19: Handhold

Both Farah’s sons had much to think about that night. As they lay on their mats, Michel jabbered in hushed whispers of the stories Neri had told. Toni had to shush his excited sibling regularly, so as not to disturb Blake and Madison from their slumber on the other side of the room.

“The world, it’s so big,” said Michel. “Imagine being surrounded by a hundred times more people than we’ve ever known. Imagine cars, how fast they go past. And twice a week a boat the size of the mountain brings hundreds more for the day. Imagine how big Australia is, how big New Zealand is…”

Toni sighed, hoping his brother’s excitement would burn him out sooner rather than late.  Yes, the world was big, you only had to look up at the sky to see that, but Toni didn’t understand wanting to be anywhere that obscured that magnificent view, noise drowning out the rustle of the wind through the trees or the chirrup of birds overhead, where tall houses created shadows. He was sure the foreign lands Michel dreamt of were exciting, colourful and indeed filled with wonder, but could the colours of these places glow any more brilliantly than the vivid greens, blues and reds of their home?

Toni loved the island, the simple satisfaction of working the land, learning from this father the true value of life. Also, he loved Aime, his village sweetheart and Toni’s own dream was of a life with her, happiness being far closer than any boat trip. So he waited patiently for Michel’s whispers to fade to murmurs, then finally snores. When it was silent he quietly tiptoed from his mat and headed down the hill to meet his love, as he did so many nights since she had returned his smile in kind.

It had only been for a season, but Toni was sure she was the one he wished to share his life with. Their rendezvous was by the crook of a gnarled tree half way down the hill, as it had been every other night, where they could root their love to the ground. Aime was there waiting nervously when he arrived. Toni usually liked to be there first, so he could flatten the grass for her. Silently he cursed his brother for delaying his leave, then swiftly regretted such a thought towards his beloved kin.

Aime’s eyes were wide in the shadow in the forest. “I was worried,” she said. “Such bad things are happening, and I thought…”

He clasped her arms firmly. “I’m so sorry for being late mon cherie,” said Toni. “But everything is good now we’re together.”

He moved to kiss her full lips, but Aime pushed him back. The first time that had happened. “People are dead,” she said. “And Pisiv is saying there must be more death if we are to survive. Aliens are trying to take our home away, and we’ll have to fight to keep it.”

Toni shook his head. “No cher, that’s just Pisiv talking again. My father is looking after the aliens and he’ll sort everything out tomorrow.”

“Your father is with them?” said Aime, anger Toni had never seen before rising in her. “You fool! You stupid land boy! You can’t help them, Pisiv has half the village out for blood.”

Pisiv was fuelling the fire that day, she explained, helped by way too much kava being supped into the night. Half the village wanted revenge for the deaths of Jean and Louis, as well as brave Massif’s broken snout. The other half wanted peace, believing that everything would calm of its own accord, as it always had done. But machetes were being sharpened, and peaceful voices were never as loud as those who spoke in anger.

Toni sighed, it was a night of them, there would be no root coming. Aime was too churned up and his words failed to calm her. He didn’t understand why she was so angry with him, having faith his father was doing the right thing, as he always did.

They held hands, but eventually she squirmed away, keen to return to the village revels, worried her absence be noticed. Everyone was on edge and eyes were everywhere.

Toni made his way back up the hill, confused but supposing that life was not always easy for it to be good, unburdened in his naivety of any thoughts that revealing the whereabouts of the fugitives could cause any further trouble.

TO BE CONTINUED

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