Thursday, July 21, 2011

Water Spout

I heard the drum as I was fetching back water from the village rain tanks.  From the lagoon side of the island came shouting, and the quick steady thump of a stick on an upturned 5 gallon bucket.  Some kids playing at the island version of jacks under a nearby tree dropped their pebbles and headed towards the commotion.  Curious, I left my bottles at the foot of our front stairs and joined the flow of people towards the lagoon. 

When I emerged from the close sitting huts, I found half the village gathered at the tide line, looking out across the still water.  Two more had joined the solitary drum now, and a woman a few huts down hauled a sheet of corrugated roofing onto the open sand and began to beat on it. 

"What's going on?"  I asked the closest pikini.  She picked at her belly button for a minute, standing stork legged in the sand, then pointed with her free hand out into the lagoon. 

Following her finger, I saw what had captured the village's attention.  There were four water spouts dancing across the glossy water.  Fascinated, I watched as the long columns of water snaked slowly towards land, undulating with a fierce, powerful grace. 

"But why are people beating the drums?"  I asked, confused. 

The girl looked at me with wide eyes, and I realized for the first time that she was afraid.  "Because the noise scares away the evil spirits," she answered.  By now, women all up and down the beach were beating on upturned buckets, logs, and sheet metal, clapping sticks together, and generally making noise with anything they could. 

One of the water spouts had broken away from the rest and made land several hundred yards from the village.  Now the drumming became frantic, and I heard a few people chanting prayers from the old island religion.  "Go away, spirits.  Don't come to this village." 

Suddenly cries broke out from people up the beach, and I strained to see what was happening.  "Daviti!"  I heard someone shout.  It was the way the islanders said my father's name. 

I looked and saw my dad walking up the beach, towards the water spout.  The villagers all clumped together where the huts ended, but Dad kept walking across the empty expanse of sand.  The murmurings grew increasingly fearful as he headed straight towards the swirling wind, which had now morphed into a dust devil on dry land. 

He approached it, his lava lava flapping back against his legs, seeming to shrink as he neared the towering whirlwind.  And still he went on.  And the drums beat an inexorable rhythm.  Until at last he reached the swirling column of sand and debris.  The village held a collective breath as my father stepped into the whirlwind. 

And suddenly it was gone.  Vanished in a trembling moment when it seemed the very foundations of the island shook. 

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