The Price of Remembering
by Andreea Daia
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
On the slope to my left, Faipa races down. He doesn’t notice me, probably imagining that I’ve already arrived at the beach. The weight of my actions crushes my resolve. I’m sacrificing him so I can survive. The sharks will be waiting by the red coral reef, lurking in the depths. They would circle him and then...
I bend over and throw up, horrified by my own actions. What kind of leader will I be, me who indirectly has murdered this boy to save herself?
“It’s the sharks that killed him,” I hear my grandmother’s voice, as she narrated me countless stories about the Birdman contests.
I stretch my body on the nest of reeds, and the silence screams in my ears. “Pick yourself up and go,” it seems to say. The motes of dust patter against the gravel of the cliff. I can hear them without any magic trick; all my people have rediscovered that gift. The motes settle on the ground with tiny scrapes, dulling the path.
I rub my tongue against the roof of my mouth, wanting to taste the reality. It sings to me with the voices of the nine hundred moai. No matter how many will be unearthed into the future, there are nine hundred statues with accusing faces. All of them tell me that, by this hour, eleven contestants have already died. The knot in my throat swells.
I need to leave now, if I want to swim in the window of time between Faipa and Paavo’s deaths. Please, don’t leave me alone. The knowledge of how I am hiding in the shadow of their misfortune sickens me. I’m using them like the pieces of a chess game: that one a pawn, the other a knight, all to be sacrificed. Repeating myself that it’s for the greater good doesn’t appease my conscience anymore.
Just a week ago I played ball with Faipa. At the end of the day, when the schools of fish had tired, we threw the nets together. Nothing will be left of my best friend to bury.
My feet make tiny craters in the sand. I’m down on the beach, without being able to recall the last quarter of an hour. Did you also lose track of time during your trial? Strange how I can’t remember that detail. Perhaps my memory isn’t as good as I’ve convinced myself it is.
May all the planet-gods in the sky help me. I can’t carry this burden if my mind flails around worse than the arms of the contestants dying in the ocean. Screams and cheers of victory mingle with the roar of the waves. Someone has made it to the islet. I’m telling myself that it’s only a mirage, that maybe my memory is indeed so damaged that at least one would survive.
I almost hear your encouragement that one will survive. Me.
You are too kind, probably trying to forget that the love of your life just watched the sky for the last time. I rub my eyes and blame the sea salt. Your sadness seeps deep into my bones. Please, don’t cry because of Afi. He is with MakeMake now, in whatever constellation he might transit. You will meet him in the future, of that I am sure.
I dip my toes in the deadly waters, just as my mind dips into the knowledge of the ones who came before me. From their memories, I know the shape of every wave, its color, taste, sound. I know the danger that hides under every drop of water, the grey fins, the off-white teeth. The crossing will clear for the next 12.7 minutes.
I swallow and dive in, arms stretching ahead with the desperation of the castaway. The cool water numbs my sorrow, as much as it can numb something that pervades every cell of my body. The phantom pain remains, my own genetic memory as present as the awareness of an amputated limb. Swallowing froth and seaweed, I struggle against the waves. They taste of something else, which my mind refuses to acknowledge.
Victory must be my only thought, or I’ll be lost.
The ocean swathes me, filling my vision with sensuous hallucinations. It caresses my skin, more seductive than a lover’s touch. Power courses through my veins although I don’t fathom wherefrom I’m drawing it. I revel in it, not daring to compare my sensations against yours. Instead, I abandon myself to the joy of swimming. I was born for this moment, training for it for more years than I remember.
5.23 minutes. I see the puzzlement on your face, but please, don’t ask me to explain the time to you.
Motu Iti rushes towards me, reminding me about the last time I swam here with my love. “Hurry up,” he urges me from the past, while the waters murmur behind me. Not even the muscle cramps will foil this small victory.
I remember, at this very moment, the dorsal fins slicing through the waves mere yards away. Too late. My toes already touch sand and rocks. I ignore the pain of the fresh cuts and plunge ahead, crossing the barrier of froth lining the ground.
The sound that escapes my lips frightens you. Please, don’t be scared of me. I’m doing it neither for the glory, nor for my family, nor even for you. I’ve been burdened with this task since birth.
Seaweed glues to my thighs, feeling almost erotic. I don’t abandon myself to that chimera; it’s the survival ecstasy transmuted into a sexual feeling. You smile, partaking in my exhilaration, then stop abruptly.
Your hand points towards the forked tail of a sooty tern. Its white collar contrasts against the grass, reminding me of the collar my mother wrapped around my neck on my fifth birthday “To keep you safe.” My eyes widen, as I recall the workmanship; she had used the fish-thorn pattern, though she couldn’t have learned it from anyone on the island. “She has to remember a little bit too,” my lips murmur. “Still, it has to be so faded that she isn’t even aware of it.”
I stretch my hand towards the bird, calling, “Take me to your nest.” The tern couldn’t possibly understand me, yet somehow it does. For the next ten minutes I climb a cliff so vertical that I can’t see its peak. My fingers know by heart each hole, each crack. Do you remember when you and Afi did this, a week before your competition?
You stare at me with dead eyes. I want to cry, but crying is a luxury I wasn’t granted.
By the time I reach the eggs, I feel that my sanity is slipping away. Do you think I’m crazy? The tern stretches its wings and cries a mournful call that penetrates my bones. “I’m sorry for taking your egg,” I say, as the tern pushes the egg with its beak.
I think I’m losing my minds. “Thank you,” I whisper. As I touch the egg, renewed strength bulldozes through my muscles, making me choke. I dare again to hope in a happy ending.
I can’t recall much of my return trip, except that it goes without a glitch: no unexplained rocks, no fins in my clear waters. I swim carefully not to break the egg, as my eyes beg you for encouragement. Your cheeks are streaked with tears, despite the waves that wash them, despite your attempts to conceal them.
The dolphins join me as if coaxed by some mystical force. “MakeMake,” you mouth. The dolphins try to lead me to the Anakena beach, as they did on that day when I turned six. My feet gouged holes in the sands while the dolphins sang to me about loss and joy. Or perhaps that was just my imagination.
I scramble on the shore from the bottom of Rano Kau. Even to my tired senses, my huffing and ramblings remind me of a lunatic. Just a little bit further... just another step... “Keep climbing,” I see you mouthing, but only the sound of the wind reaches my ears.
“I will,” I answer aloud to instill some urgency in my exhausted muscles. Part of me is sobbing for the forty-three boys and girls who perished today. Only I will make it back alive. The knot in my throat blocks all words that try to escape.
“Congratulations,” the previous Birdman shouts at me, as people surge ahead. I’m lifted on shoulders, patted on my cheeks. Bowls with fruit and grains appear out of nowhere. I cannot take them; the drought will strike us in a couple of months, with wrath. I’m their Birdman now; I must lead by example.
“You made it,” my mother cries, hugging me.
I see you sobbing, acknowledging that in your time I didn’t survive. The only reason I’m alive is because I took a free ride on your death and the deaths of five other versions of me. I want to tell you that your death wasn’t in vain, but you know it already.
How could you not? You are me... my recurrence from 1722. This year, 20547, should feel alien to you, but it doesn’t; it’s identical to your time.
The Spaniards will try to invade us later this year. Yet for the first time in twenty thousand years, I have the chance to change history. Somehow I retained the genetic memory of all the other cycles of the wheel of time. The history repeats itself, like a broken record, generating iteration after iteration of identical events. Don’t ask me what happens every few millennia, when the past is wiped out. I don’t know. What I know is that very few people are born with this memory: the prophets and the psychics.
I laugh, impervious to my mom’s shocked face. We are nothing but genetic anomalies trying to break the incessant cycle of history.
Who knows, perhaps MakeMake — not the God, but the dwarf planet up there on the firmament — will help me against the invaders. I keep rambling, as you stare, more confused. Right now, I’d do anything to prevent your mind from reliving the horror of Afi’s death. At least you didn’t know that he would die. I lived my entire life knowing that my love would perish in front of my eyes, while I watched helplessly.
That is the price of remembering.
I haven’t suffered through this torment for glory, or for my family, or even for you. I have done it so that there will be something more left of our people, not only 887 moai looking at the future with sad eyes. I think I have a chance. The Spaniards will come later this year but, for the first time in twenty millennia, I’m ready to thwart their plans.
Copyright © 2017 by Andreea Daia