Rising Tide (Chapter Four)
Illustrations By Jenny Cooper
To read previous chapters go to Stories
Ari watched the hands on the clock move towards three o’clock. He knew he had to get away from school quickly if he wanted to avoid answering any more questions. It wouldn’t be long until his friends found out he hadn’t been able to help Koro after all.
The bell rang, and he leaped up from his desk and rushed out of the door. He grabbed his bag and took off across the field, heading for the alleyway that’d take him the back way home. He thought he heard Dan call his name, but he put his head down and kept running into the wind.
Halfway home, he suddenly stopped running. His face was hot and his breathing was heavy. He felt a bit dizzy. He wasn’t really ready to get home just yet. He was sure his mum would know the whole story by now.
Ari felt something hit the back of his head. He turned, reaching his fingers into the sticky mess of a too-ripe plum squished into the hair at the back of his head.
There was only one person he knew who was such a good shot, and who would throw a plum at him. He stood waiting for her to appear.
Kiri slunk out from behind a nearby tree. “Sorry, little brother. I didn’t think I could actually get you from that far away.” She was smiling like a shark.
“What do you want?” growled Ari. Kiri was the very last person he wanted to see.
“Just to talk to you about yesterday. What’s your problem, anyway?” She walked towards him.
“I just don’t want a fuss.” Ari shrugged. “I didn’t really do anything. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
“You’re acting weird, like you’re ashamed or something.”
Ari stared hard at his big sister. It felt like she already knew what had happened, and was going to enjoy making sure everyone else did too. He felt the tears prickle his eyes.
Kiri was right in front of him now and she stared back. They stood there for a minute, watching each other. Tears started to slide down Ari’s face, but he stayed completely still, looking straight back at his big sister.
Kiri stepped forward … and she wrapped her arms round her brother and held him tight.
Great, gushing sobs came out of Ari, and he could do nothing to stop them.
“Ari, I’m going to take you home,” Kiri said. “It’s going to be OK. I promise.”
Through his sobs, Ari tried to protest. He wasn’t ready to go home yet, not even with Kiri.
“Ari, any second now, half the school is going to come past,” his big sister said. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
So together they walked home. Kiri kept her arm round Ari as they walked, but she didn’t say anything else. Ari was relieved – it gave him a chance to get himself together.
Their steps fell into time with each other, and Ari concentrated on the rhythm to help steady his breathing, which was finally coming back to normal.
Kiri could tell from his breathing that he was calm enough to talk again. She softly asked what had gone wrong at their koro’s. “Why aren’t you rubbing it in about what a hero you are?” she asked.
Ari kept his steps steady, wondering if he could trust her with his secret. He didn’t know how to start telling it.
Finally, he said, “I had to give the phone to Koro … I couldn’t tell the lady how to find the street. She needed me to spell it … and I couldn’t.”
Kiri squeezed his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, Ari saw her nodding, but she said nothing and they kept walking.
The smell of rain was in the air as they went up the front steps and through the door.
“Just in time, my darlings,” called their mother, who had been watching the clouds and hoping the kids would all make it home before it started to rain. When she had collected Emmy at two o’clock, the breeze had already started to stir the leaves on the trees and clouds had begun to gather.
Now Mum was standing at the bench chopping vegetables for dinner. Ari loved that he could always imagine what his mum was doing at home, because of the predictable rhythm of her day. She had a plate of biscuits ready for their afternoon tea.
“Mum, can you come and sit down?” asked Kiri. “We need to talk to you.”
Their mother looked up. “Of course. Just give me a sec,” she said.
She put down the knife and dried her hands. Then she carried the plate of biscuits over to the kitchen table and sat down with Kiri.
“Sit down, Ari,” Kiri commanded. The soft voice she’d used on the walk home was gone, replaced with her usual bossy way of speaking. “Mum, Ari needs to talk to you, and you need to talk to him too.”
Ari’s mum looked worried. She watched Ari as he sat down.
“Are you hurt, Ari? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I’m not hurt, Mum. I’ve messed up, and I don’t know how to fix it,” Ari replied.
“My darling, there’s nothing me and your dad can’t help you fix. And, by the looks of things, Kiri wants to help too. We can even ask Ted if you want.”
At the mention of his koro’s name, Ari put his forehead on his arms, hiding his face.
His mother moved closer. She rubbed his back and made the soothing sounds she had since Ari and his sisters were babies. She looked across the table at Kiri, raising an eyebrow and asking Kiri without speaking to explain what was wrong.
“When’s Dad going to be home?” asked Kiri. “He will be able to help.”
Their mother suddenly understood. “Not for a little while, but, Ari, I think your dad is the best person for you to talk to about this. It’s not our secret to tell,” she said. “Dry your eyes, love, and have something to eat.”
“For goodness’ sake, Mum!” Kiri was on her feet now, shouting at her mother. “There’s far too much shame in this family!”
Ari lifted his head and stared in disbelief. He couldn’t believe the way Kiri was shouting at their mum, and he had no idea why.
“Keep your voice down, young lady. You’ll wake your koro.”
“Just tell him now, Mum. Please.” Kiri’s voice was quieter now, pleading, no longer able to wait for the return of her father.
At the mention of Koro, Ari stood up, his chair scraping across the lino.
“Tell me what? Mum, what is she talking about?” He stood between Kiri and his mum, looking first at one and then the other.
“I can’t, Ari, my darling. I just can’t. It’s not my secret to tell.”
“It’s all of our secret now!” Kiri was shouting again. Ari could see his mother was getting angrier and angrier with Kiri.
“Kiriana Maree McInnis, go to your room!” shouted Mum, before walking quickly away to her own bedroom.
Kiri threw her schoolbag across the kitchen floor and walked out after her mother, slamming the kitchen door in anger.
Ari stood alone in the now silent kitchen. What had he done? And what was the secret?
He wasn’t even sure he wanted to know what the secret was. His father would be home soon, and Ari didn’t think he wanted to share his secret or hear his father’s either.
He knew for certain that, at that moment, the kitchen was the last place he wanted to be. He walked out of the back door and as soon as he reached the last step he was running full tilt.
There was only one place for him to go.
Ari looped round behind his house and ducked under the trees to get to the river. It was cool and dark, and the bush was dense. He felt his body begin to relax as soon as he saw the water.
He took off his sneakers and slipped carefully into the water. He tried not to think about eels. The water felt cooler than it had on the weekend, and it was moving a bit faster than usual.
Tide’s changing, he thought.
He was so preoccupied, though, that he didn’t notice the dark clouds that were building in the sky above him.
He waded upstream and rounded the corner where there was space to scramble back up on to the bank. It was quite steep. He threw his bag ahead of him so it didn’t make him lose his balance.
Ari couldn’t help grinning when he saw his dinghy hidden behind the flax. He climbed in, sitting in the curve of its bow. He yawned suddenly and his body reminded him he’d had no lunch and not much sleep. His stomach rumbled, and he reached into his bag for his lunchbox.
It wasn’t there.
He couldn’t remember if he’d forgotten to pack it that morning, or if he’d taken it out at morning-tea break and not put it back. He reached behind the oar, and fished out the chocolate he’d stashed there a couple of Saturdays ago. It was squished and a bit soft, but still delicious, and he ate it quickly.
The wind was playing with the leaves on the flax, making them jostle and click against each other. Ari shivered. He thought about going home, but only for a moment.
Not just yet, he decided.
He curled up under the old tarp, adjusting the oar to make a tent over himself.
Drops of rain started to come through the tree canopy and landed on the tarp. They fell faster and he curled up tighter.
There was a sudden clap of thunder.
Oh well, decision made, he thought. I’m not going anywhere for a while now.
He started to whistle one of Koro’s songs to himself, but that made him feel a bit lonely.
The constant patter of the rain combined with his hunger and exhaustion meant that Ari was soon fast asleep.