The boat engine revved, pushing us with great difficulty over the waves and choppy current. D’Tui sat in Ro Mereani’s lap. Sala and I squealed, huddled together on the floor as we hit each wave with a loud thwack. Water poured over the metal siding, filling the bottom of the boat with a thin layer of water.
Mereani wouldn’t let us sit on the bench and gave us a tarp to share. “You’ll bounce right out of the boat if you sit up there,” she cautioned.
Ro Mereani’s nephews, who lived in Dakuibeqa, were taking us back to Suva. They both wore yellow rain coats and pants, reminding me of silly fireman as they perched next to the motor. I stifled a laugh as they took turns lighting cigarettes. It was a comical skit unfolding before my eyes. With each flick of the lighter, a wave doused them. “Just say no to smoking,” I muttered under my breath.
We’d left Dakuibeqa that morning, saying goodbye to Sala’s parents, the village chiefs, teachers, and of course my beloved children and piglets. I was sad to go, but something told me I’d be back.
I had a feeling Talei wouldn’t let me stay away.
It was also time for me to begin the next leg of my journey. I’d been with the family long enough and only had a few days left in Fiji. So I’d decided to take time and backpack my way to Nadi. I had to make my way to the airport anyway, so I might as well see what else there was to see.
The idea of leaving my Fijian family for the unknown was alarming, but certainly not as alarming as the adventures I’d faced thus far. I thought back to meeting my Fijian hosts for the first time, the death and funeral of Mereani’s husband, and accidentally flashing the chiefs. I remembered how difficult it’d been learning the customs and trying to understand why I was even there in the first place.
Sala and I caught air on the next wave, bouncing off the floor and landing hard on top of our bags. We broke into fits of laughter. If I can handle all this, I thought, a little backpacking will be a breeze.
The nephews took turns bailing out the water that was quickly filling the back of the speedboat with a bucket. “These buckets save lives.” Ro Mereani said pointedly.
We arrived back to port quicker than we came. Another boat was preparing to leave as we docked. Sala and I waved as we jumped out. I wobbled a bit, finding the ground unfamiliar. Once I felt stable I started celebrating. “We made it!” I jumped around but no-one else joined me.
The other boat’s passengers were talking to the nephews. Mereani looked worried, uninterested in my happy dance. The four strangers had grim faces as they puttered away. The nephews were quiet.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
Mereani sighed and turned to me. “Do you remember the other boat that left for Beqa the same day we did?” I nodded, remembering very well our journey to the island. We’d seen a tiny boat overloaded with supplies and people. “It’s gone missing.”
“Missing?” I said with disbelief. “You can see all the way to the island from here. How could they go missing? And that was DAYS ago… They’re just going to look for them NOW?”
Mereani sighed. “It’s not the same as in America. It would have taken a day or two for the islanders to get worried about them not making it. Then the news would have to get back to the main island to go look for them. The search and rescue crew is going now, but who knows what they will find.”
A chill ran down my spine. How could such a small decision as choosing which boat to board offer such different fates?
I looked out on the water, trying to remember the faces of the villagers we’d passed. I remembered Mereani commenting that their boat was going to take on water.
“That’s what happens when you have too many supplies,” Ro Mereani said cautiously. “That’s why you need to bail out the water.”
I nodded, following her, wondering what transpired out in those waves.
As far as I know, the passengers were never found.