of the water, kicking water as they ran. It was as if a tidal wave struck the beach.

I got out of the water quickly, too. I feared for myself, and then for the boys.

“Come ashore,” yelled a man I hadn’t met.

They couldn’t come. The shark was between the boys and the beach. One boy swam towards their boat.

“Stay still,” yelled another man. “Don’t draw attention to yourself.”

I counted five boys in the water. Two more were sitting in the boats.

People on the shore counted their own children and knew if theirs were at risk.

Parents of the trapped boys began screaming to their sons in the water. Some people went to each of the parents nearby to soothe them. I didn’t notice any one in particular. I was concentrated at the shark. I wanted to see if he turned towards the boys.

One father, Elias, ran to the boats near me. He grabbed a spear. He was going to launch it and chase the shark.

“It is Maganta,” said Charles. “It is the boat swallower.” He held his hands up to motion Elias to stop.

I thought it was a tough choice to make. First, Elias could take a chance that the shark wouldn’t attack the boys including his son. Second, he could throw himself at the monster and most likely sacrifice himself.

The shark did turn. It wasn’t headed directly at the boys, but possibly circling them and sizing them up.

We all watched it swim. It felt like an hour but was just one minute.

The shark continued straight and headed for the sea. When it was not far past the boys, one boy, and then all of them, swam to the boats. If it was a boat swallower, and if the noise had drawn its attention, then it could now turn and get three boys in a single bite.

However, the shark continued swimming further from shore. The boys started paddling to the beach.

I noticed that James and his whole family were together. I stepped closer to them.

“Ward,” said James, “walk along the shore and see that Maganta doesn’t return.” The teem grabbed a spear as if he was going to fight it. Maybe it was more for his courage. Then he walked quickly along the shore with it. A few teens ran to catch up with him.

As the boats landed on the sand, it was helter-skelter in the water. Families were rejoining and hugging each other. Many walked away from the water. Others stayed. The shark wasn’t visible, but the boys followed it still.

Ben, Ward’s youngest son, teased Anna.

“Do you dare me to go in the water?” Ben asked her.

“Yes,” she said. He touched his toe to it, and then pulled it back.

“There,” he said. “Now you.” Anna touched her toe to the water than ran up the sand to mom.

“Do you dare me again?” asked Ben.

Anna shrugged. Ben went knee deep into the water and came back out.

“Now you,” he said.

“Mom,” said Anna.

“Ben, come here,” demanded Lydia. He walked to her.

“You are embarrassing your father and forefathers,” she said. “They don’t want you to make your sister afraid.”

Ben dropped his head as he was scolded.

“Sorry,” he replied.

Then Lydia and Anna played in the sand. Other people looked calmer and started doing their routines again.

“Do you see many sharks?” I asked James. A couple other men neared to join the conversation.

“Yes, every day,” he replied.

“There are probably a hundred out there. He spread his arms over a wide section of the sea.”

“Wow,” I said, “that is a lot.”

“Those are little sharks,” said Edgar. “We were visited by Maganta.”

“What is Maganta?” I asked.

“He’s the Old Father shark. The ancestors called him a god. He’s meaner than anything and will rip a boat to pieces out of spite,” said Edgar.

“That’s bad,” I said. “Are the other sharks dangerous too?” I asked.

“Not so much,” said Charles. “Every fish in the sea has teeth, not just sharks. They could all do damage if they wished.”

“Some of the little fish don’t have teeth,” said James.

“Oh,” said Charles.

“Maganta is a different type of shark; usually he lives off the South Rock Point. He likes the strong currents there,” said Winslow.

“Why does Maganta think he can come here if he never came here before?” asked Edgar. “Why does he think he can do it?”

“I don’t know why,” replied James.

“We must have let our guard down. The ancestors must be unhappy. We are not finding good fish, and then my hand shakes when I have my spear. This also must be from them.”

“Everything has gone bad at once,” added Winslow. “Something has brought us bad luck fishing.” Winslow and Edgar looked at me.

“The ancestors know we have a bad fisherman among us,” said Edgar. “They won’t send manna fish to us now.”

It was the only time I felt unwelcome.

“What are you saying?” James asked Edgar in a challenging tone.

“Maganta must know, too. He is flaunting himself showing that he is king of the sea.”

“We can’t talk about guests that way,” said James.

“Okay,” said Edgar, “but how am I to get my steady shot back?”

“Let’s drink some juice, calm down, and talk about it,” said Charles. He put his arm around Edgar and then walked away. Elias quietly followed.

“It’s been a tough time,” said Charles to Edgar. “The fishing, the shark, Keoni…”

Winslow picked his string of fish off his boat.

“I can help you,” said James to him.

They were going their separate ways, and I needed to give them time to talk. Also, it would be coming close to suppertime and I didn’t want to impose any more.

“I think I’ll go to the hotel now,” I said to James. “I’ll check back on you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll see you then.”

I started walking up the road.

Edgar was the only one that had implied that I was causing the bad fishing. James and Charles were trying to say that I wasn’t a problem. I’m sure that I didn’t cause their struggles, especially since I arrived after it had started. Time would tell if one side would convince the others. I didn’t want to be divisive, so unless they could accept me, I wouldn’t stay.

Normally they were in agreement. I hadn’t seen any rivalries or disputes in my couple days with them. In a place where they each provided food for the whole community, it was important to get along.

In Fusang, they valued cohesion too. However, there the decisions were handed down by the President. There, Sheng had a strong pressure to conform, but for the Kupe it was more like, ‘Hey, buddy, we need to work this out.’

I thought that people in Fusang had no freedom of expression. They were all controlled by someone such as the President, a father, husband, or in the case of the hotel waitress, she was controlled by her boss.

I supposed having a lack of choice had some benefits. For example, if what you needed was always provided to you, then it wasn’t necessary to be able to choose it.

Was it an ego issue? Did we really need choice? In reality, many decisions were made for me. I had to drive a car to work because the schools near work weren’t good, so I had to live elsewhere. It was too far to bike to everyday, and the city didn’t support good transit. Society had decided that I had to drive a car. I had no alternatives but to accept that place in society.

Having a car didn’t help me now, trudging up the hill. Despite that, I was beginning to like my long walks.

I felt that it was unthinkable to show individualism in Fusang, but was possible in New Truro. Both places had pressure to conform, but the Kupe each had opinions and they could speak up about them. However, eventually they had to compromise, and to control their ego if they were going to live together.

What is ego? It is seeking things that I want. One thing that I wanted was proof of Gei Duk’s resurrection. It would ease my worries to see the truth clearly.

To spend my time worrying about resurrection meant I was interested more in myself than in others. It seemed greedy to focus on it. Instead, I should have been asking how Gei Duk would try to help the Kupe.

I wondered how the Kupe would deal with the issue of resurrection. They had talked about their forefathers as if they were alive and watching over the people. On the other hand, James said the ancestors were still around because their blood and milk was in him. Those ideas didn’t seem consistent.

  • * * *

Chapter 4

It rained in the night and it was cooler as I walked to New Truro the next morning. I had put on my bathing suit before I found that it was cool. Now I thought the chances of swimming were pretty low.

I’d called Angela. I didn’t tell her about the shark. I knew as long as I followed the people of New Truro, they would keep me safe when swimming.

I was still the only guest in the hotel besides the older man. He reminded me of James.

Then it hit me that he could be Keoni. Why would he be in the hotel?

The police station looked to be a single room. If it had a jail cell it literally must been very small. I imagined it to be in the shape of a bird cage. That wouldn’t be fitting for a non-violent community leader.

The police probably had no way to lock him in, but a man of respect would surely agree to confine himself to avoid a jail cell. I was certain it must be Keoni. The hotel was a very nice prison for him. That gave me relief that the old man was not suffering beyond insolation from family.

As I neared the top of the hill, I could see Roger coming up the crest on the other side.

“Good morning,” I said when we got close; I stopped to talk. He slowed down.

“I was curious what fish you process at your work,” I said.

“Sardines,” he replied.

“Do they ever bring in other fish?”

“If they do, it goes to the local market. Mostly, though, the charter boats bring in the tuna and other big fish. I’m told the tourists take them to another shop to be packed for shipment home. Tourism will start to pick up in June.”

“Does the factory work get harder any time of the year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve only been there a month. They already work us hard constantly. The days are long, and they complain that I don’t put in enough effort. The boss is biased against me. He calls me lazy.

It was ironic. He’d gone outside his community for work, but the place where he’d found it had treated him poorly. He didn’t get encouragement from the Sheng, and probably not the Kupe either.

“What do the people in the village think of your work?” I asked.

“I told them that I was going to do it and they couldn’t convince me not to,” he said. “They have an old way of thinking, but they didn’t stop me.”

He started walking again so I did too. The sky was overcast, so the sun didn’t go into my eyes as I descended the East side of the hill. When I got to the point where the road turned towards town, Edgar was coming up the road carrying a bucket and a knife.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. He looked to be in a good mood even though he always had an expression of surprise.

“Have you seen James?” I asked.

“Yes, he just now pulled out his boat to fish.” It would be a long wait again.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“To the palm grove to harvest juice.”

“The one that is way over in Fusang?”

“No,” he said. He pointed at a path that diverged from the road and went along the shore. “Do you want to help?”

“Okay,” I said. I wanted to be useful. Also, he couldn’t blame the poor fishing on me if I was nowhere near the water.

I walked behind him on the narrow path. We didn’t talk. Most palm trees were naturally near the water, but these stretched inland from the beach in a relatively flat area. They were in rows.

He looked up at the trees so I did too. Coconuts were at the top in thick bunches.

“Here, hold this,” he said as he handed me the knife and bucket. Then he looked for long strips of brown leaves that had fallen to the ground. He gave me a few.

“Tie yours onto the handle of the bucket,” he said. I did that. He tied his like a belt around his thighs, and then he slid the belt down to his ankles. Then he took the leaf strap from the bucket and tied it to his waist. Next he shimmied up the tree. The strap around his feet held them tightly to the trunk.

At the top, he poured juice out of hollowed coconuts into the bucket. The juice dripped from cut stalks. He used his knife to cut one freshly back.

My neck strained from looking up to him, so I stopped watching him and sat down. He really wasn’t collecting juice, but palm sap. It wasn’t the same as coconut milk which was from the nut.

Edgar came down from the first tree. He had only one inch of liquid in the bucket. He headed up another tree. I had nothing more to do to help him.

I enjoyed sitting and watching the waves, although I couldn’t see where they hit the beach because I sat too far back. Also, I listened to the gusts of wind as they blew through the trees. Then I saw a miniature crab walking on the ground. I moved along with it to follow it.

“Neal!” yelled Edgar from the top of a tree.

“Yes,” I yelled back.

“See if a pot fell down.” I went back to the tree he was in and found a hallowed coconut with a string loop.

“It’s here,” I yelled.

“Throw it up,” he said.

I threw and missed the tree. Then, I picked it up, ready to try again. I decided to step back. It seemed easier to throw it at an angle then straight up. I hit Edgar with it, but not hard.

“Aim here,” he said. He pointed to the top of the palm where the coconuts nested.

The pot bounced across the top and Edgar retrieved it.

“Thanks,” he said. I went back to look for the crab but got distracted by the shadows.

The sun was peeking out through the clouds. The regular pattern of tall thin palms made a pattern on the ground that reminded me of jail cell bars.

Keoni was allowed to stay in the hotel because he was distinguished among his people and he wasn’t trying to break free. However, I wondered if President Xing caught me for treason if he would throw me in the real jail cell.

They couldn’t keep prisoners for decades. A small cell would be only for overnight, or for at most a few days. If someone was a big threat to them, the only permanent solution open to them would be capital punishment. I wondered how often they’d had to do that. There was probably no trial, just Xing’s decision. He was the ultimate law. His words were the only articles of constitution.

Edgar came down. He untied the belt. I held the bucket of juice. It was two thirds full.

“Enough?” I asked. He laughed, but I didn’t know what joke I’d said.

“It is all of the trees,” he said. Only a part of the grove was set up for juice.

He let me carry the bucket. It sloshed if I didn’t hold it carefully as we walked. I didn’t want to spill his hard work.

The weight strained on my arm so I switched the bucket back and forth. Maybe this was the part he really had wanted my help with. Eventually, when we made it back to the village, we went to his house.

“Did you eat?” Edgar asked. I could smell the frying fish. I felt hungry as I sniffed the air.

“I haven’t,” I said.

“Lucy,” he called in to the house. “Neal’s here for lunch too.”

She came to the door and smiled.

“How nice,” she said. “James dropped off plenty of fish earlier.”

Edgar set his bucket on the porch. Then we sat.

Edgar and I didn’t talk much. I was glad that we were getting along, regardless.

“It was cooler this morning,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “It is clearing in the East. It’ll warm a little today.”

I nodded and looked out over the sea. I’d seen the clouds were always moving in from the East. At home I was used to looking to the west to see if any storms were approaching.

“Does the wind always blow from the East?” I asked.

“Most days,” he said. “If a storm is passing it might blow another way for a while.”

Lucy brought out plates of fish and chopped green vegetables.

“Thank you,” I said.

When we finished, Edgar took the plates in then came back with a ladle. With it he took a drink of the juice we’d collected. He motioned for me to have a sip. I shook my head.

Then, one by one, James, Elias, Winslow, Charles, and a few other men came over. Each took a sip of juice as they arrived. I didn’t introduce myself to the other men because they stood further away and talked among themselves.

I changed my mind about the juice. If everyone else was doing it, I may have turned down an important ritual.

I had some. It was alcohol. It was watery and sweet, but had a kick.

The mood of the crowd became happy. Edgar was smiling, and it was hard for me not to smile too. They were talking about wives.

“She always wants to know where I’ll be,” said Winslow. He had turned towards me so I could hear him better. “Well, it’s an island. How far away can I be? That got a couple of them to laugh.

“Neal,” said Charles, “tell us about your wife. Does she want to know where you are?”

“Yes,” I said, “but she works at a job too, so we are apart the whole day.”

“Seriously?” asked Charles.

“Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad,” said Winslow. “Maybe we should all get jobs.”

“It is a very individualistic society,” I said. “She does whatever she wants and has her own life.”

“Does she care for your children?” Winslow asked.

“We both do when my daughter isn’t at preschool,” I said. “Angela cares for her, but also does lots more. She’s busy all the time.”

“That reminds me,” said Charles. “I have a theory of why Edgar has a shaky hand while fishing.” Edgar rolled his eyes.

“What?” Winslow asked.

“He’s also had bad luck with his wife,” said Charles. “She says they have enough children for now, so she won’t let him touch her.”

The men laughed. Edgar did too, but he looked back to make sure his wife wasn’t hovering behind him.

I thought of telling them about birth control, but it would conflict with my role as a church representative. I was getting paid to get drunk with these men, so I kept quiet.

“The women make all of the important decisions,” said James.

“We just relay them,” said Charles. We laughed again.

“Lucy decides to do the opposite of whatever I say,” said Edgar with a soft voice. The men leaned in to hear.

“Here’s the cure,” said Charles. “Just tell her to do the opposite of what you really want, and then she’ll make you do what you really wanted.” Charles softened his voice to a whisper. “You say, ‘I’d never think of touching you again.’ That would get her to be friendly again.”

Edgar didn’t laugh, but the others did. Maybe it wouldn’t really work, and he didn’t get that it was just a joke. Still, he smiled politely.

“What is everyone’s wife saying now?” asked Winslow. “Mine is saying we have to make peace with Edgar about his luck.”

“Yes,” agreed a couple men.

“I wish Keoni were here,” said Edgar. Several men stated their agreement. The larger group of men came closer and listened in.

“He’d know how to resolve this,” said Edgar. “He’s very wise.” The men agreed.

“I wonder if I’ve seen him,” I said. “The police are keeping a man in the hotel. He looks just like James, but older.”

“That’s him,” said Winslow.

The men broke into small groups and talked. A couple minutes later, James turned to me.

“Do you think we could talk to Keoni?” he asked.

I thought that it would be physically possible to see the old man and meet with him a short time. However, if we were caught, I might be the one who was punished. I worried about the cramped jail cell that I imagined was in the police station. However, who was I to keep a son away from his father? I nodded.

James went back to talking with others. Sometimes they spoke in their other language. Then he returned.

“We want to see him today,” James said. James used ‘we’. I could sneak in one or two men.

“How many?” I asked. James thought for a moment.

“At least ten,” he replied. “A few men are out now. We’d have to ask them, too. They have a right to speak if we have a hap gaa.” Of the fifteen men standing around, ten wanted to go, so it might be a dozen total. I didn’t know how to conceal twelve men.

“They will see us,” I said. The men talked among themselves for a few minutes.

“It is dark in the city at night. There are no street lights except from the hotel to the palace,” said James.

The men would be in the light only a short time. Unless they bumped into someone out in the night, they’d be undetected. Being large had one advantage—it was too many people to imprison if we were caught. They’d have to let us go—or shoot us.

“I can bring you in the back door to the hotel,” I said. The alcohol gave me confidence in the plan. “You should break up in small groups in the city. If you run into someone, a large group would be suspicious.”

“Good,” said James. “We can meet you at the palm grove near the city and you can lead us in.”

That would be lots of back and forth by me. If anyone saw me ten times going back and forth, that would be suspicious, but was the best idea. I told them my plan for collecting them.

After that, I went back to Fusang for the rest of the afternoon. I wanted to figure out if the pool door was locked at night, or if it was on a camera. If the plan was off, I was to walk back or meet them as they came.

As I returned to the hotel, I went over the plan in my head. Also, I looked at the path and located places to hide along it if we were fleeing town. If we were found, but not apprehended, I thought it would be better run back to New Truro to hide near there. Then I’d need to escape off the island.

I asked myself why I was helping with the plans. We weren’t going to free Keoni. Our main goal was to figure out what to do with Edgar. He wasn’t confident fishing and blamed me. It was hardly worth risking our lives over. However, I thought we’d been hung up on the issues for a day and we’d never get past them if nothing pushed us on. If I’d seriously thought the risk was too high, I wouldn’t have gone along. I deceived myself to think that all I was doing was bringing visitors to my hotel room.

At the hotel, I found no camera at the pool. Also, there was no lock on its door. In such a small town there were likely few crimes. The locks on the hotel room doors were probably more to make the guests comfortable. They were used to having locks, but the islanders had only wood plank doors with no locks.

At suppertime, I ate in the café. I told the Kupe men to begin walking after they’d finished their supper. I’d meet them at the bottom of the hill. They were not to come down if they didn’t see me there in the twilight.

I waited half an hour after I ate then went to the grove. I walked through it twice to make sure no workers were there. Then I stood on the road.

After a while they started coming down in small groups. When they got down, they hid in the grove.

“Is this all?” I asked. It was a dozen men.

“Yes, some older ones didn’t think that they could walk the roundtrip,” said James.

I didn’t mind that they couldn’t get every man to come. We waited tensely while it got dark. Some men killed time by commenting on the Sheng’s skills at tending the grove.

I took the opportunity to meet the other men from the village and ask them about their families. I met Henry, Ephraim, and Theodore. Everyone’s story was pretty simple. They all fished and their wives gardened. The only difference was the ages of their children and their own personalities. Fishing was their way of life. A disruption to that did make a risky trip worth it to them.

Elias was there. I’d never heard him speak, so I didn’t introduce myself. James and Elias were standing far apart, so I asked James about him.

“Does he ever talk?” I asked.

“Occasionally.”

“Does he know English?”

“We think so,” replied James.

In a society that wasn’t complex, there wouldn’t be as much need to talk. Communicating was for entertainment. However, I was beginning to appreciate that they talked to reach a consensus.

Soon it was dark. The plan was that I would meet them two by two at the pool door and take them to the room. I was to walk there alone to check out that no one was in the hallway like a cleaning lady or janitor.

“Wait five minutes,” I reminded them I left them and went to the hotel.

I walked quickly in the dark. My eyes were adjusted to it. The town was quiet. I was most concerned that the police would be sitting in their SUV somewhere on Flamingo Road, but they weren’t in sight.

I stopped briefly at each corner to listen. Then, I saw a shadow moving ahead. I froze. It looked small. Was it a person hiding and crawling?

I didn’t want to let them know I’d seen them. However, my eyes followed it. If they saw me, they’d know I was staring.

I couldn’t act normal by walking forward without running in to it.

Then, it looked like it was getting closer. Would they jump on me? Would I need to fight?

It was smaller than I thought. Maybe it was a wild animal instead.

“Meow.”

I let out a sigh of relief. Impulsively, I started to reach down to pet it, but then I decided not to encourage it to hang around.

“Psst,” I said. That’s ‘let’s fight’ in cat. It jumped and then scampered away.

Finally, I reached the hotel. I went in the back door and found everything okay, so I went back to the pool to wait.

After a few minutes, the first two men arrived. I opened the door quietly. If someone heard it slamming again and again they might come look.

I led them to my room and left them there. I grabbed a pamphlet to prop the door. It’d be quieter to leave it ajar. Then I went to the road and stood where I could see.

The next pair must be coming soon. It took me at least two minutes to go to the room and back.

In the dim street light I checked my watch and counted off three minutes. I still didn’t see anyone coming.

After five more minutes I was in a panic. I was sure that someone living along the street must have counted too many Kupe and yelled for the police.

Maybe the men had scattered and none had been caught yet. Maybe the police would find me waiting. The jail cell that I imagined was big enough to hold me if I was the only one that they caught.

I stepped back from the corner. Just as I did, the corner of my eye caught the image of something. If it was the police, I might still be able to run.

I looked again. It was two people, not the police, but the next Kupe.

I looked at my watch and guessed that twelve minutes total had passed. The Kupe weren’t good at counting off time.

When the men got close I led them to my room. Then I returned for the next. Each set came a little quicker. It took a long time standing out on the corner to catch all the groups. I hadn’t added up that I’d have to stand there for half an hour total. It exposed me more than I had thought.

Next, I needed to make contact with Keoni across the hall. I’d listened in the evenings and never heard the police come and check on him then. They had come in the mornings.

I stood alone in the hall and quietly put my ear to his door. There were no sounds.

I knocked on the door. If a policeman answered my story was that I was confused about my room number.

Nobody came to the door, so I knocked again. If he was asleep and was a sound sleeper, our plan was shot. How hard should I bang on the door before others heard?

Then I heard someone coming to the door. It opened and the man was there. He held the Holy Book in his hands.

“Yes,” he said seeing that I wasn’t Sheng.

“Keoni?” I asked. He nodded, but was confused.

James was behind his door looking through the peep hole. He opened the door.

“It is a hap gaa,” he said.

Keoni nodded again. I motioned that I wanted to go into his room. It would be better for him in case the police ever called him.

“Come,” he said.

All of the men crossed the hall to his room.

“Father,” said James as he hugged him. Then we sat. I sat on the bed, but then when most everyone else was on the floor, and it didn’t seem equal, so I moved down. There was no space for a circle at the foot of the bed. We made a flattened oval.

“This is Neal,” said Charles. Keoni and I nodded to each other again.

“I am from the church. I want to help you,” I said.

“You want to help me or the Kupe?” asked Keoni. “In my tongue there are two words for ‘you’. One is for the person, one is for the group.”

“I want to help the Kupe, and hopefully their Old Father too,” I said. He smiled. Using his title showed I knew something of his people.

“We are sorry that you have had to risk yourself for our benefit,” said Keoni. “If we had submitted to Xing’s wishes we would not be troubling you.”

I didn’t recall if any of my clients have ever thanked me before I’d actually done anything. I nodded, and smiled.

“It is important for me, and the church, that the Kupe be able to practice your faith,” I said. After I said that, I recalled that they thought they were already doing it well enough.

“We have all felt the consequences of your absence,” said Charles. “We are not complete without you.” I began to see how isolation was the most severe punishment.

“Every society has rules. We do not fit what the Sheng require so we must bear consequences,” said Keoni.

“It is not the Sheng,” said Winslow, “but Xing. He makes up titles for himself that make him look superior.”

“Yes,” said Keoni. “He makes decisions without counsel of his people. Being just one man, how can he know what is best for all?”

“His charter boats hunt for the rarer sharks,” said Winslow. “What good is that for Truro Shoal?” Some of the other men agreed.

“We have no manna fish,” said Edgar. “Xing must be taking them.”

The men thought.

“There were lots of them years ago,” said Ephraim. Everyone agreed, and then they thought more.

“We don’t see the charter boats much on our side,” said Henry. “Then they only come in summer.”

“…and when we do see them they hunt sharks,” said Winslow.

“I am wondering if the charters aren’t the problem with the manna,” said Keoni. He said it with a suggestive tone. It caused the others to pause and consider it. A few men nodded.

“We have another problem,” said Edgar. “Maganta came to New Truro.” That got the men more excited. Edgar had his eyes wide open again like he was in surprise.

“That’s odd,” said Keoni.

“He taunts us because we are not good fishermen,” said Edgar.

“Why would he think that?” asked Keoni.

“A man with bad luck fishing has joined us,” said Edgar. The men glanced back and forth to me. Keoni noticed that they referred to me.

It made me embarrassed. I felt my face go flush. I put my hand to my cheek to cover it. My hand was sweaty.

I had been very forward. I’d never asked if they wanted my help. I’d shown up and assumed that they’d appreciate what I wanted to do. I needed to be quiet and listen to what was important to them.

“We must apologize that we are talking openly,” said Charles. “When we do so, it shows our weakness.”

I nodded.

“We act as one cohesive community, so any problem is our own doing,” he continued. The others agreed with him. That helped me face them again.

“I think that the bad luck has impacted Edgar the most,” said James. Keoni looked up as if he’d had an insight.

“It is important that Edgar’s spear strikes true,” said Keoni. The other men agreed. To Keoni this would be worth calling a council meeting in this risky situation.

“What do we do?” asked Keoni.

The men thought.

“Would sending our visitor away bring the good luck back?” asked Ephraim. I hoped that they didn’t do that, but I’d follow their decision.

“Let’s think about what the forefathers would do,” asked Keoni.

“Kupe welcomed his brother Sheng to the island,” said Henry, “even though they have brought bad luck to us.”

“…and we welcomed the colonists to our homes,” said James.

“It doesn’t sound like the ancestor would send anyone away,” said Keoni. The men agreed.

“The bad luck may hang around,” said Edgar.

“What else is there to do?” asked Keoni.

“We have welcomed Neal, but not to live in our homes,” said Theodore.

“Would that help our luck?” asked Keoni. He wanted the men to think about it.

“Now, being his own man, Neal is expected to support himself and his village,” said Ephraim. “While he is with us, we are his village. However, if he were a junior member of a household he has no expectations. The children are not expected to be good fishers, but to learn.”

“Therefore, if Neal joins a house,” said Keoni, “his bad luck vanishes.”

Keoni looked at Edgar. He was the one who needed to consent because he was the one who perceived the problem. Edgar thought a moment, and then nodded his head.

“I was the one who welcomed Neal,” said James. “I can be the one to show him how to fish. He can live with my family.”

Keoni looked to me to see if I agreed. I lowered my head in humility.

“You must forgive us for asking you to live with us,” said Keoni. I knew if I learned more about them, I might have more ideas for a solution to their problems with Xing. I nodded.

“It is settled,” said Keoni. The men were happy.

“Are you well?” James asked Keoni. “Do you need anything?”

“I am surviving with help,” he replied. Keoni held his book of verses. “The older sections are about a tribe that was repressed by conquering peoples.”

The men looked to the door. It was obvious that it was time to leave.

James and Keoni stood, and then the rest of us. I went to the door.

“I’ll check first,” I said. “Then we’ll do it backwards of last time.”

No one was in the hall. The men all went to my room and James hugged his father.

“Should I come in the morning?” I asked James.

“Yes,” he said.

I went out to the street to make sure there was no activity. Then I led them down by twos. This time I did it as quickly as I could go to my room and back. Soon it was over and I was back in my room.

It was too late to call Angela on a work day. She’d be at her job and Melanie would be at her grandmother’s house.

I was too wound up to sleep. I thought that it was odd the Kupe apologized for the risks I had taken. It wasn’t their fault, but Xing’s. The Kupe easily admitted their failings.

I thought back to how they talked of my bad luck. They really weren’t blaming me for visiting them and bringing poor luck, but I had interpreted their words that way. They’d said their ancestors had caused their bad luck, not me.

In fact, I thought the problem was more in their minds. Nothing that I’d done had caused it. Therefore, the problem really was their doing. I wasn’t used to a whole community apologizing, but in this case it made sense.

The Kupe talked as if they had one conscience. We each made our own independent decisions. In New Truro, those decisions were swayed by the community, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t think for themselves.

If people had no independent thoughts then it would be as if they shared the same mind. Their fate wouldn’t be set by their own actions. Roger had demonstrated that he could be different than the others by getting a job. Likewise, I had no concern that just because I was going to New Truro to learn to fish that I would lose my individuality.

  • * * *

Chapter 5

In the morning, I called my family. I thought they would just be getting done with supper in their time zone.

“Sorry I didn’t call last night,” I said.

“It’s fine,” she said. “Are you coming home soon?”

“No,” I said. “The local people invited me to stay a couple nights with them. It’s a once-in-a lifetime chance to experience it.”

“Oh,” she said, excited. She appreciated travel and culture.

“I won’t be back to the hotel as much,” I said. “I might not find a good time to call for the next few days.”

“Okay,” she said. “Call on your way to the airport regardless of the time.” We said our goodbyes.

I thought over what I should take with me to New Truro. I didn’t need much. In the end, I took only the clothes on my back and my hotel room key. I ate breakfast at the café then started walking. I wished Keoni could be joining me on the trip.

The sky was overcast again, and it was gusty. I walked up the hill. I saw Roger right away. He only briefly made eye contact then continued briskly walking past me.

I remembered that the way the men talked, it showed that they valued consensus. However, from what I’d seen, Roger wasn’t concerned with that. My mind wandered as I walked.

When the Savior, Gei Duk, walked the earth, he taught the people many lessons about how to live. For example, he wanted them to love their neighbors. The Kupe were practicing what they preached when they decided to welcome me into their homes.

I’d struggled with the idea of resurrection. Was Gei Duk the Savior because he told us to live in harmony or because he arose after death? What was the most important part of his being?

Gei Duk’s whole life was about helping others. It seemed that if we emphasized his resurrection then we were being greedy.

If he’d been resurrected, it would be because of God’s effort, or magic, not because of Gei Duk’s power. I had been questioning within myself whether it’d happened. No matter if it happened or not, it was God’s decision to raise him. It wasn’t Gei Duk’s miracle, but God’s.

We praised Gei Duk for the things he did. Therefore, helping us was the reason to praise him. If we called him Savior, it should because of what he did, not because of what God did for him.

If there were no resurrection, would our faith be meaningless? If he was just a man, then why would we honor him at church? Would our belief lose power if that is all he was?

In that case, he would be only a role model, not a Savior.

I tried to recall what Gei Duk said that could be relevant. In his preaching, one idea he focused on was that the Kingdom of God was coming. This was something that would benefit living people. When that kingdom arrived, we would know it because everyone would begin to behave in a way that supported all others.

What would that kingdom look like? Would it really be a kingdom, or was that the only word that made any sense at the time? There were very few examples of democracy in his time.

It is very clear from scriptures that Gei Duk felt that the kingdom would be coming immediately. Certainly, the entire world is not under a just kingdom now. However, there must be some form of an ideal kingdom now, or he was completely wrong.

One thing that immediately came to mind was the church. That came to life soon after his death. However, there were many churches and not everyone belonged to them.

Another thing to consider is whether governments could somehow be part of the kingdom. In some countries, the laws made life fairer, but none were really just or balanced. Could they ever become perfect examples of God’s will? That would be up to the people. Still, I thought governments had to remain neutral about religion. If they didn’t, then people like President Xing had the power to block religious freedom.

Finally, I considered whether communities such as New Truro could be kingdoms of God. I didn’t know enough about them to say. However, I was sure that I’d learn more about them over the next couple days.

As I reached the top of the hill, I could see the sky was dark in the East. The sea was choppy. Fishing would be challenging. Hopefully, the weather wouldn’t delay my lessons. As I got closer, I noticed no boats were out.

James and Lydia were on their porch when I arrived. James was carving a piece of wood. It didn’t look like anything yet.

“Hello,” I said. “It looks cloudy today.”

“Yes, a storm is coming in,” said James. Lydia went inside.

I sat on the edge of the porch and James kept whittling.

“What are you making?” I asked.

“It will be Keoni,” he said. “Come, I’ll show you the others that I’ve made.” We went into the living area.

The women were in the kitchen cleaning. I didn’t see the boys. Anna was playing with her doll.

“I made all of this except for that one,” he said. It was a small one. It looked more cartoonish than a real person.

“Is it Atu?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Are the others all ancestors, too?”

He nodded.

“Sometimes I make sharks or toys for the kids,” he said, “but they take them and lose them.”

“My house is a mess,” I said. “My daughter’s toys are scattered and we can never find the one she wants.”

He smiled.

“It looks like you use various types of wood,” I said.

“Bamboo is the light one. Palm is the larger dark ones.”

Looking around, I noticed hammocks were gathered onto hooks on the front wall. I hadn’t seen them before because I’d just peeked through the front door. They didn’t have much privacy or personal space.

“Does everyone sleep on these?”

“Yes,” he said. “We pull a curtain across the middle.” The curtain was behind the door. That probably separated the genders.

I didn’t anticipate the sleeping arrangements. I assumed that sleeping here was part of the deal. To minimize their inconvenience, I should see if I could hurry the fishing lessons despite the weather.

“Is there anything that you can tell me about fishing?” I asked.

“It’s best to stay away from the men today,” said James. “They get edgy when they can’t get on the water.”

I nodded. I wondered if that meant he was in a poor mood too.

“Anyhow, the best way to learn the names of the fish is to go net fishing with the women. They catch the most variety,” said James. “It’s hard to tell you their names while swimming under water.”

We walked to the kitchen door.

“Lydia,” said James.

“Uh huh,” she said.

“When you net fish, take Neal,” said James. “He needs to learn our way.”

“Good morning,” said Lydia. Makelesi was there, too. She said something in another language to me.

“Talk in English to him,” said Lydia.

“I am talking in English,” said Makelesi. Lydia smiled.

“She said good morning and asked if you’d had breakfast,” said Lydia.

“Thank you,” I said. “I ate before I came.”

Makelesi spoke in the other language again.

“Neal will be like another son for a while. He didn’t know sons always come with an empty stomach.”

“I’m sure I’ll have an empty stomach later,” I said.

“Oh, that reminds me,” said Lydia. “I wanted to do some gardening before the rain comes. Do you want to help?”

I turned to see that James was gone. Maybe he was like the other men and liked to be left alone when the weather was bad.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll help.” I thought I could ask her about fish.

The two of us went out the back door. Their backyard was the garden. There were rows of several types of plants. Lydia bent down and started pulling weeds.

“I think I can see which are weeds and which aren’t,” I said, “but let me know if I start pulling the wrong ones.”

“If you do, you’ll have to eat it,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. She was sitting faced away so I couldn’t easily talk to her. I moved to another spot. Where the rows were further apart, and I could sit.

“What can you tell me about fish?” I asked.

“Each fish has a different taste and texture. There are hard and soft fish.”

“You want to pair vegetables with them that compliment them. For example, some root vegetables are bland and we cook them till they are soft. Other root vegetables are bold and eaten raw. Then we have sprouts, green vegetables, and lefty vegetables.”

Her mind was on gardening, not fishing. I didn’t believe that knowing how to cook was part of my required learning on how to be a good fisherman. Then she turned again so I didn’t follow up with any more questions.

We pulled weeds for a while. I recognized a few vegetables, such as radishes. A question that I pondered while I worked was about how humans could make a kingdom that was just. Most of life was mundane. What made a kingdom just? Did pulling weeds work into it in any way?

“The eggplants are ready,” said Lydia. “We should pick some for lunch. Do you know how to get them?”

“No,” I said. There were some vegetables that looked like purple zucchini that might be them.

“Is this them?” I asked.

“Yes.” She came over.

“This is the color that you are looking for,” she said. “That is ripe.”

I reached for one and gave it a yank. It didn’t come free.

“Most vegetables, you pick by snapping the stem.” She demonstrated by twisting the fruit up.

I began picking them.

“How many?” I asked.

“As many as you can get into two hands,” she replied. She watched, and then looked to the clouds.

“It might rain soon,” she continued. “Do you have a jacket?”

“Not with me,” I said. I had one in my hotel room.

I collected the eggplant and arose. We went into the kitchen. Makelesi sat on a stool there.

“If you go out in the rain, you can use one of the ponchos,” she said as she pointed to a small pantry. “They’re made from fish skins.”

“Oh,” I said. “Which fish?” That might be useful to know.

Makelesi said something to me. I didn’t understand.

“Any big fish,” said Lydia, “except sharks. I don’t like the feel of the skin.”

Makelesi spoke again.

“In English,” reminded Lydia.

“Big fish are better,” said Makelesi. “It’s less sewing.”

“For lunch, we’ll have smoked fish. That will be easy to prepare. However, you could help cut the eggplant,” said Lydia. I nodded.

“Makelesi, show him your knives.” The old woman got some rusty knives from a shelf.

“The old ones are made from a shell,” said Lydia.

“Oh,” said Makelesi. She went back in and pulled out large sea shells that had an edge sharpened.

“She inherited these when she was young,” said Lydia. Makelesi smiled.

“Do you still make utensils from shells?” I asked.

“The men made them. We keep them as a reminder. You can try one for the eggplant,” she said. “First, wash it in the bucket. Then, cut on the counter.” She got out a large skillet.

“Old mother, why don’t you peel the taro?”

Makelesi went to under the counter.

“What am I doing?” she asked.

“Getting taro root,” said Lydia.

“There are only two large ones left.”

“It’ll be enough. I’ll have the boys dig more later.”

The old woman got the roots and put them on the counter. I was cutting the eggplant into one inch segments. The knife made of shell was awkward. It took more force to cut the vegetable than a metal knife.

“I forgot what I do next,” she said.

“Wash them and peel them,” said Lydia. “I’ll check the fish.” She turned to the pantry.

After Makelesi washed the roots she stood staring blankly. I hand her a metal knife.

“Do you use this one to peel?” I asked. She nodded and started working. Once she got going, she kept at it.

Lydia clanked in the stove behind us.

“Kindling is getting low too,” she said.

After I finished slicing, I watched Makelesi. She finished her peeling then stood there.

“Do you cube your taro before cooking?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Do we?” she asked.

“Yes, we do,” Lydia said. The old woman cut it and put it in a pot.

“I have the fire under these two burners warming,” said Lydia. We put our pots there. Then she added fresh water from another bucket to the roots, and oil to the eggplant. She poured it from an earthen pot.

“Coconut oil,” she said. “I’ll watch it if you want to talk to Anna. Maybe she’ll tell you about fishing.”

“What are you saying about me?” Anna asked.

“Tell Neal about fishing,” said Lydia. I went to the living area and sat on a chair.

“Do you fish?” I asked. I doubted it since she looked only five years old.

“I help mom,” she said. “I pick out the good ones, but fish are too squirmy.”

“What else do you do?” I asked.

“Play, garden, see friends,” she replied. “Has it started raining yet?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. I glanced out the window.

I’d noticed the women all wore a pearl on a necklace, but Anna didn’t.

“You don’t have a pearl like the others,” I said.

“I’m not married, silly,” she said. “I’m just a girl.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes, you are.”

“Why did mama make you cook?” she asked. I thought for a minute about what was the right answer.

“I scared away the fish,” I said. I had to learn what it was like to be a Kupe in order to please the ancestors.

“Did you yell at the fish and make big splashes in the water?” asked Anna. “Mom says I scare them when I do that.”

“That must have been what I did,” I said.

Anna looked behind me, then back towards the wall. She pulled a small carved shark figure from behind a board.

“My brothers would take this,” she said.

“I won’t take it,” I said.

She held the carving in one hand and the doll in the other. She moved the shark around the floor.

“I’m going to scare you away,” she said as she held the doll. “Please don’t,” she said in a deeper voice that must represent the shark. “I just want to catch fish, too.” Then she switched voices. “Let’s be friends.” “Okay.” Then she made the two swim around the floor.

As Anna kept playing by herself, I didn’t want to disturb her. There was nothing else that I could do.

I turned my chair towards the front window to watch the clouds and sea. I could occupy my time thinking, but nothing came to mind.

I wasn’t used to this lifestyle. On a day like this, the Kupe spent a lot of time sitting around. I felt like I needed to keep busy. Maybe some people could sit still, but I couldn’t. I had to keep moving or mentally stimulated or I’d fall asleep. Part of the issue could have been that, but also some of it was that I felt insecurity about work. If I sat and did nothing at work, I felt guilty for being paid for it. Also, if this trip turned out to be a failure, how would I explain what I’d done for several days? It wouldn’t sound good if I said I just sat and watched things.

While Lydia cooked, I spent a long time sitting and resting. However, I couldn’t ever sit still.

I thought that if I pretended it was a vacation then I wouldn’t mind the inactivity. That wouldn’t solve my problem with my supervisors. I could get out of that worry if I declared most of my days here as vacation. However, that didn’t help with boredom. On vacation, I rarely sat because I was doing things.

I started to hear a patter of rain on the roof. I looked out and saw the visibility was reduced and I could see only a few palm trees swaying in the wind.

Ward and Ben came in the door. They had raindrops on their shirts.

“Is it lunch time?” Ward asked.

“I’ll check,” replied Lydia. “Yes, it is soft.” Plates and pots clattered in the kitchen. Lydia came out with two plates. Ward put his hands up.

“For your father and Neal,” she said. She kept walking to the porch. I followed her.

The porch was covered, so we could sit there without getting wet. However, James pulled his legs back from hanging over the edge. The boys came out with their plates and sat flat on the floor too.

“What is Neal doing here?” asked Ben.

“Leaning all the ways of fishing,” said James. “He’ll be just like you. You can show him how you do it.”

“Will he spearfish?” asked Ward.

“Yes,” said James. “Show him your spear.” Ward left his food for a moment.

I didn’t know if I could spearfish well. I could swim only as good as an average person since I’d never been on a swim team.

Ward came back with a bamboo pole and chunks of shell and bone.

“These will be the barbs,” he said. He held a half carved bone up to the spear.

“That’s going to be real nice,” I said. He set it down and started eating again.

“I saw you with a spear with metal tines,” I said to James.

“Yes, that’s for everyday use,” said James. “However, making a spear has been part of our tradition for becoming a man.”

“Will Neal have to make one?” asked Ben.

“I guess he should,” said James. I didn’t mind because it’d give me something to do.

The boys took their empty plates away. When James finished, he took his plate too, so I followed.

The boys were playing a game on a wooden board. On the way back out, I stopped to watch them.

It was checkers. The board was handmade and the checkers were different colored stones. Ward was black and Ben was white stone. Two stones on the same square meant it was a king. They let me play a few games with them.

The rain was fast for a while but then slowed to a sprinkle. Ben kept checking the window while Ward and I played.

Lydia came from the kitchen with a handful of fish-leather ponchos. She walked up to us.

“Before you disappear with your friends, we need more taro,” she said.

“After this game,” said Ward.

“Root or stalk?” asked Ben.

“Root,” said Lydia.

“Aw, it’s hard to dig.”

“Neal can help you,” Lydia said. “Get your father to sharpen the shovel if it’s dull.”

“I don’t need to go. The two of them should be enough,” said Ben.

“No. Go with them,” said Lydia.

We put on the ponchos, and headed out of the back. I thought we were going to the garden, but that was just to get the shovel.

They led me down the path to the spring. The sea was still riled. I doubted that we’d be able to fish today.

“This is taro,” said Ben pointing to a plant with big leaves growing near the creek bed. Some were underwater presently, but we avoided those.

“Dig like this,” demonstrated Ward. Then he handed me the shovel while he rubbed off the dirt. I did the same and handed the shovel to Ben.

“How many?” asked Ben.

“You know she’ll say the ancestors were let down unless we each have an armful,” said Ward.

“Well,” said Ben, “it’s the ancestor’s fault for not making me like digging taro. They should have settled somewhere else, away from the water.”

Their talk of ancestors reminded me of Keoni. I wasn’t sure what James had told his sons, so I didn’t mention it.

“Boys around my home are much different than you,” I said.

“How?” asked Ben. I didn’t want to say that boys never worked in the garden because they’d use it against Lydia to say they shouldn’t either.

“Well, one way is that we’d never be quiet if there was a dictator that had our grandfather sequestered,” I said. “The boys would march together and shout their demands.”

“He means Keoni,” said Ward.

“I know,” protested Ben. We worked without talking for a minute.

“We should watch for Adaro,” warned Ward. “He likes this type of weather. He may come take us, too.” Ben warily looked around.

“Who is Adaro?” I asked.

“Sort of like Xing,” said Ward.

“He’s a beast made of half man and half sea monster,” said Ben. “He has webbed feet and gills on his ears. He comes out in bad weather. He’ll take you away like Old Father.”

I took it as a superstition, so I didn’t do anything. However, my ears seemed to be listening for footsteps just in case.

They gathered the taro. I carried the shovel and my load, and we went back to the house. I thought about Xing on the short walk. I had no ideas about what to do with him. I’d wished that China would invade and remove him from power, but they would bring different problems.

After dropping off the roots, the boys disappeared, probably to find friends. I sat on the front porch again.

“Here,” said James handing me a file and a piece of shell. “You can start carving your own spear.”

The shell was from Ward’s pile. It was a piece he hadn’t worked on yet, but it had been cut into a flat segment.

“Ward won’t need it?” I asked.

“As long as he doesn’t break any, he only needs three to make a trident.”

“Did he already work on it to cut it?”

“No, I did that,” said James. “I cut them from a large shell I found.” They had a few modern tools like files and saws.

“How did they make them before metal tools?”

“They used rocks to rub it,” he said. I took the tool and shell, but didn’t know how to start.

“What should it look like?” I asked.

“Start by following what Ward did. Then you can model it after the one on the wall.”

I inspected Ward’s pieces, then started filing. The shell was tough.

“How long has Ward been working on it?”

“Less than a year,” said James.

It would take a very long time to make the spear. If Ward had made only half of one piece in a year, or even over a few months then I’d committed to too much.

I started rubbing the file more vigorously. The shell came off more quickly.

I pushed the file very hard. Then it slipped, and I cut my finger on the other hand holding the shell.

I stopped for a minute to hold my finger on the gash. A drop of blood fell onto the porch decking. I had nothing to wipe it with. My stain would be there forever.

James had said that his ancestors were present in the buildings. I thought of it figuratively, as if they really weren’t there, but they were. Their blood would be soaked into it in places.

Another thing that James had said was that the Savior Gei Duk was in his blood. To him, the sacrament of communion was eating together because sharing food was sharing life. Gei Duk’s blood may have not physically been in the bread. However, it could have been in the bread the same way that James’ ancestor’s blood, sweat, and tears were in the wood for the house. Gei Duk’s life was put in the bread that was shared with his followers and everyone who has communed with them. The sequence of the sharing of life was a chain that went back in time.

James’ ancestors were alive in the house timbers, and in James’ blood. In the same way, Gei Duk was alive. He lived in our bodies and everywhere we’ve lost blood.

In western culture, we are defined by what we do, but in New Truro, it was the actions of the community that defined who they were. Even in the West, we saw each other as social beings. Therefore, we were limited or enabled by what others around us did.

If someone were to say that Gei Duk was resurrected because he was in our blood, could I disagree with them? Where was his body? The Kupe would say we were it. Where was his mind? Again, we have become new people because of what he said long ago. According to the Kupe, our collective actions represent him being alive.

That would mean our actions were his actions. Sometimes I would not want to have that because of the way people behaved. However, when we acted with love, it did make sense. For example, if we ever made a just world, a Kingdom of God, then Gei Duk would become alive in us. We would have made him our king because we would finally be doing what he told us to do.

It was easier to believe in that sort of symbolic resurrection. It didn’t require the magic of raising dead flesh from a tomb.

I wasn’t ready to make up my mind yet. I wanted to ponder more of my biases. The bleeding had stopped. I picked up my tools and carved for a while as I thought over things.

Later, I began to smell cooking again. I heard the sizzle of frying. Ben came back around that time and watched how I quickly I had carved. I swept the scrapings off the deck with my hand.

“Let’s eat together,” said Lydia.

“Okay,” said James. “Is Ward here?”

“No,” said Lydia. James called for him loudly, and then we went into the living area.

Anna was setting plates in a circle. Lydia and Makelesi brought the pots out and set them on the floor. It was smoked fish again with taro that was fried this time, and pea pods from the garden.

Ward came in as we sat down. James asked him to tell about his day, and Ward talked about the weather and where he and some other boys were at.

I started to miss my family. We’d eat dinner together on a typical night. Melanie wouldn’t have much to say, but Angela would remind her about the things they’d done.

There was no way to call them. There was no cellphone service and I hadn’t carried it with me this morning anyhow. I’d seen a wire come into town, and it led to a phone booth, but I’d never seen anyone use it. Maybe it was for emergencies. It’d likely be very costly to make a collect call to home from it.

After we ate, James and I were the only ones who remained. The boys left again and Anna helped clean the plates.

I noticed the couple books on the shelf. One was a Reader’s Digest version of Charles Dickens’ writings.

“Do you read much?” I asked James.

“Yes,” he said. “Have you read Hard Times?”

“Is that Dickens?” I asked. He nodded.

“No, I don’t think I’ve gotten to that one,” I said.

“You can read it. It doesn’t give a very pleasant picture of the West,” he said. I recalled Dickens was a critic.

“Things change,” I said. “There are always problems, but society is always improving. Living conditions were bad in his times—life is better now.”

“The rich factory bosses aren’t as abusive?” asked James.

“No,” I said. I was defensive about my home. I knew I wasn’t being completely honest with him. The rich and poor were in a major conflict. I’d been on a case at home several months earlier where arguments between the two had infected a local church. I didn’t like the way things were going at home, but I was stuck with it. I couldn’t change society.

“…at least they aren’t as rough with workers as before,” I said.

I picked up the book. The other one was Sherlock Holmes.

“How did you learn to read English?” I asked.

“The preacher before the last one taught the some of us who were unmarried when I was a young man.”

“Do your children know how to read?” I asked.

“Not much. The last preacher had other priorities, and I can’t show my kids much with two adult books.”

I nodded. Both of his books dealt with gritty life in England a century or two ago. I wouldn’t read them to my three year old daughter either.

I realized that priests had multiple roles in a small village. I saw that even if the Kupe felt they could still worship without a clergyman, they would benefit in other ways with the return of a priest.

I read for a while. Later Ben returned and played checkers with his father.

I wondered if a new preacher would be expected to be a good fisherman like I was supposed to be. Did they bring bad luck?

“James,” I said, “are priests expected to fish?”

“In a different way,” he said. “We provide for them so they can focus on other things.” I nodded, and then read more.

When the light started to dim outside, Ward returned. Lydia pulled the curtain across the two sides of the living room. The women were on the side with the kitchen door. James was on the side with the front door. He closed it and shuttered one of two windows.

As the sky darkened, we all strung our hammocks across the room. I guessed that I was using Keoni’s.

I got in and tried to sleep. I wasn’t used to sleeping in that pose. It was ironic. I had three beds: at home, at the hotel, and here. Yet, I was stuck in the least comfortable one.

Eventually, the fresh air and the sounds of the sea helped me drift asleep.

  • * * *

Chapter 6

Thursday morning, I woke to the sounds of people working in the kitchen. The light of the sunrise was coming through the window. I noticed James was awake, but the boys still slept. I laid in the hammock contemplating getting up. Then I sat up with my legs to the side, and I stretched my back.

“Good morning,” I said as I joined James on the porch. He nodded, and we sat a few minutes.

“Did you dream?” he asked.

“Not really,” I replied. He turned and looked out to the water.

“The weather will be good today,” he said. The sky was clear and sea looked calm.

Lydia brought out a bowl of soup for each of us. There was no spoon so I slurped it up. I kept the empty bowl because I didn’t want to interrupt the kids sleeping.

I watched the activity in the village. Also, I started my carving. A couple men were sitting on their porches too. One person was at the boats and went out in one. Another man walked towards Fusang.

“Roger is leaving for work,” I said. James looked at him for a moment but didn’t say anything. The people didn’t talk about Roger. They didn’t criticize him, but they didn’t give complements either.

At home, it was easy to ignore what everyone else was doing. However, in the small community here, everyone knew each other and watched them.

Roger was intentionally excluding himself from much of the life of the village. His fate wasn’t as closely tied the Kupe as the other people here.

That reminded me that James’ idea of communion was that it happened when people worked and ate together. They shared the same blood through ancestry. All of this connected their destinies, and it bridged them back to the Savior’s communion.

Since Roger wasn’t fully part of that anymore, did it mean that in James’ eyes that Roger wasn’t in-communion? That issue was important to me because I was sent to reconnect the village to the church.

The Kupe felt that membership in their group was what redeemed people. If that was correct, then Roger was more of a member of the Fusang community. They weren’t believers, so Roger gained nothing from them.

There were other ideas around the world about how we were redeemed. One was that it happened as a result of our actions. If we behaved lovingly to others then we were showing that we were worthy of salvation. How did that compare with the belief that communing with believers redeemed us? They weren’t completely opposed to each other, because one could be seen as the result of the other. For example, by belonging to a community of faithful, we were influenced to behave well.

The people in Fusang behaved in a way that mimicked this. They’d organized themselves in a way that would benefit the whole city. However, by telling each resident where to work, it eliminated choice. Also, there was no connection between that sharing and the sacraments. The people in Fusang provided for each other but they didn’t do it voluntarily like the Savior had done. He had acted out of love, but they do it because obligation.

Nevertheless Roger was alone. He didn’t receive the full benefits of community from either city. Included in the benefits of being part of the Kupe was that the sacraments came to him in a unique way through food, but he’d spurned them. He was associating with the secular Fusang residents. If I helped get a priest back to the island, he may participate in the sacraments then. He was the one who had the most to gain by my activities.

Like Roger, I felt that I didn’t fit well either. Of course, that was because I was only a guest and I’d keep one arm reaching back there holding tightly.

My stay with the Kupe was so that I could learn about them and know how I could help. Also, I would be learning to be a better fisherman so they wouldn’t feel that I was hexing them.

James arose and retrieved his spear. It was still too soon for me to learn to use it because I barely knew anything yet about the sea.

“See you later,” he said as he went down the path. Soon after that Ben and Ward left too. I was supposed to help Lydia fish. Everyone was awake so I took the soup bowls in and checked to see if I could help speed things along. Makelesi and Anna were still drinking their soup.

“Is there anything I can help with?” I asked. “I hope we can fish.”

“In a while we can check the nets,” said Lydia. “The puffer fish are smart. They don’t want to be caught, so they often cut their way through. We shouldn’t go too early or we won’t have many helpers join us.”

“Do you eat the puffer?” I asked. I’d heard they were poisonous.

“No,” she said, “but they end up in the nets.”

“Oh,” I said.

“This is also a good day for gardening,” she said. I nodded. I couldn’t complain about doing work. I didn’t want to freeload, but be a part of village life.

I watched as Lydia cleaned dishes. With no faucet, they had to collect water from the well. Then when the dishes were washed she threw the used water into the garden.

“Okay,” she said. “We can go.”

“Can I play?” asked Anna.

“You can stay home with Makelesi or come to the church. Later you can play.”

Lydia picked up a basket of supplies and we went out. Anna came along. Makelesi came to the door too.

“Do you want to darn the nets?” asked Lydia. Makelesi replied in another language. Then all of us went down the path.

A net hung on the back of the church. Lydia used a pole to retrieve it from the wall. She spread it out on the ground.

“There are holes here and here. Then one there,” she said. She unpacked her tools and gave a set to Makelesi. The old woman sat on the ground and examined the hole.

Clara, Charles’ wife, approached us with a basket.

“Are there holes?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Lydia. Clara sat at the far side and started work. I had nothing to do, but I didn’t mind.

“Anna,” said Lydia. “Do you see how this has been cut?” Anna moved closer. They looked at the threads. Lydia demonstrated to Anna how to use the tools to darn.

Then Lydia scooted so she was facing more in my direction. She raised her voice so I was sure to hear clearly, but she spoke as if to Anna.

“This net is like our family history,” Lydia said. “I’ve seen where I’ve patched it many times. Some of these threads are from the previous generation. Makelesi and her sister and cousins worked on parts of it.”

Makelesi listed some names: Kalasiah, Sisle, and Talona. Then Lydia touched the fringes of the net.

“Clara is my cousin,” said Lydia. Clara smiled.

“…and some of the thread goes back to the first Mother,” Lydia continued. “Each tie on the net represents a different person, such as aunts, grandmothers, and great aunts. Every strand supports the others. You can’t have one missing or the others fall apart.

“Likewise, your blood comes from me, Makelesi, and those who came before.”

Lydia held up part of the net.

“We are one net with one blood,” she said. “We are one people with many strands.” Makelesi started talking to Anna in the other language. She helped Anna make a stitch.

I was jealous, not because I didn’t understand Makelesi, but because I wasn’t part of their deep traditions. I had tried to look up family history, but I’d found only names and dates, not stories.

However, the church partly filled that hole. Some of our traditions went back two thousand years.

It was growing and changing so it was living.

I had thought about different ways that Gei Duk could be resurrected. Another point to consider was if the church itself could be his body. He was raised to Heaven and that exact instant the church was formed. His life on Earth was the church.

That concept didn’t help me solve my problem. It still sounded like figurative resurrection. However, the idea of the church being his body did provide some comfort. It would mean that I shared Gei Duk’s blood and body through church membership. It was just like the Kupe’s idea of sharing blood with Gei Duk through his lineage.

Lydia started hanging the net on the wall again. I was confused and raised my eyebrows at her.

“James will return soon with fish to prepare for lunch,” Lydia said. “I’ll be busy with that. We can fish afterwards.” I nodded.

“Neal and Anna, we could use some wild greens for lunch. Would you collect some?”

“Can my friends and I play on the hill?” asked Anna. She was upbeat.

“Yes, you should find help to gather enough for the village,” said Lydia.

We took the long way back to their home. We stopped at several houses so Anna could ask if children wanted to play on the hill. Most agreed. “This is Neal,” said Anna to them. “He’s my new brother. He’s going with us.” Then, Lydia gave us a couple baskets.

“Fill them,” she said. “Anna knows where to go.”

“When do we return?” I asked.

“When you smell lunch,” replied Lydia.

Six children of ages of about four to eight followed Anna and me. We went to the far side of the village, off the path and up the island. Behind the last house, Ben and a few boys his age played. Some wrestled each other and some watched.

The slope was gentle there. The ground was rocky with a few weeds, but as we went higher, the rocks were covered with more greenery.

“Does your mom normally take the children to play?” I asked Anna.

“Usually Ben or one of the others,” said Anna, “but they always want to hurry home and never let us play. I know you’ll be different.”

“What are the names of your friends?” I asked.

“Walter, Hugh, Mary, Dafotila, and Rose is holding Peter’s hand,” said Anna. Peter was the littlest one.

“Hello,” I said to Walter who was next to us.

“How did you become Anna’s brother?” he asked.

I tried to figure out a simple answer that he’d understand. I wasn’t really her brother. Walter was old enough to understand that.

“I joined them so they could teach me to fish,” I said. Walter was satisfied with that answer.

“We’re here,” said Anna. She had chosen a random place along the green with no features that said we were exactly at the right spot.

One child fell and started rolling down the hill. I panicked for a second and thought I should catch him, but then another started rolling too. They laughed, and everyone else sat down.

“Are the wild greens here?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Anna.

“Which ones?”

“You can pick anything you want to eat,” she said. They were all wild weeds. Mostly they looked like types of dandelions. I picked a leaf off one and showed it to Anna. She nodded. I did the same for a couple more types.

It was going to take a very long time to fill the baskets one leaf at a time. Nevertheless, I had some helpers.

A couple of them just sat, poked each other, and giggled. I put the second basket between them.

“Here,” I said, “pull the weeds, or I mean greens.” Some of the kids started. Half of the salad missed the baskets, but I could collect that later.

From the higher elevation, I could see ocean better and the small island to the East. In the village, we were next to the water and waves obscured the view.

“Does that island have a name?” I asked.

“It is Lou Gaa,” said Walter.

“It’s where the ghosts live,” said Mary. I smiled and didn’t think any more of it.

One of the kids rolling on the hill stopped to join us, but then two others stood up, bored.

“Let’s play tag,” said Hugh.

“Okay,” said Dafotila. The kids all got up. They chased each other around. It didn’t look fair for the little ones, but they were all in a good mood. Suddenly, the tagging started to look more like shoving, so I had to come up with a new game quickly.

“Everybody sit and I tell you about children where I come from,” I said. They all sat. I showed them that they should pick greens while I talked. All did but Peter.

“Do you have school here?” I asked.

“No,” said Walter. He knew what I was talking about.

“What’s that?” asked Rose.

“It is where all the children go every day to learn,” I said.

“What do they learn?” asked Hugh. “Is it to learn how to fish better?”

“Not usually,” I said, “but some classes are about science and ecology. Kids would learn about fish there.” Hugh nodded.

“They learn how to read,” I said. I tried to figure out how to make school sound interesting and fun, but relevant to their lives.

“Oh,” said Anna. “We had Sunday lessons when the last preacher was here.”

“Did he teach you to read?” I asked.

“No,” said Walter. “He just made us memorize verses from the Holy Book.”

“Did he write them down?”

“No, we just recited them.”

That was not exciting them. I needed other ideas.

“Every day the children play,” I said. “That’s called gym.”

“We want it,” said a few children.

“They also listen to stories and sing songs.”

“We want to play school with you,” they said.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll have to talk to the village to make sure it is allowed.”

The children were excited. They kept picking greens as they talked about games that they wanted to play.

The church was the best place to have the lessons, but on nice weather days school could be anywhere. I wondered what was most important for them to learn. At first, I thought that reading may not be useful in their simple life, but then I reversed myself. At least half of my reading was for pleasure and to grow rather than for work. Likewise, they’d find it useful.

I realized that when President Xing had removed the priest, he taken away opportunity for the children. The little education that they were getting had been through him.

It was unjust for the children to be prohibited from learning. That gave me even greater motivation to get a religious man to return.

The baskets were more than half full. Some of the children had gotten distracted with games again and I didn’t stop them. I picked up the leaves that had fallen around the baskets. I saw smoke from several chimneys around the village. I guessed they were cooking lunch. I let the kids play a little more, and then I said it was time to go.

We had too many weeds for one family. I had to stop at about half the houses any how to drop off children, so I distributed the salad with the children.

At one house, I left Hugh with his sister. A group of older girls were there. Four of them were playing a rhythmic baton tossing game. They all tapped their sticks together then passed them to the girl across.

Then we came to James’ and Lydia’s house. James and Ben were already there. I carried in the remaining greens.

“Do you have much?” asked Lydia.

“This is what is left,” I said, tipping the basket towards her.

“Good. Please wash it and put it on the plates.” I took handfuls of greens and put them in the bucket of water, then shook them off. When I was done, Lydia added a piece of fish to each.

“Grouper again?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lydia. “You are recognizing more fish.”

“…by the meat anyhow,” I said.

Lydia and I carried the plates to the porch and we ate there. A few teen boys and young men came towards the center of the village. Ward was with them.

They stopped at the house where the young women were, and one came out to talk. After a couple minutes, Ward joined us to eat his lunch. All of the other boys, except one, also dispersed.

“Is that Nicholas?” I asked.

“Yes, Charles’ son,” said James.

“He’s with Laaka,” said Ward. “He wants to give her a pearl.”

“He wants to marry her?” I asked.

Ward nodded.

“They will have to wait until there is a place for them,” said James. I assumed that might mean that they’d have to wait until there was a death. I could have asked James to confirm it but I didn’t want to offend him by asking about death.

Nicholas’ father, Charles, looked in very good health. Otherwise, they might move away to Fusang, but that would sacrifice their way of life. Living in New Truro required that the future couple conform to the rules. Their way of life prevented them from doing what they wanted.

The kids finished their lunch first. I ate slowly because I wasn’t used to eating bitter salad with no dressing.

“Ward, refill the water bucket at the well before you go out,” said Lydia. He did that then went down towards the waterline.

I was very anxious to get my fishing lesson started. I’d been there a day and a half and still not made progress. I thought of going to help Lydia, but then I saw Charles walking our way.

“Nice weather,” Charles said.

“Yes,” said James.

“Some of the boys will go surfing later. The waves are still higher,” said Charles. James nodded. They’d both been on the water that day so I wasn’t concerned it was too high for me.

“Nicholas is talking to Laaka a lot,” said James. I thought Charles would know but sometimes the fathers were last to find out.

“He doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into,” said Charles. “It is much more work being a husband. Laaka will come up with many more chores for him.”

“Does Clara give you many?” I asked.

“Yes,” Charles said. “I think they do it so we’ll be too tired to kiss them, but fall right asleep.

“Today she wants me to sharpen the shovel. It doesn’t really need it. It digs fine if you put your muscle into it. She’s just looking for work for me to do.”

“Lydia had me do that last week,” said James. “They probably get together to share ideas of how to keep us busy.”

Charles laughed. They looked around as they thought of what else to say. Winslow was headed to join us.

“Here comes the wind,” said Charles while still looking at Winslow. James smiled. Winslow did seem to talk a lot.

“Fishing poor for you too?” asked Winslow.

“Yes, not much choice,” said James. Despite that, everyone was in a good mood with the weather better.

“It will get worse with tourist season coming,” said Winslow. “Xing is milking it. Did you know that his father was a crook before independence? He aligned with the rebels because they were the hidden part of society.”

“Yes, we’ve heard it before,” said Charles. “They are the cause of all of our problems. Xing probably made it storm yesterday too just to spite us.” Winslow smiled. He could tell that Charles was making fun of him. I thought I could add something.

“The boys said that he’d come as Adaro in the mist yesterday,” I said. “He made the storm so he could sneak on us.”

“You see,” said Winslow. “Even Neal gets it. Xing is trouble.”

“Xing has had it rough,” said James. “Remember, his father wed a Kupe girl.”

“That should have kept him too busy to get into trouble,” said Charles.

“Xing’s grandfather threw out his father, mother, and him as a baby,” said James. “They lived in our village a short time, but our fathers didn’t accept him. He tried to get ahead of everyone through cunning and theft. It was then that he led the rebels.”

“Whose daughter was it?” asked Winslow. James told him. It was people I hadn’t heard of.

“Quite a few daughters end up leaving,” added Winslow.

“Why?” I asked. I thought of Nicholas and Laaka.

“Some men die,” said Winslow. “It is safer to be a woman.” I had noticed a few older women living with younger families. Makelesi was one, but she wasn’t a widow.

“In the old times, a man would take two wives if there was imbalance. He’d take his bride and her sister,” said Charles.

“…or they’d be traded to other islands,” said James.

“Then later,” continued Charles, “some women would marry sailors.”

“It’s ironic that Xing has Kupe and colonist blood mixed in him,” said James, “and he still persecutes us.”

They talked more of lineages. However, I was thinking about why men had higher death rates. I’d seen a large shark, but they told me not to worry because they rarely ever bit. I was concerned about how seldom they attacked. Maybe they’d see how I looked different and want to sample my flesh to find out if I tested better.

James got up. He said that he had a boat to patch. He went into the house and the other men went away. I went into the kitchen. James was fiddling with things there.

“Are you ready?” asked Lydia.

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Anna, you can get your friends and go swim.”

“Hooray,” Anna said. Lydia and I walked to the church to get the net. Anna went by herself to other houses.

Lydia took the net down again. She looked to be in no hurry.

“When we pull in the net, let me touch the fish only,” she said. “There are dangerous ones.”

I nodded. She looked around. She seemed to be stalling.

“It is a lot of work to pull in the nets, and clean the fish,” she said. “If we wait long enough, we’ll have more helpers.”

“How far do you go out?” I asked. There were higher waves farther out. I noticed some boys were surfing.

“We stay inside the reef. We don’t go into the sea,” she said.

A minute later, Lucy came down the path.

“Fishing today?” she said.

“Yes, would you join us?” Lydia asked. Lucy nodded.

We all carried the net towards the boats. The boats were of various sizes and construction. A small hollowed palm log was the closest.

“That has a split,” said Lydia. “I told James to patch it for the boys.” Lydia picked a mid-sized boat the three of us could fit in. We put the net into the bottom of the boat. We all pushed the vessel off the beach then climbed in. Lydia was in the middle, and rowed us to the through the inlet.

“Let’s try a little deeper,” said Lucy. “Neal is taller. He can fish where we can’t.” Lydia nodded.

The water was clear. I saw seagrass and sand underneath. The waves crested far into the sea, but still made us rock.

I looked up when I heard children. Anna and her friends had come to the beach. One of the older girls joined them as they splashed in the water.

Our boat was about where the large shark had come. I had been worried about my safety, but I realized I shouldn’t be as concerned if small children weren’t afraid.

“Neal,” said Lydia. “You can handle the net in the water and then all three of us will pull it in.”

“Okay,” I said, “tell me what to do.”

“We’ll feed out the net,” said Lydia. “Then you loop it into a circle to trap the fish. We’ll pull the ends in.”

Lydia gave me a corner of the net and motioned to jump in. I didn’t know how deep it was. Climbing out carefully might have been tippy, so I dove in. The water was warm. I stood. When the waves came, they went up to my neck.

I pulled the net out straight for about forty feet. Then Lydia waved to circle with it. The bottom dragged and the top floated up. I tried to step over the seagrass and onto sandy spots. Then, the net became tough to pull.

“It’s stuck,” I said.

“Go back and pull it up where it’s caught,” Lydia said.

“Hurry or all the fish will get out before they are caught,” said Lucy.

I stepped onto some weeds. I hoped they were weeds because I imagined it was a fish. When something brushed against my leg, I feared it was a shark. I stepped away, but if it was after me, it was much faster than I was in the water. It was pointless to get away. Still, if I took one step away maybe it wouldn’t bite in anger.

I got the tangle loose. When it stopped again, I just pulled harder to free it.

Then, I came to the boat. They still had the other end. They started pulling on both.

“If you get in,” said Lydia, “you can help.” I crawled over the opposite side. I balanced against the weight of the wet net on the other side.

We pulled for a minute and made progress. Then, the net stopped again.

“You need to free it again,” said Lydia. I thought I could get it if I just pulled hard again, but that wouldn’t work from the boat with no feet on the ground. I dove in again and swam to the tangle. I lifted it a little.

“Just stay in and pull from there,” said Lucy. I was able to help with good footing. When the net was nearly into the boat, I got back in and pulled the heavy weight of fish from above.

I hadn’t seen any fish when I was in the water, but they had been there.

“Let’s do the sorting on the shore,” said Lydia. “It will be easier.”

“Okay,” said Lucy. I was nearest the center of the boat, so I picked up the oars and took us back. It was tiring work and we weren’t done yet.

Lydia and I pulled the boat onto the sand between two others. Then Lucy freed the fish into the bottom of the boat. They flopped, but were less energetic from being out of the water a few minutes. James was there putting a paste on a canoe.

Lucy picked a fish and smacked its head against the boat to kill it. Then she threw it to the front of the boat.

“Neal is supposed to learn their names,” said Lydia.

“Oh,” said Lucy. “That’s a rough fish.” Then Lydia picked up one and smacked it.

“It’s a jack,” she said. “She tossed it into a different boat.” Both women mentioned a few other names of fishes as they threw them into the second boat. I tried to tell them the names as they picked up repeats. However, I was confused because several types were called rough fish.

“How are you sorting these?” I asked.

“The good ones we put in the other boat,” said Lydia. Those were the fish with names. “The other ones are too bony and no one will eat them. We’ll put them in the garden for fertilizer. The soil here isn’t great.” Rough was their name for undesirable fish.

“Do you want to sort some?” Lucy said. I had been standing and watching, not helping.

“Leave the puffers,” said Lydia. I helped with a few fish until we reached the bottom. A few puffers remained.

“They are dangerous and poisonous to eat,” said Lydia.

“Do you put them back in the water?” I asked.

“No, they would take over the sea if we only took their competitors,” said Lucy.

“We’ll leave them out and maybe the seagulls will eat them,” said Lydia. She picked one up carefully. It was puffing. It had what I’d call a sharp beak. Lydia smacked it then threw it past the end of the boats.

“Shall we work at my house?” asked Lydia.

“Okay,” said Lucy. Lydia started filling a basket with a good fish.

“Neal,” she said. “Do you want to learn to cure the fish? Instead, I have an alternate that way you can help.”

“Okay,” I said.

“After we carry the fish up you can take the rough fish in the basket and bury them in the garden.” I nodded.

As we walked up the path, Clara came out.

“Clara,” said Lydia. “Join us.”

When we reached the kitchen, they spread out the fish on the counter then handed me the basket. I did what she’d told me earlier.

After fishing, swimming, pulling in nets, rowing, carrying and burying fish, I was tired. The women weren’t done with their work, but I didn’t offer to help. I sat and rested. Today was a busy day for them. Hopefully, not every day was that much work for them.

I fell asleep laying on the porch. When I woke, James was there. I was groggy for a while, and didn’t speak. The women must have been gone because I didn’t hear them talking, but it did sound like supper was cooking.

“I learned the fish names today,” I said when I was fully awake.

“Good,” said James. “You can hook fish with the boys tomorrow. They don’t do it every day, but I’ll tell Ben that he has to then.”

I nodded.

“Learning must be tiring,” he said. I smiled.

“It wasn’t the learning, but all of the hard work that went with it,” I said.

“Hook fishing is a lot easier,” said James. “The boys wouldn’t do it if it was tough. They just want to have fun. You won’t get as worn out.” I nodded. Then I grabbed my spear barbs. The first was in shape already. I started vigorously on the second.

Later the boys came home. Lydia called us into supper. Anna had come home sometime while I was asleep.

The family told each other about their days. Anna told about playing. I added to her story.

“We talked of playing school sometime,” I said.

“Yes, all the kids want it,” said Anna.

“It sounds fun,” said James.

“Would you take all of the children?” asked Lydia. I thought she meant Ben and maybe Ward too.

“It would just be play,” I said. “It’d be tough for me to handle all ages. We’d only try it a few times.”

“I’ll talk to the other mothers when I see them,” said Lydia. James nodded. Then they talked about other things. For the rest of the night we played games.

The Kupe might lack a formal education, but they were smart. Ben could usually beat me in checkers. Also, they were all bilingual.

Still, the children here would benefit from learning to read. In my short time here, all I could do would be to get them excited about school. At best, my play-school could start skills the young ones needed to get ready to read. I went over the ideas in my head.

  • * * *

Chapter 7

Friday I woke, ate breakfast then sat on the porch doing carving. James sat with me. The air was foggy.

“Is it good to fish in fog?” I asked.

“It will probably go away and be fine,” said James. “It’s best to wait and see.”

They wouldn’t be able to see large sharks coming through the fog. I agreed that it was safer to stay home.

A man approached on the path. It was hard to see who it was until he was close.

“Good morning,” said Edgar. “Were your dreams good?”

I nodded.

“Yes,” said James. “I saw that our family was reunited and living happy.”

“I wish it to be true,” said Edgar.

The two of them talked more about the weather. I kept filing.

“You are making good progress,” said Edgar to me.

“Thanks,” I said. “Here’s the other one.” I got out my completed one.

“Oh,” said Edgar, “that was your second piece?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m about done with one and onto the second barb.” I was half done with that one.

I noticed the surprised expression he always had. It was more pronounced now.

“It took me years to make mine,” said Edgar. “What about you, James?”

“A while,” he said.

“It seems like someone just making a copy should be able to go fast,” said Edgar, “but a person that had the spirit guide him would be slow.”

I didn’t want to spend years here, or even months. I needed to get back to my real life, but making a spear was part of building respect between us.

“It takes understanding of how the fish behaves, and how the spear works. Then it won’t be a copy, but an expression of what it means to fish,” said Edgar.

I set the work down. I could wait a day or so until I’d been in the water. I nodded to Edgar to show I’d understood his point. Fishing wasn’t their employment, but their life. The spear wasn’t a tool, but a symbol of their identity. They rarely used the carved ones anyhow, but used the metal spears. The carvings were a process of growth and a display of achievement.

Just then, three men came up the path. As they got close, I saw it was Winslow followed by Charles and Elias. The fog was thinning.

“Hello,” said James. Winslow exhaled in an exasperated manner.

“What is up?” asked James.

“The phone booth was defaced,” said Winslow. I’d forgotten they had one since no one ever used it.

“Someone had drawn a picture of Xing in the dust that collected on the window,” Winslow continued.

I thought that was an extremely mild case of vandalism. Pranksters wrote ‘wash me’ on cars all the time.

“It was very unflattering. His face had gills, and fins were drawn on the body.”

“Then it was not far from the truth,” jested Charles. Nobody laughed.

“It is going to get out. Everyone will hear about it,” said Winslow. “When I went to get a rag to wipe it off, I passed some boys. They saw it.”

“Then half the town knows by now,” said Edgar. “Eventually Xing will hear.” Edgar looked like he was in a panic.

“Will he care?” I asked.

“It is disrespectful to make him look bad,” said James. “It is best that we go to him and apologize.”

I didn’t believe that was necessary. It was too insignificant to fuss over.

“Help me understand,” I said. I looked to see no children were listening. “We saw Keoni, but didn’t apologize. In my view that was a bigger infraction.”

“No,” said James. “When we went there we threatened his power, but we did so for just reasons. However, defacing his image is a threat to his being, and completely uncalled for.”

“Xing will likely become totally unhinged if he finds out through his own means,” said Winslow. The other men agreed. The men thought for a couple minutes.

“I had a dream,” said Edgar. “I was battling a sea monster. It was in the water, but it was coming to destroy our town.” This was no time for stories, I thought.

“All I had was a spear,” Edgar continued. “I didn’t know where you all were at—maybe asleep.

“I thrust my spear at it, but it snapped. I was defenseless.

“Then, I thought if it ate me, it might get full and go away, so I bowed to it. It came close, but then returned to the deep sea.”

“The ancestors spoke to you,” the men said as they nodded. They were faced with another conflict and Edgar’s story was a good representation of how they’d deal with it. I wondered if the sea monster had a face like Xing. They thought they needed to voluntarily put their fate in Xing’s hands. There might be consequences.

The fog was lifting off the ground. It hung like a cloud just above us, but below was clear.

“I need to provide for my family,” said Winslow. “I can’t go to Fusang now.”

“Yes, let’s talk again later,” said James. He got his spear, and I followed him down the path.

The phone booth was on the far side of the church. I noticed that a poster of Xing was on the inside of the glass. It would be very easy to trace it and add other details. The glass had been wiped clean by Winslow.

Back at the house, Ben was coming out.

“Your father said I was supposed to fish with you today,” I said.

“Fine,” he said with apathy. I followed him and he didn’t tell me not to do so. We approached five boys on the path. They were talking, but stopped when they saw me. They all stared. They looked to be between ages of eight and twelve.

“It’s okay,” said Ben. “He’s more like us than an adult.” I wasn’t sure how to interpret that.

They still didn’t talk, but glanced in my direction. I stepped back a little. Then they spoke to each other. If I strained, I could hear most of what they said.

“I’m named after Great Grandfather John,” said one boy. They could have spoken in their other language if they were serious about being private.

“He was the best fisherman ever,” said John. “He once caught a fish using only bare hands.”

“I don’t believe that makes him the best,” said one boy.

“Why not, Samuel?” asked John.

“Catching a shark is a tougher challenge,” said Samuel, “even if using a spear. If you miss the kill shot, it will thrash. Using bare hands to wrestle it is a bigger challenge than just catching fish by hands. It is a killer.”

Another boy agreed with Samuel.

“Atu is said to have caught the grandfather of Maganta,” said Samuel. “He must be the best fisherman.”

“I think Atu is best,” said Ben.

“No, it is Old John,” said a different boy.

‘We must resolve this with a race,” said Samuel. “We have me, Ben, and Amos for Atu. Then we have John, Nathaniel, and Oliver for Old John.” Samuel pointed to each one as he said their names.

“Okay,” said John. “Both ancestors will be pleased that we have an even team supporting each side.”

“Where shall we race?” asked Amos.

“To the end of the path,” said John.

“No,” said Samuel. “It is not clear where the path ends exactly.”

“Okay,” said John. “Touch the church and come back to this line.” He scratched a mark in the dirt.

“Good,” said Samuel. The boys lined up.

“Go!” yelled John. They sprinted away. Ben got the slowest start. They ran out of my view then came back. The boys were slower coming back because it was uphill. Amos crossed the line first. Ben was last.

“Atu is the best,” said Samuel. He panted as he spoke.

“Yes, he’s best,” agreed John. “We should have another race for the best at catching by hand so Old John can win too.”

None of the other boys were interested in more running. They stood panting for a minute.

“No,” said Nathaniel. “Let’s have a throwing contest.” The boys started to walk. It wouldn’t be fun for me to follow them around the whole time.

“Ben,” I said, “come get me when you are ready to fish.”

He nodded. Then I turned and walked to the church. I wanted to check it for potential as a school.

The door had no lock, and I went in. The benches were easy to arrange if needed. Nothing else looked promising.

I thought that useful materials might be in the closet, so I opened it. It had a stack of dishes, a broom and a robe hung there. There was no chalk board, and no books, paper, or even mini individual boards. If they got serious about having a real school, they’d have to start from scratch.

However, I could make do with a day or two of play school. It wouldn’t be a full day, but only an hour. We’d sing and play. I went back to James’ house and found I had nothing to do. The whole family except Makelesi was gone. She was napping in a hammock.

I couldn’t do carving because I wasn’t feeling the spirit of it according to Edgar. I did pick up the fragments and fiddled with them.

I watched the people on the water. A few men were spearfishing. I’d see them come to the surface with a small fish on their spears.

Also, I noticed a couple young men or teens were far into the deep water. I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but one went into the water repeatedly.

There was other activity around the village. A different group of women seemed to be preparing to fish with nets. Another woman dug in her garden. A few girls sat at a nearby house playing a string game like cat’s cradle.

After a long time, the young men started heading back into the inlet. One of them might have been Nicholas.

As their boat passed the place where the waves crested, I remained fixated on the water. The waves varied in size, but each behaved about the same as the others. They all came up from the water at the same point, then crested and broke consistently. Directly in line with the inlet, there was a gap where the waves came through to the cove. The waves were littler there as the energy spread out.

As I concentrated on the flow of water, my vision narrowed so I was seeing only that. I was oblivious to other things going on. I didn’t consciously think of anything, just watched one wave after the next. It was as if my brain partly shut down, but I remained awake.

After a while, I startled myself to become fully aware again. I felt that I should find something to do and quit wasting my day.

Then, I heard Lydia in the kitchen. She must have snuck past me or come in the back door. I thought back to when I’d watched the waves. I thought that a person may have passed in front of me while I was in the trance.

I got up and offered to help Lydia with lunch. She gave me something to do. A minute later a male voice called from the front. It sounded like Nicholas. Lydia went to the door and came back with a cupful of shells. She started preparing it.

At lunch, we all sat together, except the boys who weren’t back yet. Lydia put the food bowls on the floor.

“It’s oysters,” said Lydia.

“Yuck,” said Anna, making a sour face.

“Yum,” said James, smiling, and teasing Anna.

“I remember a long time ago when James was looking for oysters,” said Lydia. She winked at him. “He fed the village for a week until he found what he was looking for.” James put his arm around Lydia.

“Finally I found her,” he said. I guessed they were talking about pearl hunting.

The boys came in and ate the fish James had caught. They finished quickly.

“It is a good time to fish,” said Ben.

“Okay,” I said. He grabbed a bamboo pole with a string on it. We went out of the house.

“Is anyone else coming?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. We went past the church. I thought of the phone booth.

“I hope there are fish left,” I said. “I guess Adaro came to the village last night. I imagine he was here for the fish.”

Ben stopped in his tracks. I assumed he’d heard about the drawing. Then he started walking again.

We went to where the spring fed into the inlet. Minnows swam in the water there.

“We need bait,” he said. He gave me a cup. He went into the water so the minnows were between him and the beach. Then he made a large wave with his hands. Some minnows splashed onto the sand.

“Grab them,” he said. I got two. The rest flopped back to the water. I tried to chase those, but they swam.

“No,” Ben said. “We’ll do it again.” The second time, I got one and he got three.

“That’s good,” he said. “Come along.”

We pushed out one of the small canoes, and then got in it. He gave me an oar to row. I steered the boat into the inlet.

“How far out shall we go?” I said, when we weren’t far yet.

“Farther than this,” he said. “Let’s go into the sea.”

“Do you normally go out there?” Yesterday, the women wanted me to go deeper, too. I was scared for a second, but then I remembered that I was with a ten-year-old boy, so I should be able to handle the waves if he could.

“No, but the fishing is better there. The waves are tall for the boat, but they aren’t big today. The wind is coming from the other way.”

I rowed for a while. Then I asked him what else he’d played that morning. He tried to explain Sham battling, but I didn’t get the point of it.

“You’ve never fished?” asked Ben.

“I’ve gone fishing before, more when I was young,” I said. “I rarely caught anything.” He looked at me as if he was trying to understand, but couldn’t.

We reached the point where the low waves crested. Some water came over the bow of the canoe into the boat. Ben held the cup of minnows so they wouldn’t swim away. He wasn’t concerned yet about the water coming into the boat.

Then I rowed us to the point where the waves just began. He looked into the water.

“…but you know how to pull in the fish right,” Ben said after a long pause. He didn’t have a rod and reel like at home, so I didn’t know how to do it.

“Maybe you can demonstrate as a refresher,” I said.

He put a minnow on the hook and dropped it in. A rock tied to the string weighted it down.

The line was in the water literally for only seconds when there was a tug. He yanked the pole to set the hook, and then he worked his hands up the pole and drew in the string hand over hand. The pole was just a bamboo rod with a string tied to the end. He brought up a small jack fish, unhooked it and put it in the bottom of the boat.

“Okay,” he said handing me the pole and bait.

I remembered how to put a minnow on a hook. I got it on and let it into the water.

“The bait is too small to attract a really big fish,” Ben said, “but if you get a large one, we can both pull together.”

I nodded. I hoped fighting a big fish wouldn’t tip us.

A fish took the bait. I sunk the hook then cautiously followed the steps for bringing it in.

“Faster,” said Ben. I sped up a little. “If a shark comes by and sees a fish in distress, he may go for it.” After that I pulled it in as quickly as I could.

It was a small rough fish. I unhooked it and threw it in the boat.

“What are you doing?” asked Ben.

“Keeping the rough fish.”

“No, do you want to do gardening? Throw it back,” he said. I reached for it, but it flopped to his end. He took care of it.

I thought that by net fishing with Lydia, I was learning about the Kupe way of life, but instead I was just learning her reality. To understand them all, I needed to see how each person worked.

I got the rod ready. Again it was in the water less than a minute before I got another fish. It was the same sort of rough fish as before.

“It’s the same fish,” I said.

“Try again,” Ben said.

“No, I mean it is the same exact fish. He’s filling up his stomach on our minnows, one at a time for his lunch. If I throw him in, he’ll just eat the next one, too.”

“I doubt it,” said Ben.

“I’m going to throw him further so he won’t see the bait.” I did that.

On our last three minnows, I brought in good fish. It all happened quickly. There must be lots of fish under us. There was plenty to eat even if none of the fish were their favorite types.

After that, I rowed us back into the inlet. The hardest part of the adventure was the rowing. That took the most time, too.

“Before we left, mom said we had enough fish right now. Take them around and see if others want them,” Ben said, pointing to a few houses.

He went ahead of me. He took a long look towards the phone booth as he passed it.

I gathered the fish and stopped at a few places until I’d found gracious recipients.

When I returned, James was home. When I walked up, he looked as if he was waiting for me.

“Ben told me he was the one that made the drawings on the phone booth,” James said. I looked for Ben but didn’t see him. I wondered if my mentioning it caused him to give himself up.

“We need to talk to the other men,” said James. We went to most of the houses. A few of the men were out, but most joined us. When we were all together, James explained what his son had told him. Winslow and Edgar repeated what they’d said in the morning.

Thinking about it again, I wondered if I had encouraged him to do it. I’d told him and Ward about how boys behaved at home.

“I may have caused this,” I said. “I told them that people at my home would fight against someone like President Xing. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you for telling us,” said James.

“We need to go apologize,” said Edgar.

“We can’t let this hang over us,” said James.

“Yes,” said others. They’d changed the subject away from my admission. They didn’t dwell on it.

“We have to do it today,” said another man.

“We should send as many people as possible so Xing sees the seriousness of our apology,” said James.

“He likes it when more bow to him,” said Winslow.

About eight men volunteered. Also, I said I’d go. James said he’d bring Ben too.

“Do we need a gift?” asked Edgar.

“Yes,” someone said.

“Kalasiah caught a sea cucumber by accident earlier. She didn’t know what to do with it,” said Henry.

“Xing loves it,” said Winslow. “They all do, but it’s disgusting.”

They agreed to meet on the path up the hill. Then, they went their separate ways. I followed James to his house.

Ben was inside. James told him he had to go and didn’t make a big deal of it. Next, we waited for the others.

“It is best to apologize quickly,” said James to Ben and me. “President Xing sometimes behaves oddly, but usually he follows the traditions of his people related to apologies. It is more important to clear things up than to figure out exactly who is to blame. The smooth functioning of the community is what matters.”

We waited a while for Henry to come with the gift, and then we started walking. I stayed near the back of the group.

I felt that I had let the Kupe people down by telling their boys to behave in a way that was unacceptable. At the time, I hadn’t seen that my comments were a big deal, but I know now what it meant to them. Since I was becoming close to them, I felt an obligation to follow their ways. I was more deeply involved in the things that were important to them. I was beginning to provide food for the village, involved in their decision making, and headed with them to salvage their reputation.

Ben and I should be the ones to see the President. I didn’t understand why all of the other men felt that they had to go along. Ben had done the defacing, and I had given him ideas. What had the other men done? I supposed that James had a reason to apologize. Ben was his son and if he’d become a delinquent. Maybe Xing would think it was partly James’ fault.

My deepening connection with the Kupe was helping me get closer to my goal. I didn’t know how to fix their problems with Xing yet, but I had learned more about the rules in their society. Some traditions had impeded my progress, such as my initial lack of authority to speak for their interests. However, I’d seen other traits that could aid me, such as their sense of responsibility to each other.

James had said that the President was unlike the rest of the Sheng. That could spoil my plans. If I came up with a plan that worked for the Kupe, it may not work for the Sheng and the President. Xing was promoting commercial fishing despite potential harm to the Kupe.

I walked quickly to catch up with James, but he was in a conversation. Instead, I talked to Winslow.

“Tell me more about how Xing is going to handle this.” I said.

“He’s into physical punishment,” Winslow said. “They discipline their children by hitting them.”

“Does that mean he’d punish us?” I asked. I was concerned. I had been fearful of sneaking to see Keoni, but I should have been more worried about sketches in the dust. Soon, I might be locked in a cage or thrown to sharks.

“I don’t think so,” said Winslow. “It is the father’s role to handle all discipline within the family. It is the President’s job to punish the fathers when they disobey.”

“Like Keoni?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Where do I fall into this?” I asked.

“You are in James’ house,” he said. I was reassured. I was just a boy like Ben, so James was responsible. Also, he wouldn’t get into trouble for something so little. However, I had to be more cautious in the future. I wouldn’t be able to take risks if James had to answer for it.

Even though Winslow had reassured me, I still couldn’t clear my head of thinking about consequences. Then, as we passed the palm grove at the bottom of the hill, another thought bothered me. I worried that Xing had found out about our visit to Keoni, but waited for us to come to him before he reacted.

As we went through town, I felt like an outsider. When I arrived on the plane a few days ago, I didn’t feel at home, but I had gotten adjusted to this place and their way of life. Now, walking with the Kupe men, I felt stares at the back of our heads. The Sheng didn’t look at us as we approached them. That would be too bold. Instead, they waited until we’d passed them. Even the modern hotel, where I’d lived a few days, seemed foreign. That reminded me that I couldn’t let my connection to my other reality at home slip away. I had another life elsewhere.

We arrived at the Presidential office. I thought we should have called the first floor from the phone booth. However, where else would Xing be? If he’d left the island, surely Roger would have heard and told people.

“We are here to apologize to President Xing,” James told Xing’s assistant Min.

“Please wait,” he replied. He didn’t contact the President, but went back to work as we stood.

I was intimidated from being ignored. I imagined the others were too. Yet, if they expected this then maybe it wasn’t a big deal to them.

After several minutes, Min arose. He disappeared into an office. Then, he came back with the President. Xing noticed that I was with them, but looked away.

The Kupe bowed. I did too.

“Mr. President, your honor, thank you for hearing us,” said James. Xing nodded.

“Mr. President,” said Henry, “we have brought you some sea cucumber.” He held the plate up.

Xing smiled, and Min retrieved the gift.

“Thank you,” said Min. He brought it to the President and took one slice and bit it. Then he curled up his nose and put the food back.

“There is no salt, no flavor,” said Xing. He waved Min to set down the platter.

“Why do you bring gifts?” asked the President.

“My son made an unfavorable drawing of you,” said James. “We apologize. We do not mean to show you disrespect, honorable President. We removed it and came here to show the depth of our sorrow.”

“How did he get those ideas?” asked Xing. He looked to the boy, to me, and back to James.

“We have not guided him as we should,” said James. “We are embarrassed and shy about our error. I have told the boy of his error. We will not lapse again.” Xing nodded.

“Everyone agrees that it is important for me to maintain dignity?” asked Xing rhetorically. “I have grand plans for Truro Shoal. It will be a paradise. I am the President and this is my decision.”

As he spoke, he stood in the center of the room and gestured as if gathering energy.

“Everyone approves?” asked Xing. He paused.

“Yes,” said the men. They bowed again.

Then Xing glanced at me again. I thought he wanted to be sure that I’d understood the men deferred to him. I nodded that I’d heard it.

“Then you may go,” said the President.

We bowed again and he walked out. Xing thought the men would support whatever he said to have harmony. It was partly true. They didn’t challenge him, even though some like Winslow didn’t support him when he spoke freely.

“Ben,” said James, “you are one of the men now. You’ve been with us to represent the village.” Ben smiled.

As we walked through town, I decided that there would be little change unless I pushed. I needed to think of my options. I needed to step outside of my role as a Kupe trainee. The hotel represented my independence from them. Also, I really needed to reconnect with my family and work.

“James,” I said. “I have some other responsibilities. Is it all right if I stay at the hotel, then return to New Truro tomorrow?”

“Fine,” he said. “Ben said you were lucky with him. You are ready to have Ward show you basic spearfishing.”

I thought I was lucky because I got rid of the rough fish that kept taking my bait.

I nodded. Then I turned towards the hotel. I waved to a couple men as they passed.

“Welcome,” said Jing-Sheng as I went in.

It was nearing suppertime. First, I wanted to shower and change clothes. Bathing in the salt water sea wasn’t the same as a shower with soap.

After supper, I went back to my room. I checked email first since family would still be asleep.

My brain was very slow as I tried to work. It had grown accustomed to watching clouds and waves. Not much had happened at the office, but still there were lots of emails to deal with.

One was a reply from the church magazine. I had sent an editorial about President Xing for their issue coming in out a few weeks. However, the editor was so excited by it that he’d posted online right away.

That wasn’t my plan. I wanted to be safely away before that happened. I told myself that Xing didn’t read it, so it wouldn’t matter.

I looked at the time. It would be 7:00am at home, and Angela would probably be awake. Yet, if it was a normal Friday morning, she might sleep in a little because she worked only afternoons on Fridays. I decided to try to Skype her. She picked up.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi, it’s Neal.” I was happy to talk to her. I told her about learning to fish. She said that they missed me. I said that I’d probably be there only a few more days. Then we said goodbye.

Once I’d learned to spearfish, my obligation to them was over. Unless I found a way to help them, I’d have no reason to stay.

As I thought about spearfishing, I hesitated about whether I’d master it quickly. I could swim, but the Kupe were on a higher level of skill.

When Ben and I fished, it seemed that there must be many fish. If true, then all I had to do was jab a spear and I’d hit something.

That reminded me of the Kupe’s complaint about lack of the best fish. I wondered if Xing’s promotion of commercial fishing offshore could have anything to do with it.

I didn’t have the expertise to decide it. I wondered if I could call someone back home that would know.

I spent a while looking a webpage for the University. I wasted a long time reading because my brain was slowed down. Finally, I found the contact info for a professor there that might be able to help.

It was late in Truro Shoal, so it’d be an okay time to call there. I tried, but no one answered. Next, I Skyped a call to a government oceanography lab on the East coast. The secretary had no idea what I was talking about so I got frustrated. The past several days I’d been going to bed early, so I was getting tired.

Then, I found the number for an advocacy organization. A woman named Julia answered and was willing to talk. I told her my problem.

“Do they fish on the reefs?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They stay close to shore in small boats. It is where the waves are highest.”

“That is from the reefs.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Most reefs are under threat,” she said. “Acidification of sea water from pollution is killing reefs. Also, people overfish them.”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” I said. “I went fishing and had great luck. Plus their population sounds like it’s been stable for generations.”

“Oh,” said Julia. “The problem might be more complicated. Do you know what the real name of the ‘Manna’ fish is?”

“No.”

“It might be eel. They love eel in the islands,” she said. “Regardless, there are ways that commercial and charter fishing can impact a reef.

“Reefs are not isolated ecosystems, but they interact with the oceans. For example, reef fish have a bipartite life history. The parent fish spawn on the reef, but the eggs wash into the pelagic zone of the ocean.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“It is the deeper parts. Then, the young fish grown there until they are ready to resettle onto the reef.

“The system is very susceptible to disruption. Any change in the sea or on the reef could affect them. Both areas have very high competition for food. Most species on the planet are one meal away from starvation. Humans are the exception.”

“I think it must have been the same for us too recently,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“Oh,” I said. “It is something unrelated that I’ve been thinking about recently. Food used to have been a life or death concern for people until a couple hundred years ago.”

“I bet you’re right,” she said. “Here are some examples how the reef could be impacted. The commercial trawlers might be collecting a species in the zone that eat the reef fish larva. Without that controlling their population, the reef fish might be burning out the resources in the sea, and then starving.

“Another possibility is that the trawlers might be hunting sharks. When the top predator is removed, all sorts of effects occur.”

“I hear that there are lots of sharks,” I said, “and I saw a huge one myself.”

“Was it a great white?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Still,” she said, “there are lots of types of sharks around most areas. If the charters are pulling in sharks that feed on grouper, then that population is not held back any more and it takes over.”

“Do you know why a great white would suddenly hunt in a new place for food?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Why?”

“…because it’s hungry.”

“Oh,” I said. After that, I thanked her and hung up.

It was late and I got in bed. I fell asleep quickly, but dreamed of sharks.

  • * * *

Chapter 8

Saturday, I woke in the hotel and had breakfast there. I was supposed to fish with Ward, but I didn’t feel I needed to rush to get to New Truro. People there took their time getting busy in the morning. The teens seemed the slowest.

As I walked I thought about the meeting we had with the president. James and the others didn’t stand up for their rights, but on the other hand, I thought they had been very courteous. That kept their relationship with Xing in a positive tone. They just needed to follow through and ask for the freedom to worship.

Recently, I had been thinking about what God’s kingdom on earth would look like. The community in New Truro had many positive aspects such as politeness, but it wasn’t perfect.

If the church and the society around it were God’s Kingdom, it should be perfect, but that wasn’t the case. The church was made of people, and we were all flawed.

I didn’t know if there could ever be a true Kingdom because humans would never become perfect. That was the divide between God and man. There was no way for us to reach him. However, an all-powerful God would be able to reach to us despite our imperfections.

How would He do it? There needed to be a span over the gap. It wasn’t a physical connection, but spiritual. If God had made Gei Duk to be perfect, then the man bridged us to God. Then through communion we combined our spirit with Gei Duk’s. He was our passage.

I was still unresolved on some issues. First, I didn’t know if the Kupe’s method of communion counted as the real thing. It was just sharing food. Second, what did Gei Duk’s being the path to God mean related to his resurrection?

Coming down the side of the hill towards New Truro, I looked at the sky. It was partly cloudy and it would be a good day to fish. It looked like a few men were on the sea, but I doubted any were Ward.

I went straight to James’ house. When I got there, Ward was fiddling with his own carving.

“Your father says we will fish together today,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, unexcited. Lydia came to the door.

“He knows he has to collect kindling before he can go out,” she said. Ward ignored his mother, and she went back in.

He could stall the whole day and I’d never get to fish. I thought I’d encourage him.

“Can I help you do it?” I asked. “It will go faster.”

If I was useful, it might cut his time in half.

“It’s really exciting,” Ward said sarcastically.

I shrugged. He fiddled with his carving again.

“Okay,” he said.

“Come on,” he said as he got up. He grabbed an empty bag. I followed him down to the boats. He came to a mid-sized one.

“Help me push it out,” he said. I did. It seemed odd to go in a boat to look for wood.

“How far do we have to go for kindling?” I asked. I hadn’t seen any normal trees around.

“To the palms,” he said as he gestured. It was probably a half mile walk.

“Why don’t you row since I’ve got to do the climbing,” he said. I started rowing. It seemed like he’d come up with a way for me to do the majority of the work.

“I saw Edgar climb the palms,” I said. “Is that what you mean you’ll have to do?”

“Yes.”

“To get dead leaves?” I couldn’t picture what else would burn.

“No,” he said. “The coconut hulls.” I nodded. I rowed us out of the inlet and parallel to the shore.

“I used to climb too when I was younger,” I said, “but not on palms. Trees that I’m used to have branches to hold onto.”

“Like bamboo,” said Ward.

I thought about the bamboo that I’d seen. Near the top were small green twigs. They wouldn’t support anyone.

“Kind of like that,” I said. I kept rowing.

“Is this a good spot to pull ashore?” I asked near the palms.

“Let’s go up over there,” he said. “We are going to pull the boat up. Let’s make it one trip instead of going back and forth carrying bag after bag of coconuts.”

Pulling the boat up the sand wasn’t easy. Later, full of coconuts would make it harder, but at least it would be downhill. I wondered if he’d ever done it this way before alone.

He climbed the trees and threw down several brown nuts from each tree top. I put them in the bag and made trips back and forth to the boat. The coconuts were twice as big as I’d seen in the store. Ward kept at it until the boat was brimming.

Then he came down and we tried to move the boat. It wouldn’t budge.

“Is it caught?” Ward asked.

We looked around it. The problem was that it sat in a low spot. If we got it past there, it might be easier.

I took an oar and used it like a lever. The boat inched out of the hole. Then coming down the sand was a little easier, but still wore me out.

The boat finally made it to the water. We both sat in it. Neither of us volunteered to row it.

In a few minutes I felt better. I was getting into physical shape from all of the activity the last week.

I tried rowing, but it was awkward with the coconuts in the way. It seemed futile and we were in only a foot of water, so I got out. I started pushing the boat, and it got moving nicely.

At the mouth of the inlet, the ground was rocky, so I went slower. I took the long way along the shore of the inlet rather than trying to paddle the short cut.

“Do you want to carry the coconuts or husk them?” Ward asked after we pulled the boat up.

“Carry,” I said. I thought that it’d be very hard to take off the hulls.

I grabbed the bag and started up to their house. He got there first and showed me where to dump them next to a pole. Then I headed back for the next load.

When I returned, Ward was sitting and waiting. He made the coconuts into two piles. One was the woody husks and the other was like the coconuts like I’d seen in stores.

I dumped my bag out and watched him hull the first one. He jabbed it on the pole to knock a piece loose, then he used his bare hands to pull the rest off. He’d let me pick the hard job.

I ran up and down the hill several more times bringing coconuts. After this, I hoped we didn’t swim right away.

“That’s a lot of coconut,” I said. “Are we going to eat all of it?”

“Probably,” he said. “Mom wants us to give half away, but I think we can just leave it out and let people help themselves.”

I nodded. The last step was to put the hulls in a bin behind the kitchen, then put a bag of coconuts to hang in the corner of the kitchen.

“Thanks,” said Lydia. She had a coconut open on the counter. She must have heard us and grabbed one. “Here’s something to munch on.” Ward grabbed a couple wedges of the nut, and I took one.

“Let’s go see what everyone is up to,” he said.

The children of New Truro did chores. That would limit how much time that they could go to school. However, they could probably squeeze in a couple hours of school, and longer on rainy days.

The coconut wedge took effort to chew. It wasn’t sweet.

Ward and I went to the end of the path. Other young men and teen boys were there, including Nicholas. The last house was under construction. The guys worked on it.

The house was to the point where it had half of the flooring. A few decking boards lay around and guys were sanding them by hand.

The guys greeted each other as we arrived. Ward sat and didn’t try to work. I didn’t feel like helping either.

My job at home was managing risk for the church insurance system, so I was curious if they were making the new home safe for typhoons. The wood needed to be secured so that the wind didn’t blow it away. I looked towards the unfinished part of the floor. The beams and posts had wedged connections. That should provide some resistance to storms.

The wood appeared to be palm. That made sense since the only other resource that they had was bamboo.

Three girls came to watch. They stood together, several feet away. One was Laaka.

Some of the guys talked to them in their other language. The girls laughed. The guys purposely didn’t talk in English so I wouldn’t understand their flirting.

Nicholas got up and stood next to Laaka. He showed her something small that was cupped in his palm. She was pleased.

“Laaka, come with me,” he said. “This is the place where we are going to live. They walked to where he’d been working.

“See, it’s good,” Nicholas said. He held up the plank and told her to touch it.

“No,” Laaka said, “still too rough.” She shook her head, but continued smiling.

“I will make it smooth for your feet,” Nicholas said. “This work is for you.” He vigorously polished it more. The girls wandered away together.

It would take a very long time to sand all the floor boards by hand. I looked at one of the scraps of sand paper that was discarded. It was nearly smooth itself.

“What is this?” I asked Ward.

“Shark skin,” he said. “The scales are the best, but eventually they fall off.”

“They’re all getting smooth,” said a young man.

“That’s Paul,” Ward said to me. “He’s Ephraim’s son.”

“Do you hunt Maganta?” I asked. Paul laughed.

“No,” he said. “The little sharks are just as good. If someone caught Maganta, his skin would last us twenty years. You finish a whole house with her.”

“Twenty years? Does it take a long time to make a house?” I said.

“Yes,” said Paul. “It was all of our fathers who started this building when they courted their wives.”

One generation later and they were only up to the floor boards. I could see why it took so long by having to sand it to meet the fickleness of their potential wives.

Instead of actually planning to use it for their own families, the boys got something symbolic from it. By working on it, they showed their dedication to their girlfriends.

When the girls were completely out of sight, the guys stopped working except Nicholas. They’d gotten their payback from their effort. Nicholas continued his effort a couple minutes but then gave up too. He shook his head after feeling the smoothness of the board. It had to be frustrating.

Hopefully, they hadn’t become inspired to search for sharks in afternoon. I didn’t want my first underwater fishing lesson to be face-to-face with a killer.

“Ward is supposed to help me spearfish today,” I said. I wanted to make sure they all knew the plan. Paul nodded.

“Hopefully, we’ll start with the smallest fish first,” I said.

“Some of the small ones are the hardest to get,” said Paul. “The target is so little.” He drew a picture of a fish is the dust.

“You need to hit them behind the eyes. Right here,” he said pointing to a spot on his drawing.

“Do you go out together or separately?” I asked.

“Separately,” said Paul, “too much fish taken in one spot might draw the sharks there.”

“Sometimes in pairs,” said Ward.

“How do you avoid the sharks?”

“Most don’t bother you,” said Ward. “If it is all black or part white, then watch out, but you can usually deal with the others.”

“If they come up to you,” said Paul, “just punch them in the nose, or push them away.”

They made it sound like fighting off killers was a normal part of their day. At home, the only killers that I had to worry about were on the streets, such as reckless drivers. However, I’d never had to punch one to ward it off.

“I’m getting hungry,” said one teen. He got up and left. Then the others arose too.

Ward and I walked to his house. The rest were already eating lunch. James was on the porch. We went in to get our plates.

“Lydia,” I said, “I believe the church would work fine for holding school. How do I get it arranged?”

“I can tell the other mothers to send their kids,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said.

I joined Ward and James on the porch. Ward was half done eating already. He might want to go before I was done. I thought I could get the two of them talking so Ward would slow down, but James spoke first.

“It might be best to wait till Monday for school,” he said. “If Xing hears you had any sort of lesson on Sunday, he might be suspicious.”

I did a calculation in my head. It was unlikely that I’d be done with everything before then. I nodded.

Ben was the first to finish lunch. He ran to the center of town to join some boys there.

“Tell me more about spearfishing,” I said, trying to stall them. Then I shoveled some food in my mouth.

“Do you know which to avoid?” asked James.

“Puffer and sharks,” I said.

“Yes, also Lion fish,” he said. He told me how to identify them and about poison quills.

“He should go for a hogfish, amberjack, or cobia,” said Ward. “They come up right to you. They are curious fish, so easier to kill.”

“Yes,” said James. “Also, look at the fish sideways. If you look them in the eyes, you’ll spook them and you won’t be able to get within twenty feet of them.”

“He can watch me demonstrate,” said Ward.

“Good,” said James. “Next, you can use my spear. I’m not going out.”

“The metal one?” I asked.

“Yes, the one with metal barbs,” he said. I nodded. I put the last food in my mouth. Ward was standing and ready to go.

I returned my plate and retrieved the spear. Ward and I went down the path together.

We came to the place Ben was standing with his friends talking. Roger was there too. I thought he said he worked Saturdays.

Roger had a small video game in his palm. I didn’t recognize the brand. The boys were around him, watching him play.

Ward didn’t pay any attention to them. Instead, he looked at the sea.

“They are already out,” he said. “They are surfing, not diving. The waves are really good today.” He stood, waiting for me to react. I just stood there.

“Do you want to surf?” he asked.

I thought that I would like to learn to surf, but I had other priorities. I shrugged. I didn’t want to deprive him of fun with friends.

“Come on,” he said. We went to a shed and he pulled out a board but I didn’t know what to pick.

“Are you good at it?” Ward asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then start with the little one,” he said. “Ben can make that one go.”

Next, I followed Ward to the water. We got on the boards and paddled out with our hands.

The guys were all in one area beyond the waves. It was about where Ben and I had fished.

One young man went by, riding a wave. Water splashed my face from the crest. Then we reached where the others were.

One at a time, they took off with the waves. I watched to see how to do it. They paddled forward just as the swell reached them and pushed forward. They tied a rope from the board to their ankles, so I did too.

While sitting there, I introduced myself to Eli, Thomas, and William. Also, I looked around and saw one gray fin coming out of the water. It wasn’t close and the guys didn’t seem concerned.

“It’s our turn, Neal,” said Eli. I straightened my board. When a wave came, I laid myself forward and paddled.

I started moving forward. I tried to stand like the guys. As I lifted my knee up, the board turned. I spun and fell into the water.

I came right back up. The board wasn’t far because it was tied to me. I pulled it in. I spit the salt water out of my mouth.

Eli came by on the next big wave. I paddled to the side to be out of their way. After paddling for a minute, I rejoined the group.

“I’m not used to surfing,” I said. “My friends and I didn’t do it at home.”

“What did you do?” William asked.

“Some of us had motorcycles,” I said.

They smiled and nodded. They seemed to know what they were.

“Where did you ride?” asked William.

“William, do you want this wave?” asked Ward. William shook his head, and Ward took it.

“I didn’t ride very far,” I said. “Mostly, I rode in circles around a small field.”

“You are good at circles,” said William. He pointed to where I’d spun out on the board. Some of the other guys laughed. I smiled.

They surfed more. I shrugged off a couple of my turns. I watched how they steered. It wasn’t any different than riding a bike or motorcycle. It was just balance.

My problem getting up was when I lifted my knees, it caused me to shift balance. I watched how Nicholas got up. He was very cool how he hopped up with both feet simultaneously. I wasn’t going to try that because I’d fly off if I got it wrong. I needed more practice first.

I counted whose turn it was. When it was close to my turn, I moved into line.

The wave came, and I was able to get onto both knees. I rode straight like that. Then, the wave seemed to slow and I didn’t know what to do. The board raced to the front of the wave and died to a stop.

I thought of turning along the wave, but just then, the wave caught up. It crashed over me, and I spilled into the water. I got a mouthful of salt again.

I decided that I’d had enough. I rowed to shore and sat there waiting. After another go around, Ward came in too.

“Are you hungry?” he asked me. It was only midafternoon, not suppertime. I’d burned a lot of calories today. Food might help me keep my energy up.

“Okay,” I said.

“I’ll get some coconut,” he said. He went towards his house.

Roger was sitting alone. The boys had gotten tired of looking over his shoulder. I went up to him.

“Are you on vacation today?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“When did you get the videogame?” I asked.

“Yesterday,” he said. “I’m just borrowing it from someone at work.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Happy farm,” he said. He turned it a moment so I could see. He was growing a vegetable patch. The writing was in Chinese. I nodded.

“Can you read that?” I asked.

“No, but my friend told me what it says.”

“He’s a Sheng?”

“Yes, mixed blood,” Roger said.

“Do you think many people with Kupe ancestry live in Fusang?” I asked.

“A few,” he said. “The fathers in New Truro all have an old thinking style. They want to keep the Kupe separate and above the Sheng. That’s probably why they talk in English to themselves while in Fusang. They want to show that they’re better.” I didn’t agree that the Kupe were trying to be exclusive. When we were in Fusang, I felt the Sheng staring at us, and I didn’t feel superior.

“It seems like you’ve changed your mind about the Sheng since the last time I saw you,” I said. Roger stared blankly at me. “Didn’t you say that they treated the Kupe badly?”

“Well,” he said, “since then, I’ve met a few more of them who are different. Also, if that is going to be my life, I need to get used to them.”

Ward came back and handed me something to chew. He and Roger nodded at each other, and Ward sat.

“…so what is it like with the Sheng?” asked Ward.

“You can earn money to rent a house,” said Roger.

“Are you moving?” Ward asked.

“I’m thinking about it. I’m saving up,” said Roger. “The girls there will let you kiss them.”

Ward raised his eyebrows.

“…but they still want a house and marriage,” Roger continued.

“Do you like the Sheng girls?” Ward asked.

“No, but there is one mixed blood girl. She’s nice.”

I finished my snack. I saw Ward was already done with his. This seemed like the right time to spearfish because any later and we might miss it.

I stood up. Ward joined me. Our spears were still near the boats.

“One boat?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. He started pushing a medium-sized one. I joined him. This time he rowed, but we weren’t going as far out.

He took us out to where the waves started.

“Is this where the reef is?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It is the front side.”

“How do we do this?” I asked.

“I’ll go in,” he said. “You go in too so you can see clearly. Then you can have a turn.”

He had modern goggles that we put over our eyes. That would help keep the salt out.

He dove in head first. I hopped in after he was out of the way.

Ward was swimming several feet below along the side of the reef, but I floated at the top. I watched him for ten seconds or so. Then I wanted to look for sharks. I looked back and forth between Ward and the open sea.

After only a few more seconds, I had to get a breath. Then, I put my head back down. There were lots of fish. Some were in schools, and some alone near the reef. The reef was colorful and constantly in motion. I was always moving too as swelling waves came past.

I got one more breath, and then looked to see that Ward was lining up a shot. He approached a fish from the side, took the spear back in one hand then thrust it forward.

He hit the fish. It wiggled only once, then ceased. Ward swam up holding his pole.

We both held the edge of the boat.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

“Good shot,” I said. He put his pole into the boat. The fish was still on the end of it.

“Are you ready to try?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. I doubted that I could do it, but I could try. Maybe I’d be surprised.

I pulled my pole from the boat, took a deep breath and tried to swim down. I splashed near the surface for a minute then gave up.

I came up for air. He was still on the side of the boat.

“I can’t get deep,” I said.

“Let’s try a couple things,” he said. “First, get out.” I put my spear in the boat and crawled over.

“Then dive in straight down,” he said. “Stand on the boat so you can get over easily, and before you jump, exhale.”

“Exhale? You mean inhale,” I said.

“No, air makes you rise. You don’t want air.”

I stood and breathed deeply several times. I was almost dizzy.

Then I dove in. I went several feet deep. Then I kicked my legs so I’d go deeper. I made a little progress. The pressure on my head was strong, and I needed air, so I came back up.

I gasped for air as I reached the surface. I didn’t know how he could do it. The bamboo pole didn’t help either because it was buoyant.

“I can’t get down,” I said. “If I made it down. I’d be so out of energy and air that I couldn’t fish.”

He sat, thinking about it. I crawled in so my toes wouldn’t be shark bait while he pondered.

“Let’s go back so we can try something,” he said. He rowed us ashore.

“I’ll return in a while,” he said. First he went to the back of the church and retrieved a rope off the wall. Then he walked along the shore near the mouth of the inlet. He looked down and felt the heft of rocks.

He waved for me to bring the boat. I pushed it along the shore.

“This will help you get down fast,” he said. I hoped the rope wasn’t to tie rocks around me. I could be stuck in the water and drown.

“How does it work?” I asked. He was tying a large rock to the end of the rope.

“You hold onto the rock to go down, then let go to come up. The rope is so I don’t have to dive and get the rock each time. We can just pull it up.”

I nodded. It was a good idea. He put the materials in the boat then rowed us back.

“I hope the rope is long enough,” he said as he tied the other end to the boat. Would it sink us?

“What if it’s not?” I asked. I balanced the rock on the edge of the boat. That weight wouldn’t tip us, so it would just dangle below at the end of the rope.

I sat for a minute getting my nerve up. If it pulled me deep, I could just let go. I could follow the rope back up. I made sure it wasn’t tangled.

“Should I dive or just let it pull me?” I asked. If I asked enough questions, I could delay going down.

He shrugged. I didn’t know how to dive holding a rock in one hand and a spear in the other, so I decided to just jump.

I took several deep breaths. I inhaled and jumped. As I hit the water, I remembered that I was supposed to exhale, so I blew out the air.

The rock helped me sink quickly. The pressure on my head was strong. I reached the level of the reef and fish. The fish scattered from the commotion.

I let go of the rock. The rope was in front of me, so I got my spear around it.

I thought I was rising a little so I held the rope for a second. It was still going down.

I was there to catch a fish. I didn’t care what type it was. I just needed to prove I was a valid member of the Kupe community.

I spotted one closer than the others. I tried to swim closer to it. It needed to be within about eight feet, which was the reach of the spear.

The silver fish saw me coming for it and turned away. I flung the spear in its direction, hoping that I’d be lucky. I missed.

My head was hurting from pressure and lack of oxygen, so I looked for the rope and followed it up. I came up under the bottom of the boat.

Ward was floating and watching, so I went to the other side. I took a quick breath of air as I came out. I rested there a minute before I said anything.

Ward came around to my side.

“Did it help?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. I rested another minute.

“Do you want to go again?”

“Yes,” I said. I had to.

I thought about pulling up the rock. The only way it made sense to do it was to haul it up while sitting in the boat. Once again, I crawled over the side. Ward came in too.

I started hauling up the rock. It was a long rope.

“I think I scared the fish,” I said. “The splash, plus looking right at it.”

“Feel where the fish are, don’t see them,” Ward said. I thought he meant to look at it peripherally.

I rested for a couple more minutes. We’d drifted, so Ward rowed us back. Then I positioned the rope.

I jumped in again and tried not to make a huge splash. The rock took me down again.

A few yellow snappers weren’t far away. I let go of the rope and swam without looking at them.

Then I drew the spear back and flailed it at one. The spear didn’t go where I wanted, but it did catch one on its yellow tail fin.

The fish wiggled quickly. I pulled the pole back to retrieve the fish, but the barbs pulled loose of the fin.

The fish shot to the reef and disappeared. I’d caused it minor injury and it wouldn’t ever show itself again to me.

Some other fish were curious and approaching me, but I was out of air. I swam up again.

“I grazed one,” I told Ward.

“Nice,” he said. I got in the boat. He likely saw I was worn out.

“We shouldn’t go back with just one fish,” he said.

As I pulled up the rock, he dove in. A minute later he came up with a snapper. He dove in again and brought a jack. It was so easy for him.

He got in the boat then rowed us back. I got out at the shore to help him pull the boat up, but I was so worn out and slow that he did most of it himself.

We left the rock in the boat. I carried James’ spear back to the house. Ward gave the fish to his mother.

“He got a near miss,” he said to her. She smiled. If we hadn’t done all of the fiddling around trying different ways to sink, I would have had a better shot at it.

I sat on the porch and fell asleep. A while later, I woke to the sound of cooking. I was suddenly famished. The others were gathering so it wouldn’t be long before eating.

I ate nearly as fast as Ward and Ben did. It looked like we ate the fish Ward had caught.

I didn’t talk because food was always in my mouth. Also, I was still worn out. Ward told them about our afternoon.

“Tomorrow is Sunday,” said James. “Neal, do you want to come out with me in the morning to fish for the pageant?”

I nodded. I didn’t think about what he said. I just ate.

Afterwards, I sat on the porch and let my food digest. Edgar and Charles came by. James was on the porch with me.

“Did you catch any?” Edgar asked.

“I got one on the tail,” I said, “but it got away. They’re tricky how they wiggle.”

“Ah, that’s good,” said Edgar. “Now they know that you are coming for them and they’ll respect you.”

“I’ll show you what to do. First, pick out the fish.” Edgar walked around like he was swimming. “Then jab it, and don’t let go.” His simplistic dramatic presentation could be funny, but it looked like he was serious.

I nodded. Then Charles waved his hands.

“No,” he said. “This is definitely how you should do it.” He danced around like he was intentionally trying to be a fool. We all laughed.

I had one advantage of having a fish on my spear for a moment. It gave me more credibility to make my own spear.

“Edgar,” called a woman from his home. Edgar left, and Charles followed.

I watched the waves and clouds again. I didn’t mind sitting and not doing anything. James and I were silent.

I let myself slip into a trance-like state. With my slowed mind, the clouds sped up. They boiled in updrafts of vapor and raced across the sky.

I thought that the Kupe were closely connected to God’s creation. They must all be strong believers and devoted to Him. How could they miss Him? His face was in the clouds.

Still, we were imperfect and needed a bridge to the sky. That was Gei Duk.

Their lives were nothing like my own at home. There, I had little connection to the earth. The Kupe’s reality was more like that of the original followers of Gei Duk because they were close to the Earth.

Was my life phony? It seemed like none of the issues of an ecologically connected lifestyle were relevant to me. I didn’t survive based on what fish that I’d caught that day. Yet, we all tried to connect back through that same bridge to the sky.

The disciples decided what the first churches would look like. They set the method of faith. We followed their old instructions to this day.

Among all that they said, what part of it was for the people of their time, and what was for all time? There was one bridge to God, but how we got to the bridge depended on where we were culturally, in time, and in space.

I was nostalgic for my life again. I thought of my family. It would be early Saturday morning at home. Sometimes while Melanie slept in, it was good time to snuggle up to my wife. I missed them.

Nicholas and Roger were using different ways than each other to make their own way in life. One was traditional and the other was unapproved. Their options weren’t the same as I’d had. They were both limited by where they lived, but in either case, I understood and sympathized with both of their desires.

I tended to think of my world as a free society, but even where I lived, I was limited by behavioral expectations. I couldn’t do some of the things the Kupe did. For example, I couldn’t expect people to leave extra food at my house. I also never shared my groceries with my neighbors.

  • * * *

Chapter 9

Sunday I woke early. It sounded and smelled like Lydia was cooking soup.

James and the men fished early, so I got up. I sat on the porch with James and fiddled with my carvings.

Lydia brought out the soup and we ate it. I’d had more memorable dreams since I’d been on the island. I was going to mention them, but then I saw Charles come out of his house.

“Kahil,” he yelled. He repeated it a couple more times then went back inside. James didn’t act concerned.

“What was he yelling?” I asked.

“For his son,” James said. “Nicholas Kahil Kupe.” I nodded. It was early for the young men to be out.

After a few minutes, Charles came out again and stood in front of his house. He had his hands on his hips and looked around.

“Let’s go ask,” said James. We walked down.

“Nicholas?” asked James.

“He didn’t come home last night,” said Charles. All three of us stood thinking. The two of them looked mostly at a particular house.

“We should ask,” said James. Charles nodded. They understood something that I didn’t.

They went to a house and I followed. I thought it was where Laaka lived. I was beginning to get an idea of what they suspected. Henry came out. He must have seen or heard us coming.

“Good morning, cousin,” said James. He was being overly friendly.

“Good morning, looks like a nice day,” said Henry.

“We are looking for Nicholas,” said Charles. “He wasn’t at home last night.” Charles looked at the ground and away from Henry. He knew that by coming here he’d implied something dishonorable.

Henry glanced to his own house, then back to them.

“I’ll be right back,” Henry said. He went into his house.

“Laaka,” he said. “Wake up.” Then Henry came back out. Roger followed, and I thought he must be Laaka’s older brother.

We all waited awkwardly, looking at our feet. There was slow movement inside, so I thought Laaka must be coming. Eventually, she came out.

“You were here the whole night?” Henry asked her. She nodded. “Do you know where Nicholas might have gone?” She shook her head.

“When did you see him last?” Henry asked Charles. Charles looked up to Henry.

“At supper,” he replied.

“Where could he be?” asked James. He didn’t ask anyone in particular. It obviously wasn’t a lover’s elopement.

Laaka started crying, and went inside. Whatever Nicholas had done, it wasn’t good news for her.

“We must look for him,” said Henry.

The three fathers said that they’d divide up the search. One would walk along the shore to the north, the other would go south, and Charles would look in the nearby sea.

“Would it be helpful for me to look up the hill, and to call Fusang?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. We split up. I went to the phone booth and Roger followed me.

“I don’t think it works,” he said. I thought that I’d try to contact the police there. It was the standard procedure for a missing person. Plus, maybe he’d gone there to party and was put in jail.

I tried the phone, but got no dial tone. I tried again just to be sure.

“I’ll walk with you there,” said Roger.

“Yes,” I said.

Charles was behind us, preparing a boat. His head hung low with possibilities. The best outcome was probably that Nicholas had decided to become like Roger and live in Fusang. It was very sudden, but possible.

“I think a boat is missing,” Charles said. Then he shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Roger told Charles our plan, and then we left.

Roger and I walked up the hill together. He was used to following the road, and I’d done it a lot too. I thought that just yesterday Nicholas had been grappling with the idea that he had a very long wait for Laaka. Maybe that would have caused him to give up or do something irrational.

My thoughts were contradicting. I was hopeful that Nicholas had given up. I wanted a small bad thing to have happened to him, so that it wasn’t something seriously worse.

Was it appropriate to pray for a bad thing? Gei Duk’s torture and murder had been bad, but it later came to stand for good things.

That led me to think about resurrection again, but I decided to avoid the subject for a while. I was stressed and distracted by my concern for Nicholas. I wouldn’t be able to be objective and make rational decisions.

Roger and I made quick progress up the hill. Occasionally, I turned to look to see if there was anything unusual happening back at the town.

The act of walking was helping me clear my head. I hoped the other men weren’t worrying too much. Being on the water while distracted could be dangerous for Charles. Then, there would be two tragedies in the family, but maybe being out there would comfort him.

For me to calm down, I thought talking to Roger about a casual subject might help. I thought that I would tell him about the dream that I’d had.

“The men seem to talk a lot about their dreams,” I said.

He glanced at me. He didn’t say anything, but kept walking. Maybe he was too deep in worry to be pulled out of it. He was the same age as Nicholas and they’d probably been friends. He was quiet for a minute.

“I dream too,” said Roger. I nodded.

“Sometimes the men say I’m not following my dreams,” he continued, “or that I don’t dream.”

The expression “following dreams” was a figurative way of saying that someone has carried through with their goals. I felt that Roger had a more detailed long term vision than any of the others. In that sense, the men were wrong about him.

However, I thought that Roger meant literally what he’d said. It wasn’t an expression, but really dreaming while asleep was important. Therefore, the men thought he hadn’t followed what he’d been told to do in his dreams.

“Is it the ancestors talking through dreams?” I asked. I wanted to clear up things I’d heard.

“Yes,” he said.

The men felt he was avoiding dreaming, and he didn’t listen to his ancestors. They believed their ancestors were really talking to them.

“What do you dream about? I asked.

“The same things everyone else does, like life, people, work,” he said. He seemed a little defensive, so I didn’t keep talking on that subject. It was a big deal for him that the others said he hadn’t heard his ancestors.

I’d studied different languages, so I knew how expressions were often very odd. For example, there were probably a million ways to say hello, such as in Hawaii, ‘aloha’ really meant ‘I love you’.

A lot is lost in translating from one language to another. When the disciples of Gei Duk talked about the sacraments, did they mean to say that we literally ate his blood and body? Instead, was that something that came in an intermediate translation?

We approached Fusang. It was possible to walk through the whole town since it was small, but I wanted to start with the police.

“I want to go to the police station first,” I said. Roger stopped a second, and then caught up.

“I’ll look around town while you are there,” he said. “We can meet here.”

“Okay,” I said. The last time Roger and I had talked, he had said that was planning to live here. However, it seemed like that he didn’t think life was perfect in Fusang. He might be afraid of the police since everyone treated the Kupe poorly, and the police were no different from the others. I was frightened by it too, because the President might have told them to look for me. Yet, for Nicholas’ sake, it was worth talking to them.

One officer sat in front of the station. It was the younger man. I just had a new worry that I didn’t know if he spoke English.

“Hello,” I said. He nodded.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I told him about Nicholas and asked him if he had any information. He didn’t.

I hoped he understood what I said. His speaking was rough and accented. He might have just faked that he comprehended me.

Just then, I heard a sound from within the station.

I suddenly had another fear. What if Nicholas was out last night and discovered charter boats harming the reefs. The Kupe thought the boats never came close, but maybe they did at night.

Nicholas could be locked in their jail cell only a few feet away, or they could have killed him. If either was true, then the officer’s finger could be itching to reach for his gun as I quizzed him.

I took a step back. If we found Nicholas nowhere else, then I’d see if it was possible to find out who was in the jail cell. I bowed to the officer then walked away.

I was right next to the hotel. I went in to ask the clerk if he’d seen anything. After that, I went back out and just stood.

Roger wouldn’t be done with his search yet. There was probably no one else in town that I could talk to in English, but I could look around.

It crossed my mind that I could have checked my email. I didn’t know that I’d regret not doing it.

I didn’t know how much the Sheng cared for privacy. Would I be too forward if I stretched my neck looking around the corners of their homes? I believed that doing that would probably offend them. The Sheng always kept their heads down.

I applied a lesson that I’d learned from Ward. Instead of looking directly at the fish and scaring it, I looked out of the corner of my eye. I did the same as I walked. Then I noticed that the others had been doing the same to me. They’d been covertly assessing me. They turned their heads away, but not so much that they faced away from me. I was stunned that I’d missed that before. Suddenly, I was self-conscious. The Sheng didn’t always look at their feet, but they gave the impression that they did.

I met Roger on Flamingo Road. He looked frustrated.

“They’ve been very rude,” he said. “They won’t talk to me.” I shrugged.

“Let’s go back,” he said.

We walked up the hill. We didn’t talk along the way. I thought that it must have been disappointing for him to be treated that way since he hoped to live there. He’d told me before that others had moved there from New Truro, but I wondered what sacrifices they had to make for acceptance.

As we approached town, I didn’t see anyone preparing for their Sunday parade. I thought maybe they delayed it until later in the day.

Suddenly, Ward came running to meet us.

“They found his body,” he said.

“Nicholas?”

“Yes,” said Ward.

“Where?”

“At Rock Point”

“Oh,” said Roger. He shook his head and looked down. I was saddened too.

“Charles and Dad are getting ready to bring home the body,” said Ward.

“Where are they?”

“With the boats,” said Ward. We started walking in that direction. I could see Charles and James arguing.

“You can’t, you’ll be killed too,” said James.

“I must get his body,” Charles said. He looked distraught.

“What are you doing?” asked Roger. James pulled us away so Charles wouldn’t have to hear the story again.

“Nicholas’ body is at the Point,” said James. “He’s partly underwater, so I know he’s dead. There’s no way to get there.”

“We aren’t allowed to go there,” said Ward. “There are strong currents and thrashing waves. Also Maganta lives there.”

“Why would he go there?” Roger asked. James looked at Ward for an answer.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” Ward replied. Other men started joining us and Charles.

“There’s a story that the oysters are bigger there,” said James. “He may have thought he could find a large pearl there.”

I thought back to our activities the day before.

“Would he have been hunting a shark for sandpaper?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” said James. “I saw no bite marks from my vantage.”

“How close did you get?” asked Roger.

“There was a crag about from here to there,” James said, pointing at the church. It was thirty feet or so.

“I won’t be able to stop Charles from going,” said James.

“If we all went, we might be able help him or stop him from being reckless,” I said. James nodded.

The men decided that we’d ride in four boats of four people each. It was a long way to paddle, so the men would trade off shifts.

I was in a boat with Henry, Roger, and Ward. Ward was the youngest to go, but he was allowed because he was a strong paddler. I noticed I was in the boat with my diving rope.

After at least 30 minutes, we got to the point. It was where a lava flow had formed the tip of the island. The waves pounded it. The weather wasn’t bad otherwise. The commotion must have been from underwater currents. I didn’t see the body, but thought the strong waves might jar it loose if we waited.

The boats gathered outside of where the water swelled. Some men pointed right to the worst part. I was frightened just from looking at it.

“You’ll be killed too,” said Winslow to Charles.

I thought of the rope on my boat.

“Could we use this to lasso him?” I asked. I made a segment of rope into a loop shape and held it up in case they’d never heard of a lasso.

“No,” said James. “The body is underwater. The rope would float.

There was a rock too, but there was no way that anyone could throw that 30 feet from shore. Maybe we could use it another way.

“There’s a rock here,” I said. I held it up. “Would it anchor a rescue boat off the rocks?”

“No,” said James, “the waves are too powerful.”

“How long is the rope?” Roger asked. I measured lengths against my foot.

“About 36 feet,” I said, “or about eleven meters.” I didn’t know what units they used. Roger looked back to the rocks.

“Could someone walk along the crag and pull on the rope to guide the boat around the underwater hazards?” Roger asked.

“…or a few men?” added James.

The men decided that Charles and James would take our boat in. Several men would climb the crag and catch the rope as the boat approached. I took the heavy rock off the rope, and coiled it up.

Mid-sea we changed boats. I got in a crowded boat. We went along the shore to where we could safely land. Ward stayed with the boats. His father had told him not to go onto the rock.

The crag was difficult to crawl over because it had many up and down slopes. We spread out so wherever they threw the rope, someone could grab it. I was near the back of the group, closer to where Nicholas was in the water. I didn’t look at him, but at James rowing closer.

Charles threw the rope and a man caught it. As James rowed the boat in, a low point in a passing wave exposed a rock in the water below. The boat hit it and nearly capsized as the water spun the boat backwards. Charles freed it as the next wave struck. The boat spun again and washed in towards Nicholas.

The men holding the rope passed it over the rocks. Passing the rope was easier than climbing with it. A few men pointed at another rock and yelled. The one with the end of the rope yanked on it to guide the boat around it.

One by one, the rope was passed along. Then it came to me. I should have been checking the water for the locations of hazards.

James waved his arm for me to take up slack. I did so. A couple men crawled over the crag to help me at this vital moment. The boat was near the body.

Charles reached over into the water between waves. He pulled on Nicholas. He let go as the next wave crashed around them.

“Pull,” yelled James. We positioned the boat next to the body. Then between waves, both James and Charles freed Nicholas. James quickly grabbed the oars so he could stabilize the boat as the next wave struck.

After that, the two men got Nicholas in the boat, and they started going back to sea. I passed the rope back over the rocks. When they were clear, the last man threw the rope out.

We all went to sea again. Two men joined Charles and James to help them row. I looked briefly at Nicholas. His body was badly injured, but I didn’t see any shark bites. He might have been thrown against rocks, knocked out, and then drowned.

As we rowed back to New Truro, I looked back to see Charles hovering over his son. I turned away because I would cry if I looked.

When we arrived back at town, I realized how hungry I was. I still didn’t see the Sunday feast preparations.

After we landed, each man came to Charles to express sympathies. He thanked them all. I went up last with Roger. Charles shook my hand. James was still with them.

“We must perform the rites,” said Charles, “regardless of what Xing says.” James nodded.

“The weather is good for it,” said Roger. Then he whispered to me, “Xing would lose it if he heard.”

“The men have all gone to lunch,” said James. “We can leave in a short while. Who do you choose to go?”

“You, Roger, Neal, Henry, and Edgar,” Charles said. “They were the first to help with the search.”

“Okay,” said James. I nodded without really knowing what I’d agreed to.

Even though the President would dislike it, I couldn’t turn down Charles’ request. I should have found a way to ask Roger what Xing did when he was mad. “I’ll get Ward to bring down the coconuts,” said James.

I followed James to his house.

“How do you do funeral rites?” I asked.

“We sail to Lou Gaa, the island of spirits, so Nicholas may ascend to them there.”

The other island was a few miles away. It was too far in little boats, but they had one catamaran that I’d never seen them use. It had sails.

We ate as Ward carried coconut hulls to the boat. Those were the hulls used for kindling. There wasn’t much space to bury bodies on a small island.

“There is no doubt that you are a man of the Kupe in Charles’ eyes if you are helping with this,” James said. Then he took another bite of food. I nodded.

I had always felt welcome even when I had gotten Ben in trouble. Now I was considered an equal by at least one of them.

Roger was also being included. Maybe this would be a doorway for his full acceptance back again, or alternatively it could be a way for the Kupe to show that he was still one of them.

James ate quickly and left. He didn’t say what he was doing. Many people were gathering near the catamaran. Lydia and Anna came out. It looked like they were going to join the group.

“I’m sorry that I killed him,” said Anna with little emotion. I was confused and stunned by what she’d said. Lydia stopped Anna.

“You shouldn’t feel that way now,” said Lydia. “Now is the time to be sad for Charles, Clara, and their family.” I still didn’t understand Anna. I intruded on their conversation.

“Does she think she’s responsible?” I asked Lydia. It wasn’t right that she’d think that way.

“Anna, run ahead to be with Talona,” Lydia said. Anna went towards the group.

“We are all responsible,” said Lydia. “If he wasn’t looking for a large pearl, he wouldn’t have gone to the Point.”

“He made a decision to go,” I said. “We should be sorry, but it wasn’t the village’s fault.”

“What other choice did he have?” Lydia asked. “If he wanted Laaka, he had to stay here and follow our customs. She would never leave town. Girls here need a pearl and a place to live before they will marry.”

“So it is the girls’ fault?” I asked. “That is too much to put on Anna’s head.”

“I agree that she is taking the death poorly,” Lydia said. “I will talk to her more. However, no, it isn’t the girls’ fault. They too are living under our rules. They had little choice.

“It is the society as a total body that is responsible. Our customs are necessary to keep our way of life. First, being able to spearfish and dive for oysters proves that a man can provide for his family. Without it, he is unsuitable.

“Second, having a home is necessary to house his family. It is hard to make a new house, but that is good. It limits how quickly our village grows. We need to live within the bounds of nature and can’t exceed it.”

“Then why does Anna feel responsible?” I asked.

“She’s a bright girl,” Lydia said. “She’s picked up on how we feel individuals relate to society.

“I said to you that it was society’s fault that we had rules,” Lydia said. “No single person is to blame, but everyone is to blame. We all benefit from the way things are. We have little reason to challenge our practices, but we have a strong motivation to keep things as they are so we preserve our lifestyle. We all equally contributed to Nicholas’ death by participating in the culture that made him take the risks that he took.”

Lydia looked at the gathering.

“I should join Anna,” she said. I nodded and she left. I finished my lunch and put the plate in the kitchen.

If everyone was to blame, then I was too. I’d only been among them for a week, so it didn’t feel like I should have much blame, but that was my Western mind’s rational. Nicholas had caught clams that I’d eaten. Also, Clara, his mother helped darn the nets that caught the cured fish I ate for lunch.

Plus, I’d seen that the Kupe were not much interested in assigning blame or punishment. The important thing was that we all apologized so we could get along together.

Most of the village was gathering around the sail boat. Edgar had strung up the sails, and someone had covered Nicholas in a blanket. I stepped to the center, so that they’d see me if they were waiting for me.

Many people were crying. I stood next to Roger. He was by himself.

James came. He carried a carving that he’d been working on.

“Charles,” he said. “Here is a gift. It is of Atu. I hope that he sees your sorrow.”

“Thank you,” said Charles. He set it down.

“Here is Nicholas’ daily use spear,” said Charles. “Take this for Ben.”

“Thank you,” said James. I hadn’t seen anyone retrieve it at Rock Point, so Nicholas must have left it home.

Other people approached Charles with gifts.

“I wish I had something to give,” said Roger.

“I guess I wish the same,” I said.

“It’s okay, you are with James, but I’m trying to be independent,” Roger said.

After the gift giving, Edgar said the vessel was prepared. It was large enough for about six men plus our cargo.

All of the men who were around helped push the boat off the sand. The passengers boarded when it was floating. The men continued to push it well into the water.

Then we started paddling. The sails weren’t up yet and we went against the gentle wind.

Henry paused his paddling to lower a rudder into the water. He steered us through the opening in the reef, but the draft was low and wouldn’t have hit anything below anyhow.

We paddled past where the waves began, and then Edgar lowered the sails. They were triangular. The wind slowly pushed us. Edgar and Henry tacked against the wind, so it would take a while to travel the distance.

I was behind the coconuts. It wasn’t easy to talk to the others, but I could raise my voice to say something to Henry if I needed to.

Nicholas lay on the other hull of the boat. I didn’t mind not having to look forward at him the whole trip.

Typically at home, there would be different funeral arrangements to be made based on whether the deceased was a church member or not, and whether they actively communed. In the church’s view, he hadn’t been in communion since the priest was forced to leave a couple months previously. That meant he’d have a short time in purgatory. However, in Kupe society, he was connected with the others in every breath that he’d taken. Communion had never expired and he was still one of them.

What sins would he be guilty of? It was not my place to say, but still my mind wondered on the subject. He was following his community’s expectations until the moment he died, except he had been forbidden from being at the Point.

I looked back, and saw the Point for a second time. Now it was from a different perspective. Ahead, the small island was closer, but still a mile or more away.

Nicholas’ sins were more likely a consequence of being part of his community. He cooperated in a system that kept young lovers apart.

I thought more about the Kupe’s idea that we were all equally to blame for everything. The Savior, Gei Duk, had been tortured and murdered. Who was to blame for that? The Savior was killed because he upset the rules of his community. He fed the poor and homeless on the Holy Day when he was supposed to rest. That violated his society’s norms.

Since the Savior broke the rules, the people had to stop him or risk losing their way of life. The only manner to accomplish that was to kill him. Every single person of Gei Duk’s time was partly responsible for his death whether they knew him or not because they all resisted change.

All cultures cling to tradition to maintain stability. The Kupe do it, and people where I live do it. I do it too. Why would I suddenly change my life if everything was running smoothly already?

It might seem that that traditions were small issues, but every decision that we made had winners and losers. It was tradition that killed Gei Duk. Likewise, modern life had consequences on others.

Therefore, we are all guilty of the sin of repression. This is what led to the Savior’s murder. In a way, I am responsible for his death. We all sent him to the stake. His body was broken for us.

I hung my head. I felt as if I’d killed two people now: Nicholas and Gei Duk. There were probably many more beyond that. I couldn’t know how the consequences of my actions had gone through the world and impacted others.

Then I raised my head. It was the community that caused the Savior to raise his voice. It was his parents, family, and ancestors that taught him to love others.

If I was in some small way responsible for Gei Duk’s death, then I should also have credit for inspiring him to want to change society. I was redeemed because people had caused Gei Duk to be good. It was his actions that showed humans were worthy of love.

From this viewpoint, the Kupe’s understanding of communion made sense. We were redeemed because we tried to do good as we’d been told by the people who came before us. We brought others into this redemption by completely sharing with them. In the Kupe’s eyes, they did it by giving their life preserving food without conditions. They connected us to the good in them by eating together. It was more than symbolic because the nourishment helped sustain us.

We came up to Lou Gaa Island. The cay had a few palm trees. Edgar waved directions to Henry about how to approach the shore. Then Edgar took down one of the sails and we coasted to a stop. The people in front stepped onto a patch of beach.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“We can pile the coconuts there,” said Henry.

I hopped into the water and carried armfuls. Roger helped. I didn’t notice any ashes that were evidence of previous rites. Maybe there hadn’t been a death in a long time.

We piled the hulls into a rectangular shape that was the size of a coffin. Then Charles and James placed Nicholas’ body on the small platform. Charles stood there and cried again.

“Ancestors, please accept Nicholas Kahil among you,” said Edgar. “He is a man of the Kupe.” Edgar mentioned a few details of Nicholas’ life.

Edgar stepped back and James came to the platform.

“Gei Duk,” said James, “we send Nicholas up to you. Please take him among your saints who are the believers who have come before.”

James then knelt with a lighter. He got the pile to begin to smolder.

We all went to the boat and gave it a push off the beach. We turned the vessel manually. Then we got in.

The fire was getting bigger. The wisps of flames swirled around each other in an updraft. It was causing smoke to rise.

Edgar unfurled the sails and the wind took us from shore. The further we went, the larger the fire became. I looked back every couple of minutes.

We went more quickly in the direction of the wind. Henry saw me looking back.

“You can see where Nicholas joins his ancestors,” he said. The smoke went up a thousand feet and then went horizontally across the sky.

The other men, including Charles, looked back too. Then, the fire was done and it left only the rising ash. Nicholas’ body was gone. His fate was now safely in God’s hands.

I imagined that the people in New Truro could see the smoke. It was comforting to think that Nicholas had risen. His life on earth was over, and it was sad that he was gone. However, it gave hope to think that something beyond life was waiting for him. It was appropriate to grieve for the loss of life of someone so young. It wasn’t a “good death” of a person who had completed his or her journey. It is more compelling to wish that he had something more coming because his life on earth was short.

Resurrection is as much for those who survive as for those who have perished. Yes, it benefitted me. I’d resisted the idea of resurrection partly because it seemed egotistical to expect it. I’d felt that religious dogma should be focused on helping others. Nevertheless, I deserved hope too. Religion can’t be only about others, it also needs to help me deal with my own fears.

It can’t be bad to have hope. It is self-centered to want life after death, but it is okay to seek to fulfill my own yearnings. In this case, I didn’t want it for my own benefit, but for Nicholas.

We arrived back at New Truro after a quick sail. Most people were on the shore watching the remains of the smoke. Several men helped us push the boat onto the beach.

I wanted resurrection to be true. Would I allow myself to whole-heartedly believe in it? I still needed to deal with issues that I’d raised so I could do that. I hoped that it wasn’t just a figurative story about our hopes for a future society.

  • * * *

Chapter 10

I woke up early Monday. The sun wasn’t even up yet, but the sky was brightening. I sat on the porch with James. Then Edgar came by.

“The wind is changing,” he said. “I want to get out before the weather turns bad.”

James looked at the sky. It was hazy with low clouds.

“It’ll be okay for a while,” he said. “Lydia just told me she needs help turning over some earth in the garden.”

“Neal,” said Edgar, “do you want to join me?”

“Yes,” I said. I couldn’t turn down the chance to prove that I could fish. Edgar was the person that I most needed to convince.

“What spear should I use?” I asked James.

“Ben’s,” he said. It was the one that had been Nicholas’ regular spear. I retrieved it and followed Edgar.

“James might not get out before the rain. You can feed his family today since he’s stuck in the garden,” said Edgar. I thought that Edgar’s expectations were too high. I hadn’t caught any fish yet on the spear.

“Can we take the boat with the rope?” I asked. “It helps me dive.” He nodded.

We pushed out the boat. Then, Edgar rowed while I tied the rock back on to the cord. I didn’t tie it at the end that time, but half way up. That would save effort pulling it out of the water.

I recalled that this had been the boat that had gone over the rocks at the Point. I looked to see if there was any damage, but didn’t notice any.

We arrived at the place Edgar wanted to dive. I hoped it was bright enough outside that the depths wouldn’t be dark. A shark might be able to sneak up on me if I couldn’t see it.

“Do you want to have the first turn?” he asked. His face showed concern.

“No,” I said. “I’ve only seen Ward dive up close. If you go first, I can check your style.”

He smiled. Then he got his spear, put on his goggles and dove in. I let the foam subside before I edged into the water. Edgar was progressing towards the reef.

I saw quite a few fish, and I looked for sharks. I thought that I couldn’t see as far in the water as I had in midday.

At the bottom, Edgar started walking across the brain coral. It moved him along quickly.

He looked up to see if I was watching. I thought he was showing off. Edgar probably had callouses on his feet. I wouldn’t try his stunts myself.

I went up to get a breath of air. As I went out, from the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a dark shadow. I took only one breath then stuck my face down again.

Edgar was headed right towards it. He swam off the coral into the deep. There were many shadows now. They weren’t sharks, but groupers.

Edgar casually approached them. He wasn’t rushing, but slowly working towards them so they didn’t scare. He wasn’t in a position to jab yet, and soon I needed another breath. This time I took a few deep breaths before going face down.

The fish wasn’t far now. Edgar poised for the throw, then jabbed it. It wiggled once then stopped. He’d got it just behind the eye.

Then he began to swim up with it. I breathed and waited for Edgar. He popped up several feet away.

When he got to the boat, I helped him lift it in. It was a big fish and would feed lots of people, so I felt less pressure to have to feed James’ family. However, I still had the need to prove myself.

Edgar was happy. He’d done very well catching the grouper.

“Great job,” I said. He smiled.

“I have my confidence,” he said. Showing off his skills for me might have put him in a different mind.

I mentally prepared myself for my turn. Even if I got one small fish, it would be evidence enough to show skill.

I hoped that I didn’t have to get in the boat to jump in. I reached for the rock, but then I decided it’d be harder to lift it over the side than to just crawl in.

Edgar stayed in the water. He’d stayed under the water a very long time and wasn’t even winded when he came out. I needed to work on increasing my time in the water.

I took several deep breaths, and then jumped in with the rock and spear. It pulled me down. When I got deep, I let go of the rock, but held the rope.

I remained motionless for a while so all of the splashing would settle. Then some jackfish came near. I wasn’t quite close enough to spear it from there, so I coasted slowly from my anchor.

I was swimming with the fish, and it was beautiful to be on the reef. I felt close to nature. I could forget to breathe, and be like them if the pressure hadn’t been building on my head.

I delayed trying to spear them so I could float among them more. Then I saw a shark down the reef. It was time to get my prize.

I thrust at a smaller jack and caught it in its middle. It wobbled on the end of the spear. I pulled in the spear so I could secure it. I put one hand on its tail.

Then I tried to swim up with both of my hands occupied. I needed to get out before the shark was drawn closer, but I’d stayed in the water a minute or so longer then I should have.

I felt like my eyes were fuzzy. I don’t know what happened after that.

Then the next thing that I knew, I was on the surface and Edgar had my arm. I was coughing.

“Are you all right now?” he asked. I coughed more.

Then when I felt I had the strength, I reached for the boat. He pushed me in that direction then came along with the spear and fish that I’d caught.

“It is a nice one,” he said. He was being kind because it was a common fish.

“Thanks for helping me,” I said as my voice cracked. “I’ve probably embarrassed myself in front of your ancestors.”

“I think they approve,” said Edgar. “They are coming in their sky boat to greet you.” He pointed.

I was confused about what I saw. I blinked a few times. It looked like a catamaran with a few sails. Were his dead fathers really sailing towards us?

I looked again, and took off my goggles. Now it appeared to be more of a mirage in the sky. It hovered above Lou Gaa Cay a few miles away. The sun was behind the isle, and the haze had lifted to just above the water. It must be a rare occurrence.

“That is where they live,” said Edgar. “They return to the island from their fishing in the sky when they are exceptionally pleased with us.”

However, it clearly was a reflection of the island. The palm trees were the sails. He surely knew.

I enjoyed the scenery for a moment then climbed into the boat.

“There might be a shark down there,” I said.

“He went away,” Edgar said. I nodded.

Then he got in the boat and pulled up my rock.

“It is enough fish,” he said. He rowed us back towards shore.

“I’m sorry that I’ve been trouble,” I said.

“I am sorry about the things I’ve said about you,” he said.

I was pleased because I’d undone the damage to the psyche of the village. I wasn’t their bad luck omen anymore. They accepted me as an adult man of the Kupe, so I could speak for them to Xing.

At the beach, I stood up then realized that swimming had drained me. I almost sat right back down again. Edgar took care of the cleanup. I walked back to James’ house and sat there.

I couldn’t see the mirage any longer. The haze was gone, and the sun was up higher.

Since Edgar must have seen the sky boat was a mirage, he must know that his other stories about his ancestors were figurative. They didn’t really sail the clouds. It was just a tale that helped the transmission of their culture to the next generation.

That made me go back to thinking about the Savior’s resurrection. I found myself defensive at the idea that Gei Duk’s ascension could have been figurative too. Did I now want it to be true? Why wouldn’t I want it to be true? It would be great if we could rely on an afterlife with God.

There were other things that I hoped for too, such as the creation of a just world that would adhere to God’s grand plan for it. However, it didn’t seem practical to have a perfect Utopia on earth. The most we could hope for was a world where a large number of people diligently worked for justice.

How did the role of the churches play into this? Could they ever be the body of the resurrected Savior? Often it seemed that they were only good will organizations. I hoped that the stories about Gei Duk’s resurrection were real and not just made up to provide figurative guidance about how we all should be “good people.”

However, the fanciful language that Gei Duk’s disciples used was hard to overlook. Did they see Gei Duk “in others” or did they really see him? I had thought that they must be blind if they couldn’t recognize Gei Duk even after he approached them in a locked room. Either it was Gei Duk, or not.

Yet, there were two other possibilities. First, the translation could have lost the true tone and meaning of the event. Feelings were among the hardest words to translate. Maybe his followers saw him in the room, but ignored him because they couldn’t believe it. Second, it limits the power of God to say what he can’t do. A super being that could create the Universe with the snap of the finger could easily change Gei Duk’s appearance from second to second. Maybe he really did appear as someone else, then was shape-shifted into his more familiar form in order make a point about seeing Gei Duk in everyone.

I thought back to Edgar’s sky boat. Maybe it really was his ancestor’s catamaran and not a mirage. If God had willed it, he could have made their boat look like an island.

However, I still wasn’t convinced. Likewise, I needed more proof before I could say that the Savior’s followers were witnessing anything more than wishful thinking. The possibilities were now wide open, but I was not convinced of any one answer.

I sat looking at the sea, not thinking of much. The sky still looked fine as far as I was concerned. It was cloudy, but not dark. Later, the family ate lunch and they praised my ability to catch it. The meal helped to refresh me.

“I promised to have school today,” I said. Anna looked up from her food. “I think this is a good day.” Anna smiled.

“How do I announce that school is open?” I asked.

“Whoever wanted to come would show up when they wanted.”

“There’s no school or church bell?” I asked. James shook his head.

After lunch, I sat on the porch a while with James. Charles approached nearby.

“Hello,” I greeted cheerfully. He nodded but didn’t smile and kept walking. He was always joking. I wondered how long it’d take him to get back to his previous self.

I thought about what I should have the school kids play and how I’d gather them. Just in case it rained it would be best to get school rolling sooner.

I searched for ideas and my brain made a few connections between the words: rolling, gathering, and playing. I came up with the idea of a school bus. We could play school bus to get them together. The kids may have not seen many vehicles, but hopefully they’d heard of buses.

“Anna,” I yelled, “the school bus is here.”

I stood in front of the house with my hands on an imaginary steering wheel. Anna came to the door.

“What?” she said.

“It is the bus for school,” I said. “Hop in.” She skipped down the steps and jumped in the imaginary back seat.

“Which friends should go to school today?” I asked.

“Hugh,” she said, and pointed.

Next, I adapted the “Wheels on the Bus” song to be “Wheels on the School Bus.” We traveled up the path.

The wheels on the bus went round and round, the wipers went swish, and the children bounced. After we had more passengers I got repeated requests that the children should bounce again. We had a full bus of eight kids when we got to the church.

Inside, I taught them the alphabet. Also, I told them a couple stories from children’s books that I recalled reading to my own daughter, Melanie. Some of the kids were older than her, but they enjoyed the stories.

I looked up at the portraits of their ancestors on the wall. I thought that they’d approve of what I was doing.

Then finally, the bus took them all home. I noticed the sky was overcast now.

“We want to go to school every day,” said Rose as I dropped her off. I could do it for a few more days. I was running out of reasons to stay, but I’d never solved the real problem that I’d come for.

After that, I noticed that Ward was bringing more coconuts. We’d exhausted the supply in the unfortunate situation the day before. I decided to help him. He was Nicholas’ friend and I thought I could talk to him. As we worked, though, we didn’t say much.

By suppertime, the clouds had darkened. It was as if it was going to be night a few hours early. We finished eating, and then I sat on the porch to watch the clouds.

Then in the dim light, I saw Roger bicycling towards town. I thought that he must have bought a bike to make the trip to Fusang quicker. It would be hard pedaling up the hill, but fast coasting down the other side.

Roger went too fast at the bottom and fell off at the curve. He landed on the grass, but got up right away. He left his bike and ran up in my direction.

“Adaro,” he yelled to people as he passed them. I looked to the water for sea monsters. Maybe he’d seen something from on top of the hill. Hopefully, it was a mirage.

People looked confused. Some men followed him, but most people scurried inside their homes. They closed the shutters on their homes. They were taking him very seriously.

Roger came straight up to me. He was a little out of breath.

“Adaro, the President, is coming, and he is mad at you, Neal,” said Roger. He meant the monster was Xing.

The men looked at me. I wondered what I’d done, but I was more concerned for our safety.

“I was in Fusang, in a shop, looking at a bike,” Roger said, “then Xing came out of his office yelling your name. He was looking for the police. I followed him for a minute.” Roger stopped to breathe more.

“He yelled to the crowd, ‘So Harris thinks he can interfere with state business by convincing them to close the cannery’.” I hadn’t done anything like that.

“Did he find the police?” I asked.

“I saw that they were in their patrol boat. They were just pulling into the cove as I left town.”

“I need to leave so you aren’t endangered,” I said. I had no options. I had no way off the island, and I wouldn’t give myself up to Xing’s wrath. I could run up the mountain and live off the land for a while.

“You need to be with your families,” I told the men. They scattered, except for James.

“This won’t be a nice prison like Keoni’s hotel,” I said. “I can’t stay with you.”

“Do you want a spear?” James asked.

I could use it to defend myself or later to fish. However, a spear was no match for guns. If they got that close, I would have to give up.

Then, I noticed something on the hill. It was a vehicle making a cloud of dust as it came. It must be the police. It was too late to run. I could never make it up the side of the hill in the short time that I had.

However, I still should hide. I’d just been in the church and thought of taking refuge there. A few men still scurried around town. I waved at James and ran there.

After I was inside, I peeked through a window. It was dark in the church, so they wouldn’t see me. The vehicle was definitely the police truck.

What had I done? My first thought was that maybe the ocean biologist, Julia, had called someone. However, I believed that I hadn’t ever told her the name of the island. Also, non-profit advocates had very little power over canneries. My second thought was that somehow my editorial in the church magazine had sparked something. They weren’t supposed to have published it already, but did so online.

The truck pulled into town. It looked like there were three figures in the vehicle. I ducked away from the window.

I heard the truck pull up to the center of town. I needed a better place to hide. I thought of the closet. There was lots of room in it. I stepped in that direction, but it stopped and listened when I heard Xing yell. His voice showed that he was in a rage.

“Harris,” yelled Xing. “Your continued defiance has humiliated me. You’ve turned the Kupe against me. You are leading a revolt, and I’m going to kill you.” I stepped closer to the closet.

Suddenly, I heard a gunshot. Hopefully it was into the air. I impulsively ducked.

“Can you hear me?” yelled Xing. “Come out before I get nasty.” The president had a weapon. He had already said he would kill me, why would I come out? I would have brought the spear if I’d known that he was coming after my life. If I’d gotten a lucky shot, he might wiggle on the end of it and not be able to gun me down. I felt my hands shaking.

I got into the closet. I put the hanging robe in front of me. Please, I prayed, if the Holy Cloth had ever protected me, now was the time.

I heard more yelling, but it was muffled. I crossed my fingers that Xing didn’t know that I had been living with James. I didn’t want to put them at risk. However, I would certainly be shot if I went outside now.

When it was quiet for a minute, I thought about my long term plan. If I could stay hidden, how would I ever get off the island or get in contact with my family? Some man had said that the catamaran used to take them to distant islands. I was sure that they’d agree to help me as long as they still remembered how to travel that far.

Someone came up the church steps, and then the door burst open. One set of footsteps entered. I saw a flashlight through the crack in the closet door. He wasn’t headed my way yet.

“Where are you?” yelled Xing. Xing crossed from the other side of the church to the side I was on.

What would I do when he looked in here? Would I rely on the magic of the robe I was behind? Would I jump on Xing?

His light was shining up. It was more towards the walls than down under the benches. He came very close.

“There you are,” he said. I took a deep breath and held it as when I dove into the water.

He couldn’t have seen me, but maybe he’d heard me. If I looked only from the corner of my eyes, maybe the sea monster wouldn’t notice me.

“You must think I’m weak,” he said furiously. “Well, you are wrong.” I didn’t think those things.

“I defy you,” he continued. “I will be feared and respected.” I did fear him. I felt myself become nauseated.

“Grandfather Sheng Li Peng you cannot trouble me anymore,” he said. Was the Sheng portrait still by the closet?

“I will destroy you. I’ll burn you,” he said. The flashlight waved wildly as Xing ranted in rage.

“You will not be here to stare down at me anymore with your superiority. I will rid this place of your likeness and then your ghost will be banished.”

Suddenly, his gun fired. It was very loud.

“Ah!” yelled Xing. Was he coming for me and shooting into the closet? I swung my head back at the inevitability of what was to come.

There was a small thud on the floor in the church. Then, a louder thud came.

“Ah!” yelled Xing. It was how he cried.

Xing yelled something in Chinese. The footsteps of two police officers came into the building. They had a flashlight too.

“He’s shot himself in the leg,” said one. “Get a bandage.” Xing kept crying.

I was very close, but I wasn’t going to reveal myself to help. What could I do? I was slightly relieved that Xing wasn’t searching for me and the police were preoccupied.

The other man left then came back with something.

“He’s bleeding fast. We need to take him.”

“He hit an artery,” said the others. “He’ll die before we get him to Fusang.”

I thought of the robe I was behind. Would it stop the bleeding? They already had a cloth. I held back. In his last breath Xing might tell them to shoot me.

“Mr. President?” yelled one man. Xing wasn’t crying anymore.

“He only has a minute or so left.” They yelled for him again. Then they knelt over him quietly.

I tried to breathe slowly so that they wouldn’t hear me.

“Is he dead?” one asked. I heard some motion.

“Yes,” said the other.

They were both silent again. They didn’t sound like they were distraught over his death.

Now that the President was gone, would they continue searching for me? Did they still follow his insane orders when he could no longer demand it?

Additionally, I still had no idea why they were looking for me. Maybe with Xing dead the reasons for my search had evaporated.

“We need to take him back to Fusang.”

“He will bleed on the seats. Can we put him in the back?” asked the other.

“No, we have to pretend we are bringing him back for help. He must be in the front.”

I began to calm down because I could tell it was almost over. However, I stayed quiet.

They shuffled around, and eventually were ready to carry him out. A minute later, they drove off. They left a flashlight shining on the floor.

I reached forward to swing open the door. The light shined on a pool of blood. It was dripping through cracks to the ground below.

Xing would stain the floor boards as he had stained the church and the lives of the Kupe. The Sheng ancestor would look down to what his heir had made.

The blood stain would be Xing’s bequest. It would be a reminder of him.

The President was a part of the extended family of the island. Their blood was a part of him, and likewise he was in them, but that didn’t mean that he should always be on the floor as a reminder. It was better to recall better times between the Kupe and Sheng.

I went out to look for cleaning supplies. I shined the flashlight into the closet. It only had a broom. My heart was still beating quickly, but I felt less afraid.

I went outside. It was dark even though it wasn’t very late. I heard some thunder.

James, Elias, and Henry came when they saw me.

“Are you okay?” they asked. They pointed at blood on the flashlight.

“I am fine. That is from Xing,” I said. James hugged me.

I explained to them what happened then I asked for rags to mop up the blood. James went to get something.

Henry went to tell the people the news, and Elias followed.

“What will happen now that Xing is dead?” I asked James.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

My troubles weren’t over even with Xing dead. Just because the President was gone didn’t mean that the country would turn on a dime. They might continue the exact same policies, if as Xing had said, he had been President because the people wanted it.

I cleaned up the floor. James helped. At his house, it took a long time for me to fall asleep. I’d been too excited, and the storm was noisy. Eventually, it only rained, and that sound was soothing.

  • * * *

Chapter 11

Thursday morning I awoke later. It was softly raining and I smelled breakfast cooking.

I joined James on the porch. I started doing my whittling. I was working on the third of my spear barbs.

Making the spear was the only thing that I’d committed to that I hadn’t finished. I was accepted already, regardless of whether I’d done it or not, but I wanted to complete it anyway.

After breakfast, the rain slowed to a sprinkle. James got his spear.

“It may not get better than this,” he said.

“You are going fishing in the rain?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The sea looks fine. It is better than eating dried fish.” I nodded. I didn’t volunteer to go along, and he didn’t ask. After a stressful evening, it was good for him to return to his element.

I guess that there was one other thing that I’d agreed to do. That was to get a preacher to be allowed to return. However, with Xing dead, I didn’t know who to ask.

Also, I wasn’t sure what the new leader would think of me. It was best to wait.

Things were back to normal in the village. The people hadn’t been traumatized too much. If anyone was affected by the drama, it was me. Doing my carving and watching nature had helped me keep my mind settled.

I wondered how big of a disruption it would take to upset their lives. I guessed that as long as fish were available, they’d remain here. They adapted to having no formal church worship. That had to be a major change.

I thought about Gei Duk’s disciples. First, their lives were disrupted when they decided to go with him. Then second, when he died, their lives were upended.

I am sure that they thought that he was going to change the world. Maybe they thought he would be their savior by being a new king. Yet, that idea was thrown out when he died.

They changed, but it wasn’t the change that they were hoping for. At first, they scattered, denied being his followers, and were told that his grave was empty. They wrestled with the idea of him. They were not easily convinced when they saw him return. One even demanded to touch his wounds.

However, something completely changed them. Eventually, they did not hide, but they went to the corners of the world. Many of them died because of what they preached. That showed that they were utterly convinced of what they were telling others.

Looking at the oldest documents of the church, the disciples all had different views of the same event which was of seeing their Savior. However, immediately, they had consensus that their Savior was resurrected.

That means undoubtedly something had happened. If Gei Duk hadn’t risen it would have been easy to disprove it. The critics would need to just produce his dead body.

Therefore, it is unquestionable that something happened that changed everything. It inspired his followers to seek out the poor throughout the world, help them, and preach about hope, even if it meant their own deaths.

The question is: what happened? They all agreed that their Savior had been resurrected.

For me, the issue became one of trust. If I trusted those who’d seen Gei Duk, then I would believe in his resurrection.

I thought that I’d be more convinced if a dozen scientists investigated the resurrected body and then they testified about it. Could men from 2,000 years ago really provide the same assurances that scientists could?

After living on a remote island, I’d become friends with people who led a simple life. They had odd folklore, but that didn’t mean that they were dummies. The way Edgar and I had talked about the sky boat made me see that they told their stories with a wink. However, they knew when someone was alive or dead. A scientist wouldn’t be much more convincing than they were.

What did it mean to me? I needed to decide if I was going to trust what those twelve men said about seeing Gei Duk afterwards. It was hard for me to trust people that I didn’t know personally.

An hour later, James came back with his catch, and Lydia prepared it. Around lunch, the rain stopped and the weather cleared.

In the afternoon, James said we should cut a bamboo pole for my spear. We went together to a patch. He picked one out and I cut it with a saw he gave me.

In the quiet, I thought I heard a distant roar. It reminded me of the sound of a plane taking off. I looked up over the hill. Beyond the end of the island I could see a plane ascending.

Back at the house, I finished the last barb. Then James showed me how to tie the points onto the pole.

I thought that there was no way to get an eight foot weapon onto a plane. My job was nearly done, and I needed prepare James for it.

“When I leave in a few days,” I said, “I won’t be able to take the pole, but I can take the barbs.”

“That should be fine,” he said. “You can cut a new pole when you get there.”

I smiled at his idea.

Wednesday, I was getting antsy. I couldn’t hang around forever without knowing why President Xing was looking for me and what was happening now that he was gone. I kept one eye on the hill to see if the police returned.

In the middle of the morning, Roger came back from Fusang. He was carrying an armful of tools. I met him at the edge of town.

“I thought you had to work today,” I said.

“I was fired,” he said. “The boss said I was always late and that I took vacation days whenever I felt like it.

“They’re biased. I always did hard work when I was there.”

I was curious if that was the only reason he’d been fired.

“Yesterday, you said Xing was angry about the cannery closing. Did you hear any more about that?” I asked.

“No,” said Roger, “but I have the latest news. His son Xing Zhu-Xiang was elected President.”

Roger set down a hoe that he held.

I was excited to hear more, but I was making him stand holding tools.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Can I help you carry those?” I asked. He let me take the hoe. I followed him to his house where he set his armful in a pile.

“A funeral is gift-giving time,” Roger said. “Now I have things to give.”

“It is a lot,” I said.

“It is for Charles and Clara, but also others in the village,” he said. I nodded.

He picked up a couple items and didn’t ask for help, so I went back to James’ house. James was fishing. I’d wait until he and the other men came ashore before finding Roger again to talk.

I had been concerned for Roger. I hoped he could heal his relationship with his family and the community. He was returning and bearing gifts, so that would help his bond.

In the Kupe’s view, they were all one organism. They were the body of their ancestors that had been divided into their present form.

That was the mechanism of their communion. By eating together, it acknowledged that they were each accepted as part of the body.

It didn’t matter who caught the food and who ate it. All were equally a part of the community. Being in communion wasn’t even Roger’s decision. He’d always be a Kupe no matter where he went to work. It wasn’t his decision, but God’s choice as to where he’d be born, and so he’d become part of that tribe.

There was a limit to the tribal view. In one sense, the people here said they were all descended from Kupe, so they were the same body. However, the idea could be extended further. All people were descended from Atu or Adam, so we’re the same flesh. We all fed each other around the world. If I looked in my cupboard at home, I might even find fish that Roger had canned. The Kupe should be saying that all humans shared the same fate because we were the same family.

No matter where we lived or who ruled over us, it didn’t change the fundamentals of being a human. God has decided that we were all worthy of redemption.

Then I noticed that the men were back. I watched James drop off his fish a few places and bring some for Lydia. When he came out of the kitchen, I spoke.

“Roger came back from Fusang to say Xing’s son was president,” I said. “Maybe Roger can say more if we talk to him.”

“We should,” said James. We went to Henry’s house, and Roger came out. Roger repeated what he’d told me. James waved to other men that they should come. Charles came first, and others followed him. I nodded to Charles. He nodded back.

“Xing’s son was away at college,” said Roger. “He flew in yesterday after he was elected President.”

“Elected?” asked Winslow. “I don’t recall an election.”

“The Sheng would have outvoted you anyhow,” said James. “You had a little hope of succeeding Xing.” Some men laughed.

“We must pay our respects to the new leader, and show sorrow for his loss of a father,” said Edgar. The other men agreed.

“We should bring a gift,” said Edgar.

“I can bring something,” said James.

“Good,” they agreed.

“Should I go?” I asked. I was concerned if the son would hold a grudge that the father was looking for me when he died, but also I wanted to make my case to the son.

“You are one of the Kupe men,” James said.

“Yes, he is,” said Edgar. I had little other choice for eventually getting off the island, except for risking a sea journey. Maybe the son would be happy that he was now President. It was a hopeful sign that the police hadn’t returned for me in the last day and a half.

The men decided that we would go to Fusang after lunch. Then we each returned to our houses.

The men met at the bottom of the hill. James carried one of his small carvings. It took a while until all the men were there. Then we went to Fusang together.

At the Presidential office, the assistant, Min, greeted us. He said the President would see us in five minutes.

When the new President came out we all bowed to him. He looked like a younger version of his father. It scared me a little because that same face had been hunting me not long ago. I kept quiet, and put my head down.

“We are the men of the Kupe,” said James. “We have come to show our sorrow for the loss of your father.”

“Thank you,” said young Xing.

“We honor you and give you this gift,” said James. James bowed as he handed it to young Xing. Xing took it.

“It is Atu, who is our common ancestor,” continued James. “It shows how the Kupe and the Sheng are bound.”

“It is an appropriate gift,” said young Xing. “Are you all Kupe?” The new President looked at me for a second.

“Yes,” said James. “We are all Kupe, and it is all of us but two. One man is too old to walk across the island, and one Keoni is your guest in the Presidential Hotel.”

“He’s my guest?” asked young Xing. James shrugged. Xing looked at Min, and the assistant shrugged too.

“The tourists are coming soon,” said Xing. “What are we doing about that?”

“Whatever you wish,” replied Min. He kept his head bowed.

“Please take him away,” said the President.

My spirits were uplifted at hearing that.

“Thank you,” said James.

“You may go,” said the President. The men backed out.

“Mr. President,” I said, “may we speak further?”

“Okay,” he said. The other men continued to leave. I tried to speak subtly, like I’d seen others do, and not directly demand what I wanted.

“It is unfortunate that the children in New Truro have no school,” I said. The President raised his eyebrow. “…and it is very far for them to walk every day to Fusang. Plus, there may be no room for them here.

“It would be a burden on the State to hire a teacher and buy a bus.”

“Yes, it would,” said the President.

“Yet, we need to be concerned for Truro Shoal’s international reputation. It is not the best to be known as not providing an education.”

“Um…,” said the President, “do you think anyone has any ideas?” He was talking suggestively.

“In the past, some of their priests have also educated the children,” I said. “The person is not paid by the State. If the right person was selected, he could also be their teacher.”

“What would he teach them?” asked the President. His father’s concern was that the Kupe were not integrated into Sheng culture. He had wanted one cohesive people. I thought that young Xing might be beginning to think the same thing.

“One concern is that the Kupe don’t often speak Chinese,” I said. “It is possible to request a Chinese or bilingual preacher. He could teach them in proper Chinese language.”

He looked pleased.

“Would the church agree?” he asked.

“I will tell them that it is your wish,” I said. “I will also promote Truro Shoal however I am able.” He smiled.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. I bowed and then walked away.

After he left, I stepped to Min’s desk. I was thinking about Keoni. He looked up.

“Hello,” I said. “Would it be okay to acquire a note saying Keoni is supposed to go home?”

“I will tell the police it is okay,” he replied.

“Thank you,” I said. He picked up his phone.

I went out of the office and walked to the hotel. Most of the men were outside waiting. Then James came out with Keoni. They were smiling. Many of the men hugged him. I let them talk for a couple minutes before I said anything.

“I guess my hammock in New Truro is taken,” I said.

“Oh. It will be,” said James. “Someone can make room if you want to sleep there.”

“Yes,” said some men.

“I can sleep in the hotel,” I said. “I may be leaving soon and need to prepare.”

“The new President is allowing a preacher to return,” I continued. They were grateful.

“You must come tonight,” said James. “We will have singing.”

“Okay, I will join you later. I need to figure out my plans,” I said. I shook Keoni’s hand, and they left.

I went into the hotel. I probably looked pretty shabby, but I went to talk to the clerk.

“Hello,” said Jieng-Sheng.

“Hello,” I said. “I might be leaving soon. How do I request the plane?”

“I can do that,” he said. “It will be coming tomorrow and then starts a regular service on the weekend.”

“Do I need to reserve it now?”

“It will be empty as it leaves the next few times so just show up,” said Jieng-Sheng. “After that it could fill.”

“Okay, I’ll plan on leaving tomorrow unless something changes.”

Next, I went to my room. I still had my key. I cleaned up, changed, and then checked email. There were too many messages from work to deal with right then. It wasn’t my priority.

I saw two messages that I needed to open. The first was from my wife. She had tried to call. I thought about the time of day at home. It was much too early to call. She’d be asleep for a few more hours. I replied to the email that she’d probably see me at home in two days.

The second email was from Han Shipping. I thought it might be spam, but the subject was “Church at Truro Shoal.”

The owner, Mr. Han, said that he’d read my editorial in the online church forum. He was going to cancel his contract with Xing’s cannery.

That must have been what caused the former president to go mad. I wished Mr. Han hadn’t told Xing, but in the long run, I guessed it worked out.

I was conflicted about what to do. I didn’t believe that the cannery was good for the sea and the Kupe. It could be why they couldn’t find their favorite fish.

However, it was an economic reality that if Han ended his contract, someone else would surely take his place. Also, I’d promised the younger Xing that I’d promote the island nation. Therefore, I wrote a message praising Mr. Han, telling him that it had worked, and that the new president might want a reassurance of their renewed relationship.

Young Xing hadn’t mentioned anything about the cannery, so he might not have known. A call of condolences by Mr. Han might resolve it.

I was thinking about the reef. It hadn’t shown much damage beyond missing a favorite species. It couldn’t be relied upon to support the Kupe indefinitely. One advantage of giving their children an education was that they would have more opportunities if they ever needed them.

Finally, I wrote an email to my bosses at the church. I told them that the President had agreed to the return of a priest as long as he was bilingual in Chinese and English. Also, he’d be the town’s teacher and hold lessons in both languages. Xing hadn’t asked that the students be taught in English too, but I’d added that. Remaining bilingual would be a useful asset and would reinforce their culture.

I thought of sending a follow-up editorial to the church magazine. However, I’d delay until I had free time. It was approaching supper and I had a long walk to make. I’d have to return on the same path later at night.

As I walked, I thought of my commitment to the new President. I’d said that I would promote the island. However, he’d taken care of it mostly by himself. With two decisions he made, he would improve its reputation for justice: equal education, and free religion.

These decisions would reflect upon all the people of the island. It wasn’t his reputation that he improved, but that of the country. The action of one person can redeem them in the eyes of the world. All of the inhabitants are raised up when one small group of Kupe are allowed to excel.

That reminded me of what had happened with Gei Duk. Human society had been cruel when he was born. It treated some people, especially the poor, with severe disdain. Back then, our society was not worthy of God’s grace. However, it was the deficiencies that caused Gei Duk to rebel against it. In one sense, it made him want to be good. Even though they tried to cut him down, he was raised up. It was his action that allowed all of us to be redeemed in God’s eyes.

The Kupe benefited from other people’s good deeds. Everyone benefitted.

As I walked down the hill, I saw that they were at the church. It was their place of celebration. I collected my spear barbs then joined everyone in the church.

I talked with several people before the activity started. Roger was there and took part as well.

The ceremony was similar to my first day visiting, except that the storytellers focused more on thanking the ancestors for bringing them to this point. It was their predecessor’s actions that had brought about the peaceful time ahead.

After we ate, James and Lydia approached. I’d left a little food on my plate, so Lydia wouldn’t make me eat more. Although, I should have had more considering it would be the last fresh food I’d have for a long time.

A few other people gathered too when they saw James approach.

“I have brought some fresh coconut,” said Lydia. “It will keep you sustained on your journey.”

“I wish we could give you more,” Lydia said.

“Thank you. You have given me so much already. Thank you for welcoming into your family,” I said. I had learned much from them.

“You have your spear?” asked James.

“Yes,” I said. I showed the barbs. “I don’t have much to give you…”

“You’ve helped so much,” Lydia interrupted.

“Thank you. I will send something later,” I said. I would ship them the supplies for their school from my own expense. They thanked me.

“I plan on leaving tomorrow,” I said.

“When do you fly?” James asked.

“The plane comes in early afternoon,” I said.

“I will come see you then,” he said. I nodded.

Then it was soon time to walk back to the hotel. I said goodbyes to all of the people. I approached Charles. He made himself smile for a moment. Then we nodded at each other.

I walked up the hill. I turned near the top to see New Truro for the last time. It had been like home for a week.

They lived with a unique system of sharing. I thought that it wasn’t possible to have their system on a large scale. There was no way to require sharing with people you didn’t know. It didn’t work in Fusang and that city wasn’t very large.

Their concept of communion was tied closely to sharing food, so if people in large cities couldn’t share, was communion possible for them?

Starvation was not as relevant as it had been in Gei Duk’s time. Very few people starved to death anymore. To understand what it meant to people in that time we’d have to give away so much that we’d be nearly at the point of starvation too. That would never happen, and it doesn’t happen in the rituals as they are practiced at home.

My bosses at the church felt the sacraments were above all else. No other concerns were more important than inclusion of the Kupe in the church.

It certainly was important to have the Kupe in God’s grace. However, the Kupe felt that the redemption came to them through membership in their community. The partaking of sacraments was just symbolic. The real coming together was through acceptance of each other.

Was that form of communion possible in the developed world? Today, what would be equal to how they threw limited food together and shared fates?

Communion was acceptance. It was nothing else. People accepted each other when they shared food, and our God accepted us when we shared with each other.

Communion was not about excluding others who didn’t follow all the rules. It wasn’t our gift to withhold from anyone. The power of the one righteous individual was what redeemed all of us, despite our faults.

Modern communion must be about reaching out to people with needs, not excluding them. It followed Gei Duk’s example when he broke bread with the poor. The poor weren’t the only ones who needed him. We are all needy, because we all have weaknesses.

Thursday, I spent the morning doing work. It seemed odd to have feet in two worlds. I was still on Truro Shoal, but I was mentally transitioning back to home.

I packed up my bags and went to lunch. Then I sat in the lobby. The hotel clerk said the ferry pilot would get me and my bag when it was time. My work would directly handle the hotel bill.

James came to the hotel. He looked uncomfortable with a roof over his head, so I said that we should talk in the fresh air. Then he was his old self again.

“You have two histories now,” he said. “One you grew up with and one from us.”

“I will respect all of my ancestors,” I said. Since I’d been here I’d felt more connected to all people around the world. We were linked because we were one children of God. However, I’d become particularly fond of the Kupe, and their lifestyle.

“Oh,” I said. “I keep forgetting to tell you about a dream I had a few days ago.” Dreams were meaningful to them, so it seemed appropriate to bring up now.

“I was in the hammock trying to fall asleep,” I said. “The hammock was swaying a little. The next thing that I knew, I was on a surfboard on the sea and the sway became the small waves as they passed by. The sea was very calm.

“I was looking up at the sky. The clouds were puffy and changing shape. I felt lost, but then the clouds said, ‘Neal.’ I asked then what they wanted, but the only repeated my name. ‘What should I do?’ I asked, but they said, ‘Neal’ again. Then, later, I woke up.”

“They said your name three times?” said James.

“Yes,” I said.

The boy came to get my bag for the ferry. I waved for him to wait a moment.

“The ancestors say things three times when they really mean it,” said James. “They said you name to show they recognize you.”

“Thank you,” I said. I hugged James and said goodbye. I felt a tear on my face. I followed the boy to the ferry and got on.

James implied many things by the saying the ancestors recognized me. The word meant more than to only see someone. Its larger meaning was to know who someone was deeply, and to know them completely was to accept them.

The different possible meanings of words reminded me of the difficulties of translating between languages. Part of my hang up with Gei Duk’s resurrection was that his disciples didn’t recognize him. What did they mean by that? Could it be that until that moment they’d never completely understood him? How could they grasp him fully until they saw and accepted that he was risen again?

Gei Duk’s followers talked about seeing him using fanciful language that was symbolic and had exaggeration. However, I couldn’t blame them. Resurrection is completely beyond what we understand as humans. How else could they describe it? Only God comprehends it.

God has the power to resurrect people. I believed that He chose to do so to give us hope. It was His gift to us. Since Gei Duk was shown to be worthy, we are all also made worthy because we share the same body with Gei Duk through our common inheritance.

The Savior’s followers spread across the world to tell the message. We are loved. God’s acceptance of one of us shows that he loves all of us.

I got off the ferry. We’d arrived before the plane this time. I went to the top of the step and looked at the sky. The clouds were balls of cotton. I did not have much time when I was in the city to look at clouds. Buildings and trees blocked an expansive view of them. My life will be much different than the Kupe’s lives now, but they would always stay in my heart.

“You will miss them,” said the clouds.

“I will,” I replied.

The End.

###

Disclaimer:

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

[]About the Author:

Selmoore Codfish is not really a fish, but a chicken. He’s hiding because celebrity would show that he is not actually funny, just faking it. If the public knew Mr. Codfish’s identity they would demand that he be funny all of the time. However, he would prefer to remain a dour, grumpy person. Funny people don’t get respect but are thought of as special or different. His friends and associates appreciate his dry seriousness and they shouldn’t be let down by humor.

If you enjoyed this book please loan it to a friend, or write a positive review of it. I encourage you to contact me through my website. Read more and see the list other books in the series at: http://www.selmoorecodfish.com/

[]Other stories in the Neal Harris series

If you enjoyed “Net of Blood”, you should also try these. The stories can be read in any order. Neal’s journey through romance and then making a family develops from one story to the next, but it is easy to skip around in it.

Which stories are for Christians? Neal begins the series in “The Holy Chicken Scratches” as a skeptic who points out inconsistencies among believers. In the early stories, fictional churches are discussed that worship a person called Ralph. Then in later stories as Neal becomes more serious about his beliefs, he more commonly refers to Jesus as The Savior.

Paradiso

Synopsis: Is Neal having a nightmare, or is there some purpose to the torture he endures? Who is it that leads Neal from one of his life’s struggles to the next, and why does he insist that Neal relive each one? What is the blinding light that he’s drawn to and what does it plan for him? Neal has a dream experience like Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy episodes: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The Passion

Synopsis: A fictional story about Neal Harris, an insurance agent at a church-owned affiliate. He investigates a congregation whose mission has gone haywire. It may result in Neal’s family being endangered. Meanwhile, he grapples with his ego and what it means to worship, and he hears two conflicting ideas about what the Savior’s personality could be like. One version is from a peculiar missing gospel. In this story, Jesus goes by a different name. Yeshua was his name in his own language. Jesus is just one of many nicknames that he’s had, such as Gesu.

The Waiting

Synopsis: Why are patients being murdered at a hospital? Is Neal Harris’s grandmother-in-law on the killer’s list? What are the odd staff members at the hospital hiding? How does this all tie to the faith-based insurance account that Neal manages? Neal reflects on being raised in the church but never really believing. Then he decides that belief in God is meaningful to him.

Holy Chicken Scratches

Synopsis: The Holy Chicken Scratches is a satire-mystery in the context of faith-based insurance. Neal Harris is an insurance adjuster with the Sacred Recluse Self-Insurance Group (SRSIG). While investigating the disappearance of a Holy Artifact he interacts with several eccentric religious groups who had access to it. Neal gets into several humorous conflicts as he tries to resolve this case and save human society from the calamity of a take-over by the Wire Transfer-Lemonade Cartel. This is the beginning of a series of stories which are tied together by a romantic comedy background subplot. The main character, Neal, has been raised in the church, but has doubts. He makes fun of inconsistent believers. Believers will enjoy this story if they can take a joke and want to be challenged. This is currently the first story in the series.

Summary:

Neal flies to a remote island nation where a communist dictator has outlawed the sacrament of communion, and has expelled church leaders. The believers have to practice their faith secretly. Neal challenges the tyrant while risking his own life. Neal is confronted by a culture that is much different than his own. This challenges him to think about his own beliefs. Previously, he had been questioning his beliefs, but the adventure helps him reach resolution.

ISBN: TBD

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Shakespir.com, where they can also discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

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Net of Blood

Neal flies to a remote island nation where a communist dictator has outlawed the sacrament of communion, and has expelled church leaders. The believers have to practice their faith secretly. Neal challenges the tyrant while risking his own life. Neal is confronted by a culture that is much different than his own. This challenges him to think about his own beliefs. Previously, he had been questioning his beliefs, but the adventure helps him reach resolution.

  • Author: Selmoore Codfish
  • Published: 2015-12-15 19:50:12
  • Words: 57624
Net of Blood Net of Blood