I was feeling unduly pleased with myself. The caper wasn’t really that smart, but it came off. I saved a 50 dollar taxi fare and managed to thread the local buses together to get me all the way from White River to Honiara airport. I dodged the intimidating drunks at the KG6 bus interchange and arrived on time for Jo’s flight. The trade winds kept the air almost cool; tufts of cloud sailed across the pretty tropical sky.
There is no arrivals terminal at Honiara airport, you just wait on an extended concrete footpath adjacent to the car park, under the shade of the overhanging roof, for people to emerge from immigration. This is where I was when passengers from the Nadi to Honaira flight started coming out. Everyone re-united with someone. Smiles and hugs, and chatter in different local dialects.
Watching, I was humming cheerily to myself when the young man walked out of the exit. He was limping — visibly but not terribly. He had a baseball cap on and was slightly chubby, in his very early twenties. His skin was quite pale, and his hair was frizzy, coloured the rusty blond common in Western Melanesia. I’m a limper and, by the standards of these things, he wasn’t that bad. I would have forgotten him within the hour were it not for the cry.
I’d hardly noticed the group of women behind me. There were maybe ten of them. Some young teenagers, some my age, at least one in her sixties. When they saw the young man they all began to cry out. I want to call it a wail, but that word sounds wrong, suggestive of a high-pitched or unpleasant sound. The noise they made ached, but it wasn’t unpleasant. There were no words. Just anguish, rising and falling like ocean swells as he hobbled their way. As he got closer he started to weep and, at the last minute, the women broke formation, flooding forward round him. Still calling out. That sound — so mournful — told tales. A student whose study in Fiji was ended by a terrible injury. A long, lonely recuperation in Suva hospital. Or a poorly understood illness with treatment gone wrong. Or a car crash and dead friends. They were all trying to hold him at once. Then shepherding him to a truck. The noise was almost a song. The saddest one you ever heard.
Jo arrived in his wake. Close enough to hear it all. We hugged longer than usual. And then stumbled off into the car park. Smudging our own tears across our faces. Holding hands, waiting until the need to plan our journey home overcame the sorrow of the cry.