The rocky outcrop looked bereft of life. At night land and sea were almost indistinguishable. Even the top of the Amok temple was lost in the dark. There was a storm in the distance, but with no thunder, just the distant split of lightning. The sea was restless. Powerful waves pounded thick black plugs of volcanic rock that stood resolute near the shore.
The island itself was unremarkable. Its location was not particularly important in the archipelago. There were no abundant natural resources. There was no strategic importance, as far as anyone could tell. It was not very large compared to the other islands in the vicinity. Its only feature was a long extinct volcano. The black volcanic rock was everywhere giving evidence of a once dramatic eruption, but there were no myths to confirm or deny this.
However the people who lived on the island did have a cultural mythology to draw upon. There was no sense of the existence of a supreme being. Life was lived in the moment and then you died.
Out to sea the sky was ablaze with stars shimmering through the sea spray mist as small hand crafted fishing boats made their way back from their nocturnal trawling. The boats struggled, as they lurched and bounced, under the weight of their bounty. It was the time of year when swordfish, barracuda and tuna were abundant in the passages between the outer islands.
The sound of halyards clinking could be heard as a fisherman kept vigil on his catch. The boat was full, past capacity, and they still had a way to go. He looked at his friend, who was guiding the helmsman into the inlet, trying avoiding the sea wall. There was one area of concern; a reef that plateaued only a few feet below the surface. To avoid it they would have to plough through a small gap between sharp plugs of volcanic rock. There was little wind so progress was slow.
Birds circled above as the boats neared the shore. The helmsman looked ahead and rubbed his tired arms. It had been a long night and he was settling into a post-trawling haze of doing a good night’s work with the prospect of selling plenty of fish.
He stared at the water splashing against the side of the boat. It looked like the ocean was trying to prevent the boat from reaching the shore. His thoughts were drowned out by the constant rhythm of the deep dark beast. The sea spray washed his face as the squawking gulls stayed in sync with the bounce of the boat hitting the surface.
Although tired and trapped by the elements around him, he was content. He could see small clumps of lights on the shore. ‘People waking up,’ he thought.
High above the shoreline a compound of bungalows had been built to accommodate the influx of foreigners who flocked to the area to dive and swim amongst the many coral ledges.
Unseen, but there watching, was the massive structure that dominated the landscape. Even in the dark, the bamboo scaffolding stretched towards the sky. Each day seemed to bring with it some new addition that made it all the more startling and bewildering. None of the boat crew could shed any light on its purpose for it looked nothing like anything any of them had ever seen.
For the locals, anything foreign took on a personality of its’ own. It was their way of dealing with the unknown. Fear and suspicion were soothed by giving the thing from outside a personality or a face, but not a name, for names were sacred, and could only be dispensed by an elder.
Whatever it was that ‘Whitey’ was building was soon forgotten as the moment they needed to be alert was fast approaching so they all half-stood, giving directions to avoid the underwater reef.
The tide was coming in so caution was the key. The helmsman re-positioned his hand on the tiller. He had just enough grip, not too hard, so his wrist and forearm were loose. He was experienced enough to remain calm and had trust in his guides so he started to concentrate on their hands. He watched his friend on the starboard side raise his left hand and with gentle flicks of his fingers direct them away from the rocks, while his friend on the port side used his right hand to do the same, so by watching the two signals at once he plotted a course safely through the gap.
All this was done in silence, as speaking was not considered very important as people were encouraged to keep their thoughts to themselves. This practice was seen as a sign of humility and respect.
The sound of the water lapping against the rocks emphasised the precarious position they were in. Even though they had passed this way many times before, they never underestimated the danger of navigating a full boat around the black plugs of volcanic rock.
Easing past the danger area, the boat was steered under the small mainsail as the onshore breeze picked up and started pushing them across the rise of waves behind the break and parallel to the shore.
They would head north for a little longer before turning into a sheltered inlet where they could run their boats ashore to transfer their catch into large plastic tubs for the local kitchen hands to carry up the slope to the main road where small vans would take the supply of fish to the restaurants along the shore.
Then after checking their nets and securing the boats it would be home to have breakfast before the children went to school and a few drinks of Draka before sleeping till mid-afternoon.