Wednesday, March 11, 2020

On Henderson

On Monday we blew a tyre on the southern motorway. With the determined grip one might use for a senile relative or a recalcitrant child, my wife turned our decelerating vehicle onto a shelf beside the median strip. I thought suddenly of the indigenes of Henderson Island.

I surveyed our new home. The island had a maximum height of two and a half feet feet. Gravel fringed its coral-coloured concrete spine. Traffic roared like the ocean on both coasts. In the distance I could see the Rainbows End rollercoaster; it resembled the reconstructed fossil of a diplodocus.

The people of Henderson - we do not know their name for themselves, or their motu - lived for centuries in caves beside the sea, waiting for canoes from Pitcairn, Mangareva, the Marquesas. The canoes stopped coming. The islanders, who lacked timber to build their own vaka, died.

Our new island home seemed as remote as Henderson. My wife called the AA, the cops, posted on facebook. But no one stopped for us; none of the thousands of passers by even looked up from the steering wheels of their vaka. The hiss and blur of the traffic-waves became a rebuke.

When buses & trucks passed, our beached vaka shook. I thought about the caves of Henderson, which resemble mouths mutely screaming. Loneliness only exists in the midst of other people.

I had never been so happy to see a cop. He closed the road, steered us to a safe anchorage, beside a berm, a bank. Like Melville returning to land after months on the barren sea, I could see every blade of grass about me.


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