The station is a large room carved out of an outcropping at the edge of the town. A cave opening at each end allows the transport to enter and exit without having to turning around. Romo walks up behind Lea with her ticket in his hand and puts his arm around her shoulder. He gently guides her over to an empty seat.
She is still so confused and in disbelief. She probably would have just stood there staring at the blank wall. Focusing on her dad, she starts to remember long ago when she was five years old and she met him for the first time.
Romo had been dating Moana for a few months when she and Lea came into his furniture store. Not having much experience with precocious children Romo asked Lea which wardrobe she would like for her room. He expected her to want a pink one or one with flowers painted on the front. He was stunned by Lea's serious expression as she explained her fascination with a particular cabinet.
The tall wooden wardrobe was lightly stained with an intricately beautiful map carved into the front doors. The detailed map showed Communities around the globe and the trade routes that connect them. Full of confidence she told him about “all the stuff that I need to know because one day I'm going to be Queen” and it would be easier to learn if it is carved into her closet door. That moment cemented Romo's decision to ask Moana to marry him. He loved Moana and was now completely taken with her daughter.
The more time Romo spent with them, the more frustrated Lea was having to share her mom with this new guy. He worked hard to prove himself by caring for her mom and doing all the crazy and fun things dads do so much better than moms. The day they went to the beach for a vacation was the day Lea decided to keep him.
Romo, Moana and Lea swam to the shore of an island several kilometers from their community. They ate lunch on the white sands under the shade of a large bush polka dotted in orange tropical flowers. After eating, Lea wanted to climb a large tree growing on a small hill a short distance from the shore. Romo offered to climb with her and Lea reluctantly agreed even though she secretly hoped he wouldn't be a good tree climber and would leave her alone. As it turned out Romo was an excellent tree climber. Up the rough trunk they went rose, much higher than Lea could have gone by herself.
Moana called up to them to be careful. Lea knew it was her mom's signal that she should stop climbing, even though her mom would never say so out loud. Mom's never let kids do anything exciting or adventurous because they worry about them all the time. Romo heard her, but called down that they were fine and would come down in a little while. Lea waited for her mom to overrule him, but when she didn't Lea smiled and they continued up the tree hanging high above the blue and white foamy waves.
A few minutes later, they carefully balanced on the highest branches that would still support them. Romo pointed out all the animals living along the shore and in the shallows. He explained why the waves rose and broke they way they did. He showed her the curving path of a riptide rolling away from the sand out to deep water. Then he helped her descend branch by branch back into the waiting arms of her mom.
He has been her dad for almost seven years. Instead of choosing a new last name to start a new family like couples usually do, Romo accepted the royal Ariki name and forever became a part of their family. Now with her 5 year old brother and 4 year old sister they are a complete family.
A family she was leaving behind, to travel half way around the globe, to escape something she doesn't even understand.
“Lea, there is something important you need to know before you leave,” Romo's voice is calm and steady, but his uncomfortable squirm tells her there is still more he hasn't told her.
A small water spider makes his way down a silken line in the corner preparing to make his web and catch his dinner. Thoughts flash through Lea's mind as she wonders what in the world her dad could be this uncomfortable about. She smiles as she considers the last uncomfortable conversation she had with her parents.
“This isn't another 'where do babies come from' conversation is it?” Lea teases, desperate to make the conversation less stressful. He actually laughs a little in response to her joke. The tension breaks in his face, his tone of voice suddenly becomes bearable.
“As Queen of the Community your mom knows certain secrets, things we don't share with the rest of the population,” he pauses while she considers this information. “Even the adults in our Community don't know the truth. Only a few citizens who have special responsibilities have ever been told.”
Lea's forehead wrinkles as she considers what he's saying. He searches for more words but can't think of what to say next. From a small bag slung over his shoulder, he pulls out an old book. She can see the red cover of the children's stories her mom read to her when she was little. On the front is a drawing of a young girl swimming away from a Land People boat, it nearly hits her as she escapes below it.
All of the stories in it's illustrated pages are tales about imaginary people who live on land but attempt to travel around the world above the water. Some of these stories end with the poor land people dying, usually they drown. The really fanciful stories are about their lives on land. Strange buildings, animals, and plants that are clearly the stuff of bedtime stories and nothing more.
Occasionally, there have been people in the Community who claim to have seen Land People. These sightings are usually dismissed as crazy imaginations of a confused person. The human mind is amazing in it's ability to convince itself that something it has seen can't possibly be true. Usually people will decide on their own that they haven't really seen what they thought they saw. It's just logical that there must be a more rational explanation.
“Lea,” her dad is almost whispering as he glances at a family waiting at the other side of the station, “Land People actually exist.”
She bursts out laughing at the lengths her dad will go to stop her from worrying. The idea of Land People is totally ridiculous. People can't live without water. The sun would burn their skin and damage their eyes. If they did exist wouldn't we know about them? The idea of it is just silly.
Strangely, her dad isn't laughing. He can't possibly be serious? Lea suddenly feels even more uncomfortable than her dad looks. She might almost prefer anything rather than the look of insistence in her dad's eyes.
“For real?” she manages to squeak out still not sure how she should respond.
“For real; very, very real” dad assures her, “Your cousin does not live in Catalina. She actually lives near by in a place called California in a large city named Seal Beach. You need to be prepared for what you are going to see and learn.” The words slip out of his mouth one at a time, slowly so Lea will listen carefully.
“Malina lives ON LAND,” he blurts out, unable to think of a better way to say it. His dark eyes stare into hers to make sure she knows he is serious. Lea wants to smile, to laugh, to show she understands the joke, but can't get past the look on her dad's face.
Her dad always loves jokes and getting her to believe strange stories before he lets on they are only a tease. Land People are real?...next he will be telling me there are beings who travel from other stars or magical people that live in the center of the earth.
“People can't live on land,” Lea wrinkles her brow in confusion, “how would they possibly survive without the water? Without the salt they would bloat up like puffer fish. You mean she visits the land, like we visit the beach or the islands.”
“No, she lives on land, all the time.” He sees a light of understanding in her eyes so he continues. “You can never share this with anyone. You can never tell anyone what you experience in the time you are there. The law of our community is that anyone who chooses to live with the Terrans, land people, cannot return to live with us. The chance for exposure to them or us is too great. Obviously we will make an exception when you return as long as you never share what you have learned.”
At those words Lea bursts out laughing, the stress of the moment is a little too much for her. The sound of her laughter draws the attention of the other people in the station and Romo looks at them hoping to see that they did not actually hear any of the conversation.
Romo glances again at the spider, oblivious to what is going on, still making his web between the wall and the closest bench. His voice is calm and patient as he tries to quiet her down and continue convincing her he is telling the truth.
Knowing he only has little time to explain, Romo hands her the book of bed time stories. Her mind shifts through the tales of strange people traveling in wooden transports floating above the water. Some of them are fanciful tales, others are full of dangerous Terrans, Land People, who attack Mermans without warning and demolish their Communities.
These stories usually involve a super hero who steps up to save the Mermans after a suspenseful and destructive battle. None of them are realistic and no one would dream of believing they are real. Lea jumps as the agent announces the transport has arrived and after the arriving passengers have disembarked she and the few others that are traveling will be able to take their seats.
“Lea, you must believe me. I don't have time to explain all the details. I need you to trust me, think about it. Most important, you must keep it a secret. You must never tell any of our people. Even more surprising though is that the Terrans don't know we exist either. You won't be able to tell any of them about us.”
She stops dead in her tracks. “How is that possible?” Two civilizations living together on one planet neither knowing the other lives there too.
Romo grabs her bag and walks to the line beginning to form to get on board. He stores her bag underneath in the luggage compartment and hugs Lea tightly.
“Be careful. We love you. Malina will take care of you, listen to her and behave,” Romo's last words bring tears to her eyes. She will miss her family even though they are annoying a lot of the time.
Lea steps inside the empty transport. Glancing at the reclining seats lining both walls, Lea realizes it is empty except for a teenage boy. He looks to be only a couple years older than Lea and he is slumped in the back seat as if he doesn't want anyone to notice him. His clothes are slightly worn and he looks tired as he raises his eyes briefly and then hides them again when he notices her noticing him.
Lea takes a seat toward the back so she can have some privacy to think over everything her dad told her. A mom and two kids come in next. The mom arms are piled high with bags and toys for the long journey. The two little boys are already climbing the seats and jumping from one to another pretending the floor is lava and they will be turned into stone if they touch it. The mom smiles at Lea, introduces herself as Ani and explains that they are moving to live with her sister in Hawaiki.
Ani convinces the boys to stay in one seat so the imaginary sharks don't eat them as two more passengers come aboard. Two young men are traveling to Molokai University in the east Pacific community. They sit a few seats in front of Ani and her little boys.
The last passenger aboard is the wise old woman, Lorelei. She greets the conductor Bane. As he throws his long hair over his shoulder Lea can better see the traditional spiral and wave tattoo around his eyes and cheeks. Lorelei asks about his wife and his kids. Next, she congratulates the young men on starting another year at school and asks about their parents and their courses of study. Lorelei stops to talk to Ani and pulls candy out of her large bag to bribe the boys into behaving for their mom.
Lorelei smiles at Lea, “I'm glad you were able to make it aboard. With such a rush I thought you might not make it in time.” Lorelei picks a seat one row ahead of Lea against the opposite wall leaving Lea to wonder how she could possibly know what is going on. Lorelei sits down, opens her bag and pulls out a ball of fuzzy thread to knit. Lea puzzles how much Lorelei knows, probably more than Lea knows herself seeing her parents didn't even tell her why she is leaving.
With a small shudder the transport starts its undulating motion. Small bubbles rush past the mirrored windows as the station slips behind them. Lea turns to watch her dad leaning against the wall and waving good bye until she can no longer see him, then she sits back in her seat and listens to her music on the recording sphere. Lea pushes away the guilt that she should read the children's stories by flooding her mind with songs instead and sits back to relax.