This story by Kayla Mackenzie-Kopp won first prize in the open category of the William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story Competition for 2017.
The judge commented: How do you make a dollar when you are a couple of kids living in Apia? It’s a simple idea brilliantly executed in this lovely short story. The language is concise and clear, the narrative moves forward at a gentle pace, the setting is drowsy and warm. The effect is we get the feeling we’ve been on the island for a long time, so much has happened in so few words. These qualities suggest a fine writer who is in complete control of their story-telling craft. ‘Business’ is really about kids being kids, but Alisi and Lome are really likeable kids too. Through them the author has superbly evoked the wonder of childhood; hunting for nests, using a pocket-knife, haggling with adults and throwing eggs at dogs. I love the names: “Alisi of the long eye lashes”, “Lome the Nonchalant”, “Alisi the Intrepid”; reminiscent of Kipling’s names in the novel “Kim”. In the end the boys make a couple of dollars and get to take an egg home each. It had been a great day, and as the last line says, it was quite simply “Good business”.
Since moving to Apia, Alisi of the long eye lashes wanted some money. He had seen how his cousins bought sweets or sugarcane sticks. They swaggered then, and the kids without any followed them, joking and pleading, hoping for a taste.
Back on Apolima, only grown-ups had money, and only for important things, like donations to the church. In Apia his mother earned money by sewing clothes, sitting cross legged on the floor. With her right hand she wound the handle to drive the sewing machine and with her left she pushed the cloth through. Alisi felt it wouldn’t be fair to ask her for money, although she could seldom resist his eye lashes.
“How do you get money?” he asked his cousin Luka.”
“My Dad gives me some when he’s in a good mood. And once I found a coin someone had dropped. Some kids sell things”.
Alisi didn’t have a dad. In spite of the long eyelashes, his father had gone to New Zealand and never come back. Alisi searched the road diligently but only found one small silver coin. When he took it to the storekeeper the man had laughed and told him it was American money and wasn’t worth anything here.
It took a while till Alisi made friends with Lome of the over-large head and shrunken body. Lome was often missing from school. He lived in the fale of an uncle who ignored him unless he was drunk. Then he kicked him. Lome lightened his heavy life by selling eggs to the palagi, and buying sweets and comics with his money. Lome said Alisi could come along with him if he wanted, so they set off to hunt for eggs.
Hens are very clever at hiding their nests. Lome the Experienced knew a few likely places, but when they parted the bushes, there were no nests there. Alisi the Apprentice thought that if he was a hen, he would want shelter from the rain, so he reached into the hole under the steps. He whipped his hand out again as it was viciously pecked. He yelled for Lome.
“Put your hand underneath her,” Lome said, ” and you can get the eggs before she pecks.” Alisi the Intrepid risked his hand again, pushing it under the feverish chest of the broody hen. He felt the eggs, smooth and hot against the goose pimples of her skin. He took hold of two of them and pulled them out, earning more pecks. But he was exultant with success, and in spite of the pain, kept at it till they had ten altogether. “Leave one under her”, Lome advised, “or she won’t go back to that place and we’ll have to start looking all over again.”
Lome carried the eggs in a loop of his lavalava, and the boys disappeared quickly into the trees before some nosey adult could claim their prize.
“We need a little basket to carry them in,” Lome said pointedly. Alisi borrowed his knife, split a coconut frond, and had one ready in moments.
They laid the cooling eggs in it and set off for Moto’otua, where lots of palagi lived. “It’s a wonder the eggs don’t cook under the hen,” Alisi said. “She was so hot.” Then an awful thought came to him. “What if the eggs have got chickens inside them already? The palagi won’t want them then.” Lome laughed.
“They won’t find out till we are out of sight,” he said.
“But then they’ll never buy eggs from us again,” Alisi objected. Lome didn’t seem worried.
The palagi houses looked large and very solid. Alisi started to feel frightened. Even Lome slowed down. Clutching the basket and standing very close together they went up the path to one of the houses, but before they reached the door an angry voice yelled,
“Hey, what are you boys doing? Get out of here.” A palagi man appeared, and the boys retreated fast.
Alisi would have given up, but Lome the Nonchalant went past a few more houses then tried again. This time they got to the back door. Lome knocked. Anxious waiting, then a palagi woman opened the door. She saw Alisi’s eye lashes and smiled. Lome wordlessly held up the basket of eggs, and when the woman asked how much, he managed to say,
“Two dollars,” and hold up two fingers.
They watched as she took the basket, got out a large basin and filled it with water.
“She’s testing if the eggs are still good”, Lome whispered. “Get ready to run”. Alisi could see that some of the eggs turned end up in the water. The palagi woman didn’t seem troubled. She simply put those ones back into the basket, gave it back to Lome, and paid for the others. They departed filled with relief and achievement.
Should they try to sell the remaining four eggs? Lome thought they should. Alisi said now they knew they weren’t good, they shouldn’t.
“But what if the palagi woman made a mistake?” objected Lome.
“We could break one and see, then we’d know. Or I could give them to my mother. She would be pleased, and if they’re bad, she wouldn’t blame me.”
“I could give them to Auntie too. But she might hit me if they’re bad.”
As they took the short cut back to Alisi’s house, a dog rushed out at them, barking ferociously. With no stone handy to throw, Lome grabbed an egg and hurled it at the snarling face. The egg splattered, the dog gave a yelp. Alisi smashed one against the retreating dog’s flank. There was no sign of chicken remains.
“Stupid palagi,” said Lome. He and Alisi were swelled with their victory. Lome gave Alisi fifty cents as his part of the deal. Alisi didn’t mention that he had been the one to find the eggs. And they each took an egg home in the hope of a loving reception. Good business.