Tangata Manu

AhuTongariki

The moai, monolithic human figures, of Easter Island have baffled people for centuries. How did those giant figures come to be? And the most pressing question, what are they gazing at?

 

Simon McHardy is an archivist and historian from Queensland Australia. His fiction has appeared in Cyclopean Ezine, 9 Tales Told in the Dark, Devolution Z and Five of the Fifth. When he isn’t ‘thighbone-deep in sumptuous dust’ Simon writes under the watchful eyes of his three cats.

 

Tangata Manu

By: Simon McHardy

The holiday had meant a lot to Sarah and Jean Alvey. It had been a difficult year with the death of Sarah’s father and Jean’s diagnosis of cancer.  After Jean’s first round of treatment both of them felt that a holiday in an exotic location would be a welcome break from the troubles at home.  From the moment they arrived on Easter Island on a balmy summer morning in January they both fell in love with the island’s beauty. After dinner on their first night they sneaked out of the hotel with a blanket and two bottles of wine to spend a starry night under the shadows of the island’s mysterious statues, the moai. They talked for hours of things long past and their hopes for the future and when all was said they made love until an orange dawn brought them both to a pinnacle of ecstasy.  It had been a magical night, one Sarah wanted to remember for the rest of her life. She chipped a small piece of stone off one of the moai for a keepsake and arm in arm with Jean she walked along the beach back to their hotel.

It was midday before Sarah woke; the fragment of stone was still cradled in her left hand. She was feeling fatigued and her movements were ponderous as if her limbs were infused with lead. It must have been the wine, she mused; maybe a light breakfast would make her feel better. Leaving Jean to sleep, she walked down to the beachside café she had spied on the previous morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. The food did little to alleviate her sluggishness and Sarah decided a stroll down to the beach and the sea air would revive her. She stood for some time in the sea enjoying the feeling of the waves lapping against her bare legs and the sound of the surf breaking on the shore.  The water was clear; she could make out ethereal strands of thin, bright, green seaweed floating just beneath the surface and small fish that darted intrepidly around her feet. In the water’s reflection Sarah saw several grey and white seabirds which hung above her as if suspended by wire, paying no heed to the small fish about her or her admonitions. Unsettled by their presence she headed back to the beach.

About this time Jean awoke in the hotel room and noting his wife’s absence he walked out onto the terrace expecting to see her by the pool or sitting at the café having breakfast. He soon caught sight of her on the beach emerging from the shallow waves with a flock of seabirds in silent pursuit. He laughed; she must have made the mistake of feeding them.  He returned inside, took a mouthful of the coffee he had neglected to finish last night and ran himself a shower.

Drowsy from the afternoon sun Sarah made her way along the beach to the shade of a group of palm trees and the very moai where she and Jean had made love the night before. She smiled at the memory. The sand was cool in the shade; it had been stirred into alien patterns by the afternoon breeze, which blew across the ocean.  She lay down and followed the patterns with her eyes until she drifted off to sleep. The images of the birds floated above her but this time they let out piercing cries and swooped down at her, their claws raking her scalp. She cocooned her head in her arms and screamed. It became quiet and Sarah could no longer feel the birds’ wings beating about her or hear their shrill cries.  She stared at her hands inspecting them for blood. It took her a moment to realise that they were not her hands but the hands of a strong, young man, blackened by the sun and calloused by hard work. In the palm of the left hand was a bird’s egg. She could hear heavy footsteps and the sound of excited voices. Startled she looked around her, several men whom she recognized as Easter Island natives were walking up the steep slope to the cliff edge where she stood. They smiled in greeting and shouted, ‘Rapu has the first egg of the season he is the Tangata manu, the bird man’. They were all around her, their tight embraces stifling her. She was lifted up and carried to the cliff edge, ‘We shall make a handsome statue in your honour, Rapu, you will forever be sacred to our people.  Fly birdman, fly!’ they whooped.  Sarah was thrust higher above the men’s heads and with an ecstatic cry they flung her from them over the cliff.

Sarah awoke from the dream with a gasp. Anxiously she looked about her and was soon reassured by the sight of other tourists walking along the beach, their happy voices carried to her as she tried to stand up in the soft sand. Her confidence soon dissipated when she felt herself unable to move. What concerned her even more was the feeling that lead was flowing through her veins. Perhaps I have had a stroke, she thought, a sense of panic rising within her; her eyes darted around looking for assistance, a couple with a small child were little more than fifty metres away. She screamed, but her throat was silent. The parents said something that Sarah could not make out then continued walking.  She watched them until they tipped over the horizon and she was again alone with her terror.

That evening when Sarah had not returned to the hotel room Jean went down to reception and told the young women behind the desk that his wife had not returned home since he last saw her walking along the beach at midday. A small search party was organised but by the morning when she had still not returned the island’s police were involved in the search.  After two days Jean was informed there was nothing more that could be done to locate his wife. It was presumed that she must have gone for a swim and drowned. Eventually her body could wash up somewhere around the island and the local fishermen had been advised to watch out for it.

The night before Jean was due to fly out he took a walk to the stand of palm trees and the lone moai.  A gibbous moon lit his way to the grove where he found the moai bathing in a pale, yellow light, its long shadow stretching to the water’s edge.  Overcome with the unwordly image of the monument and the memories he and his wife had shared with it Jean embraced the cool, stone figure then followed its shadow to the sea.

Sarah still felt her husband’s warm caress as she watched him walk away. Her cries went unheard as he swam out into the sea. When he disappeared beneath the waves she looked to the dark sky and wondered what an eternity must feel like.

 

The End

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