The heat smothers me as soon as I step off the plane and onto the jetty. It feels like stepping into a sauna. I love it!
I’m lucky the queue at passport control is reasonable. I step briskly through the post-arrival duty-free – who would want to buy a fridge at the airport? - and take the stairs down to the baggage collection area. My blue, now rather battered, suitcase is already on the conveyor belt. I grab it, drag it with two hands heavily onto the floor, pull the handle out and off I go. Out into my new adventure.
The taxi ride is adéjà vu. The same road, the same scenery, the same emotional turmoil. I’m here to stay. I can’t control my mouth from forming a silly grin, which remains printed on my face for the entire journey. I don’t really care what the driver thinks of the dishevelled lady with a silly smile and with her nose glued to the window.
After the hugs and the very French three-kisses salute, Lisette leads the way through the jungle-like garden. I can see small cabanas scattered along the ground. I follow her through the foliage, and we emerge into a secluded area. Two small – and visibly less looked-after – buildings appear, our living quarters. She has taken possession of the slightly bigger one farther up; mine is the first one.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ she says as a matter of course, clearly not bothered whether I do or not.
‘I’ll leave you to it. Come over to reception when you’re ready and we’ll have a chat,’ and she walks off, long skirt swishing at her bare feet.
I dive bomb onto the bed and stay there, sitting on the bare bed in the naked room which is going to be my home, staring at the empty walls around me. My battered suitcase sits patiently by the door. My rucksack lies on the bed next to me, where I have thrown it. I’m torn between utter excitement and total dread.
Kiri is working, so after sorting through a few details with Lisette, I start unpacking. As I come out of the bathroom after depositing an infinite number of bottles, creams, pots and bits -I can’t remember why I brought, I stop, startled. He is standing in the doorway. His hair done up in his trendy man-knot, his eyes tender and his smile broadening to show his perfect teeth. I squeal and run in his arms. He holds me tight, then picks me up at the waist and swings me around three times before putting me down and scrutinising me.
‘You’ve lost weight, Maddy. I’ve missed you.’ Two completely unconnected sentences. So him!
The comment on my appearance, though, begs a little digging, does he mean I look better or worse?
‘Just slimmer, that’s all,’ he shrugs.
As my shift doesn’t start until tomorrow, I jump into my bikini, grab a towel and book and follow Kiri back to White Sands. The little road feels so familiar. Even the stray dogs scattered around seem to recognise me, and wag their tails in greeting. I close my eyes and breathe in the scent of this place. Its nature runs through my veins.
My jet lag takes over, and I drift in and out of sleep, book flat on my chest. I hope I don’t dribble. Luckily, I parked myself in the shade, so I shouldn’t roast, and the roar of the ocean should cover any snoring sounds escaping me.
As I’m now living here, I need to rethink my budget. I can’t lead the life of a tourist, so I decide to head to the local take away and get myself some rotis to eat on MY patio at MY new abode. I just have to find a kettle tomorrow, and all will be fine.
I rearrange the little table and the two plastic chairs that will be my companions for the months to come, and tackle my early dinner with a healthy appetite. I will need to train myself to eat spicy if I’m to survive.
I’m ready. Showered and freshly dressed in my figure-hugging white dress with the little red cord belt that Cindy gave me before leaving. The side has a discreet split, and the neckline is not too low. I inspect myself in the mirror. My hair is still wet, so I pull it up in a high ponytail. I head for the reception. Lisette is waiting for me.
‘Ready?’ she states the obvious.
Getting up from the bench and grabbing her bag, she smiles at me. I’m glad we are walking together.
When we turn the corner to the beach, most of the lights have already been dimmed. The tourist season has not yet fully started and the evenings are not as busy. Most of the lights at White Sands have been turned off too. I see them immediately at the bar, Kiri, Ishan and Sanka, one next to the other facing the back. Glasses in hand. There is only a middle-aged couple still sitting at one table, the rest of the restaurant is empty.
I have an uncomfortable feeling. The combination of Sanka and alcohol hasn’t proven very favourable in the past.
As I walk up the wooden steps with Lisette, all three turn around. Ishan starts off toward Lisette, Sanka slips down from his stool and disappears toward the kitchen, Kiri turns around and sits facing my direction. I can’t read his expression. The light is low, and shadows play around on his face. I hold my breath, just in case, but he opens his arms, and I rush into them.
‘Did you have a nice evening? Where have you been?’
There is a slight hint of accusation mixed with sarcasm, I can’t quite put my finger on, but I push it to the back of my mind and smile up into his face.
‘Home.’ It feels strange to call my little room home, but that is exactly what it is now.
‘So you haven’t been anywhere else?’ Again, that strange hinting.
‘Can you stop this? I’ve just arrived, and I’m here because of you, no-one else. Put it into your head and stop the accusations.’
I put my arms around his neck and hold him tight. He nuzzles my neck.
‘I’m sorry? Can we go? We haven’t been busy, and I’ve been drinking a bit. I’m tired.’
So, with a nod toward Ishan and Lisette, we walk off holding hands. Down the wooden steps, onto the powdery sand and the little road, all the way home.