BY the time I got to Bora Bora I wasn’t shy anymore about asking strangers for favors. I always offered something in return and almost everyone seemed to appreciate that although I knew they mostly didn’t need what I had to offer.
Like yesterday. I spent a wonderful day on Motu Moute as the guest of a couple who tended a small watermelon patch on that barrier island, one of the many motus that surround Bora Bora. When I heard they were going to work on their farm, I offered to help for free. They thought I was nuts—the dry season was over, they said, and there’d be mosquitoes and gnats on the island. They laughed but finally said okay, undoubtedly to humor a fool as much as they needed help.
They weren’t kidding. There were lots of gnats and the mosquitoes were only waiting to take over at night. There wasn’t much work—there wasn’t enough weeds for three people to pull out and the plants were doing well. It was quite an enjoyable day for the island was beautiful and pristine—very few people go there to mess it up. For lunch we ate fish caught on the way over, broiled over charcoal from the coconut leaves I collected. I even managed to do some swimming in the calm lagoon waters.
I was on my third day in Vaitape, the main town in Bora Bora. It had a pier which wasn’t very busy—only little boats and small cruise ships docked there. For the third day in a row, I saw the brown dog that seemed to have made the pier his home. He would meet every ship that came in and look at the faces of everyone who disembarked, as if looking for a long-lost master who had sailed away one day and never came back. I wondered if his master had left his island home for the same reasons I left mine when I was twenty-one. I felt sorry for the dog because I had already learned what “you can never come home again” meant.
I worried about what I was going to do the rest of the day when I saw a le truck that looked like it might be a tour bus. I went to the driver and asked. Her name was Teróo and yes, she was waiting to take tourists from a cruise ship on a circle island tour.
“Can I help? I speak English.”
“What do I need you for, I speak English myself. Everyone in the tour industry does.”
“I don’t want any money—I just want to help you round your passengers up after each stop. Surely, you don’t want to lose any of them.”
She laughed loud in such an infectious manner I thought perhaps I had told a good joke. “I haven’t lost anyone yet. This is a very small island. How can anyone get lost?”
“Oh, come on. I’m sure you can find something for me to do to make your life easier. Besides, how can I get to see this island if you don’t let me help?”
“Where are you from, Chile or Castille?”
“Non, je suis philippin.” I wanted to impress her with my French.
“Well, well—I’ve never met a Filipino before,” she said with that beautiful laughter she had. “You can come with me but promise to tell me about your country.”
A LAUNCH from Wind Song, the high-tech French luxury sailing ship anchored in the bay, arrived at the pier to let passengers off for the tour. There was a dozen of them, mostly old Americans. As soon as they got aboard, we started on our way. There were already people from Club Med in the bus and we stopped at Bloody Mary’s to pick up another couple. Teróo was driving a regular le truck painted light blue and red, with wooden benches and open windows. I sat in the front with her.
We went in a clockwise direction along the road that circled the island. Our first stop was on a relatively high point just a few miles out of Vaitape. To the left we had a good view of the small bay, to the right were concrete bunkers and fortifications. Teróo explained the area used to be a submarine base in World War II. None of the old buildings existed anymore—they had either been torn down or reclaimed by the jungle.
I figured this was where James Michener was stationed during the war—the place where he wrote many of the stories in Tales of the South Pacific as he waited for the enemy that never came. I looked at Teróo, who appropriately looked like a cross between Bloody Mary and Liat in the movie, and pondered the likes of Lt. Joe Cable who saw beauty in Liat but at the same time found her unqualified to be a wife because of her color. By the time Michener’s book became a musical, Lt. Cable had been rehabilitated into one who protested “you have to be taught” to consider other races inferior. White America wasn’t ready then to look in the mirror and see its real self.
None of the passengers got down. I doubt if they knew or cared who James Michener was. Big band music and scenes of sailors and Marines in khaki uniforms scanning the horizon for enemy ships faded from my mind as the bus started moving again and jolted me back to reality.
The circle island tour doesn’t cover many historically important places for there is virtually none in Bora Bora. We stopped at scenic vistas—there was a lot of them—where the tourists got out to take pictures they can show back home. Farther along, Teróo stopped the bus at a secluded place where there were lots of trees and announced that those who wanted to relieve themselves can do so. “Women to the left of the road, men on the right,” she yelled. I told Teróo we did the same thing in the Philippines and drew a laugh from her. However, nobody wanted to go, probably too embarrassed to do even such a natural act outdoors because they had been doing it indoors all their lives.
Somewhere past the halfway point, we stopped at a wooden shack that sold souvenirs, snacks, and soft drinks. Teróo told everyone they were free to browse around for half an hour. As soon as they had gone, Teróo and I went to the back of the bus to chat.
“So how is it you’re here? I have never seen a Filipino here before, honest.”
“Oh, I was let go from my job in Los Angeles because sales was down. I wanted to go on a vacation before I start on a new job.”
“You born in the Philippines?”
“Yes, I went to America because life was hard for me in my country.”
“Isn’t the Philippines like this island?”
“Right, except there’s too many people. Even crowded Papéete seems wide open compared to the Philippines. I don’t know, but everything here seems familiar—not just the climate but the way the language sounds, the words, the way people go about their business. But we’re different, too. Perhaps we’ve changed so much that what we now have isn’t real anymore.”
“We’re changing, too,” she mused, “not always good. I don’t know how we were able to keep much of our customs. Look what happened to the Hawaiians…” She turned pensive for a while. “Anyway, how long are you going to stay here?”
“In French Polynesia? As long as my money holds out—I want to see as much of this area as I can. I’m beginning to think I can get a feel of what the Philippines might have been had things been different.”
“I know I’ll never have another chance like this again. I don’t want to end up like these tourists who wait until it’s almost too late to enjoy travel.”
“I would like to travel myself but I can’t afford to go anywhere.”
“You’re lucky, this is paradise as far as I’m concerned.”
“But it still would be nice to see different places.”
Teróo didn’t want a soda so I got just one for myself at the snack bar. It was expensive as hell—three bucks—but that’s what they charged everybody everywhere, not just tourists at this tourist stand. Everything was expensive in paradise.
When I returned, I asked Teróo, “So how often does anything exciting come to stir everybody from their romantic attitudes here?”
“Not very often. You know I was in a Hollywood movie once? Mutiny on the Bounty. Those were exciting times.”
“The one with Marlon Brando?”
She laughed hard. “You’re a bad boy. I’m not that old—the one with Mel Gibson.”
“At least I didn’t ask if it was the Charles Laughton movie,” I teased back. “Yeah, I saw the Mel Gibson movie—lots of nude women, beautiful bodies, sexy…”
“I was one of them.” She gave me a big smile.
I didn’t say anything and smiled back. She looked pretty enough but she had gotten a bit heavy just like most Polynesian women tend to do when they reach a certain age.
She sensed my incredulity and laughed again. “I was only eighteen… you wouldn’t believe how beautiful and sexy I looked then.”
“I’m sure you were.”
“No, you don’t—you don’t believe me,” she said, shaking her head.
Our passengers were still milling about the store—a few had gone across the road to check out what was there. I smiled at the idea some of them may finally be relieving themselves after passing on the first scheduled pee stop.
“What islands have you seen?”
“Tahiti and Raiatea before this.”
“Then you should visit Huahine. That’s my island. I have a daughter who lives there in our old house. She looks exactly like I did when I was eighteen. You can stay there for free.”
“You’re very kind but I don’t want to impose on strangers.”
“You don’t know us Polynesians. I like you and you are my friend, and I want you to meet my daughter. You will see how I looked twenty years ago. She will be happy to meet you. School is over and she’s there with her grandfather, my father. My husband works in Papéete, you know.”
TWO days later I was at Farepiti Quay, the pier commercial ships use in Bora Bora, waiting to get on the ferry for the overnight trip to Huahine. Teróo’s daughter, Simone, was going to meet me in Fare when we get there in the morning. She had just finished high school in Tahiti and was on vacation before going off to college.
We slept on the deck of the ferry which also serves as a freighter. Many people had straw mats to lie on—I had none but used my jacket for warmth and my backpack for a pillow. It was getting light when a loud crunch woke me up. I heard voices and I understood enough to know we had hit something.
I was surprised nobody seemed too disturbed. People were calmly looking out over the side. One of them explained we were in one of the channels through the barrier reefs around Huahine. We had hit a sandbar—the captain had misjudged its depth because of the complicated tidal pattern. Happens all the time, he said. The biggest inconvenience was that we’ll be six hours late. We’ll have to wait until the tide gets high enough again for us to clear the sand bar.
I worried Simone might go back home when the ship didn’t arrive on time. I can call her on the phone but my Huahine trip felt like it was starting on the wrong foot—I had already caused her inconvenience.
We eventually got to the Fare pier by mid-afternoon. As our ship was coming in I saw the rickety stores and hotels across the tree-shaded street. Next to the pier was a snack bar. Off to the right was a bridge that two white kids—teenagers—on bicycles were crossing from wherever they may have gone to. They had white shirts and black pants, and the safety helmets required in America. I knew right away they were eighteen-year-old Mormon missionaries. They looked exactly like the ones we had in L.A. At their age, they probably didn’t realize how lucky they were to be able to spend a year of their lives among people of a different culture.
One young woman stood out from the rest of the people waiting at the pier. She was in a yellow and tangerine pareu, that one-piece wonder women all over French Polynesia used for clothing. She was sitting on that metal thing—I don’t know what it’s called—ships tie up to. She appeared to be scanning the ship for someone she was supposed to meet. When we made eye contact, I knew right away she was Simone. I went straight to her as soon as I got ashore.
“Bonjour, êtes vous Mademoiselle Simone?”
“Oui, vous devez être Antonio, n’est-ce pas?”
“Wow! Vous êtes jolie… Veuillez m’excuser, je ne parle pas bien le français.”
She laughed heartily—she had the same infectious laugh her mother had. “Maybe not, just good enough to flirt, I see.”
“You have to understand I only know a few phrases in French. Luckily, the ones I knew fit the occasion. I really meant what I said.”
“I’m glad to meet you. My mother said to take good care of you.”
“She’s a wonderful woman—as warm and friendly as anybody I’ve ever known.”
“She’s a good mom, too. That’s why I always try to do what she asks of me.”
“Where did you learn to speak excellent English?”
“In school. I chose to study English because I had been aiming for a scholarship in an American university since I started high school. I was lucky enough to get one at U.C. Santa Barbara.”
“That’s only an hour’s drive from where I live.”
“Good. Maybe you can visit me when I get there.”
She was beautiful—full-bodied and full-hipped—attributes which may later work against her but were assets at eighteen. Gentle face, large brown eyes, and long, shiny, dark hair. I saw Teróo in her face and in her genuine warmth and charm.
She had borrowed an Italian scooter from her cousin and asked me to get in the back. She told me to hold on to her so I can lean whichever way she did in a coordinated manner.
I couldn’t believe I had my arms around the warm body of a beautiful woman. I was awkward around women and would normally scheme and plan just to get so far. A friend once said I was too timid with girls I liked, afraid of getting turned down. He was right but my carefully crafted defenses had saved me from much heartache over the years.
I fell for Simone right away but warned myself she was a different kind of girl. She was the daughter of a woman who had befriended me. I had to be very, very careful not to do anything that would break that trust. The thought gave me comfort—I had no pressure to get anywhere with her and had a ready-made excuse should I fail.
She lived in Faie, on the other side of Huahine Nui, or Big Huahine. There was another island called Huahine Iti, or Little Huahine, and the two were connected by a short bridge. She warned me not to get Fare and Faie mixed up since they almost sounded the same.
The roads were good and the terrain was relatively flat—Huahine didn’t have the tall mountain peaks in the middle like most of the other islands of French Polynesia. Houses were well made, many built with concrete blocks and corrugated iron although some were made of wood and raised from the ground. They weren’t clustered together and had lots of space around them.
After a little over half an hour on the road, Simone pulled into a dirt driveway that led to a large wooden house. Trees—jackfruit and mango—shaded the house. Bird chirps punctuated the sound of leaves rustling in the wind.
We walked to the porch where Simone introduced me to her relatives who lived nearby. They were preparing food—peeling, cutting, and chopping vegetables and meat.
We next went to the kitchen where I met her grandfather. He was well-built and looked strong, not old at all. He greeted me in French and I mumbled back an appropriate response. They spoke to each other in Tahitian. Her grandfather laughed, then she came to me and put an arm around my waist and smiled. She laughed, too.
“What’s going on here? Are they having a party tonight?”
“No—well, yes—my extended family has come to welcome you. We’re all eating together tonight.”
“Oh, Simone, this is embarrassing—they’re going to all this trouble for someone they don’t know.”
“Don’t be silly. They all want to eat and have a few drinks, too. It’s a good excuse to get together. Besides, they know you’re my mom’s friend.”
She took my backpack and stored it in one of the rooms. When she returned, one of her cousins handed her a plastic pail and said something in Tahitian.
“We have more than an hour before food is served—they thought it might be a good time for me to show you something. When we come back, we’ll have time to take a quick shower and change before we eat.”
We went out to the highway, turned right, and walked about half a kilometer towards the bridge we had passed earlier. Next to the bridge was a house with dozens of vandas in various colors all around the yard. She exchanged greetings with a boy who was sitting on the front steps. The boy who was perhaps sixteen came running out to join us.
We went down the embankment and walked along the banks of the small river to where it almost met the ocean. Simone and the boy got on their knees at the water’s edge and started slapping on it with their hands. I saw one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. Large eels started wriggling out from their holes along the banks and came to where the splashing was.
When there was a couple of dozen eels around, they gave them food from the plastic pail—bread, rice, vegetables, pieces of raw meat. “They eat anything,” Simone explained.
“Do they bite?”
“They probably do, but not if you don’t do anything stupid. They know we’re here to give them food.” Simone explained that the eels were treated by the local kids as pets, feeding them regularly. “What do you think?”
I laughed. “All I can say is if this was in the Philippines they would all have been eaten long ago.”
WE were ready for dinner. We had showered and changed. Simone was in a new green and purple pareu. She had it tied in another one of the endless number of variations, like a strapless gown this time. A pareu is nothing more than a brightly colored piece of rectangular cloth and I always wondered how they made them stay in place.
Her relatives had set a buffet table and I saw barbecued pork and fish along with poison cru, their version of kilawen, broiled breadfruit, green salad, and steamed rice. Off to the side was a barrel full of Hinano beer on ice. On another small table were several bottles of French wine.
There must have been twenty or thirty people, all nice to me. The food was good, and the beer and wine made conversing in a strange language less stressful for everyone. Simone’s relatives spoke to me in French and bad English. I replied in English and terrible French. Simone hovered close to me all the time, ever ready to rescue or translate for me, whichever seemed to be needed at that moment. It was hard not to get attracted to her—she was extraordinarily kind. However, not only was she the daughter of a friend, she was also embarrassingly ten years younger than I was. It didn’t make it any easier that she was more mature than many of the other women I knew—I was afraid she’d consider me ancient.
After everyone was full, two guys came in with log drums. They started beating out a steady rhythm that got everyone dancing. To me, much of Tahitian dance is erotic and some moves are outright simulations of fornication. They taught me those moves, difficult and tiring for a novice, and made me dance. We had been dancing for over an hour when one of the drummers apparently gave an order because everybody started leaving the dance floor one by one until only Simone and I were left.
The drums beat out more complex patterns while Simone danced around me, brushing me with her arms and legs, and bumping me with her hips and her body. Everyone was yelling, encouraging her on. Simone got closer to me and started swaying her hips faster in a frenzy that was exciting. The drums rose to a final crescendo then everything stopped. The party was over.
Each of the guests offered me another welcome to their island before leaving for the night. Simone’s grandfather had long retired to his room.
Simone was sweating profusely from her dance. She got a couple of Hinanos from the barrel and gave me one. We turned the lights off and went to the front steps where we sat close to each other. There was a solid breeze—it helped make the heat bearable, even nice. The moon was high and lit the landscape with a cold light that turned the bright colors of the trees and the flowers to a dull gray.
We didn’t feel the need to talk. The cold beer tasted great in the sultry night—its bitter aftertaste reminded me of tears and sweat. I wanted to thank Simone with a hug but didn’t want to spoil anything.
After our second beer Simone said, “We better turn in now. We have a lot of places to see tomorrow.”
She led me to the room where she had put my backpack—the same room where I changed after I took a shower. “You’re sleeping in my room,” she said. She unrolled a palm leaf mat on the floor and placed blankets and pillows on it.
“What about you? Where will you sleep?”
“What do you mean? This is my room, too.” She sounded like she was surprised to hear such nonsense from me. She casually pulled out the corner of her pareu that held it in place and let it fall on the floor—she only had a pair of bikini panties underneath. She put on a large Miami Dolphins T-shirt and laid down on one side of the mat. I changed my wet T-shirt into a dry one and took the other half of the mat.
“This really isn’t my room anymore—it was mine until I left to go to high school in Papéete. We students board there during the school year. I get to use this room on my vacations. Two of my cousins who help take care of Grandfather use it when I’m not around.”
She snuggled close to me and I felt her soft breasts touch my arms. She smelled of tiare, the smell reminded me of the gentle fragrance of the sampaguitas of my youth. I turned around and kissed her impulsively—it just felt like the thing to do. Our tongues touched and she was delicious. I groped for her breasts through her T-shirt, then decided I could do better if I put my hand directly under her shirt. Her young breasts were firm but supple—her nipples were small, typical for one who hadn’t nursed a child yet.
I would have stopped right there, content with little victories had she not reached down and touched my cock. We both knew what was coming next and took our clothes off. I wasn’t clumsy anymore but confidently moved like I had been doing it with her for a long time. It felt good when I got inside her. We kept it up for a while, not speaking, and she held me back whenever she felt I was getting frantic. When she finally let me come, she was ready—her body stiffened and shuddered several times before she went limp.
I WOKE up just as the sun had come up. Simone was still sleeping. When I walked out of the room, I saw that her grandfather was already awake and having a cup of coffee. I was embarrassed when he saw me come out.
“Ia orana,” I greeted him warily.
“Bonjour! Comment allez vous? Voullez-vous du café?”
“Oui, si’l vous plait. Noir—sans sucre, sans lait.”
He came back from the kitchen and handed me a cup of coffee. It was strong and it was good. Another legacy from the French I said to myself. We seemed to be the only two people awake in all of Huahine.
We sipped our coffee in silence. I was apprehensive about starting a conversation.
“Simone est séduisante nest-ce pas? Is nice, yes?” he said at long last but didn’t show any indication of what he was really trying to get to.
“Oui, she’s very pretty.” Did I give myself away? I wondered.
“Êtes-vous de Californie?”
“Simone go school Californie.”
Just then Simone came out from her room to join us. She was wearing the same T-shirt but had put on a pair of tan cargo shorts. Her hair was disheveled but she still looked lovely. Her large brown eyes smiled before her lips did. She put her arms around my shoulders in a gesture as unaffected as it would have been had she been greeting her grandfather. I realized then I had been brought up in an environment very different from hers—mine had been inhibited, hers open. Her touch made me uneasy no more.
Simone went to the kitchen to get herself a cup of coffee. She brought the pot over to refill our cups. She let her grandfather know about our activities for the day. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but they laughed a lot.
LATER that morning, we were back on the road. Simone had me put extra clothes in my backpack in case it got cold or we didn’t get back home before dark. She also made sure we had bathing suits because there would be places where we might be tempted to swim.
It didn’t take long to get to our first stop, Marae Rauhuru. I had been to a few other maraes before but they’re all different—this one was smaller but had larger stones. Like the others, this marae was on a raised rectangular platform built up with rocks, stones, and dirt. Flat, upright slabs of coral stood along its periphery. More slabs were in what seemed to be random places in the middle of the platform.
“These are sacred places our ancient people used for religious ceremonies—exactly what, we’re not sure. They could have been animal or even human sacrifices.”
“Those standing stones—any astronomical features to them?”
“Again, we don’t know although nobody has yet found a connection. There’s a lot of things we still don’t know about our old culture. That’s one reason I want to go to school in the U.S. After my degree, I’d like to go for a doctorate at University of Hawaii and do research on our past.”
“That’s very commendable… I wish you luck.” I knew Simone was kind and responsible but this was the first indication I got that she really had great plans about what she wanted to do with her life.
“I hope you don’t mind, but let’s stay around this marae for a while. Feel the energy from this place. Too many tourists rush from one place to another and never get to know anything real.”
We walked around the marae. Some of the coral slabs were green with lichen, others were smooth and plain.
“How old is this marae?”
“Probably twelve hundred years… Of course, it must have been destroyed by cyclones and rebuilt a few times. Sometimes those waves can get strong even though we’re surrounded by barrier reefs. Inter-island wars could also have destroyed it once or twice.”
“How do you know all these?”
“I’ve been reading a lot. It’s a subject that really inspires me.”
We sat on the edge of the marae, soaking the sun in and gazing at the ocean. After a few minutes, Simone pulled me up and pointed towards a nearby thatch-roofed, oblong-shaped structure built over-water on stilts. It had no windows. It was a replica of a building where the ancient rulers met, she explained.
She asked me to take my shoes off before entering as a sign of respect. I was surprised to see how bright and airy it was inside considering there were no windows. Light came through the gap between the wall and the pitched roof—the gap wasn’t noticeable from the outside. We squatted on a large palm leaf mat that covered the floor. The place was quiet and peaceful.
Presently, about half a dozen people came in. The men were in Hawaiian shirts and the women in colorful muumuus. They walked around and were apparently baffled there was nothing to see inside. I noticed Simone got a bit agitated because they hadn’t removed their shoes. One of them came over and asked what the building was for and Simone told him. The man said it would be a good idea to fill the room with exhibits because there was nothing there for tourists to see. I was astonished at the self-control my young friend showed.
We set out again in the direction of Fare. A couple of kilometers away, Simone stopped on the side of the road and pointed to the ancient rock fish traps in the inner lagoon. Nobody knew how old they were but they had been in constant use for centuries.
“I’ve seen bamboo fish traps in the Philippines with the same pattern.”
“Our ancestors brought with them many cultural traits and traditions from the Philippines and Indonesia. You’ll find a lot here that may have been lost there long ago. I once read an article about your sexual customs in ancient Philippines the friars found sinful. They said the women were too promiscuous. Funny but they didn’t say anything about the men. Doesn’t it take two?” She laughed.
“Is that true… the promiscuity, I mean? You wouldn’t know it the way girls behave there today—it takes a lot of work just to get one to let you hold her hand.”
“That’s the influence of the Church. When the white men first came to our islands they said the same thing about our women. Guess what, I don’t think they know the difference between promiscuity and not hiding your true feelings. In this regard, we probably haven’t changed as much as you Filipinos.”
“Anything we still do you don’t do anymore?”
“Our ancestors brought dogs with them—as pets and as a source of protein. We don’t eat them anymore.”
She turned red and looked anxious. She looked relieved when I laughed.
“Some day I’ll read the original friar manuscripts and write a paper investigating how Christianity changed the culture in the Philippines and how Islam did the same in Indonesia.”
I thought about my high school days when I wanted to be a writer, or maybe a photographer. I gave up those plans because I reckoned the best way to get respect was to have a good-paying, practical job. So I became an engineer, instead. I envied Simone who was going on to do the things she loved.
IT was noon and very hot when we got to Fare. Simone parked the scooter under a wide-spreading monkeypod tree across from the pier. I followed her to a small hotel that had mostly cash-starved surfers as guests. Inside was a restaurant, a typical South Seas restaurant the way I remember from the movies. It’s walls were bare except for an airline calendar. Two slow-rotating fans dominated the ceiling.
The restaurant served Chinese food. We had noodles, cheap but very good, followed by fresh, ripe mangoes for dessert. We talked about our lives, how different California was from Huahine, and promised to see each other in Santa Barbara. We talked about what we were going to do next.
Simone wanted to show me Bali Hai, the four-hundred-dollar-a-night resort hotel just outside of town where they had found ancient artifacts during its construction. “It’s a beautiful place but I had this strange feeling when it was being built we shouldn’t have been putting anything up there.”
She had worked at the archaeological site as a volunteer digger the last two summers. One of the archaeologists from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu was evidently impressed with her enthusiasm and attitude and helped her get a scholarship at U.C. Santa Barbara.
When we left the restaurant, there were three men were waiting for us outside. Simone looked annoyed when she saw them. She spoke with one and led him away from the others. They talked in Tahitian but I could sense the anger between them. He was jabbing at her with his finger and she was gesticulating wildly with her arms.
Unexpectedly, I felt a sharp pain that made me fall to my knees. One of the other guys had sucker punched me on my side. It would have been worse but my backpack had blunted the blow somewhat. The other followed with a fist to my face. More blows followed and I lost my sense of what was up and down. I heard a loud shriek from Simone then felt her arms around me. She shielded me from further blows with her own body.
Other people came, pulled the guys away, and made them leave. The waiter from the restaurant came out and gave me a glass of ice water. I slowly regained my breath as Simone cradled me in her arms. When I was able to stand up, Simone made me walk up and down the sidewalk to make sure I had my balance back. When she was convinced I could hold on to her on the scooter, we drove off.
She drove slowly, often driving with one hand as she used the other to make sure I was holding on tightly to her. She drove to Bali Hai which was close by and made me wait by the scooter while she went to the office.
After ten minutes, she came back with an armful of towels and a bucket of ice. A man who came out with her helped me walk to wherever we were going. He must have been appraised by Simone of what happened for he was apologetic. “I’m sorry this happened. We Tahitians aren’t brutes…”
“Oh, no, don’t worry. I’ve met many nice Tahitians and I’m not going to let some people spoil my visit or change what I think of your people.”
We walked to the lagoon where circular cottages were built on stilts above the clear, turquoise waters. A quiet breeze blew onshore making the humidity less intolerable. We took a raised walkway over the water to one of the cottages.
“My name is Sylvain, I’m the manager of this hotel. Simone asked if you could lie down for an hour in one of the rooms until you get your wind back. I knew she was going to drive you back to Faie so I told her you can stay as long as you need to—overnight, I insist. Don’t worry about the charges—we’re never booked full so it’s no big loss.”
He saw my reluctance and continued, “I owe a lot to Simone—she helped us coordinate with the archaeologists the last few years.”
He gave me a bottle of Côte du Rhone when we got in the room. “I hope you will enjoy this.” He shook my hand again before leaving.
The room was terrific. Over-water. Breezy. Three hundred sixty degrees of view. In the middle of the floor was a large round hole covered with thick glass through which you could see colorful fishes in the water below. Another over-water walkway led to a platform farther out in the lagoon from where you could swim or simply relax. Lots of space separated one cottage from another to ensure privacy.
Simone made me lie on the bed and removed my shirt. She put ice wrapped in towel on my side that hurt. She placed another on my cheek and told me to hold them in place.
She sat next to me and started crying. She had managed to hold everything in until she felt it was okay to let herself go. Between sobs she said one of the guys in town was an old boyfriend who couldn’t accept the fact it was over between them. “He is so jealous and possessive—he thinks he owns me. He’s going to hear from my cousins.”
After she put everything away, we drank the bottle of wine until I felt sleepy enough for a nap.
SIMONE was watching over me when I woke up. I looked at my watch and noted I had slept for a good hour.
“Did you sleep at all?”
“Oh, yes. Fifteen minutes.” She wiped her tears away and smiled.
“Don’t make yourself sad for what happened. Everything’s okay.”
She wanted to say something more but I pulled her down to make her lie beside me. When I tried to hug her to reassure her, I felt a sharp pain at my side that made me flinch. Simone noticed and started crying again.
She nestled close to me—the smell of our sweat mixed with the tiare scent in the coconut oil she used on her hair. She was warm and her touch felt good. She must have noticed my tension for soon she had a mischievous smile on her face. Her smile made me feel better.
“You want to?” I thought she was being a tease.
“Yes, but I can’t.”
“Keep still, I’ll find a way.”
She undressed, then took my pants off. She straddled my hips, made me hard, and took me in, very careful not to put her weight on my body. The limited movement we dared do was a great turn-on—it was like an endless foreplay. She was very gentle, holding back the moves I knew she wanted to do.
After I came, she huddled close to me, uncomplaining, although I knew she was unsatisfied.
I forced myself to get up knowing if I didn’t, my muscles would get sore and stiff. We decided to go for a swim. We went through the walkway to the swimming platform. It had a few plastic chairs and a ladder that went down into the water.
The water was cold and the salt stung my cuts but it felt good where it hurt most. I couldn’t stay long, however, because I couldn’t move about well enough to get warmed up. I got out of the water and wrapped myself in a towel, content to watch Simone from my chair. She looked like a mermaid frolicking among the waves—she was in her perfect environment. I was relieved she wasn’t moping anymore or blaming herself for what happened.
When she came out of the water, I gave her a towel and asked, “Why are you so nice to me?”
“Mother said you were a good man. She’s always right.”
THAT evening, a waiter came to deliver dinner. He raised the tray cover to show us the entrée—filet mignon with tarragon sauce, he said. Sylvain also came by and inquired if I was feeling better. He uncorked a bottle of wine for us—it was a St.-Éstephe.
I knew then he really meant what he had said earlier. He could have brought over a less expensive bottle and saved the good Médoc for a more important paying guest. “Thank you, Sylvain. I’ve never had a good Médoc in my whole life. I only know cheap Bordeaux from that region.”
He smiled. I had a feeling he was happy with the thought his good bottle wasn’t going to waste. He left me wondering if this was all a dream.
Later that evening, a woman came to treat my bruises. She massaged my muscles with an oily mixture that smelled of ginger. It felt warm and soothing. She told me to keep myself warm for the night. Simone put another T-shirt over the one I had on. I slept well that night.
THE next day was my last in Huahine. We were back in Simone’s home in Faie. Everybody knew what had happened—she had told them on the phone the day before. Everybody fussed with me as if I were an invalid, causing me great embarrassment. I said I was sore but was feeling a lot better. I asked Simone’s cousin who promised revenge for the shame to his family not to do anything but he didn’t want to listen.
Simone and I said our long goodbyes that morning on a hill which in the past had been a lookout for enemies coming in from the sea. We didn’t say much, we hardly touched each other. We stared at the ocean, looking for imagined enemies who were coming to get us.
She gave me a necklace made of seashells. “I know other girls must have given you presents like this in the other islands. It is our custom, so I am not jealous. I made this necklace myself. All the shells and coral in it are from my home island of Huahine. The ones you buy in the market use shells from your country—almost all the shells sold here come from the Philippines.”
What she said was true—I had seen hundreds of plastic bags full of seashells marked “Harvested in the Philippines” in the markets of Papéete. I couldn’t tell her why my people harvest and sell all the seashells they can lay their hands on while her people leave them in the ocean and take only what they need. I couldn’t tell her why my people will never have eels in the river as pets, that they will be eaten as food.
But I felt good—Simone loved me and it seemed I had been touched by the ancient Filipino spirit that apparently lives on, though so very far from home. I was king of the hill for a while—then the time came for me to go down and catch the boat that would take me away.
TERÓO was waiting for me at Farepiti Quay when I returned to Bora Bora. She started crying when she saw my bruises that were now purple. “Oh, you poor boy. You look terrible. Simone wasn’t exaggerating.” She wrapped her huge arms around me.
“You should have seen the other guy,” I lied as I hugged her back, feeling safe in her warm and loving embrace.
“Are you okay?”
“I am, I feel fine,” I assured her.
She looked at me again. Then her face lit up and she broke into a big smile. “How was my daughter? I told you she’s great. She was, wasn’t she?” Ω
This story is a BPSS original.