She was gone.
One day, Ahio had been the happiest man alive. He’d had friends, parents who loved him, and a comfortable home. Best of all, he was about to marry the most wonderful woman in the world. Puaura was the love of his life, and, as corny at it sounded, his best friend, his better half. But by some cruel trick of the gods, a man had stolen his body, his life, and his bride-to-be. And Ahio, transformed into a monster and banished to the sea, watched the couple slip away during the night on waves as calm as glass.
Gone. Perhaps forever.
For the first year after Puaura and the imposter fled the island, Ahio wished that he could die. He wished that the great Pahuanui would appear from the depths and swallow him whole. There was nothing left for him. But he did not die. Instead, he passed day after day below the surface of the sea, seeing things he had never known existed. He glided through great forests of kelp and learned to find pleasure in small things, like the way glittering schools of tiny fish would dart to one side, creating a path for him as he swam by. He found strange fish, colorful stones, and beautiful, discarded shells, hidden in places where ordinary humans would not think to look. He always kept his eyes open for other humans – staying out of sight so that no one would discover him. He also kept a constant eye out for the mysterious treasure of Rongo, holding onto the impossible hope that, if he were to find the treasure, then Puaura would return to him.
It was a lonely existence. As he was neither fully man nor fully fish, he could not live forever on land or in the sea, but was doomed to live a half-life, switching from one habitat to the other. His times on land were the hardest, as he had no home, no job, and no money to buy food. He often wandered over to Carnival Taonga. He did not know why he found the carnival so appealing. Perhaps it was because the carnies were such unusual people, and he now felt most at home among freaks. Or perhaps it was because he was drawn to the mouthwatering smells of popcorn and cotton candy, which wafted through the air and made his empty stomach growl.
He did not think that anyone noticed him as he tried to blend with the crowd of carnival-goers, but someone did. One day, while he was sleeping on a bench behind the big tent, a popular young acrobat, whom everyone called Princess Poe, noticed him. She was there when he opened his eyes, a wide, warm smile on her face.
“Do I know you?” she asked. “What is your name?”
“Ahio,” he answered, his voice cracking from disuse.
“Well, Ahio,” she said. “Are you hungry?” He nodded, his stomach twisting sharply at the thought of food. Poe led him to a snack cart and treated him to a meal of corn dogs and popcorn.
Then she invited him to come and watch her next show, which he did. And for days after that, Ahio sought out Princess Poe whenever he was hungry, and she was always there with a smile, ready to feed him, no questions asked.