Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

“All ready,” Crane announced.  “Permission to come aboard?”

Mata finished strapping down the last crate and then climbed down to the dock.  “First we take care of the two hundred dollars.”

“One hundred,” Lee corrected him.  “You get the other hundred when I come back.”  They walked back to the fish shop. 

“Sailor, you’ll be coming back with us.”

“Are you a betting man?” Lee challenged with an answering grin.

Mata studied Crane carefully.  “You are serious, aren’t you?”

Lee nodded.  “I am indeed.”

“Still they are adamant about non-Polynesians on their island.  Especially after the big blow-up earlier this year.”

“I know.  And I know all about that ‘big blow up.’”

Mata shrugged and then chuckled.  “All right, Seaman.  If they allow you, I’ll refund your hundred.  If not, you owe me double.”

Lee held out his hand.  He didn’t know why this exchange was giving him so much pleasure, only that it was.  Lee paid the hundred dollars and they went back to the boat. 

“Get on board, then,” Mata ordered.  Crane did and they set off.  Apparently Mata had several small islands that he had contracts to deliver goods to as they made one stop that day, quickly unloading several smaller crates of supplies and taking what little the residents had in trade for Mata to take back.  The two men had a routine and Crane saw very quickly that both men were equally skilled.  One would pilot while the other rested or slept.  Lee was not surprised to find that they were also cousins.

On the second day, Crane, feeling a touch of boredom, and certainly not used to lying around and watching others work, helped unload cargo.  At first, Mata protested.  “Insurance!”  But his cousin, Koana, made room for Lee to help. 

Mata threw up his hands and then directed Lee to below decks to find something to change into.  “No need to get your only set of clothes dirty.”

Lee grinned, found a tee shirt and a pair of very ample and grimy shorts and used his belt to cinch them up.  He rejoined the two Polynesians. 

Mata looked him over and then shook his head.  “Why would a Navy man wear the dirtiest clothes down there?” he asked. 

“They were the only things I could find,” Lee shot back good-naturedly.   “I wasn’t going to go through your lockers.”

The boat captain shook his head.  “I will find you something better later.”

Later, as they were chugging away from the island, Mata joined Lee on top of the boathouse.  The setting sun bronzed puffy clouds floating above. The ocean breeze cooled Lee’s sweaty body.

“Tomorrow we arrive at Hikeru,” Mata stated. 

“I figured.”

“You have been there before, haven’t you?”  

“Yes,” Lee answered simply. 

“So given their experience with mainlanders what makes you think they will let you stay?”

Lee smiled.  “I know the queen, La’ani . . . even before she was the queen.”

Mata didn’t blink.  “We’ll see how well.”

Crane made no response.  He had only corresponded once and hadn’t answered the most recent letters, not that there had been that many.  With a sigh, Lee sincerely hoped La’ani hadn’t become so disgusted with him that she would refuse him permission to visit her homeland. 

"You said you are Navy," Mata said after they had watched the stars appear in the swiftly darkening sky. 

"Was," Lee corrected.  "Reserves now."

 

"Oh.  You sounded like you were still on active duty.  So you aren't stationed on Samoa?"

"No," Lee said evasively.  "I was based out of California until just a few days ago.  I was deep-sixed."

Mata made a sound deep in his throat, but didn't inquire further.  Lee was grateful as he didn't know why he had even divulged that much.  They lay there watching the stars for a while longer and then Mata slowly got up.  "Next shift comes early for me and we'll be in Hikeru by mid-morning."

Lee nodded and got up as well. He bunked in the small cabin with Mata, laying in the hammock Koana slept in when not on duty. 

 

The next day was bright and clear, a direct antithesis to what it was like the day he left Hikeru.  As they approached the island, Crane watched schools of fish veer off to the right and left.  He was amazed at the crystal clear quality of the waters.  The narrow beach ahead turned into steep cliff and a mountain that was ringed in wispy clouds.  Lee remembered La'ani talking about the mountain but he had never seen it. 

"You stare like one who has never seen it before," Mata said suspiciously. 

"In a way, I haven't," Lee said remotely, his eyes still on the island that was at once beautiful and yet ugly.  "I spent most of my time under the mountain, not above it.  I came in darkness and left in darkness as well."  Crane felt the touches of what had happened during that last visit and shuddered.  He had to remind himself that there was a purpose in coming and that purpose was not to remember the pain. 

Mata gazed thoughtfully at the man studying the island ahead, but said nothing further. 

 

Teva stood at the dock with several other men waiting for Mata's boat to dock.  Apparently he had begun his run well loaded.  There was still a crate lashed onto the small deck.  Perhaps it was the equipment Queen La'ani had insisted on.  There also seemed to be an extra man.  Teva squinted and noticed with alarm that the man was not a Polynesian.

When the boat was still twenty feet from the dock, he made a gesture to Mata and Koana to stop.  They did so.  Teva called out in Polynesian, "We said no visitors!"

"This one said you would allow him to come on your island."

"It's Lee," the white man called out and Teva gasped in shock. 

Teva looked more closely.  Yes, the man had the same build, same dark hair.  Indeed, it was Lee Crane, the man whom the queen credited with the changes that had happened on their island.  "Heave to!" Teva called out to Mata and the boat slowly chugged in and docked.  Teva, himself made the line fast. 

Mata cast a sharp glance at the man by his side as he watched the men from the island tie his boat fast.  Teva jumped onboard and stood grinning in front of the Navy man.  "Captain Lee, somehow I never expected to see you here . . . not after what had happened to you."  Then he lowered his voice.  "Although the queen always hoped." 

Lee smiled softly.  "I had the opportunity and took it."   He did not elaborate.  Now that he was here, he felt strangely shy and reticent. 

Again he saw Mata staring.  "Captain?" the Polynesian asked.

Lee nodded.  "I was."

Mata shook his head.  He pulled something from inside his lava-lava.  It was a hundred dollar bill.  Lee smiled and took it. 

"Come," Teva said, clapping the American on the back.  "The others can unload the supplies.  Let me take you to see La'ani."  Teva gave orders in Hikeruian and then led the way to the end of the main village where a larger house stood. 

The closer Lee got, the more reticent he became, until he began to wonder why he had followed this strange compulsion.  Then he saw La'ani walk out of the house to the large thatched-roof porch.  She looked more regal, mature and yet, the same all at once.  Lee was stunned and stopped short. 

"Lee!" she cried.  She paused only a moment and then flew across the porch and into his arms.  "I was beginning to think you would never come."    La'ani finally released Lee from her hug and took a step back.  He looked so much better than he had when she and Na'alu had left Santa Barbara six months ago.  And yet....  Yet she saw something in his eyes; something in his demeanor that told her all was not quite right.   "Lee, come and sit down.  You look tired from your trip here.  Did you fly in your little submarine?" 

Crane shook his head.  He wasn't ready to open up to her.  He had traveled thousands of miles and yet he couldn't tell La'ani why he had done so.  "I had a great deal of leave time and . . . and wanted to take you up on your offer."

La'ani steered him onto the porch where sat several western-style wicker chairs, but when she gave him his choice, Lee sat on one of the tapa mats.  She sat down in front of him, laying her hand gently on his knee.  He looked at it and smiled softly.  "So the admiral decided he could make do without you for a little while," she said with a laugh, which died when she saw him cringe.  "Lee, what's wrong?"

Again he shook his head.  "I'm afraid I didn't divulge my travel plans."

Her eyes widened at the several implications that such a statement brought into her mind, but the little she knew of this man, she wasn't going to barge into his private life like she was his mother.    She smiled softly.  "I didn't get to know your Admiral Nelson as well as I would have liked, but now that you're here, perhaps he might want to know ...."  She let her voice trail off, not wanting to go further, not wishing to sound like A'ona Matua.  La'ani felt a twinge of sorrow.  Only a month ago, the old woman had died peacefully in her sleep.  It was almost as though she had accomplished all that was needed and it was time to pass to another realm. 

Lee nodded.  "You're probably right.  I told Meeka I'd call him but never did.  Could Mata take a letter?"  Then he thought that he didn't have the ability to call Meeka and that she would probably like a note, too.

This time La'ani did a mental about-face.  Meeka?  That name had been mentioned before.  During Lee's time at the hands of the evil one, Mendon, he had been delirious and had spoken several names she didn't know.  She had wondered about them, this Meeka's included, but had not asked.  Was this a sweetheart?  Betrothed?  She wasn't sure she wanted to know but . . .   "Meeka?"

"I didn't tell you about her, did I?" he asked.   She shook her head.  Lee sighed and then continued.  "I have done both of you a great disservice.  And yet Meeka still continues to call me her Vadeer, or father."

La'ani couldn't help it, she felt a brief instant of relief, but tried to keep that relief from her face.  Then she wondered if Lee was married and hadn't told her that, either.  "A daughter?  I had no idea that you were . . . uh...."  There her determination to probe subtly failed her.  There was nothing the least bit subtle about her thoughts right now. 

"Married?" Lee finished for her.  He smiled.  "No, nothing as simple as that." 

A girl brought a tray of fruit juices and set it down in front of them.  La'ani spoke to her in Polynesian.  When the girl had left, La'ani turned back to Lee.  "I asked her to bring letter writing supplies and send word for Mata to wait if he could."  She smiled at Lee's bemused expression.  "What?" she asked. 

"I can't seem to get away from mother hen types," he said sardonically, then he mentally winced at his choice of words. 

La'ani noticed his quick, but subtle change of demeanor but again chose not to ask why.  "I am curious about this daughter," she prompted.

“It was shortly before I went on the mission that landed me here.  Chip Morton and I ended up in the middle of a coup in a small European country.  We had to hide out in the countryside and ended up at an orphanage.  The priest in charge was mortally wounded and made me promise to take care of the orphans.  We made our way across country with fourteen kids ranging in age from twelve years to a ten-month-old baby.  But we got 'em all out and the oldest, the girl I had made a sort of chief over the rest of them, asked me to adopt her.  That's Meeka."

"Oh, Lee!  That's wonderful!" La'ani cried.  "You are a father."

There was no humor in his smile.  "I don't feel like one.  I don't think I've averaged one decent visit a month since she came stateside.  And besides, I can’t adopt her.  I’m a bachelor with a dangerous job.  The courts allowed me to be a joint foster parent.  A couple has her most of the time.”  Lee dug into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.  He found Meeka’s spring school picture and showed it to La’ani. 

“She is a very pretty girl.  You must be very proud of her.”

Lee nodded.  Yes, he was very proud of Meeka and what she had accomplished.  He said as much.

“You will have to bring her to visit,” La’ani suggested.

The girl brought writing materials and waited while Lee composed a quick note to the admiral telling him where he was.  He also wished the new captain well and sent his regards to the crew.  La’ani and the girl had been conversing in Polynesian.  As he folded the paper and put it in an envelope, he chuckled.  “I’m going to have to learn this language of yours.”  He addressed the envelope and handed it to the girl, then he did the same for Meeka.  “Thanks,” he told her.  She smiled and took the envelopes with her 

“Peloa said that this time you would have to stay long enough to properly fill out a lava lava,” La’ani told him with a musical laugh. 

Lee didn’t say anything for a moment, but then he began to laugh with La’ani.  “Now I know I’ll have to learn the language, if you are going to talk about me that way.”  But the topic of dress strangely made him think of A’ona Matua.  He asked about her and was disheartened to see La’ani’s eyes fill up with tears.  He suspected he knew exactly what that meant.   “La’ani, is she….?”

“A’ona Matua died a month ago.”

Lee was speechless.  It was very close to the time his mother had died.  “I’m sorry,” he said sorrowfully. 

“She said she had finished her life as it should have been and it was time for her to go.  And she did, one night in her sleep.” 

“A very peaceful way to go,” he said softly, but with great sincerity.   

                                                              

 

 

Chapter 6
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