Reflections on the Path Home
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford
The narrow path of carved stone wound upward, slick with morning fog. Far below, the rowboat reached the Advance as the ship prepared to sail. They would return in a month. I did not watch it go.
As a child, I'd often stood here to watch the village's fishing fleet pass by, the long canoes manned by a men counting out the beat as they dipped oars. I'd worn beads, feathers and loincloth, not the heavy clothing of another place. I loosened the shirt collar and undid the buttons of my jacket. No city rules and averted faces here. I'd long ago stopped cutting my hair short and pretending that would make a difference.
The white-sails had come for years, trading at the shore. I had learned their language from a missionary who died when raiders destroyed our fields. When the white-sails next came, I went away with them to explain our plight to their leader.
Oh yes, that naive. But then, so were they who knew nothing of the different tribes and our long wars. Captain Norris taught me all he could as we sailed so far I feared never finding my way home.
I appreciated the lost paths, pretty birds and smiling faces of familiar people after I had thrown them all away. I longed to hear the grandfathers chant the morning rites and hear the mothers singing to babes as they worked. Long before I reached the north, I knew too well what I had lost.
And so I had arrived at the northern city; a cold, dark place. I lived in the castle, a curiosity others watched. I told them about the cannibals and their tortures, but none believed me until survivors of a shipwreck returned with their own tales. By then I had learned the world was wide and we were of such little consequence on our tiny islands, that I wondered why they cared at all.
The years passed until, with the Queen's leave, I again sailed across the waters, forsaking the cold north for the sunnier climes. I wanted to be home for the summer solstice. I wanted something my people might not be willing to give me, a stranger among them.
Bright-feathered birds swept across the archway of trees as I headed inland past the waterfall and across the bamboo bridge. A curious monkey watched my progress. I smiled at the jester of the jungle and hurried with a steadier step.
Home, my heart whispered. Home at last.
I heard the sacred drums and reached the clearing where the stage sat before the headman's hut, sacred runes carved into the edging. Five young men stood there while the grandfathers sat on the ground, chanting. Others beat the drums, waiting as the sun rose to touch the sacred stone above the headman's hut.
I crossed to the platform and took my place in the line.
No one took notice. One by one, my companions spoke the ancient rites and their reasons for becoming a man. The first won a nod from the eldest grandfather; he entered the headman's hut, passing from boyhood to adult. The next won the same. The third gained a wave of the arm, and the boy went to live as a child in the village for another year.
Another into the headman's hut. The last besides me didn't win the nod. He muttered a curse, stomping away.
And they came at last to me.
"I am Shenchi of the Fisher Clan," I said, my voice steady, but the accent -- oh, the accent wasn't right. "I have kept the laws to the best of my ability and brought no shame to our people. I have heard the rites, remembered the laws and lived in honor." The rite done, I began the harder, personal part. "For many years I lived among people who knew neither the names of the islands nor the fish of the sea. I slept in the palace of a great Queen, and spoken with her ministers, giving fair account of the isles. I counted myself a child and learning, even of their foreign ways. I have come home to ask to become a man before my own people, if not before them."
I looked into the faces of the Grandfathers and saw peace and the continuation of ways linking us to the Mother Goddess and the first breath of the world. I'd thought myself wise until then. I also knew someday the other, darker world would crush this tiny tribe, and wash away all the ages they kept in sacred memory.
But not yet. Not today.
The grandfathers, one and all, nodded.
I passed from childhood to adult; a step from the stage to the darkness within the headman's hut. I took my place on the bench gave council to the others. They listened to me.
A month later I sat on the beach with friends, trade goods prepared as the rowboat came ashore. Captain Norris came with them, which surprised me. The others took on the work of the trade; quick decisions, and well done on both sides.
"I come for Shenchi," Norris said softly. "He come here?"
I laughed and stood. "Captain," I said with a bow of my head. Feathers and beads caught in the breeze.
"I see you're not coming back with us."
"Not this year. Give my regards to the others. Thank you for your kindness. I will remember you in my dreams."
He offered his hand. We shook hands as gentlemen would. "It's good you found your place, Shenchi. I'll envy you when I am in winter dock."
"And if the seas are kind, I'll see you next year."
When they rowed away, I felt an odd tug at my heart. So much I'd never learned, there in the north, but much to learn here, as well. As we walked back to the village, I told my companions about far places and they told me about home.
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