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. The rest of the men of the village followed them, a* slow, steady procession. Then came the women, including the young mother with a baby on her hip.
When the blast of heat struck the infant, it started to cry. Without varying her steady pace, its mother swung it up and gave it suck; the baby shut up.
The children followed, from pubescent girls and adolescent boys down to the kindergarten level. Last was a little girl (nine? eight?) who was leading her round-eyed little, brother by, the hand. He seemed to be about four and was dressed only in his skin.
I looked at this kid and knew with mournful certainty that I was about to be served up rare; I could no longer back out. Once the baby boy stumbled; his sister kept him from falling. He went on then, short sturdy steps. At the far end someone reached down and lifted him out.
And it was my turn.
The translator said to me, 'You understand that the Polynesia Tourist Bureau takes no responsibility for your safety? That fire can burn you, it can kill you. These people can walk it safely because they have faith.'
I assured him that I had faith, while wondering how I could be such a barefaced liar. I signed a release he presented.
All too soon I was standing at one end of the pit, with my trousers rolled up to my knees. My shoes and socks and hat and wallet were at the far end, waiting on a stool. That was my goal, my prize - if I didn't make it, would they cast lots for them? Or would they ship them to my next of kin?
He was saying: 'Go right down the middle