BG 222 – On the beach

The primitive bench in the bright sunshine on the beach, made of a rough plank on two buried poles, is not really suitable for sitting comfortably. But it’s either that or plop down directly on the red-hot sand with his heavy body. He tried to retreat into the shade, on the ground with his back against one of the palm trees, but soon discovered that all kinds of annoying itching and stinging creatures live there. His shorts and T-shirt are sweaty and wrinkled, there is constant sand between his swollen feet and the soles of his leather sandals, his pale skin is burned red, he suffers from itchy insect bites, and his back aches. Couldn’t they have at least provided the bench with a backrest? Puffing, he pulls the dirty handkerchief with a knot in each corner from his balding head and once again rubs the sweat from his face.

They assigned him some kind of hut for the night. More of a platform actually. It stands on poles, is made of rough tree trunks and has a sloping roof made of large dried leaves. An old, dirty cloth on a layer of scratchy coconut fibers serves as a mattress, but he cannot lie comfortably on it. A mosquito net is attached in the middle under the canopy, the corners of which he can attach to hooks in the wood. But the mesh does not close properly and does not stop the strange insects that are mainly active here at night from drinking his sweat and sometimes also his blood. A shallow hole in the sand, about ten meters behind his hut, with a pole next to it to hold on to, serves as a toilet. Even though he covers it with a layer of sand after use, the smell penetrates his sleeping place at night.

And during the day he sits on the bench, in the blazing sun, with his eyes half closed, peering out over the water in the hope that a ship will appear soon. Luckily, he has his wallet with him. But the price of the scarce, strangely spiced food, the freshly picked fruit and the drinking water that he manages to buy from the locals increases every day, just like the rent he has to pay for his ‘hut’ for the night. One man on the tropical island, Adèm, speaks and understands some English. So, he is at the mercy of this otherwise quite friendly Adèm. Every now and then a young native woman comes and rinses his skin with lukewarm water, after first helping him take off his sticky T-shirt and laying it next to him on the bench to dry. He is a bit ashamed of his body. Then she carefully rubs in his pink burned skin with coconut milk. Although he isn’t sure if that will work, he is still grateful to her for it. And yes, he also has to open his wallet for that gratitude.

When he disembarked three days ago at his wife’s request (he isn’t wearing a watch or carrying his phone, but he knows that is has been three nights now) to go to one of the primitive market stalls further down the beach to buy her new sunglasses, the local salespeople kept him talking for a long time – because there had to be haggled and there was fierce competition and he didn’t want to be rude. So long in fact that the cruise ship carrying his wife and children and about two hundred other passengers, after several loud signals from the ship’s horn, eventually left without him, much to his dismay. Every time he asks Adèm when the ship will return or when another ship will dock, he answers with a broad grin, ‘one more week!’. He is not sure whether Adèm knows the meaning of the word week. The abandoned man is tired, dog tired. The bright sun, the uncomfortable sleeping, his burning and itchy skin, the incessant wind and the sloshing of waves on the beach, plus the uncertainty about how long he will still have to last here, exhaust him.

On the fifth or sixth day (he starts to get confused and loses count), when his wallet is almost empty and he only has money left for a last bottle of lukewarm drinking water, a wrinkled old man sits down silently next to him on the bench. The man looks at him for a moment, nods kindly, before gazing out over the water with him. And yes, when the sun is at its highest point, a ship finally shines on the horizon! He lets out a cry of relief. In the next half hour, which seems more like half a day to him, he fortunately sees the ship slowly heading towards the jetty. He cries with pure relief and the old man friendly pats him on the back.

Hours later, tearfully reunited with his wife and children on their cruise ship, he discovers that the island is bigger than he thought, and that the ship has been moored in a real harbor on the other side of the island all this time. The side with the shops, the hotel, the restaurants, the sun loungers with the parasols and the chilled drinks. Once he has showered and put on clean clothes, they sit down at the captain’s table for dinner.

The captain tells him, smiling broadly, that during every cruise they leave someone behind on the almost deserted side of the island, to give the poor population there the opportunity to earn a little money from that tourist. When his money runs out, one of the local children runs to the touristy side of the island within two hours to report that it is time to pick up the straggler again. He is stunned and hurt when it dawns on him that his own family has signed him up as a ‘victim’, after which they have been invited to dine at the captain’s table every evening.

He doesn’t leave his air-conditioned cabin for the rest of the cruise, only allowing the ship’s doctor in every day, to treat his sunburned skin and insect bites. He orders food and drinks from room service to his heart’s content. He had his wife pack some of her belongings in a small suitcase and has not let her in since. She can sleep in the children’s room. He can’t wait for them to get home. He plans to move in with his single brother for the time being. The brother he gets along with very well, and who thought he was crazy when he told him months ago that he was going on a tropical holiday with his family. He should have listened to him.