Femina has found the beach she had been dreaming about, and has been there for weeks now but she has given up the count. Why would she, being as happy as she is? She enjoys every minute, whatever she does; lying in the shade of the palm trees gazing out over the sea, or cooling off in the water, or competing with the fish for a race she could never win. Her skin has turned golden brown and her hair has become lighter in colour, bleached from sun and sea. One glorious day follows the other. She is surrounded by water, white sand and palm trees. Some of them lean over the beach and a few are bent right over the water, with their green heads just high enough above to prevent those from getting wet.
It had not been easy to come here. For days she was hanging around in the harbour, trying to find a boat that could bring her to one of the inhabited atolls, that someone had recommended. But already there, between all the dark skinned people, the smell of fish and the hustle and bustle that comes with any a small harbour like this, and despite all the language problems, she felt relaxed and altogether well.
Remembering some of the experiences she had there, it makes her smile, particularly the one that was subsequently the reason why and how she came to this island where she is now. There she sat on the stairs of the small tea-house, right on the pier, where she waited every day for one of the boats for the atoll that she wanted to go to. It was already midday, and again she was unsuccessful. Having plenty of time to get herself some lunch and not ready yet to turn her back to the harbour for the day, she started to write a letter. But before she even finished the first line inquisitive folks started to surround her, and more and more arrived. There were the big eyes of children and curious fishermen and all of them laughed and watched her every word and move. There was a pushing and shoving and stretching of necks, and the sing-song of the foreign language, and when she finished the letter there was the clapping of applause. She remembers how funny she had found the situation, and it makes her smile all over again every time she thinks about it. A fisherman pulled her arm and insisted she come with him, pointing to the teahouse. She followed after some resistance, and only because all around her just laughed and nodded encouragingly. So there she was in the little room and only fishermen in it. She was sat on a little bench; the fisher who brought her in, joined his fellow men. A roundly native woman appeared and put down in front of her, tea and several plates, all filled with little mouthful of sweets in various shapes and colours. She prompted her to eat and so did all the men. Well, so she did under much friendly encouragement of them all. It was coconut pastry and they were delicious, amazing her in their variety of tastes. Whoever the baker was earned the highest accolades.
She sits up. The sea is dressed in stripes, from the darkest blue to the glassiest green, one stripe behind the other. The palm heads over the water fan their leaves in the soft breeze of the afternoon wind.
She did not have to pay for anything in the teahouse. They just waved her friendly and with big smiles good bye refusing any payment. What can she say! These folk has won her heart there and then. On that day she made a decision that brought her here. She would take the next boat that left the harbour the following morning no matter where it would sail to. The boats left only in the early hours of the morning to travel to the atolls. The inhabitants of these atolls, fishermen mostly, have only sailing boats of the simplest kind. Should the wind suddenly stop breathing they have to row, and that is serious business because they need to navigate the currents of the archipelago in which the atolls lie. To be swept off into the open sea could mean death. The journey to some atolls takes days, to others only hours and it is always depending on the wind. The boats are spacious enough for living on them if need be, but they are not designed for it and lack any such comfort.
Next morning she jumped into a boat that was getting ready to leave taking the fishermen in it by surprise. After some verbal to and fro with the boats captain and lots of gesturing because neither could understand the other, she was to her content allowed to stay. Why wait for something that could not possibly be better than anything she is endeavouring now?! With these friendly fishermen as she had encountered them so far, she doubted that there would be much difference, no matter from which atoll they came from. And they were indeed very nice, arranging for her a comfortable place for the journey.
The boat had benches along the sides and some across, one mast, and oars, being tucked away safely under them. At the back was a small roofed area. It provided some shade, but it was not enclosed and no room was available at all, to find privacy or shelter from rains or storms. All things, bags, sacks, ropes or boxes were securely placed all over the boat along the sides and one could move in the left over spaces in the middle. There was only one sail and that was not new but mended in many places. It did its duty however, fully blown by a steady breeze, it steered the boat through the little waves, rippled by the wind. The mood on board was relaxed and filled with the joyful laughter of the men and the pleasing sounds of their language. They gave her dried fish to eat, from their ration and made tea on a little kerosene stove. The cups were halved and polished coconut shells, which they collected after drinking to put them in a net that they hung overboard into the water for easy but still thorough cleaning as they were dragged along in the current.
It was only a day’s journey, but unforgettable never the less. They arrived at the little island at sunset, where she since has made herself at home. She has not regretted her decision ever. To the contrary! She has no intention what so ever to leave again.
The island is so small that one can walk around it in about an hour. The white sand is everywhere, running like a ribbon along the edges, separating the green of the coconut trees that grow on all the atolls, from the water. But also running right into the water the sand forms and furnishes the whole lagoon. That gives the pristine water perfect clarity and the most incredible hues of green and blue. One can only marvel about the colours on display. In the inner circle of the island are the huts where the people live. Only a few bushes and shrubs can be found, besides the palm trees. They seem to have just one purpose that is to supply the women with bright coloured flowers, so they can adorn themselves with jewels for their beautiful long shiny black hair.
The whole island can be seen as a tiny village but really it is just a settlement, consisting of no more than twenty houses, or palm huts. Not all are occupied, some serve as available lodging for the travellers that journey from one to the other atoll. Every house has a little private area at the back, fenced off from the public pathways and places by a fence of tightly woven coconut leaves. There is always traffic because life goes on outside in the open spaces not in the houses and there is a lot of visiting the neighbours any time, day or night.
The huts are not built close to each other, with plenty of space between them, so each family can feel comfortable, but no huts are found at the beach. It does not matter however, because it is an easy stroll to go there, no more than fifteen minutes if one chooses to take the long way.
The atoll backs on one side right on to the open ocean, separated from it only by a stretch of about twenty or thirty meters of colourful coral reef that suddenly breaks off at the outer edge like a cliff with no sight of any ground below. The other side, within the atoll ring is a lagoon, forming the most incredible swimming-pool that one could think of for the best leisurely bathing and splashing around one could wish for. Every day when she goes to the beach she has to make a decision; - is it for snorkelling and diving or to enjoy the clear waters of the lagoon. Both are unsurpassable pleasure, whereby the underwater world truly is a wonder of the world, indeed a water wonder world with schools of fish from the tiny to the big, from the plain to the most colourful in mind boggling patterns and combinations. To wear stripes and spots in one outfit is left to the truly carefree but here even the most phantastic creation of one’s mind is no match to what is on display. The corals, any other creatures, all life, is of such variety in shapes and colour that one can only be in awe. She see swarms, not just pods, of dolphins, turtles, manta rays and monster fish, she has no name for, and though there are also plenty of sharks, she could not care less. They have the trouble of choice anyway with all the food on offer, why really would one want to make a meal of her? No, no! Nothing can keep her away from this magic world!
Really! Nothing in her mind could make her leave from here altogether. A little girl, to Femina’s surprise, knows a few words of her language. She is such a sweet little thing, trying all the time to teach her the native’s tongue. She also shows her how to look for shells on the beach and where the most beautiful can be found. But in the afternoon, Femina just loves to lie in the white sand, shaded by the palm trees and as close to the water as can be, the clearest water in the world. Nowhere is it so pristine, nowhere is it so turquois green. Nowhere could it be more beautiful.
And above all, these islanders are as wonderful in nature as everything else. How much they make her laugh! That they are an inquisitive folk she already learnt in the harbour, but to what extent, she could only find out since living in their midst. Male or female, young and old, they stick their noses into everything. No bag of hers, no bundle, no box or bottle, nothing, no matter how small, not even books are safe, they inspect everything over and over, in her absence as well, as she has noticed regularly. She has two books, one about the climb of one of the highest mountains in the world and a Yoga instruction book, both full of pictures and practical demonstrations for exercises shown by a Yogi. These books are a favourite past time for them as they sit in groups, hotly discussing and the young ones trying to imitate the postures to the laughter of all as they twist and turn their limbs and bodies. Femina can only laugh with them.
Even the nights do not stop village life. Sometimes she thought herself being alone walking down to the beach to admire the starry skies; she could not be more wrong as she found out. There was always someone around to let everyone know what she was up to. Everybody knows everything, nothing can be hidden or goes unnoticed.
When the nights are too warm for sleeping Femina may also sit in front of her house on the little wooden bench watching the bright lights of the stars blinking in the opening of the palm trees’ canopy. She hardly ever stays alone for long. There are always some awake to join her. The women usually come along carrying their big water pipes and as they take deep puffs the red ember lights up like little fiery balls that bounce through the night on dark paths, accompanied by bubbling sounds as they come closer. Indeed, these people are of an enchanting beauty, but more so the women. They seem to be ageless in their exotic charm and they are very self-confident indeed. Men have to work hard to impress them.
And their curiosity does not stop there that they go through her belongings and sit with her through the night. They observe her every move and activity, even the most personal where she definitely would want privacy. She uses the fenced off area at the rear for washing herself at the well and a far corner as the special ‘restroom’ facility where a big stick is the tool to bury all waste. It took a bit of getting used to knowing that watchful eyes were at the fence peeping, though she could not see them, only hear the whispering and muffled giggling or the rustling in the palm leaves. Well, she is probably as exotic for them as they are to her and they are not shy about all things natural themselves, so she has given up to feel embarrassed.
Time passes by without much notice, except for some change in the daily weather. Not that it caused any problem, not for Femina anyway. There are just clouds two times a day now. At midday, punctually, they bring rain. In fact, for one hour it pours down so heavily that one could believe, island and water was all that existed, water above, and water around, and more water, in which the island floated like a nutshell in an open sea. But then the sun appears again, eagerly lapping up all puddles and droplets and wet patches, and breaking up the flighty rain-clouds as they try to escape, building the most luminescent rainbows ever to be seen. In no time everything looks as if there had never been any change in weather and the deluge was a fabric of one’s mind and imagination.
Then there are the clouds at sunset. It seems, their only duty is to create the most spectacular sunsets, a unique display, every day different, the next always leaving the impression to be the most beautiful, though it simply is impossible to judge as all deserve the title of being the best. Nearly every day she wanders to the beach now to watch the outgoing day’s final performance, the scenes changing daily; one may be glowing red and purple, another orange gold and sulphuric yellow. Softly the palm leaves sway over still water in which the sky can vainly mirror itself, putting doubts into one’s mind, if it was not, after all, a body of pure red gold. This is the only time, and against expectation, that Femina is left to enjoy something all by herself. She only had to say ‘no’ once to one person who wanted to join her and nobody since has tried to join again. It is another reason why she loves these people, they are just beautiful, inside out.
There would be so much more to tell about this place and folk. It is paradise. Nearly perfect. Or has anyone ever heard of a perfect paradise in this world? She has not. And though it deserves the highest marks possible never the less, there are the mosquitos and other many legged tiny parasites to torment her at times! Interestingly, and fortunately, they don’t venture to the beach, they prefer to lurk in the bushes and huts to attack their prey. Once, walking to the beach for the sunset, she let a tiny mosquito sit down on her upper arm, because she found it very peculiar having never seen one alike. It was striped like a zebra with big black shiny round eyes that were in fact reflecting its lust for blood as Femina very quickly found out. This cute little rascal had a damn hard sting and despite her quick reflex to prevent further damage, her arm swell up immediately leaving her with a painful memory for days. She would have never anticipated so much power from such a tiny sweet looking insect. Cute yes, but a little monster no less.
Two other white people have arrived on the island, Allister and Gordon. As a matter of fact, Allister has been living on the atoll for some time and is going to marry a young native woman from here, but Gordon, his friend, is only visiting. Now that explains the little girl’s foreign language knowledge, however limited it was, it had Femina puzzled. Of course, not being able to find out more due to the prevailing language barrier, she had given up wondering for the time being.
The two live in a palm house not far from her. Naturally, they contribute to her own daily entertainment. Allister particularly can fill her in with his knowledge about life on the islands and their inhabitants. As he tells his many experiences, to the amusement of all three of them, his stories are only confirming hers, and are no less positive.
Between Gordon and Femina an affair begins to blossom. Well, he is an attractive man. Tall, broad shoulders, small hips, nicely tanned and though muscular, he is no ‘muscle man’. He is bold, though his face is interesting and his eyes are indeed sensational. These incredible big green iridescent eyes immediately captured her from the moment they met. They are like the sea that surrounds the island, of an intense turquois blue and green, and of the same clarity as the lagoon’s water.
Of course, nothing can be hidden from the curious folks they live with. It provides them with plenty to talk and laugh about. They gossip, with all the pleasure expressed on their faces when they gather to do their daily duties; women preparing the meals; males polishing shells and coral, making beautiful jewellery, which they then try to sell in the main atoll. And when Gordon and she walk passed their eyes light up with gaiety and the faces with big wide smiles as they are calling out to them in cheerful laughter.
The wave of happiness carries Femina high on its crest. She really can only hope that the ride won’t end. The affair intensifies to a relationship. They spend most time together now and though they don’t talk about it particularly, they want to stay together. But as it always is, hoping is one thing, reality another. The archipelago got a new ruler who does not like foreigners staying too long in his dominion. Femina and Gordon have to leave. Not so Allister as he has already converted to the country’s religion in order to marry. He can stay. As sad as they are they cannot get permission, not even an extension until Allister’s wedding, which, though planned, had no set date yet.
As far as they both are concerned there is no intent of leaving each other, though practical reasons still force them to do just that, regardless. Gordon has to take care of some business and so has she. They come from different countries, and though she has no concerns following him, she wants to finish her studies once and for all now, before going on any other adventures. Therefore they decide that he would follow her, but even so, it cannot happen immediately. Besides the personal obstacles that Gordon has to eliminate on his side, there are still the official bureaucratic hurdles on her side that need to be overcome.
Whatever the reasons are, at this stage Femina has to manoeuvre herself through the tumultuous emotions of separation. How she hates it! Both, separation from the island and from Gordon. It is the final ‘good bye’ for the island, but it is also a good bye to Gordon from the island. She calls this experience of separations the ‘walk over glowing coals’. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make this sweet or less dramatic.