They prowl in packs, grinning, wide eyed, hungry. They clink and chomp at their own special table at Paddles, the jet-set restaurant in town. At weekends, they blitz the fales, sniffing, quaffing and smacking lips, thirsty for fire new.
A group of them conspire at a nearby table. Their leader, a dark haired lady with an eager grin, recognises us from someplace else, another fale, another weekend, long ago.
“How’s the teaching going?” She fixates Kate with a Pinot Noir stare. “It’s maths, isn’t it?”
“Fantastic.” Kate smiles. “But I’ve finished now. School broke up on Friday.
“And the writing?” The lady’s gaze swivels to me, tannin lips, eyes dark berries. “Have you written anything?”
For an instant, I think about lying. ‘No, I forgot to bring a pen. Or any paper. I’ve not written a single word.’ But I exaggerate instead. Lay it on thick with a marker pen. “I’ve done a travel blog. Several thousand words now. Enough for a book.”
Of course, it’s nowhere near enough for a book. A thin novella at best, mostly photos. But that’s not what she wants to hear. No mileage in mediocrity, not when you’re an ex-pat. You either touch the sun, or else drown in your sorrows.
She smiles and swills her mouth with wine. Cleansing her palate like a sorbet between the fish and meat courses of a degustation menu. “It’s all about discipline, isn’t it? I always try to complete a new piece every week.”
“Music?” I imagine her sitting on a stool with a guitar, crooning. But I’m wrong.
“Yes, symphonies.” Her eyes don’t flinch. “Full orchestra, including French horn and kettle drums. The NZSO are interested.”
She sips from her glass again. I don’t know whether to believe her or not. No smirk on her face, no twitching facial muscles, no sign she is taking the Micky. Except last time we met, she told us she was here on a government posting, advising fisheries, or trade, or something like that. She’d been on her own then, on business, rather than whizz-kidding with fellow ex-pats.
“Well sit down, won’t you?” One of the others, another dark-haired wine drinker, gestures us towards two spare seats. “What else do you write?”
“Oh, this and that. Anything really, whatever people want to read.”
“Are you a full-stop man, or do you use semi-colons?”
“Oh, both, whatever fits.”
“And your paragraphs? Are they long, or short?”
“Oh, I keep them short.”
But this is starting to feel like an interview, untold secrets spilled, an unsought opportunity to apply to the Samoan ex-pat club. I like red wine. I like fales. But I’m not sure I belong. And besides we’re only here another few days. Soon I’ll be a different type of ex-pat in another country.
“We have to go.” Kate extrapolates, seeing where this is going. “We’re meeting friends at their resort early tomorrow.”
“How marvellous.” The first lady thrusts her chin forward. “And which resort’s that?”
“Coconuts Beach.” Kate names the island’s number one resort, the hippest place to be seen, let alone be a guest. “They’ve been staying in one of the over water fales. They say the view’s amazing, and there’s so much space too. A bed big enough for Humpty-Dumpty and all his pieces, and a natural waterfall shower too. The only drawback is the TV. They don’t have one.”