8: Homecoming

When Neri was a child, still shorter than her father, she used to wander down to the beach alone and stare out at the big blue that surrounded her home. In her dreams she wondered what was out there at the edge of the world. Then one evening, as the sun began to dip, her dreams came to her, when she saw the biggest bird in the world, swooping out of the clouds.

Squinting, she realised it really was unlike any bird ever seen before. It had no feathers, no beak and didn’t flap. Instead, it floated through the air and made a distant droning hum. The bird approached and then swung away. As it did so, Neri’s strong youthful eyes glimpsed people inside its carcass. Instinctively, she waved at them and she could swear they waved back.

Right then Neri understood there was a whole other world outside the one she knew, that until that moment was all she ever expected to know. A big, mysterious crazy world of giant birds that carried strange people, a world she yearned to discover.

With that seed planted, Neri was never going to be happy on Io (as it was called before Crab Island), never content knowing there was more to life than what she could touch. She swore she would leave one day, if only to see a glimpse of what lay beyond the big blue.

Perhaps Neri was always doomed to be different from the other islanders. They were too nice to say she was cursed, but her mother had died carrying her. Sometimes, when her father looked at her, she wondered if it was with love or hate. So she grew up with others, but sometimes they hushed when she approached, as though her difference was a smell that upturned noses. It wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t anything she did, it was just who she was.

She did not want to marry the other boys she grew up with, no matter her father’s machinations for his beautiful crazy daughter, she did not want to have their children, she wanted something else. Her father became more controlling the more kava he supped; the less he did, the more he ordered others. She took the brunt of it. She was obedient, she cooked, she cleaned, she smiled, she dreamed of a better life.

Neri found that something else when she met Jack, the tall, funny, long haired alien with his own boat, a boat that could take her anywhere she wanted to go, who told stories that widened her eyes to the world beyond. He was adventure, he was good, he was an outsider who didn’t belong, just like her.

She told her father she wanted to go to school, as some others, more adventurous, had done before her. He stared at her with dull, sodden eyes and didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to.

She left with Jack on the tide the next sunrise. At the time her intentions were true, she did want to read and write, but she struggled in class and found she learnt more from tourists or being on the boat than stuck in a dusty room with children half her age grappling a book. As much as she laughed she still felt out of place, except with Jack. Together they felt right.

Now, on her return to Crab Island, her father’s domain, she realised how beautiful it was. She realised why Jack talked about building a new life for themselves there. She remembered the laughter she shared with her fellow islanders, not the discomfort that had driven her away.

On the jetty, she stood before her father and smiled. He stared back with even duller, sodden eyes and didn’t know what to say.

TO BE CONTINUED

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