Aya and the Cat
Innisri is a strange place. We’re the Republic’s most western island. Population 1,056. Twenty miles from the mainland. Economic output: fish. Lots of it.
Small we may be, but our fishing fleet hauls nearly a fifth of all the Republic fish stocks. Impressive, for a population of a thousand or so.
School life, teenage life, is typical. Bar our frontier lifestyle, there exists little mystery in our daily life. There are no mystic dragons, pseudo aliens, quirky time travellers, manic Gods, lustful demons or magical harems. Where what little majesty exists comes in with the black storm clouds that God often hangs from the horizon.
We are, in essence, a land that significance forgot. And for that we are thankful.
We’re not mainlanders.
We want to Brexit from them.
But my daily adventures across the windswept fields and down the ivory coast, lend little to the crux of this story. As I wandered headphones stuffed in part protection and part warmth from the eastern wind, I paid little attention to the sea lions roaring from the pier. Duffle jacket close to my craw, leather boots stuffed with two layers of socks, and school jumper replaced with a red hoodie I was under siege from the cold.
Innisri bares a hardy climate. And so, its citizens are in reflection resilient. My hands are rough from stone and fish nets, though the requirement for my generation to become greenhorns has subsided due to mainlander pressure. I think the logic behind banning our fishermen from using teenagers as crew supplements was all well intended; I actually don’t care for the taste of saltwater.
Given that as rule of thumb mainlanders are not as strong as us, I can see why banning their teenagers from working underage is in their best interest.
Then again, there is a difference between hauling fish and stacking shelves.
Coming to narrow ravine where the green hillocks rise and the sandy shore dips low, I see the vast blueness and rest a while. Interwoven between the ocean are shards of a grey rock; péist teeth we call them. From the sky the form the image of a serpent’s mouth open and wide, receiving the fishing fleet and protecting it from the Mana; Ocean Sprites to use the common tongue. The local ferry has to navigate this network of razor-sharp stone every day and if it wasn’t for the brilliance of the Ferryman supplies would rapidly dwindle. He’s a queer fellow with a beard as long as the story on his tongue. Some say he hasn’t told the same tale twice. Others grumble that he has…just that we’ve forgotten about them there’s so many.
Whatever the case, the Parish Council tolerates him as long as he doesn’t mention anything that would upset God/ for if that were to happen…well, hell hath no fury than a woman scorned as they say. Though the less said about the Prime Minister the better.
By God, we’ve heard enough of her already.
In my thoughts, a fleeting floater of a thought rapped my memory and I glanced at my phone. Half past Eight. School would start at nine bells, and I could see the white tipped building glimmer next to the lighthouse just o’er the harbour, so no bother arriving late.
Expect there was a problem.
Along the gravel path lies a tall, black tar, weather beaten electricity poll that stands in uniform segregation from its brethren along the coast. It’s a humble poll; a lovely poll that never had wished harm or had transgressed against any, human, dog, or sheep, who had rested awhile beside it.
Yet, this day, standing atop the narrow zenith, as bold as brass and as brass as bold, was a girl.
I looked at her.
She looked at me.
A small voice inside my head happened to say, “Run,” another “Wait, maybe this is the beginning of some Romantic comedy” Several others muttered, “So much for gravity,” and “Odd place for breakfast.” One even dared reason, “…I’ve seen this before on telly. Yes, next: the fire nation attacks.”
But my feet, powerless due to the Greek chorus signing loudly in my ears, stayed firmly attached to my native home.
No surrender! This land was soaked in the blood of fallen republicans and I dare not yield.
I mustn’t…well, until pub opens, I guess.
She was gazing down at me, interested, like a raven perched above a chamber door prised to torture some forgotten bachelor to madness.
Again, I tried to deny the suchness of reality. Tried to turn away and unlike the great charge of the light brigade throw a finger up to my major commander super general and turn tail back to Kiev. But I would not move.
Was this faith?
Oh, God it was faith wasn’t it. This was meant to happen. Like the coming of the seasons this paradoxical, destined phalanx of reality had speared me. Trapped. Hoodwinked. Interned
Oh, God, Allah, Buddha, Niztche,! Heck, I’d even ride shotgun with the devil. Anyone. Just save me.
But it was useless. If God could answer my prayers then I would have power over God, and unlike some people, my ego couldn’t take that.
So, I raised up my head and said.
She jumped and with an impressive backflip landed beside me.
“Isn’t it just,” she said, smiling as her hair was tossed by the shore’s manic breeze.
“The ferry’s o’er there,” I pointed, “If you’re lost.”
“I am not.”
“I’m actually looking for something,” she said, looking aside and across the green and stone landscape, “My name is Aya.”
“Cathal. Most people call me Cat.”
She cocked her head, “Akai neko?”
“Nothing, nothing,” she shook her head, “Never mind.”
She didn’t hail from the republic that was certain, though her accent was notably neutral though its considerable flux was peculiar sounding in common tongue. It wasn’t her first language, but her mastery over it impressed an image of several years of learning onto my mind that I could barely hold a candle to.
She was shorter than me, but not by much. Hair black as a Morrígan, slender she was, but I guess you could say curvy in others. Though she was wrapped up in a red duffle jacket and long pants, it was not difficult to see that she was no witch. Indeed, quite the opposite in fact.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“Strange? Like the sheep?”
“Anything other than sheep?”
“Really,” she frowned, “That’s weird.”
“We don’t do weird.”
“What do you do?”
“God,” it was my turn to furrow my brow, “I think. What about you?”
“We have shrines where I come from.”
“Shrines. Yeah, we have them too.”
“You visit them often?”
“No. But tourists do.”
“We argue about whether they were a kind of fertility symbol or a really big grave.”
“Not much choice in that.”
“We’re a simple folk,” I shrug, “Best thing that comes out of the Republic is second rate musicians who invade other people’s countries with their opinions.”
“Doesn’t sound like a good thing.”
“I said it was the best thing.”
“Because, unlike other countries, we can get rid of them.”
“That’s outsourcing, right?”
“Yes. It’s how we deal with people we don’t like. We make them appear popular. Give them a medal, a degree, and a night-time TV show, then ship em’ aboard.”
“We like to think about it as cost efficient.”
“Do they know?”
“That’s the funny part,” I sniggered, “They still think we like them. Cracks us up to no end.”
“My Father told me that Republicans have an extreme form of justice. And that’s saying something. My people were samurais.”
I had noticed the sword—I think—strapped to her back. At least that now confirmed why she had a katana stapled to her body, the obvious follow on question of “Why the hell” did she have a sword butt naked in public still, regrettably, remained unanswered.
“You’re from the East, then?”
“My Father and Mother were born there, yes. We moved to the Big Isle when I was three. Lived there ever since.”
“Sorry for the scare,” she said, nodding at the pole, “I was thinking.”
“On a pole?”
“You’d be amazed at how still the mind can become.”
“On a pole?”
“I thought I’d made that part clear.”
She had, just in every single way she had not.
“So, what’cha here for?”
“Oh,” I cocked my head, “You under cover?”
“Yes, I’d have to kill you if I told you anymore.”
“Coming from a countryman who plagues other nations with his unwanted upper classes that sounds like a compliment. Where are you going, anyway?”
“School,” I pointed over the pier, “It’s Monday, after all.”
“Really? Oh, of course,” she smacked her forehead, “Jet lag. Sorry. I thought it was still Sunday.”
“Thought you lived on the Big Isle?”
“I did. I moved back east, six months ago, to stay with my grandfather. My parents passed away last summer, you see.”
“Sorry to hear that,” my reply did justice to appear genuine, though my eyes were still rapidly flashing back and forth between her eyes and her sword reflecting the ocean waves.
“It’s fine. It’s what happens, I guess. I better let you get back on your way,” she inclined her head, “But, can I ask, if you see anything…you know…”
“Yes. That. Can you call me?”
She handed me a business card.
“My cell is on that. I don’t do social media so don’t bother looking for an email address.”
Without much ado or passing remark she turned and walked back along the path, away from the pier towards the south of the island where my village lay.
As hard ocean battered the black granite growlers and threw white spray high into the air, I pondered as the oddity of the occasion. A simple islander like me couldn’t expect to come across much in his life. A pearl heaved from some oily catch one day, maybe, but not a feline such as this perched atop an electricity pole. Then again, if this was a warning or sign from God, I certainly was not going to ignore it.
Well, until I did