As soon as we heard the strains of Chopin’s Minute Waltz puttering through the wall, closely followed by the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Dah, we knew something was wrong. Ted detested classical music with a vengeance. To his front-row-shattered ears, this would be worse than Yehudi Menuhin having to listen to ten hours of extreme AC/DC. And Teresa, we knew, liked switching the radio to Classical FM after they’d had a row.
Sure enough, a sharp knock came on our door. Teresa waltzed in.
“Bloody Ted!” She popped a bluenailed finger at the party wall. “I suggested we get a few pressies for people, and the big wallop goes mad!”
Kate pursed her lips. “What’s his problem?”
“Oh, the usual male thing!” Teresa glanced at me and then waggled her eyelashes at Kate. “He says we can’t afford it, we’ve extended our holiday already and all that crap. As if it’s me spending all the money! What about the five bottles of Vailima he drinks every night? Or those big breakfasts at LL Bean he gets through at twenty eight Tala a plate.”
“They’re only twenty-five on the menu,” I said, correcting her. “Tell them to knock three Tala off. They’ve got the wrong price on the till.”
“Whatever!” Teresa waved her hands and pulled her hair. “I still want to get some pressies, especially as we’ve been here so long.”
“Why don’t you go over to Cent Save?” Kate pointed through our window at our least melodious shop. The same shop that blasted out music everyday from seven in the morning to seven at night on an ancient unlabelled speaker, and preventing any normal volume conversation in our apartment building.
“Yeah! What a great idea!” Teresa’s face lit up like a bioluminescent jellyfish. “Even Ted won’t be able to complain about that. And since he’s always going on about their choice of music, he can come over with me and check out their audio tapes.”
Since Cent Shop was only across the road, less that two minutes from door to door, we volunteered to go with them. The four of us trooped down our lop-stepped staircase, then glancing right and left, ran across the busy main road. Kate, Teresa and I made it across in one sprint. And Ted waddled over at his usual duck-with-a-suitcase pace, holding up his hands and stopping all the buses. The drivers – logically – worked out that in a collision, they’d come off worse.
Assembled again outside the shop, we used diving signals to communicate. The ambient music was that loud. Ted chopped a flat palm at his throat; he was out of air after blustering across the road. Similarly Teresa rotated a flattened hand from side to side, then pointed at her ears. She was having problems equalising under the enormous pressure of decibels from the shop’s speaker. Then Kate stepped forward, pointed two fingers at her eyes, then one finger at the shop’s entrance, meaning let’s go in and look.
We pushed open a soundproofed door and stepped inside. A smiling Asian lady regarded us from behind the till. She looked a little scared. She’d probably never had so many palangi all coming in at the same time.
As the door closed behind us, our ears experienced a long forgotten phenomenon. Not complete silence, but nearly. The same kind of quiet we’d get if we purchased a packet of pins from the haberdashery aisle, dropped them one by one onto the scrubbed linoleum floor and listened out for each tinkle.
“We should have come over here sooner,” I said. “It’s the most peace and quiet we’ve had in weeks.”
“It’s like the eye of the hurricane,” said Kate. “All that noise outside, and in the middle, absolutely still.”
“It’s cold too.” Teresa nodded at an air-conditioner purring on the wall.
“Well suits me.” Ted started to fiddle with his pockets, pulling out a number of plastic contraptions that looked suspiciously like his Bluetooth speakers. “They say revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“Ted, you’re not going to -.” Teresa tried to grab the devices off him.
But Ted was too quick. He held the speakers above his head and blundered down one of the aisles. Teresa squealed and chased after him. A moment later, an electronic yelp hit the empty air.
“What’s he up to?” Kate scratched her chin.
“He’s about to play something on those speakers.” I remembered the decibel storm raging when we’d returned from Savai’i. “And it’s not going to be Chopin or Beethoven. It’s going to be like Madison Square Garden on steroids.”
“What’s Madison Square Garden?”
“You don’t want to find out.”
We scooted past all the shop’s bargains – flip flops at twenty Tala a pair, twenty balloons in a pack, and enough plastic mirrors to keep even the Snow Queen happy – and ran to the door. Then waving a swift goodbye to the confused lady behind the till, we tugged the door open and sprang outside. Immediately the shop’s ambient music invaded our heads again. But it was nothing compared to the sound that erupted a moment later like Krakatoa behind us: AC/DC’s Back In Black hammering so loud, the shop window shook and merchandise fell off the racks.
Quickly, I did a thumbs up to Kate. Not ‘everything’s okay’ but the diving signal for ‘Up’. Time to end our shopping experience and get the hell back across the road.