The old woman with a hearing problem had her head bent to the task of tossing bread scraps to the chickens. She didn’t know a young woman was driving a small car down her dirt driveway. Dora Gomes, who was about to take a sheet off the clothesline, saw the dust through the trees and heard the tires bump over the stones. Then she saw the woman in the car.
“You’ve got a visitor, Misa,” Dora said.
The old woman looked up, and when she saw the figure through the car’s windshield, she cried, “Sweet Jesus! Not another real estate person!” She dropped the bag of bread scraps, and all the chickens scrambled around in their frenzy to peck at their unexpected gift.
“Well, let’s find out,” Dora said.
The young woman got out of the car and said to Misa, “Excuse me, but are you Mrs. Correia?”
“Whatever you’re selling, we don’t want any. And my land’s not for sale. This here’s private property.”
The young woman laughed. “If you’re Misa Correia, then you’re my grandmother. I’m Odelia Correia, but people call me Odie. I came to Shallow Bay to meet you.”
“Misa!” Dora cried. “We all knew you had a granddaughter somewhere, and here she is. Isn’t that wonderful!”
Misa studied this stranger with her thick black hair pulled into an untidy ponytail. “Did your father send you?”
Odie knew a wary woman when she saw one, so she made her words rush out like a waterfall. “No, he doesn’t even know I’m here. I wanted to come sooner. For years, I begged and begged. They divorced when I was seven, and my mother whisked me off to California, and, well, there were issues. But I’m twenty-one now and just finished college, on my own, finally. I’m getting married in September, and Andrew and I will be living in Boston. I got a job in a management training program at a bank, and he’s going to be at Harvard Business School, so I thought this would be a good time to come, before I have to look for an apartment and start my new job.”
She glanced at the barn and chicken coop and at the untended pastures and fields that swept down to the distant shore of the Atlantic. “This is a beautiful place. I didn’t know you lived on a farm. When I got off the boat I asked people where I could find Misa Correia, and they all pointed me in this direction, so eventually I got here.”
“Ten miles,” Misa said. “This here’s the south side of the island.”
The wind sharpened, fluttering the sheet on the line. Dora unpegged it and said, “Maybe Odie would like something cold to drink after that ride. I’ll bring the laundry up to the house and make some iced tea.” She gave Misa her cane. “Watch your step around the chickens.”
A heavy silence hung between the two Correia women, each taking measure of the other. Erase the span of seventy years and they might have been twins; the fine shape of the jaw and eyes a lively brown.
Finally, Misa said, “How long are you planning to stay on the island?”
“Just a few days, long enough to get to know you, if that’s okay.”
“And your father? Where’s Matias?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t see much of him. We don’t communicate very well.”
The old woman let several minutes pass before she answered. “Matias is no son to me. We had a falling out about five years ago. Since then, we don’t communicate, either.”
She put on her glasses and studied her granddaughter. “They sent me your picture once, and now you’re all grown up. You have something of your grandfather about you, the shape of your face, maybe.”
Clutching her cane, Misa pulled herself to her feet. “I’m ninety years old, but I can still take care of myself, with a little help. Just so you’ll know, your father wanted to put me in a home off Island somewhere and take over my land. That will never happen, I told him. He stormed off and I haven’t seen him since.”
Odie felt sweat trickling down her neck. “Well, he never talked much about you. Whenever he mentioned Shallow Bay, it was all about how he could develop it and make a lot of money.”
She glanced at the old farm house and the beds of perennials. “I wouldn’t think he’d want to change a thing.”
“We’ll go in, now,” Misa said.
The inside of the house was cluttered with an accumulation of things Misa no longer needed but refused to toss out. Odie smelled cat urine and dust and made her way around stacks of old newspapers to sit by an open window. They drank iced tea and Dora had put out a plate of cookies, then she helped Misa into her bedroom located in the far reaches of the house and settled her in for her afternoon nap.
Dora returned to the kitchen and began to fold the sheets. “Last winter your grandmother tripped over a dish of cat food and fell,” she told Odie. “After a few weeks in the hospital, the doctor sent her back here but said she needed some help. I’m here three days a week.”
She checked the time and then she turned her attention to the refrigerator. “The truck from the market will be here in a few minutes so I have to clean out the old food to make room for the new stuff.”
Odie picked up the cat and gently scratched its ears. “So, she gets her groceries delivered?”
“She gets everything delivered, her food, prescriptions, even her library books.”
Odie thought about this for a few minutes, then said, “You’re here three days a week. What about the other four days?”
“Oh, she manages, but let me tell you, the place is a mess when I come back.”
“What, exactly, do you do, Dora?”
“I help her shower, I cook meals, do laundry, things like that. Mainly, I keep her company. She’s reclusive, and she’s very much alone out here. I’m trying to talk her into getting one of those little buttons you hang around your neck. You press on it if you fall, and it’s connected to the fire department.” She sighed. “No such luck. Misa’s proud and very stubborn. She does have a lawyer who handles her bill paying, though. If she didn’t, she’d probably forget to write checks and have her utilities shut off.”
Soon they heard Misa shuffling down the hallway and into the kitchen.
“I couldn’t sleep. It’s not every day I get a visit from my granddaughter.” She studied Odie. “How long were you planning to stay on the island?”
“Just until tomorrow. I got a room in town and I thought I’d come out and visit you in the morning, then leave. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay,” Misa said. She turned to Dora. “Can you make up a bed for my granddaughter? She might like the spare room that looks out over the orchard.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Odie said.
“You cancel that room. As long as you’re on the island, you’ll stay here.”
“Well, thank you. I appreciate your offer.”
After Dora left, Odie said, “What do you want me to call you, Nana or maybe Grandma?”
“Misa will do. It’s a little late for anything else, don’t you think?”
Odie lay awake for hours, trying to adjust her body to the damp, lumpy mattress. This is what mildew must smell like, she thought. Images of her grandmother raced through her thoughts, a woman worn out, frail, her eyesight and hearing faded, her gait unsteady, but her mind still sharp.
Why had her parents kept her away? Her father called her a crazy old loon. “She hasn’t left the island for years!” He’d said.
Odie’s own mother had described Shallow Bay as a dreary place, cold and wet and filled with dull people. I’ll make up for the lost time, Odie thought. I’ll get to know her and this place where she lives.
Her thoughts turned to Andrew, still in Sacramento. He’ll be furious when I call him and tell him I‘m not in Boston yet.
Soon, a cool breeze drifted through the window, lulling Odie to sleep.
Noise from the chicken coop woke her, and that’s where she found her grandmother.
“You’re up early, Misa,” she said, yawning. A weak sun was breaking through the clouds, and soon the dew on the grass would burn off and the day would be warm and humid.
“Every day I’m up with the sun,” Misa answered. “It’s these birds. I keep ’em locked up in the coop once it gets dark so the foxes and coyotes don’t get ‘em, but I let ’em out first light.”
Leaning on her cane, she scattered some seed around and said, “Let’s go in and have some breakfast. Then I’ll show you around.”
“You’re looking at twelve acres,” Misa told her later. They were sitting on a bench by the back door. “Your grandfather Antoine bought this land years back when the island was going through hard times and prices were low. He got it cheap, but had to work hard to turn it into a farm. He’d come over from the Azores as a boy. His father was a fisherman, but my Tony never took to fishing. He worked the land, but he built things, too. He built this barn and the house, and people hired him to build their houses, and that’s how he made a living. He was shrewd, your grandfather. Over the years, he bought up property in town, a house here, a house there, as investments. I’ve sold a couple, and I have some rent coming in. That’s what I’m living on.”
“Like my father,” Odie said.
Misa turned, abruptly. “No, not like your father. Tony had a soul, but Matias never showed any signs of having one. He learned the trade, but left Shallow Bay early on and went off to become a big time developer. He came back with plans to develop this farm, that’s how much soul he has.”
“And you sent him on his way.”
“That I did.” The sun had disappeared behind some clouds, and they felt a chill in the air.
“Shallow Bay’s become a rich man’s playground. They’re all after my land, so I made out a will and I’m leaving it to the Land Trust, a conservation group.”
“That’s a good thing, Misa.”
Misa pulled a sweater over her thin shoulders. “Time for my morning lie-down. Dora won’t be here today. You go look around, Odelia. My property goes right down to the beach.”
Odie went exploring. From her room, she’d already seen the stunted branches of an old apple orchard. A kitchen garden had once been planted behind the house. At one end, remains of herbs continued to flourish among the weeds: the spiky shoots of rosemary, the gray of sage, mint running wild, unchecked across the lawn, and Odie spotted the new fuzzy purple hats on chives. Among the perennials, the yellow faces of daffodils poked up among the weeds.
The chickens followed her into the empty barn. She picked her way around some rusty tools and walked its length, past rows of abandoned stalls, and caught the faint aroma of hay. Sunbeams slipped through slats in the roof, high above the barren loft, filling the air with dancing dust motes. In her mind’s eye she saw a parade of cows clomping through, ready for milking.
Odie left the barn and walked into a field. It had been neglected for years and had been reclaimed by grass, or were they wildflowers? She would have to buy a book and find out. They shimmered in the sun this early summer’s day.
The field ended at the beach. Odie took off her shoes and waded in the surf.
I want to be a farmer, she thought. I want to take up what my grandfather left behind, bring back the cows, plant the garden, plow up the weeds, tame the herbs. I want to reclaim the orchard, grow apples, and build a cider mill. I want to plant pumpkins and give hay rides. It’s an impossible dream because Andrew would never fit into a farmer’s life on this small island.
Odie went back to the house and made some sandwiches. As they sat in the sun, she said, “This place is like no other. It’s spectacular.”
Misa answered, “If you’re not in a hurry to get to Boston, you could stay a while. You haven’t had a chance to see the island yet.”
Odie felt her heart soar. “I’d love to do that. And when Dora’s not here, I can help you around the house. If you want, I could plant a small garden behind the back door. I think there might have been one there once. Then you could have fresh vegetables all summer long.”
Misa’s eyes became thoughtful. “You’re right, I did have a garden there, before I became too old to take care of it. All that bending and stooping! Well, it got to be too much.”
“I’d do all the work. Isn’t early June the best time to plant?”
“For some things, yes. Kale and peas should have been in weeks ago.”
They went into the kitchen and Odie washed the dishes. “Let’s go into town and buy what we need. You can show me around the island, too, and I want to see my grandfather’s grave.”
Misa pushed herself up from the table and took off her apron. “I’ll have to change my dress. Chances are I’ll run into someone I know, and I want to look presentable.” She found her cane and turned to walk toward the hallway. “The last time I was in town I was on my way home from the hospital after my fall. I’m still not too steady on my feet, so I won’t be able to do much walking.”
“That’s okay. You can sit in the car and be my tour guide.”
“Good! We’ll go to the Grain and Garden for seeds and fertilizer and such. Danny Tasso owns it now, and he’s been good about sending me someone to clean out the chicken coop and bring their feed every week. Once in a while he’s come out and done it himself. Maybe I can talk him into having the weeding done in my new garden, too.”
There had been a Daniel Tasso at Stanford. Odie remembered seeing him around, a short, whirlwind of a guy with wild, curly black hair and a beard. Surely this Danny Tasso who mucked out a chicken coop couldn’t be the same person. Stanford graduates headed to the corporate world. Andrew was planning to work for an investment firm in New York, and the only chickens he would come across would be baked in a marinara sauce at some Italian restaurant.
While Misa changed into another dress, Odie called Andrew.
“Have you found an apartment yet? I can’t believe you haven’t called.”
“I decided to visit my grandmother on the island of Shallow Bay. I’d planned to stay only a day or two, but I’m going to stay a little longer. She’s a very old woman, Andrew, and she needs some help.”
“Well, I need your help, too. I have three apartments I’ve found online for you to look at.”
“I’ll be there soon. Bye, Andrew!”
She shut off her phone, irritated that her future husband hadn’t shown more interest in her grandmother.
They pulled into the parking lot of Garden and Grain, and Danny Tasso hurried to the car. “Hello, Mrs. Correira. What brings you to town?”
“We’re bringing back my old kitchen garden, Danny, and we need some things. This here’s my granddaughter Odelia. She’s come to visit.”
This was their classmate. He’d cut off the wild curls, shaved the beard and was dressed in a grass stained T-shirt, but she would have known him anywhere.
“You’re Odie Correira,” he said. “I’ve seen you with Andrew Jenks at Stanford.”
“That’s right. Small world!”
“It sure is. Is Andrew with you?”
“No, he’s still in California.”
“They’re getting married in a few months,” Misa added.
An hour later, Danny tossed a bag of peat moss into the trunk of her car and slammed the door. “You’re all set, Mrs. Correia. You’ve got seeds, a couple tomato plants, some fertilizer and compost. You also have a shovel and a spade. That ought to get you started. I’ll be out tomorrow with my rototiller.”
“Rototiller?” Odie asked.
“Sure. That soil is hard as clay and packed with weeds. It has to be churned, dug up some.”
“He’s right, Odie. You’ll see what he means,” Misa said. “Now it’s time you took me home. I’m not used to all this running around, and I missed my nap.”
The ride home took them past a stretch of woods with its small development of new homes. “I’ve known the Tasso family all my life,” Misa said. “In fact, we could very well be related. Look back three or four generations at the Azores and you might find the link.”
“I bet you know everyone on the island,” Odie answered.
“Maybe once I did, but not now.”
A week later, as Dora was combing Misa’s hair, she said, “That little garden of yours is looking good. Danny Tasso’s been up here more than once since he dug up the back yard. I’ve never known any garden to need that much attention.” She twisted the hair into a thick knot.
Odie was at the sink, scrubbing out a pan. “He’s just following up. He brought out some more seeds, so now we have cucumbers, peppers and squash along with everything else.”
“Well, he’s a hottie. There’s not a woman on the island who wouldn’t jump into his bed, if asked.”
“Dora!” Misa cried. “What a thing to say!”
“Well, it’s true. What do you think, Odie?”
“I haven’t noticed. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m engaged to Andrew.” She dried the pan and put it back in the cupboard. “I’m going out to work on the herbs, and I have some basil to plant. Do you want to come out with me, Misa? I think Dora wants to catch up on some laundry.”
“Not today. It’s too hot. I think I’ll sit in my rocking chair and listen to the radio.”
Odie went out and soon heard the familiar sound of Danny’s pickup. She put aside her shovel and wiped the sweat from her face.
You are a hottie, she thought. Suddenly, Andrew and California seemed to be on another planet.
“Hi, Odie. I came up to see how you’re doing, and I brought up a bag of feed for the chickens.”
“Good! We’re getting low. That reminds me, I need to see if they’ve left us some eggs.” She swept her arm toward the garden. “As you can see, I’m working on the herbs today.”
“It’s looking terrific. Ready for a break?”
“Sure. Let’s go sit in the shade.”
They sat and leaned against the heavy trunk of a maple tree. A canopy of deep green leaves shaded them from the sun.
Danny folded his arms across his knees and looked off into the fields that stretched out behind the barn. “I would love to see this place become a farm again. Your grandmother would, too. Why don’t you stay on and make it happen?”
“Because it will never be mine. Misa’s willed it to the Land Trust. She’s dead set on keeping it from my father and his development plans.” She picked up a shiny leaf that had been blown off the tree. “Plus, I have a job waiting in Boston, and a wedding to plan.”
He grinned. “Just asking.”
A few days later, Misa asked Odie to take her into town. “My lawyer wants me to sign some papers,” she said. “She pays my bills and every once in a while I have to see her.”
“Sure. I’ll go to the library and hook up to Wifi. I need to check out the apartments Andrew’s found. Maybe I can have a virtual tour and tell him to go ahead and sign a lease on one of them.”
“So you’re going to be leaving,” Misa said.
“Yes, but I’ll come back to see you. I’ll bring Andrew.”
Misa made no comment and soon they were at the lawyer’s office. Odie helped her inside and handed her a piece of paper with her phone number scrawled across the top. “Have someone call me when you’re ready to leave, Misa. I’ll be across the street at the library.”
She headed for a computer, logged on and checked her email. Andrew had sent a picture of an apartment that was on the sixth floor of a high rise. The walls were painted in monochrome colors, and the kitchen was fitted with granite and high end appliances, but there was not a plot of land anywhere. She shut down the computer and wandered over to the magazine displays. She found one on organic gardening and took it over to a chair where she spent nearly two hours reading every word until she got a call from the lawyer. Misa was ready to leave.
“How about stopping for an ice cream, Misa? My treat.”
“Oh, I’d like that.”
They arrived at the turnoff to the farm when Misa said, “So, did you find an apartment you liked?”
Odie shook her head. “Not yet. I’ll start looking when I leave. Spending time on the farm has spoiled me, and I guess I’m not eager to live in a fancy box.”
“You could stay, Odelia.”
“I wish I could. But I have to start the serious business of making a living and planning a wedding.”
By late afternoon, the day turned dark and sultry. “There’s a storm brewing,” Misa said. “You’d better close the windows.”
It began as a sprinkle, but turned into a tropical deluge, and they went to bed listening to it beat against the roof. It rained all night.
Odie awoke to the sun and a clear sky. Out in the orchard, drops of water clung to the branches and glittered like diamonds. The house was quiet.
Misa must be out with the chickens, she thought. I’ll get up when she comes back in.
She got out of bed when she heard Dora’s car come up the driveway. It stopped with the sudden, harsh squeal of brakes and the car door slammed.
Dora was screaming. “Misa!”
Odie ran to the back door and out into the yard. Her grandmother lay sprawled on the muddy ground, and Dora was leaning over her, her head pressed against the old lady’s chest. The chickens were making a noisy fuss, fluttering their wings around the spilled feed.
“She’s dead! Oh, God, Misa’s dead!” Dora wailed.
Odie knelt next to Dora and took Misa’s hand. “Why didn’t you wake me up, Misa? I would have come out to the chicken coop with you.” She began to cry. “Please don’t be dead. Misa. Please don’t be dead.”
Dora pulled Odie to her feet. “We need to call the police. There’s nothing we can do for her now.”
The day passed amid a flurry of activity from the police, ambulance and, finally, the medical examiner.
“Hi there, Dora.” The doctor went into the house and then turned to Odie. “Are you the granddaughter?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m Odelia Correia.” Despite the heat of the day, she was huddled under a blanket on the couch, shivering as if a cold wind had made its way in through the windows.
He went over to the couch and shook her hand. “I’m Dr. Bean. Misa was my patient, and she was a fine woman. My condolences. It looks like she slipped and fell out there. The ground was muddy and wet from last night’s rain. But she had a bad heart and could have gone any time. I think the heart took her. The ambulance will take her to the funeral home and they’ll be calling you.” He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “It’ll be one hell of a funeral. Everyone knew her.”
“I’d better call my father,” Odie said when she and Dora were alone.
“Need some privacy?” Dora asked. She was sitting at the table and still sniffling into a wad of wet tissues.
“No. It’ll be a short conversation.”
She punched some numbers into her phone. “Hello, Dad. It’s Odie.”
“Odie! Andrew called and said you were up on Shallow Bay. Are you still there?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m calling to tell you Misa died this morning. I guess her heart just gave out.”
“Jesus! She’s dead? Well, whadda ya know! I thought the old girl would live forever. Okay, I’m in New York. I’ll catch a flight and be there tonight. Don’t do a thing till I get there, hear me?”
Odie slammed down the phone, and when Dora put out her arms, she fell into them and burst into another round of tears.
Matias came to the house late, in a car rented at the airport, and Odie was so exhausted she went to bed soon after he arrived.
She was up at dawn and went out to the chickens. She opened the hatch to let them out, filled their water bowls and scattered some seed, trying to avoid looking at the ground where her grandmother had died. When she went back into the house, her father was rummaging around in the refrigerator.
“There’s not much food in here,” he said. “I’ll pick up some groceries later.” He turned and looked at her. “I saw you out there with the chickens. We’ll have to scout around for a buyer, or maybe get them slaughtered. I’ll check it out when I go into town.”
Odie struggled to hold back her tears as she poured coffee into a cup and sat at the table.
Matias found a piece of cheese in the refrigerator, stuck it between two pieces of bread and sat next to her. The cat jumped up onto the table, and he swatted it away. Odie flinched.
“I bet she liked having you here,” Matias said.
“She could have gone to see you, but she refused to leave the island.”
“You never brought me here.”
“I hardly ever came, myself. And you were in California with your mother.”
He finished the sandwich and said, “She wouldn’t give up the farm, either. When I was here five years ago, I said, ‘Ma, let’s get you a nice apartment in town so you can be close to the church and all your friends.’ Then she said, ‘This farm is my church, and my chickens are my friends.’ What a crazy old woman!”
His eyes swept over the kitchen, the worn linoleum, the porcelain sink with its dripping faucet, the ancient wooden cabinets. “This place is a disaster, a tear down. She could have lived a better life.”
“She didn’t want to, Dad.”
He stood up and checked the time. “You’re right. I don’t know how many times I heard her say, ‘I’m ten miles from the ferry landing, and I like it that way.’ Well, I have to call the funeral home, and I have to get in touch with her lawyer. Who is it, do you know?”
“No, only that she has an office across from the library. Misa said she’d hired her to pay her bills.”
“Christ! I could have done that. I hope this lawyer wasn’t ripping her off.”
Matias drove into town, and when he returned he was in a foul mood. “I think the funeral home is jerking me around. That’s what happens when there’s no competition. You wouldn’t believe what he’s charging me. Anyhow, the funeral’s Saturday at ten, with a mass at St. Margaret’s. The priest is grabbing what he can, too.”
He emptied a bag of groceries and took out a can of beer. “The lawyer’s office was closed, but I got her name. It’s Lund, Katharine Lund. I’ll give her a call.”
Matias finished drinking the beer and reached into his pocket. “The undertaker gave me her ring. Here, it’s yours. Why don’t you go through her things and see if there’s anything else you want.”
Odie clutched the ring and felt another flood of tears well up.
“Did you get in touch with Andrew?” Matias asked.
“Is he coming to the funeral?”
“No, it’s hard for him to get away right now.”
“I can understand that. Well, I think I’ll go for a walk. I want to plan the house lots in my head before I bring in my people.”
“Dad, I don’t think so. Misa told me she’s leaving everything to the Land Trust. She hated the thought of the farm being chopped up.”
Matias laughed. “She told you that? I bet it was an empty threat. This has been Correia land for seventy years, and it belongs to me. I expect you to support me, Odie, If we have to go to court. You’ll tell the judge she didn’t have all her marbles when she signed that will.”
“No! I can’t do that! I wasn’t even here when she signed her will.”
“You can fudge it. We’re sitting on a gold mine.”
He left and headed for the barn, kicking a few chickens on his way.
A good part of the island population attended Misa’s funeral. The few mourners who went to the cemetery drifted away after Misa’s casket was lowered into the ground in a plot next to where Antoine lay.
A young, attractive woman who wore a severe gray suit approached them. “Mr. Correia, Miss Correia, I’m Katharine Lund, Misa’s attorney. I’d like to express my condolences.” Odie and Matias shook her hand. “I’m wondering if we could meet to discuss her will. Say, Monday at nine o’clock in my office?”
“Excellent!” Matias said. “I’d like to get this wrapped up so I can leave the island. We’ll try to get the house cleaned out by then.”
She nodded and smiled at Odie. “Until then,” she said.
They spent the weekend filling trash bags and packing boxes, and on Monday morning Matias drove them to the law office of Katharine Lund. Once they arranged themselves around a conference table, he got right to the point.
“Odelia tells me my mother planned to leave her farm to the Land Trust.”
“Until last week, she did,” Attorney Lund replied. “But she changed her mind. Here are two copies of her will.” She handed them some papers. “She put all her property into a trust, and made you, Odelia, the trustee. This way, we avoid probate and possibly help with taxes, depending on what you do with the land.”
“What?” Odie cried.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Matias said. “Odie’s just a kid.”
“She’s twenty-one, Mr. Correia. Your mother wanted the farm protected from development, but she told me that after she met her granddaughter she knew it should be kept in the family, and that Odelia would be a steward for the land. She said she thought Odelia might stay on and bring the farm back to a productive state.”
“My mother completely misjudged the situation. Odie’s going into banking, and, in fact has a job lined up. What about the houses she owned, her rental property?”
“Her entire estate goes to her granddaughter.”
“My mother was nuts,” Matias said. “She wasn’t competent. Everyone knew that.”
“It’s interesting that you should say so,” the lawyer answered. “She anticipated this reaction, so she insisted I bring in two psychiatrists to examine her prior to the signing.”
She handed them two documents. “She knew exactly what she was doing, and she was fully competent.”
Matias grabbed the papers, shot to his feet and leered at his daughter. “I finally get it. All this time you’ve been here you’ve been sucking up to her, getting her to change her mind about the Land Trust. It’s called manipulation, Odie. Well, I’ll see you in court!” and he fled the room.
Odie sat glued to the chair.
Attorney Lund sighed. “Wills can be messy, there can be a lot of anger. Anyhow, there are some documents you need to sign, Odelia. I’m happy to represent you if there are any claims from your father.”
“Thank you. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him at some point.”
“So, what are you going to do now?” the lawyer asked after Odie signed the papers.
“Me? I’m going to learn how to be a farmer. But first, I have to find Danny Tasso. He needs to give me a ride home. I’ll bet every one of my chickens that my father’s gone straight to the airport, leaving me stranded.”
Featured image by Claudette Gallant
All I can figure is that Tom Hanks lost his glasses in the plane crash. In the movie Cast Away, he spends years, washed up and alone on a Pacific Island. He gets skinny, grows a beard, nearly goes insane, and ends up spending huge amounts of time talking to a volleyball.
“Oh, yeah, he was on that island right there,” Pilli tells me, indicating a rock tower just around the point. From on top of those rocks, if Hanks had his glasses on, he wouldn’t have had any trouble at all seeing the village where I’m about to sit down to a wonderful meal of fish cooked in coconut. He probably could have even seen the resort one more island over, bures, the traditional Fijian houses, lined up neatly against the shoreline and a bartender who serves the strongest rum punch I’ve ever had.
We’re in the Mamanucas, a chain of islands to the west of Fiji’s main port town of Nadi, on Viti Levu—one of only two of more than 300 islands in the country big enough to show up on most world maps. And it didn’t take getting into a plane crash to get here; actually, the ferry ran right on time and was really comfortable [see “Travel Tips: Fiji,” March/April 2013].
The Mamanucas look like Hawaii before it was Hawaii. They look like the background of every painting Gauguin ever did of a tropical paradise: mountains rising out of the sea, no transition between water and flower-stuffed jungle except lines of powdered sugar beaches. Villages are hidden behind lines of sheltering coconut trees, pandanus, and stuff I’ll never learn the name of but has leaves the size of dinner plates.
I catch a boat over to a beach on the far side of the island from where most of the film was set, unload a picnic lunch and string a hammock under a thatched shelter—a good idea to be under cover, since every now and then from the jungle comes the crash of a coconut falling out of a tree, and that just isn’t something you want to be under.
My ride steers his boat away and for the first and so far only time in my entire life I have a beach completely to myself (well, except once in American Samoa, but that beach was haunted, so technically, I was sharing it with the ghosts) with no chance whatsoever of anyone coming by.
The sand stretches as smooth as a pool table, except for my footprints and some tiny, delicate shells, like a kind of cowrie that’s been Dalmatian spotted.
Let’s face it: If the Garden of Eden had resorts, it would have looked like Fiji.
Which is why Tom wasn’t the first Hollywood star to wash up on Fiji’s shores. Cameras and crews have been coming out here since at least 1932, when Edward Sutherland shot Mr. Robinson Crusoe. No, you probably won’t find that one on DVD. Better chance of seeing Burt Lancaster play His Majesty O’Keefe, a 1954 hit where he realizes it’s more fun to be happy than rich as he walks the streets of Suva, Fiji’s capital (on the other side of the same island as Nadi) despite the fact that the weather forecast never says anything but “rain.” Gregory Peck stood in Suva’s rain during the production of 1974’s The Dove.
But here’s where Hollywood got Fiji very, very wrong: What all the films have in common is that you have to work for paradise, getting there can’t ever come too easy. A little suffering to purify you for the experience, like stripping off the skin from a sunburn.
Yet just like getting to the Mamanucas on a nice, shiny ferry, I didn’t work at all to get here. Fiji is just three hours from Australia, or about 10 from Los Angeles. And the islands have resorts so luxe that the staff actually looks offended if you touch your own bag.
And being here is zero effort. Everybody speaks fluent English, even out in the villages, and they might well be the friendliest people on the entire planet. The only voices you’ll ever hear raised are the constant shouts of “Bula!” the all-purpose greeting and expression of joy.
Isn’t pure joy better for your soul than Hollywood trial and tribulation?
And I’m about to get a whole lot of joy, because the sun’s going down and it’s time for kava.
Kava is the glue that holds Fijian society together, and it was the one thing the missionaries weren’t able to change about the islands. Because the truth is, before the arrival of missionaries in the early 1840s, the Fijians were not exactly known as the nicest people around; in fact, most sailors went a very long way out of their way to avoid Fiji. At least one missionary ended up as soup. At the death of a chief, a passel of his wives would be strangled, so he wouldn’t have to die alone. The Fijians maintained a more or less constant state of war, but at the same time, you can see something deeper was going on, because their war clubs—ironically still the most popular souvenir in all the shops—are works of art, like it would be rude to bash someone in the head with a club that wasn’t as beautifully made as possible, intricately carved and decorated.
But the missionaries, with that famed missionary perseverance, eventually stopped turning into soup and changed the entire local approach to life. Like they did across the tropics, the missionaries convinced people who lived in a hot, sweaty climate to wear clothes suitable for a New England winter. They stopped head bashing from being the sport of choice. And they built churches every 20 feet or so in most villages. When I walk through a Fijian village on a Sunday morning, hymns pour out of a half dozen chapels’ open windows.
But the missionaries couldn’t do anything about kava, and maybe one of the reasons why film crews love Fiji so much is that the national pastime is getting blitzed on kava every evening. Kava is made from the root of a kind of pepper plant. Grind the stuff up, mix it with water, and you get … well, a drink that both looks and tastes remarkably like mud. But mud that first makes your mouth go numb, and then, according to people who apparently have a much lower chemical tolerance than I do, instills you with a very relaxed, happy feeling. So relaxed that you might not want to move for several hours. Or, if you drink enough of it, several days.