Probably a washing machine

In Taveuni along the Somosomo Straight there once lived a beautiful maiden. Then she ran away into the jungle, never to be seen again. As she fled, she wept, and her tears turned to blood. That is how that little bright red flower got its name, tagimoucia, “crying tears of despair.”

The sky was overcast, low and sticky. Linka was telling us the story of the maiden and looked up suddenly to say a storm would soon arrive. Someone asked why she ran, the maiden. She was running from an arranged marriage to the son of a local chief, he said. Did she have a lover, a sweetheart, a poor farm boy? I don’t know. I don’t think so, Linka said. Then he plucked a vine of the small dark flowers and strung it through his hair. Let’s hurry up, he told us, and made an elegant gesture with his hand, a kind of sweeping motion, “hurry up.” We should make it to the waterfall before the rains come, for when they come the water will burst and it will be unsafe to swim behind it. And then he took off.

We were on mountain bikes. I sprinted ahead far past Linka and the group, racing a darkening sky over a wide dirt road until I arrived at the falls. It began to rain, a roaring tropical rain. I jumped in, crouched in the shallows to watch the falls turn into a torrent. The rain lasted minutes. When it stopped I swam toward the falls and notice the birds, swifts, darting around the falling water and beneath it, scooping up swarms of small flies near the currents, mingling in mist and vapor. I turned around and looked out at the muddy road I’d come down. No sign of Linka and the group.

Swam out, wandered back down the road a minute, left my bike, found a path that led to the beach. Took it. There, where the jungle ended and the sand began, was a washing machine. That’s what it must have been. Couldn’t have been anything else. Most likely was not anything else, probably. There was a rusted out hole on the top where the clothes go. It was such a good, near perfect cube, and rounded on the edges. Too perfect a cube to be a washing machine. But what else could it be?

I heard Linka through the jungle, singing to himself as he biked along the road, what sounded like a pop-song with words I couldn’t recognize. I wondered back toward the waterfall, to the group, where I would point out the swifts and their feasting.

Fiji, 2009