Saturday, November 10, 2012

Slimy Sludge

My best friend's name, literally translated, meant 'Doesn't Want to Listen', or 'Doesn't Want to Obey'.  Sarau was one of the most beautiful girls in my age group.  A classic Polynesian beauty, she had soft black hair that hung down her back, mocking brown eyes, light brown skin, a straight nose and full lips.  She was always laughing with the loud, self-aware laughter that knows all eyes are on it.

Sarau was noticeable.  In fact, she was impossible to ignore.  Funny, charismatic, always the center of attention.  Her sardonic, slightly mocking take on the world around us amused me.  She was just a little bit dangerous, which amused me, as well.  If there were boys beckoning us from a dark corner, Sarau was likely to go see what they wanted.  Or at least cast them a glance from her slanted eyes and toss a flirty and taunting word or two over her shoulder.  I enjoyed the attention we got when we were together, and I think she enjoyed it, too.

I remember one time, one of her older sisters had a baby.  I remember it was a little boy, Sarau's first nephew.  We had spent the afternoon in her hut, slumped against the mat wall, using a  hand mirror to peer at our reflections in the light that filtered in through the smokey doorway.  The floor of packed ash and dirt was cool and dark beneath our feet.  The occasional chicken would wander in, pecking hopefully for missed grains of rice and muttering worriedly to itself.  Against one wall, the food safe stood, guarding a couple of bowls of taro pudding, some fish, and a cup of sugar behind its wire screen.    The family's bedding was all tied up against the coconut log rafters of the hut, a bundle of blankets, pillows and mats that bulged down in protest to being suspended for the day.  Sarau's little brother kept a collection of brightly colored food wrappers, and they waved like a parade of ostentatious jungle birds against the pandanas leaf roof's soot blackened underbelly.

Sarau was using the mirror to show me the little blackheads that dotted my forehead.  I had never noticed them before, but she apparently had, and was anxious to squeeze them for me.  I pushed her hand away.

"Stop it,"  I said.

"What?  You need to get rid of these.  Just sit still, let me do it."

"No, stop it,"  I insisted.  She ignored me and leaned in closer.  Feeling crowded, I stood up.  "Come on, let's go outside."

"Ok," Sarau shrugged.  On the way out, her sister called to us from behind the hut where she was grating coconut.

"Come get the baby, Sarau!"  she yelled.  We detoured, and Sarau picked up her nephew.  He was scrawny, like most village babies were, and naked.

When we got out to the open path that ran through the village, Sarau looked at me with the familiar dangerous, provocative glint in her eye.  She smiled at me, her lips curving up impossibly at the corners, and raised her nephew up so that he was at eye level with us.  One hand supported the infant's neck, and the other cupped his naked little butt.  Continuing to look straight in my eyes, she opened her mouth and brought her lips around the baby's testicles.

Shocked, I stared at her.  Looked confusedly away.  Looked back at her.  She laughed at me, mocking my discomfort and delighted that she'd knocked me off kilter.

"I'm ... I'm going home,"  I told her, and took off.

I didn't know, at the time, what to think about her behavior that day.  But that was the beginning of the end of our friendship.  I honestly still look back at that memory with some horror, some confusion, still unable to sort through what exactly must have been going through Sarau's mind at that moment.  What caused her to do that.

What about you?  Have you ever witnessed something that sticks with you, and which, when you revisit the memory, still seems to leave a slimy sludge on  your soul?

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