William Zweig was always last. In elementary school, his teachers always called his name last.
“…and finally… William Z. Zweig. Last but not least,” said Miss Donavan, his second grade teacher, trying to give him a boost of moral.
This concern for William’s self-esteem ended quickly. By the fifth grade, Mrs. Apple, wanting to speed up the attendance roll call, simply wrapped things up by saying, “…and finally… the last one is William Z. Zweig,” as if now his least-ness was an accepted fact among the school board.
The youngest of three boys, William was constantly picked on by his older brothers, Andy and Ben, for being the last one to be born in the Zweig family. William was always picked last in any playground games. In Little League, he batted last for the last place team. When William graduated from high school, the last in his graduating class, he left his hated childhood town, moving as far away as possible. With his last dollar, he bought a small house in the Western portion of Samoa, a group of volcanic islands covered in lush tropical vegetation and surrounded by magnificent reefs. It was quiet and isolated, but fate is cruel, and despite the great effort he made to run away from his cursed life, William still remained last because of Samoa’s positioning just east of the International Dateline. Each December 31, on New Year’s Eve, celebrations occurred throughout the world, from Sydney to London to New York, with Samoa being the last place in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Even worse, William lived in the last house on the last plot of land, in the most Western corner of the last island, making William Z. Zweig the very last person in the world to celebrate New Year’s every single year.
For the first few years in his new home, William accepted his miserable lot. Samoan culture is centered around the principle of vāfealoa’i, the relationships between people. Samoans make few distinctions between “first” and “last,” and William was accepted as a member of the community. But with an influx of pop culture from America, Samoans abandoned their gentle customs and became as individualistic and self-centered as Westerners. In fact, the two best-selling Samoan books of 2008 were both business-oriented, “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan: Stop Being a Loser,” and “Using the Art of Samoan War to Become #1 and Crush the Competition!”
Residents of Itu Asau, William’s village, were influenced by these books, and began to mock him as a loser, acting in a manner not unlike the residents of William’s childhood town. Samoans grew superstitious about William, as if his bad luck would rub off on them, and he was always served last — at the fruit stand, at the bank, and even at the post office.
William vowed to make a change in his life. Ever year, right before New Year’s Eve, William would make the same resolution — to stop being the “last,” but every year, he inevitably caved in, stuck forever in inactivity, like a hapless goose stuck in the Saleaula Lava Fields once produced by the mighty Mt. Matavanu.
At 11:40 PM, on December 31st, William Z. Zweig was asleep. He always went to sleep before midnight on this night. New Year’s Eve was too depressing. He was alone. Even time was slow to arrive at William’s doorstep, as if he was a mere afterthought. What was there to celebrate? He was the last one.
But something different happened on this New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it was the sound of a tropical bird calling for his mate, or a coconut falling in the near distance. William awoke from his sleep. He glanced at his old alarm clock. In twenty minutes, the new year would arrive.
“I might as well make a resolution,” he said to himself. “The same one I always make. I vow not to be the last…”
William bowed his head in shame, mumbling the statement, knowing that whatever he said was meaningless, a phony vow never to be taken seriously. A true New Year’s resolution requires action.
“I must take action. I must take action. I will take action. I will take action.”
William repeated these “behavior statements”over and over again, just like his therapist, Amataga Poese Gildow Liuga, had recommended that he do during times of indecision. William had just seen his doctor on Friday, which was, as usual, the doctor’s last appointment of the week.
William berated himself for his failure of inaction over the years.
“When will I take this action? When will I stop talking and just do it? Why do I wait for the future to do anything? Why do I always make a resolution for NEXT year? What is wrong with THIS year? Why can’t I do something RIGHT NOW?!”
William looked at his alarm clock. It was 11:44 PM. The second hand clicked away. A cool breeze blew in through the window and grazed William’s sensitive face. The clock sputtered, ready to spit out the arrival of 11:45 PM. It was at that exact second that William decided to act.
Pa’aga Neri Lee Hang, the cocoa exporter, lived a quarter of a mile closer to town. Every week, William drove by his home on his way to his food shopping.
William plotted the rest out carefully:
If he could drive his car PAST Pa’aga’s home tonight before midnight, William would officially be nearer the center of town, closer east — and he would be able to celebrate New Year’s Eve a split-second BEFORE his neighbor. Pa’aga would be the LAST ONE. William’s curse would be broken! A new era would begin.
William Z. Zweig would never be the last one again!
“Now where are my car keys?” he wondered, as he searched his living room.
(to be continued)