"I am Moana of Motunui,
You will board my boat,
Sail across the sea,
And restore the heart of Te Fiti."
As the little girl recites the words known to everyone in all of Motunui, in all of the island nations, I find myself smiling at her enthusiasm. It's not every day the children get to perform one of their most favorite stories for visiting royalty, or so they choose to call me. I still don't feel that I am royalty, regardless of the role cast for me before I was born.
Or maybe the children are so excited because none of them ever expected to find themselves face to face with Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero of men. He does like to put on a show for the little ones. But, regardless of what he might think, Maui is not the focus of today's festivities. Not entirely.
I politely clap and smile at the children, allowing them the opportunity to continue with their reenactment of the events for which I am renowned. Maui, too. Each little face is so earnest in their concentration to get everything just right for me. They get some details wrong: Maui never tried to eat me, I never had to pull Heihei from his mouth, and Tamatoa was definitely far scarier in person than anyone could ever make him out to be. But after a thousand years, the tale is bound to have minor drifts in the telling, and I certainly cannot be on every island to verify that the tale stays true to form.
A soft touch on my back brings me from my thoughts. My hair is pushed aside by a girl no older than I was when the ocean chose me to save the world from certain death. Her chubby little finger traces the tattoo that encompasses both back and chest. The faintest eddies of power dance along my skin in its wake, and I find myself missing the one I am bound to for the rest of time.
She calls to me, heart to heart, soul to soul, and I yearn for the simple existence we share on the Mother Island. But this is the agreement we have made: for nineteen of every twenty years, I travel among the islands and descendants of Motunui, teaching and refining the ways of the next generation of wayfinders, and exploring beyond the farthest of the inhabited islands before making my way home to She who knows how to soothe the exhaustion from these old bones.
I have spent more years with Her than Gramma Tala spent with my grandfather, and yet I feel as though I have spent no time with Her at all. One year in every twenty will never be enough, but the descendants of Motunui need their greatest wayfinder to guide them, and so I suffer my loneliness in silence. Sometimes it feels as if I inherited some aspects of Te Ka when I returned that stolen heart to Te Fiti. The longer I continue this cycle, the more I wish to have the simple life that Gramma Tala had.
But this is my legacy, my gift to my people in exchange for the life Te Fiti has granted me in the sharing of our souls and hearts. As always, Motunui is my final destination before returning home to Her, and I always find it bittersweet in so many ways. My family is long since dead and returned to the sea. The children before me are distantly related to me, but they do not carry the same weight to anchor my soul as She does, not even those directly descended from my own children. Our own children. Just as I am descended from Te Fiti through my grandmother's line, so too are there children now descended through the power of love and creation shared by She and me.
One day, another will be born to pick up the mantle of master wayfinder for the descendants of Motunui, but until that day arrives, I must continue with this arrangement of only spending one in every twenty years with the other half of my soul's existence. Maui keeps me company when he can, but even I can't keep him away from whatever else it is that he does.
Again, that gentle touch on my back pulls me from the inner pathways of my mind. But there is something different this time. The child's touch isn't tentative like most who request to trace the spiral. No, this is a purposeful touch, and I can sense the reverence with which she commits the design to memory with fingertips and eyes. Turning to look over my shoulder, she gives me a bold, curious smile and I wonder if this is the same fearless expression that convinced my grandmother and the ocean that I was the one chosen to restore Te Fiti's heart and the balance of creation and destruction.
She giggles as I smile brightly at her, toddling around to settle in my lap. Her curious fingers reach for Gramma Tala's necklace, and I brace for the inevitable tug, but instead she pushes it gently aside to trace the smaller spiral over my heart. Those eddies of power race along my skin again, stronger this time, as always happens when She touches these marks of black ink. This child is special. I can feel it deep into the marrow of my bones and the salt in my blood.
Without thought of what it might look like, I let this child lead me from the main tent, guiding me down a path that I have trod more times than I can count since I was her age. The pull of the ocean, of Her, is strong now, growing more insistent with each step I take. Soon, Te Fiti, I think and wonder if my thoughts will reach Her from here. Soon I will return to Your side and rest for another year.
Pushing aside the last of the vegetation, the beach opens up before us and my little companion lets out a delighted giggle as she sees my boat. We move faster now, and she shows remarkable strength for her age. Memories of dragging my mother and grandmother around like this bubble up, making my heart ache for the loss of them once again. She climbs up to stand on the boat, then sits down cross-legged before me, and I understand the imperious command in her eyes to do the same.
I don't know how long we sit there as I tell her the story as I know it, as I have lived it. She hangs on every word I say, eyes rapt with attention. And then a delicate shell drops into her lap from above. Expecting to see Maui standing there, I am met instead with the upraised wave of water that enticed me so many years ago. The mark of Te Fiti burns over my heart as I acknowledge the ocean's choice, and I scoop her up to run out into the sand, chasing the wave as it reveals to us more shells and treasures for my young friend to choose from. She keeps the original shell presented to her, babbling happily as the ocean toys with her hair and mine. When the ocean chooses to guide us back to the shore, she waves happily and beams up at me.
The ocean has chosen, Te Fiti. I know what I must do, but soon enough, we will have our rest together for more than a year in every twenty. Soon, I will return home to You for good.
The thought of never sailing the waves again is painful, but that ache is tempered by the reminder that it will be by choice in the future, rather than familial obligation. After a thousand years, I have earned my rest with She who completes me. The descendants of Motunui will be in capable hands soon enough.