afternoon had begun to crush them as they drove along the ridiculously good road.
Up ahead in the isolation was a street post with a lamp.
chicken dashed across their path.
Phillip stamped on the brake.
They were there.
Beach Fales. As promised by someone in a village.
wondered if the chicken was dead.
bedraggled fales were lined up on a beach.
heaved himself out of the car. His heart could sink no further.
had to put up here.
dog dashed out of the bushes that lined the hinterland. A woman followed. She
Leon managed a
smile and a determined tone. "Talofa."
woman's glare intensified.
want to stay here. Accommodation?" Water, showers, beds of softest down,
darkened rooms, the clinking of ice . . . analgesics, masseurs with magical healing
that include dinner and breakfast?" Phillip's voice issued from the car.
woman turned her glare on him. "It's up to you," she said.
we look at them," Leon asked, "fale?"
choose fale. It's up to you."
went to choose. Which got Phillip out of the car. He decided the beach was nice.
He chose the fale.
were identical, like open chicken coops raised off the ground on sea worn logs.
They began to unload litres of water
and a few things.
woman reappeared with a laden girl. They thrashed the chosen fale and flung in
rubber mattresses, smoothed sheets over them, nestled pillows at the far end.
The woman turned.
time dinner?" Phillip asked.
had been unable to find anywhere for lunch. Both of them had had diarrhoea.
woman consulted with the girl. "Five," she uttered.
sentiment like relief activated itself in Leon's brain. He was starving. He crawled
into the fale and onto a mattress. "I've got a new respect for Margaret Mead,"
going for a walk, to the end of the beach," Philip declared.
beach was a huge shallow arc punctuated by lava spills of black rocks over which
glaringly green leaves had flung themselves. The end was barely in sight.
slept tormented by anxious dreams of friends returning from lives abroad and incomprehensible
whimsies appreciated and applauded. He was conscious of the heat growing heavier
and the sun striking his feet. All he could do was draw them up.
began to surface towards consciousness and registered an imperative to wake.
rolled over and scrambled out. The sun was utter.
plunged back into the enclosed heat of the fale and made himself drink as much
of the warm water as he could. He found his watch. Five. They would have arrived
at . . . three-thirty? Four? Phillip was probably lying in a rock pool.
changed into a swimming costume and went into the sea. It was refreshing but a
strong bottom current tripped him over coral shards and then dragged him over
exposed volcanic rocks. His costume was gritty with coarse sand.
retreated to the shade of a coconut palm and scanned the beach. The end had vanished
into a blur. Leon thought he could make out a figure running but in a moment it
flickered into a broken palm trunk before blurring again.
was probably up at the main fale, supervising dinner, Leon thought. He wondered
where it was.
He got dressed.
Shadows were lengthening. He felt he should walk down the road.
petered out into a white crushed coral track bordered by black rock. He thought
he'd better turn back.
the fale he made himself drink the water again. It was six. Phillip would probably
arrive with the woman.
scanned the beach, debated a last cooling swim, decided against it. He walked
a little way looking for Phillip.
he went back to the fale.
an hour later, as Venus rose above the horizon, the woman and girl appeared. The
woman had some plates, the girl a kettle and mugs.
woman pointed at the tree Leon was sitting under. Yellow coconuts swarmed beneath
its fronds. "Fall," she said.
The woman looked pleased.
began to eat, telling himself he'd get a migraine if he didn't.
woman and girl watched.
wondered what it was.
the woman asked.
put his spoon down. "I don't know. Did he come and visit you at your fale?"
said the woman.
he must . . ." Leon felt a stab of worry but picked up his spoon again. "What's
said the woman.
do you call it? In your language -- breadfruit?"
You want more?"
girl poured something from the kettle into an enamel mug and pushed it toward
He tried it. It
was thick, warm, disgustingly sweet. He resolved to drink a little, then, no matter
how rude, to refuse another drop.
wonder where Phillip is?" he said, but more to himself.
woman and girl stared at him.
could think of nothing to say. Then he leapt to his feet. "Stay here."
He went to the car and got out a cheap shirt and a piece of costume jewelry. He
had brought them to offer the locals instead of tips.
gave the woman the shirt; he pushed it at her, thinking she might think he was
trying to sell it. Then he gave the girl the brooch. He'd bought a few; he wondered
which one it was -- the diamond star sprinkled with tiny rubies at its heart,
the enameled mauve tumbling dolphin mounting an orient pearl . . . ? The shirt
was red with blue dragons, yellow flames issuing from their nostrils and flickering
past them. Leon worried that it was appropriate, wearable in this heat. The fabric
had felt like rayon but maybe it wouldn't breathe. At least it was very thin.
Well, she could wear it at night, to choir meetings, or . . .
is this?" the girl said.
it," Leon commanded.
girl fought the tightly furled tissue for a while. Leon noted how impossibly large
and clumsy her fingers were. She tore it open.
was a tiny butterfly -- moth really, formed of two deep purple pieces of glass
on a rough silver body.
was pleased. It seemed suitably discreet.
woman sighed and got to her feet, gathering Leon's plate to her.
can wear it to church," he said, indicating the shirt.
Leon watched Venus.
It was so bright it threw a golden light across the water.
paddled. The moon rose full behind the palms. It was breathtaking.
sea pounded on the shore and turned over white, white, silver on the reef which
seemed to have receded.
Leon felt very, very tired.
crawled into the fale.
woke in the morning, gathered their things and stowed them in the car.
scanned the beach in worry.
woman appeared with a plate and the kettle.
the plate were dumplings.
she said of the tea.
found it very refreshing.
ate and drank, and hesitating, paid her forty tala.
all, Phillip hadn't eaten anything.
is your fale?" he demanded suddenly.
there," the woman replied, pointing in a definite direction.
do you say good-bye?" Leon asked.
the woman corrected.
out, he wondered what he should do.
would he say?