Ikan is a child in the ancient city of Sayil. He desperately wants to be an adult in the tribe, but when his coming of age arrives, will he choose acceptance or his oldest friend?
Ikan looked out over the sea. Really, it wasn’t even the sea. It was eternally flat, about as far removed as you could get from the building-high waves that crashed into the coast – the real coast – several kilometres away. The water in front of Ikan connected to the proper sea, but did that make it the same thing?
A little boy tugged on Ikan’s shirt, the highest point he could reach, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“Are you going to play chasey with us?” he whined. “You won’t be able to after tonight.”
Ikan ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately. He rose from the rounded rock he’d been sitting on.
“Of course I can. Man, I almost forgot about the ceremony. Thanks for reminding me, Chac.”
“You didn’t forget,” he said accusingly. “You’re just saying that.”
“Nah, without you, I’d have missed it! Then I’d have to wait around a whole ‘nother year before I can become a man.”
“You’re silly,” Chac replied, pulling Ikan’s shirt again.
“Speak for yourself, short stuff. Who else is playing?”
Chac lead him along the beach. To his left, water lapped gently away at the shore. On his right was the city of Sayil. It was a sprawling mass of ochre blocks, thatched roofs and bustling adults going about their daily business. Soldiers would have finished their morning training, always alert for a Myrur attack. Farmers would be taking a break from the sweltering sun overhead. Midday was the busiest time in Sayil.
Chac stopped and called over the other participants; Canul, who was even tinier than Chac, and Puch, who was forty years old. Ikan knew them both well, especially Puch. With his father spending most of his time out of the house, Puch had become something of a mentor to him. The tribe didn’t really respect him, but he had more experience than almost anyone.
Chac closed his eyes and started counting loudly from five. The others scattered, trying to find good spots to hide in.
Did the adult onlookers think it strange for a forty year old male to be playing alongside children a quarter of his age?
Puch had never completed the initiation ceremony. In the eyes of the scandalised onlookers, he was still a child. A forty-year old child.
They chased each other around until the heat became unbearable. Chac and Canul collapsed into a patch of shade while Ikan and Puch went to buy fruit.
It was warmer than normal, which meant that the queue was twice as long as it had been yesterday. The plump vendor smiled with delight as he scooped up his customer’s coins. Selling fruit wasn’t always the most profitable or respectable job, but on blistering days like this it reaped profits.
That, and you could stand in the shade.
A muscular warrior walked purposefully towards the line. Ikan and Puch lowered their eyes to the ground and let him go in front of them. Being a man – a fully-fledged member of Sayil – came with its advantages.
They had to let another half-dozen people in before they got to the front of the line. Ikan pushed a handful of bronze coins over the counter. The vendor inspected them suspiciously. After a minute of examination he eventually decided they were real. He threw them in a bucket and shoved a slice of stringy mango into Ikan’s hand.
Ikan tried to stay calm as he and Puch walked away.
“That’s ridiculous,” Puch said in an angry whisper. “You should have got a lot more than that rubbish.”
Ikan sighed, looking at the chewy sliver of mango in his hand.
“That’s never going to happen again,” Ikan vowed.
In a few hours he’d be a man. Then he’d be allowed the privilege of speaking to adults. The fruit vendor wouldn’t be able to rip him off again. He wouldn’t have to let others into the queue.
Puch seemed to know exactly what he was thinking.
“You know, it’s not all it’s made out to be,” Puch said. “Most warriors die within five years and it’s not much better for farmers.”
“Look, anything’s got to be better than not having a voice.”
Puch remained silent.
They arrived back at the beach. Ikan tore up the single slice of mango into four and handed it out to Puch, Chac and Canul, the latter wearing half of the beach in his hair.
“Thanks Ikan,” Canul squeaked, popping the fruit in his mouth.
“That’s fine,” Ikan responded, but his mind was elsewhere.
In a few hours, the ceremony would be over. He would have respect. He would be part of the tribe.