Chapter 13: The Imposter

“Aren’t you coming in?” Puaura called.

Ahio shook his head. “Nah. I don’t feel much like swimming.”

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Puaura frowned. “You never feel like swimming anymore.” It was true. Back on the island, she and Ahio had practically lived in the water, windsurfing and scuba diving and just floating, warm and lazy together in the sunshine. But now, he always had an excuse as to why he could not join her. The pools in San Florian used too much chlorine. The weather wasn’t warm enough. He’d forgotten his swimsuit.

“Okay fine. I’ll swim.” Ahio heaved a sigh. Then he stripped to his swim trunks and slid into the pool. For a moment, Puaura’s heart soared. Maybe now, they would splash and race about, teasing each other like they used to. But Ahio never left the side of the pool, where he held onto the edge, his face as nervous as that of a brand-new swimmer.

What had happened to him?

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Swimming wasn’t the only strange thing. He was so changed, in every possible way. Although he insisted that they go to church each week, he only listened quietly during the mass, then seemed impatient to get home afterward. Her Ahio, who had always been so outgoing and friendly, barely even smiled at the townspeople, let alone engage in conversation. He was happy to save them from their burning houses, but he did not want to get to know anyone.

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He had changed in another way, too – a way that hurt Puaura deeply. Before they had gotten married, they had loved to discuss their future children. Puaura wanted a big family. Four, maybe five children. Ahio wanted six. At least. He couldn’t wait to become a father. But now, it was like he could not even bear the subject of babies.

“Absolutely not,” he had said during their most recent argument about it. “Maybe we will have a kid. One day. Like maybe in ten years.”

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“Ten years!” Puaura could not keep the dismay from her voice.

“Look,” he said, softening his voice, “if you need something to care for, we could, I don’t know, adopt a dog or something.”

Puaura didn’t speak to him for two days after that.

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She was trying so hard to love him. She was doing everything that a good wife should do to make him happy. But Ahio never seemed to be happy. He had a constant frown imbedded in his face, like he had swallowed something bitter. She wanted to help him, but she didn’t know how.

Then the phone call came. Puaura was overjoyed to hear her mother’s voice on the line. They spoke once per month, but sometimes the time seemed to stretch too long in between. But her joy was short lived. carnie life (56) carnie life (61)

“I’m very ill, little Po,” said her mother in a weak voice. “The doctor has told me that I may have only a month or two left to live.” Puaura, choking on her sobs, promised to return to the island right away.

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“That is out of the question,” said Ahio.

Puaura’s mouth dropped. “Did you not hear what I said? My mother is dying! I have to go to her. We must leave right away!”

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Ahio looked tortured, like some sort of battle was raging inside him. Then, in a slow, toneless voice, he said, “You may go to visit your mother. But I can’t come with you.”

“Why not? What do you mean you can’t come?” She reached out to grab his arm, but he pulled away.

“I can’t come, because I am not Ahio Kaho,” he said.

Puaura couldn’t speak. She felt as though the room were spinning. Something was very, very wrong.

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He repeated himself. “I am not Ahio. Do you understand? I was granted a youthful wish by Tangaroa. I asked to become a man, and he gave me Ahio’s body. Now I am him, with the body of a man.”

Puaura couldn’t catch her breath. Her husband was sick, too. He was raving like a lunatic. “Then where is my Ahio?” she asked carefully.

Ahio grinned, which made him look suddenly sinister. “Your Ahio,” he said, “is a fish.”

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