Waya stepped onto the next rock, gripping the wooden walking stick tightly in his right hand as he moved deftly upwards. He gazed towards the solitary tree that hung over the side of the mountain a few switchbacks up. Its knurled and empty branches were twisted and worn by the wind. There he would rest.
His bare feet touched the dirt as he reached this switchback’s pathway and his toes opened slightly to grip the ground as he climbed. He felt the dirt move beneath his feet, not being crushed by his weight, but moving out of his way out of respect and settling around each of his toes, supporting his body as he walked. The earth was abundant and supportive and Waya should be thankful.
Waya had given thanks to the Creator before he began his journey; thanks that his body was healthy, thanks that he had air in his chest and strength in his legs. There wasn’t much else for Waya to be thankful for, but still he murmured quickly to the Creator as he packed his buckskin satchel full of supplies and a small amount of food. Waya stroked the softened hide of the bag now as he walked and remembered the hunt that had taken down the deer that sacrificed its life for the bag’s existence.
Honiahaka had begged to accompany him on the hunt. Waya had knelt down and looked into the dark eyes beneath the child’s furrowed brow and promised that the boy could come when he was older. Only six harvest seasons had passed since Honi had been given life by the Creator and breathe breathed into his chest by the Wind Spirit. That was much too young to join the hunters during such a dangerous activity. Honi had to stay with the other children.
“I’ll teach you how to create buckskin from the flesh of the animal when I get back, Honi. I promise.”
Honi had scowled and sprinted away to be with the other children who had gathered to see the hunters off on their journey. When Waya returned with the buck of the hunt slung across his shoulders, Honi had forgotten all about his previous abandonment and ran out to greet Waya in celebration. They spent the next moon carving the buck together, stretching the skin, curing the hide, and fashioning a full-sized satchel for Honi to use. Feeling the fur of the buckskin under his fingers now, Waya’s heart ached.
The next switchback had come and Waya began to climb these rocks. One more switchback until the tree. Waya imagined what happened as he walked. It hurt to think about but Waya needed to relive the experience that he wasn’t there to see.
It wasn’t the other boys’ fault, really. Honi had just learned to swim in the pool of water that was calm and clear. Waya was told that the other children had taunted Honi to jump in the river in the area around the bend, the area that was made furious by the recent rains. Waya could see it now: Honi’s tan skin glistening from the drops of water from the pool as the sun shone upon him. His hair, black as night, shiny from the wetness. His smooth stomach that was always impossible to keep fed with his never-ending appetite. Honi had probably shaken his head at the taunting, refusing to jump before setting his jaw in defiance and leaping in.
The river was relentless, and Waya could see clearly in his mind’s eye his son’s arms struggling to beat the river’s rapids. His hand reaching towards the sky as the water began to fill his lungs…
Waya’s throat was tight. He had reached the tree and sat beneath it, placing the satchel between his folded legs.
As he gazed over the land that lay sprawled before him, he wondered at how high he had climbed. The tightness in his throat must be from elevation and exertion and not the imagining of his son’s death. Waya closed his eyes and felt the wind move over his body. He had hoped the Spirit of the Wind would approach him, and he smiled as the Spirit tickled loose hairs from his braid.
“Oh Great One, I know I must move through this earth accepting of change. Just as the Spirit of the Wind must flow around rocks and valleys, so must I. Oh Great One, I ask that you tell me what is next. What can come from a man with no son?”
The wind died and there was silence. The loneliness of the world grew louder in his ears as he waited patiently. The silence had only grown over time that had passed since that summer day. Without the happy yells of their only child, even Honi’s mother had been unable to handle the silence. She had left him, no longer sleeping next to him and she had left even more silence in her wake. So the quiet that washed over him now was familiar; unwanted, but familiar.
Waya waited for his answer until the sun had begun to travel down towards the horizon. The Spirit of the Wind hadn’t returned and the Great One was silent. There was always silence.
Waya stood, stretching his aching legs as he rose. His eyes traveled over the land, and he saw something glittering in the distance. It glittered like the drops of water on Honi’s skin that had shone in the sun before he leapt.
He would go there. Waya placed Honi’s buckskin satchel across his shoulder, picked up his walking stick, and began to climb again.