‘LOOK AT THAT,’ said Malia. ‘Special airfares to Apia, this month only.’
‘You know why?’ said Auntie Sina sharply. ‘Because it’s the rainy season, of course. Who wants to go to a tropical island and get wet?’
‘Ah,’ said Nana softly. ‘The rainy season …’
Malia smiled at her grandmother. The old lady’s eyes shone like polished coconut shell and her cheeks were as smooth as ripe mangoes. Malia knew her grandmother dreamed of returning to Samoa. She’d even saved up the fare, but now that Papa had passed on, would she ever have the courage to go back?
That afternoon Malia sat in the kitchen with Nana, drinking hot sweet tea.
‘Tell me about the rainy season, Nana,’ said Malia.
Nana gazed at the fine mat hanging on the wall, and the shine came into her eyes again.
‘The rainy season,’ she murmured. ‘Sometimes the rain starts at dawn, rippling the lagoon while the fishermen are out setting their nets. During the day it gets heavier, dripping off the banyan leaves and making puddles in the pathways. At night it’s pouring down, beating like a drum on the roof of the fale* while you’re asleep on your woven mat.’
Nana was quiet for a moment, remembering. ‘Or the day might start off warm,’ she said, ‘and then it gets so hot and steamy that you feel like you’re being cooked in the umu**. Up in the mountains the clouds gather, getting bigger and blacker until—BOOM! Down comes the rain and everything’s washed clean again.’
Nana went quiet once more.
‘Mmmm …’ she smiled. ‘The smell of that rain!’ She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, as if she could smell the rain right now.
Malia loved it when Nana talked about Samoa.
‘What does it smell like, Nana?’
The old lady squeezed her eyes shut, took another deep breath and smacked her lips as if she could taste that rain.
‘It smells of earth and plants and flowers,’ said Nana at last. ‘It smells of soil and black lava rocks, of taro and breadfruit, of teuila and frangipani flowers. It smells of home.’
‘Maybe,’ said Auntie Sina, filling the teapot. ‘But what about the floods and the fevers, and those pesky namu*** that buzz around all night, sneaking through holes in the mosquito nets and biting anyone they can find?’
‘Well,’ said Nana shortly, ‘that’s home too.’
‘Hmmmph!’ said Auntie. ‘I still say, who would want to go in the rainy season?’
* * *
The next day, Malia was walking past the travel agent when a Samoa poster caught her eye. She opened the door and went in.
‘I want to take my grandmother to Samoa,’ said Malia. ‘She has the money, but she needs someone to go with her. She hasn’t been back in over thirty years.’
‘It really is a very good deal,’ said the travel agent. ‘Children fly free! And it is just about the end of the rainy season.’
‘Nana can still remember the smell of the rainy season,’ smiled Malia.
* * *
Malia looked out the plane’s window.
She saw a jungly green island fringed by
a turquoise lagoon. Around it, a necklace of white
marked the reef and beyond that, the deep blue Pacific stretched all the way back to where they’d come from.
‘Look, Nana!’ said Malia, ‘That must be Upolu.’
‘So many coconuts,’ said Nana, looking down. ‘I’d forgotten there were so many coconuts!’
The plane banked sharply, dipped its wing and came in parallel to the lagoon. As its wheels touched the tarmac, the rain splashed down.
‘Afio mai!’ laughed Nana. ‘Welcome to the rainy season!’ Her teeth sparkled like the coral reef.
‘Malo le soifua,’ smiled an auntie as she hung a lei of fresh flowers around Malia’s neck. ‘Welcome to Samoa, and thank you for bringing your grandmother back to us.’
The smell of flowers, the people and the warm rain wrapped themselves around Malia. It was as if she were being held in a gigantic embrace. Over the top of her lei, Malia grinned at Nana. The old lady’s eyes shone back at her.
‘Fa’afetai, Malia,’ she whispered. ‘Thank you.’
*A fale is a traditional thatched hut.
**An umu is a traditional earth oven.
*** A namu is a mosquito.
Worksheet: Write an opening for an article