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Experiment 8

the cross of soot

page 3

the cross of soot

Short Story

Behind him the hibiscus hedge was bursting crimson boils of flowers; a morning breeze played with the licking lizard tongues of the sugar-cane trees which rooted themselves into the mud bank of the stream that flowed leadenly toward the sea; a twisted breadfruit tree threw a fungi of shadows over the young boy busy clearing the grass with short pecking movements of his hand; above all the greenness and the many sounds of the morning world the sun sailed like a copper emblem stitched onto a flag of crystal blue.

Sweating, the boy picked up an empty bucket and ran to the stream. Crabs blood red flicked back into their dark holes as his feet stamped their images in the mud. Kneeling he scooped up handfuls of pasty mud and flung them thudding into the bucket till it was full, then wiping his hands clean with the end of his lavalava he sprang up, picked up the bucket and staggered back to the shadow of the breadfruit tree where he tipped the mud onto the ground, sat down before it, and began to mould his great fortress. ... A segasegamou'u shot impetiently across the sky ... The image of his fortress was clear in his mind but his hands could not release it into the mud which oozed through his fingers refusing to be tamed into shape. Taking a machete he tried to carve the pulpy mass but again he failed. Defeated he stood up swearing under his breath and with one swift kick sent the whole mound of mud flying. Turning slowly he skipped toward the bank of the stream, stopped and scanned the other side almost as if he was expecting to see someone he knew. The prison compound was fenced in by a high barbwire fence which was dripping silver dew. The jail, a large square concrete building, stood white and bleached like bones on a beach. The boy picked up a stone and skimmed it across the water. He heard it clatter against the building. He giggled, and walked across the stream on a steel pipe, pulling faces at his reflection in the water.

He snaked himself under the high barb wire fence, stood up, brushed the dirt from his hands and knees, stooped down and began to wade through the green lake of taro leaves toward the jail. Emerging wet with dew he jumped forward and hugged the wall of the jail laughing softly to himself. It was a great game.

He peered round the corner of the jail. Smoke billowed like cold breaths from the roof of a small fale, rising angrily from a sparking umu bedded in the middle of the earthen floor; behind it, in the middle of the compound, an old man sat before a 'valusaga' scraping breadfruit and singing. The boy smiled as he watched the old man, - grey, wrinkled, kind-faced, huge-soft like a bear, - working, the fat on his arms wobbling in time to his singing. The boy moved stealthily away from the jail and tiptoed toward the old man, holding his hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing.

He tapped the old man's head and jumped back laughing as the old man started in fright and turned abruptly to face him.

"Oh, it's you," sighed the old man, his face wrinkling into a smile, "You gave me a fright!"

The boy smiled mischieviously and sat down crosslegged beside the old man.

"You should be at school, Lototoa," boomed the old man ruffling the boy's hair which stood up like tufts of grass.

"Our headmaster died," replied the boy, "the devil entered him and killed him."

The old man, whose name was Filipo, guffawed and said, "Didn't you like him?"

The boy shook his head. He didn't understand why the old man had laughed at what he had said. He truly believed that the devil had killed the headmaster. Peering inquisitively at the old man the boy asked,

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"Did you ever go to school, Filipo?"

The old man kept working as if he hadn't heard the boy. The boy repeated his question.

"No," whispered the old man, "I never had the chance ... Who wants to go to school anyway." He shrugged his shoulders and laughed uncomfortably.

"I don't want to either, but my father wants me to," said the boy, picking at his nose.

"Here," said the old man, throwing him a scraper," help me scrape the breadfruit. Use the valusaga over there!"

The boy caught the scraper, stood up, walked over and sat down before the valusaga, picked up a round breastlike breadfruit, and began to scrape the rough skin off it.

They worked in silence as the sun rose slowly toward noon and chased the shadows to the base of the trees and buildings. Flies buzzed around the boy and the old man, biting at the sores on the boy's legs. The stink of the stream grew stronger as the mud dried.

"Sure wish they didn't put lavatories on the stream," commented the old man, for lack of something else to say. He was used to the smell.

"It's horrible, isn't it," sighed the boy. He too was used to the smell. The old man nodded his head and glanced at the boy noticing with a choking in his throat the deep concentration on the boy's face, the clumsy movements of his arms, and the sores on his legs. The picture of his own son came into his mind's eye, dark and laughing. He looked away from the boy, his arms worked with more fury on the breadfruit as if he wanted to stop himself from remembering.

"Filipo," interrupted the boy," when are you going to leave here?" The old man stiffened. "Never." His voice was taut and sharp. He reached up and wiped the sweat on his forehead.

"Where were you born?"

"At Lefaga," answered the old man, scratching his face. He was trying to hide his face.

Surprised, the boy stopped working and said, "But that's where my father is a matai."

"Yes, that's the place. I knew your father very well when we were boys." He spoke in a soft monotone.

Another prisoner, a young man, hard faced, thick lipped, stocky, with flashing eyes and a livid machete scar on his cheeck, stumbled into the compound carrying a box of tinned herrings. The boy looked up at him and greeted him,

"Oh, have you come, Tau?"

"Look what we got, Filipo!" exclaimed the young prisoner ignoring the boy's greeting, "Were going to have a good feed this week!"

The old man dismissed him with a glance. The young man's face fell into disappointment. He dropped the box onto the ground and turned to the boy whom he knew would be interested in what he had to say.

"You know what, Lototoa?" he said to the boy, but looking steadily at the old man, "a new man's coming in today. I was in court when the sentence was ... You know the case of the Falefa murderer ... Well, he's been sentenced to ..."

The old man stopped him from finishing. "Tau, put the box over there page 5and go and get some bananas." It was a command. Tau looked at the old man. The scar on his cheek seemed to have sloped down further. The boy glanced at the old man and then at Tau. The boy could feel the tension between the men. He shuddered. Tau snapped his eyes away from the old man. The boy relaxed. The old man had won. As Tau walked away the boy saw a cruel smile screw up the face of the old man. He stooped down, picked up the scraper and resumed work. He had suddenly felt distant from the old man.

"How is your grandmother?" the old man asked him. trying to break the barrier which had descended between them.

"She's well, thank you," replied the boy, noticing with interest that the old man had five black warts on the back of his right hand.

"That's good," commented the old man," my mother was like that ..." His voice broke.

"How long have you been here?" asked the boy just for the sake of talking. The old man's hand tightened on the scraper. "Five years," he sighed looking at the ground. The soil was bare, the grass burnt away by the sun.

"Why?" grimaced the boy, wishing he hadn't taken on the job of scraping. His hands were beginning to ache.

The boy's question seemed to push the old man into himself. He stopped working and stared at the flowing water almost as if he wanted to get up and go for a swim.

"Would you go and get a pail of water, Lototoa?" he asked the boy, deliberately changing the subject. Obediently the boy sprang up and ran toward the tap. The scraper dropped from the old man's hand. The hand rose up and closed tightly over a wrinkled face. The old man felt tired, very tired, very old.

He straightened up as he heard the patter of the boy's feet, picked up the scraper and continued working. The boy placed the bucket beside the old man and sat down facing him. He suddenly felt hot as he saw the trails of sweat on the old man's shoulders.

The silence was long. The boy wanted to break it so he asked, "Why was Tau put in here?"

"Oh, he raped a girl." It was a bare statement, no emotion.

"Uh?" replied the boy, not knowing what rape meant. But protending that he knew he added, "How long is he going to be here?"

A chuckle bubbled up the old man's back. He knew that the boy didn't know what rape meant.

"I don't like Tau very much," said the boy, slapping a fly on his shoulder. The old man remained silent. But the boy knew that the old man's silence was proof enough that he didn't like Tau either. ... A kapok cloud crossed the sun as Tau came back carrying a basket of bananas and a frown on his face.

"Peel them!" the old man ordered him as Tau threw the basket onto the ground. Tau stood clenching his fists. "Peel them!" repeated the old man. The boy stiffened as he saw Tau's eyes shift coldly to a machete which lay like a frozen snake beside the old man's feet.

"Don't!" warned the old man, as he saw Tau move toward the machete. Tau hesitated. The boy stooped forward, picked up the machete and lay it across his knees. He looked up at Tau. Tau turned, sat down hard, picked up a banana and began to peel it. A sense of triumph thrilled the boy as he sat caressing the cold blade of the machete. He stared at Tau. Tau sat hunched up tight like a clenched fist.

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The boy sat still watching the old man, feeling warm and nursing his moment of triumph. He had stopped something terrible from happening. He couldn't quite make out what he had stopped from happening, but he felt good and that was enough. He looked up at the sky. The cloud no longer blocked the sun. The lonely pandanus trees on the banks of the stream seemed to stretch their long-sword leaves toward him. He shuddered, stuck the machete into the earth, moved away from it and sat down next to the old man - as if he was escaping from some quivering violence to the warmth of something good and wholesome.

He felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned. A dark mountain of a laughing young man loomed high above him. The young man, whom they called 'Samson' because they said he was as strong as Samson in the Bible, sat down next to the boy. The boy punched him playfully.

"How long have you been here?" Samson asked the boy, his voice booming like a lali.

"Not long," replied the boy hugging Samson's huge arm and imagining it to be harder than rock.

"What's the matter with our friend over there?" the boy heard Samson ask the old man as he ran his fingers over Samson's biceps.

"Don't know," replied the old man warmly. He liked Samson.

"Sanson," interruped the boy, "how did you get such big muscles?"

The two men laughed loudly. And Samson, eyes twinkling with merriment said, "I got them by killing a ghost!"

The old man laughed at Samson's remark, his grey hair shimmering with the sunlight as he watched the boy. The boy paused for a while, not knowing whether to believe Samson or not. He saw the smile on Samson's face and he knew, and he wished Samson would be serious for once.

"Don't worry, Lototoa," chuckled Samson ruffling the boy's hair, "You'll have muscles like me some day." Samson held up his right arm, and flexing it asked the boy to feel it.

"Sure wish I had some like yours!" exclaimed the boy, trying to strangle Samson's bicep. Again the two men laughed.

"Samson," requested the old man, "Tell Lototoa how you crushed that man who seduced your sister!"

"No," replied Samson, feeling slightly embarrassed, "He's too young."

"No, I'm not," interjected the boy, "Tell me please Samson!"

"Alright then, well I caught him one night and smashed him up with my fists." He sprang up like a huge cat and demonstrated, his arms flashing like arrows through the air to land with hisses on an invisible opponent. The boy sat with open mouth and watched him. He wished he could be proud of his strength as Samson was proud of his. Some day he would be, he told himself.

The old man's eyes never left Samson as he weaved his power in the air with his fists, his steel muscles rippling, his face a symbol of pride. The old man felt a scream surge up in him till it reached his head. He tried to stifle it. It was a scream of protest against old age, against the prison life which had gutted him like a fish and left him with nothing. He had no future, only nothing, nothing, and he knew that he could no longer do anything to change it. It had to be. But the most violent part was admitting it to oneself as he was doing. It was hard to accept an end of nothing ... He staggered up stiffly and admitted to himself that he was old; an old man soon to die.

"Finish the breadfruit for me," he said to Samson. There was no power in his voice. Samson nodded his head and sat down in the old man's place.

"Filipo, can I come with you?" the boy asked the old man.

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"No," was the old man's tired reply, "the police might see you." The boy sat down reluctantly. Samson smiled at him and said, "Let him go. He is troubled."

They sat and watched the old man round the corner of the jail, his feet scraping the bare ground leaving little trace that he had passed that way. The boy glanced at Samson.

"I wish Filipo was my father," he said.

"Same here," agreed Samson.

The "umu" in the middle of the fale began to splutter tongues of fire, the burning logs decaying and falling to embers, the stones rolling off it onto the floor.

"Can't you put the stones back onto the umu," Samson called to Tau who had been sitting most of the time watching them. Obediently Tau stood up, picked up a iofi and began to place the stones back on the umu. The boy seeing that Tau wasn't looking poked his tongue at him. Samson winked at him. The boy giggled.

"Do you know why Tau was put in here?" Samson called to the boy. The boy knowing that Samson was going to tease Tau yelled back, "No."

"He got here because he killed a helpless Chinaman. He killed a poor weak chinaman. The poor man was sleeping when Tau knifed him!" jeered Samson, winking at the boy who sat trying to stop himself from laughing. "He's not a man. He's not a man!" added Samson.

"Can I go and help him?" sing-songed the boy.

"You'd better," chorused Samson, "He's too weak to do anything!" The boy skipped into the fale, picked up another iofi and proceeded to pick up the hot stones. He tried not to look at Tau. He began to feel hot, his eyes crying with the heat of the umu. He turned, gathered up the end of his lavalava and wiped the tears from his eyes.

He felt himself being lifted from the ground; his hands came up too late to stop himself from hitting the ground hard. He knew that Tau had pushed him as he felt the pain shoot like needles through his knees and chest. Rolling over to his side he heard Samson call,

"Why did you push him, Tau?" It wasn't a question. It was a naked threat which cleared the dull ache from the boy's head. The boy sprang up to see Samson advancing toward a cowering Tau, his feet stamping the earth as if he wanted to leave his mark on it forever.

"I didn't do it deliberately!" yelled Tau moving away from Samson. The boy saw Tau's knees knocking against one another like frightened children, and he suddenly wanted to laugh.

"You're a liar," hissed Samson, "I saw you, you bastard!"

Tau's lips quivered. "No, I didn't!" he insisted. There was no power left in his voice, only a deep frightened tiredness.

The boy felt alone as he watched Samson change into a tight ball of locked violence. He was afraid. He wanted to cry. Samson would move soon and destroy. The boy closed his eyes and screamed,

"No, Samson.' He didn't push me! I tripped!" The boy wrapped his arms around his chest. He waited. He hoped. He heard the sound of running feet. He opened his eyes. Tau had fled as if forever. Samson stood looking at the ground. His face was set hard. The boy walked up to him, took his hand and led him back to the valusaga. Samson sat down. The boy sat down beside him.

Disinterestly the boy watched a pig, spiked like porcupine, noisily eating pieces of shit on the edge of the water. And he wanted to laugh. He turned and saw Samson's hands clutching the breadfruit as if he was trying to squash them into little balls. And slowly he noticed the tenseness ebb out of Samson.

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"What's that on your arm?" he asked Samson after a while, pointing at a tattoo on Samson's left shoulder.

Samson relaxed and said,"It's an eagle!" He smiled, and the boy again felt safe, relaxed. "Filipo tatooed it on last week," added Samson, holding his arm up and flexing it; the eagle shimmeyed up and down as if in flight. The boy giggled.

"Do you think Filipo will put one on my arm?" asked the boy.

"Ask him when he comes back."

"Alright, I'll ask him," smiled the boy, running his fingers over the place where he hoped the tattoo would be. "Here he comes now!" He sprang up and ran toward Filipo, but he stopped at a distance after noting that a stranger was accompanying the old man. The stranger was leaning on Filipo's shoulder looking tired and sick. He wore a blue lavalava and a white shirt which was threatening to burst apart. In the man's hand was a tattered Bible.

When the two men came abreast of him the boy greeted them.

"Oh, have you come!" he said.

The stranger started in fright, and the boy saw that he had been crying. The man straightened up when he saw the boy. The boy's eyes found grey hairs sprinkled on the man's head.

"This is Tagi," Filipo said to the boy, introducing the stranger.

"Hello, Tagi!" the boy spoke formally, sensing that Filipo was feeling awkward standing next to the stranger. "I hope you like it here.'" The stranger let out a stifled scream and the boy knew that something was wrong. Filipo stared at the boy in anger. The boy stood awkwardly and gazed at the ground, listening to the stranger whimpering on Filipo's shoulder.

"I'm very sorry," he apologised to the stranger, as he turned and ran back to sit next to Samson.

As the two men came and stood before them, the boy noticed that Samson was trying his best not to look at the stranger, almost as if Samson found it hard to look at the pain on the stranger's face. He wondered why but he now felt reluctant to ask any more questions.

Filipo left the stranger's side, sat down at the other valusaga. The boy watched the stranger who stood lonely before him, who stood as if rooted to the earth but desiring to grow wings and fly away. There was an awkward silence. The stranger walked tiredly over to the edge of the stream and stood there like a statue. The boy watched him fixedly and felt a great liking for him. He wondered why the man was looking at the water so closely. Perhaps he's trying to count the pieces of shit as they float down, he said to himself. He had often done it when he had nothing else to do.

"Nice day, isn't it," Samson commented suddenly, his remark injecting into the silence as huge as his body. The boy looked at the stranger expecting some reply. The stranger just nodded and kept staring into the water. Hesitantly the boy stood up, and with bowed head walked over and sat down at the stranger's feet, dangling his feet over the edge into the water. The stranger didn't seem to notice him.

"How many have you counted, Tagi?" the boy asked.

"Uh?" started the stranger.

I mean, how many pieces of shit have you counted?"

The boy heard Filipo and Samson chuckring. The stranger suddenly laughed, the awkwardness gone. And the boy felt that the man was no longer a stranger but one of them.

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"Oh, about fifteen," replied the man, "I may have miscounted."

The boy saw life coming into the man's eyes. "I don't think so, Tagi. I counted the same."

The man sat down beside him and Samson handed him a roll of tobacco. Tagi thanked him, pushed the packet open, took out a leaf, and began to roll himself a cigarette. The boy noticed that the man had two of his fingers missing. The wounds had only just healed. He wondered why but he knew that it was impolite to ask. Clumsily the man tried to roll the cigarette. The boy watched him but he didn't offer to help. It was an unwritten law among the prisoners that one should wait till he was asked for help. He knew this, but he waited hoping that Tagi would ask him. The tobacco spilled off the paper and before the man could stoop down and pick it up the boy reached over and picked the tobacco off the ground. Deliberately he took his time handing back the tobacco to the man. Tagi looked at him and then asked,

"Will you roll it for me?" His arms hung tiredly down his sides. "My son rolls mine for me."

The boy knew that the man was lying but as he looked at the man' s missing fingers he understood.

"Certainly," he replied. Tagi handed him the cigarette paper. "How can one so young like you roll cigarettes?" he asked the boy jokingly.

"Filipo and Samson taught me," was the boy's reply as his thin fingers deftly rolled the cigarette.

"He insisted that we teach him," interrupted Samson, "Your monther doesn't know does she, Lototoa?"

The boy shook his head as he licked the cigarette and handed it back to Tagi.

"I hope not," commented Filipotrying to look stern, "Or she'll come over and tell us off." He. threw the boy a box of matches.

The boy pushed the box open and expertly lit the match using only one hand.

"You're a clever boy," Tagi said to him taking a deep puff on his cigarette. The boy blushed. He liked people to tell him that he was clever.

"I can smoke too!" he commented proudly. The men laughed.

"If your grandmother ever finds out, we're in for it," boomed Samson.

"I don't care," replied the boy, "Grandmother lets me roll her cigars."

As the water whirled lazily around his legs the boy sat and watched Tagi smoking. He felt as if he was watching someone smoking his last cigarette. Every puff seemed to count. A fuia flew overhead relieving the blue monotony of the sky. Its dark reflection was trapped in the water for a moment and then vanished. The boy saw Tagi shudder, and heard him sigh deeply. The others remained silent. Filipo stood up, as if the freedom of the fuia had reminded him of something, and muttered,

"I'll be back soon."

The boy turned and watched him leave with the sunlight dancing on his grey hair. The prison gates clanged from far off. The boy saw a smile appear like a bursting bubble on Samson's face.

"I'll be out soon," he heard Samson sigh.

"Where are you from, Tagi?" he asked.

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"Falefa," whispered Tagi, his eyes gazing faraway.

"Oh, that's right," blurted the boy, "Tau was telling us." He stopped, Samson had motioned to him to shut up. The boy glanced at Tagi who was picking at the wounds on his hand. He hadn't heard him. The boy sprang up, picked up a stone and hurled it into the stream, watching it cleave the water and send wavelets to the banks. He whooped like an Indian.

"What are you doing here?" a gruff voice asked him. Frightened the boy turned. And relaxed when he saw who it was. It was Galo, the fat Police Sergeant.

"Hello, Galo!" he said. The policeman smiled and tweaked him under the chin. The boy punched him playfully on the stomach. And together they went into boxing stances.

"C'mon," jeered the policeman trying to hold in his sagging stomach, "Hit me!"

The boy threw a left. He missed and felt a gentle tap on his cheek.

"Ha!" laughed his fat opponent, "Put that guard up!"

The boy threw another left followed by a right to the stomach. Galo feinted the left but the right landed.

"Ufff," he cried pretending to have been hurt. The boy dropped his guard. Galo slapped him playfully on the cheek. "I fooled you."

They laughed and the boy ran and sat down beside Tagi who had opened his bible and was reading from it.

"What are we having for lunch?" the policeman asked. None of the prisoners replied.

"Breadfruit and fish," said the boy.

"Good," said Galo trying to smile in the wall of silence. "Can I see you for a minute, Filipo?" The old man stood up and followed him. The policeman stopped as if he had forgotten something.

"Are you alright, Tagi?" he asked, avoiding the other man's eyes. Tagi nodded his head. The policeman turned" and walked away. The boy knew that something was terribly wrong. It had something to do with Tagi. Everyone was treating him delicately, as if he was something fragile, as if they felt guilty about something. The boy kept his eyes on Tagi. The man's hair seemed to be growing whiter and whiter. He blinked.

"Will you put a tattoo on my hand?" he asked Tagi. "I want a star."

Tagi turned to face him, and the boy saw that his eyes were melting with tears.

"Please will you, Tagi?" repeated the boy.

Samson stopped working and said, "Yes, why don't you Tagi. Dinner won't be ready for a long time yet." Tagi nodded his head slowly and smiled at the boy.

"I'll go and get the needles and soot," offered Samson. He stood up and ran towards the prison.

"It'll hurt a lot," Tagi said to the boy after closing his bible and placing it on a rook.

"I can take it," replied the boy, "I want the star right here." He pointed at the space between his thumb and forefinger.

"Alright," smiled Tagi, dabbing his eyes with the end of his lava-lava.

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The boy looked up and saw Filipo standing in front of them. Holding out a tin of corned beef to Tagi, Filipo said, "It's for you. It's from Galo". Tagi took the tin and the boy saw that his lips were quivering.

"Tagi's going to put a star on my hand," the boy said to Filipo, trying his best to appear cheerful.

They fell silent as they awaited Samson. The boy looked awkwardly at the water trying to avoid the eyes of the two men. He leaned over and played with his reflection in the water. Then he noticed something funny. Tagi's reflection seemed to be disappearing. He reached over and touched the man's shoulder as if he was trying to re-establish the fact that Tagi was sitting next to him. Samson came stamping into the compound like a dark bull and gave Tagi the needles and soot. "It's going to hurt," he laughed at the boy.

The boy extended his hand. Tagi held it firmly. Immediately the boy relaxed. The man's hand was like his mother's.

"Clench it tightly," Tagi whispered to him. Then dipping the needles in the watered soot he drew the outline of a star on the back of the boy's hand. No one spoke.

The boy felt the first pain shoot like an arrow up his arm as the needle punctured the skin of his hand. And he closed his eyes, his face set in grimace. As the jabbing continued the pain grew duller. The boy opened his eyes. Tagi smiled sheepishly at him. The boy felt the man's grip go tense as if the pain was flowing from him to the man. The boy looked down at his hand. Blood oozed from the tattoo like a red paste. Tagi picked up a wet cloth and wiped the blood away. One black line was finished.

"Do you want me to go on?" Tagi asked him. The boy nodded his head. The needles continued to make pain. The boy's hand became numb. He opened his eyes. A black cross stared at him from his hand, He glanced at Tagi and asked, "How much more?"

"Not long now, be brave!" said the man.

Tau sped into the clearing like some dark intruder. The boy saw him halt behind Tagi. He stiffened.

"Tagi, your family want to see you now," Tau said to Tagi. He turned and left.

Tagi stopped tattooing and looked at the boy.

"You'd better go," the boy told him, "You can finish it later."

The man staggered up slowly, picked up his bible, brushed the dirt off it, and started to walk away. The boy tried to caress the pain from his hand, then looked up and saw that Tagi was looking back at him. He waved. The man waved back.

"Goodbye, Tagi!" he called, knowing that the man was never going to return. He felt cold as he watched the disappearing figure of Tagi, a hunched up man stumbling over the dry soil toward the corner of the jail leaving only a faint trail of rising dust. Like the turning over of the palm of a hand, Tagi disappeared round the jail.

The boy sat for a long while clutching his hand as if he was holding something precious. And as the sun dropped like an orange from noon the shadows grew long again casting themselves like nets over the silent boy. Samson and Filipo worked on, now and then glancing at the boy as if they were watching with deep concern some transformation coming over the boy. There was nothing they could do to help him.

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As if in a daze the boy staggered up and whispered, "I'm going home now." The two men nodded. The boy turned, waded thru the taro plants, snaked himself under the wire fence, and crossed over the steel pipe like a tightrope walker. He paused on the other side and looked hack as if he had forgotten something, as if he crossed from one world to another from one age to the next.

He found his mother squatting before a fire of embers cooking fish. And walking up to stand behind her broad back he asked,

"Who was the man who died on the cross, Luisa?"

"Uh?" replied his mother turning to face him."Where have you been?" Impetiently the boy ignored her question and asked,

"Who was the man who was crucified, Luisa?"

"Why, Jesus," answered his mother staring questioningly at him. "What's wrong? What's wrong with your hand?"

"Nothing," murmured the boy.

"Then why are you holding it like that?" She clutched his hand and turned it over. "Who put that on your hand?" She was almost screaming.

"It's a cross, Luisa," whispered the boy, "A man put it on."

"What man?" she asked noting with interest that for the first time her son was no longer afraid to look straight at her when she was angry with him. He had changed, grown up.

"What man?" she asked. She wasn't angry any more.

Quickly the boy made his mind up. He knew what he was going to say.

"Jesus," he replied staring at the tattoo on his hand, "And he's never coming back, Luisa, never. He left me only this." He held his hand up proudly.

fuia - a large blackbird
sega segamou'u - small bird
umu - Samoan oven - like Maori hangi
valusaga - stake stuck in ground - used as support on which breadfruit or taro are scraped.
iofi - Tongs made out of coconut frond.
Meaning of character's names: -
Lototoa - Brave Heart or Courageous.
Tau - War
Tagi - Cry