Fiji should have been booze cruises, midnight beach bonfires, jungle bush walks with a gangsta medicine man, and dancing at nightclubs entitled Pirates, Captain's Cocktails, Crabs, and Make Babies. But it wasn't. I wasn't with friends. I was babysitting five little anklebiters and their parents. After exiting the plane in Nadi, bolting and buckling five children and nineteen bags into a taxi commandeered twenty minutes of my life. Two of the luggage were gorged with toys. Neither suitcase could be moved without a forklift.
We cabbed to a port before nabbing a boat to the Mamanuca Islands. The boat hit a stop sign of locals on Treasure Island. We entered the resort to fifteen Fijians welcoming our arrival with singing and dancing and juice. I contemplated bulldozing the bar to top off the juice with rum. But, I was working. I continued to work every day of our two-week vacation.
I shared a room with the two eldest children. Most mornings, by four-thirty, they scavenged and foraged around the room with the covert skills of heroin addicts. By five every morning, I was out of bed listening to fart ammunitions projectile across the room and boomerang off the walls. The kids giggled. I sat with my back to a wall and my eyes closed, breathing through my mouth. Most nights, the parents consumed a relaxing restaurant dinner accompanied by live music and wine. I sat on the front porch outside the rooms, listening for sounds of sleepless, delinquent children. Low winds raided my hair. A few nights, raindrops violated my life.
The first day, the resort's staff referred to me as Mum. I was jet lagged and had as much energy as a coma patient. I didn't correct them. The second day, the mom and I escorted her child mob to the restaurant for breakfast. The dad was on another island performing refractive cataract and retinal surgeries on locals. In talking with the restaurant's hostess, the mom referred to the kids as, "our children." Mine and hers. For the remainder of the trip, the resort's male personnel gazed at the dad with the reverence of a sex god. The women consistently referred to both of us as Mummy.
One day, I rolled four of the kids to daycare and bribed the parents to give me the morning off. I was awarded with an hour and a half reprieve. Treasure Island boasted one bar and one restaurant. After an internal debate between bar and bed, I determined that a beer was vital to my sanity and survival. Sleep could wait.
We shacked up in the restaurant more than the ocean. I exerted all my powers to keep the kids doped up on lollipops and sugar. I coordinated dosages so they'd crash at the same time and I could put them to sleep.
One afternoon, I was supposed to watch four of the kids at the pool. The seven-year-old convinced me to swim-chase her around the pool's inside seating edge. She was the dolphin, I the witch. A third of the way around the pool, and I slowly sank. I labored in the water, groping for the seating to pull myself forward. My legs might as well have been manacled. The girl takes swimming lessons. I kick balls, not water. One lap around one of the three pools, and I noticed the mom standing on the side of the pool fully clothed and Titanic-wet. I stopped, bracing my arms on the pool's border. Three minutes later, when I'd recovered my breath and the ability to articulate, I asked the mom what had happened. The three-year-old, complete with flotation device, had pulled the five-year-old girl under the water. While I was across the pool half-drowning, the mom had jumped in to save her children.
The next day, I returned from the pool with the baby a half an hour before the rest of the family. He needed to nap. I needed to hibernate. I danced the baby to sleep and then submerged into the bamboo chair outside the room. My body was on the verge of collapsing into a vegetative state when little urchin shouts bitch-slapped my brain.
"Kara, Daddy saved him, Daddy saved him, Daddy saved him, Kara, Daddy saved him," spasmed through my eardrums. I slanted one eye open with resistance shot with curiosity.
"Your dad saved who?" I asked.
"He saved him, Daddy saved him, Daddy saved him, Daddy saved him," chorused four child voices.
A man had retrieved a drowning five-year-old from the pool. The dad had performed CPR on the kid until a helicopter arrived, transporting him to a hospital on the mainland. The resort pimped the parents out with countless bottles of wine as a thank-you for avoiding a death and bad press.
One thing Fijian men and women love: babies. Especially rotund babies who appear to have been fed lard half their lives. Often, when supervising the eight-month-old, I didn't know his location. The local staff would cluck his name, pick him up, and walk away rubbing him across their cheeks and breasts. I found it pleasurable to be relieved of watching a baby who was rapidly becoming a terror on legs. The mom did not.
"Where's my baby?" she'd ask.
"Oh, one of the men has him," I'd reply. "No worries."
Another thing the Fijian workers relished: touching my shoulders. In a fully-booked resort of families and couples, I was the only one under the age of forty without a ring on my finger. And I had five children. I was easy. One man's fingers were attracted to my shoulder and back like they were a pet monkey. I couldn't comprehend much of what he said. However, I did decipher words when he disclosed that he was a member of the Nakelo Clan. He had a gold tooth. It sounded like Fiji's version of the mafia. I stayed away from him. It wasn't until weeks later that the dad mentioned the Nakelo's. They're Treasure Island's original land owners and own fifty percent of the resort.
The morning we left, I was launching clothes and shoes and sticks into six open bags when the five-year-old approached me.
"Kara, Daddy sticks his doodle in Mummy," she said.
I glanced at her in her yellow ruffled flower dress. I raised myself to my feet, and I walked away.