Underlined – characterization
Italicized – setting
“Makuahine,” I cry, tugging on my mother’s skirt hem. A storm is coming and Makaio is still in the surf. Momma scoops me up and makes her way down the beach to where my other little brother and sister play in the sand. The rhythm of her stride calms me. Nothing hurts me so long as I’m in her arms.
“Makaio, get your sister!” She calls as baby Kai toddles toward a growing wave. My older brother picks her up and runs toward us, grabbing Akamu on the way. Lighting strikes on the horizon and the winds pick up. Momma has to dodge scrap metal and broken pieces of plastic as she guides us off the beach and toward our things.
Grabbing a towel, she wraps me up and instructs Maki to hold the other two. The streets are getting darker with the clouds rolling in and she’s taking no chances. We twist and turn through backyards and side streets on our way back to our small hut. Dogs bark angrily as we squeeze through the hole in our fence and into our tiny backyard. I’m sat down with Akamu and Kai on the porch steps as Momma and Maki run around the house, closing shutters tight against oncoming night. She runs inside to light the wood stove while she can still see. Maki takes Akamu and Kai inside.
I feed our single hen and toddle up the tall stairs, gripping the splintery railing with my dirty hands. The neighbors are yelling again. I’d better hurry. I stretch to reach the door handle and push the old door open. The house smells like poi. My stomach growls really loud, so I look at it funny to get it to be quiet. I climb up onto a creaky stool for Momma to brush my hair after she finishes making our food.
Akamu has just dumped his chipped blocks out to play when a knock thumps on the door. Momma jumps into action, grabbing her sharpest knife from the drawer by our single sink and sneaking along the wall to the door. She stops to peer out of our one broken window before heaving a tired sigh. Thunder booms above us. Gripping the knife a little tighter, she waves at Maki to take the others and me into our sleeping room. He obeys, careful not to make the floor creak with his steps. As soon as he disappears around the corner with us, I hear the hinges squeak. “Good evening, Kealoha,” a man’s voice says, greeting my Momma.
“Why are you here?” she asks, wasting no time. Our paper-thin walls do little to muffle their conversation.
“You know why,” he replies. I hear the knife clatter onto the countertop, the stool creak as Momma sits down. I turn to Maki to find out what’s going on and he clamps a hand over my mouth, shaking his head in warning.
“I have half of it. Can’t you wait a little longer?”
“You know we can’t – they’ve no place here. You can’t take care of them,” the man answers, creaking across the floor. I disentangle myself from Maki’s arms and sneak over to my peeping hole. The man is dressed funny – in all white from head to toe – and looks way too clean to have walked here. Maybe he has a car. I want to see if he does, but it’s probably a bad idea. His hands are on the counter, a little too close to Momma for me to feel safe. “They’ll be safer with us and you know it.”
“You are not taking my babies,” she argues.
“Yes, we are and there’s nothing you can do…” the man trails off as Maki walks out of our room.
“What’s he talking about?” he squeaks. His voice gets all funny sounding when he talks lately.
“Go back,” Momma commands.
“No, tell me what’s going on!” He’s shouts.
Momma buries her face in her hands. When she lifts it back up tears stream down her face. “I don’t have enough money for you to stay here with me. I can’t take care of you. He want’s to take you to the city where there are other children. Where you’ll be safe,” she reasons, walking toward him. Maki backs up with his hands up, warding her off. I’ve never seen Momma look so sad.
“There is another way,” the strange man says. His voice gives me goose bumps.
“There is?” Momma asks in disbelief.
“The high-born have established a sort of entrance test and they’re willing to pay for subjects,” he explains. Momma must have that funny look that comes on her face when I say something silly, because he hurries to clarify. “$50,000 dollars for one child. They must be five years old.”
“Dollars?” Momma breathes. I remember her talking about the green papers, but have never seen any before. She mostly takes a handful of nasty tasting, brown-colored coins with her when she gets dressed for the marketplace. The coins go in the little bag she wears around her waist next to the strap that holds her gun. I never touch either of them since she yelled at me that one time.
“Yes, dollars. One child, and you’ll be able to give your other three the lives you never dared dream they’d have. Futures right up there with the high-born children,” the man coaxes.
“What is the test for?” Momma asks.
“It’s perfectly safe – they’re recruiting subjects in order to observe their behavior. When they’re done, the children will either be returned to you or provided with a wonderful opportunity. I’m sorry, but the rest is classified.”
“She would be safe?”
“Perfectly. Think about it. You know where to find me,” the man finishes before crossing the creaky floor and leaving, closing the door carefully behind him so as not to break it.
When I peak out of our room door, Momma is sitting on the floor with Maki standing over her. “Lani, O Hilo, get your dress and doll.”
“You’re not serious,” Maki yells, getting in front of me. “They’re crazy! You’ve seen what they’ve done to us. She’d never be the same.”
Momma sighs and stands up. “You don’t understand. It’s your only chance at really living!”
“I do understand. They’re not who you think they are. They’re not to be envied. You don’t know them like I d…” he stops, looking at the floor.
“What did you say?” Momma whispers.
“I trade for sweets, sometimes. Lani gets so hungry. You know I hate it when they cry!” Maki screams. We must sound like the neighbors right now.
“You think I don’t?”
“Then why don’t you take me with you? I hate being here alone watching them starve.”
“You promised me you’d never cross the fence. What do you have to trade with, anyway?” she demands.
Maki doesn’t answer, just looks at his feet and bites his lip. When he does respond, his voice is deep and firm, “You’re not taking her.” He leans down, picks me and locks us in our room.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I dream I’m walking with my friend. He’s tall with curly dark hair, kind eyes and skin that looks kind of like mine. We walk along the beach and he picks up brightly colored fish for me to pet before putting them back in the ocean. Strange scars peak out from the tops of his sandals. “You were made very special, Lani,” he says. I love his voice because its smooth like honey. “Don’t forget that.” He gives me a big hug and says no matter what happens to me, he won’t let go. This makes me very happy until I wake up in our dark room.
I try, but I can’t go back to sleep, so I wiggle out from under Maki’s arm and find an ant to play with. The others breathe heavy in sleep, so they don’t hear it when the lock on the door flips and Momma sneaks in. After gathering my dress, doll and hairbrush, she crawls quietly over to me and tells me to be quiet; we’re going for a walk. We never go for a walk at night, but it might be pretty after the storm. Usually it doesn’t smell so bad outside after it rains, so I take her hand and we walk down the street in front of our house.
“You know Makuahine loves you, right O Hilo?”
“Yes, Momma,” I answer, dodging the pieces of plywood that litter the street. We don’t have a flashlight, so I just use the moon.
“Good. I love you very much. You’re about to do something wonderful for us,” she tells me. We arrive at the tall fence Maki always tells me scary stories about. “Remember,” she pauses to look around before kneeling in front of me,“You are very smart and very strong. Whatever happens, I’ll be right here when you get back.” She kisses me softly on the cheek and knocks on the gate. Another white-clothed man answers and says something into a box on his shoulder.
A few minutes later the man from earlier appears and smiles. He hands Momma a brown envelope filled with something I can’t see and grabs my wrist. Fear claws at my belly, but I don’t scream. Momma told me never to say anything outside of our house because it would draw attention. I can’t stop the tears, though, and they stream down my face.
“I love you, O Hilo,” she tells me. “Be brave.”
The gate closes and I can’t see her anymore. The strange man picks me up and we walk silently into a big grey building. They send a lady in to give me new, grey-colored clothes and then we walk across a very wide street to an odd-shaped thing with big metal wings. I’m lead inside it and it rumbles off the ground. Now, I figure, it’s okay to scream. Nothing they do comforts me until we land. Maybe I’m home again! I sniffle, sucking up snot and wiping tears.
The door opens and I walk down the fold-out steps onto another wide street. Not home. No. Somewhere scarier. A big gray building with a strange circular roof looms before us, stretching out as far as I can see in any direction. We walk in and take lots of turns until I reach a grey room with a bed, a chair and a funny piece of furniture with a flat top. The woman who dressed me came with us and gives me a big cup of green juice that tastes really funny. Then she closes the door and I hear a click. “Good luck.”
* All Rights Reserved © Grace Treadaway*