By Michael Kew
"ARE YOU MARRIED? Are you single?” Tara is quite drunk, sucking on a cigarette. She blows smoke at a passing fly. “What happened to your eyes? You look like the devil."
“I’m not married," I say. "And nothing has happened to my eyes. What are you talking about?”
Her glassy gaze brightens; she seems confused. Her face deflates and she looks sad. Takes another drag. “Yeah. I’m single, too. Where you from?”
“USA! I been wanting to see Americans before. They no come here. They think Nauru is bad place.”
The high tide peaked an hour before sunset, gorgeous now. Three little girls giggle and splash in the lagoon inside the reef. The waves for my session were small, the rides brief—punchy rights into the channel. The reef was uncomfortably shallow, the coral dead and craggy, littered with urchins stuffed in cracks and holes in the reef. The ocean had that warm, soft tropical scent—sea plasma. Tufted clouds hid the sun most of my session, and the wind had swung offshore. The rip kept pulling me out. A sparkly dream—sounds of the kids squealing, families relaxing on the beach, fishermen done for the day.
Tara is an enormous, gap-toothed woman, perhaps 40, very dark-skinned, wearing a ripped blue denim skirt and a billowy purply-white floral T-shirt, soaking wet from her fully clothed, late-afternoon sea soak. As the tide recedes and the sun drops, she sits cross-legged on the sand. She has wide arms, small hands, her black hair pulled back tight. She has two metal rings on her index finger. As she slurs, she sits and sways side-to-side on the log and smokes a cigarette. The surf sound is soothing, almost dainty. A small dog is barking—harshly, piercingly.
“My name is Tara,” she says. Her jaw looks unhinged while she talks, her eyes go from squints to wide, crazy-looking. Her face seems to have no bones.
“Hi, Tara. We met here an hour ago, before I went surfing.”
“What your name?”
“Your real name is Michael?” She sways side-to-side, laughing hysterically, a raspy smoker’s crackle. Then, eyes wide: “Woo-woo! Woo-woo! Woo-woo! Why are you heeeeeere, Michael?”
The small dog barks louder. Tara looks down, laughing at the sand.
“Woo-woo! Woo-woo! Woo-woo!”
“You like to laugh, eh?”
“I like to be, uh…European.”
“Yeah, but I’m Nauruan black. I want to be European but I can’t because I’m black. The white people, they enjoy the color skin.” She uses her finished cigarette to light a new one.
“How do you know these guys?” I ask, gesturing at Devlon and Jim.
She inhales smoke and blows it out, pointing at Devlon. “I know that one there, Nauruan one, Devlon, since we were young and live in Boe.” The cigarette goes out so she relights it and tosses the old butt. She raises her right hand to kid height. “We know since children, since kids.” She coughs. “And this one (pointing at Wisam), I just know him this year. This one refugee. He nice. They friends.”
She takes another drag off her cigarette, looking at me. “I’m scared of the eyyyyes.” I open them wide; “OH!” and she leans back, laughing. “You’re something! I don't know how to say."
“My eyes are blue.”
“Yeah, and you’re something! You even show it to me.” Still swaying, she raises both palms at me. Then, randomly: “I had a sister. She’s going to marry in December.”
“A Tongan. A Tongan man, Tonga boy.”
“Yeah, he’s nice, very nice, he’s very handsome. Very handsome. I look at him at first and he’s very handsome. I even said to my sister: Can I take him from you?”
Her face lights up, eyes huge, mouth agape, then a hysterical laugh and a huge grin exposes her yellow teeth, the top row missing both canines. She suddenly looks serious and squints at me as she takes another drag.
“So Tongan men are of the most handsome in the Pacific,” I say. “Who are the next most-handsome?”
“I don’t usually see Australian people.”
“No Australians. How about Micronesians?”
“Oh!” She gives this some serious thought, contorting her fleshy face.
She frowns, looks disgusted. “Noooo. No Marshall.”
“Nooooo—Marshall! I forgot what they look like, the Marshall Island people.”
Another long drag followed by hacking cough. She pulls her shirt up and coughs into its neck, raising a pale chunk of lung phlegm, which she spits onto the sand behind her. Another deep drag. The dog behind me starts eating Devlon’s pack of cigarettes.
She stares at the phone resting on my right thigh. “Can you camera me and you?” she smiles, sniffing, then wiping her nose with her wet shirt. “I want USA to see good Nauruan peoples. We are here, just like you. Yes? Thanks you for coming.”