Chapter 20: Remedies

There was something about Ahomana that tugged at Puaura. She did not remember him, but he seemed so familiar, like a childhood song whose lyrics she couldn’t quite recall.

“Did you grow up on the island?” she asked, then blushed. Of course. Tangaroa’s curse meant that he must have grown up here, just like her. “Did we go to school together? Were we once friends? Did you know Ahio?”

Ahomana’s eyes clouded over for a moment. “Not very well,” he said. Then he shook his head and smiled. “Hey, want to see some magic tricks?” He pulled out his wand and performed a few illusions. Puaura clapped in delight, her questions fading away like her fuzzy memories.

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Ahomana turned out to be a kind and patient personal aide. He cooked her meals and did most of the cleaning until she was strong enough to assist. He took her to her medical appointments, and for long strolls around the island, with his son, Tane, toddling behind.

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She fell in love with Tane – his sweet giggle and round, clear eyes. He was an adorable little boy, although his autism kept him from being able to communicate.

“I’ve tried everything,” said Ahomana in a tired voice. “We’ve seen every specialist on the island. We’ve tried some crazy diets and Mama Oriata’s herbal remedies.” He made a face.

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Puaura laughed. Another memory came flooding back – her mother, coaxing Puaura to swallow a spoonful of oily, foul-smelling brown liquid when she had a sore throat. “Mama Oriata cooked you some of her sore throat stew,” Mama had said. So Puaura had slurped it down. It tasted like a mixture of papayas and dirty socks.

Ahomana was such a good dad to Tane. Sometimes, Puaura just watched from a distance while he interacted with his little boy – playing and cuddling, and talking to Tane even though Tane could not talk back.

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Puaura could feel herself healing, growing stronger, thanks to the warm island sunshine and Ahomana’s tender care. Her legs were growing stronger, too. She had moved them on her own at physical therapy the other day.

“Soon you’ll be walking,” said Ahomana.

Puaura beamed. “Maybe not quite so soon,” she said.

One night, she wheeled her chair down to the beach, where she could watch the stars twinkle in the sky and think about her parents, whom she missed very much. But as she sat there, she noticed a pale figure in the water, gleaming in the dim moonlight. Was it Ahomana? No sooner did she wonder this than the man dove into the waves. He emerged, then dove down again. Behind him splashed a large tail, which glittered orange and gold even through the darkness.

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Puaura gasped. Impossible! But the man was still swimming, the tail splashing against the surface of the water. A mermaid! No wait…a merman. Part man, part fish.

Suddenly, the imposter Ahio’s voice drifted through her mind. Your Ahio, he’d said, is a fish.

Puaura’s heart thudded. Without thinking, she pushed up from her chair, thinking only of the merman who was now far from shore. “Ahio!” she called out, her arm outstretched toward the water. And she fell in a heap to the sand.

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Chapter 19: A Reunion of Strangers

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Doctors. Occupational therapy. Tutors. More doctors. Raising a child with autism took up nearly every moment of Ahio’s life on land. He accepted fewer and fewer gigs, and at last, decided it best to leave his career as an illusionist. He sold most of their belongings, then he packed up what was left and took Tane to live in a small, run-down beach house on a quiet side of the island.

He hired a local babysitter to watch Tane during the times when he had to be in the sea, and began to scour the newspaper, searching for work. Unfortunately, there were not many available jobs for unskilled ex-magicians or drummers. But one day, he was explaining the situation to Dr. Wu, who had stopped by the beach house to check on Tane.

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“I may be able to assist you,” said Dr. Wu. “One of my patients will be checking out from the hospital this week. She has rented a house, but she is in need of a live-in personal assistant. I’m not sure how she would feel about having a toddler around.” He cast a dubious glance at Tane, who was busy stuffing a handful of sand in his mouth. “But if you like, I can ask her.”

“Yes, that’d be great!” Tane shook the doctor’s hand. Dr. Wu called back the next day with good news. And by the end of that week, Ahio and Tane packed up their things yet again, and went to the house of the disabled patient. The patient still hadn’t arrived by the time they got there, so Ahio let himself in with the key and got Tane settled down to sleep. Shortly after, he heard noises coming from outside the door. He stepped out to investigate, then stopped still. There was the patient, a few yards away. She was seated in her wheelchair, looking out toward the ocean. Reunion (24)Reunion (25)

Ahio spoke gently as he approached the wheelchair. “Hello there. Don’t want to startle you. I’m your new assistant.” The patient didn’t turn to look at him. Ahio stopped just behind her chair. There was something so familiar about this woman – the curve of her shoulders, her long, slender neck. But it couldn’t be…could it?

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Heart hammering, he walked around to the front of the chair. Then, it was as though the sky, sea, and earth had all collided, and he was falling, falling through space, with no ground to land on. How? How was it possible that Puaura was here? After all these years, she was right in front of him – and in a wheelchair! How?

“Puaura!” He sank to the floor and buried his face in her lap. “I can’t believe it’s really you!” He lifted his face to look at her. Then he froze. Puaura was staring back at him with wide-eyed confusion.

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“Oh no,” he said. He rose to his feet, cheeks flaming. He had forgotten. Of course she did not recognize him – not in this body.

“I don’t…think I know you.” Puaura’s voice was soft, apologetic. “I’m sorry. Some of my memories are still fuzzy.”

“No, no, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…” Ahio’s voice caught in his throat. He turned away from Puaura and took a deep breath.

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“What’s your name?” asked Puaura.

Ahio forced himself to turn around and face her again. Even in a wheelchair, she was so beautiful, the way her dark eyes caught the moonlight and reflected it back. Ahio, I’m Ahio! He wanted to say. But he wasn’t Ahio anymore. At least, he wasn’t the Ahio she knew. He was like a stranger. “You can call me Ahomana,” he said, “and I am at your service.” Wiping the sadness from his face, he gave the sweeping bow of a magician.

Chapter 18: Pieces of the Puzzle

return (37)  When Puaura’s eyes first opened, she could not remember much of anything. She could not remember the accident that had landed her in the hospital. She could not remember where she lived, or even her last name. She could not even remember how to walk.

“That is not due to your memories,” Dr. Wu explained. “You suffered extensive injuries in the collision. It is possible that you may regain the use of your legs, with intense physical therapy. But it is also possible…” He paused, head tilted to one side, as though he was trying to decide whether Puaura was strong enough to hear what he had to say.

“What is it?” asked Puaura. “I may not walk again?”

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The doctor nodded. “Yes. And, well…I’m afraid that I have more unfortunate news to share with you. We’ve learned more information about your identity, and about your family. Does the name Ahio Kaho mean anything to you?”

Ahio? Puaura frowned, trying to push away the cloud that fogged her memory. Where had she heard that name? Shadowy figures danced around in her mind – people and places, but her mind could not grasp them.

“Ahio used to be your husband,” said the doctor. “The marriage was recently annulled. Ahio’s whereabouts are unknown.”

Unknown. Annulled. Husband. Small pieces of the puzzle slid into place. Puaura gasped. “My mother!” she looked up at the doctor, eyes wide. “I was on my way to visit – how is my mother?”

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Doctor Wu’s eyes filled with sympathy. “I’m afraid she passed away last month,” he said. “You were still in a coma.”

“No!” Puaura gripped the handles of her wheelchair tightly. She cried out again as a spasm of pain racked her body. Dr. Wu called for a nurse, and within minutes, Puaura was lying in bed, heavily medicated, her grief subdued for the time being.

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As the days passed, she sat in silence in her chair as memory after painful memory flooded her senses. The moment she remembered, she wished she could forget again. She tried to escape by reading, but found it hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.

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Once per day, Dr. Wu brought Puaura to another floor for physical therapy. She was grateful to escape her room and her haunted thoughts, although physical therapy was the hardest thing she had ever had to do.

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The therapist was kind, but tough. He pulled, prodded, and poked until Puaura was sore. As Puaura re-learned how to make her body move, he shouted at her to keep going, keep going, until she was ready to collapse. “You are getting there,” he assured her again and again. “You are going to walk again.”

Puaura physical therapy

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But then what? Puaura wondered. She had no husband, no family. She had not seen any of her friends in years. She could not live here in the hospital forever. But she had no home. What was she to do?

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Chapter 17: In His Own World

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Ahio had become an island sensation. Ahomana, the people called him. Ahomana the Amazing, whose magic act was like no other. He could make people disappear and reappear with the snap of finger. He could transform a glass of water into a flock of tropical birds. He could do anything.

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Well, almost anything. Ahomana the Amazing could not keep himself from transforming into a merman every twelve hours or so, and so he had to hire a nanny to care for Tane in his absence. Nor could Ahomana convince Poe to return to the islands, as she was happily performing for sold-out crowds in Australia. And, though he tried every day, Ahomana the Amazing did not have the power to stop missing Puaura. All he could do was hope that she was healthy and happy, wherever she was.

Ahio had come to accept his life sentence in the body of a merman, and was determined to make the best of it. He constantly studied magic in order to learn new tricks and keep the crowds on their toes. He loved the way people’s faces lit up with astonishment and happiness when he waved his wand and made impossible things happen.

He also studied parenting books and asked questions of other parents around the island, so that he could be a good father to Tane. But raising Tane was not easy. By the time he was two years old, it was clear that something was not quite right about him. He still did not talk. He seemed disinterested in the games, songs and things that other toddlers his age enjoyed.diagnosis (4)

“He is fussy all the time,” said his nanny with a worried look. “Maybe you should take him to see a doctor.”

Ahio brought Tane to the family doctor, who then referred him to a pediatric neurologist. The neurologist spent a long while studying Tane.

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Finally, he spoke to Ahio. “I am afraid that Tane has autism,” he said, his voice filled with sympathy. “All the classic signs are there.” Ahio, in shock, barely listened as the doctor droned on about recreational therapy, tutors, and early intervention. His little boy was autistic. He would not get to live a normal life.

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Later that day, he scooped up Tane in his arms and took him to the seashore. They stood there for a long time; two misfits listening to the waves lap against the shore, each lost in his own world. Tane (204)