It was dark. The kind of dark when even the stars are intimidated and the trees reach up to blend unendingly with the sky. The entire village had settled down for the night, coming in to roost in respective huts. Bits of light pushed defiantly through pin point holes in the woven walls of huts, creating the reverse effect of twinkling stars at eye level. Bits and snatches of conversation could be heard from each hut, murmuring, sometimes raised voices, some laughter. A child crying.
Anna was accompanying me on an emergency expedition to the beach. Nature had called, with no respect to what time of day it was, or how inconvenient it would be for me to walk clear through the village to get to the women's beach (where the female half of the village all did their 'business'). We knew the road practically by heart, since we walked it several times a day, every day. But still, things seem different in the dark.
We didn't take a lantern with us - imagine finally getting down to the beach, and then being surrounded in a halo of light you can't just make go away. Talk about conspicuous. We did take a flashlight, but kept it off for anonymity because, frankly, I didn't want everyone whose hut was on the way to the beach to know about my evening urges. Because you better believe they paid attention to who walked past their huts at night. Whenever any of us went anywhere after dark, we'd hear from every hut, "Is that you, David? Nathan? Anna? Hello?"
My brother asked a friend why all the night time shout-outs, and the answer he got was, "Well, they want to make sure you're not a dead person."
"Why would they think I'm a dead person?"
"Because when people die, they get pale ... like you."
"If I WERE a ghost, who's to say I couldn't just pretend to be one of the white skins and answer to the name they call out?"
"Don't you know dead people can't talk?" A 'stupid white skins don't know anything' look accompanied this last remark, and my brother let the conversation drop.
So, we all got in the habit of talking very loudly whenever we went anywhere at night. On this particular night, however, Anna and I kept quite and hurriedly made our way towards the women's beach, lava lavas wrapped tightly around our shoulders against the slight evening chill. A light breeze blew against our faces, bringing with it the soft rumble of low-tide breakers. I knew there were clouds in the sky, because I couldn't see the stars. No friendly Orion guarded my path on this night. Anna's presence was comforting beside me. Although she was close enough to bump into if I turned the wrong way, she was barely distinguishable against the deeper shadows on that moonless night.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, something smacked against my face, sending a sharp arrow of pain shooting from the bridge of my nose, up around the back of my skull. My nose found it first, but half a breath later my entire body was wrapped around the trunk of a coconut tree. I muttered a muffled, "Ugh." I had somehow gotten slightly off the path and walked full speed into a tree. Anna burst out laughing at me, and a voice called from the nearby hut, "Matthew??" We held hands and took off down the path.
Nearly at the beach, we were about to break through the last bastion of growth onto the sand, when I heard two voices talking beyond us. "Shhhh," I whispered to Anna. We crept up to the edge of the undergrowth, and saw that two girls were standing on the beach, having just finished their business and ready to head back to their huts. I don't know if it was my still stinging nose, or just the bewitching darkness of the night, but an idea took hold of me and I acted on impulse.
I grabbed the flashlight from Anna, wrapped my lava lava over my head like a cowl, and tiptoed over to the low pandanas bush growing a few feet from where the girls were standing.
One of them heard my footsteps. "Hello?" she called. They were both very still and quite now, trying to discern what was behind that bush. I grabbed hold of a branch and shook.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty... " Her voice trembled. I rattled the leaves again.
"You know, maybe we should just get out of here ... " Knowing the do-or-die moment had come, I flipped on the flashlight under my chin, shone it up over my face and grinned maniacally. Lurching, I growled as I stumped towards the two girls, who stood paralyzed in fear. Clutching at each other, they began screaming. Adrenaline shot off of them in almost tangible waves. As if the sound of their own voices unlocked their legs, they simultaneously tried to run in opposite directions, both still with a death grip on the other, almost falling down in the process.
That was when I began to feel sorry for them.
I let the lava lava fall from my head, and lowered the flashlight so that it no longer cast my face into skull-like shadows. "Hey, guys, it's just me." They stared at me in disbelief, the whites of their eyes showing completely all around. "It's Danica," I went on, taking a step towards them. They both lurched back. Seeing that there was really no way to easily talk the two of them down, I just spoke a few more words of consolation, apologized, and let them get on their way.
Anna scolded me severely for this prank. But to this day there's a little maniacal part of me that still relishes it.