She asked me which hostel I was going to so I told her. It turns out we were going to the same one. It also turns out is only one hostel on Tahiti. A taxi driver asked me in Tahitian-French if I wanted a ride, I declined politely in my middle school French.
“Wait, you speak French?” she said.
”Oui” I said.
She called her friends over “Hey guys, I found someone who speaks French!”
Suddenly I was the appointed leader of ten American college girls going to the exact same hostel as me, all of them bright eyed and beaming with youth.
I found the taxi driver and he took one look at me and then the ten girls I had in tow and raised his eyebrows in disbelief. I shrugged my shoulders, c’est la vie.
The girls were from Berkeley and were in Tahiti for a six month field trip. They were fresh from campus and me, well I was a bit dirty and my body looked tired from my journey. They looked at me huddled and puzzled like a group of birds. This guy who is youthful but weary, bronzed from five different suns and with an ember in each of his eyes. They couldn’t quite understand me, I let stay like that.
I had to pinch myself. I had to pinch myself because after we dropped the bags at the hostel I found myself running down the length of a black volcanic beach with ten American girls screaming in formation around me, bouncing in their bikinis and diving into the ocean. I had to pinch myself to stop myself laughing just as I am doing right now.
I dived down as far as I could where I could feel the cold quiet. I thought about Lina. I thought about the time we swum back at the college. Back then I was quite soft and hadn't learnt how to deal with non-tropical water so I gingerly followed her into the ocean. I felt the icy fingers of hypothermia close around my testicles and very quickly made it to higher ground. So I stood there, on a rock, shivering and protecting my manhood looking at Lina surface in the bright freezing water, her dark blonde hair dyed a deep brown by the dampness of the water, showing her full blushing cheeks and a morning smile. She has the best laugh even when it's directed at me and my shortcomings.
I lay on my back and drifted paddled around in a circle. The girls would tease me like small fish and I would pretend to swim after them. It was a bit of stupid fun. I looked at the mountain on the island and how the clouds had wrapped themselves around the peak like a scarf on a windy day. I thought this would be a nice thing to write to Cassie about so I sat down at a picnic table and began to write.
It was more of a blackmail letter than a postcard from paradise. I needed to hear from her and in the same way those annoying UNICEF volunteers appeal to your politeness by asking how is your day, I feel I did the same by sending this postcard. There was a reason why she hadn't written anything to me for months but by sending this I more or less forced her hand.
Some of the girls joined me at the table, chatting amongst themselves and eating mangos we picked from the nearby trees. One of them asked whom I was writing to and I said it was a long story. We have all day she said, smiling.
Alright, so I told them about how I descended into a music festival and at the very bottom of it I met a slender and wistful dancer who took my by the hand and the heart and kissed me as the fireworks exploded. I shit you not. And how she promised to meet me in London and how through the narrow unforgiving streets she told me about her life and through a simple twist of fate we stumble into Bar Prague where her and the absinthe spun my mind in a dance I couldn't follow and how we parted ways with just another promise to bind us.
I caught my breath to see a collage of open mouths and watery eyes. One of the girls started wiping her face vigorously like an old woman who had seen a ghost and another looked at me then at the card then back at me then back at the card as if Cassie herself was going to spiral up into existence from the still wet ink.
"How old are you?" she asked with her mouth still hanging wide open.
The next day all of us took a ferry to Moorea, an island northwest of Tahiti shaped like a duck's foot, famous apparently for whale watching. The girls happened to be heading there for their six month long research trip and so we relaxed a bit by the tourist center before jumping on the ferry that bounded like a horse in the afternoon sun.
As we pulled into the dock I saw a woman with a wide brimmed hat and dad-sunglasses standing in a pose that I can only describe as painfully American. I assumed (correctly) she was the professor. She checked the girls off with the clipboard and became progressively more confused when each of them turned to hug me goodbye before they boarded their bus. I'm not really sure who I was to them but they way they all waved at me as their bus pulled away I feel like they carried my story with them at least.
"Make sure you send that postcard!" one of them shouted from the open window, her solitary hand waving, sad, like rain.
I spent the evening in the middle of the lagoon. I took a surfboard and paddled out right to the center of it. The waves from the vast pacific ocean crashed on the reef a bit of a distance out, sending a rhythmic thundering through the cool air. I kicked my right foot and floated in ever increasing circles.
I came to think about the tourist center that we were at before we took the ferry. It had a map of French Polynesia and for some reason the islands were marked in white on a black background. There are thousands of islands scattered like sand on navy velvet and if you squint your eyes it looks like a constellation of stars.
Lying on my back looking up at the arms of the milky way that seemed to guard the earth like a strong lover, I couldn't help but think of how the islands around Tahiti and Moorea were just the same. A sea of stars on a sea and all around me another sea of stars shone in the water.