This is the beach of dreams, where German twenty-somethings on a round-the-world ticket toast their white arses in the sun; where French couples canoodle and waltz their camper van plans for New Zealand; where tourists from Australia revert to Greek or Scottish or Filipino ancestry; and where Rocky, a strange short American anti-hero, wanders up and down in some perpetual nightmare.
Rocky is a parody of George. W, forever banished to the Pacific circuit. Or a former mercenary rom ‘The A Team’ or ‘Rambo’ who never spoke any lines. Or the little wooden man who pops out from the top of a barometer when the weather is expected to be fine. Rocky likes sunshine, sand, and sea. His skin, underneath his tattoos, is burnished like leather. He seems to possess only one pair of black and white shorts, like he always wanted to be in black and white movies, but came along in technicolour. He never wears a shirt or a vest, although he sometimes dons a cap.
He hassles the other guests with regular New York style interrogations. Assured, swaggering, bullish. ‘How long you here?’ ‘Where you from?’ ‘You remind me of a Krout I knew in Brooklyn.’ He must be sixty and a day. Shorts flapping over bandy knees, and a bare torso inking up to a grizzled head. He wears his map of tattoos like a billboard; they represent the journey he made to get here. His eyes burn with jealousy as he gazes across the shimmering lagoon. Today it is all his. No tide will ever ebb it away from him. Perhaps – truly – he was wafted here after living with the Sioux or wolves or a pod of dolphins.
At breakfast time, he’s first in line, spooning an orchard of apples, bananas and coconut slices ten feet high into his bowl. Then he empties several litres of hot water from the communal urn into empty beer bottles to carry back to his fale. He sits alone, occasionally rasping at diners on the other tables. ‘You know, don’t drink the tap water.’ ‘You know, don’t stay in the sun all day.’ ‘You know, this bit of the lagoon is best for swimming, that bit up there is too rocky.’ His voice is as powdery as the sand he trails everywhere with his oversized feet. Few people understand him. No-one goes to join him, at least not for long. Not that he listens either, for he’s too Gandhi important to be polite and make friends.
Later, he’ll plough up and down in the lagoon – the public bit, not the rocky section he’s reserved as his own Rocky domain. He’ll surprise people who are snorkelling, springing out from a school of yellow fish like a tropical Gollum, then crouching behind a stand of coral like a new face on Mount Rushmore.
Perhaps he really is a former world leader pondering renegade glories. His years at the top making razor sharp decisions. The people he lost, the people he gained. Those who were with him, those who were not. The day he learnt to speak gangster English, and the day he purchased those shorts from Walmarts, or the Warehouse, wherever he came from.
He’s not going anywhere soon. Not on the Cultural Village tour, not a trip to To Sua Trench, nor an airport transfer. Not even to the beach on the other side of breakfast, in the opposite direction to his fale. He’s been here two months – walking, cogitating, swimming, eating all the fruit – and he’ll probably be here another two, and two more after that.
The beach’s own ex-presidential look-a-like, wandering, wandering, wandering. Until nature and the sea turn him into a pillar of salt. Or he’s replaced by a later model with orange hair and big hands.