Fleur sighed a contented sigh as she waited for the plane to come to a stop by the terminal at La Tontouta International Airport. She’d been too long away, but was back home at last. Glancing out the window at that familiar sight she smiled. Long ago she’d have been the one to stand facing an impatient crowd as the bell sounded signalling passengers they could now stand to retrieve overhead luggage. Fleur smiled, no one waited for the bell they’d be swaying in the aisles as the aircraft lurched to a stop anxious to be the first ones off the plane. She decided to sit and wait for the crowd to push and shove their way to the front when exit doors were opened. She’d spied an old friend from her air hostess days directing them out and wanted to exchange a few words with her as she made her exit. The whole clan would be waiting for her in arrivals, unless they’d used their influence to bend rules and be out on the tarmac to welcome her.
Her life to date swept into view as she waited patiently for the aircraft to empty. She’d been nurtured to maturity in a Tahitian sub-culture on the island. It was too far back in history as she recalled stories handed down generation to generation since her ancestors had reached the island of New Caledonia. The population was mostly Kanak as the majority people followed by their French masters making up a third of the island population. Her Tahitian race was a minority.
The French oversaw administration and she had to admit they’d bought some benefits with them in terms of health and education, not to mention a sort of economic and political entity for the whole island. There was no inter-tribal warfare as there had been in ancient times. There’d been a period when independence from France had been actively pursued, but it was only a simmering discontent among a few now. There were too many advantages in maintaining the status-quo to push it too far. After all the French rulers backed off when it came to tradition and the philosophy of land ownership by tribes.
Fleur was the name French teachers had given her starting in elementary school. It was not her Polynesian name but that didn’t matter. She’d become used to answering to both depending on which community she was dealing with.
The last passenger was lurching through the exit door with oversized carry bags he’d managed to sneak through gate check in Australia. Australia was becoming strict about carryon bags now. They needed to loosen up a bit she thought. Spend some time on the island and perhaps it would teach them to relax and not be so strict about rules.
She could already taste the meal prepared by her extended family to welcome her home. There’d be yam, taro, bananas and sweet potato as a traditional meal. Maybe rice, fish, sea turtle? They’d not be eating in the fancy tourist hotels she used to work in after her airline experience. She’d been the one responsible to look after tourists from their point of arrival, their tourist opportunities on the island and finally their exit. That’s when she first developed a yearning to experience more than the fly in, fly out trips of her airline days. She’d yearned to experience what it was like to live, feel and touch the culture of another world, and that world in closest proximity was Australia, not France.
But first things first. It was time to greet Belle and catch up on local news. She’d only seen her once during the five years spent in Sydney when Belle phoned to say she’d be in Sydney for the day and could they meet up. That had been a happy occasion and she’d felt an aching for New Caledonia long after, but no contact with Belle after that.
Fleur remembered the Jackson family who’d been instrumental in bringing her to Australia. For some reason, they’d bonded as they interacted on their tour and Fleur took them under her wing. In conversations Fleur told of her ambition to study abroad and this rich family seeing potential in the young woman decided to sponsor her. Fleur was surprised and delighted. It was an opportunity she could scarcely have imagined and she accepted the offer quickly and gratefully.
She was then introduced to what a rule oriented society was like. Instead of instant action there was the long-drawn process getting necessary visa to study and work in Australia. But eventually things fell into place under the prodding of the influential Jackson clan and she found herself first as guest of the Jacksons, then with their help moved to student accommodation which the family decided would help in her cultural orientation. Fleur found it quite a different matter living in the country to her airline stopover days.
Belle was delighted to see her and they made a quick appointment to catch up one evening. Belle had to finalize landing procedures on board and head for the terminal to report there. As Fleur turned to look out at her world she saw a familiar figure striding toward her. It was her brother. Pride welled up in her as she took in his muscular brown frame. He had the proud bearing of a Polynesian and the confidence of his family ancestry. He frowned as he saw his sister emerge in her foreign regalia. Oh well, she’d been travelling in that direction from airline days but the family would accept her anyway.
It had been a difficult cultural assimilation in Sydney for Fleur. The university she attended had a broad spectrum of cultures represented there. There was an island presence in the city but most of the island culture was to the west far removed from her rented apartment. In any case, she’d come to this country to experience something new, so making no attempt to connect with her cultural roots transplanted in this city she threw herself into studies and development of broad friendships inter-culturally. She still treasured that experience. She’d opted for the part time Commerce undergraduate course and completed her studies within their allotted extended time frame graduating with a B. Com degree. It had been great to gain experience with part time employment in the hospitality industry too. That extra experience would help her rise to the top in management when she returned home.
Brother led the way into the arrivals section and as they waited for her luggage to arrive there was an explosion of joy as she was welcomed home in the way of her people. A bus had been hired and they were soon finding their way to the village. The celebrations continued until late in the evening.
Two days later Fleur met her friend for an evening dinner appointment at her old hotel in Noumea a half hour journey from her small village close to the Tontouta airport. There were still hotel workers who’d worked with her before she went overseas to study to visit with. She was made welcome and food was on the house that evening.
After seeing Belle off in her car Fleur returned to chat with hotel staff. It was good to be back!
Next day as she was relaxing in her village a familiar car appeared and she was surprised to see the French hotel manager alight from the passenger side of the vehicle. He looked around the village apprehensively until he caught sight of Fleur walking toward him smiling. Chairs were bought out and the two of them sat outside her family hut while the Frenchman sat wiping sweat from his forehead. He was not used to being outside his cultural enclave. After swapping pleasantries he got to the point. He’d decided to migrate to France where more educational opportunities would be available for his children. He was recommending Fleur take his place as manager of the hotel. There’d been some objections as this was a position usually reserved for a Frenchman. Giving that position to a Polynesian would be breaking new ground, but in light of her experience there, and her successful studies abroad the majority opinion weighed in on Fleur as the best candidate for the job. Would she be interested?
Fleur smiled. This would be a point of pride for not only herself, but her extended family and race. She nodded her assent. The Frenchman sighed with relief, he was anxious to leave for France and there would be little orientation needed with this young woman.
One month later Fleur was sitting in her office scheduling tasks for the day when there was a knock at her door and one of the staff appeared respectfully. There was a foreigner asking if she would be able to meet him to discuss an important matter. She looked at piled up work on her table and was about to make apologies when she had second thoughts. The customer came first! That had always been her motto. What was his name, had he sent his card? The staff looked nervous as she scolded him for not caring for such details. She shrugged, and set a time for the interview.
At the appointed time the staff member appeared again to inform her the interview room was ready and a Mr Dan Jackson thanked her for her courtesy in meeting with him. The colour drained from Fleur’s face as she remembered. Dan had been with his parents the Jacksons when he’d noticed this young intelligent Polynesian girl efficiently caring for the needs of his tour group. He’d suggested to his parents they approach this girl in that she’d expressed the wish to study abroad. The Jackson’s were equally impressed but did not discern the motivation behind their son’s suggestion. It was only later when Dan expressed he was interested in being more than a friend Fleur took the option of moving out to a student residence. They’d continued to meet, but Fleur kept it strictly on a friendly relationship basis. She’d watched mixed race marriages through contacts in the airline and hotel industries and was not willing to go down that path.
But when she entered the interview room and saw him she involuntarily hugged him much to the astonishment of accompanying staff who immediately retreated to share this news around the hotel grapevine. Dan’s face lighted up at the renewed contact.
“You know why I’m here Fleur don’t you?” He patted her hand playfully.
Fleur nodded warily. “Yes Dan, we’ve had this out before and it just won’t work. Our cultures are incompatible.”
Dan nodded soberly. “I don’t agree with you on that. I’m prepared to make whatever adjustments are necessary. All you need do is say yes and tell me what conditions you have for a life together. I think it can work and you know I’ve had you in my heart from the time we visited here as tourists long ago. I’ve waited patiently Fleur! “
“Believe me, I know you mean well but it’s time to put this to rest. Let’s be friends forever, but no more. I love your parents like my own and they’ve been so good to me over the years but we come from different worlds.”
Fleur phoned her transportation department. “Jaq, bring my car to the front of the hotel lobby! She phoned her administrative assistant, “Claire can you take over from me for a couple of hours, I’ve got something important to do?” She turned to Dan, “Come with me, I’ll show you what I mean.” She said softly.
They sped down the highway on a forty-three-kilometre journey to the northwest arriving thirty-five minutes later at a quaint tropical village set among lush vegetation and palms. Dan was silent as he watched it all from his window. Fleur watched him out of the corner of her eye. She opened the door as curious villagers crowded around welcoming her.
“This is Dan Jackson. His parents looked after me when I was studying in Australia. He’s here on business and I’m showing him around our beautiful country.”
The group studied him seriously while Dan smiled hopefully and greeted them all in English.
“They don’t speak English Dan!” She translated his greetings and they nodded uncertainly.
Fleur turned to her brother and spoke in a Tahitian dialect. “Would you be willing to show him around our village? I’ll translate for you?” The brother looked at his elders who had a hasty conference and nodded assent. He stood erect and led the way through the village talking while Fleur translated.
Loudly in Tahitian dialect one of Fleur’s girl cousins shouted out, “Ask him to take me with him to Australia too!” There was a roar of laughter from the assembled village and Dan turned in surprise.
“What did she say Fleur?”
“She wants you to take her back to Australia with you Dan! You are looking for a bride, aren’t you?”
It was meant as a joke, but when she turned to look at him he looked embarrassed and lost the exuberance he’d had on entry into the village. A pang of deep regret washed over her as she realized she’d hurt him. “I’m so sorry she murmured!” The change was felt by all, and Fleur realized they needed to go. She glanced at her watch in fake surprise.
“I have to be back at the hotel!” she said apologetically paying respect to her elders in turn. The trip back was completed in silence and Dan alighted in front of the hotel with mumbled thanks. Fleur retreated to the sanctuary of her office and bolted the door sobbing silently. She’d hurt Dan thoughtlessly. He was like family to her and her remarks were untimely considering his pursuit of a dream in coming here. It was probably better this way. The break would be final. He’d go back to his world, find a good woman to give him the warmth of a family he deserved and she’d stay here where she belonged. This was her world.
Then as she thought of the happy times they’d spent together in Australia, his constant efforts to get her attention like a faithful little puppy and his hopeful trip here disparaged by a thoughtless remark she suddenly realized she did not want it to end this way, as a matter of fact, she didn’t want it to end at all. She dried her eyes and rang for her assistant.
“Can you contact Mr Jackson and make an appointment for me to have dinner with him tonight?”
The assistant reappeared in a short time looking puzzled. “Mr Jackson has booked out of the hotel.”
The assistant observed Fleur’s surprise. “I’ll recheck!”
She returned; he’s completed check out but waiting for transportation in the lobby.”
Fleur put aside any pretence. She instructed her assistant to tell the lobby to hold Dan Jackson there while she hastened down to the lobby. With every step, she became more determined. Regardless of custom, regardless of culture she must have this man. He was a decent faithful man. He was not like the ones she’d observed in a mixed-race marriage who took advantage of island girls and left them for other conquests. The pros and cons of what she was about to do flashed before her as she ran. What would be the result of her determination, what about her job, what about her beloved village and her people if he insisted on living in Australia? It was heart against head, and heart won!
But on arrival the lobby was empty and an apologetic doorman told her the taxi was leaving when he received the message. “Get my car she commanded!” The doorman sprang into action.
As she sped toward the airport once again urgency and resignation came into play. She had to do this, but it was no use now. Then the thought struck her, there was no plane until the next day? Was he that disappointed he’d spend the night sitting outside an empty airport? That was foolish! And another thought struck her surely he wouldn’t have taken her cousin seriously? A wave of jealousy swept over her then she remembered you don’t just walk into Australia so that would not be the reason for his trip. She searched until dark, then returned empty and drained to the hotel. No doubt her actions would be prime time on the hotel grapevine by now and she hoped this would not seep back to her village.
She alighted from the car waving the driver toward underground parking and headed for her office. She noted the flashing light on her office phone indicating there was a message. It was Claire’s voice.
“You forgot to take your cell phone so I couldn’t contact you. Mr Jackson returned to book in for the night. Said he had some final business to discuss with you so I made a dinner appointment for 7pm. If you can’t make that would you contact him on extension 506? I’m off now for the evening, see you tomorrow, Claire.”
Fleur sat for a moment to think things over again. Once again, the pros and cons swirled in her mind. This was her last chance one way or another. She sighed and stood by the door momentarily fighting it out in her mind, then slowly opened the door and headed for room 506 where she knocked softly. The door opened and she pushed inside throwing her arms around a startled Dan.
“I take it that’s a yes?” He said placing her head on his chest and stroking her shining long black hair.
Fleur pushed away. “It’s a maybe, I need to have the blessing of my elders and we need to see in practical terms how this could work so I don’t feel entirely culturally absorbed!”
“Would it help if I told you I work for the Australian Diplomatic Service now and have been assigned to New Zealand? I believe they have some Polynesian culture there you know?”
“I said maybe! We’ll talk about it over dinner as I have important work to do at the office.” Fleur giggled and sighed contentedly, she was now fully confident in her decision. They’d work things out.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2017 All rights reserved”