SITAG, the group we belonged to, owned houses that ran along the ridge of a hill just outside of Honiara. Lined up along the crest, like so many cornrow braids on a little girl's head, these houses were open for us to stay in when we made the trip back to semi-civilization from the outer islands every few months.
The houses were surrounded by tropical foliage that we kids reveled in. There were a few guava trees, whose fruit we constantly fought over and inevitably picked before it was ripe, enjoyable only by virtue of the sweetness of conquest. If you've ever eaten an unripe guava, you'll know that it consists of chalky flesh surrounding about fifty seeds as hard as popcorn kernels.
Fragrant frangipanis lined the entire ridge, their fragile limbs too weak to really climb safely, littering the ground with hundreds of elusively sweet blooms. There were a few conifers, which we loved to climb and sit in while the wind gently hushed through the boughs. The leaves of these trees weren't prickly like our Western evergreens. They waved and bent softly like undersea anemone. Several stumpy little 'cherry' trees (so called by us because of the sweet, red berries), grew close to the road, the dirt beneath stained with sticky red globs of overripe fruit and parrot droppings.
There was one mango tree that I discovered one day. It grew tall, straight, and thickly green, like a child's oval-shaped caricature in a crayon drawing. I had always avoided it, its flat, waxy leaves growing so thickly that I couldn't see sky through them. The branches started low on the Popsicle stick trunk, too close to the ground to sit under comfortably.
On this particular day, however, I had escaped from the pack of SITAG 'cousins', searching for a spot to be alone with my thoughts. The mango tree beckoned me from its place next to the driveway. Stooping beneath the low branches, I looked up along its trunk and discovered with surprise that virtually no leaves grew along the inside of the tree. Intrigued, I hoisted myself up.
Bare toes gripping the branches, I climbed them like a ladder, spiraling up into a hollowed out, leafy bower. It was secret room just for me, growing 10 feet above the ground, hidden by a thick wall of waxy leaves and gently blushing mangoes.
I was the princess, and this was my tower.