Fiction from Dave R - a two-part story set in the South Seas. A man tries to escape his past by moving to what he hopes may be paradise. However, the serpent there confronts him with dilemmas he desperately hoped to avoid.
“You can keep pondering on which thing to do first or which path to take or by simply taking action now of most any kind, you may just find yourself on the way to where you most needed to go.” ― April Bryan
He pushed at the tiny crab and its miraculous shell. It rolled off the table and fell onto the sand where it waved its legs in a state of helpless confusion; after all, its world had just been turned upside down too!
Gazing far out beyond the reef and its seething foam, Andy felt the first vibrations of panic as some fuller implications of his decision flooded his mind. Sixty and doing this for God’s sake! Why hadn’t he learned to control these impulses when he was younger? What made him decide on those fateful days, to wash his hands of everything unpleasant and clear off for pastures new? It had lost him one good relationship, at least two excellent career opportunities, caused one disaster beyond parallel and evaporated every shot at security he’d ever had! He never, ever regretted the deed; never looked back after making the choice but boy could he panic! He was never quite sure what worried him so much; he never felt a sense of personal fear in the normal sense of the word. He continually felt guilty for abandoning ship and was certainly disturbed, that he could be taken over so often by this beast of impulse and thus for crucial moments, not be in control of his own destiny.
He recognised the flaws in his character all too well but when all was said and done, HIV had pretty much made the decision for him.
A small, barefoot boy skipped across the grass towards him, leaping up to smack the ‘Beware of falling coconuts’ board, causing it to further dislodge from the leaning palm. He had to shade his eyes to see him as he danced through the light but he seemed to represent an idyllic image of Polynesia, as he skidded to a halt and stood there framed in a halo of sunlight with the lagoon and reef beyond.
“Are you for real?” he asked, gasping at the image and groaning inwardly at his choice of phrase.
“My father asks who are you mister? What you doing in Mr Kingsley’s house?”
He stood back, message delivered and hopped absent-mindedly awaiting an answer.
“Well you can tell your father that this isn’t Mr Kingsley’s house any more, it’s the new Library!”
He had responded a little more sharply than he’d meant and the boy stopped hopping and regarded him warily, so he softened her tone and smiled.
“And I’m not ‘mister’, I’m Andy, Andy Simpson. I’m going to be the island’s Librarian.”
He smiled and reached out his hand to ruffle the boy’s hair but he was having none of that and stepped back out of reach. Had he flinched, or had he imagined it?
“What’s your name?” he asked still smiling.
“Solomana”, he replied. “What’s a Lib-arin?”
“It’s a person who looks after books and lends them out to people who want to read them. Would you like to see?” He gestured behind into the house and the building beyond with its new corrugated roof gleaming in the sun..
“I can read,” Solomana thrust his chin forward and put his hands on his hips.
“I’m sure you can. What sort of books do you like reading?”
“I read lots of things. I read Hans Christian Anderson once and I read Oliver Twist and Alice in Wonderland too. I can read anything. You fetch me a book. I’ll show you.”
His face had become intense and determined and he scowled when Andy laughed for the first time on the island; throwing his head back and laughing heartily so that the late sun caught his hair, which shimmered silver grey.
Solomana turned to leave with a grunt of disgust.
“Oh no kid, I wasn’t laughing at you; really I wasn’t. I was laughing with happiness!”
He could hardly explain to him how incongruous he found his chosen reading matter. Although he doubted that he had read those eminent works with any real understanding, he wondered what image he had gained of Britain from those Victorian texts. Who had guided him in their direction?
“You have crooked teeth!” He stared at Andy with a slight smirk on his face, “and you’re very thin. Don’t you eat enough?”
He supposed he deserved that but took no offence and retorted grinning: “Yes but you never brush your hair! Do you have a comb?”
The boy looked at him askance and then accepting the humour, laughed in return.
“Ok mister Andy. You Ok I think. Can I come here tomorrow and you show me your Lib-ery. I want to read some more things. Mr Erik says that books can teach you everything.”
“Well that’s true and of course you can come tomorrow although we’re not officially open yet but I’ll give you a special preview.”
He got up to get him a drink, thinking of his planned few days of complete rest but Solomana intrigued him so much and he could ask him some other things about the village as well. “Who’s Mr Erik?” He turned but Solomana was striding purposefully away across the sand.
He had underestimated the utter darkness of the Pacific night and slept fitfully, feeling enclosed and tiny and missing the ambient light of the city.
A hammering at the door startled him into wakefulness, bringing back unwelcome memories spawned by unwelcome dreams and it took him some time to return to the present. Solomana’s flashing eyes betrayed his irritation.
“You said you would show me the books!”
“Good grief! What time is it?” The lagoon lay still in reflected early sunlight and he wanted time to take it all in but the boy was already pushing impatiently past.
“Now just wait a minute young man!” he roared. Solomana froze and his whole demeanour changed. He cowered in the hallway, his hands between his knees and his head down. ‘He’s just like a whipped dog!’ he thought. It startled him into compassion. He gently ushered him onto the lanai and poured him some juice, urging him to be patient while he got dressed.
Once the boy’s confidence was restored, he was insatiably curious as Andy escorted him along the rows of books. He wanted to see exactly what was on offer before he delved in and accepted Andy’s explanations with interest. Eventually, they reached the door again, having completed the tour.
“Well, what do you think? Would you like to be the first honorary member of this new library?”
He watched him struggle for words.
“Can I take books today? Now?”
“Of course you can. You go and make some selections while I make out your official ticket.”
He felt proud of himself. This was what it was all about, he thought; this was what made his decision to come here the right one. He needed to know the kid’s surname and address but didn’t want to interrupt his avid searching and instead went to the kitchen to pour himself some coffee. When he returned, Solomana was waiting by the desk with an open book in his hand.
“What, only one? You can take up to four you know.”
“I want to read this one.” he declared seriously and laid it down for Andy to stamp.
"It's Alright to Tell" by James Dixon.
It was a book meant for a New Zealand audience, written mainly for children from the more deprived areas of the cities, especially Auckland. It was perfect for Polynesian children but it was primarily for the victims of child abuse!
“Are you sure you want this one? Do you understand what it’s about?” He was completely unnerved at the implicit threat to his paradise but was determined to approach this carefully.
“I know what I want mister. Can’t I take this book?” He stared at him challengingly and Andy knew he had to let him have it without question, or risk losing him forever. After all, what did he know about this boy? Nothing. What he might learn caused a huge lump of lead in his stomach.
“Yes you can take it.” He stamped the book and gave it to him. He turned to leave.
He stopped and turned around, once more with quizzical eyes.
“You know, if you want, we could get some more juice, sit on the lanai and have a chat. Would you like that?”
The almost imperceptible twitches suggested that he wanted to get away from there as fast as possible but he hesitated long enough for Andy to say:
“I don’t really know anyone on the island. You’re my first friend and I could really do with a friend to talk to right now.”
He came back in from the veranda; sat on his book as if it might fly away and stared at the man apprehensively.
“You want to know why I wanted this book, right?”
“Not if you don’t want to tell me.”
“It’s okay. You alright mister but you must tell no one okay?”
“Is it that serious?” he avoided committing himself to a promise but knew he needed to tell anyway and walked across the room to push the door, leaving it open slightly so that Solomana could escape if he wanted to.
The story came out in a rush; about his father hiring him out to some Dane called Erik Rasmussen each time he came to visit the island, which was about three times a year. He was to stay at Mr Rasmussen’s holiday home for the duration of the man’s stay, ostensibly to do light household duties. His father was paid in advance. However, Rasmussen seemingly wanted more than light chores doing and according to Solomana, his father was probably aware of the situation but needed the money for his kava and his gambling.
Andy found his hands gripping the table and his nails digging into the wood but kept his face composed and sympathetic.
Solomana was by no means distraught and actually admitted to enjoying some of the activities they shared but had read enough, heard enough and was terrified by the consequences of what he’d been doing, especially if he died and went straight to Hell!
Andy was grateful when he paused and he could offer him another drink. This was first and foremost, a church-going island. Solomana was racked with confusion and Bible-inspired guilt. “What should he do?” Solomana asked. What could Andy do, or say? He was shocked, feeling overwhelmed by the implications of what he’d heard.
His own hidden HIV status threw a long and worrying shadow over the whole business. They both sat pondering when suddenly the door burst open and in swept Tetuanui with an armful of books.
“So, here you are. You already busy. What you doing here Solomana? You telling your tales again? You know God won’t forgive you for telling lies, especially about foreign peoples. You been filling Mrs Simpson’s head with you stories about Mr Erik and your father? Won’t you ever learn? Boy will you get a thrashing!”
Solomana took one look at Tetuanui’s face and despite Andy’s protestations, dodged the outstretched arms and fled out into the glaring sunlight. Andy could only stare helplessly at the fast disappearing silhouette.
“Another beautiful day Andy. What we done to be so blessed by God’s bounty? I always ask myself.”
Tetuanui had filled the room with her expansive gestures and weather reports. She assumed all foreigners absorbed frequent weather reports, as a life need. Andy wondered whether he had just lived out a dream.
Tetuanui was to be Andy’s assistant. She was a large and lovely woman, who billowed like an ocean-going, sailing boat in her flowered, cotton prints. Her movements were filled with such grace and elegance despite her weight, that Andy felt angular and disproportionate in comparison. She smelled of flowers and Andy had felt entirely comfortable in her homely presence…until this very moment.
“You know,Tetuanui, I don’t think he was telling lies.”
Tetuanui’s jovial expression melted away and she frowned at Andy, her eyes narrowing and her mouth wrinkling and tightening with disapproval.
“Now how long you been here Andy? Five minutes yes? You don’t know things like we do. Solomana’s father is a decent man and his mother, God rest her soul, is long dead. That poor man has to raise that boy all alone and it is no easy task I can tell you. Solomana has the Devil’s spirit in him and he tries all our Christian patience with the trouble he causes every time someone new comes here. He walks over my grave every day! The boy is wicked, wicked. He causes all sorts of trouble. Some say he brings storms to the skies and sharks to the lagoon but I don’t subscribe to such gossip, it’s not God’s way but you mark my words Andy, you don’t want to get involved with him at all. Wait till I tell his father. Then he’ll get the good beating he deserves for all this. Though it never does no good. That boy has the touch of evil!”
With that, Tetuanui sat down, breathing heavily, her massive arms folded as if in defence against the ills of the world and shook her head repeatedly. The sweat broke out like pearls on her skin and she heaved with emotion.
The words were Christian but the eyes betrayed countless ancient and broken taboos and Andy suspected hhe had stumbled into something beyond his influence. He shivered but persevered.
“Who is this Erik Rasmussen, Tetuanui?”
“Why, Mr Rasmussen’s a fine man. He’s a man who understands us more than most Europeans and tourists. He only comes here for holidays but he’s very rich you know. So much money he’s given us for the Church and the Hall and yes Andy, even for the Library!”
Her case proved, with massive arms folded, Tetuanui’s smile returned and she turned away. Clearly the conversation was over.
“Would you like some more coffee Andy? Should I write cards for these books?”