The Island of Desire

The Island of Desire

by Robert Dean Frisbie

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In a past inconceivably remote it must have been the peak of a volcano,
jutting from the midst of a sea whose solitude was broken only by flocks of
migrating birds, a pod of sperm whales lumbering down from the Austral ice
fields, or the intangible things of the mythic world; the spirits of Storm,
Fair Weather, Night, Day, and Dawn.

Coral polyps attached themselves to the steep walls of the volcano to build
their submarine gardens a mile or more to sea, surrounding the island with a
reef and shallow lagoon; then erosion, the battering of the Pacific combers,
and subsidence, until finally the volcano had disappeared, leaving a blue
lagoon shimmering in the sunlight, a barrier reef threaded with islets and
sand cays; Danger Island, or Puka-Puka--Land of Little Hills.

So it was called by the first Polynesians who came here, centuries ago. It
appears now much as it did then: a tiny place compared with the vastness of
the sea surrounding it. The low hills, scarcely twenty feet high, are shaded
by cordia and hernandia trees, groves of coconut palms, thickets of magnolia
bushes; and between the hills lie patches of level land where taro is grown
in diked swamps and where the thatched houses are half obscured by clumps of
bananas, gardenia bushes, and the gawky-limbed pandanus.

There are three islets on the roughly triangular reef: Ko to the southeast;
Frigate Bird to the southwest; and the main islet of Wale to the north. Ko
and Frigate Bird are uninhabited eight months of the year, while on the
crescent-shaped bay of Wale, facing southward toward the lagoon, are the
three villages: Ngake, Roto, and Yato--or Windward, Central, and Leeward.

The trading station is in Central Village. I, Ropati, live in its upstairs
rooms, while the two downstairs rooms have been vacant since the station was
closed. The building is glaringly white, shaped like a packing case, has an
asbestos-cement roof, balconies in front and back, and, leading from the
balconies to the living quarters, doorways just high enough so I can crack
my head against the lintels.

Across the village road from the station stands the schoolhouse, another
boxlike coral building, but with a thatch roof, pleasing to the eye. The
great glaringly ugly church, with its red iron roof, stands to one side of
the schoolhouse, while elsewhere, to east and west, lagoonward and inland,
are the Central Village houses, all save Araipu's native store, attractively
built of wattle and thatch.

The rumbling sound that rises and falls fitfully is not caused so much by
the surf on the outer reef as it is by the snores of my six hundred and
fifty neighbors. All are asleep, for it is midday and they must be refreshed
for the night's toil ahead. There is old Mr. Scratch, Deacon Bribery, and
Bones piping off the watches under a coconut tree. There is William the
Heathen folded on my woodbox, his head between his bony knees. There is
pretty Miss Strange-Eyes, daughter of Bones, without any clothes at all,
fast asleep in a canoe, while a rooster on one of the crossbeams stares at
her perplexed. And there is Constable Benny, growling like Cerberus as he
guards the village in his dreams.

I walk on tiptoe to the lagoon beach lest I waken the toil-exhausted
neighbors; but even here there are scores of toddlers, aged one to ten, fast
asleep in the shady places.

The beach of the big crescent-shaped bay is not very attractive. The sand is
scarcely white, and there is plenty of rubbish strewn about; but the bay
itself and the lagoon beyond are clean, blue, sparkling, enticing. Almost
daily I explore its submarine mountain ranges and chase the grotesquely
beautiful fish among its crevices and caverns.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013773790
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/15/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 234 KB

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