He drifted from shadow to shadow, his bare feet scraping silently over the brittle sand. The breeze brushed his face; he smiled and kicked an empty beer can over the road. Palm trees stood on the edge of the beach like gigantic umbrellas; the sound of the waves grew louder; and the moon hovered over the horizon, grinning like an idiot. He shivered as he stopped and gazed at the leadlike sea; his nose quivered and he sucked in the woman-smell of rotting seaweed. He jumped on the beach, and laughing loudly, he ran up and down chasing the waves, and flying his sleeping sheet behind him.
After a while he stopped and stared toward the west, at the lights of the town. In the harbour floated the massive forms of three American warships, and he suddenly remembered that a war was raging somewhere over the horizon. He felt a retraction in his bowels; he turned, scurried under the shade of a sprawling talie, wrapped the sheet round his shoulders, and emptied his bowels onto the sand.
Slowly he dragged his feet up the faint path that led to the road. Patches of moonlight lay scattered on the ground like dry breadfruit leaves. A jeep stood on the side of the road. He fell forward and crawled toward it. (The area was a favourite place where the American soldiers brought their girls. He had often gone there with his friends to spy on them.)
He peered inside the jeep, saw a carton of beer, stooped down, pulled out a can, and then searched round for something to open it with. Then he saw it. The bayonet lay like a frozen snake on the front seat. His hand edged towards it, clutched the wooden handle, and drew it towards him.
He shuddered as he caressed the blade, his face flushed. He picked up two cans of beer, and clutching the bayonet, he ran across the road towards his home.
Skirting the main fale, he crept into the small fale where he slept with his mother. Once inside he arched page 9up and sheathed the bayonet in the thatching; the beer cans he hid in a box under his mother's bed. He paused, sensing something was wrong. His mother's bed was empty. The image of the jeep jarred at his mind; and he remembered where he had seen it before. His body tightened with anger and disgust. He struck at her pillow, beating it till he fell down exhausted. . . . He lay for a long while and cried.
When he heard the purring of the jeep, he sprang up, rushed to the other side of the fale, lay down on his sleeping mat, and drew up the sheet to hide his face.
Footsteps stopped outside the fale. And in the pale moonlight he saw them kissing. He strangled his throat, and suppressed his crying.
"I wanna come in," he heard the American say to his mother.
"No. No, my son asleep. You go now," his mother said to her American. The soldier kissed her. The boy heard the sound of running footsteps, and the jeep driving away. He stuffed the edge of the sheet into his mouth.
His mother crept into the fale, and stooped down over him.
"Are you asleep, Siaki?" she asked. The boy didn't answer; he pressed his knees tight round his hands to stop them from lashing out at her face. She turned and walked to her bed, singing to herself. He heard her fall on to the bed. . . . Soon she was snoring.
The boy's body began to ache. The distorted faces of the other children blocked his vision; he tried not to hear their jeering voices: "Hey, maligi, who's your father? . . . Who's your father?" And he saw himself sneaking away into the bush. Their cries were always the same. And as always, he was unable to answer them, for he did not know who his father was. He only knew, as they knew, that his father was a white man like the American. He ached. He cursed. He cried. Then sleep rescued him. In his sleep, he saw the image of the gleaming bayonet; and a plan began to form. His bitterness focussed on one thing, one instrument of salvation: the bayonet.
Early the next morning he awoke, yawned, wiped the page 10sleep from his eyes, and glanced at the sun which peered warily over the mountains. He looked at his mother. Her mouth lay open like a wound. He spat into the grass outside. Her black hair spilled softly over the pillow. As he watched her, the sunlight began to soften her face, and he felt his anger ebb away. He glanced at the dome of the fale, and saw the bayonet. He stood up, pulled it out, caressed it, and balanced it on his forefinger. The handle was too light. He would fix that. He turned, opened the box where he kept his clothes, shuffled through it, pulled out a faded lavalava, hitched it round his waist, and strolled towards the kitchen hut.
The neighbours were awakening. Tui, the old man of the family, was bellowing a morning hymn, and soon other voices joined in. The boy glanced up at the breadfruit trees; he noticed that the fruit would soon be ready for picking.
The kitchen hummed with flies as he pulled up his lavalava and urinated into the grass. He picked up a stone and hurled it at a black pig rummaging in a pile of rubbish. He grinned when the pig squealed and scurried away.
He squatted down on the earthen floor of the hut, and balanced the bayonet. His eyes found a piece of copper wire in the ashes. He whooped, picked it up, brushed the ash off it, and began to coil it round the handle of the bayonet. He worked like an expert, his whole attention concentrated on his work.
When he finished, he again balanced the bayonet on his forefinger. The balance was perfect. He rose, unhitched the basket of left-overs from the rafters, picked out a piece of taro and ate it hurriedly, feeling the dry pulpy mass slide uncomfortably down his throat.
Smoke billowed from the nearby fales as he made his way into the bush.
He clambered up the high rock fence behind the village, and jumped into the silent world of green. . . . Dew melted off the trees, and trickled like tears into the ground as he ran through the thick foliage of cacao trees, the thick carpet of leaves crunching under his feet. The coconut trees cheered him on.
He kept a steady gait. The edge of his lavalava soon page 11got wet, and lapped against his legs. Ahead, the banana plantations sprawled up the hillsides; mist engulfed the top of the mountain range; two flying foxes flapped their way across the sky; and someone was calling pigs to feed. The boy sped on with the bayonet flicking occasionally from his hand to chop off the branches of the trees bordering the path. He unhitched his lavalava, wound it round his neck, and continued in the nude to penetrate deeper and deeper into the womb of green. His eyes were cold, intent; his plan would work.
He stood, poised like a knifethrower he had seen in a film, four paces away from the banana stump. The bayonet he held delicately by the blade with the handle pointing toward the ground. Placing his left foot forward, he arched his back, his right arm swinging back in one effortless motion to spring forward again and propel the bayonet swiftly towards the stump. The bayonet sank its tooth into the stump. The boy smiled. He walked over, retrieved the bayonet, and using his lavalava wiped the blade clean. Then he walked further back, stopped, poised, and threw it again. This time he missed. He got the bayonet, strolled back to his original position, turned quickly and hurled it again at the stump. It flew true.
He practised for a long while, increasing the distance as he gradually mastered the bayonet. He worked in silence, and he didn't notice the sun climb to noon. When the stump got too soft, he stopped and crumpled to the ground, where he lay and sucked in air in deep gulps. He scraped the sweat off his body with his hands, moved into the shade of low cacao trees festering scarlet fruit that hung down like wrinkled breasts, and fell asleep, oblivious of the mosquitoes which buzzed round him and bit into his flesh.
He came and sat down to face her from across the fire. The smoke between them made her image shimmer, unreal like a reflection on flowing water. He suddenly wanted to touch her, make sure she was really there. He blinked. Her image still remained hazy. She dipped her hands into a pot, pulled out some taro and placed them page 12on a plate. She put some grilled fish on it, and handed it to him. He took it without saying anything, and started to eat. After a while he glanced up, and found her staring at him.
"Wish you wouldn't go out all day," she remarked, wiping the sweat off her face with the end of her lavalava. "Fetai and Lima have been complaining about you not being here to do their work." Fetai and Lima were his grandparents.
"There're many others to do their work," he replied.
"But they like you specially," she said. She reached down and turned over a chicken that was roasting on the embers. The boy said nothing. He looked at the malae. The young men were beginning to play cricket.
"Who's the chicken for " he asked, knowing the answer already.
"For Jack," she replied. Jack was her American. The boy's face remained a blank; he didn't want to show his anger. "He's coming this afternon to have his meal, then we're going to the pool for a swim," she added. The boy continued to eat; he didn't taste the food. The wickets were up, and five young men stood round them waiting for the others to arrive and start the game.
"Jack is very like your father," she commented absent-mindedly. The boy started; he stopped eating; his head bowed over the plate.
"Who's . . . who's my father?" he asked her, trying to sound casual. She straightened. "Must know," he mumbled. The woman turned over the chicken.
"It's . . . it's," she paused; the chicken smelled good. "It's the white man who lives on the edge of town." The boy's hands clamped round the plate and broke it to pieces. She should not have told him.
"Oh, no," he muttered. His father a drunkard; an old man who lived in a decaying house; the man the children ridiculed every day; no, couldn't be!
"Sorry," his mother said. "Was his housegirl once." She looked at him. "Say something!" she demanded. "What's wrong? Tell me!" The boy sprang up and page 13towered above her. It was worse than being called a maligi. If they knew, it would be worse; he wouldn't be able to face them. He started to howl, the vacuum filled with anger and shame.
"But why? Why?" he cried. His mother lowered her head. "I hate you! I hate you. . . . And I hate all white men!" He fell to the ground and cried into his hands. She let him; she knew what was wrong.
"You don't need to worry," she told him after a while. "Only your grandparents know who your father is." She waved a fly from her face. "Now stop howling. Jack'll be here soon." The boy ceased crying and stared coldly at her. When she looked at him, he smiled. She recoiled. His smile was cold, terrifying. He would have to change his plan slightly but it would still work. He brushed the dirt from his body, and grinned when he found that he could outstare his mother.
The roar of the jeep interrupted their silent combat. They saw it turn into their home. The woman sprang up and brushed her hair while her son watched children scrambling toward the jeep.
"Aren't you going to run out to him?" she asked him. He had always done so.
"Why do you like sleeping with white men?" he asked her. It was more of an accusation than a question. She slapped him across the face. He just smiled at her. She wheeled abruptly and ran out to meet her American. The boy squashed a mosquito on the back of his hand, and stared at the blood spot.
"Hi!" The American greeted the boy when he entered the fale, trailed by the boy's mother. The soldier was a delicate man with a sensitive face and gentle eyes. The boy didn't reply. "Here," said the American, tossing him a packet of chewing gum. The boy let it lie where it fell. His mother commanded him with her eyes to pick it up.
"Hey, marine!" the children called from outside the fale. "Gimme chew-gum, marine!" The American guffawed, and scattered packets of chewing gum among the children; the children fought for the gum.page 14
The soldier squatted down on the mat next to the boy's mother.
"Hmm, looks nice," he commented, ogling the chicken. The woman giggled, but stopped when she noticed the frown on her son's face. "When're we eatin'?"
"Soon," she replied in English. She turned over the chicken. "Not ready yet."
"I'm hungry," sighed the American, rubbing his sagging stomach.
Siaki glanced at the soldier, wishing the American was completely bald and ugly. He picked up a sharp piece of stick and dug it in and out of the earthen floor.
Two women entered the fale and sat down cross-legged beside the boy. The boy edged away. The boy's mother glanced at the two women, and asked:
"What do you want?"
"Just came to meet your American," replied Maile, the fat woman with breadfruit-like breasts. She lisped, for she had two of her front teeth missing. Her companion giggled, and glanced shyly at the soldier, who grinned at her.
"What did she say?" the American asked the boy's mother. "Hope it wasn't rude."
"No," she replied quickly. "Dey cum to meet you."
"Oh, hi!" the American hailed the two women. The women giggled. "Here," he added, tossing them a packet of Camels. The fat one snatched at it, and mumbling thanks, she stuffed it into the eager hands of her companion.
"How are you, maligi?" the fat one asked the boy, ruffling his hair. The boy squirmed away. "Who's your father, maligi?" she joked.
"Don't say that to my son," snapped the boy's mother.
"Aw, sorry," grinned the fat woman. The boy edged away from the two women, his fists clenched, ready to hit out. The soldier smoked.
"Aren't you going to eat your gum?" the mother said to the boy.
"No," he snapped. He sprang to his feet and stamped page 15out of the fale. He heard the two women twittering with laughter as he ran, through the young men playing cricket on the malae, towards the beach.
Another week came with a sun which withered the grass, and chased the dogs and pigs into the shade. The sea crumpled tiredly on to the beach, unable to reach the rubbish that decayed quickly in the heat; and the children screamed in the village pool, their fathers gone into the town and plantations to work. From the town came the muffled roar of traffic and bulldozers: the Americans were building roads. Life boomed in the town, especially in the brothels. The warships wallowed in the harbour, their guns protruding into the sky like the arms of preachers. Girls got pregnant, and they had to run the gauntlet of ridicule and scorn. Numerous brawls broke out between the natives and the soldiers. Swarms of children trailed the marines, calling: "Hey, Yank, you gimme cigarette? Hey, marine, you gimme bucks?" And they picked up the soldiers' discarded cigarette butts. The older boys played pimps, accosting soldiers on the streets and asking: "Hey, marine, you wanna push-push? You gimme money, I get you good push-push." Some of them befriended stray Americans, got them drunk, led them to secluded places, and robbed them of everything. The old people remained sullen, suspicious of the invaders. "Surely they have come to stay. Look what they are doing to the people," they said to one another. But they were forgotten in the dollar boom. Siaki never went to town. He continued to practise, and his hatred of white men buckled and focussed on one American soldier.
He walked up to the tree, and with the point of the bayonet drew the outline of a man on the trunk. Withdrawing ten paces, he paused, turned, and without effort hurled the bayonet. It quivered in the neck of the outline. He smiled as he strolled to the tree. As he was pulling the bayonet out of the tree trunk, he heard footsteps behind him. He whirled, the bayonet poised for flight.
"How are you, maligi?" grinned a dark muscular girl. She had a bundle of firewood strapped across her back.page 16
"Don't ever call me that again," he threatened, advancing towards her with the bayonet flicking in his hand. She stepped back.
"Sorry," she stammered, dropping the firewood to the ground. Siaki wheeled from her and threw the bayonet. The girl froze as the bayonet whipped through the air and quivered in the centre of the head of the outline.
"You're good," she tried to applaud. Siaki didn't say anything; he ran, pulled out the bayonet, and returned to stand in front of her. She was ugly. He grinned and said:
"Can do better than that. Watch." He took another five paces, wheeled and in the same motion threw the bayonet to pierce the heart of the outline. The girl clapped. "No man can do that but me," he remarked. "I'm the only man who can do it." He had to emphasise his point, for he didn't quite believe that he was a man. "You don't believe me?" he asked. The girl giggled, and scratched her small buttocks; there was a haughty look in her eyes as she said:
"I don't believe you." She was deliberately edging him on. Siaki took another two paces, crouched as if to duck a blow, and threw. The bayonet thudded into the heart of the outline again. The girl laughed, dismissing him.
Siaki stamped to the tree, pulled out the bayonet, turned and hurled the bayonet at her. She screamed as the bayonet whipped past her head and bit into the trunk of the ifi tree behind her. He laughed when she collapsed to her knees.
"Now have I proved my point?" he chuckled.
"Maligi," she screamed. "Maligi, you're not a man. . . . You haven't got a father! . . . Aikae! Aikae!" She was hysterical. He slapped her. Spinning to the ground, she continued to hurl obscenities at him. Siaki dived on top of her and pinned back her arms.
"So, I'm not a man, eh? I'll show you!" he hissed, slapping her again. She ceased struggling when he tore off her lavalava. And she whimpered as his face filled page 17her horizon, as she felt his weight on her. She fell limp. . . . He glanced up. The bayonet gleamed erect in the sunlight. "I'm a man. . . . I'm a man!" he muttered. Then the image of his mother clogged his angry vision: she lay heaving beneath a naked white man. His father. His father. Disgust. He rolled off the girl, and sobbed into the ground.
Blinking out of the darkness, she saw him standing above her. "I'm sorry," he apologised. She rolled on to her side and stared at the ground.
"Did it happen?" she mumbled. He shook his head. Sighing, she crossed her legs. He turned his back to her while she retied her lavalava. . . . They remained silent for a long while. Then she staggered to her feet, and said to him:
"I'd better go now, Siaki." It was the first time she had ever called him by his real name. "Won't tell anyone about what happened." She turned and lifted up the bundle of firewood.
As she walked away, he sheathed the bayonet in his lavalava, and ran after her. He took the load off her back and strapped it on to his own. He glanced at her. She smiled at him. And together they walked toward the village.
One night Siaki awoke when his mother and the American entered the fale. They were arguing.
"Are you sure?" he heard the soldier ask his mother.
"Yeah," she replied. He heard her voice break, and she cried.
"Shhh, you'll wake him up," cautioned the American, leading her to the bed.
"What I going to do?" she asked, slumping on to the bed.
"Jus' have to wait and see, that's all," replied the soldier. "Now stop crying." She continued to sob. The American slapped her. Siaki jumped. No one had ever page 18treated his mother this way. The image of the bayonet tossed and pivoted in his mind.
"You marry me, Jack?" his mother pleaded.
"I can't," the American replied. The boy closed his eyes. "I'm already . . . already married," confessed the soldier.
"You lie to me. You lie!" his mother screamed. The American stood up, looked down at her, and walked out of the fale into the night. "You cum back?" she called after him. There was no reply.
The boy lay clutching his hands. The American had betrayed his mother. The outline on the tree trunk came alive and assumed the figure of a white soldier. The boy sprang up, crept over to his mother, and pulled the sheet over her. He turned, stumbled out of the fale, and ran towards the pounding waves.
The next day his mother sat in the fale and gazed at the road. The wrinkles on her face had deepened. Siaki acted as though he hadn't heard them the night before. At noon she told him she was tired. Siaki brought a mat and laid it under the breadfruit trees. She lay down on it. After watching her for a while, Siaki entered the kitchen, took the bayonet from the thatching, and sharpened it till it was angry sharp.
After sheathing it back in the thatching, he prepared the evening meal.
He nodded at the girl when she entered the kitchen.
"How's the knife-thrower?" she smiled. She sat down before the open fire. A kerosene tin full of bananas bubbled over the flames. The boy didn't answer. He stared at his mother. "Is she sick?" the girl asked with concern.
"No, Mala," he whispered. He looked at her. She was smiling; her hair smelled of coconut oil as it dropped down her back over a clean white shirt and a red lavalava.
"Why don't you go and play cricket? I'll cook for you," she suggested, thrusting more firewood into the fire.
"Never mind. I'll do it. You'll get dirty."
"What's wrong, Siaki?" she asked.page 19
"Nothing," he snapped. "I'm sorry," he apologised. "There's something I have to do."
"Want to tell me?" she asked, knowing he wasn't going to. They remained silent. The fire spluttered tongues of flame. Then she began to sing; her voice caressed him till he felt calm, committed, the load gone.
"A man must be strong," she sang. "Strong as the palm, just as Solomon, kingly as David. A man, my man, must fight his fate and guide me to my destiny. But he must be supple, supple like the palm, and bend, bend before the storm, or he will break, break and die." She repeated the verse; then her voice faded to a whisper, and the song was lost in his words as he said:
"Thanks, Mala." She giggled, and together they laughed, contained wholly in their own world.
As the sun tipped over the heads of the palms, a wind arose to free the land of the heat. Siaki gazed out into the harbour. One of the warships had gone. He smiled.
"What are you smiling at?" she asked him.
"Oh, nothing," he replied. "Just feel good, that's all." She smiled; the flames danced on her face. Siaki wanted to caress it, but the flames separated them. A pig squealed loud and clear from the back of the village. The west was scarlet with the blood of the setting sun.
"Mala, will you fix my mother's meal?" he asked her suddenly. The girl nodded and asked:
"But where're you going?"
"Got to go into town and buy some sugar," he lied. He sprang up, ready to go.
"Will I see you tonight?"
"Don't think so," he sighed, avoiding her eyes. He ran from the kitchen. She waved to him.
He returned to the kitchen, wearing a clean lavalava and an orange shirt. "Forgot something," he mumbled, reaching up and pulling out the bayonet. He wheeled to go.
"But where're you taking that?" she asked. He paused, finding it hard to lie. She looked steadily at him.
"Going to sell it to one of the fellows in town," he page 20said finally. Before she could say anything, he ran out of the kitchen.
From the road, he waved to her. She waved back; then she stared into the flames. A gust of wind invaded the kitchen, churned up the fire, and scattered the ashes and embers round her feet. She didn't believe him. She shook with fear.
Two days later, as Siaki sat looking at his mother, a jeep swerved off the road and drove towards their fale. His mother jumped up in expectation.
"It's him!" she cried, running out of the fale. Siaki remained where he was and watched the approaching jeep. The jeep carried three men: one Samoan dressed in white shorts and a white shirt, and two American soldiers. The village children swarmed like flies to it only to be driven away by the stick that the Samoan guide wielded. The soldiers laughed. One of them, a tall lanky man, scattered gum among the children. The jeep shrieked to a halt, and the passengers got out. The boy's mother confronted them with disappointment.
Siaki examined the soldiers. Both wore armbands with M.P. printed on them; pistols and batons were strapped to their sides. The children milled round the soldiers while their guide, obviously trying his best to impress everyone, yelled at them and held them off with his stick. A crowd began to gather. "It's the Army Police," Siaki heard someone say. "What are they saying?" Siaki heard an old man ask. "Oh, they're just inquiring about a stolen pig," replied his companion. The crowd laughed.
The soldiers followed his mother into the fale. Siaki brought out clean mats for them to sit on; then he sat down and faced them, with his face a blank, without emotion.
The crowd pressed closer to the fale. The soldiers argued between themselves. In Samoan his mother offered them chairs to sit on. The guide got up, and was just about to make himself comfortable on a chair when someone in the crowd called: "Hey, royal friend, you must be page 21used to chairs!" Laughter erupted from the crowd. The guide cursed to himself, and sat down on the floor.
The boy glanced up when Mala entered the fale and sat down beside him. He began to feel uncomfortable.
"Well," the guide said to Siaki's mother, "we've come to talk to you about something."
"What else did you come for?" jeered a member of the crowd; and again the crowd roared with laughter.
"I'm interpreting for these gentlemen," the guide insisted.
"C'mon, Bill," the soldier called Hank said to the guide. "We haven't got all day. Ask her if she knew a soldier named Jack Summers." Before the guide could interpret, Siaki's mother said in English:
"I know him." The guide looked at the floor; it was his job to interpret.
"So you speak English, eh?" commented the other soldier, a chubby fellow with red cheeks covered with sweat.
"No very well," replied the woman. "I understand good." The guide was forgotten immediately.
"When was the last time you saw him," Hank inquired.
"Three day ago," she replied. "Why you ask?" The crowd was hushed. The soldiers argued softly. Then Hank nodded to his companion, coughed and said:
"He was found dead two days ago." Siaki saw his mother's hands cling desperately to the edge of the mat. He felt Mala looking at him. He didn't care. "He was killed with this," continued Hank, placing the bayonet before the woman. "It belonged to him." The crowd gasped in horror.
"It . . . it not his," Siaki's mother forced herself to say. Siaki gazed out to sea. He wasn't afraid; he just didn't care.
"It's his all right," remarked the other soldier. "The boys at camp identified it." The woman didn't bother to say anything. She had given herself completely to the page 22descending inner darkness of pain where no one could reach her.
"Do you know who could have killed him?" asked Hank. Siaki's mother shook her head. "The guy who did it was pretty good with a knife," continued Hank, encouraged by the woman's emotionless response. "Jack was on guard duty. He was inside the wire fence, and no one can creep up to it without being seen. The place is floodlit." He picked up the bayonet and examined it. "The guy must have thrown it from at least ten yards out."
"Hell, he must've been good awright," chorused the other soldier, feeling uncomfortable on the hard floor. "The bayonet killed him instantly. Pierced the heart." Siaki heard Mala gasp. He looked at his mother. Her hands were tearing the edge of the mat to shreds. She wouldn't break in front of the people. He knew that. He braced himself; he would have to look after her when the people left. The crowd murmured, asking one another if they knew anyone that good with a knife. They agreed they didn't.
"I . . . I know no one . . . no one good with knife," Siaki's mother informed the soldiers.
"Okay, then. We're sorry to have bothered you, ma'am," said Hank. "Sorry 'bout Jack. We'll try and find the guy who did it." The Americans stood up, and the guide trailed them out of the fale like a pet dog.
Slowly the crowd dispersed. Mala remained next to Siaki, who wished she would leave; her presence was an accusation, and growing guilt was beginning to disturb his vacant peace.
Siaki rose to his feet and walked over to his mother. She was bent double with pain, rocking back and forth. Siaki knelt down beside her. She began to weep; her wailing mounting to a scream as she leant on to her son's arms. He let her cry on and on until she collapsed to the floor, exhausted. Mala walked over. With Siaki they lifted his mother and carried her to the bed.
"Who could have done it? Who could have?" cried Siaki's mother as she writhed and clutched at her belly. The boy glanced up at Mala. She was crying. He grasped page 23her hand. He felt strong, relieved, ready to accept. He didn't care any more if his father was a drunkard. That wasn't important. Only his mother mattered now. He loved her. That was enough. He broke down and cried.
"I did it, mother;" he uttered, accepting guilt which descended upon him like a curse. "I did it!" His mother's hand whipped him across the face. Then she collapsed back into the bed, sighed in relief, and was soon sleeping.
Siaki remained with his face in her pillow. He looked up when Mala's arms encircled him. Mala smiled at him through tears, as though saying: "You are a man now."