Ba da, bum ba. Ba da, bum ba. Ba da, bum ba. Sea lions poke their heads out of reverberating ocean waves, a glint of amusement in their rounded eyes. Grand, chestnut males and elegant, tan females dart through the sea from all directions, and some swim in swirls that seamlessly flow with the water. They scramble to shore, their barks like halting trains frightening nearby life.
Tabora chortles, the bongos limp in her arms, and Fonzi beams with a faraway look. He tends to do that, particularly when enjoying the view of La isla de la vida. The Island of Life. This name perfectly suits the island because sea creatures and reptiles engulf it. Fragile turtles, chirping penguins, evolving finches, and most admired, the sea lions.
While every other sea lion proceeds to their position on the coast, one stubborn pup approaches the two cousins. Her sleek strokes turn into wobbly movements when deep water becomes shallow, and she plops down in Fonzi’s lap with an open mouth. Tabora grins, grasping a sardine from the bucket and feeding it to the pup. The name for baby sea lions always satisfied her as they do resemble puppies, just with flippers.
“She won’t follow through with the prank if you reward her out of pity,” Fonzi says. Tabora dismisses his critique and readjusts her bongos. She beats to the rhythm of the island.
Crystalline seas generate low tones of rushing water, the sound replicates that of streams. Palm trees and mangroves reflect shadow on the mass, providing a tranquil quality. The mass tickles Tabora’s feet while washing away lumps of sand from between her toes. Waves project wind, and birds croon. The sky glows a fanciful azure…. She stops drumming for a moment, her mouth downturned.
“I’ll miss the routine of training sea lions. It’s kind of embedded in me now.”
Fonzi considers this and then takes a fresh perspective. “We can still keep training them after the prank’s done. I bet there’s a bunch of tricks we could teach them with your bongos.”
Tabora smiles. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” The two begin to stand up when the baby sea lion playfully pushes Tabora’s bongos out of her hands. The drums plop into the water and float away from shore gradually, so Tabora takes her time retrieving them. Fonzi laughs and surveys the fiery horizon.
The sun exits the atmosphere similarly to how it enters. Like a fox. In the morning, the fox pokes its head out from the burrow, observing the woodlands before determining its security. He then runs around for a while, preying on different animals and frolicking in separate areas. But then he spots a predator, the bear. Timidly, the fox backs away, always keeping an eye on the threat. He finally becomes totally submerged in his burrow, and only the scent of him is left. Once it has been long enough, though, that disappears too.
“Fonzi! My bongos hit a rip current!” Tabora snaps Fonzi out of his trance, and his eyes expand. The drums skip across the sea like stones, getting farther away by the second. At first, Tabora sprints gracefully through shallow water, but the fight becomes harsh once the water reaches her hips. She thrusts against the flow of the ocean, straining her legs and abs with each step.
What would Tabora do if she failed to retrieve her beloved instrument? She clearly recalls receiving the gift from her papá ten years ago on her sixth birthday. He had been biding in his room after work for weeks, and Tabora began to worry that being a veterinarian tired him. Dinner became shorter by the day and so did their time together. Until she awoke one morning to Papá’s silly birthday song.
Naciste hace seis años hoy
En la isla de la vida
Que tengas un lindo cumpleaños...
And then the striped bongos with red ribbons around their body peeked from behind his back. Tabora’s papá altruistically spent weeks handcrafting her present.
“Stop it, Tabora! You’re gonna hit the rip!” Fonzi cries. Tabora stops pushing against the water. The instrument lies at least a hundred feet ahead now, and the ocean sways over her shoulders, brushing her chin. An iguana perching on a floating branch cocks its head at her, a query of her inanity. Birds stop chirping. The wind stops raging. Only crashing waves reverberate through the island. Tabora scrunches her toes in the sand and bites her cheek. She could lose her lifelong instrument, which began as her baby toy and then became more. A token of her papá’s love, the core of her happiness, a connection to the sea lions...
Rational people do not fight Mother Nature. Tabora forces herself towards shore, making large strokes through the ocean. Her eyes twitch, her hands shake, and a gulp of salty water causes Tabora to slam her fists in frustration. The coarse sea hits back just as hard, leaving marks of red on her hands. She grunts and trudges the rest of the way.
Fonzi stands on the coast, hands hidden behind his back and lips pursed. He avoids eye contact. Tabora slumps by his side, the weight of her wet clothes providing an extra thud. They both know what this means. Tabora’s papá would not be the subject of a prank they prepared all year for; it just perished with the bongos. There wouldn’t be anything to make his birthday special.
The two cousins stare at the retreating fox until he disappears in his burrow. When only the scent of him is left, they pack up towels and umbrellas—items that would have been used in the prank. Tabora throws the remaining sardines from her bucket to individual sea lions.
She taught them to leave when a certain beat strikes the bongos—she taught them everything according to the beat of bongos, actually—so Tabora worries that they might think they have to stay on shore. But every sea lion eventually wobbles to water, until only one pup is left.
The pup rubs her snout against Tabora’s leg and yelps. “Aw, you don’t worry about those drums. There’s no way you could’ve known there was a rip!” Tabora baby talks to the pup, “Go on to your mamá.” The sea lion gazes into her eyes, seemingly nods, and wobbles woefully to the open sea. Fonzi and Tabora watch until her last flipper dips below the water’s surface.
Remaining scents of the woodland fox leave the atmosphere, the bear taking his place on the opposite horizon. Fonzi pulls out a flashlight. They slog home carrying unbearable weight of beach items while cold, dry sand works its way into their palm leaf sandals. Crickets and frogs replace the melodies of finches and mockingbirds, and chilly wind tickles their arm hair. When their hut with a thatched roof comes into view, it faintly glows under the bear in the sky.
“Pst, Tabora.” Tabora groans and flips her body. “Tabora, wake up! I think I know how to fix the prank.” She groans louder. “Okay, then. You asked for it.”
Fonzi pulls Tabora out of bed and she lands with a thud. “Ayy!” she yelps, “Stop that!” Tabora stands up and rubs her eyes with closed fists, Fonzi hides a grin when he sees her bed hair.
“I know how to fix the prank, come on!” He leads her to the hay woven door of the hut, careful not to wake her papá. When they step outside, tiptoes turn into sprints, and the wind tangles Tabora’s hair even further. The fox peeks from the horizon, and birds have returned to their usual chirping. Tabora secretly hopes that he knows how to get her bongos back instead of how to execute the prank without them.
Fonzi must have set up the prank before waking her as the supplies already lay in their proper places on the beach. The two stop running and double over, and Fonzi talks through gasps of breath. He explains his scheme to get the sea lions on shore for the first part of the prank.
“But that only completes the first part. How do we get them to do the second?” Tabora asks.
Fonzi sighs. “We can’t. I just thought doing the first part would be better than nothing.” He looks at her hopefully.
Tabora grins from ear to ear. “We should start now, then. Papá wakes up in two hours. I’ll get the fish skin, you get the palm leaves.” Fonzi nods, and they move on to their duties.
When the two friends finish collecting their items, they meet each other back at the beach. The fox has already frolicked in the first part of the forest, and Tabora’s papá wakes up after a few more. Although it may mean the difference between success and failure, their plan can only take an hour to prepare. At most. Sweat threads through their eyebrows and then extends to their foreheads and eyelids. Hands shaking, Fonzi weaves the palm leaves. Tabora hurriedly hums whilst sewing pieces of fish skin together. Even the land creatures seem invested in the unfolding events.
After a long while of stressful creation, a raggedy lump of silver skin lay limp on the sand at around ten feet long. Tabora and Fonzi examine it from different angles, eyebrows furrowed and lips turned down. They finally look at each other. “I’m not so sure this is going to work…” Tabora mutters. Her cousin shakes his head. Nonetheless, they know the plan must go on. So Fonzi pinches his nose, grasps the lump, and hurls it as far as he can. It soars through the fanciful azure sky in slow motion and falls into the ocean with burning desire. A booming plop echoes from afar, and birds squawk, fleeing from the scene.
Tabora and Fonzi don’t react, they know the real success comes from the sea lions’ responses. Tabora checks the fox’s position. Her papá wakes up in less than twenty minutes, barely enough time to notify family members of the prank’s commencement. She taps her foot involuntarily to the rhythm of Papá’s silly birthday song.
Naciste hace seis años hoy
En la isla de la vida
Que tengas un lindo cumpleaños...
“Tabora, I think I see them swimming towards it,” Fonzi inhales. Tabora exhales for him. The plan has failed, she knows it. An hour of building a smelly pile, wasted. Another hour of scavenging for fish skin and leaves, wasted. A year of training sea lions tricks with certain beats, wasted. Why had she taught them with something so easily misplaced or destroyed? Claps or hand motions would have been more convenient. “And now the sea lions are pulling it to shore!”
Tabora gasps and searches for said sea lions. She spots twelve of them carrying the lump, just like Fonzi said. “I knew it’d work!” Tabora cheers. Fonzi cheers with her and they embrace each other. The sea lions didn’t swim to shore thinking the pile was a shark, like they had planned, but bringing it to shore works just as well. They sigh and gaze at the beautiful creatures. “Why do you think they’re pulling it back?”
“I guess they thought we needed it and didn’t mean to throw it.” They both laugh at this. You can never trick a sea lion. Tabora smiles as they wobble on shore, she turns to Fonzi.
“You stay here and prepare them. I’ll get the family and my papá.” Fonzi nods and proceeds to rummage through the bag of prank items. Tabora sprints for the hut beside her own, which sits behind the hill of sand a quarter of a mile away.
“Papá! The family is waiting for you at the beach!” Tabora tells her papá as she leads him outside by the arm. He covers his eyes from the sun.
“Don’t tire yourself. We have a long day of birthday activities for me!” She smiles and lets go of him. He proceeds to walk a little too leisurely, though, so Tabora paces herself and gestures for Papá to do the same. When they reach the hill of sand that blocks the beach from view, a shadow casts upon their bodies. Tabora stops walking.
“They’re on the beach with a surprise, be ready!” Tabora giggles and her papá gives her a thumbs up. His eyebrows furrow as he turns back to the sand pile, adding more depth to his face.
“Okay, come on!” Tabora and Papá march up the hill, and when they reach the zenith of it, the fox beats down on their faces. He puts his hands on his hips, and searches the beach with wrinkled eyes. Seemingly on cue, barks like halting trains bounce around the atmosphere. Papá purses his lips for a short moment before exhaling sharply and booming into hysterical laughs. Tabora laughs with him, following his pointer finger.
Sea lions voice sharp barks from the beach, sitting under various umbrellas and sunbathing on various towels. One of them wears cat eye sunglasses just like her aunt’s. Another shows off a woven sun hat identical to her abuela’s. The rest of the sea creatures twin with other relatives. “Did the family gain weight?” Papá’s joke sends them over the edge with cackles.
“Happy birthday, Leonardo!” Tabora’s abuela shouts from the beach’s forest. She exits the hiding spot with the rest of the family following behind, all of them guffawing. Tabora and her papá jog towards them for twenty feet, smiles plastered on their faces. They take turns embracing each other and talking about their day. Abuela’s day, as always, brought both negative events and mysterious phenomena. During her abuela’s hug, Tabora catches sight of Fonzi, who signals to her from the shore. She raises her eyebrows and gestures to the family. Fonzi raises his eyebrows and gestures to the baby sea lion at his feet. No, towards what lay beside her.
The bongos! Tabora clasps her mouth to keep from celebrating. To do so would indicate her loss of the bongos, and that might disappoint Papá. She grits her teeth together with a huge smile and sneaks away to the sea lion’s side.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Tabora praises the pup and gives her a little hug. She decides such an honorable creature deserves a title. “Thank you, Adelia.” Adelia’s protruding ears perk up, and her eyes sparkle with intuition. Tabora rubs her tiny forehead and grabs the bongos with a wink.
“Is everyone ready to sing the birthday song?!” Tabora shouts to her family. When they cheer, Tabora hints at the bongos. Everyone except for Papá nods knowingly. “On the count of three.” Tabora strikes the bongos three times instead of counting, knowing the sea lions will understand. Bum, bum, da!
Halting tunes of Papá’s silly birthday song fill the air, and they come not from the mouths of family members, but from the mouths of Mother Nature’s most intelligent creatures.