“Excerpt from the Diaries of the Baht”

I take her to the canoe and we push. The wind is like knives on our throats. The animals of the sea and the air have found their holes.

On the water, we are last.

The Talking Chief has promised my wife to the red faced man, the one who’s eyes cannot stay on her face but travel up and down the brown rills of her hips and thighs. Red Face searches her body for treasures he has promised himself, but she is promised to me. We have wanted since the heated fits of youth, when we played with each other’s bodies as children do.

I had waited as her sisters were paired. It was the wait of the master at the auction house for the choice slave to come. But it was I who was scrutinized by her father. I could see he thought me too thin, too young, too ugly, but he knew I had killed the boar prince, that all sharks know me by the smell of their cousins’ teeth around my neck. Her father had moved my chin here and there and looked into my eyes. He’d found my worth.

But the Talking Chief and the red faced man have struck deals over barrels of coconut and gold. Red face wants flesh for his return to the Cape. Something to use and overpower and break. He eyes my wife. I will not allow it.

The clouds climb the sky like creeping things. Our people have gone into the huts like ants to their hills, but my wife and I bring the boat down to the river mouth. Ahead of us the storm dips its fingers into the water.

We are not alone. Two boats come, and I wonder if Red Face will bring around his ship ahead. If he does, we will be as helpless as a grounded whale. The storm comes too, and too soon. A howl rushes across the water and hits us with the force of a slap. Asa hurls her spears – the coconut tree – and her wet fire – the icy ocean water. But at whom?

A great wave rises above us. Inside, I can see the black silhouette of a striped shark. We are pushed under the burning water. Darkness. When I return, I have been drifting. Slowly, I feel the boat. I feel my wife, salt-soaked and panting hard. I wipe my eyes to look. The island lies on its back, stunned by the blow. Above us, the two faced goddess leers from the foaming darkness, but she has been kind. We take the paddles and push past the broken trees, their hearts revealed, wet sinews.

The two boats are gone. On the water, we are last.