SOMETIMES, an informal cue can stimulate the flow of thought necessary to personal writing. Imagine that we are writing to friends… how would we start… we could imagine that we are there with them, sitting over a steaming cuppuccino…
IF WE WERE having a coffee right now, my Tasmanian friends, I would tell you that despite the photos of snow-covered landscapes I am seeing from your island and the tales of low temperatures I am hearing, I would rather be there.
Why? Because down there you have seasons that are markedly distinct from one another. Sure, the seasons up north here are marked too, but to a far lesser extent than down there. I’m writing on what here is a cold winter day, for instance, but its not the sharp cold you Tasmanians have. And, there’s no snow. Never any snow.
There’s other reasons I would prefer to be living in your part of the world but the weather, the seasons, will have to do for now.
IF WE WERE having a coffee right now it would probably be in that little coffee bar down by the harbour. The one that set up after the crisis when the Regional Assistance Mission was still in-country. We met there before, remember? We met there the day before we flew out, a whole bunch of us including Emma and the kids. It was a calm, fine day as that time of year usually is in the Solomons.
Maybe, sitting there over our coffees, I would tell you about our journey out to Choiseul and the long, open sea voyage in the motor canoe and how our outboard motor got snagged on some ship’s cable out in the straits, and how instead of simply cutting the cable loose the boatman pulled it onboard, hand over hand, until it formed a big coil in the bow and weighed down the motor canoe.
Maybe, too, I would tell you about Steve. He wandered into the farm that serves as our program base out on the edge of Honiara, not all that far from the airport. I don’t have time to discuss him in detail, just to say that he is something of an Americal refugee, that’s what I call him, who prefers life in the Solomons to life in the US. He just wandered in one day and we got to talking. Tony had met him before and I think that’s how he found us, Tony must have given him the location of the farm.
He had come back from Australia not long before — he goes there to work and earn the money that keeps him going in the Solomons — and he was thinking of going further up the coast. What I liked about Steve was his ability to live every day, one at a time. He could have kept living in this way, wandering around the islands, for his while life, I think. That’s the impression I got, anyway. He had no long term plans, only vague ideas that were likely to change as new opportunities came up.
Oh, yes, I remember. He did have… not what I would call a plan… he had this idea that if he could meet the right local woman from a coastal village he would marry her. Providing, that is, that her village has good diving out on the reef.
IF WE WERE having a coffee right now I would ask you about what you have been doing these past years. We’ve had little contact over that time. The last time I saw you was in Sydney just before you left for China. You went there to teach English, wasn’t it? That, when we last met, was in Annandale, wasn’t it? Yes, it was, I remember. Not all that far from where I sit writing in this cafe.
You sort of disappeared from my life after you left. We would email occasionally, but not all that often. Then one day I get this message that you have returned and can we meet up? That was a surprise. I thought you were still in China.
You have done this before. Disappear from my life, that is. The first time was decades ago now, when we were in that share house and one day you announced that you and your sister were going to Tasmania to go apple picking on farms. You just disappeared, no contact with you at all, then one day there you were at the front door.
And now it’s happening again. Only this time you have gone to live in a place I left long ago. Tasmania. You’re working there, you say, editing some local newspaper or something? So, this time, will you stay or go wandering again? You say you will stay and that you’re going to build your own house in the lot behind your mother’s. That sounds like settling down Yvette, and that is something I just don’t identify you with.
IF WE WERE having a coffee right now I would suggest we drink up and walk down to Coogee Beach. Why? Because it’s such a good winter’s day here. The sun is shining. The breeze has a bite to it. The sky is clear and an intense bright blue.
We’ve walked along the beach before, all the way from the surf club to the fishermens’ dinghys at the other end. Do you remember? We usually stop at that little coffee shop in the park, the one that makes that authentic fish burger with lots of real vegetables. Would we do that again today? I’m sure we would.
But I’m not at the beach today. I’m here at that little cafe in Randwick that we frequent. You’re not here, of course, you’re at work, probably getting exasperated at some mindless council bureaucrat or getting the people back to fix the misbehaving irrigation again. So I guess I’ll just have to look out onto that blue sky we won’t be walking under today and listen to that cold breeze as it hisses through the foliage.
NOTE: All of these vignettes are based on actuality.