Smoke tendrils whisper through our window. Fragrant at first, the faintest hint of melted plastic. But thickening, smouldering newspapers and l’eau de bonfire. Then blacker still, the choke of burning tyres, fuel oil and a full electrical fire.
It’s Sunday. Below us in the fale next door they’re preparing an umu. Meat, fish and vegetables wrapped in metal foil and cooked in an underground oven. A feast to eat after church, everyone dressed in their best.
Despite the particulates in the air, they all emerge in pristine white, every last one of them. Not a smudge of soot, not a mark, not a singe anywhere on their white lavalavas and shirts. They could be stars in a Persil advert. Or saintly denizens of Heaven.
Today is not just Sunday. It’s Father’s Day, when all adult males are honoured, even the ones without children. They are all fathers today and will have their reward. Songs and candy necklaces presented to them in church, special meals and room rates at the hotels, even a prize draw at Blue Sky phones.
We’re not staying around though. Now that Ted and Teresa have invaded our appartments, the sooner we get away, the better. We’re fleeing to Savai’i, booked on the midday ferry.
I rush to leave in good time. It’s an hour’s drive to Mulifanua Wharf, and we have to be there an hour before the ship leaves. But Kate insists on saying goodbye to our friends. She starts to tap on their door.
“Don’t!” I pull her away. “They’ll keep us here ages, talking.
“”We’re not in any hurry, are we?”
“We might be.” I explain how the ferries don’t run on island time. They disembark on a strict timetable. And out of the two ferries that sail across the Apolima Strait, we want to catch the Lady Samoa III, the bigger one. We don’t want to rough it on the Samoan Express I, the much more volatile one.
Too late though. With a squeak, the door of number ten opens, and Teresa’s parliamentary face peers through the gap.
“Hello guys.” Her eyes are shut and mouth wide open. “You’re up early. Have we missed anything?”
“Breakfast.” Kate doesn’t blink an eyelid. “Brunch too, I shouldn’t wonder. Just thought we’d check you’re still alive.”
“We didn’t get in until three.” Teresa raises up a hand and prises her eyes open. “We got invited to this Father’s Eve Party at the New Zealand Consulate. Everyone had to go as someone from the sixties. Ted dyed his hair black and went as Ringo. I made a dress out of coconut husks and tuna cans, and went as Lady Gaga.”
“But she wasn’t even born in the sixties!”
“Who cares.” Teresa juts out a pointy chin. “We won, didn’t we? Dinner for two at Paddles, plus a massage at Misiluki Day Spa for me, and an appearance in the new Ford Ranger TV ad for Ted.”
“You’re kidding!” Kate and I gasp in unison. Imagining Ted as a young drum-bashing Beatle is difficult enough. But then as a larger-than-life Richard Hammett. Impossible.
“What did the others go as – all the Samoans?” I say after a long silence. If Ted and Teresa won, no-one else could have been any good.
“Nothing.” Teresa smirks. “Just themselves. Lavalavas and flowery shirts. Same look fifty years ago as now.”