Port Vila Daze

Each week, five expatriate writers would meet at Au Péché Mignon – The Little Sin – for coffee, crepes and conversation and to come up with a fun project/subject to write about in the week ahead. The following piece is 24 hours in Port Vila, written in the style of Dylan Thomas, with each writer tackling a different part of the day. Some of the references to people and Bislama may be a bit obscure, but it captures the (darker) mood of Vila pretty well.

Midnight ticks past in the zone of no time… tick-tock, tick, tok-tok.

Numbed nakamals dim as laughter loudens over pool-clacked slurs in Struggler’s nightclub, the Scotch terrier, his hands in the small of backs, herding new latecomers towards the trough. ‘Once you’ve had black, you’ll never go back’ shouts fading drunken graffiti.

In the Coral Motel, a guilt-ridden expatriate stares at the peeling ceiling and thinks of his Melbourne-bound wife, his dark-skinned courtesan snuggling close and soft, giving thanks for comfort and dreams.

In the white houses, strips of timber snap into runnels of sliding doors. Clip, lock, no more tok-tok. Tok-tok no more. A glass of water and a wedge between housegirl-crisp sheets to the whir of fans and dreams.

In beds across town the three Ms become one. The Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits melt into the tropical deep darkness to re-shape the dreams they have lost.

In the accountants wishy-washy dreams the laundry goes on and on…

White children dream of distant friends and schools that have winters, and pikininis giggle towards sunsets, solwata and fish.

At the airport, tourists nursing Duty Free spill into the humidity from the acne-scarred 737. They coil, slowly, through surly kastom Customs to a tired baggage carousel, their emotional baggage now circling and waiting three hours behind.

Other tourists sleep or toss in their Four-Star brochure-Three Star reality, fingers crossed for a postcard day.

Never sleeping rust nibbles at empty taxis, sauntering the last lap of town. The doors to The Flamingo yawn wide, hoping…

A smatter of fish, flit and tinkle, and skirt sparkling across the forty winking moonlit harbour…

At the Bamboo Royal, Wai Kim glimpses Janet in the swing-door kitchen, wipes the empty tables and thinks of lost long soups and chicken legs. They blur to long legs past… thighs and breasts, hot as fire. She disappears without a trace.

At l’Houstalet, Clement delivers the day’s last small red carafe to the dining-late French and tidies his well-worn menus and till.

Expats drive home, one-eyed, in a Tuskered haze.

Diana Tam tam-tams uncalled-for inspiration onto a blue-backed canvas. Greens, yellows and a splash of white. Chardonnay.

A lone woman stumbles, house to house… “Where did I leave my kids?”

In the multicultural necropolis, six Vietnamese souls from the guillotine of 1932 waft aloft and ponder the whereabouts of their heads.

In villages, outrigger canoes sleep against trees, pigs snuffle, snort and twitch and a dog curls its bones into the cradle of a tree. Geckos cack-ack and flash to a moth or a mate, watched by the hungry eyes of a cat.

Birdsong.

Distant roosters stammer through the pre-dawn purple haze and the day’s first bus door slide-slams awake.

Walkers and joggers take to the road, their hangovers on a lead.

A day dawn glimmer of golden light seeps over the tumbling tree heights. The half-light fades and sleepers stir. Across the lagoon the silver V of an outrigger points to the search for bonito breakfast. A zephyr stirs the water’s surface then settles still. Roosters have wakened their mob, now it’s time for the other mobs. Major and minor minahs chirrup to each other. They have driven out the other species so who else is there to talk to? Families stir, leave their cool sheets, wives and partners are stroked, children stumble to shares in the bathroom and toilet. The first fresh bread is bought for its whiteness; yesterday’s laplap is eaten in blackness. For some, the thick mouth and nagging head and the I’llneverdoitagains reflect the excesses of yesterday. As the sunrayed warmth spreads and the light reaches its unlit corners, a movement rustles the city. Walkers throng, ready with smiles and passing handshakes as the roads to the city grow in busyness to reach their businesses. Names and greetings are hurled from the diesel dirt of buses. Then shards of white fill the dark avalanche. The joggers are out. And the grim faced power walkers. Who ever saw a jogger smile? Can they really be enjoying this? And why do they do it? Will they look better? Live longer? Mum and Dad are really fit you know.

The buses ferry in and out, visit schools, the blue clad pupils show smiles to each other. Time to kick a ball and chat. Not for parents the delights of arrival. Doors open, offices are filled, tasks are started. The sleeping marketfolk stir to empty tables and utes with today’s hope for income. Time to be tidy, mark the prices, talk about yesterday. Whose turn is it today? A new species waddles down the high street. Socks in shoes, bare legs, hats stringed down. There’s a ship in. Australia’s overweight crisis is on display. Good time for a morning coffee, airconditioned in Hana’s or the Gauloise and Absinthe at Au Péché Mignon.

And so it was quiet.

The eruption was quiet, peaceful, calm, calm to comatose. Potholes existed in pitted peace. Slow, sleepy, siesta buses were crawling around the one directional centrepiece. Cruising for fares from faraway friendlies. Centrepoint pointed to food, slow fast food, or to Hanas where lunchtime was recognised by slow, slow, fun food. People milled in small, dark pools. The air on top hung hot and low with under currents of “coconus reggae” from ill tempered loud abrupt tiny boxes, connected with wires that were too reggae relaxed to rise up, twisting and snarling to strangle the source of the noise. Instead they lay, dormant and menacing to trip and tangle the seething shopper.

The doors slide open and evacuate the economically challenged Eromangoan amongst a stream of sharp, cold air onto the hot, heavy street, into the streaming bright dizzying sun.

The brassy bold sun shone brightly as a Hollywood starlet burning brightest before fading. Stillness, like a green vine, crept through the town. A group of fetid boys made rowdy by the silence played in a well-worn schoolyard, scarred at the elbows and torn at the knees from a thousand little tadpoles such as these. The final push of the working day roared soundlessly on. In a few short hours bleary-eyed weary workers wander into the streets homeward bound.

Stopping for a snap of time amongst the tinkle of wet glasses to joke with friends; the clean sharp crack of an eight ball break, smoke twisting in thick grey blue curls. A throng of women pass, a whirl of blazing colour and twinkling eyes, their teeth a shock of white, smiling from black faces. Friends hiss and call across the street, babies cry, and children run, squealing amongst adult feet.

Sam the Chinaman waves, sitting at the counter of his small shop brimming with rows of tonics and potions. His little Pekinese cat gives a purr, stretching her back curling right up again, and down to her mat. On a dirt patch, men stand under a thatch watching boulle. Leaves stir and rustle in the breeze.

Clans of busses splutter and cough, swinging to and fro, in a heated gritty dance; swish swash go the sliding doors taking their cargo laden with parcels, spewing plumes of violet black smoke and spittle in their wake.

People at the foreshore rest their eyes on an endless horizon. The sun a burning orb, molten and dripping into the ocean disappears with a flash of green.

In the aftermath a hell fire glow I walk towards home to a smiling face, a gentle purr…

The pinkening of the sky stimulates the juices and mental images of culinary delights take form through the vision of the setting sun. There is shimmering on the moving glass, a hazing over of the hills, and the greens deepening as the horizon rises to meet the globe. Thoughts move towards meals for pleasure, meals for duty, meals for necessity. Slowly the vehicles race towards their destinations. The lanes are full and the air becomes impatient and the need flourishes for all. For some the call of numbing liquids can ease the unrest for a length of time. For some the numbing liquid becomes all, a solace which replaces the need.

Now the spaces for parking make themselves available but not wanted. The sense of farewells lingers in the air with fond wishes and the release from the bounds of rooms wanting to be empty. These rooms of work and stress do not desire human companionship through the hours of quiet, a time for peace.

On green spaces everywhere the balls are willing to be caught, thrown, kicked and squashed as big and small grab for them. The atmosphere sparkles in an effort to keep the light from leaving. The greys take over. The colours are also retiring to rest until a new day will awaken them. The bars empty out their customers onto slowly weaving pathways.

The books are waiting for scribbled signatures and last efforts before showering completes all industry. They are snuggled into their bags to patiently wait for efforts the next day. The meal of necessity and duty is consumed in good and poor tempers and then a final bathroom to pillows with storybooks to set imaginations and tired eyes on further journeys. The television finds eyes are closed before it has had the chance to tell its story.

In other worlds, the kitchens and the waiters are humming to have the dinner bells call and hence be set into motion. The meals of delight are preparing. Through satiated tones the volume rises and falls. Music strives to bring the dancers out. For some it is successful, while for others the hard coffees are enough. The doors are closing to complete the cocoons.

But then other party doors are opening with glasses gleaming and bottles full of dreams and delights. To choose, to choose. The music wins or the liquids or both.

The market house is full and brimming with preparations for the early light’s exciting trade. Fresh produce waits. Bright lights blur day’s and night’s activities into one whole. A grass mat with chilly concrete to keep the vendors company. Taxis are slowed and, for some, long hours of talking begin. Some are moving but most must wait until needed much further into the blackness. The balance of rest and excitement is maintained.

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