Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kiribati: Getting Hungry?

The boat’s long, upside-down shark fin of a rudder held fast to the bleached white sand beneath us. Ahead, no further away than a couple hundred meters, the sharkless shore curved up out of the sea, safe and inaccessible. The warm water licked its tongue along the vanilla ice cream sand, teasing. Hector and I were trapped behind a skirmish line of shark fins.
Draped across one of the catamaran’s two hulls, I did my best to reason with the beasts despite my drunk and sunstroked state. “It’s too hot for you, sharks,” I reminded, pointing them away, “Go back to deeper waters. Go back to where it’s not sun. Go.”
Hector continued to paddle us in to shore but the boat was firmly anchored. He was stuck, repeating an ineffectual action: Einstein’s definition of crazy.
Were there an absence of hungry sharks, we could have walked to shore; the water couldn’t have been more than waste deep. But the toothy fish whizzed around like bullets, nitrous-oxide fueled predators. We could have only made a slow-motion escape, like running away in a bad dream. No chance.
“Spear fish them,” Hector told me.
“Swim for it,” I told him, “It’s you they want with all that bleeding you’re doing over there.”
I had more snide comments to add, but Hector had rolled himself over the edge of the boat and splashed down into the water below. I sat up, rubbed the salt water out of my eyes and watched him cover the distance to shore like a hydrophobic chimpanzee, all arms and knee caps.
Mr. Stripes came in for another tasty bite of fiberglass boat hull. I threw a can of beer at him and watched Hector standing on the beach, clumsily untangling himself from the sail. Somewhere along the journey, he’d lost track of his clothes. He examined the gash on his thigh and, seeing that it was no longer bleeding, sprinted off into the shade of the palm trees. Or into a threesome with the couple we’d waved to earlier. You could never tell with Hector.
A little shark came up and probed the boat with his mouth as well.
“Stop that,” I told him and slapped him, right in the face.
I glanced around for some sign of Hector’s pants but they weren’t there. It wasn’t the first time I’d materialized in a strange location mysteriously clothed with no sign of Hector ever even owning garments. We may have been invited to the same place but we’d come for two different parties.
Hector’s side of the boat rested a good two meters closer to shore and I wobbled over there, unable to keep my footing despite the fact that the water was dead calm. Pulling myself along as much with my hands as with my legs, I arrived on the other hull and examined the rust-red stain that now covered my palm.
“Damn it, Hector,” I shouted to him, “You left your blood on the boat.”
“What?” his distant voice replied.
“You left your blood!”
“Bring it here. I need it.”
“I hate you.”
“Okay, good talk.”
I needed to get off the boat. I dangled one leg into the water, my heart pounding so fast the alcohol coursed through my veins at 8x speed. I could only see two sharks still skirting around the shallows. I hadn’t counted them before so there was no way to know how many lingered just beyond my field of vision.
Note to self: always count the sharks.
A ripple in the water ringed against my calf, shooting liquid-fire-adrenaline up my leg and through my spine. I reeled in all my limbs and balled up into my smallest self, eyes wild across the water, seeing sharks where there were only yellow tangs. I swallowed the fear and beer induced nausea back down. That would only attract more monsters.
“Hey, weirdo.” It was Hector again, standing on the shore across that last impossible length of water. “You need to get out of the sun.”
“You need some pants.”
“Shark took ‘em.”
I lowered my head onto my knees. The pounding was too loud to cope with.
“Get off the boat.”
“You get off the boat.”
The next thing I knew Hector Sharkman had me in his grip. His nails were like little razor teeth cutting holes through the soft skin on my arms, and he held fast, wrestling me the rest of the way to land.
We stumbled across the beach, each step terribly dizzy. Just beyond the grove of trees, four pagodas poked their banana leaf roofs up from the bushes. A round outdoor bar hugged the shoreline inside the atoll, complete with a smiling bartender in a pink Hawaiian shirt.
Hector, one hand on each of my shoulders, drove me to a bar stool and plopped me down on the shady side. He’d tied the sail around his body in a makeshift toga but I doubt the cheery bartender would have minded if he hadn’t.
“Ko na mauri! Welcome. What can I get you.”
“Water,” Hector told him.
“It’s happy hour,” he chided, grinning at us.
“We’d like some water please.”
“Would you like a Mai Tai or a Pina Colada instead?”
He sighed deeply. “Okay, water.”
“Do you have anything on the menu that features shark meat?” I asked, guzzling down a liter of water and indicating that he give me a second.
Hector choked into his water bottle.
“What? I want to eat a shark. I am the superior species.”
“We have mako tacos,” our host graciously offered, “With mango salsa and tropical cole slaw.”
“Yes, bring that to me. That’ll show them.”
Hector nodded, already finishing his third water. “I’ll have what she’s having. And, how ‘bout a couple Mai Tais too.”

Read part 3: Kiribati: Getting Back

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