From Misfortune, A Voyage

It was misfortune that gave birth to the idea—that idle notion that would carry me away from family, tribe, and the nostalgic shores of Ato.

In the wake of the tempest season, that period of lustful liaison between Sky and Sea, the men of Ato would skim their canoes over the reef. It was then that the deep fish mated on the shoals, fat and succulent beneath their resplendent orange-white scales. Nets would tear on jagged coral; instead, we pierced the water with spear and trident, thrusting with hearty cries of ‘Ora!’

At times, fitful Sky would thunder in the aftermath of his lovemaking. During those temperamental evenings, we would race the tide to the shore and huddle beneath broad leaves until the clouds released their embrace. On one such afternoon, Etiki the Younger misjudged the current and beached his canoe on a cruel curve of jeweled coral.

The men on the shore, myself included, waded out to help. We trod the barely-visible path of rough coral, every two steps pausing to brace ourselves against the rush and ebb of tide. We lined ourselves, a half dozen on either side, and hugged the canoe with our salt-slippery arms. We heaved and we swore and we shouted, but Sea would not relinquish her prize. By the time clouds parted to rosy dusk, we were sprawled, defeated, on the beach, nursing the cut soles of our feet.

Etiki the Younger was despondent. He stood alone, thigh-deep in water, watching the canoe carved by his family slowly subsumed in tide.

Moved, perhaps, by his solitary silence—or, more likely, annoyed by our defeat at the hands of willful Sea—I stood and beat the wet sand off my thighs. “Brother,” I said, addressing my older cousin Tiantu, “help me bring your canoe next to mine.”

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Juan Paulo Rafols

Juan Paulo Rafols spends his daytime hours as a lawyer. To atone for this, he occasionally writes, does volunteer work, and refrains from stabbing his relatives. As an itinerant traveler, he has found a commonality linking all locations. No matter where you go, you can always carry a book with you.

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