Dinner at Vaimoana Seaside Resort is a shadowy affair. Twenty tables laid out with knives, forks and white tablecloths, and only nine people dining. A quiet young couple and their baby in the corner. An older man and his protege opposite. Me. And three strange men in front, a Kiwi and two Italians who discuss European history in loud voices.
“Henry the Eighth was dyslectic, you know!” shouts the first Italian. “Couldn’t tell his left bollock from his right.”
“Explains a lot about English history, doesn’t it!” says the second. “The Armada, dissolution of the monasteries, Northern Ireland, Shakespeare. They still can’t tell their lefts from their rights.”
“They don’t have a car industry!” The first Italian smirks. “And as for leaving Europe!” They both laugh.
Tommy, the maitre d’, fetches a storm lantern to brighten my table. By its yellow light, I watch a lone ant run across the chequered tablecloth. It is pursued by another ant, then another and another, a whole column of the tiny insects streaming towards an invisible apocalypse on the right. They communicate with each other using pheromones, or ant emotions, rather than logic. Tomorrow, a different column will probably be voting to the left.
“For dinner tonight, we have spaghetti, nasi goreng, garlic bread and vegetables. A combination of Italian, Indonesian, and Samoan.” Tommy’s voice is hushed and he draws a little square in the air with his fingers. Like all the staff at Vaimoana, he is smartly dressed and very polite.
I wonder what the little square means. I find out five minutes later when he brings over my meal: a square plate with each of the four components – spaghetti, nasi goreng, toast and pumpkin – neatly stacked in each corner. Full marks for presentation, and flavour too, because everything tastes delicious.
“You know Francis of Assisi died at the same age as Robert Louis Stevenson, don’t you?” says the first Italian.
“And why is he called that?” The second Italian expertly twirls spaghetti around his fork, while the Kiwi guy looks on, his spoon suspended midair. “Why all the names? Why not just Robert Stevenson, or even Rob?”
“His father was called Robert too.” The Kiwi guy darts forward with his spoon and scoops up spaghetti.
“His father wasn’t a writer through. He was an engineer.”
“I know. But he might not have made it as a writer. His fall back might have been to become an engineer, like his father.”
All three of them are staying in the same fale, two down the line from mine. Fale number three, for ambiguous trios. I’d noticed them earlier, alternating activities as if none of them wanted to be seen doing the same thing as the others. While the Kiwi went snorkelling, Italian number one sunbathed and Italian number two read a book. Then while the Kiwi sunbathed, Italian number two snorkelled and Italian number one read the same book. Perhaps they only have one book between them, or one snorkel, or one sun lounger. Perhaps they deliberately like to confuse people. Although they don’t seem confused. Not once did I see two of them simultaneously go for the same thing, the snorkel or the book or the lounger. Unlike English monarchs, they know their left from their right.
A waitress tiptoes like Florence Nightingale around the tables, a Frangipani flower in her hair. Earlier she’d introduced herself as Lily and asked how long I was here. She’s followed by a second older waitress who stops, stoops, and asks how my meal was.
“Fine. Delicious.” Hastily I stab at the last piece of pumpkin with my fork, then scoop up the remains of my spaghetti. I don’t have the same etiquette as the Italians, but my plate is squeaky clean. The second waitress swoops in and snatches it away.
There is no dessert, unless you pay extra: ice-cream and fruit at fifteen Tala. I drain the last of my beer, check on the ants who are still committing suicide to the right, the Italians who are twirling their forks to the left, the Kiwi who looks as nonplussed as I do, and return to my fale.
I might not be an expert on European history. I might eat spaghetti with a spoon. I do have a bike though, and I know how to pedal. Tomorrow is another big hill straight after breakfast. Then thirty-five kilometres down the west coast.