Post 75 — The Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The route from Nadi to Suva.

The four sweaty girls were crammed in the back of the cab, their legs stuck to the plastic seat. Every once in a while someone shifted and peeled their thighs off the seat, which produced a wet, farting noise. Even after five hours, the girls still giggled every time this happened, causing Jean to sigh and roll her eyes. The cab driver sat in stony silence.

The five of them had landed in Nadi, Fiji and had hired a cab to drive them to the main city of Suva. This had seemed like a good idea until about halfway through the trip when they realized it was 180 miles. This distance was almost incomprehensible to them after spending the last three years on an island that was 18 miles long. After a rocky ride on a dusty, gravel road that went up and down and around a mountain, no one cared about the different scenery anymore. They just wanted to get out of the car and possibly throw up.

“Stop! Look at that cow!” shouted Chrissie, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. The girls took the opportunity to jump out of the cab, glad for any excuse to stretch. A crudely built wooden fence ran along the side of the road, and right in the middle of it was a pathetic cow with its head trapped between the railings.

“Oh, that poor thing,” moaned Carolyn. “Is there any way we can get her out?”

“No, no, no” shouted the cab driver. “You must not remove her. That cow is being punished.”

Jean looked at him in disbelief. “What on earth could a cow do that it would need to be punished?”

“It was swinging on the gate,” he explained, “and it has to learn not to do that. Please get back in the car.”

The older girls exchanged puzzled glances, each of them silently questioning this form of discipline but also kind of wishing they could see a cow swing on a gate, and moved toward the cab. Karen crept forward and extended her hand toward the humiliated bovine, hoping that an empathetic pat would make it feel a little less alone. The cow snorted, stomped its hoof in the dust, and then snapped at her hand like it was a horsefly. She rushed back to the cab and threw herself into the back seat. That cow deserved to be punished.

The island of Fiji is beautiful. It is about 376 sq. miles and full of rolling plains and mountains. They have miles of sugar cane fields, rice fields, huge spreading fat banyan trees with thick twisty trunks, palm trees (naturally), mahogany trees, clumps of bamboo and miles of gorgeous beaches. The airport is at Nadi, which is where we started from, and Suva is the main city. It has sidewalks and curbs and streets: hundreds of little Indian stores and several large department stores. It is a beautiful city. Big trees, hills surrounding the harbor, all green and nicely planted with lovely homes on them. Many big trees throughout the city itself with several large parks — and millions of poinsettia bushes just dripping with huge red blossoms.

Jean

The capital city of Suva turned out to be a shopper’s paradise: items were duty-free and quite a bit different from what was available on their island. Jean loved the fact that the girls were old enough to be left alone and had managed to get in a few hours of solo buying that had felt wonderful. She swooned over the gorgeous colors and fabrics in the saris she had found and bought several of them. She would never actually attempt to wear one, but she thought they would make pretty fancy tablecloths.

As she returned to the dignified British resort they were staying at, she was suddenly assaulted by a sound that seemed to shake the whole hotel: “IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY…”

Kathy and Carolyn had done their own swooning earlier in the day, and had found a copy of the just released Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They had pooled their money and bought a portable phonograph so they could immediately listen to the coveted vinyl. As Jean prepared to take Chrissie and Karen down to the pool, the older girls informed her that they preferred to stay inside and listen to the album. They felt that way the next day as well, declining to participate in a tour of the city. And the day after that, instead of going to a movie theatre.

Three days later, they finally emerged from the hotel room, blinking at the bright sunshine. Their skin was blotchy and pale and their stomachs queasy from a diet of room service spaghetti on toast. They watched in astonishment as Karen chatted with a British dowager who had agreeably let the adorable American child try on her tiara, and saw Chrissie engaged in a fierce card game with the proprietor Mr. Koker (“Call me Mr. Koker-nuts!”). Jean was in the lounge having gin and tonics with some sailors and waved gaily at them. Clearly they had missed a few things.

When pressed by their father upon their return to tell him what they liked most about Fiji, they stared blankly at him. “Um . . . well, picture us both in a boat on a river,” began Kathy. “With tangerine trees and marmalade skies!” shouted Carolyn. And they both ran out of the room, laughing hysterically.

Jean looked at Larry and shrugged. She had learned not to question someone else’s interpretation of what constituted a good vacation. She couldn’t wait to try on her new sari.

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