I sighed. My chocolate brown eyes looked up at the night sky and cursed my mother. I never thought I would be the next Matriarchal leader in the group. I didn’t understand how the Order was supposed to run. Nor did I have a single clue who my two counselors should be. I worried enough to fill one of the single mud rooms. The Order of Sisterhood seemed to be doing fine without my mother. I remembered what the other members of the group said. That she was among the gods now. It was hard for me to imagine Mother as a goddess. To me, my mother was something more. But if that was the reward, then I wouldn’t complain. I looked up to Mother, but now she was gone. I thought my mother was the hero in my life. I remembered her rich black hair tickling my face when I was but a child. Her soft brown eyes had made my fears flee. I used to watch Mother hug Father like nothing could separate them.
But that had all changed the night of the storm. Our little island had turned upside down. I heard the other villagers shouting for their loved ones. I couldn’t escape their cries and in the morning, I’d found my mother crushed by a tree. That was ten years ago.
Mother used to be in charge of the sacrifices. I would’ve been content with that offer. However, Sakahi was the one who was in charge of the sacrifices to the gods. She should have been chosen by them to rule. She was after all, the Chief’s daughter although it was Mother who’d organized the Order. Her rich brown skin had no flaw and her hair was as black as a blackbird. I on the other hand, had imperfect skin because of the scar that ran across my right hand.
“Maori,” I recalled my father saying, looking up from his food. “Stop looking at your hands, it’s rude…” He went back to cut his fish and took a bite.
“I don’t understand Papa,” I said putting them down. My eyes stared at my food, staring back at me. It was what we had caught that morning.
He put his utensils on the wooden table and stared at me. He scratched his beard in deep thought. “Come here child.” I lowered my head, rising to do what he’d asked and crawled into Papa’s lap. “What’s troubling you?” I lifted my scared hand to him. “Is that what’s bothering you now? Aw…”
“Hikia said it was because I was bad,” I said explaining to him. “The gods had given it to me…” Father took my hand and examined it closely.
“What else do they say?” he asked. “Do they say how beautiful it is?”
“Really? They should because it’s true.”
“No one says it…they speak of Sakahi.”
“Sakahi is pretty, but she lacks one thing…”
“Someday you’ll know daughter.”
I sometimes wondered why Sakahi was my best friend. Maybe it was because she was of the Chief’s daughters who had pity for the lowlife. Someone who didn’t have to work for what she had, yet had servants and had visited the market often. Perhaps it was more of a cursing since I knew how much Sakahi loved to buy only the best. Everything had to have no flaw like her, so the two could dance together.
“You have no sense of beauty Ria,” she had said on one of our trips. “You need to let loose of those prison clothes and show some skin. What could happen?”
“I don’t want the boys to have dirty thoughts,” I said.
“Oh to Shilo’s Mountain with your chastity,” Sakahi said waving her hand. “You know that’s of the past while our mothers were girls. You don’t need it today.”
“Just because you didn’t grow up with a mother,” I said as my blood boiled. “That doesn’t give you the right to throw it away. My mother taught me better and that’s something to cherish. It weighs more than your room of gold dear heart.”
Sakahi shrugged it to the side. “Whatever,” she said batting her long black eyelashes to an oncoming boy. He grinned at her, passing by. “See? That was harmless.”
“Don’t you have self-respect for yourself?”
“I have plenty of self-respect for me,” she said.
I shook my head at the memory. She’ll never understand what I’m feeling, she thought. And why should she?
I rose off the ground and turned my gaze to the mud house. Father came home after a long day trying to sell fish. I smiled when I saw him. His strong features weren’t like the other elders in the village. He had a pleasant face, not stern like Sakahi’s father. His jawbone was square and covered in hair. I wanted to speak with him on the matters of my heart. His brown eyes met hers along with a smile and sat his things down. I ran to him opening my arms as he swept me in his. The smell of the market reminded her of the days I went with him. I pulled in his scent as he led me into the house.
“You seem more chipper than yesterday,” he said teasing me. “Is there someone in your life that I need to know about?”
I laughed. “You know me better than that Papa,” I said.
He lifted an eyebrow to my statement. “Oh I do, do I?”
“Of course you do!” I said breaking away from his hold. “You only saw me grow up. Not like that’s a big deal or anything. . .”
Father laughed. “You remind me of your mother,” he patted my hand lightly. “Now, go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning how to get you ready for the ceremony.”
I muttered, “yes papa,” and went to my room.
Takala ran his hands through his brown hair and placed them on the back of his head, lost in deep thought. What would he get her? It was custom for the father to present a gift to his daughter if she was chosen to become the leader. He rose from the table and gathered up the remaining utensils. Hands appeared in front of him, causing him to look up to see if it was his daughter. However, no one was there. His brown eyes saddened whilst thinking about Kaskas. How her hands would polish the table each and every meal to thank the gods for food. We had it good, he thought smiling. You always knew how to please people. That was why the gods chose you to lead. He went into the back of the house where they washed. Once the dishes were washed, he took a small walk towards the ocean where he and other fishermen left their boats. The night welcomed him into her arms. The moon shone brightly over him, smiling her white teeth and stretched out her hand. Oh, how much did he want to take that hand and be lifted. Unconsciously, he lifted his head to the stars, a nightly routine after Kaskas’s death.
“If you’re watching Kaskas,” he said as a prayer. “Please guide Maori tomorrow.”
“You worry too much,” she would say, resting a hand on his and stroked it gently. “You have brought plenty and the gods see that you use wisdom.” She patted his hand. “Maori will come into her place, no worries,” she was always good to him. Her words soothed everything including the volcano god’s anger with the island people. “She needs time.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“You doubt,” she pointed out. “Have faith in your daughter,” he eyed her skeptically. “You’ll see what I mean.”
If only she knew how much easier it was for her to believe than him. His routine carried far more fish into the small hut than any god did. But he couldn’t tell his wife that. She would find some way to convince him even if it was until the next storm. “Oh my angel,” he said and wiped a tear from his eye. “If only I could hold you one last time. Then my heart would be at rest.”
“You have no faith in the gods Takala,” a voice said in the wind.
“What do you expect Kaskas?” he prayerfully asked.
“Have faith in your daughter.”
“Maori doesn’t have faith in herself,” he argued. “How can the island have faith in her if she doesn’t have faith in herself? Faith and fear cannot coexist!”
“Do you have faith?”
“In what might I ask?”
“The Gods know what they’re doing Takala,” the wind continued.
“Then summon them here and take me away.”
“You tempt the Gods?”
“They don’t exist,” he stated finally. “You think they do, but they don’t.”
The wind began to pick up, brushing through him. “Oh ye God of the Wind!” the voice wailed. “Please hold thy anger against thy servant’s house!”
“Smite me down,” Takala ordered. “That I may see Kaskas’s face and hold her.”
“What are you saying!?”
“I’m saying I don’t want to be here,” he said.
A ghostly figure of a thin woman appeared before him, walking along the ocean shoreline. Takala gulped his fear, wondering what evil he’d done to deserve a haunting. The ghost woman offered her hand to him, wanting him to take it. His eyes shifted, revealing what he thought. The woman withdrew her hand and rested her chin on it. “I assume you’ve come to punish me?” he asked.
Her haunting eyes narrowed. “You know me better than that Takala,” she said eerily.
He rubbed his eyes, blinked several times and walked back. “No,” he said putting his hand out in front of his chest. “You cannot be my Kaskas . . . my Kaskas was a good wife and mother. You cannot be her!” His foot tripped over his other foot and onto the sand.
“You deny what you see?” she asked.
“I-I deny everything,” he responded.
“Even in the presence of your own wife?”
Takala sighed. She does have a point.
What should I tell her? “I don’t know what to believe Kaskas,” he finally said.
Her eyes became soft again and nodded in understanding. “You feel that life hasn’t been fair to you, am I right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said and lowered his head.
“Yet even at the front of your door, your daughter is unsure what to do.”
At the mentioning of Maori, Takala forgot his lack of faith and lifted his head. “Tell me what I can do to help my daughter wise one,” he said pleading. He got on his knees. “Tell me what I must do to help Maori see that she’ll be alright.”
“That is in you,” she calmly said. “I cannot give you that answer.”
“But she won’t listen to me like she did when you were alive.”
“She listened because I required her to. Otherwise she would’ve gone swimming in the sea every chance she got,” Kaskas said wrapping herself with her arms.
Takala felt the need to comfort her, yet he knew it wouldn’t help. Kaskas stared into the stars and then at him. “Must you go?”
She nodded. “My time is up,” she said sadly. “But I will love you no matter what.”
“Kaskas please,” he pleaded reaching out an arm to her.
Kaskas stepped away from them. “I’m sorry,” she said and faded away.
Takala sank to the sand and dropped his head into his hands. His body shook, trying to hold the tears in, yet they flowed. He looked up at his daughter standing in front of him. Her eyes were red and swollen as if she knew what went on. She dropped beside him, wrapping her arms around his neck and cried. He placed a hand on her head. “Your mother . . .” he couldn’t find the right words. He felt her head lift and stared into his eyes.
“What did she say?” she asked kind of curious.
Takala gulped. “She said that you’ll do great. Now, let’s get some sleep dear heart,” he guided her back into the hut. “Tomorrow’s a big day.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay papa,” she said walking into the hut.
Her father stopped outside, resting his hand on the side and turned around. He sighed again, thinking about his encounter with his wife’s ghost. Maybe, ghosts were also known for good things like protecting those they loved. He didn’t want to fail Kaskas. He didn’t want to fail, as strange as it sounded, he didn’t want to fail the gods as well. That would be his new goal. Of course, he chuckled and went into the hut. Long as they didn’t send his wife to tell him again.
Sakahi walked between her room and her father’s room, wondering why Takala was out late. She wanted to tell her father about it, but Tasiau would pat her head and tell her to go back to bed. Her dark hair was tied back with bone pins and such that her mother gave her when she was a child. Her eyes grew heavy with sleep, but she didn’t succumb to it. No way would the god of sand get her tonight, she thought. Her legs grew with anticipation to explore what went on during the night. Her father warned her and her eldest brother about the dangerous animals that roam the night. She grew fearlessly, but her brother was careful. He always told their father where he would be if he went swimming or hunting. He even told him after he got married to his childhood sweetheart.
Childhood sweetie, it would’ve been nice if hers weren’t already married. She thought that his wife was a lousy one. That one was always lying on her mat and not wanting to get up. Her father perhaps had said there was some sort of illness that went on before she had lost their child. She thought it served them right that the Gods cursed their posterity for a forbidden love. One enemy was taken care of. Now she had to worry about that friend of hers whose mother took her rightful place among the womanhood. Then she would have her friend do the sacrificial ceremonies that she felt comfortable with. She sat in a well crafted palm chair. She grabbed her jeweled brush and began to brush the ends of her hair.
She dropped the brush onto the floor, startled by her father standing in the door. “Oh father,” she said innocently and rose. “I didn’t hear you come in. Is there something wrong outside our village? Do we need to take shelter from our enemies? Do us . . .”
He raised a hand to hush his child into submission. “No child,” he said more gently.
“Then what is it Father?”
“You know what tomorrow is, right?”
She sank, but quickly straightened herself. “Of course I know what tomorrow is,” she said sticking her nose into the air. “Tomorrow’s the best day there ever was. How could I forget what tomorrow was?” she snorted annoyingly. “That would be silly if I didn’t.”
“Then you know to be on your best behavior, right?”
“I’m not a child,” she said turning to the wooden bed frame and sat down.
“I know,” he said. He leaned over to her and kissed her forehead. “Your mother would pride herself for having an obedient daughter.”
“I miss her.”
He nodded in understanding, but turning he couldn’t help, but to say, “you will understand someday Sakahi. When that time comes, nothing will matter anymore.”
“Oh and Sakahi,” he said before he left. “Maori needs you, remember that. You’ll understand what it’s like when you someday have to take over for me.”
As she watched her father leave, a knot started coiling itself in her stomach. She couldn’t help, but to think about Kaskas. She was there when her mother died as well as Maori. Sakahi looked up to her. Kaskas was a strong woman who knew how to convince her father to see things he didn’t. She laid on the bed thinking and fell asleep.
I rose to the rooster’s announcement that the sun came up. I slipped from her cot into the sun’s rays to warm herself. “It’s time!” I heard Father shout. I continued halfway asleep where the smell of the morning entered my nose. Feeling my stomach beginning to turn, I past on the morning ritual. I knew I was too nervous for what laid ahead to eat breakfast. Father stepped into the hut with a plate for me. “You’ve got too much to do,” he said handing me it. “Eat before it gets cold.”
I nodded, reaching for a piece of fruit and popped it into my mouth. My eyes widened as the juices dripped from the corners of my mouth. Father sat in his normal spot and began to eat. I stared at him, noticing his swollen eyes. He must have cried all night. He looked at me; his eyes did in fact show evidence that he did. It was hard to bring up the idea about mom’s death. He took it harder than I think I did. True, I missed her, but her love was enough to keep me from crashing. It was the reason why I will go through with the ceremony because I couldn’t let her or the Gods down.
“Maori!” I heard someone call from outside our home. It was one of the older women who grew up with Mother. “Hey Maori! You comin’ to the ceremony? We can’t start if you’re not there! Hurry up!”
I looked to Father who said nothing, but nodded his head. I ran to my room to change into a dark blue dress that revealed the shoulders. Then I ran out to meet the old woman who locked her arm in mine and chatted an ear full. We laughed, walking along the dirt path to the wooden chair. We stopped to allow me to take in the beauty. Father wasn’t long behind with Sakahi and her father close beside him. The whole village came to see me take Mother’s place. Sakahi stopped beside me with a headdress of flowers woven into the other and placed it on my head.
“Don’t worry,” she said gently and touched my cheek. “You’ll do well because you have the perfect heart to do whatever is required of you to do.”