The Strength of Water


Eighteen-year-old Tai returns to the Maori community where his grandfather once lived, marked as the same bad apple by most of the residents. But the Kaneha family treats the stranger as one of their own, and he enjoys the stories told by the nine-year-old twins, Kimi and Melody, of patu paiarehe (fairy people) and chicken savers. In fact, Tai’s just starting to think that this time, in this place, things can be different when it all goes wrong.

It is dark in the freezer. Tai keeps telling Melody not to cry. They are only going to hide for a little while. Until the dog leaves. So she zips her mouth shut and stays as small and quiet as she can. Then the barking stops, and Tai pushes on the lid, but the freezer is locked. The last thing Melody thinks about is Kimi.

Kimi thinks it’s Tai’s fault his twin sister died. He doesn’t know what he’ll do without her. But he shouldn’t worry; she’s still around, singing loud and flat and bossing him around. But things are different now that she’s dead. She’s as thin as a wafer and so light she can sit on top of the eggs they distribute to their neighbors. To stop her from disappearing, Kimi has to eat twice as much as before.

Tirea is Kimi’s friend. Abandoned by her parents, she is listless, rebellious, and intrigued by the outcast Tai. A besotted Kimi tells her a story about her beginnings: “Your Mum and Dad are patu paiarehe, and they live up the mountain. They’re scared you’ll be trapped here and turned into nothing.”

Tai’s used to being hated. Being loved is harder to take. And that’s why, when Tirea tells him that he’s bathed in light, he’s totally rocked. In turn he shows her a way out. If she climbs high enough up the mountain, she’ll see that the world is just a medium-sized place. If you lose someone you love, you’ll find him or her again. Just believe it.

As Melody disappears, Kimi learns the hard way to stand as a twin alone. Aided by Tirea, he saves Melody’s much-loved hen from the chopping block and, as he throws the bird from the cliff to freedom, is finally ready to tell his sister good-bye.

Kimi has been crying for a long time now, and something has changed inside. Melody’s gone, but he can still hear her singing—with a voice that sounds like water, wind, and sometimes even fire. And as he makes his way along the beach to where his Mum and Dad and sisters and brothers wait, he understands that what is gone is not lost.

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