Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 13: Simon of the Marquesas.


With the Aranui anchored about a hundred and fifty yards offshore the blue-green Pacific behind them, Grace and Koko trekked up the dry path overlooking the windward side of Nuku Hiva, one of the five Marquesas Islands the little copra freighter stopped at on it's thirty five day trip out of Papeété. They could see the whaling boats carrying materials into shore, and ferrying passengers, local islanders, out to the ship so they could hitch a free ride to one of the other islands, or pay a little for a ride to the Tuamotus, Rangiroa, or back to Tahiti.
The two followed the even incline up out of the creek valley, up the side of the hill where the forest thinned out a bit. The Aranui's "Social Director," a young Frenchman, had told them they might find tiki, his catch-all term for something of interest, up on the hill path, but warned them that with the first sounding of the ship's horn they had to hurry back, because the second horn meant au revoir to all passengers left behind on the island.
It felt like they'd gone a little far, the other dozen or so paying passengers chose to stay below in the village, but something had a hold of them, leading them farther up the path. At first there was just a little girl, about four or five, dirty in a simple cotton dress, pulling on her lower lip. She turned and ran up the path to a small clearing, to a shed coming into view around the bend. As they approached there was another dusty, barefoot boy the same age stepping out of the thatch-roofed shed. He stood behind a crude, homemade table like a counter boy in a shop. On the table was a small selection of stone carvings ranging in size from a few inches long to the largest, an elongated football-shaped stone about thirteen inches long and seven inches across, with a beautiful bas-relief of of a lizard, or a salamander carved out of the top half.
Through the doorway of the shed, they could see a worn wooden mallet and broken screwdrivers on the corner of a little table, and a man's weathered foot in the triangle of sunlight. The man set his foot down on the dirt floor and stood, hitching up his shorts. He stepped out the door of the shed and alongside the little boy.
"Vous ete ici!" he exclaimed in a certain kind of french that Koko could just make out. He said it with that same open- armed lack of surprise that Grace and Koko had been met with so often in their past year of travel around the world. Everywhere they went there were people, usually older local people, who seemed to recognize them- who greeted them like old friends. Like they'd been awaiting their arrival.
"Vous venez pour votre Tiki." the man said, motioning to the table. Koko reached out and shook his rough hand. He was not too tall, a little bent, and very brown, wearing an open short-sleeved shirt. His body was a twilight powerhouse, banded muscles wrapped around his frame, hands and feet splayed and lumpy. His face was deeply creased. His hair was a mass of pushed-back collar-length ringlets, shiny as though with coconut oil, mostly grey with satin black underneath. He was old, but you couldn't tell how old. His eyes shimmered a light blue-green, little versions of the lagoon that rose in him with the tide.
"Je suis Simon. Je fait lés Tikis." His speech was mellifluous and pidgeony as he swung his hand over the table. Koko had a little trouble translating until he watched Simon's eyes, and then his ear began to hear perfectly.
"These are some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren," he said, rubbing the head of the little boy who hid behind his leg, motioning to the little girl who stood by the shed, pulling on her lower lip. Koko and Grace couldn't seem to take their eyes off the one tiki, the salamander stone. Koko touched it and tilted it up for a look.
"That is the very first creature. It says something to you. Every creature came from that."
" Dessous, tournéz..." Simon says, motioning as though to turn the tiki over. Koko picked it up -it was heavier than he'd expected as he turned it. There on the smooth oval underside, were the cut-in eyes and crescent toothed mouth of a shark. "Aaahhhh..." said the two in unison. Simon's eyes widened as he smiled.
"I'll tell you why the shark," said Simon. "It spoke to me. Il a dit a moi..." Then he began to tell his story...

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