Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flying in a Flatbed

Guadalcanal is littered with the rusted carcasses of WWII giants.  Tanks, ships and planes can be found on the island's oceans, beaches and jungles, abandoned by Japanese and Americans alike after the war ended.  Bonegi Beach boasted one such behemoth, a Japanese transport ship forsaken after spitting its troops faithfully onto the black volcanic sand.  It now lay partly rusted, just a short swim from the beach, grown over with coral and home to all sorts of sea creatures.  The perfect picnic spot.

We used to make the 45 minute drive down the Guadalcanal coast every month or so when we were in town, to get away from the stifling stench of Honiara.  If we were lucky, other SITAG families would be up for it as well, and we'd all pack up, parents, children, an entire tribe of white skins, with our Igloo coolers and sunblock and bottles of water, to make a day of it.

We usually all packed into the group's many vans, and caravaned to the spot.  But one time, for some reason, we had obtained the use of a large flatbed truck.  It was the kind usually employed with carting pallets of Ma Ling and rice from the wharf to Honiara's various Chinese stores.  Today, however, SITAG had commandeered it for our Bonegi trip.

All the parents piled into the cab of the truck, with some overflow in an accompanying van.  Us kids climbed into the truck's bed, packed in like an animated bouquet of dandelions.  My dad was chosen as supervisor, to ride in the back with us and make sure nobody fell off, or dangled their appendages too close to passing cars, or got smacked by a low hanging branch.

Soon, we had left Honiara behind.  My dad sat at the very front of the truck bed, right by the cab.  The rest of us jostled for prime spots by the edge.  Bright green jungle began to whip by at increasing speeds.  Every now and then, the sparkling surf would flash though gaps in the undergrowth.  We gained speed, and the back of the truck bounced with increasing energy as it flew over the rough pavement.

There was a freedom in the sun and the wind, my hair whipping up like an electric shock.  The bright colors blended together in joyful tumult.  We were flying through our very own Pollock painting.  My dad held out his arms, long and high.

"Put your wings out!"  he shouted.  We all stretched our hands to embrace the rushing air.

"Now, fly!  Fly as high and as fast as you can!"  He beat his arms up and down.  We followed along, caught up together in the exuberant freedom of it all.  Faster and faster we beat our arms, all together, as the truck rushed down the jungle pavement and the wind struggled to capture our hair and clothing.

"Faster!"  my dad yelled, his voice barely discernible over the buffeting roar of wind in our eardrums.  We flexed our arms until our fingertips tingled, all of us together, a box full of fledgling butterflies stretching our wings for the first time.  Faster and faster we flapped.

And then, I think, for one magical moment, the truck's tires really did lift off, and we really did fly.

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