Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Cover Up

One result of living on an island is that almost everything gets cooked in coconut milk.  Pretty much anything tastes better when saturated with the fatty, creamy white goo squeezed from grated coconut meat.  My favorite was when they cooked it in rice.  When rice is cooked in coconut milk, it turns into a lovely, gelatinous, sweet pudding, thick and chewy.

Sometimes, the islanders would weave little hand-size, diamond shaped containers out of coconut leaves and fill them with rice.  The rice containers would then be boiled in coconut milk, and in the end, when you unwrap the coconut leaves, you get a little diamond of rice pudding.  Rice to-go, island style.

One time I joined some friends on a voyage to some of Ontong Java Atoll's outer islands.  The women had packed the front of the fiberglass canoe full of food for the trip.  Taro pudding (the color and consistency of poo), fish dried over the fire, green coconuts for drinking.  And best of all, a basket full of little packets of rice.  I eyed those packets the minute they were loaded, and my mouth instantly started watering. 

Out we headed, over the open lagoon.  Cranked up to max horsepower, the little outboard motor on our canoe propelled us across the short, choppy waves.  A rush of exhilarating speed came as the wind swooped into our ears and hair and clothing.  The sun glinted sharply off the water.  We passed swirling flocks of sea birds dive bombing schools of fish below the surface.  The open ocean lay below, the sky spread above, and we were joyful inhabitants of a greater world. 

But with all the swirling of colors, light and exuberant movement around me, all I could think about was the little rice packets in the front of the boat.  I wanted one.  I wanted one bad.  I wanted to bite into the sweet, chewy goodness and lick coconut syrup off my fingers. 

I soon had my chance to ask for one.  One of the canoes in our fleet had something wrong with its outboard motor, and we all stopped in a little cluster.  The lagoon stretched deep, dark and blue beneath and around us.  The women settled in to chat as the men pottered over the problematic engine.  I turned to the woman nearest to me. 

"I'm hungry.  Can I have a rice packet?"  I asked.  She smiled and handed me one.  With blossoming anticipation, I took the little bundle of coconut leaves and started to unwrap it.  That was when I noticed that something was not quite right.  Instead of being covered with sticky, white coconut residue, the packet was clean and smooth.  I continued unwrapping.  A bit of the rice was exposed now.  I nibbled at it. 

I discovered to my dismay that this was not rice cooked in coconut milk.  It was just rice.  Boring, white, crumbly, dry, plain old rice.  My appetite went away as this realization dawned, and I sat there staring at a little diamond of rice that I didn't want to eat.  That I wouldn't eat. 

I looked around me.  Everyone was busily engaged, and nobody was paying attention to me.  Surreptitiously, I inched over on my seat until I was next to the side of the canoe.  Cupping the diamond of rice in my hand, I casually let my fingers trail in the dark water.  After that, it was as easy as just letting my grip loosen, and the rice slipped from my grasp into the vast lagoon.

And then, with dawning horror, I saw that the water only looked dark because there was nothing in it to reflect light back up to the surface.  The diamond of white shone brilliantly as if a million spotlights had been turned on it.  It was there, clearly visible in the crystal clear water.  Silently, desperately, I willed the rice to sink quicker.  I willed a giant fish to come up and suddenly snap it into its mouth.  I willed it to disintegrate in the water.  I willed the boat to drift to the left and cover it.  None of these things happened.

What did happen, was the woman who had given me the rice, and who I had lied to about being hungry when I wasn't hungry, only greedy for the sweet coconut, looked casually over the side and spotted the slowly sinking evidence of my deceit, glimmering brilliantly in the blue depths. 

I really did deserve the tongue lashing I got then, and the looks of surprised disgust, and the feeling of ashamed embarrassment that followed.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Danica. . . this must have been a horrifying moment for you!!! I'm so sorry but just remember that we all find ourselves in situations like this. The only difference is that many of us try to hide it rather than learn from it. Great post:)