The entire pier was packed with the sweating, brown bodies of both passengers and well-wishers, there to see their loved ones off. Harsh, electric lights illuminated the scene, glittering off of the inky water and various clanging metal fastenings. The harbor glistened ominously in the dark. Mike, our SITAG director who had brought us here, prayed briefly with my dad over us.
Mike always gave me the impression of a charming Southern gentleman, suddenly transplanted from his plantation porch into the tropical jungles of the Equator. He had a quizzical smile that you couldn't help responding to, like a father in a Normal Rockwell painting. His wife, Sal, spoke with a soft Georgian lilt. I don't know if I ever heard her raise her voice above the level of mild agitation.
"God's speed, guys," Mike said, encompassing us all with his reassuring smile. "Lukim iu." (See you later)
Anna, Matthew and I, with some SITAG 'cousins' and an Islander friend.
I climbed with my mom and sister onto the boat, grabbing friendly hands for support as I transitioned from the solid dock onto the gently rocking deck. Hair thin treads of anxiety wound themselves surely around my heart. Looking over the side, I could see the water, glossy in the darkness, alien and sinister.
Deep shouts from the men sounded as the fastenings were loosened of their moorings. The ship eased away from the restricting wharf. One foot. A yard. There was suddenly a yell of alarm. A young man had been talking on the other side of the boat and hadn't realized that it was departing. He raced to the wharf side, stood on the railing for a brief, breathless moment, and launched himself at the concrete pilings. He barely made it.
A second later, we were several yards away from the wharf and the engine kicked on reluctantly. I ran with Anna to the bow of the ship, claiming a spot against the railings. Behind us, the lights of Honiara spread cheerily up the hill. I savored my last look at the wonders of modern conveniences as we slowly chugged deeper into the harbor. The heavy, engine-oil smell of the wharf dissipated as a fresh ocean breeze claimed us. The air became cooler and lighter. The water, which from the dock had seemed ominous and angry, now embraced our little boat. We would spend the next three days cradled in its bosom, trusting it to treat us kindly and gently, helping us on our way.
As the last of Honiara's artificial lights faded behind me, I turned my face out towards the open sea and whatever adventure awaited me.