Sacrifice of the Honored
by Ronald Linson
Elise Tanner dried the last plate and put it away in the cupboard. She glanced around the kitchen to see if there was anything else needing to be done, then went into the living room. Her husband Robert was on the sofa, watching a basketball game.
She sat down beside him. “Honey, I’ve been thinking.”
Robert picked up the remote and pressed mute. “Uh-oh, those are dangerous words coming from a woman.”
Elise grinned. “You know, it’s what Eve said to Adam right before she offered him the apple.”
“And men have been in trouble ever since.”
“Oh, you,” Elise said, batting him on the arm. “Now, listen. For our next trip, I’d like to go someplace out of the way, where tourists usually don’t go.”
Robert raised his eyebrows. “Greenland isn’t out of the way?”
“All right, someplace warm and out of the way.”
“Okay, do you have any place in mind?”
She shook her head. “Not really. But I’d like it to be warm and sunny. Maybe a tropical island or something?”
“How about Tierra del Fuego?”
“Oh, no,” Elise cried. “You aren’t going to trick me that easily. Greenland isn’t green, and Tierra del Fuego isn’t warm.” She stuck her tongue out at him.
He chuckled and got up from the sofa. Retrieving an atlas from the bookshelf, he returned, sitting close to Elise. He opened the book to the section showing the South Pacific. “We might have to go on the Net to find something. There are thousands of islands to choose from, and this atlas isn’t that detailed.”
Elise looked down at the page, and indeed, the map showed island groups but rarely individual islands. “All right, how about one of those?” She pointed to an outlined area to the east of Tahiti.
Her husband nodded. “Off to Google we go.”
The maps on the Internet were much more detailed, and showed dozens of islands. “Pick one,” Robert said. “If it’s a bare rock, we have plenty of others to choose from.”
Elise pointed at one. “Tonwaii. That’s a weird name.”
“They all have weird names,” Robert said. “Is that the one you want?”
“Sure, why not.”
“All right,” Robert said, picking up the phone. “Hello, Ted, Bob Tanner. Yeah, we’d like to book a trip.”
After he hung up, Robert sighed. “The closest he can get us is Tahiti. We’ll have to find our own way to Tonwaii.”
“That’s what makes it an adventure,” Elise said, leaning over to kiss him. “When do we leave?”
* * *
The Tanners had been to Tahiti twelve years earlier, and it was still as beautiful as they remembered. Even if they couldn’t find a boat captain willing to take them to Tonwaii and wait for them for a week or so, it would still turn out to be a pleasant trip.
They spent a couple of days enjoying the beaches and clubs before making inquiries about hiring a boat. Most of the captains were willing to take them to Tonwaii, but none would stay and wait for them, insisting that they would return in a week’s time to pick them up.
This was unacceptable. Tonwaii was extremely isolated, and, if the boat was unable to return or if the captain decided not to bother, they would be stranded.
They were about to give up and resign themselves to the beauty of Tahiti, when a man approached them, introducing himself as Martin. He was a balding, middle-aged, dark-skinned fellow who said he was originally from Haiti.
“I heard you need a boat,” he said. “Oui, I will take you to Tonwaii. It is a lovely island, and the locals are very friendly. I have been there once, many years ago.”
“Will you wait there a week for us?” Robert asked.
Martin nodded. “Oui. I will call it a paid holiday.” He chuckled and held out a hand to shake.
They agreed upon a price, and Martin told the Tanners to meet him at his boat the next morning. Robert and Elise were excited by the prospect of a new adventure few had yet undertaken, and could hardly sleep. After checking out of the hotel at six, they carried their luggage to the docks, where they found Martin waiting for them, chipper and raring to go.
Martin stowed their luggage, and Robert and he had to help Elise board the boat, since she wasn’t as spry as she used to be. The boat, named the Sardine, put Elise in mind of the Minnow, the boat from Gilligan’s island. It could have been its twin.
“We should arrive late tomorrow afternoon,” Martin told them. Please relax and enjoy the ride.”
It wasn’t long before they lost sight of land. The ocean was calm, and Elise felt she could see forever, the sea and sky were so huge. She closed her eyes, letting the sun warm her face. She imagined the ancient Polynesians, how they must have felt, crossing the mighty Pacific in small boats, not knowing when they would next find land.
The following day, as the sun was lowering towards the western horizon, they spied the island in the distance. Martin handed them a pair of binoculars.
Robert had a look, then passed them to Elise.
“Wow,” she said, “it looks like it belongs on a postcard. It’s even got a volcano and everything.”
“Oui,” Martin said, “they call it Halitosi.”
Elise laughed. “Halitosis? Well, I guess volcanoes do have bad breath.”
Martin looked blank for a moment, then he laughed too. “No, no, it’s Halitosi, without the S. It means something like, ‘cranky mountain’.”
“I hope it won’t be cranky while we’re there,” Robert said.
“It’s been quiet for a long time, at least that’s what they told me when I was there,” Martin said.
They had gotten closer to the island by this time and, when Elise looked through the binoculars, she could make out wisps of steam rising from Halitosi’s summit. “It’s still active,” she said.
* * *
Standing on the white sand beach, Elise, Robert, and Martin watched as three islanders approached from the nearby village. The one in the middle, a stooped, elderly man, wore faded board shorts and a multitude of necklaces of beads and shells. The other two men, rather large and muscular, were young enough to be his sons, and seemed to defer to him as if they were.
The men stopped several feet from the three visitors, gazing at them curiously. The old man bowed slightly, then spoke at length in what Elise assumed was some flavor of Polynesian, gesturing at his companions as he did so.
Martin mirrored the bow, then made his own speech, pointing at Robert and Elise in turn, stating their names before finishing by introducing himself. To the Tanners, he said, “He is the chief of this island, and his name is really long and complicated, so he says just call him ‘Joe’. The other guys are his sons, and they’re called Tom and Bill.” He shrugged. “He does not remember me.”
“They must have had English-speaking visitors before,” Robert said. “ It’s a good thing you can speak the language, Martin, because my Polynesian is really rusty.”
“More like completely corroded,” Elise said, snickering at her husband. “Martin, please tell them that we are very happy to be able to see their beautiful island, and are honored to receive such a warm reception.”
Martin translated, and the islanders’ expressions grew delighted, offering the Tanners huge grins.
One of the younger men said something.
“Tom says they will provide a hut for you to stay in,” Martin said.
“Thank you,” Robert said, bowing. “Oh, before I forget, can you ask him if it’s all right if we take pictures of his people?”
Martin spoke, and the reply seemed to be in the affirmative, even before it was fully translated.
Joe kept talking, and Martin interrupted, probably to ask Joe to slow down.
When Joe was finished, Martin turned to the Tanners. “He says there will be a feast in your honor tonight. He described all the food and stuff, but that’s not important. He also said I’m invited.” He laughed and shrugged. “I told you they were friendly.”
Tom and Bill stepped forward, picked up their luggage, and headed back towards the village.
“Welcome!” Joe said, turning to follow his sons.
“I think that’s about it for his English,” Martin whispered.
Elise giggled behind her hand. “Well, his one English word is very good,” she whispered back.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Ronald Linson