THE SWELL, THE SUN, THE SWARM

I didn’t mind sailing to Tikehau a second time. I enjoy it there; the swell, the sun, the swarm. The surf was on its way up and so were the holiday spirits.

As soon as the anchor drops, I swim to shore. A woman in the fishing village feeds me hot homemade coconut bread, and dances with me, and teaches me how to make coconut milk. It always takes work to to get to the sweet stuff in life; busting the husk open, cracking the nut, shaving the pulp off, squeezing the milk.

Her husband tells me that he once saw an episode of some reality show, like Survivor, that was shot on a neighboring island. He said all the people were stressed to find food and it made him laugh because they were surrounded by food, but didn’t know it.

This is what happens when humans separate themselves from nature, they perish in search of a basic need that rests at their fingertips. I wish people exchanged knowledge about the earth, the way they do emails. I wish people collected seeds and sowed them, instead of shopped. I wish people got lost and found their way back by the sun and the stars, instead of satellite signals. I wish people stared at water and tigersharks and honeybees, the way they do TVs. I wish all of this, while I milk the coconuts.

I discover, after hours, that I know the son of this couple. Teraro, who took me to spear fish in his fish traps, who wrote a song about me and Juniper, who showed me the Tikehau manta ray.

I want to see the manta ray again, so I do. The water is clear and the sun falls into it. There are pink bubbles and yellow bubbles and blue and white and wings. The manta swims up towards me. I stare into his flying-saucer mouth and loose my heart inside of it. He dives back down. I stretch my arms and swim above him, mimicking his motions, feeling the way I imagine he feels.

I go back to Bad Kitty. I cut Felix’s hair. He’s not certain what he wants, “short but not too short, shorter, but long.” It takes a me two hours to get it right.

He is 19 and says at some point, with the back of his head facing me and pieces of his blonde hair falling, “Olivia, don’t you want kids?” Me, with scissors opening and closing, “Yes, I think so, but I would want to raise them on a sailboat. This way of life is unusual, it’s not for everyone. I must find another soul that loves salt.” Felix grew up on a boat as it sailed around the world. He says, “You will find one.” I look around at the anchorage. I count seven boats with couples who are raising children aboard, and I believe Felix’s words with all my being.

Other sailors dinghy over asking if I can cut their hair or braid it or shave it or dread it into dreadlocks. The sun is vanishing. I tell them that my salon will open again tomorrow.

I jump back into the water. I float through the pass on the days last outgoing tide. Snorkel, mask, fins on. I let the current suck me out to the break. My body in the shape of a starfish. I need not move, for I levitate and am carried, like a cloud, blown by a strong breeze.

Beneath me I see Napoleon fish (humphead wrasse), butterflyfish, boxfish, parrotfish, white tip, and silver tip sharks. My friend, Mico, speared a tuna in the pass and is gutting it from his boat. The creatures inside the aquarium stir and shake and fight and salivate over it. Then the rapacious sharks rise, with their twisted fangs. They snap and swish and steal the guts.

Everything is hungry at sunset.

I watch schools scatter. I watch as one fish plays tug-of-war with a shark. I watch another fish poop a long stream as it swims away. I watch the showdown until I remember that it’s not wise to be in the water when someone cleans a fish. This is how a man recently got bit by a shark in the lagoon of Ahe. If one came after me, I would probably freeze, then flounder and there would be blood and vacancy and more sharks….then nothing.

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