Ariki hovers noisily above the still pond that lies obscured behind a battered Matai branch felled in a furious summer storm. Silver ferns, heavily curved with raindrops, dangle their leaves breaking the water’s surface. They vie with each other for space along its edges. Spider webs shimmer in the mottled sunlight. Spreading his wings wide; he circles over the damp domain silently disturbing the surrounding air. Searching the area for male interlopers, he checks for mosquitoes as well.
Ariki smiles at the vista below as he rises higher, he wants to be certain he has enough distance. With the sun losing height in the sky he knows that soon he will be able to hunt; for now, he has time to have some fun. Satisfied with his starting position he descends, rapidly building his speed till he reaches fifty kilometres per hour. Positioning his wings he begins to loop-the-loop. Three times he performs the manoeuvre, each loop tighter than the one before. As he manoeuvres out of the third loop his mouth curls with pleasure. Ariki positions his wings for a synchronised movement, them plummets, doubling his speed before he reaches the mirrored face of the pond.
A wingspan before he hits the water he pulls out of the dive and soars parallel to it. Using his 360 degree vision he looks around, searching as he does a sweep of the area. Finally he gets a glimpse of a familiar form, partially hidden in the sword-like leaves of a harakeke plant. As he flies towards her he looks unswervingly into her large slate eyes. Marama holds his gaze steady and he feels a tremor undulate through his body. Relax, take a deep breath, he repeats to himself. Stay nonchalant. Okay? His antennae however, ripple slightly with excitement.
“Hello Marama,” Ariki says manoeuvring to land in front of her.
“Hello,” she replies. Her voice tinkles like water descending over smooth river stones to him. Mesmerised by its sound he stays silent.
“Ariki?” Marama smiles joyfully and his legs feel like tadpole blubber. Lowering her antennae she mischievously swats him on the head. “Anybody in there?”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I. Umm. I’m. I mean. I was a little distracted.” He watches her smile widen as he speaks. Nice comeback dunce head, he thinks.
“Distracted Ariki?” she teases. “What has you…so distracted?”
“I was, umm, wondering.”
“Wondering what Ariki? Anything I could help you with?” Although Marama is enjoying his discomfort, she decides it’s time to show him a little mercy. Still, she can’t resist stretching out her wings so that they glisten red-gold from the setting sun. Changing the subject she remarks on his flight. “That was an especially fine loop-the-loop you just did.”
“Thanks,” he replies.
“Do you think you could coach me a little? I’m afraid I’m not getting it right. My loops are rather sloppy.” Marama gestures seductively with her wings.
“I’d love to help,” he replies, unable to take his eyes away from her wings as they flash in the light. “You’re not as bad as you think. You have a lovely exit, I mean…” Ariki realises he’s admitting he’s been watching her. “You’re probably not getting up enough speed before you start.”
“Do you think that we could start now?” she asks, graciously ignoring his admission.
“Now? Hmm. Yeah. Sure.” God, he thinks, could you sound any more moronic? “Yeah. Okay.”
“That’s great,’ Marama says as she stretches her wings before giving them a shake. “I really appreciate this.” While he is still gazing at her wings she laughs and takes off. “C’mon then. I’ll race you to the other side,” she calls out. Her laughter rolls back on the breeze as Ariki realises she has managed a large head start.
“Cheat,” he shouts, flexing his wings he flies after her. She really is glorious he thinks as he watches her soar effortlessly. Reaching the other side Marama hovers above the flax lining the bank.
“Ha, I beat you.” Her smile softens the words. “But now I’ll let you show off a little while you teach me.”
“Sounds fair,” he replies. “Watch what I do first. Then we’ll try it together.” Ariki ascends, signalling for her to follow; he stays close so she can see his movements. Building speed they race skyward. “Here goes,” he yells as he turns and drops. Trailing closely Marama is overwhelmed by the splendour of his movements. God, he’s stunning, she thinks as he goes into another loop. Finishing, he turns and waits for her to join him.
“Oh Ariki, that was more beautiful than before. I could hover here and watch you do that forever.”
“It’s nothing really,” he stammers slightly. “We’ll have you doing it better than me in no time.” Secretly he is pleased with the compliment. “Would you like to try? How about I watch and then we’ll know what you need to work on. I think if you can go faster, before you start, you’ll be much better.”
Together they rise and fall, looping-the-loop, perfectly synchronised. Beams of brilliant gold sunlight add drama to their dance.
“Marama,” Ariki pulls back and hisses at her. “Quickly. Wasps. By the tree. Fly. Now!” He pushes her with his body. “Go. Now,” he commands as she takes off and rises, searching for somewhere to hide in the leaves of a manuka tree. His voice rumbles across to her. “Higher, we need to get higher.” Keeping an eye on the activity below, they watch as the wasps search in vain between the red flax flowers.
“Ariki, what are they doing? Can you still see them?” Marama slows until he is beside her.
“Keep going,” he turns to look behind before whispering. “I can’t see them anymore, but it doesn’t mean they’re not around.” He uses all his thirty thousand lenses to try and track any trace of the wasps’ path. “Keep going.” Stopping he hovers while still urging Marama on. “Go higher. I don’t want them to see us if they are still around.” With a turn of her wings she soars away. Remaining behind he continues scanning every section of the area below. Satisfied that the wasps have not followed, he follows her path into the security of the manuka branches.
“I don’t think they saw us,” he says drawing level. Surveying the sinking sun he adds, “Don’t worry, they will be heading home soon.”
“Damn filthy bugs,” she shudders. “I hate them.”
“At least we are faster,” Ariki moves closer to her, “and smarter. Some of us are prettier as well,” he said waggling his antennae at her. Marama’s laugh jingles softly as she nods her head in answer to an unspoken question. Encouraged, he strokes her body with his wing.
Together they wait for the sun to set before leaving the security of the manuka. Adjusting his wings Ariki flies in reverse until he is behind her and waits for her reaction. When she slows her flight, he moves to join himself to her. Hovering, their bodies twisting, they form a perfect circle. He grasps the top of Marama’s head as she reaches around with her abdomen to allow him access to her.
“Is this what you were wondering about,” she quietly murmurs. Ariki’s body responds immediately and together they spin around; a shimmering ferris-wheel freewheeling through the softening dusk air, their wings flickering in the reflected light off the water. They slowly rotate until they are within millimetres of the pond’s surface, still joined to him Marama searches for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She seeks out an area by the side of the pond where vegetation is thick. Together they hover just above the surface as Marama expels her now fertilised eggs into a space between the plant’s green foliage.
“I think they will be safer here,” she whispers. “There will be plenty of food within their reach.” Ariki nods in agreement. Once Marama has laid all of her eggs, he slowly withdraws and glides up beside her.
“I think it’s time for some food, don’t you? I’m hungry.” No longer fixated on each other they hear the cicadas calling. Ariki’s smile widens. “What do you think of a mosquito entree, followed by a cicada main course?” he asks. Taking a last look at the eggs hidden amongst the plant’s foliage, they turn and focus on the hunt; their eyes searching the area for movement. Without looking back they both speed off, leaving the pond’s next generation waiting to hatch.