When I got on the plane to go to Fiji, I was greeted by three other women: Marguarite, Elina, and Jennie. They had each reposed themselves in their row of seats in the second-story bubble of our not-so-private jet. I had a row of seats as well — three whole seats in what amounted to economy-plus. It was a bit more crowded ahead of us, and Marguarite said she’d arranged with the airline for us to get these rows as upgrades as long as they were available, but that if everything else sold out, we’d have to share. We decided to sit in the middle of our rows to discourage anyone else from joining us.
This made it difficult to talk to the others, but somehow we managed to swap stories a bit anyway. Jennie sat across from me, and I leaned over and chatted with her, a precursor for many other talks we would have bouncing along mountain roads and relaxing at the resort together. Once we were in the air, my food was slow in coming, so she shared her vegetarian meal with me.
When we landed in Fiji, I waited with Elina as the other two collected their checked luggage. In a matter of a few minutes, I discovered that in her earlier life, she had escaped from the USSR, thanks to her job as a translator. When she got to the US, she decided she wanted to go into journalism because “I couldn’t believe that you got paid to tell the truth.” Eventually, she wound up as a correspondent and producer at CNN. And now, she said, she was taking it comparatively easy, doing travel and lifestyle writing. She said she’d just been spending some time with her daughter, who had her own career.
“Really?” I demanded “You don’t look old enough for that.”
Her daughter was 15, and in the movie industry, said Elina. “She’s an actress. She was filming a movie.”
Which movie, I asked. “The Hunger Games,” said Elina.
I was surprised. “Do I know her? What’s her name?”
“Isabelle Furhman. She starred in The Orphan.”
“I never saw that.”
Over the next few days, the four of us were regaled by Christopher, Royal Davui‘s owner-manager (or owner’s son, depending on how you looked at it), who managed to make us forget that we were even working, a difficult task for anybody entertaining a seasoned coterie of travel writers. We went adventuring together and ate delicious food, over long, drawn out evenings — New Zealand lamb, fresh fish from the lagoon, taro made with coconut cream, and fruit plucked from trees hanging within reaching distance.
I wondered at times, as I have wondered before in similar situations, if the fact that we all seemed to get along was because we were actually dazzling people, or because we were being paid to get along. Maybe we were dazzling only insomuch as we were acting like professionals. But that seemed unlikely. The setting, even for a coterie of seasoned travel writers, was too vital, too saturated with color, for this to be drawn from the well of professionalism. The ocean gave us views the like of which we had never seen before, and the island itself was a living thing, lush and fragrant with wild-growing flowers, its breath present in the breeze sighing against the pearl-hued sands, and we were ready to be seduced.
In any case, the four of us women aroused curiosity from the two of the other guests, a honeymooning couple from what appeared to be the back woods of Australia. This was not lessened by the addition of David, freshly arrived from Tasmania, to our parade of soirees. One night over dinner, Christopher told us in a hushed voice that this couple had approached him and asked about us: “I know they’re meant to be famous, but who exactly are they?”
“What’d you say?” we asked Christopher.
“I told them I was sorry, but that I really couldn’t talk about it.”
Then he told us his bright idea: he intended to insinuate to this couple, once we’d left, that we were the writers from a television show cum movie franchise about four cosmopolitan city-dwelling women who have outrageous adventures in exotic locales, and that we were researching our next film. That seemed like a titillating explanation, although I thought that at least one of us was probably better-known than that in real life.
“David’s the producer,” Marguarite added.
“Perfect,” I said “because the producer doesn’t really do anything.”
David keeps teasing me by asking impertinent homeschooling and/or Idaho-related questions, like if I know who Farrah Fawcett is, or Michael Jackson. Even more impertinently, I’m not sure he believes me when I tell him I do. And I’m not sure what to make of his conspiratorial wink, and assurance that he knows my innocence is all just a front for the deadly female-James-Bond persona I’m hiding.
Marguarite seems to be well-acquainted with him, and before he arrived told us he had the craziest stories ever from his years of traveling the world. I doubted that, but now that I’ve heard him talking, I only suspect that some of the details might be re-organized to better suit the occasion. In any case, he is entertaining, a good quality in a dinner companion. He self-deprecatingly tells us of other dinners, like the one where he informed a pair of neurosurgeons that he was an astronaut, fully expecting them to get the joke from his 60-ish frame. They expressed interest instead, so he went on to make the thing more and more fantastical so that the joke would be quite obvious, until he realized it was hopeless, and that they were never going to forgive him if he confessed. So he tapped his wife (“A Saint,” remarked Marguarite) on the shoulder, and told her that he needed to leave the dinner immediately.