Mimi lifted the long bamboo steering pole high in the air and was about to whack it across Diko’s back when Foroga burst out laughing.
“That Labiadogha again,” Foroga kept laughing. “The hunchback got us fooled yet again.”
“Who is Labiadoga?” said Amy, rousing herself up from a slight snooze.
“Labiadogha, that old spastic from town,” said Diko.
“You are the long long,” said Mimi, lifting the bamboo pole again. “If it wasn’t for your stupidity we wouldn’t be having this.”
Diko cringed, leapt over the luggage and dived for cover between Dan and Amy.
Mimi was muttering curses.
“That retard got you outwitted again, Diko,” she said. “And he knows he’s had you. He’s laughing at us right this minute. When will you ever wake up to that?”
“I was in a hurry,” said Diko. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
Mimi dropped the bamboo pole and threw up her arms in despair.
Foroga explained to the guests that Labiadogha was a colorful personality in Alotau town. He had a way of drawing large crowds with his old homemade guitar and singing suggestive songs that brought laughter from all. Though a comic he had a way with women especially when they could sense his talents in making a lot of money. His exploits, further explained Foroga, included loading cartons of lager beer on a truck then selling these as wholesale items to unwary trade store owners. When rural beer drinkers bought these cartons, travelled to their villages and opened them up they found bottles filled with fresh water. His version of a four gallon zoom was one such pastime of deceit which Diko failed to remember or realize. Instead of petrol he used salt water and mixed that with thick oil to produce his version of the zoom. Now they had run of zoom and the only plastic container they were relying on to take them back to Alotau was what Labiadogha sold to Diko for fifty-nine kina.
The southerlies were picking up rapidly and the surface of water all around them began breaking into swirls. Mimi brought out a long paddle and maneuvered the vessel to point shoreward which they realized was too far off. Foroga upon leaving Samarai Island decided to take the dinghy out into the open so that the flight into the bay and Alotau town from there would be swift. Little did she know that she would be denied just one plastic of zoom to complete that impressive turn in her talents of seafaring. To many of her contemporaries around Alotau town she was the best of the best, the “smoothest of smooth operators”. She’d surf the rough seas, they’d boast about her, and let her dinghy glide when the waves got roughest. Her passengers never felt safer when she was in charge. Now she could only stand at her post and laugh at the trick Labiadogha played on her and her crew.
“Clever old bugger,” she kept shaking her head.
Then they all realized they were floating in silence.
It was the sudden whistle of a dying engine minutes earlier that woke those who were dozing off. Dan stood up to look around, stretched and yawned. Doboro Fjords, too, stood up to stretch himself and then jokingly asked for a fishing line to cast over the sea. It was at this point that Mimi lifted the bamboo pole to go after Diko when also Foroga tilted the plastic of zoom to let the salt water out, shaking her head in dismay. She stood up now and began assuring the guests that they would be fine and that help would be along the way as there were many dinghies sailing to and from Samarai. There were left over salmon sandwiches in the cooler so they need not worry about food, she said.
“Those in need of visiting the loo may jump overboard and come up again when done,” offered Diko.
“Oh, shut up,” said Mimi, reaching for the bamboo pole again.
Foroga ordered the two to stop fooling around and hoist a canvas to serve as a sail. They found one that covered the luggage and using the bamboo pole fashioned a sail and stood it up. There was a slight breeze coming from the outer ocean and the canvas billowed a bit. They waited but it seemed a strong wind would be needed to get them closer to the shores. The southerlies that rose earlier seemed to have gone further northward with their ripples and swirls.
Diko went through the luggage compartment of the dinghy and came out with a couple of sheets. These he tied to the bamboo pole and two of the dinghy’s paddles, after which had them suspended forming a shade for the guests. The sun was fast travelling towards the western horizon but the heat at this time of the day could become unbearable for the tourists, both he and the two girls were mindful of that. Anything that went amiss with the guests would be their responsibility, warned numwaya Nathalie.
Foroga scooped up some sea water in her palms and tasted it. She told the others the weather would be kind to them but only for so long.
“How long?” asked Amy, assisting Diko with the shade.
“There’s a southerly swell heading this way,” said Foroga. “It should get us to the shores by nightfall.”
“Will there be rain?” asked Doboro Fjords. “Might there be a storm?”
“What do the clouds say?” asked Foroga.
“I can’t see any,” said Doboro Fjords. “But the sky’s clear as the blue of the sea.”
He didn’t appear enthusiastic about that remark. Weather around Alotau area, he knew as much as his fellow dinghy travellers, wasn’t at all predictable. He looked at Foroga and noticed a slight trace of smile. He was being tested. There was going to be a storm late that afternoon, while they were out floating in the open sea. Dan and Mimi rummaged through the luggage compartment for anything they could find. There was a first aid kit in one of the boxes, along with diving equipment which they could probably need later. A small tool box was found together with flash lights and emergency flares. The sail they hoisted looked humbly set. The shade looked fantastic, accommodating enough. The sea all around them looked exceptionally calm all of a sudden and this worried them a bit. So they all turned to Foroga, as if awaiting further advice or instructions from her.
She moved about the dinghy from head to tail, probably wondering how it was that Labiadogha got them screwed up like this. The sun was setting behind the western horizon and she knew that wouldn’t be much comfort for all aboard. She didn’t want to blame Diko or Mimi, her little cousins, for that. She knew she was responsible for all of them there and then. Numwaya Nathalie had told them so. And numwaya’s word was her word. But most of all she loved her dinghy. A 22 footer running on a 40 horse power engine: and she wondered, wondered: could this have been that popular product from Samarai Plastics known all over the world as the “Banana Boat” and carefully crafted and modeled by those old missionaries and local tradesmen of long ago to be entirely seaworthy come what may and which might have traveled as far across the seas as possible under the British flag to unknown lands and islands such as the West Indies? Who could tell, who could tell? Who could tell how far abroad little vessels such her’s might have traveled in time and history. It was the vessel that made her become known as the smooth operator, the queen of Milne Bay rough waters.