Lise ran to the edge of the water then stopped dead, immobilised by the enormity of what she was about to do.
It was an overcast but calm day and the humidity sat on her shoulders like a cloak of wet tapa cloth. She was wearing only her lavlava and her favourite shell necklace given to her by her mother for her coming of age.
Lise looked up and could see William’s schooner. His ship was one of three anchored in the harbour and fortunately, was the closest to shore. She could see men climbing the rigging and knew that they were preparing to sail which meant time was running out.
Lise turned and looked back the way she had come, to her village of Pago Pago here on the island of Tutuila. It was hidden behind a grove of coconuts and jungle, but she could see a wisp of smoke and knew her family would be sitting around the fire eating their midday meal, no doubt talking about her and her wayward ways.
If she went through with her plan, Lise knew her life would never be the same. Her father would never forgive her for the shame she would bring to him as chief of all the villages on this side of the harbour.
For as long as she could remember, Lise had gazed out to the endless blue ocean that surrounded her island home and watched the ships, with their massive billowing white sails, come and go over the horizon. She had seen the men and women disembark at the harbour dressed in their fussy clothes and talking in their confusing but fascinating languages.
Lise’s English was quite good because she had made a special effort to learn it at the mission school and from the Reverend’s son and that is how, more than two summers ago now, she had got to know William. The Captain. He had approached her one day when she sat by the harbour, dreaming and watching the setting sun, and suggested it was not really a safe place for her, a pretty young girl on her own, with many men of dubious character milling around nearby. Lise had looked at this tall, pale skinned man, with his Captain’s hat and penetrating deep blue eyes and knew straight away that he was no danger to her.
Then yesterday, as she sat in the same spot, thinking about all that had happened, William had come across her again.
‘It is you Lise, is it not?’ he had said.
Lise had turned and her tear filled eyes lit up when she recognized the captain.
‘Captain. It’s you!’
‘My, what a beautiful young lady you have become! But why so sad?’
Lise told him about the recent horrible fighting between her people and those from the villages on the other side of the harbour. They had come to try to kill her father and five of her aiga’s warriors had died. She had hidden up a tree with her little brother, covering his ears against the bloodcurdling screams of the battle, and had seen the enemy running around with the heads of those they had killed, held high by their hair. Her sister, who had just recently lost a child, had now lost her husband too.
‘It is all so unfair William. I do not want the life my sister has. I want to sail away and see other places. I don’t want to spend my life in this place running after some boy that my father may choose for me to marry’
They had talked for a long time and agreed to meet again the next morning before he sailed back to Levuka.
Returning home, Lise was met by her father and mother, furious that she had disobeyed their rules about fraternising with foreign sailors. Someone had seen her. She had been banished to their fale and told, even though she was not quite fifteen years of age, her betrothal was going to be brought forward before she damaged her reputation any further.
And so she had hatched her plan, and here she was. William would have missed her this morning and had no idea what she was up to, but it was he who had given her the idea. He had told her how it was illegal for men to take island girls away with them unless it could be proved the girls went of their own accord.
With one final look back towards her village, Lise removed her lavalava and tied it in a knot on her head to keep her long unruly black hair in place. Splashing out to deeper water, she plunged in and began to swim with all her strength and determination toward William, his schooner and a new life.