#The52Project (5): “Write a story about this image.”

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The people of Balentiia believed few truths for certain, but blue was one of them. Generations had been encompassed, defined by that color, which stretched forever out in the sky above, and kept company in the ocean beside them.

Indeed, they had a saying: “Nekta akwafaaune, re’entaani.” Blood and blue. The two constants, dependable beyond all else.

On Balentiia, there were sometimes days when the sun did not rise, and nights when darkness did not fall. But blue? Blue was eternal…eternal and endless.

It had not always been this way, of course, but there was no longer anyone living in the tribe who could prove otherwise, no one who could capably explain how their people had arrived adrift. Not even elder Jeikora knew, and he loved to spin tales from the time of his father’s fathers.

With their origin story long lost to the mists of time, this was the other truth that the people of Balentiia grew to believe: that the God Whale had always carried them, had always housed them and their floating isle atop her massive back, miles long in each direction.

She simply was, and had always been. Their home, their deity, their everything. A life untied to the God Whale was almost impossible to fathom for the Balentiians, who made sure to offer her regular sacrifice and prayer in exchange for her blessing.

Then came the day that changed that.

A willing huntress, Kalani would have preferred to be fishing that morning, but even a head-strong girl like her knew that it was foolish to leave Balentiia during sun up. Fishing was strictly a night activity, best left for the brief hours when the God Whale slept or fed. Only when the island’s drifting stopped was it safe to sail out, and those who dared otherwise often suffered for their hubris, never again seen ashore.

The Balentiians had a saying for that too, in solemn acknowledgement of the God Whale’s powers.  “Graa’anatufei.” As the current wills.

Although she had left her boat at the north shore and was ready to go, fishing would simply have to wait.

Instead, she found herself on clam duty, working through the muck and tossing the tiny mollusks into her hand-spun basket. It was beneath her, and she despised it the most out of all her daily chores, but it had to be done. Reach down, rinse them in the ocean waters, repeat, a cycle made up most of her mornings. Only when she began to tire from the increasing weight of the basket did she stop for a break. 

As she sat down on a nearby rock to rest, sweat clinging to her sun-brushed frame, Kalani stared out again, out to and past where the sea and sky became one, just as she had throughout childhood. Their union was a well-familiar comfort, part of a life filled with blue. 

“Nekta akwafaaune, re’entaani.”

What awaited her gaze this time, though, forced her to rub her eyes in disbelief. It can’t be, Kalani thought to herself. Perhaps she was just too tired and needed a short sleep to see more clearly. It would not have been the first time someone in the tribe had imagined something in the ocean. The sun did enjoy its tricks.

As she remained seated, waiting for the spot to disappear, however, it did exactly the opposite — the blip only grew larger and larger, breaking through the monotony of blue horizon until she could deny no more. There was something else clearly out there: a blotted isle of hazy green and earthy brown, not unlike their very own.

But the sight of land was only secondary, as something else dawned on her: the fact that there was something else. Something beyond the life lived on Balentiia, something more than the miles and miles that she had already memorized by heart.

It was at this realization — one that both scared and awed her — that Kalani snapped back to life, bolting off the rock and back to the village as quickly as her legs could carry her; back through the prickly wet sands that pained her feet with each step; back over the rocky hills that overlooked them; back through the dampened woods, lush with vibrant flora and teeming with healthy wildlife; back over the sprawling roots of the forest floor and dirt and grass and grime; back past the notched Kapok trees that served as signposts home, back, back, back.

She had even left behind the basket in her hurry, her strides chewing up ground with labored effort. She ran and ran and the breeze whistled in her ears with each step, carrying the soft clinking of her anklets.

Kalani had barely burst panting into the wooden home when she was met the sound of angry berating: “Kalani — where are the clams? Where is the bucket I sent you out with? Did you lose it again? Why are you breathing so hard?” Though her attention was focused on preparing and seasoning some rabbit, her mother somehow managed to notice the missing basket before anything else.

Exhausted by her run, Kalani did not respond immediately, but instead stopped to gulp down some air, her chest heaving madly. “I s-s-aw, I s-s-aw…I s-s-aw land.” She could hardly believe the words herself, and wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for what she saw on the northern shore.

“Calm down and speak clearly, child. Goodness, what’s gotten into you,” her mother replied absentmindedly, her hands still wrestling with a tender rabbit flank. She showed no signs of comprehending what was said, although her eyebrows remained furrowed with maternal annoyance.

“I s-s-aw…land.” Kalani repeated. This time, she was heard.

“Are you sure?” Her mother’s voice immediately dropped to a whisper, now full of caution.

“Yes, m-mother,” Kalani said, her breath still coming in periodic gasps. “When I was at t-the n-north shore this morning, I saw another island in the water, and I ran b-back here as fast as I could to tell you. What should we do?”

“I left the basket up there,” she added, making sure to explain why she had come home empty handed.

Finally, the gravity of Kalani’s discovery began to sink in, forcing her mother to get up from the table where she had been working. Ignoring the rabbit blood and bits of tendon, she placed both unwashed hands on Kalani’s shoulders and stared intently into her eyes, trying to detect signs of untruth.

To have seen another land was unprecedented. Inconceivable, even. On Balentiia, other lands were myths, the stuff of children’s tales. The explorers in those stories always chose to chase what was new, only to meet some gruesome fate at the hands of a giant turtle or tiger. The moral, of course, was that leaving Balentiia was folly. All the young were taught so. 

“Are you sure?”

Kalani nodded, surer than she had ever been. That left her mother no other course of action, and her expression turned with a deadly seriousness. “If this is true, I have to tell the elders.”

“Kalani, are you sure of what you saw?” The question was posed once more as she began to leave for the elders’ quarters, and once again, the daughter nodded, an action that sent her mother on her way.

Minutes later, the entire tribe was assembled together at the village hub, where they heard Kalani repeat the details of her morning. This was already news enough in itself. The right to appear before the elder council was rarely, if ever, granted to women, let alone one as young as her. Despite the circumstances, Kalani found resolve, and stuck firmly to her belief as she spoke. Though scrutinized by the eyes of every tribesman and interrogated by the elders for details, she refused to back down, fully confident in what she saw. At the conclusion of her tale, the gathered audience began to buzz with speculation.

“Another island! What do you think they call their God Whale?” The children giggled in the background. Some muttered that the girl had only brought trouble, believing that should remain where they were on Balentiia. This could only be a test of their faith in the God Whale, they said. Then there were the few who were full of wonder, immediately interested in seeing what was out there. 

All of their speculation would amount to little, though. They all knew the elders would decide, and as the five men in headdresses deliberated, a quiet apprehension could be felt from those at the village center, even as they continued to talk among themselves. Finally, the council broke to announce their decision.

“We have decided to stay here, on Balentiia,” they said as one, immediately blanketing the crowd with stunned silence. “It is too dangerous to send our people into the water. No one has ever gone in our history, and nor will we now. The God Whale has been good to us, and we must remain faithful to her blessings.”

A long second passed before Kalani realized what the elders were saying. Despite the promise that floated in the distance, things would simply remain the same on the island. They intended to continue adrift, going nowhere at whatever speed the God Whale intended.

“What if it was only me? I am a better sailor than any boy my age, and the strongest swimmer on the island. I could go,” she replied fiercely, not yet willing to yield. No one had ever seen land in their history, a fact that she knew well. But there were no guarantees anyone might ever see it again, either. She knew that too. “What if this is a sign? A blessing? Do you really believe that we are supposed to live here forever on something else’s whims? I’ll even take you there myself!” 

“We have spoken, young one. We will stay.” The elders, unmoved by her appeal, uttered their response with immediate finality, the kind that comes when age is determined to extinguish the hopes of youth. Her face fell immediately, and sensing an end to the conversation, the crowd had already begun to disperse. Based on their murmurs, they were split equally among disappointment and satisfaction.

“Let us go,” her mother said softly, tugging on the young girl’s arm. Kalani had remained rooted there for minutes after it was all over, unsure if they had not believed her, if she had truly misremembered, or if they were simply attempting to maintain the tribe’s unity on Balentiia.

“You head home first, mother. I have to go back and get the clam basket.” It was a practical excuse, but both of them knew Kalani simply wanted to be alone to gather her thoughts. Her mother did not fight her, and instead left to finish preparing the meal, with dinner coming in a few hours.

And so, back to the north shore she went, still attempting to work through what had just happened; back slowly through the woods and past the twittering birds, back over the roots and dirt and grime and grass to the cliffs overlooking the water, where she had been just that morning. There was a part of her that had been shaken by the unmoving sternness the elders had showed her, causing her to doubt whether she had seen anything.

Then, Kalani looked out again, surprising herself for a second time that day. Even if the elders had granted their approval, there was a part of her that expected the island would already be long gone anyway, already swallowed up in blue. 

And yet, there it was still, remaining just on the edge of sight. Barely. 

Gra’anatufei,” she whispered to herself, now sure she had to act. Childhood warnings or not, there was too much coincidence to ignore. After all, it had been her who saw land, and her who stumbled upon it again, not anyone else. It had to be a sign from the God Whale, whose authority they worshiped above all else. Yes. The God Whale had meant for Kalani to see, and had stayed in place long enough to give her the opportunity to leave. She would be in direct defiance if she were remain. Sorry, mother, she thought, convinced of the actions to come. This is as the current wills. It is as it must be. And as for the elders…well, what did the elders know, anyway? They had not discovered anything themselves, only managing to rule because of seniority, an elaborate pattern of tattoos and because of a stupid, worn-out headdress. They would not be able to stop her now.

As Kalani remained atop the cliff, ready to climb down and sail off, the other island continued to bob in the water, a mere speck that threatened to slip from view. The setting sun did not help either, shrouding the island behind an explosion of dazzling color. 

If she was to leave, she would have to do it now, before she lost sight of it altogether, and her boat was already there…

Kalani felt the tough, woven rope in her hands and began to unwind it, preparing for sail. In her nervous excitement, she let the coil slide too quickly through her hands, cutting her hand open a bit, although it did not deter her. Instead, she continued forward without worry, pushing the untied boat into the ocean, now ready to set off.

Finally, as she paddled away from Balentiia, Kalani saw the open wound staining her oar, but felt nothing but calm, for the open and unfamiliar were not so different. 

There was blood, and there was blue. She needed nothing else. 

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