A Good Mother
by Andrea G. Stewart
Pehlu was a sandpiper the first time I met him.
In the pre-dawn hours, I escaped the confines of my fourth-level bed and crept to
the shore. Even the sharp eyes and ears of third-grandmother didn't catch me. I
went to the beach to be alone; only the fishermen were out on the pier, casting
their lines into the sea.
I caught Pehlu the sandpiper with a laugh in the back of my throat, my
outstretched fingers a net. The ocean's breeze ruffled the feathers over my
knuckles and his round eyes stared at me, bright as polished stones. He fit neatly
in my thirteen-year-old hands, and his heartbeat thrummed against my palms.
When I brought the bird level with my eyes, he spoke.
I nearly dropped him. "How do you know my name?"
"Each time you come to the shore, you chase the birds and cry out, 'Ulaa comes
A flush crept up my neck. "I do not."
"You do. I've seen it."
"There are many girls my age living on the island. It could have been someone
who only looked like me."
The bird did not reply. His legs kicked the empty air beneath my hands.
"Well," I said, finally, "what is your name?"
"I like Pehlu better."
"Very well. Can you please put me down?"
I could not think of how to deny so polite a request, so I placed him back on the
He shook himself and began to preen.
"You're not a real sandpiper," I said. I crouched, and the salt-seaweed smell of the
ocean washed over me. A tiny crab, disturbed by my presence, scuttled back into
"I am, for now."
"You're a kailun -- a spirit."
He snatched up a beetle and swallowed it. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"You talk. Sandpipers don't talk."
Pehlu looked up at me, his head tilted to the side. "Mother tells me I shouldn't."