1 Reunion : Available from Amazon Books http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F5GE050
2 Guiding Star Available from Amazon Books; http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4HC5QQ
3 The Tramway
4 Grandmother's Diary; Available from Amazon Books; http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FHN4ZY2
5 The Fish Hook
6 The Lizard God
7 At His Moument
Guests at the governor of American Samoa’s mansion, were greeted by a driver and waiting car at the foot of an inclined driveway.
Two by two, and four by four, guests were chauffeured up a winding road flanked by a tropical rainforest. Once the cars reached the top of the drive a smartly uniformed greeter opened the door and escorted them to the bottom of the steps leading to the porch of the great old house. Governor’s had lived there for more than one hundred years. During the naval era the governor’s and their military guests were uniformed in polished whites This night the host and his guests were attired in what was known as island formal. For men, dress consisted of a flowered shirt and light colored slacks or khakis. Women wore off the shoulder evening dresses with billow skirts that allowed passage of air in the humidity.
Forty years ago Paul wasn’t afforded the luxury that came so easily tonight. Then he was one of many who had come to the island to perform and represent his own island nation. Then he carried the burden of unofficial ambassador. Tonight he is the ambassador with portfolio. He didn’t, however, forget the time a couple of generations ago when, in his youth, he played the role of keeper of the culture. Paul was a performer of arts and beliefs so essential to his upbringing he barely recognized that not everyone shared in such an intense, yet singular understanding of ways of living and life and the reality of what it means to belong to a Pacific clan.
The greeter opened the car door and Paul stepped into the receding daylight. He was surprised to find that the governor himself was there to offer the traditional welcomes of a flowered wreath and a hug kiss that officially admitted him to the evening’s festivities. There were, of course, other faces he was long familiar with. Long time diplomats who curried his favor over the years in exchange for the support of members when crucial votes in the United Nations spelled thumbs up or thumbs down on issues such as global disarmament, international courts of justice and unilateral trade agreements. He spoke easily to them. Once, forty years ago, Paul represented his nation. Tonight, as was the case of many nights, he was his nation’s face.
The barman drew Paul’s favorite late afternoon drink and Paul stepped onto the veranda that overlooked the great harbor. The fog of years lifted as he recalled events of his past trips to the island. He saw the old hotel where bands played deep into the night and when they stopped guests coupled and went off for midnight swims at the hotel beach. He saw below the stretch of beach where once houses stood, occupied by contract workers who provided essential services. Trying to recall the once familiar layout, he thought he recalled the house occupied by the staff nurses who attended all residents of the island either in the military quarters or at the public health station.
Once Paul’s mind grabbed a piece of the past his memory bank flowed with a stream of long forgotten events. It was the kind of a moment when forty years flash by in an instant and an experience comes to life as clearly and vividly as if it were happening just now.
Paulo turned quickly to see what his friends and fellow entertainers had already noticed. She was a Caucasian woman not more than twenty- four, only slightly older than Paulo. She was dressed in nurses’ whites with a bib cover over a white collared blouse. Even in the heat she wore white, semi sheer nylons and pump shoes that steadied her stature. It was a fleeting glance, one of forbidding intent. And one that came and went as quickly as a furtive sentiment between two young people yearning to meet and say something more but never consummating the opportunity. That was forty years ago. But he didn’t forget. Later that evening Paulo broke from his fellow performers and made his way back past the house where the nurses were boarded. This time she came to him directly and made herself welcome. She was an American. The first American he had ever met. They talked about the mundane topics that make up an awkward union touched by nothing less than inquisitiveness and nothing more than healthy lust. That night they walked along the ocean’s edge and shared ten thousand miles of lives about families and ideas and where they wanted to be in ten, twenty, thirty years. She seemed so confident. Paulo seemed so insecure. When in a long and undecided lengthy minute the couple was drawn to the water and its darkness and coolness and foreboding. Where in daylight, blue and azure and ripples of white edge a break in the reef, where now a mystery of the unknown of what lie beneath the water was as unsure of what could happen next unfolded. At high tide they only needed to take a few steps before they were waist high in the water. The depth when the buoyant salt sea makes a body float and rise and ebb in the waves. They romanced and shared long, languorous kisses and explored each other’s body.
What seemed like what would never end, ended. She was on call she said and he was not the decider. Had she? Played him for the moment? Tested the potential of another world or sank into the life deeper and more meaningful than when just a passing glance with no denouement tugged and teased at the inquisitive mind of a young woman.
In those moments it all came back to Paul. Forty years as if it was happening now, right now. As if it was still happening or could happen.
More cars arrived and more guests. The crescendo of the formal party grew into the hum of new friendships and old acquaintances. There were Paul’s old friends from Hawaii and from Tahiti and Wellington in New Zealand.
Paul, though, slipped away from the crowd and found a bench in a darkened corner of a garden near the open house of the traditional kind where chiefly meetings and family events normally took place in villages. “Remember me Paulo?” She was about Paul’s age maybe a little older but he was confounded. He wanted to remember. Wanted to say how lovely it is to see you again. He wanted to rekindle a moment in the past but there was no spark, no flash. No vivid recall of professional or personal acquaintance. She persisted. “I’m surprised because we met right up there”. She pointed to the overhead cable that once ran the now inoperable tramway that stretched an unimaginable distance across a span of the great harbor. “We rode together that day, just you and I in the gondola to the top of that mountain. It was cool there when we reached the top. Don’t you remember? I can see it in my mind like it happened just yesterday”. Paul could not remember. Could not recall that day or whatever happened on that mountaintop.
But now he saw and recognized a different light. Why, he asked himself, try to remember something that will not come back from the mind’s recesses? Take this moment, this friendship and relinquish the hindrance of time. “If I recall,” she added, “the cable car entrance is just up this hill.” The two found themselves heading up the hill along a dirt track woven through dense underbrush. The fading light made the way even less certain. Paul was gladly overcome by his mystery guide. Hand in hand they clutched roots and branches and handholds to further and further inch themselves up. A twig snapped and the sweet smell of the tropical bush revealed itself. They reached a clearing where the old cable car once traveled.
From the governor’s mansion to this place where the mouth of the harbor opened and the expanse of the Pacific showed the width and depth of infinity Paul knew and she knew. The reality of their fantasy was conceived. Now disregarding the past, if not spoken, then surely silently agreed upon, they delved into a place in their minds confirming the reason they came to this island deep in the Pacific in the first place. To retrace the romance and to experience the mystery one more time. To step into the black water and love to live. To ignore the past that carried of names and suits and titles and chauffeur driven cars.
They walked along a set of steps until they reached a lookout where surely lovers had rendezvoused and met and embraced and loved. She slipped into his arms and wanted to be loved because there may never be another time she surely knew. And he knew too and he loved her and she loved him.
“We know,” she said.
She, being Dr. Elise Tournotte, a professor of Pacific Culture at the prestigious Elysee de Cultur Pacific d’Sud in Noumea, New Caledonia,
“that ancient Pacific islanders were primitive people who did not advance past stone age technology until the arrival of western explorers well into the nineteenth century.”
Two years ago, when we first met, it was different. We wanted to be together and find things about us that we could talk about; and relate to. And convince each other that we liked, and loved, one another. Today it is so much different. We are together. We do love each other. Our relationship is deep and meaningful and spiritual. These days our souls touch where before only our bodies came together. I’m not sure if I will ever see him again or if our bodies will ever come together again like they did then. Now we are more apart and at the same time so much more together. I’ve decided that the love we have for each other will finally be consummated, again, in a spirit world. That’s how we are related now; as spirits.
That’s not at all how it began. We were so naive. Now I feel so much more mature about myself, about who I am and where I came from and who my mighty ancestors were and why the beliefs and feelings I have today originated so long ago. He and I discovered these feelings together and I will never forget, or regret, that time. My daughter turns two next week.
The day when we met, or more exactly the day I discovered I had a huge crush on him, was his day to perform. This may sound strange but what attracted me to him, aside from the fact that he was, and still is, so handsome, was the way he walked. I mean he was noble like a high chief. But what really got my attention was the fish hook he was wearing around his neck. His fish hook was almost exactly like the one my grandfather wears when the council of chiefs meet in the village house in our village. He’s from Yap. That is an island in the Pacific that is way west and north of here. So I wondered why his fish hook looked like my grandfather’s. So I asked him.
He looked at me quite intensely. I’m sure no young woman, I don’t and never have considered myself a girl, had asked him that question before.
“It’s not mine,” he answered, looking me directly in the eye which I thought was so cool.
“It belongs to my grandfather. Grandfather told me it belonged to his grandfather which makes it pretty old.”
He took the fish hook off from around his neck and handed it to me.
As I held the piece in my hand a certain feeling overcame me, and I’m not kidding. You would think the shell it was made from would be rough. It was was smooth, like someone had held it in their hand many, many times. I gave it back to him. I thought about my grandfather’s fish hook. I wanted to run back home and feel his fish hook in my hand to see if it too was smooth in the same places. I believed it would be.
To be honest my next impulse was to touch his skin and to caress his shoulder where the lanyard holding the fish hook turned around his neck and dipped onto his chest. I wanted to but I didn’t.
“Are you performing?” he asked.
“No, actually I’m a volunteer. I’m supposed to help the visitors acclimate themselves to the island and feel at home.”
“Oh wow”, He said. “Maybe you are the person I’ve been looking for.”
“Go ahead,” I answered. “Tell me what you want.”
“What I want is to eat some food that reminds me of home. I’m from Yap in the Marshall Islands”.
“Well,” I said, “I’m not really sure what they eat in Yap.”
“We eat mostly the same things as all Pacific Islanders, taro, coconut, yams and breadfruit. I thought I would find something similar here, but I haven’t.”
“Oh, “ I replied, “we have all of that. You just have to know where to find it.”
That being the case I invited him to come with me. We headed for the farmer’s market together. He changed out of his performance costume and put on a T-shirt and sandals he had stored in a plastic bag. He was wearing shorts under his costume anyway. So we looked OK together. I was wearing a lava lava over my shorts and a tube top with regular old jandals. He kept grandfather’s fish hook around his neck.
I was trying to think of something to say to him that would start a conversation.
“How did you get picked to be a performer”, I asked
“I’ve always been interested in our culture,” he answered. “Its really fascinating to think about where our ancestors came from and how we have come to honor and uphold the traditions we have now.”
“Really, what do you mean”, I asked.
“I mean I come from a small island like yours and some time ago, long ago, people on boats from another place found our island, settled there, and established a life for their ancestors to be, which are us.”
“I guess you could say that about my ancestors too.” I deduced.
“Does that mean we are all related?”
“It means we all have a common heritage of Pacific people.” he said.
Along the way to the market place we passed a community hall where mostly women were playing bingo. It sounded like they were having fun so we looked inside. At the front of the stage was a large metal cage filled with numbered balls. The bingo woman turned the cage as the balls mixed themselves into a random sort so that when the turning stopped and a ball fell out of the cage and into a slot no one could ever say for sure how that particular ball, with its number, was chosen over all the rest of the balls. She called out the number of the ball and the bingo players oohed and aaahed simultaneously and at different pitches because the number called matched, or didn’t match, the number on their card which brought them closer, or farther. from the eureka experience of calling out the magical word, “bingo” and the right to step ahead of the crowd and have a bingo worker call out the numbers of a row that made her the winner.
“I suppose that’s the chance our ancestors took too,” he said. “Maybe that’s why they like to play so much. Anyone can win.”
“It seems there are more losers than winners,” I said.?
“The ancient voyagers”, he said, “they kind of knew where they were going but it was always a chance that something might go wrong. That’s what we have in common. Our ancestors took a chance on hitting the island right on the mark. We are, then, the lucky ones, the strong ones, who succeeded. But not without help.”
“What kind of help?” I asked
He took a hold of the fish hook and held it away from his chest so that I might see it more clearly.
“There is power in this.” he said.
“ My ancestors carried this to help them make the right decisions about how to find the island when they were at sea. I use it today because I have made a long journey to this island. When I need guidance, I go to the fish hook that has passed down over the centuries through my family. Feel how smooth it is? That’s from my family using it over and over and over again for the guidance and spiritual advice it gives.”
I thought about my grandfather and his fish hook. I looked at him and saw in his face and eyes three thousand years of voyaging from ancient Asia until now. I saw his eyes closer to Asia than mine and his skin a bit yellower than mine. But in all of that I felt the fellow traveler of a Pacific man who knew the risks and the chances of succeeding and of the possibility of failure not unlike the bingo players who pack up their bags and go home for the night, but the men and women who plowed through the waves certain that the skills of their captains and navigators and boat builders and the gods of the heavens and the celestial sky and the trees of the forest would propel them to safety and another bit of land where they could rest until the next urge to move ahead and find a new place overtook them. The most adventurous people the world has ever known and they were his and my ancestors. And I was totally, helplessly in love with him and certain that before too long, maybe in an hour or so, I would fall into his arms and we would come together much as those brave adventurers did so long ago. I had found my adventure and would not, could not, let it go unfulfilled.
Just before the small bridge, to the right, was a stand of large mangrove trees. Their roots spread out wide to anchor the tree tops in violent storms. How many generations those trees had stood the test of the environment and nature’s throes I cannot say.
We made our bed there, ate our food and relived the ways our ancestors crossed the waves, settled in, and made the babies that we call our great and greater and greatest of all grandparents.
THE LIZARD GOD
Nadia and Sven lived a half a world apart. Yet it was on Tutuila, a small island in the Pacific, where they learned how their own cultural veneer could be either projected, absorbed or swallowed in a period of three months.
At His Monument
The cement benches were cold and hard; meant to be that way. Impervious to the salt spray; daily wear and tear of high schoolers.
These seven short stories are from the collection, "The Handy Couple's Guide To Bush Sex In American Samoa"