The Oxford English Dictionary defines petrichor as “A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.”
Characters, as well as the tribe, are purely fictional, therefore any of the names written in this story have no relation to real people.
James Mack didn't like the fact that his parents traveled for work. Since he was underage, a few months short of 18, he had to go with them given his relatives weren't available. His aunt had sustained a leg injury from a recent road accident and was under the care of her husband who could thankfully work from home. Their neighbors, the Pestlemens, had gone on a family vacation for an entire month in Hawaii. His only option was his grandmother, whom he loved, but she had a tendency of trying to constantly overfeed him. Which meant that he was stuck yet again with his parents.
Julia and Paron Mack, James's parents, were hard workers. They worked for a well known Non-Government Organisation that specialised in aid for the sick, helpless or calamity-stricken families across the world. The pay is fair, they could admit, but getting the chance to move around the world was what had them signing up for it in the first place. This time, it was a quaint little village in the Solomon Islands. They had to take a plane to Rendova before asking a fisher to take them to the village in Tetepare.
There they spent the first two days getting to know the locals and offering their assistance. James helped out where he could for the first day, but his parents worried that he wasn't enjoying himself and thus encouraged him to get along with other kids, insisting he didn't have to help.
As a result the boy decided to read the same comic book outside their temporary hut (the inside held a strong scent of incense that makes his stomach churn) for the rest of the trip. On the first day he had read in peace, but today it appears he won't enjoy that luxury. Two pages in and a crowd had formed around him. Kids ranging from four to fifteen, more or less, had gathered in a circle, watching him flip through the pages with curiosity. He tried to ignore it, but as the number of eyes increased, their gazes felt intensely heavy.
He had read this particular issue the day before, so he awkwardly gestures for one of the younger children to come closer. The boy in question comes forward, scrawny legs moving at a slow pace as he tentatively looks between James and the book. But when he does arrive, he sits next to James and stares at one of the open pages. James carefully hands him the book and turns back to smile at the others as if to tell them it's okay to read it too.
One came forward, a boy in his early teens, then a girl half his size, and soon the whole group had huddled themselves together in an effort to look inside the colored pages. James, by this time, had slowly moved away to a safe space as he watched them. He should have brought more comics. That way there would be two groups and the little ones would have an easier time reading.
A light touch on his shoulder startles James and he turns to find Atu, one of the older boys in the tribe. The 16 year old stands before him at 5'7 with tan skin and a strong build, which was typical of most of the men and women, but Atu in particular has a small tattoo on the right of his face in the shape of a tear.
They hung out for the past few days and hit it off somehow, even though all Atu did was accompany him to gather firewood, sit by him on the sand or offer him some coconut water. Atu's English wasn't perfect, but it was impressive considering he had taught himself from listening to other visitors.
"Want to explore?" he asks with a smile on his face. He immediately turns and begins walking towards a forest opening. James stares at the back of his head before following him.
"Come." He says as he leads James through a thick coat of grass. James struggles to keep up and curses that he wore shorts as tall grass and digitaria tickles his legs.
Soon they come along a veil of vines. Atu pushes it apart it as if it were a curtain to reveal a clearing. It is surrounded by plants on every side. Confused, the older boy takes a step forward and looks around. Sure, the place is dazzling. Before him are shapes of flowers and shades of green he had never seen before, but nothing phenomenal.
Atu senses his confusion and walks past the vines with a broad smile. He lets them fall back into place and his eyes close for a second as a smile of content creeps onto his lips.
"Sit here." The younger boy points beside him as he sits cross-legged on a patch of short grass. James takes one last look around, as if there could be something he missed, before he goes back to his friend and carefully sits next to him. Time passes in silence, and James uses it to think about the trip. It hadn’t been as terrible as he had thought. The Kenta Liwa tribe was surprisingly nice and the kids, although slightly irritating with their overt stares, seem genuinely interested in being friends with him.
But Atu… Atu was different. The moment James’s family came ashore and Atu’s eyes met his, they appeared to be speaking in some ancient language, as if they had known each other from long before.
And for the last two days, they stuck close to each other without either of them realizing it.
The slight roar of thunder brought back James’s attention and he turned to face Atu. “Atu. It’s going to rain.”
“I know. Wait.” Atu responded as he stared straight ahead with a look of anticipation.
James looks ahead in bewilderment and slight irritation. Walking through a dry dense forest was one thing, but when it rains, walking back will be close to impossible. In spite of this he trusts his friend, so he waits.
Soon, a light shower reaches them as the sky clouds over. The plants darken to an almost impossible shade of green while the atmosphere takes on a greyish hue. Leaves rustle and the grass bows as the wind picks up, but Atu doesn’t seem to care. His expression holds a slight anticipation which turns to joy as fully formed drops collide with giant leaves and delicate flowers in a painfully loud manner.
At that moment, Atu closes his eyes as his neck cranes forward and takes a long deep breath, savoring it in silent appreciation. When he opens his eyes, James notices they hold a sparkle he hadn’t seen in a while. Last time he saw it, they were at thanksgiving at his aunt’s, and his distant cousin had come of age. Because it was clearly his cousin's doing, turning 14, he received a gift. His first phone. His expression of pure elation and childish excitement came as a surprise to James who was, at the time, 10.
“You too.” Atu said as he nudges James’s head forward. They both close their eyes and breathe in, the earthy smell of petrichor and wet bark invading their nostrils. It is, in a way, calming, James thinks. But Atu sees it in a completely different way.
"Isn't it beautiful." Atu murmers. The sentence is hurried as if he didn't want to use up all the precious air. In truth he revered it. Craved it. So whenever he got the chance he came to this place, his little paradise, and waited out the rain. The others didn't appreciate the experience. Even the occasional tourist didn't seem to care. Rather, they hid at the mere sight of a grey cloud.
This was the first time he experienced this with another person. He just somehow knew that James would understand.
Merci pour la lecture!