William, the “old man in the bush” the Tourist Bureau had suggested, was waiting at the beach. William was small, about five feet flat, and somewhere in his sixties. He wore a short-sleeved button down, slacks, and sandals.
William led the foreigner up a rough foot trail that rose steeply into lush rainforest. There was nothing around them but greenness, enlivened by the sound of birds and insects. Splinters of light beat down through the trees and onto the forest floor. The trail was slippery, but William had no trouble, and every now and then he would ask the foreigner a question. Most of his questions involved things he’d heard but not been able to verify.
“They say the world is getting hotter. Is this true?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” the foreigner said. He took in a few breaths before continuing. “Because of the factories and cars and things like that, they say.”
When he was asked a question, with nearly all of his answers William would shake his head in wonderment and say nothing.
Often William would stop and listen to the rainforest, look into the trees. “Crow,” William might say. Or perhaps, “Cockatoo.”
William would then steady his gaze on some section of the rainforest and point, saying, “There… there.” The foreigner peered and strained to see, but saw nothing. A time or two, he lied to William and told him he did.
They arrived in William’s village as evening approached. The rainforest opened up into a clearing on which children of all sizes played. One side of the clearing ran down the hill, and from there you could see the sea extend to the horizon. The sea was calm, and the clear reflection on the water made it look like the sky was both above and below you, as if the entire island was floating through space.
The clearing was otherwise surrounded by bamboo huts which ran into the bush, generously spaced. A man named David welcomed the foreigner — David was in his mid-thirties and he, like many men all over the Solomons, had spent some years working in the capital Honiara. He said that the whole time he couldn’t wait to get back to Isabel Island.
“People are crazy in Honiara. All the fighting, all the people drinking. Here it is peaceful.”
“Do people not drink kwaso here?”
“There’s no reason to.”
David carried his infant son, Adi, in his arms. Adi put his arms out for the foreigner to hold him. He held Adi and when he tried to give the child back to his father, Adi cried. David gave him back and Adi quieted until he was returned once again to his father.
The foreigner told them that most babies he knew cried when taken from their parents’ arms, not when taken from the arms of a stranger. William and David said this made no sense to them, and he agreed.