“I must say, I’ve just met the most uncouth man imaginable.” Huhu’s cheeks draw in as though she’s sucking a toffee. “He wanted me to go into his shop, but it wasn’t a very nice shop, all those tasteless plastic things you get in Christmas crackers, so I politely told him no and walked on.”
“This isn’t the new shop down the road, is it?” I point from our communal balcony at the brand new shop below. It’s only been open a week, the culmination of months of banging and other construction noises, a second bigger dollar shop to rival Cent Save on the opposite side.
“It may have been.” Huhu peers for a moment in the same direction. “Anyway, whatever it is, he was extremely uncivil. He followed me along the pavement, muttering something about a special discount. I had to stop and explain I was only interested in local crafts, not all this cheap factory produced stuff. I think he got the message in the end. Which he should have, as I suspect he was a New Zealander.”
“Really?” An awful premonition drips down my spine. “What did he look like?
“I’m not sure I could see his face properly.” Huhu shakes her head. “His stomach was in the way.”
“He wasn’t wearing a T-shirt that said AC/DC, was he?” Already I can guess the rest. Ted’s been spending a lot of time over at the Cent Save since that incident with the Bluetooth speakers. And he’s been talking about opening his own shop opposite, a variation on a theme, something new and extraordinary for Samoa.
“Unfortunately your father was drawn in.” Huhu turns to Kate. “He muttered something about needing a new snorkel and followed this awful man inside.”
Kate stares and me, and I stare at Kate. Then making our excuses, we rush downstairs. If Chad has been suckered into Ted’s lair, he’ll need rescuing as soon as possible.
We race onto the street. Then run along the pavement to the building that until last week was a building site. But as we glance in, we see it is no longer under renovation. The rubble has been replaced with red tiled flooring, racks of neat shelving and bright overhead lights. Above the door is a flashing neon sign that says ‘Ted’s Treasures’ and inside, behind the counter, the unmistakable blob of Ted.
“Come on in!” he shouts above the blare of rock music playing on two enormous speakers. “Special discounts today. Everything reduced by fifty percent.”
We can’t help but wander in, walking up and down the aisles, looking at the merchandise and wondering what Ted thinks he’s up to. The shelves are full of every kind of crap possible: secondhand towels, third chest T-shirts, dog-eared Lonely Planets, scuffed leaky snorkelling equipment, half-full bottles of sun block and a myriad of chewed paperbacks.
“What the heck?” I gape in disbelief. “Who’s going to buy junk like this?”
“All the new tourists.” Ted’s paunch juts out confidently. “This is all stuff the old palagi left behind. They didn’t have enough baggage allowance to take it all home, so I’ve bought their excess at knockdown prices to sell to all the new palagi.”
As if in demonstration, Chad comes up to the till clutching a blue polyester snorkelling top together with a pair of yellow fins. “These are just what I was looking for,” he says to Ted.
“All New Zealand sourced of course.” Ted beams. “Best quality. None of the rubbish you get at other shops.”
“And you mentioned there’s a buy-back option too?” Chad seems ecstatic.
“Yes. Bring it back in good nick, and I guarantee to repurchase at fifty percent of purchase price. Cheaper than hiring fins all over the island, plus if you like them, you can keep them and take them home.”
“Yes, yes.” Chad is nodding his head. “Seems like a good business model. TradeMe for tourists, the ones who haven’t packed enough. And the ones who’ve packed too much too.”
“Exactly.” Ted oscillates too, he’s positively shaking. “Can’t lose. Everyone’s a winner.”
We accompany Chad back to our appartment. He’s smiling at his new purchases, perhaps appreciating the one instance where plastic proves superior to native materials. And Ted at last is making himself useful, to ex-pats and tourists alike. Perhaps he and Teresa won’t be going home in December after all. Perhaps they’ll remain here indefinitely.