Chapter 3: Feeling ok

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"Come and play!" nagged Rolin while tugging on the seams of Kalisa's tunic. "We want to show you something!"

"Hush," said Kalisa while pushing back Rolin and Losina. "I want to watch the ritual."

"Again?" Losina kicked a stone down the hill where twelve men were standing in a circle holding hands. "What are they doing anyway? Dancing?"

"kalama li kala mu li kala ma a a a", Kalisa said dryly to her three years younger companions. The sound is a fish that says blub, a fish on the land, ha ha ha. The group just started the first round. In unison they chanted familiar words, "musiii, sunooo, lipuuu" all ending in long stretched out vowels.

Then one of the group members took charge and yelled out the word for good: "ponaaa!" In chorus, the others joined in and everyone held their a's as long as possible.

Kalisa knew that the a sound was the purest. This first round reminded them that the other sounds existed but were inferior. The first four people that gasped for air broke out of the circle and huddled in the center.

While the eight remaining contestants refilled their lungs, the four dropouts strolled in circles, cooing soft and loud mu! sounds. From where Kalisa stood, they resembled cattle in a circular meadow mooing softly. While technically the losers of the game, Kalisa felt that the inner group was protected by the outer group. Their mu's served as a distraction to the remaining contestants in their task of yelling out their a's.

"But we found a really strange ball, buried in the ground." Rolin tried again. "Please come with us, we want to show you."

"Isn't it your turn to bring old Kopa her soup?" Kalisa said.

"Already did that," said Rolin. "So then you're coming with us, now?" He looked up, hopeful.

"Later," Kalisa said. "I have an idea. Watch."

Kalisa ran down the hill and jumped right into the circle of eight contestants and bouncing against Tomi's side. He flinched but then refilled his lungs and called out "tawaaa!" Kalisa and the seven men joined in while the inner four mu-ed amusingly.

Again four people gave up and joined the central herd one by one. Tomi was one of those. He had watched an inner player raise an eyebrow and demand "mu?" Tomi lost his breath and coughed with laughter. Now the group of dropouts was larger than the remaining four winners. Even with Kalisa as stowaway, the outer circle could not hold the eight large men in the center. The cattle bursted out of their meadow and sat in an even larger circle.

The protected became the protectors. The crucial third round began. This time the word they had to say was always kalama, meaning sound.

Even though the stress of all words is on the first syllable, by stretching out the final syllable ma, it still sounded very similar to kala ma, meaning land-fish. This silly mishap never failed to create a joyful mood with all the participants of the game.

In this last round, the remaining contestants took turns in saying their a's. Wawa went first. He drew a deep breath. Waited a moment and then called out kala-maaa. The whole group smiled. They couldn't help it. But then, just as automatic, they closed their eyes and listened closely.

Kalisa who had been copying everyone, did the same. To her untrained ear, the sound was simply that. But to the trained player of the game, the quality of the a's revealed the soul of the singer. Every unhappy thought could be detected. Every fear, sorrow, sadness, tiredness, or malady would find its way as distinct quivers into the timbre of the long a. When Wawa was done, nothing had to be said. Everybody had heard all that was needed. Wawa's sound was impeccable. Then, the other three took their turns. There was some hesitation in the first, an anxiety in the next, and a bit of tiredness in the last. It was met with silent sympathy from the group.

The only girl in the group, Kalisa, ignorant of this crucial silent judging phase, took her chances. She jumped up and while spinning around on the sand yelled out "You forgot about me! kala-maaa!"

Everybody shook up from their concentration. Kalisa had hijacked rituals a few times before and had come to love the attention and laughter that she would usually get. This time, however, there was no laughter. And what was worse, they all stared at Wawa, Kalisa's father. A long awkward silence ensued, in which Kalisa felt even more lost in her grip on the deeper meanings of all these wonderful beach practices.

Then, the mood became joyful again and the entire group starting lifting up Wawa. He was the winner of today's game which meant he would not have to play for a while. But first, he was carried towards the ocean and thrown into it, just like that.

Wawa was declared the healthiest and happiest of them all. And so it was Kalisa's father's task to lead the next fishing expedition and bring fish onto the land, kala ma.

From the calm bay waters, surrounded by the abundance of nature, the sad eyes of Wawa pierced back through a curtain of cheering islanders at Kalisa.


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