- A Strange Ship
"Trageeeedie..." The shrill voice of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees rings through my head. My energy sinks even deeper into the bus seat. I remember where I am, though I barely recollect the details of the long excursion through canyons and wide desert spaces dotted with mobile homes and mesquite bushes. Has it only been four days, or four years, four decades, four lifetimes?
My spirit wanders through a fog, numb from shock and cold winter desertscapes that speed past the window. I wonder what my best friend, Hinano, is doing now.
She is from Ra'iātea, the island where my grandfather was born. For Hawaiians and New Zealand Māori, the tiny island of Ra'iātea is their Havaiki, the sacred place of their beginnings.
An image of Hinano flits in between the electrical poles to my left. Slightly built, her complexion a creamy cappuccino, she refuses to wear breeches and has perpetual saddle sores on the inside of her bare knees. Keeping her black, wavy hair in a short ponytail, she wears cheap rubber flip-flops, polyester Adidas shorts, and striped Hang Ten T-shirts several sizes too large.
We loved to train horses in the valley of the district of Pīra'e on the island of Tahiti, and we spent every day after school and all day on weekends at the stables. We worked hard at the track, feeling that being part of that horse community was not evidence of elitism, but rather proof of perseverance, hard work, and possessing our own reality. We loved the trainers: P'tit Frè, Dumond, Papa Adams, Cou Cou. Many an evening after the horses were rinsed off and fed and the stalls were mucked out, trainers and jockeys like me and Hinano, Hono, Caroline, Titaina, Julien, and Teragni stood around Cou Cou, who was always shoeing, even at night. In the light of a butane lamp, we watched, sweaty and covered with dust.
It's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago Cou Cou, tall and lanky, bent over a rear hoof held snuggly between his knees, a cigarette dangling out of the right corner of his mouth, and said, "Alors, so...How'd it go tonight?" He pinched off an aluminum racing shoe with huge nippers. He had no mustache, but an Amish beard carpeted his chin.
"Whew. J'ai mal au dos. My back is killing me," I responded.
"Yeah, but you're tough. How many did you ride tonight?" He moved to the front of the horse and lifted up its foot.
"Two. I'm looking forward to this weekend, though, when we can leave the track [End Page 154] and go up into the mountains. I think the horses get tired of just going around in ovals."
"You mean you do." He chuckled.
It still hadn't sunk in that I would be leaving Tahiti. As usual, I lived in the absolute present, which is easy to do on a tiny island surrounded by the Pacific.
And thinking now about all I left behind, I feel a pang, a bang, a twitch on a cellular level.
"The climbing is great for them too, but I expect you guys to get up early on Sunday. Be here by six. I want Corisis and Varua to be worked in the sea." He picked up a file and briskly swiped it across the hoof. His dog, Kono, was lying three feet away, happily chewing on hoof hide.
I want to reach out and pet Kono. I want to grab Hinano and shake her, claiming that it has all been a dream. But right now, Tahiti is so far from me: a distant fragment to which I am attached by a golden thread. I can't believe I am no longer there, and I feel like I am floating, floating above myself like a trauma patient who helplessly watches her body being poked and prodded on an operating table. It is Saturday, and if I were home, Hinano and I would be riding horseback on long treks through the jungle, way up...