About Me •
by Pat McDonald
© Pat McDonald 2004
all rights reserved
To his right swam Teokotai Teaukura, called "Tai" by the locals. Even obscured by the awkward equipment her beauty was evident. Long black hair danced from her head. Even longer tanned legs ended in fins instead of feet. She looked like some marvelous sea creature found only in fairy tales. No stranger in a strange land as Paul was, she belonged here. Paul was thoroughly happy.
He sank down to a promising rock on the bottom, only about twenty feet down. The rock was a bouquet of incredible color. Blues, reds, gold and purple all vanished as he got closer, reducing the rock from masterpiece to mediocrity. He unhooked the small pry bar from his belt and jammed the end under one of the clams. It seems a shame, the Walrus said, to play them such a trick, he thought. It did, too. It was a pity that something so lovely was so tasty. He popped the clam off and dropped it in his sack. Paul looked around for Tai. There she was, behind him, her sack already half-full. "Beaten again," he thought.
Tai was an island princess. This isn't as exotic as it sounds. On the little island of Aitutaki, the leader of every district was a "king" and each one of them had many children. At the Friday night dances, it wasn't unusual to dance with several princesses in one evening.
But, Tai was special as far as Paul was concerned. She could out-run, out-swim, out-fish and out-sail him. Most of all though, when she smiled at him, he felt a thrill in his chest like a fountain of joy. She didn't speak much English, but that hadn't slowed their growing affections. They both new that Paul would return to Auckland before too long, but Tai lived very much in the present--happy for the romance while it lasted. Whenever he was with her, (which was most of the time), he avoided thoughts of the future.
Paul hurried, popping off clams as fast as he could. Soon, his bag was three-quarters full. He turned to show Tai.
She was gone! He quickly looked all around for her but saw only fish and coral. The water was very clear, like liquid air. The combinations of light and shadow however, sometimes made it hard to see things, even if they were close. He looked up and saw the outrigger rocking lightly about fifty yards away. "Hmm," he thought. "She must've gone up."
He swam to the surface and saw her waving to him from the boat. "Hi!" he waved back. Taking the regulator out of his mouth he yelled, "What're you doin'? Tired?"
"Mango taniwha!" She pointed at him.
"Mango taniwha!" she repeated loudly.
"Oh, right!" he yelled back. "It's almost full! I'll be with ya in a minute." He saw her waving as he sank back down into the water. "Must be in a hurry to get back," he thought.
Paul returned to the rock and finished filling his bag with clams. God, this place was beautiful! Ten minutes later, he kicked slowly back towards the outrigger, marveling at the colors and darting schools of fish. He surfaced next to the boat. Throwing his bag of clams in first, he hoisted himself over the side and took off his mask. He gave Tai a big grin.
"You brave man!" she said with awe in her voice.
"You swim so close to Mango. He no bothers you at all!"
Paul looked over his shoulder in the direction she pointed and saw the large gray and white fin of a reef-shark slicing through the water. The thing must have been eight feet long and it was circling where he had been gathering clams. A chill ran down his spine.
"I so lucky having such a brave boyfriend!"
Paul looked at her smile and the admiration in her eyes. She leaned over and kissed him. "Oh. Uh, well, you know. They don't usually bother you if you don't bother them." This was true, but knowing that, and being in the water with one were two entirely different things. He tried to calm his trembling. Tai held him close. "You shake?" she asked. "Just caught a chill, I'm all wet." he said as he held her tight. Head on his shoulder, Tai smiled.
That night at the dance, stories of Paul's heroism were passed around and exaggerated. The locals kept secretly glancing his way. The Australian beer flowed long into the night.
"Mango tokanuku!" the children cried, running after Tai and Paul the next day. They giggled and chattered excitedly in Aitutakian, obviously asking something of Paul. Tai translated.
"They ask Shark Man to tell them story about shark."
"Yes, that is what they calling you. You tell story. I tell them."
Paul smiled and looked at Tai. She smiled back and he felt the fountain in his chest. He didn't think he could ever be happier. They sat on a fallen coconut tree trunk surrounded by the children.
"We were gathering clams..." he began.