1: Bad news

It was a big fat lie. It had to be. It was too terrible to be true.

Blake sat in the Efate police station on Port Vila high street struggling to understand what the policeman was telling her. He spoke in the part pidgin English, part creole slang dialect of Bislamic, Vanuatu’s prime tongue. Her life since arriving on the Pacific archipelago had been one of smiles, nods and a vague gist of what the Ni-Vans meant. Luckily, the sun was so warm, the water so blue and the people so friendly it seemed enough most of the time.

Now, she felt the room spinning with his alien speech, nausea rising in her stomach and colour draining from her smoothly tanned cheeks. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

Toby was only meant to be gone for a few days, exploring one of the smaller islands of the 83 that made up the country. When they last spoke he had a gleam in his eye, excited by a fresh project and a promise it would change all their lives. The whole family, him, her, their daughter, 10 year old Madison, who was sitting on a bench in the corridor outside right then in a world of her own.

Now, she would not see him again. His body could not be returned, something to do with a combination of primitive refrigeration and the sacred ground he had fallen on.

At 34, Blake was still a beautiful woman, long hair bleached golden by the Pacific sun, longer legs chestnut brown down to her manicured toes, a privileged life keeping the lines of motherhood at bay. These things did not happen to people like them, husbands did not die falling down a hill. Not unless their wives had something to do with it anyway.

“Is terrible thing,” he said. “We blong loss.”

There was that word again. It seemed to Blake’s cut-glass schooled ears blong was used in every sentence spoken on the islands. Everything belonged to everyone and everyone belonged to God. The policeman was attempting sympathy, but he didn’t know Blake well enough. She wasn’t sad, she was angry.

It wasn’t real. It was another of Toby’s scams. That was it. But could her callous, narcissistic prick of a husband really abandon her and their daughter in the middle of the Pacific ocean? Surely not even Toby would turn his own family into another mark? Was the thought of him rejecting them worse than him actually being dead?

She spoke slowly and evenly, just to make sure she was understood. “He’s not dead if there’s no body,” said Blake. “Either the corpse gets brought back, or I go there myself to collect him, but no death certificate gets signed off on some jungle drum gossip.”

Olima sighed. The visitors never had much care or respect for how things were done in Vanuatu, clicking their fingers was enough in the many hotels that turned his home into one big resort.

This was a difficult situation though, and he wished he had the words to make her understand. He remembered a Western proverb he’d been told, perhaps it would help with the shock and heartbreak this woman was clearly afflicted with.

“We cannot bring your husband back,” said Olima. “He blong island now. The jungle tree still falls if you’re not there to hear it.” That sounded right, so he nodded sagely at the distraught widow.

Blake narrowed her eyes, and smiled. “Unfortunately, it’s going to make a hell of a racket when I have to cut the whole damn jungle down to get my husband.”


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