The spray hit Toma’s face with a sudden and fresh ferocity. He breathed in and let the sea air fill his lungs. It was cool and more crisp than any land breath he had ever taken. He closed his eyes listening, in reverence, for the One Mother. The waves crashed against the side of the small one-man skimmer in whispers. He smiled. Today he would receive his gift. Today he would meet his mother.
Ao’tana’s hands twinged as she pulled yet another prawn from the basket. Today, she had set up opposite side of the school—watching the men train with their taiaha’s across the beach. Facing the water, they now took the prayer stance. With Toma’s spot empty, it seemed obviously unbalanced. She prayed to the One Mother—for Toma. To grant enough favor to send him home. The group ended with a final shout and ran toward the nearest palm trees. A year ago she would have watched with amusement as they scrambled up and pulled each other down to reach the tops. Now, she listened to the whispers of the waves for any news of him.
Toma leaned back and let his hand skim the water. He had let his sails down to drift to the sound of the strange music. He smiled to the distant rhythms playing through his head. One or two notes that burned in his soul seemed to echo over the waves. Minutes passed until the white sails appeared on the horizon. He should care about these. They had always been described as bewitching, these ships with demons.
I am one. I listen. His voice, a small voice now, begged and pleaded from within. Shouldn’t the One Mother protect? Yet, increasingly, he could hear nothing else besides the persisting crescendo of music.
“Ah, Toma. Your heart is too big for that tiny body.” Old Ko rapped playfully on the young boy’s head. Thick dark curls were matted with dirt cushioned the light tap from his weathered hands. He grunted, bending down to meet the boy’s eyes, this child of the one mother, and wiped a tear from the side of his cheek. Dried blood stained the front of his face and Ko could already see the bruises forming.
“Th-they… they wouldn’t stop, Ko. I do too have a mother.” His eyes watered fresh again as his small fist slapped against the glowing mark on his chest. “I can prove it!”
“Are you less than the sand, Toma?”
“Because this,” Ko pointed toward the blood “this is sacred. Do not water the earth so freely with the gift of the One Mother. Your mother.”
His own dark eyes met the boy’s—as deep and curious as the sea. There were too few of her children now.
The ship was lazy in it’s approach.
Toma sat as he watched the gilded boat approach. Could a demon sing such music? He leaned forward yet felt he should run—sail away to find his place and his mother.
Then, he saw her standing above.
Standing by the rail, her silver eyes locked with his. While others shouted and pointed, collecting ropes and running franticly, Toma watched her still saddened eyes.
As bewitching as their song was, it was those eyes that really claimed the son of the sea that day.