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The Toki Ponist on the Mountain
Chapter 1: Kalisa

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September 2020


"Kalisa!," her mother called out from their round hut.

"jan Kalisa!".

Kalisa ran up the grassy beach dunes, flapping her arms.

"jan Kalisa o!" mother called out for the last time and then sighed. What was the rush anyway?

Kalisa ran and ran until she grew tired and fell down in the sand, glistening from the worked up sweat. She wriggled with her arms and legs and dug herself slightly into the warm sand that stuck instantly to her sweaty skin. Soon, she would take a dive. Everything was good. ale li pona. Kalisa’s skin was dark from living under the sun, but she was notably paler than the other islanders. Her hair was brown too, and if looked at with a critical eye it could be called reddish as well. She blended in well with the fine-grained pale sand.

"The birds fly slower every year," she thought, for no particular reason.

She heard sounds a bit further up the beach and rose somewhat from the sand to listen. Her interest piqued and her eyes widened. Her father would recognize those eyes. Eyes that were blue, wide and fierce. Eyes that would stare until the challenge was overcome. It was how she looked when her father challenged her, to eat something new or to solve a puzzle. She got up and rubbed some of the sand off her limbs. Then, she crawled on all fours towards the origin of the sounds. Kalisa crawled closer, slightly hidden from view but close enough to take in all that was happening on the beach ahead.

Scattered across the sand were people, grouped as duos, evenly spaced. Kalisa loved the rituals on the island, although she was still too young to participate in any of them. Life for Kalisa was still relatively simple. There was tenpo lape, time for sleeping, tenpo moku, time for eating, tenpo musi, playtime and tenpo sewi, ritual time. Sleeping time was when it was dark and usually also once when it was light. Eating time was when she was hungry or when she smelled food being prepared somewhere. Playtime was pretty much the rest of the time, and the ritual time was for the older islanders.

She pouted her lips and zeroed in on the nearest couple on the beach as if this would make it easier to eavesdrop what they were saying. She could make out Tomi and Lawa, two of the more outspoken islanders. There was always a bit of tension between those two although Kalisa never could make out what was really behind it. She squinted her eyes in a final attempt to receive every detail of the ritual.

Tomi and Lawa sat across each other with their legs crossed. There was some space between them. This distance was there for a reason. Things would soon heat up, like they always did. It was a recurring theme.

"mi moku," Tomi said slowly but deliberately. At the same time his right hand piled up a bit of sand, and with his left, he made biting gestures, as if his hand was eating up the sandpile. Lawa waited patiently, until everything was digested. He closed his eyes and turned his head slowly. It was a weird combination of nodding yes and no at the same time. He opened his eyes again.

"mi moku," Lawa said faster than Tomi but just as deliberate. His left hand mimicked the biting motion of Tomi's left as if it was continuing the digesting of the pile of sand. But then, his right hand moved in slowly and gestured eating his own left hand. I am eating, or I am food. It was one of the traditional toki pi nasin nasa. These discussions about the nature of everything cut through the inconsistencies, paradoxes, and double meanings in their language. It was one of those rituals that interested Kalisa immensely. She usually could not make out what all the fuss was about.

The other couples all whispered and they were too far away for Kalisa to hear. They appeared to be in silent meditation. Only up close you would be able to listen to the remainder of the argument. "mi moku e ni," "mi wile e ni: mi moku," "mi wile moku e ni," "mi moku e moku." Calm hand gestures, playful sandcastles, line drawings, symbols, long pauses. This went on for a good hour. And all this talk about food made them peckish. This toki pi nasin nasa about food was such an elemental one that they had heard all the possible variation, replies and had explored all possible interpretations. They had gestured all possible contexts before. It was a tradition. Traditions were good. The intentions were always pure. But that kili suwi, sweet fruit, was also pure, and real, and there would be little confusion about what they meant when they ended their ritual. mi wile e ni: mi moku e kili suwi.

A bell chimed. Tomi and Lawa stood up and kissed each other briefly on the cheeks. o toki pona! Well said. Soon the whole group was on their feet and on the move. Some were dancing, some were running. But they all seemed happy, or content at the least. And if they looked deep into their hearts, they would admit that they were glad that it was over.

Kalisa watched the group move away. Slowly, the beach was retaken by the birds, the rhythmic sound of the waves was all that could be heard. Not long after, the beach looked as if there had never been a human soul near it. She quickly jumped to her feet and ran after the group of people. "It's tenpo moku," she thought. She quickly caught up and only then she noticed her father was there too. "mami o!", she called out. Father looked around and was just in time to receive his daughter's arms around him and her legs around his waist, nearly toppling them both over. He put her down and briefly his smile disappeared.

"Just mama or mama mije, mami is not a word."

"Sure mami o!" Kalisa replied.

She grew up speaking a language that meant a lot to the islanders. For reasons she could not fully understand, it determined their identity and always seemed to play an essential role in the island rituals. Kalisa could not fully understand how it all fit together, but she felt it was the glue of their community. And it was a community that she loved, and that loved her.

"What did you discuss today, mami?"

"Dear jan Kalisa," he replied softly, "you will learn when you are ready. Why don’t you go and play with your friends?"

"My friends," she declared, "are all small kids, and I have outgrown their little games."

Father kicked his bare foot into the sand.

"Yes, about that. Your birthday is coming up soon."

"No, not now! Let's just eat some fruit."

"jan Kalisa o, you can't go on acting like it's not going to happen."

"Not now though."

Kalisa suddenly yelled out loud with a smile as if that could chase away the darkness of the topic. She dashed off to the front of the group that was closing in on a stack of the sweetest looking fruit the island had ever seen.

"Later mami!" she said just before running off with a piece of fruit.

Father sighed, slightly less contented than Kalisa's mother had some time earlier. A few minutes later, Kalisa studied her fruit in the shade of a small tree. It was green and then yellow and then red. One color ran into the other, but she could not clearly make out when the red ended, and the yellow began. ale li pona. She took a bite and let the sweetness sink in.

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