The full moon on white sand is something to see. The light, so brilliantly white, is caught, magnified, and reflected up from the beach, casting a luminous glow on everything. On full moon nights, the village doesn't sleep until the moon sets. Men and women work copra, and kids play jump rope and tag into late hours of the night.
When the full moon comes, round and bright, it also pulls at the ocean. It sucks the water in a great vacuum, leaving the ribs of the islands bare and exposed. Fish caught in the tide pools gasp for breath, and bright pink starfish curl their limbs at the sun as sea urchins slowly dry out, emitting gasping, foamy bubbles.
You can see the expanse of the atoll's reef straight out to where it drops off into deep sea. At very low tides, full moon tides, you can pick your way out across the sharp ridges, right up to the angry surf. There, where land meets defiant ocean, there are deep pools carved into the reef by centuries of pounding waves. I usually stayed away from this area, for fear of being pulled out into the deep sea by the strong rip tides. But one day, curiosity drove me to chance it.
I could see, out on the edge of the reef, a group of children congregated around a deep 'U' cut into the rock. I gingerly picked my way out to them, taking my time, going from smooth rock to smooth rock and avoiding the piles of human excrement on the way. The ocean side of the island served as the village's public toilet, flushed twice daily when the moon pulled a giant lever and washed the waste out to sea.
Nearing the edge, the roar of the pounding surf became so loud that it filled my ears and chest. The ankle deep water tugged at my toes with treacherous strength. A thrill of risk and excitement pulsed through all of us collectively. Watching, I saw how each kid timed the waves as they came in with a rush, filling the rock bowl to the brim, paused, then flushed out again to sea. There was a brief respite of calm after the sucking stopped, then another wave came rolling in and the process started all over. Get in too soon, and the water would pull you right out into open ocean. Get in too late, and you would be dashed against the razor sharp reef.
Poised at the edge of the pool, spray misting my face and scattering the harsh sun's rays into a billion brilliant flecks, I willed my heart to slow to the rhythm of the surf. In it rushed, a giant primeval force. Right before the wave crested, a dozen kids clambered out, then laughed at the foam as it surged upwards in a wall at our feet. The wall fell, the water was still for just a moment, and then with a sucking woosh it spiraled back out through the bottom of the pool. The water stilled again. Kids started jumping in, and I knew it was now or never.
Taking a deep breath, I leaped.
Caught for a heart splitting moment between nothingness and faith.
And then my feet hit the water, my body and head plunged below, and for a thrilling minute the ocean accepted me as its own.