Sweat drenched Tom's back as he scaled his way up the steep mountain, arduously dragging himself to keep up with the missionary group. A group of natives led the way, directing them to their village, Sarrin Ayarra.
He was dumbfounded that the natives had not yet broken a single sweat despite the strenuous four-hour walk, which led them through the seemingly never-ending coconut forest and the slippery mountains, wet with yesterday's rain.
He had no zeal left to admire the diverse fauna, the verdant clusters of ruffled fan palms, nor the twisted roots of the Banyan trees, centuries of years old and upturned from the cyclone.
Haggard and fatigued, he let out a weak, surprised yelp when a native girl, seemingly around his age, grabbed his backpack. "Um, excuse me?" Tom meekly questioned, as his strained expression morphed into one of confusion.
The girl didn't reply. Instead, she tugged at his backpack as Tom held on to it, trying to shake the strange girl off. After several seconds of tugging, the girl released the straps and ran off to the front of the group, effortlessly scrambling up the steep mountain path.
On the other hand, Tom tripped over the outstretched tree roots. After another exhausting hour of walking, the missionary group finally arrived at their destination, Sarrin Ayarra. Tom gaped at the village.
The houses were all made out of wood, covered with thick straw branches for the roof. Despite the lame materials, they were intricately woven together by hand, or so it seemed.
One part of the village was reduced to pieces of wood and ragged straw. Some huts had enormous damage inflicted upon them, as only a part remained standing.
A native guide pointed at the stacks of wood lying on a straw woven mat, and explained their use. "Alrighty," exclaimed the missionary leader, clapping his hands before translating the Bislamic phrase for the rest of the team.
"Tomorrow, we'll be transporting those planks of wood for reconstruction. So rest up for the hard labour in store for tomorrow!" A few consecutive groans were heard, followed by happy murmurs at the mention of rest. Tom brightened up as the sun was setting.
His eyes were drooping as he set up his sleeping bag, desperate for sleep. As he cozied up on the hard, bumpy floor, he closed his eyes and allowed his consciousness to wander off.
Tom awoke with a sore back, accompanied by pitch-black darkness. He inwardly groaned as he sat up and stretched, disturbing the silence as his joints cracked.
He fumbled around for his torch, cursing under his breath when he tripped into the hard embrace of the floor. He realised that the time must've only been around six or even five when the sun had set. No wonder it was so dark. A small smile etched itself on his face when he finally found the torch.
He let out a soft, triumphant chuckle as he turned it on, and squinted when the overwhelming light flooded the small space.
Outside, he turned his torch light off. He had to. Heavenward, the raw beauty of the stars shone down upon him, contrasting against the black tranquility of the sky. The darkness felt special.
It was the friendly kind which prompted the soul to rest, and surrounded by the endless clusters of stars, the entire scene was breathtakingly, magically serene. No matter where his eyes wandered, the sheer beauty of the night sky entranced him. There was no room for light.
He stood facing the heavens for what felt like eternity, before crashing down on Earth. A soft tap met his back, which prompted him to turn around. Blue eyes met brown.
He found himself momentarily floored as the eyes before him literally reflected the stars of the night. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he made out the girl's features.
"Aren't you that girl from earlier?" Tom mused, remembering the strange native who had tried to take his backpack. It was the girl's turn to look confused. She opened her mouth and replied, in Bislama. Neither one could understand the other.
After a few frustrating attempts to converse with each other, Tom pointed to the sky. "The stars are beautiful," he stated with a smile. The girl nodded. It seemed that she had understood that simple phrase.
They stood like that for a while, viewing the sparkling jewels in the sky together, until Tom remembered an important belonging he had brought along. His telescope.
"Hey, wait here," he gestured to the girl, pointing at the ground in a halting motion. "I'll come back, just wait." With that, he ran off towards the hut and turned his torch on, rummaging through his bag. He ran back to the girl, clutching the prized object to his chest.
She watched with curious eyes as the strange boy set the unfamiliar object up to her eye-level. "Telescope," Tom spoke, as he pointed to the instrument. She gave a small nod.
He led the girl to the lens, and adjusted it. Her expression lit up with joy as the subjects of her greatest admiration were focused closer. The 'sta' was so close, she could almost touch it. Tom smiled at the girl's childlike innocence. In a way, he did find it admirable.
For the next ten nights, they interacted with each other under the company of stars. They pointed out particular constellations, one speaking the name in English and the other, in Bislamic.
On their last night together, after the village chief announced the foreigners' leave in the morning, the girl spoke. "Stap Tom?" Aulani questioned in her native tongue, as her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "Sorry Aulani," Tom said, as he patted her head. "I'll come back next year, and then we can spend more time together."
In the following morning, the missionary team was sent off to Santo's main centre. Aulani had cried and hugged Tom before his departure. She had grown terribly fond of the strange boy.
When the sun set, she went to her place under the stars except this time, Tom wasn't there. What was there however, was his telescope. Aulani smiled and looked through the telescope.
Tom was still under the same night sky, and he would surely come back to retrieve his prized belonging. They would definitely meet again.