The sea lapped seductively at the hand-cut coral blocks that half-ringed the tiny harbor. The crystal water invited a lovers gaze. Stare deep and let me embrace you, it seemed to say. Even at low tide the waves soaked the top of the rocks.
Nero sat on the last block at the harbor’s end stitching together tough sacks meant to hold plastic bottles. All around him radiant sunlight shimmered off the water, yet he paid it no mind. The ocean appeared placid, but CNN said that the beginning of the end was coming, and we must be ready.
“Tara, here, take this and stuff it into an empty tire’s hollow. Then…”
“Stuff it yourself, brohah. I’m off to score more empty bottles from the market.”
Nero pointed up to high cirrus clouds lit as flames by the setting sun. “You see those? That means the beginning…”
“You see this, brohah?” Tara held up her middle finger.
“Be quick then, girl. We’ve got another week’s work and only one night to get it done.”
The young man’s finance’ strutted away, her hips swinging, flip-flops popping out her taunt. “Get your brothers to stuff your sacks,” she said over her shoulder.
Nero was part of a large island family: three brothers, two sisters, a father, and three grandparents. They lived on the south road of the city of Funafuti on the island nation of Tuvalu. Their simple life of subsistence fishermen was augmented by the ownership and sale of numerous “.tv” internet domains for which Tuvalu was famous.
The people of Funafuti had an ongoing bet as to when Nero would run out of money building his massive raft. Little did they know that his funds had dwindled out months ago with his next younger brother and sister pitching in to buy supplies.
Dita, the youngest sister, followed the path down the rocky quay. “That’s the last of the sacks. The pickle barrels are full of empty bottles and lashed tight. Every tire is filled with empty bottles, too.” She paused, waiting for Nero to look up. “And… And I’ve had enough.” Dita threw her teal-colored scarf down but grabbed it before it could drift away. “Enough of Tara telling me what to do.”
Twenty year-old Nero grabbed his tools and motioned his sister to lead the way back. “I’ll have a word. Another one, that is. You know she’s just trying to be a big sister.”
“She’s trying to be Mo’ma. And no one can be Mo’ma. Tell her to stop.”
Nero knew better. In trade he offered a compliment. “You know you’ve been my top lieutenant during this project. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Dita turned, looked up to her brother’s brown-skin face, sharper now with age, and smiled. She glanced away and looked out over the Pacific Ocean. “Tomorrow, you think?”
Nero buffed the top of her thick black hair. “Tomorrow, next month, who knows? But it’s coming. And now with those glaciers falling like dominoes.”
Dita whistled. “Imagine a tower of ice, the size of a building.” Dita moved out from under Nero’s hand and hopped onto the plywood and barrel raft that covered their entire back yard.
“Or a million of them, all falling into the sea.”
Rikki, a middle brother of fifteen, was finishing the drilling and inserting of mooring loops all over the raft; hooks to tie down supplies, tents and themselves—if ever the end would actually come. He bound the end of a length of rope to a loop and tucked the coil down inside one worn car tire; a series of them served as bumpers between raft sections. “That’s the last of the safety ropes, Nero.”
“You think we’re all set, then?”
“What? You mean set… like set sail?”
“When it comes, yeah.”
“Hell, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about launching this thing. Building it, sure. But floating on it, like it was home? No way.”
“All this time, Rikki? Shit, I thought I’d convinced you.”
“It makes sense and all. But give me a break. I never thought we’d have to, you know, use it.”
The rest of the family, all of them, arrived from around the island and began to prepare a communal meal right there on the raft. They’d used a steel barrel and built a cooking pit—split sideways, hinges welded, raised up and secured with tall bolts. Into it they loaded charcoal, a foreign commodity, lit it and divvied up the work of food preparation.
The children’s maternal grandmother, Beanie, had assumed the matriarchal lead. Nero’s father’s mother, Wahana, had accepted second string, given that Beanie’s daughter had died fighting for the rights of all Tuvalu peoples. A plane accident, flying into Papeete, had taken her life three years prior.
Beanie motioned for the youngest boy, Brannon, to fetch a lawn chair. As she sat she said, “Anderson Cooper, dat boy, he needs some island sun, him, he say dem Anti-arctic ice mountains be sliding faster ‘n faster.” She took the offered plate of roast fish, mashed taro and potato, and sliced papaya. “We already see de ocean come up and wash ‘way de chickens ‘n fence we have in de yard. How high it gonna get?”
The group took a breath and looked over to Nero. He’d been their Noah of the island, studying and reading everything available on the subject of global sea rise. He didn’t want to scare them with estimated projections, but he didn’t want to be challenged later having kept them in the dark.
He took a sip of beer from a tall bottle. “This, all this, will disappear. Tuvalu will vanish.” The old folks shook their heads and tsk’d. His brothers and sisters had already heard the story and continued eating and burping.
“What’s the island pot up to now?” Nero’s father owned dozens of yet-to-be-sold domain names. But he had sold hundreds of others over the years, keeping their family trust in a bank in Sydney.
There was no actual pot of money wagered. But there were those who boasted the most island-wealth, who challenged each other as to when Nero would have to sell his raft—and to whom.
Nero’s grandfather, a townie, coughed out a fish-bone and told them that the mayor had offered to buy Nero’s raft for ten-thousand, provided he could move it down to the mayor’s estate. Chatter began in earnest as to how much the raft had cost them. All the numbers were low.
Tara slipped onto the raft in the dark and snuck up behind Nero startling him, causing him to choke on a mouthful of beer. “It’s coming,” she said. “Cyclone Delilah they’re calling it. It’s five-hundred kilometers off, and headed right for us.”
“We’ll have tomorrow to prepare,” Nero pulled Tara onto his lap. “After that, well, I’m gonna make sure I say my good lucks and a few goodbyes to my friends.”