By Devi Lockwood.
She delivers the punch, smooth and crisp, to the flesh below his jaw. Her knuckles collide with his cheekbone and the crowd gathered under the university pavilion looks on, silent.
He comes at her with both fists flailing, windmills of rage. With one duck and swerve, she comes out unscathed.
Before either party can deliver a return punch, their friends intervene, pulling them back. Each struggles at their friend’s grip, squinting in wrath.
“Stop! Enough! Not like this!”
The girl they are fighting over sits on a bench with her head between her hands, covering her ears.
I wasn’t expecting to see lesbian drama in my first week in Fiji (or at all, for that matter), but there it was, like the ocean, waiting––unconcerned with my existence and yet completely immersive. A pull.
I made friends at the university by accident. Walking down Grantham Rd, I was tugged into a several-block long conversation with a group of two guys walking to class.
“Do you want to see campus?” one asked, readjusting the weight of his backpack on his shoulder. I shrugged. Why not? I had nowhere else better to be. The only thing driving me through the day was my desire to collect stories.
We passed the school’s outdoor café and the library with its slatted windows, walked over a trickle of a concrete river that I am told swells in the rain, and up a hill to a clearing where two big trees offer their shade over a smattering of stone picnic benches.
This could be any university, anywhere in the world, I think, pausing to take in the different social groups, the pop music they played through their phones, the hellos they called out to people on the path.
“Hey, you with the sign!” one girl called, waving me over to her table full of friends. The group stops talking when I get close enough to be in earshot. They had clearly just been talking about me. “Hello. Welcome to the best table in Fiji. What is this all about?”
I explain that I have just graduated from college, and my year-long trip to collect stories from people I meet about water and climate change. I trade a stick of gum for a few potato chips. Two geography students take on the task of telling me about Fiji’s volcanic past and changing coastline. A gay guy and I have an animated conversation about Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I pass the unwritten test of coolness and am invited back to the table the next day.
It is raining in the way that Suva does, thick and whole and unapologetically about to drench your everything. I find the hut where my new group of friends have relocated and tell my gay guy friend to close his eyes and put out his hands. He makes a show of it, “Mmhmmm I love surprises!” I pull out a tube of Sally Hansen sparkly nail polish from my backpack and put it in his hands.
“Oh GIRL,” he says, casting his hand down from the wrist. “I am going to treasure this forever and for always. I barely want to use it, but then again I really do.” He sets about the business of painting everyone’s nails at the table. “Hold out your hands,” he commands. “Darling, you look fabulous. Sally Hansen! I can hardly believe it.”
A new friend comes over, one I hadn’t met the day before. She is butch in the conventional sense, a leaned-back swagger in her step, her clothes baggy and masculine, hair short and undercut on one side with a shaved part like the boys.
The gay guy cups his hands to his mouth and whispers to me: “She’s a lesbian.”
I whisper back, unfazed: “Me too.”
The shock registers on his face, familiar. I make a great effort to conceal my sexuality while I am traveling, and apparently I do a pretty darn good job of it.
Later that afternoon we braved the rain to take the local bus into town for lunch of white rice and stir-fried veggies and fish.
It was when we came back that it happened. We had just ducked into the cover of the rain-free awning near the school’s front gate. The Lesbian shakes the rain out of her eyes to take stock of the scene.
A long-haired girl sits with her back to us, one leg over the seat of the bench, face to face with a guy in cut-off sleves. She strokes his bicep, suggestively swiveling her hips on the wood.
“I could punch him,” she says, a fist forming in her hand.
“Don’t do it, girl,” the gay guy says. “He’s not worth it.” But the lesbian didn’t hear or didn’t want to. She walks over with her head held high. The guy on the bench sees her approaching and says something inaudible and offensive. The lesbian makes true of her promise and goes for it, throwing the first punch.
Her friend covers his eyes. “I can’t look. Those two have been on and off since high school. It’s a big mess.”
I nod, knowing that kind of mess has no borders of nation. We could be anywhere.
Devi Lockwood is a poet, touring cyclist, and storyteller currently on a year-long trip to collect stories from people she meet. Her focus is water and climate change.