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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.