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Joshua watched the fat gatekeeper being swallowed up in dust. He laughed and turned back to face the front of the truck, He was standing up in the back leaning against the cabin, the wind blowing that thick white crown of matted hair back from his proud forehead. Joshua was very happy. Triumphant. He had passed his next test. Soon he would be a warrior.

His family hooted and howled their victory into the night as the three trucks wound down the narrow track to the village. They slowed and bumped their way across a free-flowing stream, rocked and shunted their way up the bank on the far side and rolled down the hill towards the sea. Joshua felt accepted. He was the man of the moment and a great fuss was being made of him by older men who, previously, had barely noticed his existence.

The boy was used to being invisible. It was the way of little boys, to creep and scuttle, hide and overhear, thats how he learnt that he was special, years before his grandfather took him aside and told him about the light. He would lay awake, feigning the innocent sleep of the child, listening to his
grandfather speak, listening to the stories he told of a baby who cried. It had been him, he was that magic child who howled and sobbed with rage, vibrating with a strange glow, appearing and disappearing in his bed. As the cries became louder the baby would alternate between visibility and invisibility so rapidly that he just seemed to shimmer there on the blanket, a glowing electrical child from the heavens. When his mother suckled him the colour of his aura would change, move from an edgy silver to a rose pink, amber glow, a honey thick glow of enjoyment. The baby would burp with pleasure and the air around would ring and echo the satisfaction. All these things his grandfather knew were the signs of a king and the wise man understood his duty.

His life from then on should be to teach that child the art of life, the gift of many tongues. To show him how to leap and fly, to fight off doubt and demons. In the lessons were the seeds of strength, the blocks to build the tower of power, the strands to weave together. Then, the old sage knew, he must stand back, and let the boy become a man.

The way of the warrior. That was the path, To push and bribe and cajole that dalmation child out of his marked existence and into the realm of real life -to let him see the forest, to help him live in true air.

What were the five strands of the warrior? Joshua couldntt recall them all. The power to see. He remembered that one, the art of seeing the life in things by their outward luminous glow, to look inside and see their growth as a sparkling, thrusting light. Seeing was easy. He had always done it, Joshua’s struggle was to realize that nobody else could. ‘Can’t you see that colour?’ he would say to the others, ‘Can’t you see the sickness in that tree?’ And when their eyes glazed over and the blank look of man dropped over their face, then he knew that he was special, and marked and different all in one.
The power to fly. But it wasn’t really flying, Joshua thought, it was the power of thought. The power to think yourself into another place, to transport your body through space at the speed of your thoughts. The getting there wasn’t like flying. It was like being nowhere for an instant, in a featureless landscape, a barren, black place full of ancient whispers of previous events. Then, just as the creeping fear slides in to steal your heart, in an instant you are wherever you want to be. Anywhere.

Joshua didn’t really know there was a world outside the island. He was feeling especially puffed up and proud of himself because, for the first time, he had left the compound at Sulphur Bay and traveled on his thoughts all the way across the island. This was the little boys equivalent of a journey to the moon. He knew that people like the white man came from somewhere else, he even knew the names of some of these other places, but they were only names. He had no real concept of them as a reality, saw the known universe centered on his village and extending as far as the coast.

He already knew how to do that too, he flew as a baby, but in a wild, careering fashion. The infant would disappear from his cot and reappear on the other side of the floor, howling anew at his discomfort, or melt in his mother’s arms while feeding, be discovered curled up with the dogs out the back. What Joshua needed learning was control. This is what his grandfather taught him, this was the hardest lesson so far.

The power to prevail. Yes, he could do that. He knew the words to fight off fear, he knew the songs of strength, he lived his life as visible stranger, a white boy in the gloom. He lived his difference every day, felt the sticks and frights of hate, the different looking child of a Chief, a strangeness in his eye. For Joshua had perfected defiance, taken the art of defeat and turned it round, made an art form of submission and a triumph of his grief.

Now the little boy was a conquering hero, his test of strength was done. He had returned with his prize, the white man, after two nights alone in the dark. He had fought with beast and won the day, felt the strength of his force when pushed, seen the bright white light that sprang from his chest and hurled that panther away. This was manes power, the power to hurt and kill. Now he had the power of battle. He felt taller, wider, his chest expanded with pride. He was growing into a man, he felt, had passed the test his grandfather had set him, surprised himself with his win. As the truck drew to a halt outside the village his spirits soared.
They reached Sulphur Bay in clear, bright moonlight, crossed into the village through that same earthquake gate. Christopher was hurried out of the cabin, pushed to the front of the queue as the rush to be first with the latest caused a bottle-neck at the entrance. He half-expected another shudder as he jumped down, noticed some of the warriors stand back and watch as he headed inside.
The village looked completely different to Chris’ nightime eyes. There was garlanding, finely wrought flowers with petals of bamboo, cloth flags crudely stencilled with stars and stripes draped everywhere and a cardboard cut-out aeroplane sat in pride of place in the central field, those string and timber wings already drooping with a village’s expectations. Either side of the entrance was a display of weapons, bamboo guns and swords, and a framed magazine picture of General Eisenhower on a stand.

Joshua leapt from the dusty tray before any of the others, was first to bound over that wooden barrier and run toward his grandfather, jump into his arms, hugging him the way he had that panther hours ago.

‘Grandfather,’ he gasped, ‘I’ve brought him, He’s here!’

Joshua didn’t see the rigid face, the broken face of stone, wasn’t aware that things were wrong until he looked away at the rest of his family arriving in a great turmoil behind him and noticed their welcoming joy turn to mute embarrassment at the look in his grandfather’s eye. They were hushed by the grief they saw. The old soldier lowered Joshua gently to the ground and slowly knelt to face him.

‘Joshua.’ He was looking steadily in the young boy’s eye. ‘Joshua. your father is dead.’

The power to meet with death. The power of faith. Joshua suddenly remembered the last two strands. He didn’t hear the old man. He heard the words and felt a sharp stab of a kind of pain in his gut, felt his eyes watering and the slap of his grandfather’s palm on his cheek,

‘Don’t cry,’ the old man hissed. ‘A warrior never cries in front of men,’

Joshua had never known his father. That mystery presence had left his life when he was a baby and there were no memories left. Perhaps the faintest remembrance of a laugh, a touch, not more, and the lingering evidence of his personality carried on in stories round the fire. Joshua’s father had gone off the island to a another place could The America, that what he told his friends, and The America was far away. That’s all the little boy knew. That, and one more thing. He had gone to look for John Frum.

It was hard for the young boy to feel the final absence of his father in any deep way. His father was a distant presence remarked on constantly but never seen. All he knew was a sudden feeling of emptiness and shock, all he saw were the tears trembling at the edges of his grandfather’s man’s eye, all he heard then was the murmuring behind him as the old man stood up to face the assembly.

They were all still covered with war-paint, camouflage and dreams, a still-life standing en masse to hear their elder speak. Joshua’s father was a brother, an uncle, a cousin to them all and when the Chief’s simple statement rang through the silence of Sixty men, when those elegant words were done and their relative was dead to them, too, there was a renewed stillness. This time, though, it was surrounded by the shuffle of many feet as, without a word, the party broke up and the conquering heroes walked in different directions towards their huts. It was not the warrior way to show grief in front of male friends. The weeping must be done in private till the spirit was laid to rest, then, after a huge and lavish funeral and the public show of mourning, then tears could be shed in public.

Their wives awaited them, unaware, in huts of thinnest wood. It would be each warrior’s task to pass the message through their family, till the message had percolated right through the village. The Chief laid one hand on his grandson’s shoulder and gently led him away. Joshua turned and stared hard at the white man as he was ushered out of sight. It was a long, searching, puzzled look of faint recognition, as if the far edge of a great puzzle had come into view. Joshua could somehow see a connection, feel the hint of a familiar dead man about him, but it was a distant insight from his very gut and the small child didn’t understand. He was guided away to grieve a man he never knew, to howl for a life he never had, to mourn what he never owned.

Christopher was left all alone, forgotten, a solitary confused Navajo, drooped in blanket and boots, wandering the empty square. He had no idea what was going on. Again. Was this the lesson? Was he so obsessed with meaning that this whole bizarre parade of events without visible significance had been placed in front of him to teach him so? Chris needed time to think. There seemed to be a different set of rules on this island, for time, for space, for life One by one, from every hut around him, there rose the sound of weeping, a lavish keening sound of high pitched despair. The women and the men cried together in memory of a long lost friend and the noise increased, a banshee wail of common distress. He headed for a fire still burning, sat beside it and waited for the dawn. It occurred to him that he may not have been kidnapped after all.

In the blackness of the hut the Chief sat down with the boy and stared hard into his large pink eyes.

‘Your father’s spirit is in danger, boy. Do you know what I mean?’

3oshua looked back just as hard. He was trying to read the words that were written in the old man’s eyes, then find the meaning. He saw a dead man sitting very still in a strange, noisy house of steel, he saw that spirit leave. Then he heard the spectral sound of shuffling feet, the crunch of dust and rock, felt a psychic dullness, a confusion, wandering free.

‘Why, grandfather?’

‘Because he died in the air, grandson. Because he was away from his home. Because he was not on the island — because he was nowhere.’ This last word had the strength of a command, the edge of bitter lament and a sob, all in one. His grandfather’s face fell and his bottom lip trembled ferociously.

‘He died out there, Joshua,’ and his arm gestured at the world. ‘He didn’t get back.’

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