فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Ko Samui

A bus from the Ko Samui port took us to the Chaweng beach resort. On the left the sea lay blue between rows of coconut trees, and on the right a jungle-covered slope rose steeply. The bus left us outside a decent-looking bunch of beach huts. Private showers, a bedside fan, and a restaurant that looked on to the sea. Our huts faced each other over a path lined with tropical flowers.

First, I went for a swim - that way I could get clean and get a suntan. I ran down to the sea, partly because the sand was so hot and partly because I always run into the sea. I’d been splashing around in the water for about fifteen minutes when Etienne and Francoise came down to join me. Francoise looked lovely in a white swimsuit. I wondered if Etienne noticed her beauty, or whether he’d got used to it.

‘Will you come for a swim?’ she asked.

‘I am swimming, aren’t I?’

‘No,’ said Etienne, pointing to the open sea. ‘She means a real swim. Out there.’

We played a game as we swam out. Every ten metres we would each dive to the bottom of the sea and return with a handful of sand. I found the game strangely unpleasant. A metre underwater the warmth of the tropical sea would stop and it would suddenly turn cold. The further we swam, the blacker and finer the sand became. Soon the water at the bottom became too dark for me to see anything, and I could only kick out blindly with my legs until my hands sank into the sand.

‘How far out shall we go?’ I asked, when the sunbathers on the beach behind us looked like insects.

Etienne smiled. ‘You would like to go back now?’

‘You are tired, Richard?’ Francoise asked, eyebrows raised. ‘We can go back.’

‘I’m fine,’ I replied. ‘Let’s swim further.’

At five that afternoon the temperature cooled, the sky turned black and it rained heavily. I sat outside my hut, under the roof, watching the storm.

After some time two guys came racing up the beach, laughing and shouting. They ran up to the hut next to mine.

‘Man!’ one of them shouted. ‘What a storm! Whoop!’

‘Americans,’ I thought.

They tried to get into their hut but the door was locked.

‘Lost our key!’ the guy with white-blond hair shouted at me. ‘Can’t get in!’

I nodded. ‘Bad luck. Where did you lose it?’

‘Down the beach, man! A long way from here! Hey, can we come and sit with you? You want to smoke a joint?’

‘Sure,’ I said.

‘Excellent!’

The two of them ran over to my hut and introduced themselves.

‘I’m Sammy,’ said the one with white-blond hair. ‘And this is Zeph. Cool name, huh?’

‘Definitely,’ I answered, as we shook hands.

Sammy started rolling a joint. We smoked and chatted and watched the lightning out at sea. They made me laugh with their funny jokes and stories. After a while we were too stoned to do anything except sit in silence and listen to the thunder.

An hour or two after dark, a tiny Thai woman came over from the restaurant and gave Zeph a spare key to their hut.

As I stood up to say goodnight Sammy said, ‘Hey, nice meeting you! See you tomorrow, man.’

‘Sure,’ I said, and shut my door behind me.


The next morning the sky was still cloudy. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I walked over the cool sand to the restaurant and found Etienne and Francoise eating breakfast. I ordered a fruit salad and sat down with them.

‘Who did you meet last night?’ asked Etienne, as I pulled up a chair. ‘We saw you talking outside your hut.’

I pulled out a cigarette to kill time before breakfast arrived. ‘A couple of Americans. Zeph and Sammy.’

Franchise nodded. ‘Did you tell them about our beach?’

‘No.’ I lit my cigarette. ‘I didn’t.’

‘You shouldn’t tell people about our beach.’

‘I didn’t tell them.’

‘It should be a secret.’

‘That’s why I didn’t tell them, Francoise,’ I answered.

Etienne interrupted, smiling nervously. ‘She was worried you might have…’

‘I didn’t even think of it,’ I replied, annoyed, and put out my cigarette hard.

When breakfast came, I made an effort to relax and told them some of the Americans’ jokes. Francoise thought they were extremely funny. Her laughter improved the atmosphere, and we began making plans for the day ahead.

We decided that we had to hire a boat. We couldn’t hire one from the normal travel agencies because tourists weren’t allowed to go to the islands in the marine park. Instead we would need to find a fisherman who was unaware or unconcerned about the marine park rules.

After breakfast, we set off up the beach. It didn’t take us long to find a fisherman who agreed to take us to the marine park.

‘That can be arranged,’ he said, smiling at us. ‘Of course, yes. Not difficult for me to do that.’

He looked at the map in Etienne’s guidebook.

‘Actually, my friend, your book is not correct. You can stay Ko Phelong one night, two nights - is OK. But this island you can only stay one night.’ He took Etienne’s book and pointed to an island close to Ko Phelong.

Etienne looked at me and smiled. From my memory of Mr Duck’s map, the island that the fisherman was pointing at was next to our beach island.

‘OK,’ said Etienne. ‘But we want to stay more than one night. That is possible?’

The fisherman looked over his shoulder. ‘Yes,’ he whispered. ‘But is more money, you understand?’

Etienne and the fisherman eventually agreed a price for the boat ride, and we arranged to meet him at six the next morning in the restaurant. He would take us to the island next to our beach island and, three nights later, he would collect us and bring us back to Ko Samui.

That left us with a couple of problems. How were we going to get to our beach island? And if we did manage to get there, we would be missing when the fisherman came to collect us.

Etienne and Francoise seemed much less concerned about these problems than I was. They had a simple solution to the first problem - we would swim. By examining Mr Duck’s map and the map in their guidebook, they’d decided that the islands were about a kilometre apart. According to them, we could swim that distance. I wasn’t so confident, remembering the diving game from the day before. The tide had pulled us a long way down Chaweng beach as we swam. If the same thing happened between the islands, the length of the swim could double.

Sunset was marvellous that evening. Etienne, Franchise and I were lying on the beach, watching the red sky gently fading to deep blue, when Zeph and Sammy came over to join us. We all got stoned together and went on watching the changing colours in the sky as if we were watching television.

‘Hey,’ Zeph said, waking us from our dreams. ‘Have you heard the story about the beach?’

I shook my head.

‘An amazing beach hidden somewhere but no one knows where it is.’

‘No,’ I said, ‘we haven’t. Tell us.’

‘OK,’ said Zeph and lay back on the sand. ‘Close your eyes and think about a lagoon hidden from the sea and passing boats by a high, curving wall of rock. Then imagine idyllic white sands and coral gardens. Waterfalls surrounded by thick jungle. Plants untouched for a thousand years, strangely coloured birds and monkeys in the trees. On the white sands, fishing in the coral gardens, is a select group of travellers. They leave if they want to, they return, the beach never changes.’

‘Select?’ I asked quietly, as if talking through a dream. Zeph’s vision was magical.

‘Special,’ he replied. ‘Only a few lucky travellers know where this beach is.’

‘It’s paradise,’ Sammy whispered.

‘Paradise,’ Zeph agreed, ‘is what it sounds like.’

Francoise suddenly stood up. She was very worried that Zeph and Sammy knew about the beach.

‘Now,’ she said, dusting sand off her legs, ‘we leave early tomorrow morning, for, ah, for Ko Pha-Ngan. So I think we shall eat and go to bed now. Etienne? Richard? Come.’

‘Huh?’ I said. ‘Francoise, it’s only seven-thirty in the evening.’

‘We leave early in the morning,’ she repeated. ‘Good night, Sammy and Zeph. It was very nice meeting you. And really, your beach, what a silly story!’ She laughed loudly.

We said goodbye to Sammy and Zeph and all shook hands awkwardly. Then Etienne and I followed Francoise.

The atmosphere at dinner was very tense, but Francoise knew she’d behaved foolishly. When we said goodnight, she apologized.

‘I don’t know why but I was suddenly frightened they would want to come with us,’ she explained. ‘I only want it to be us… Do you think they have realized we know about the beach?’

‘Hard to say,’ I answered. ‘Everyone was stoned.’

Etienne nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said, and put his arm around Francoises shoulder. ‘Everyone was stoned. We should not worry.’ It took me a long time to get to sleep that night. It wasn’t just because I was anxious about what might happen tomorrow. I was also troubled by the hurried way I’d said goodbye to Zeph and Sammy. I’d enjoyed their company and our parting had been too quick and awkward, too confused by dope and secrets. I felt there was something I’d left unsaid.

In the cool early morning I got up and quickly drew Zeph and Sammy a map. There wasn’t time to draw it as carefully as Mr Duck had. The islands were rough circles and there were only three labels - Ko Samui, Ko Phelong and Paradise. At the bottom of the page I wrote: Wait on Chaweng for three days. If we haven’t come back by then, it means we made it to the beach. See you there?

Richard.

I crept outside and slipped the map under Zeph and Sammy’s door. Then I got my backpack, locked my hut and went to the restaurant to wait for Etienne and Francoise.

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