by Andrew Foote
What was out there that worried me so much?
It wasn't the heading into the unknown; God knows we'd done more Unknown over the last six months than most people do in a lifetime, so no, not that.
I think that is was because I had been so involved with Aruno, first of all helping him to settle in England, then our faltering beginnings in a dubious relationship to falling in love with him, that I now realised it was me who'd be the vulnerable one.
Neither Rob or Cathy had any understanding of what life we might have, but they had each other whereas Aruno would be propelled back into village life pretty much as soon as he returned and I'd be left to sort stuff out by myself.
I really should've talked to him about this when I had the chance, but now having only about thirty-five miles of water to cover, it was too late for that. Aruno was preparing himself for his return.
About an hour into the trip, he reappeared wearing nothing other than his thong – his face and body decorated in makeup.
"I must appear the same as when I left Mimi-cu. I know it makes me look odd but you will understand once we arrive.
I'm sorry, but today Mother and I will be welcomed and you might feel out of place, but don't worry because I will make sure that it's not for very long before you, Cathy and Rob are also made to feel comfortable."
"I'm pleased about that because I must admit to being rather nervous.
What's the procedure once we get there?"
"The river is easy to spot – there's a high rock that sticks up from the shore which hides our village from view until we've past it. Before we get there, we should sound our horns, three long blasts followed by two shorter ones. This will tell them that we are friendly visitors, although by that time we will have already been seen by lookouts on the cliffs, then one we've passed the rock, we do the same again and they will send canoes to greet us.
Be careful of the depth of water Mimi-cu. It's very deep but suddenly shallows to a beach. Wait until there's about three foot of water under the keel before dropping the drag anchor. Too early and there won't be enough chain – too late and we'll run aground."
"How deep is deep, and why does it shelve like that?"
"Depth I don't know, maybe the plotter can tell us.
It shelves because all the islands were once part of a subterranean volcano and what you see above the water are the pinnacles of a mountain range, some are very large, but some are very small – too small to live on."
"It'll make for interesting fishing. I've always wondered about the life that can survive in deep waters."
"Some in our village talk about sea monsters of the deep, but I think they're like the stories of going into battle against other tribes. Nice tales but completely untrue!"
"No battles then?"
"No! We hunt and fish, otherwise we're a peaceful people. Our weapons are just to protect us from wild animals and to hunt for food."
About an hour later I caught my first glimpse of the island. We were still over a mile out but the high rock was clearly visible.
I handed Aruno the binoculars.
"Almost there. How do you want to play this? Do you want the helm so it's you who brings us in?"
"This is your boat Mimi-cu so it's right that people see that you're in command. I think it should be you who brings me home."
"Nervous anticipation I think describes it better!"
"Then that makes two of us. You'd better radio whoever's on the helm of the Marion and tell them what you want them to do about that horn signal. While you're at it, best tell them about how and when to drop anchor."
As we approached the rock, on Aruno's signal we sounded three five second blasts of our horns followed by two one second ones. The discordant pitches of the two different horns sent hundreds of seabirds skywards, then on rounding the headland, we did a repeat performance.
Looking towards the shore and the village, canoes were being hurried into the surf – I counted thirty but there might've been more.
Each canoe carried between two to eight people, and Aruno judged that at least half the village were making their way towards us.
We dropped our drags leaving Aruno and Anita to make their way forward to greet them while Rob and I secured our sterns together.
Rob stepped across and helped me lower our inflatable into the water, then once that was done, Arthur and Cathy joined us on Conqueror to watch the welcome committee arrive.
The deal was that Anita together with Aruno would leave our boats for the island, then on a pre-arranged signal, we would take to the inflatable and join them.
We had also been told that we might have to wait some time before that happened which would give us the opportunity to partake of some Champagne and raise a few glasses to our safe arrival.
Hidden away on the bridge, we watched with fascination as the canoes circled us, very unsure about getting too close, but then both Aruno and Anita stood up and once recognised, there was no stopping these people from going ape!
Shouts, cheers and whistles with some diving into the water in order to get a better view, but then Aruno held his arms aloft, and the racket subsided.
He spoke to them at some length, then two of the canoes turned and made for the shore only to return some ten minutes later with a third rather larger one, being paddled by two young boys of about twelve years of age. Even at Aruno's young age, he obviously had a deal of authority here and I began to understand a lot of what he'd told me about his life here, and his future. A Chief in waiting.
The three canoes pulled up alongside, Aruno boarded first then helped Anita get settled, and they were away.
Aruno turned to look back at us, blew me a kiss and yelled, "I love you Mimi-cu!"
Arthur turned to me. "Bubbly time I think Simeon."
The heat of the day had passed, so we took our glasses deck-side and watched the activity ashore.
Two canoes had come back out and were busy circling us. Each of them were crewed by two girls and two boys, the eldest we guessed was about sixteen – one in each of the two boats, then descending in age to about seven or eight.
Rob wondered if they were training canoes. He was probably right.
We waved to them, they waved back, then on a command from the eldest, they put some serious effort into getting back to their village.
We watched as they pulled their canoes clear of the waterline, turned towards us and waved again.
Only kids, but so friendly. We were going to be okay here.
At eight in the evening we fired up the gas barbeque and pigged out on rump steaks we bought in Brownsville at a ridiculously cheap price, a mixed salad and ice cold white wine.
At half past nine, another canoes appeared, this time displaying lights.
As it got closer, we noticed that there were only two occupants, both of them older villagers.
They weren't as cautious as the children – they came right up alongside of us before one of the men spoke.
"Who amongst you is Sim – e – on please? We carry a message for him."
I stepped forward.
"I am Simeon. What is the message please?"
"The Honoured Aruno-Pae apologises to his bonded one. He is in conference with our Chief and will not be returning to you this night.
Our Honoured doctor woman also apologises, she is also in conference, but they will be with you come sunrise.
Do you wish to send them messages please? We will carry them for you."
"Yes. Can you wait please?"
I hurried below decks and sought out paper and an envelope.
I made my way topside and leaning across the rail, I asked, "Please make sure Aruno receives this. It is very important.
Do you understand me okay? I am very new to your language."
"I understand you very well. You will be welcomed, the effort you made to learn will be recognised."
They made a swift about-turn and disappeared into the night. We finished our drinks, said our Good-nights and went to our bunks.
I cried myself to sleep.
I wasn't sad, but the stress of the journey had taken its toll and I needed this episode to get it out of my system.
I was pleased Aruno wasn't with me tonight. He'd worry that it was his doing that brought me to tears, but he would've been wrong on so many levels.
I had become so used to overcoming difficulties, battling severe weather, enjoying the good times, facing the bad with the determination to succeed, planning ahead each port of call, not knowing what we might find there or how we would be received, but now…… it's over, finished, all in the past and the feelings of anti-climax hit me like a sledgehammer.
I woke refreshed and ready for the day. Strange how a vista so beautiful, one that could even make an atheist like me believe in God, can lift the spirits.
This had to be paradise on earth. Unbroken blue skies, white sandy beaches, verdant green forests and the prospect of spending the rest of my life living in such a place, and in the company of the person I loved is the stuff of trashy feel-good films, but here we are, living it!
Maybe a night without sex had something to do with that as Aruno's appetite for such things, was, and still is veracious, so much so that he wore me out most nights.
I'm not complaining by the way! He's my only reason for breathing.
Arthur was the next to appear.
"You look like shit Simeon. Are you sure you're alright?"
"I got a tad emotional last night. I'm okay now, and who wouldn't be given this place! Just look at it. It's wonderful!"
"A bit like Tresgillith then!"
"Just trying to lighten the mood.
They're two sides of the same coin.
Tresgillith – nice though it was, was like looking at a sorry old man waiting to die, but here, we are looking at the face of a happy and excited child, a smiling face, full of hope and expectation.
Anita used to wax lyrical about this place, how it was full of hope for the future, uncomplicated and simple.
Those back home would call these people savages whereas if we did but know it, these folk could teach us a thing or two about life.
We chased the Gods of money and success – that is until our usefulness was over, then we were thrown to one side and ignored.
Kids here are encouraged to take care of their elderly, that's how they learn the old ways, tutored in the practices that have kept them together as a community for thousands of years. We treated ours as a burden, a waste of space with no hope of further contribution to society.
We are told to embrace change, adopt new technology or else get left behind in the pursuit of ever greater wealth, a wealth that benefits no one except those who are already wealthy, a self-perpetuating greed that will eventually spell our demise.
I hope to God I'm wrong, but eventually, those in our So Called Modern world will blow themselves up in one gigantic fireball, a war the likes of which we can only contemplate, but people such as the ones we've come to live amongst will survive.
Mark my words Simeon. The wheel is bound to turn full circle.
Did you mention coffee?"
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