Chapter Nine

It was festival time once again. There would be fish and knot tying competitions while the streets would be scattered with stalls offering crafts and decorations for the home. Practical items like fishing rods, spears and accessories, would also be on offer. And of course there would be food including delicacies and crowd favourites.

Joma had opted not to compete and instead was helping his mother with her stall. His assistance was sorely needed given the popularity of the food on offer including her precisely cut raw fish and sweet breads, which she was constantly tinkering with to find the best, most unique flavours.

It was mid-morning when Joma noticed Maria walk by. The stall was at it’s quietest before the lunchtime bustle. His mother followed Joma’s stare and insisted he go talk with his long time friend. Despite his objections, eventually he went to catch up with the girl.

“Maria, Maria!” he called as he closed in behind her. That was odd, he thought, she was not responding to his calls. He caught up and tapped her shoulder. The girl turned around sharply and said, “When were you planning on telling me about this trip?”

“Ahh…” Joma was lost for words. He had planned to tell Maria but a good opportunity never seemed to arise.

“What do you hope to find? How long will you be gone? How will you know what to do?” she rattled off these questions in quick succession almost pleading with Joma.

“I will figure it out on the way I guess. I’m going nowhere here,” Joma replied, conscious of the tears welling up in the girls eyes.

“You still don’t get it do you? You’re not going to find a magical key that makes everything clear and life easy. Life isn’t meant to be easy,” she said sternly.

Joma said nothing but looked to the ground and nodded slowly.

“And what about us?” she asked hopefully.

“What do you mean?” Joma replied clumsily.

Maria didn’t respond but gave a vacant stare, like she was looking through Joma. After a few moments, she dropped her gaze, turned and ran into the swelling crowd wiping at her eyes in the process.

“Maria, wait…” his voice trailed off.

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