A Life Cycle Reborn
Chapter 7 Waking in Old Eyes
This was my life, long before I became Robin. It is maybe an hour before dawn, and my two sisters are already up, getting ready for a day of work and play at the beach. My oldest sister Saydira is about twenty-one years old, Ashlea whom I am a little closer to is nineteen and I have just turned eighteen. Ashlea is whispering in my ear. “Come on Taylan we are heading out soon, get up.”
“Yes Ash, where is Saydira?” I whisper.
“She is getting some breakfast and snacks ready for the day ahead of us.” Ashlea climbs into my bed, deciding to rest on her stomach, supporting herself on her elbows, looking warmly at me as I become more awake and alert.
“What is she putting together?” I let a yawn escape when I ask as I rub my eyes open.
“I think I saw some dried sugar kelp, berries and some dried fish chips for the afternoon.” Ashlea says with a twinkle in her eyes. She is looking forward to the day. I have no idea where she gets all her energy from this early in the morning and I can tell she has been awake for a bit, because her hair is a warm honey brown color. The color of our home.
“Oh wonderful” I reply. I love sugar kelp; in fact, I love anything that is sweet. Ashlea gets up off my bed, convinced that I am awake and rejoins Saydira downstairs.
Saydira is a great sister and a natural leader. She has grown into a matriarch of our family. My mother is still heavily involved too, but she and Saydira have more of a partnership that works very well. Saydira manages my sister and me with gathering, and my mom works exclusively with the sales and trade of what we gather.
I roll out of my comfortable satin sheet covered bed that is surrounded in netting to keep the bugs out in the night. I brush my teeth in the bathroom, tie my hair back, get into a t-shirt and shorts, and head down the staircase that spirals around a massive tree trunk to the kitchen area where Ashlea and Saydira are. Mom usually is not up for another couple of hours as her workday starts when the rest of the community opens their shops.
Saydira sees me as I am descending the stairs, “Hey sleepy head.” She says in a teasing voice.
“Morning Saydira, which areas of the beach do you have in mind for us to visit today?” I ask as I sit down at the table.
“Ash and I were just discussing that, I think today we are going to visit the North Shore; it has been a while and who knows? I was just telling Ash that we could keep an eye open for oysters; my guess is there are some beautiful pearls to be captured. Hopefully today we will be in luck?” She turns her back to me as she grabs a dish from the cupboard.
I say, “Sounds like a plan.” Ashlea and Saydira join me to eat.
After about ten minutes, the three of us are finished breakfast, packed and ready for the day ahead. Saydira locks up, and we are off to the beach. It is a short walk to our destination. My family lives in an area that is sort of the equivalent to a suburb, well sort of. It has a very lush and dense forest that we live in and the homes are different, instead of tearing down the vegetation the community, has sort of built around it. Our home is one of many massive tree homes. It is built from the ground up and around the trunk of the tree. The trunk is the main support of the structure. The tree is a great insulator to our home, and the canopy of leaves provides added shading and protection to the roof. The home is a two-story structure like many of the homes in the community.
It couldn’t be a more perfect morning. We approach the clearing of the forest and step through the dew covered grass. We are approaching the North Shore cliffs, and I can start to feel the light fresh morning breeze that is coming from the ocean. What a sight. After clearing the trees, and there it is nothing, but sky and water. The sun is just coming up in the East, along the cliff line and the sky, is a bright orange. The water is sparkling with the sun hitting its ripples. This world Airus; has that in common with Earth, this planet orbits around its sun the same way Earth does with its own sun.
“I think I am going to catch me a couple of pearls girls.” Ashlea says with such certainty and playfulness in her voice, while skipping along the path.
“How long did it take you to come up with that rhyme?” I reply. Ashlea just sticks her tongue out at me.
“I hope you do!” Saydira winks at her. We make our way down the cliff path stepping carefully on the worn down rocks to the North Shore.
The sand here is beautiful. It is the whitest sand I have ever seen, and it is so fine that when you walk bare foot on it, it feels as though you are walking on soft cushions. The one thing about it that always makes me laugh; it’s childish really, but when you run on this sand it makes a squeaky noise, it kind of sounds like a toot, or to put it more bluntly, a fart. We often kid with each other while making farting sounds with the sand and tease each other with fart jokes.
This morning there isn’t anyone at the beach yet, except for the three of us, it is still very early. We find a good spot next to the base of the cliff in the shade, away from the water to store our clothes and bags. We all strip down to our bare skin in the morning sun; our hair has turned to a whitish color because of the abundance of sand. We all strap on a couple of pouches.
Saydira says, “Okay so the plan is we are going to spend the entire morning treasure hunting, focusing on finding oysters. Fill your bags and by noon we will stop for lunch, head back to the beach, open them and have a snack.”
One thing that I love is the taste of a fresh oyster, oh so yummy. We walk down to the water’s edge, happily playing and teasing each other. The one thing that I do have a hard time with is, getting used to the water. Don’t get me wrong, the water is always warm, but it is the first shock of entering, it is always cooler than your body temperature.
“It’s so cold!” I protest.
“Taylan you’re just being a baby.” Ashlea chirps back. She is already in up to her neck in the sandy water.
“I hate this part.” I whine. Getting into cold water is the worst.
“Taylan, do you want some help getting in?” Ash hollers, she is starting to get under my skin. Ashlea is making her way back to me. I am only ankle deep, and she is starting to threaten me with a few playful splashes.
“Come on Ash; let me ease my way into it.” I beg.
“Taylan you’re just dragging it out just get in, and be over with the shock already. The water is so nice and warm, it feels like a bath.” Ashlea encourages.
“Yah Ash, just leave me alone for a few minutes. Hey, did you hear that? I think Saydira is calling for you?” I lie to get her to go away. Ash looks over her shoulder, and spots Saydira in the distance, who has made her way up to a sand dune and is now waist deep and re-adjusting her bag. Ash then turns away from me and makes a splashy dive along with some playful kicks in my direction. Oh, she is so annoying. Ashlea drenches me, and I growl in reaction, I wanted to go in on my own terms. Ah well, I walk out and dive into the fresh open water, following Ashlea who is swimming over to Saydira. Ash and I swim up onto the sand dune and re-adjust our bags, just as Saydira and we are all ready for the descent.
“Ready girls,” Saydira encourages. Even though Saydira is the oldest and generally is the one looking out for my sister and me, she does have a playful side to her, and I know that treasure diving is one of her favorite things to do. It is more of a passion than a chore. We all dive down together; down to the depths to the ocean floor, my guess is that it is about thirty feet. As I mentioned earlier we don’t have the ability to breathe underwater, but our bodies can hold our breath easily for a few minutes at a time before needing to re-surface.
Down we go into the depths; the reef is colorful and full of different corals and millions of fish. The odd small shark patrols the reef for food. Sharks don’t care for us; they are more interested in the brilliant schools of fish. I see my first stack of oysters that are attached to the reef. I dive down to retrieve them. You only take a few oysters out at a time and never the entire cluster because if you ever do remove the entire cluster, other oysters in the future generally won’t attach themselves to an empty spot. Oysters like the company of other oysters, so you only ever take a few at a time and hope that you get lucky and picked ones that have the pearls. I pick a few from the cluster and swim on to the next.
Back up to the surface for air and then back down to the world of exotic colors and the beauty that is the reef. I feel free down here. I do a couple of flips with ease, making use of my webbed fingers and toes as I make my way down to the next new cluster of oysters. I can see that my sisters are doing the same. I imagine that swimming in a way must be like flying, the feeling of being almost weightless, and propelling yourself through the water must be a similar feeling to wings flapping in the air during flight. There are so many oyster beds along the North Shore and I would imagine that we have a few undiscovered pearls in our bags right now.
From the ocean floor, I can tell the sun has risen because the ripples of the rays of sun are glistening on the ocean floor. It feels like heaven down here. I make my way back up to the ball of light that is now in the center of the sky. My sisters go to the surface too. We all pop up and make our way to the sand dune.
I quickly pipe up, “Hey Saydira my bag is full; how did you do?” I move a wet lock of blue hair from my eyes.
Saydira smiles, “I think I may have some lucky oysters, I picked up a few larger ones with some tinges of pink and blue on their shells, so hopefully those colors are lucky; we shall see.”
Ash is up on the dune, standing waist deep; her naked body is glistening in the sun. She says to Saydira and me as we swim up to the dune, “A little wager, whoever has the most pearls gets to keep one for her own?”
“I think that is fair.” Saydira pipes in giving her approval as she is walking up onto the dune. I am the last on the dune and hastily adjust my bag and jump off the other side and swim to the shore following my sisters. We walk up onto the beach. A few families that have gathered and they all seem to be enjoying picnics at the beach. A few moms and dads are lying naked on their beach blankets as their young children frolic on the shore. We sit down and open our bags.
Between the three of us, we must have close to seventy oysters to go through. We sit by the rocks and one by one, open each of them with our shucking knives that were in Saydira’s bag.
Maybe it’s seeing the few families that are here but I think aloud to Saydira, “Why do you suppose there are no other people here, our age?” I ask as I am reaching for an oyster to open.
Saydira looks at me and then off into the direction of the ocean. Her demeanor is as if she is somewhere far away, she focuses back to me and sighs, “I’m not sure, I suppose there are many reasons.”
I look at her and respond, “Things don’t add up, and why is there so many women and children and so few men around? Why do they always seem to come and go?”
Ashlea gathers up a few oysters to open and chimes in, “Taylan, there are men in our community, the older gentleman a few homes down and the two men resting over there with their families.”
“Ash I don’t mean none what so ever, I mean, shouldn’t there be more of a dynamic with genders and different ages? Like a more even playing field?” I stop opening the oysters for a moment, “Shouldn’t we be winning the affections of young men our age, or something? We are pretty well all grown up.” My two sisters look at one another with some sort of unspoken acknowledgement.
“Saydira, Ashlea, what is it that you two know that I don’t, and why am I always left out of these discussions? There are only a few years between us, so what is it that I am missing?”
Saydira looks right into my eyes, with a seriousness to her, “Taylan, it’s not a conversation that you are missing out on. You need to pay attention to what goes on around you. Figure it out. Look at the few men that are in this community, the old man a couple of homes away from ours, the man on the beach over there. What do you see?” I look over at the man with his wife, they look to be enjoying the afternoon in each other’s company. Smiling at one another and enjoying their conversation.
“Saydira, I, I don’t understand, what is it that I am looking for?”
In a hushed voice Saydira says, “Taylan, his leg…” I focus on the man’s leg I know that he can walk because I saw him playing with his two children earlier when I had been in the ocean.
“His leg has a massive scar from his knee to ankle.” I answer and look to Saydira for approval. That was what she wanted me to see.
“Yes Taylan and how do you suppose he got it?”
I glance over at the man and his wife and try to figure out what it is my sister is leading me to figure out. “Well, if he would have been injured here, we would have known all about it.”
“Yes, so where and how do you think?” Saydira urges.
“A fight, or maybe an accident, it had to have happened somewhere else?” I look to Saydira and Ashlea for confirmation.
Saydira confirms, “Yes Taylan, nobody speaks of it, but there are reasons for that. It takes a toll on the people around us. Families sacrifice their young and strong for protection as well as payment for their safety. The young people who are mostly men leave their homes and families in order to become trained and taken in as members to a new family. They normally spend their lifetimes serving and protecting for the major cities. When they are old, or no longer have the strength that it takes to protect, they sometimes return home to where they came from, but most of them find new lives within the city. If they are injured like that man over there, they will come home and re-start their life.”
“Well why haven’t any of us gone?” I ask completely confused. Ash is also looking to Saydira for an answer, but then decides to tease me just before receiving Saydira’s response.
“Taylan, don’t be silly we are women, Saydira said that the majority are men that leave.” Ash smiles and waiting for a smile in return. I glance at her and give her a quick smirk then look to Saydira.
“Mom has us gather the goods for more reasons other than because she needs to manage the store front. Our neighbors know about us because they see us in the mornings and evenings, but it is not they who do the calling. Our community has regular visitors who come to buy our merchandise, and they go home to their cities. They not only buy our goods, but they report on whom they see. That is when letters and requests come, calling for the young and strong. The young men are usually called and the women, especially the young, are sometimes taken as motivation for the men that serve. The women care for these men that help defend the cities; and they serve as companions. We have not been called on because these visitors have not seen us. Mom keeps us busy and away, to gather while the visitors come. So they simply don’t call on us.” I don’t know what to think about this; how could I be so oblivious to reality? I pick up an oyster and open it, my first pearl of the day, white and almost a perfect sphere. Saydira looks at me to see that I understand.
I know it sounds ridiculous that I didn’t really notice or understand until now but in my defense with growing up on this island, I saw people come and go often. Our island was more of a holiday retreat, a place for people to visit. My sisters and I never really had any long-term friends because the kids that where our age would only stay a short while before heading back to where they lived. The majority of the families that did stay on the island didn’t have children at least that I knew of. Maybe I was too young to remember them. I knew something was up; it was just that I couldn’t place it and at least now, I know.
I break the awkward silence and say, “I understand Saydira, but eventually we will be seen and then what? We are all grown up, we can’t stay here forever?”
Ashlea speaks up, “How many of us would have to go if they found out about all of us? They can’t take all the young and strong of a family, can they?”
Saydira opens an oyster, and it is her first discovered pearl, as she slips the pearl in a pocket for safe keeping she answers Ashlea, “I really don’t know how they decide on who to call on and how many a family can manage to loose. All I can speak of is what I see, and from what I have seen, Taylan is right and there are hardly any young people left here. There are some, a few other women our age, but very few men. I think that all the young men in this area have been called upon, and my assumption is the women have either been called on to help, or followed their men to the cities.”
I murmur, “Nothing would ever happen to Mom when the visitors figure out we have all been here the entire time, right? I look to Saydira for her thoughts.
Saydira’s hair has turned to a light blond as her vision sees the white sand around her as well as the afternoon sun in full effect, with the bright rays shining down in a clear and cloudless sky. “I think she would only see trouble if we were to run, or disappear when, or if we were ever called to serve.”
“So we just need to keep doing what we are doing, I suppose.” I say to Saydira as she uncovers her second pearl.
“Yes, we just have to be honest with who we are and what we do, and if that time comes we just need to do what is asked of us.”
We are all sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle facing the ocean, each with our bags of un-opened oysters to one side and a second pile of empty shells to the other side and a few discovered pearls between the three of us. Even though we just had a serious conversation, I somehow feel a little better. We haven’t done anything wrong up to this point, and my mother can’t get into trouble by putting us to work. If that day ever comes, than we do what is needed so that there are no problems for our family.
The oysters are delicious, and we have more than enough to fill our bellies. There really was no need for Saydira to pack a lunch for us, but it is always best to be safe than hungry. We work our way through our oysters, there were so many of them that we needed to give some of the meat away to the few other strangers at the beach. We did fairly well; from our three bags, we have uncovered six beautiful pearls, and from Ashlea’s wager that would mean that I get to keep a pearl. I had uncovered three, Saydira two and poor Ashlea only uncovered one. I decide on a medium pearl that Saydira uncovered. It wasn’t the largest pearl of the six, but it was unique because it was a light blue color.
We all take a walk to the ocean, rinse off and rest for an hour; lying in the sun, as our stomachs’ settle from the feast. We then go back into the ocean for the second half of the day. Ashlea prepares three spears for each of us to use for fishing, and we strap on our bags and head back out. Getting into the water now is much easier. It is more of a relief than anything. The sun and the air makes the atmosphere feel like a sauna, and the ocean’s water feels warmer than it did this morning, but it is still cool enough to feel like a relief to your skin, but not so cool that it stings when you first touch it. We all walk up waist deep then jump in and swim to the sand dune and dive back down to the reef below.
I take my time. It is not the quantity of fish because I can catch as many fish as I would like. Let’s face it; I don’t want to spend my entire evening gutting fish after going through a ton of oysters earlier. I want to catch one large fish, something with a lot of meat on it and something I can get close enough to and spear successfully. I am looking for this fish, and so far, nothing meets my wishes, back up I go for air. I break through the surface and gauge how far out I am. I can see that one of the families that were sitting near to us as we were opening the oysters has decided on cooling off; the entire family is jumping and playing in the waves that are rolling up on the shore. I go back down to the vibrant reef. Many little brightly colored schools of fish swim by but where is my fish? Hmm, Okay back up for air then back down again, I swim to the bottom now touching the sandy ocean floor and look at the reef in front of me and then in the shadows, I see him. I slowly move a little closer, spreading my webbed fingers and close in. Quickly, I spear him. His blood clouds the water. He is mine, and I make sure the spear is all the way through so that there is no chance of escape, and I quickly rise to the surface and swim to the dune. I take one final glance before going to shore and peer down into the reef and see that Ashlea and Saydira are still at work; trying to catch their own fish. I decide to swim back to the beach and take care of my catch. I clean up after packing my fish and treasures, and I have some time to relax; that is when Saydira and Ashlea have come up with their own catches to take care of for the short walk home.
I say, “Oh Ashlea what beautiful fish, Mom will be able to sell that one tomorrow and Saydira you managed a fairly good size catch of your own, very nice!” Saydira and Ash smile and you can tell that they are happy. I have food for tonight and a pearl of my own for keeping; what a great day this was.
The sun is setting as we reach home and Mom has finished her day at work managing the store. We reveal all the pearls to her, five in total to sell, and she is just beside herself. “Oh girls, today has paid off for us. These pearls are beautiful and they will earn extra profits. I am going to display them in the glass box tomorrow. Taylan, that blue pearl that you are keeping, have you thought about how you want to wear it?”
“Yes, I want it as a pendent on a medium size necklace.” I smirk at Mom knowing that she is surprised that I have already decided.
“Very nice Taylan you will have to work on that, I can’t wait to see that gorgeous piece of jewelry when you’re done creating it and if you don’t mind, can I borrow it?” Mom winks.
“Yes Mom” I say with a giggle.
Soon dinner is finished, and before long I am resting in my comfortable bed, lying under the netting and thinking about this perfect day as I drift off. What is the next adventure?