Rich charted a direct course from Fangatau to Tahiti. Four atolls laid in the way, plus over 565 miles of ocean.
The first atoll was Raroia. Like all the atolls it resembled a piece of thread curled on the map. It was about 100 miles of sailing. He occupied his time with studying French phrases, nouns, verbs, and correct articles.
“Je am aller to Tahiti,” Rich said. “That ought to get me by; or laughed at.”
As Rich neared Raroia, he changed course to circle the atoll counterclockwise. He sighted the beach and densely arranged palms through his binoculars. He saw small traditional tropical huts, as well as more solid wood structures; altogether about thirty or so buildings. He edged closer and drifted to a stop. The anchors were tossed.
The anchors no sooner struck bottom and two men in a canoe with bright smiles approached paddling deep and smoothly. They wore knee-length shorts and soiled tee-shirts.
“Bonjour,” they both said.
“Bonjour,” Rich said. “Parlez vous Anglais?”
“Yes,” a broad face man said. “Not good, but good.”
“Come aboard,” Rich said reaching out to help them aboard.
Rich gestured for them to come below and to have a seat. “Beer?”
“Good,” they said.
Rich grabbed three beers from the refrigerator. They sipped on the beers and became acquainted.
The older man’s name was Boris and the younger, Tama.
“How long do you stay?” Boris said.
“Two, three days,” Rich said.
“Where you go next?” Boris said.
“Taenga, Makemo, Motutunga, Anaa, and Tahiti,” Rich said.
“No long in one place,” Boris said.
“I rather leave early than be told to leave,” Rich said.
“Motutunga, nobody on island,” Boris said.
“Perfect,” Rich said.
They finished the beers and Rich was invited with them to the island.
The two men paddled back to shore and Rich followed in the dinghy. Onshore a couple dozen or so men, women, and children gathered around Rich, Boris, and Tama. As far as Rich could tell they were relating details from the conversation on The Odyssey.
Rich noted they possessed an unbridled friendliness. Questions were asked that he had no idea what was being said. Boris and Tama interpreted.
Soon a young girl came with a wooden bowl of cleaned papaya. She offered it to Rich. He grabbed a slice and she served the others.
Within a couple hours, it seemed as if he had met or at least seen every resident on the island.
“Is this man’s most basic and instinctive state?” Rich wondered as he listed to the natives chatter. “However, besides this, I have heard of fierce wars, cannibalism, and human sacrifice. I hope this is not a bidding war for my carcass. Wow, I just ruined a good time.”
“Maybe I should ask if they eat people.” Rich thought. “Maybe I should not be so suspicious.”
“People think we eat people,” Boris said.
Tama laughed. “The last man I ate made me sick, no more.”
Rich forced a smile.
Everyone laughed at his obvious uncomfortable reaction.
“Don’t worry,” Boris said. “You too skinny. We start with Tom Tom.” he pointed to a robust man sitting on a log.
Tom Tom laughed and said something.
“He say whole island eat for a year on him,” Boris said.
Rich had a woman make a ball from tightly woven palm leaves. He found a whittled stick about the size of a baseball bat and began teaching the game of baseball. The all seemed to enjoy it, but Rich felt they played along only to make him happy.
While watching some young ones play, Boris sat beside Rich.
“You like this game,” Boris said.
“Yes, I do,” Rich said. “Where I come from it is more than a game, it is where people get together. It occupies the eyes and lets the heart relax. It is a good game. It is played on pastures of lush green grass with a smooth infield. It is where boys become men and men bond as friends. I miss the purity of the game; the crack of a bat, the snap of a ball in a leather glove, and the chatter of players. There are so many small things about the game that cannot be described. It is like trying to describe the softness of a baby or the beauty of a sunset. I miss my old teammates and opponents. When you play with or against someone you are forever linked.”
“You sound like a man who misses more than this game,” Boris said.
After three days of sleeping on the beach in a sleeping bag under a lean-to, Rich informed Boris of his departure.